On January 20, 2012, I was admitted to the Duke Medical Center Emergency Room with symptoms that in a few days led to the diagnostic of a ruptured appendix. Just one week before, I had been hiking by myself in the highest and more remote parts of the Smokey Mountains National Park at freezing temperatures after fresh snowfall. I must admit that although I’d rather not have gone through any of this illness, timing was to my advantage.

The experience of undergoing a sudden, serious medical emergency has given me the opportunity to reflect about many things and one of them is my preference for solo travel. A large number of my trips I take on my own. This started as a natural consequence of adding personal travel to business travel and then became a way to pursue unique personal interests within my own pretty busy schedule. Solo travel has also given me a strong sense of autonomy and self-direction, which I enjoy. I can’t help thinking, however, how lucky I was not to have experienced the symptoms of acute appendicitis while on my solo hike to Clingmans Dome, when I was at least a four-hour walk from any kind of help.

When someone is healthy and feels strong, it is hard to imagine or even accept that she may actually need help one day. I post this note today with the intent of reminding myself and others who enjoy solo travel, especially hiking or backpacking into remote areas, that emergencies can happen. In some emergencies you may be able to do some things for yourself such as make a call or walk to where help is located. In others, you may become completely impaired and unable to seek help. Bearing that in mind and carefully taking it into account while planning can really save one’s life. Travelling with another person, however, is the only way I am aware of right now to reduce the risks associated with situations in which you lose consciousness or otherwise the ability to self rescue.

Questions to ask myself while planning a trip into a remote area: Is there cell phone coverage throughout the chosen route? If not, what is the closest point in which I can get it? If there is no cell coverage, how will I communicate in an emergency? What is the closest hospital or emergency room and how will I get there if need be?

Please leave your thoughts and recommendations on safe solo travel.


Beatriz Coningham

Beatriz Coningham

Why write about travel? Travel and exploration have always fascinated me. I marvel at history’s navigators and explorers who expanded the frontiers of the world and of human existence.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • ellen says:

    I’m so glad you are feeling better. It’s good to think of these things in advance. I’d suggest first of all, you should leave your itinerary with someone responsible, noting where you are going & when you plan to return. Include cell phone #, license plate & car info, and any pertinent medical info (diabetic, epileptic, special meds, etc) – in other words, just the sort of info you would want a search team to have if something bad happens. Be specific in telling the responsible person how much leeway to give you if you don’t check in at the appointed time. Next, if you do have special medical needs, it is good to have that sort of info on you, perhaps as an ID bracelet. Take some first aid/rescue classes. Depending on what you do, you may wish to invest in a SPOT or satellite phone. If you are a climber or alpinist, you can arrange for special & affordable insurance to helicopter you out of remote areas through the American Alpine Club. There is a service that puts all your medical records on a chip that you can wear. I’m sure there are lots of other preventative/protective measures you can take. The simplest, of course, is to train for the activity. and invest in the proper equipment.

  • Wow, you were definitely lucky. Not sure there is really any way to prepare for a situation like that had it occurred out in the wild but Ellen does have good points. Stay safe.

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