From the highway in Wyoming during a solo road trip out west

18 Tips for a Solo Road Trip Out West

There’s always that one moment. 

You reach the crest of a hill. You round a bend. And suddenly, the landscape laid out before you literally takes your breath away.

You might argue that this is exactly the time when you’d want someone with you to share it. But there’s an extra intensity — a sense of being totally present — when you experience a moment like this alone.

Sunset along the Snake River during a solo road trip out west.
This stunning sunset scene brought to you from a rest stop along the Snake River in Idaho on a drive back to Idaho Falls from the Grand Teton National Park during a recent solo road trip.

Taking a solo road trip out west is iconic. The vistas are truly expansive, like a landscape painting that breathes. And there’s a sense of being a pioneer all over again, exploring places that you’re sure no one has ever passed — mostly because you’re completely alone. 

I promise I’m not anti-social. In fact, one of my favorite parts of taking a solo road trip out west is meeting people along the way, which happens differently than when you road trip in a more dense part of the country, such as the South or the East. But I find a road trip in wide-open spaces to be a fantastic way to travel solo. That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s easy to feel lonely in a crowd of happy couples and families.

It seems as if the expectation to be alone is more natural out west. Could it be because these areas are often home to rugged individualists who want to escape the grid? Perhaps. Lower population levels in states west of the Mississippi are likely part of it too. 

Whatever the case, a solo road trip out west is ideal for meditation, for healing, for exploring thoughts and feelings. Places where Mother Nature demands your attention but little else does are especially good for someone experiencing a transition in life. Or for someone who simply wants to get away from it all. 

Going it alone in regions where gas stations are few and far between, however, does require you to be super smart about a few things.

18 Tips for a Solo Road Trip Out West

1) Before you ever plan a solo road trip out west, be sure to check out my blog on what to pack in a road trip emergency kit. I feel so much more confident knowing that no matter what comes, I can survive for a few days in my car. I also tend to go hiking along the way during a solo road trip out west, so I bring my backpack, which includes gear to help me survive for a few days as well

2) For a solo road trip out west, I recommend packing a cooler and a bag of food. Restaurants, even fast food joints can be few and far between. And because of the ongoing staffing shortages, sometimes they’re closed even if they exist at all. A cooler full of drinks, breakfast foods and other favorites can tide you over. 

Be sure that bag of food goes beyond the typical road snacks. In my last solo road trip out west, I packed turkey jerky, some salt-free tortilla chips, some nut and raisin mixes that I made at home and plenty of peanut butter and jelly. In my cooler, I included some mini packs of mashed avocado and a big bag of baby carrots, some yogurt, and some kombucha, sparkling water and Coke Zero. You do you, of course, but think about some healthy additions to your typical road trip snacks that can serve as balanced meals.

And don’t forget the water. Be sure you have plenty of reusable water bottles filled with drinking water. I always have extra in my car emergency kit, but I fill a few Nalgenes every day that I’m on the road — more than I’ll drink in a day — just in case I get stuck somewhere.

(I was really glad that I took a bowl of precooked rice and a can of tuna, too. By the time I arrived at my Microtel in Vernal, Utah, after a long day of driving and hiking, nearby restaurants were closed. but there was a microwave in my room. And that was a great dinner.)

3) Don’t leave that food in your car overnight! Bears have been known to rip doors off of cars and destroy the interior trying to get at food — and they can smell incredibly well. Take your food into the hotel with you. If you’re camping, use a bear canister; depending on where you’re staying, rangers may ask you to also string up the canister and provide a means to hang it, or place it in a locker at the campground.

4) If you’re taking a solo road trip out west, I highly recommend both travel insurance and a roadside assistance plan. I have the Allianz annual plan as well as AAA. It’s reassuring to know that someone will come fetch you and make it all better if you run into a real problem.

5) When you take a solo road trip out west, gas stations can be sparse. And the last thing you want to do is run out of gas miles from anywhere. Even with roadside assistance, you could end up waiting a long while. If I’m down to half a tank. I’ll stop and top it off, just because I don’t always know how far it is till the next gas station. Of course, you can do a pretty good job of figuring that out by using the plethora of road trip apps listed in this blog that I wrote for Airsteam. 

I make good use of the rest area app, because on my last trip through northwest Colorado I stopped to find a potty six times at various places in one day, and only lucked out twice. One gas station was locked up; another didn’t have working restrooms; a visitor center was closed for Juneteenth…you get the idea. Thank God for rest areas.

6) On that note, another tip for a solo road trip out west is to take along a potty kit. I keep one in my glove box and several in my hiking pack. It’s nothing special — just a compostable sandwich bag with a single-use amount of toilet paper stuffed inside, paired with a small bottle of hand sanitizer. This way if I’m truly desperate I can find some shrubbery and make do without littering — I just toss the baggie when I see a trash can. (Though finding shrubbery can be as difficult out west as finding a restroom.)

7) In my work for Airstream, I recently interviewed several women who are solo female travelers. They had all kinds of ideas for safety and protection, including keeping an air horn handy. One travels with a gun, but I personally abhor guns and would never use or own one, so I carry pepper spray in my purse, and I have bear spray in my hiking backpack. Both will buy me some time in an emergency. 

I have a whistle, though that’s not as effective if you’re in a truly remote space. I also have an app on my phone called UrSafe that lets me push a button and send for help, as well as alert my emergency contacts. But again, that’s not always helpful if you’re in a remote area without cell service. 

So I also carry a sat phone. A satellite phone can be a bit of an investment upfront and does require a monthly service plan, but if you’re going to be hiking, biking or traveling in remote spaces, it’s a fantastic investment in your security. 

8) Sometimes when traveling on a solo road trip out west, you’ll pass through Native American lands. Many of these spaces have unique requirements: Sometimes you’re not permitted to take photos. Sometimes you have to provide identification upon entry and tell tribal representatives when you’re planning to leave the reservation. I know that as a Journey Here traveler, you’ll be respectful of customs and cultures. 

But what you might not know is that these lands often lack services. No restaurants, no gas stations and no cell service, sometimes for hours. Driving through a Native American reservation is a stunning experience, because you’ll get dark skies like no other, and it’s a rare glimpse into what the western part of the United States might have looked like centuries ago. But all of the tips is this blog are truly essential here.

Somewhere in western Kansas during a solo road trip from Indiana to Denver. Gas stations really are sparse.

9) Keep your gadgets charged, and consider including a solar charger in your lineup. I keep all of my communications devices topped up when I’m traveling on a solo road trip out west. My phone is always plugged in, because it’s my navigation. But I also top off my spare battery, and I carry a solar charger so that, worst case, I can use the power of the sun to get a few sips of juice. Mine is small and light enough to strap on the back of my backpack so that every time I go hiking, it’s picking up energy.

10) If you’re not from these spaces out west, be prepared for a bit of culture shock. Those used to a more urban or suburban environment might be uncomfortable. I’ve found that if you can overlook some of the obvious differences and be friendly and relatable, people will be friendly and relatable in return. Having grown up out in the country in the Midwest, I learned that sometimes the barrier is a bit of insecurity. Some people in more rural spaces anticipate that a person who looks differently or dresses differently or has different license plates might be condescending. So being open and friendly when it seems appropriate knocks down a lot of those walls. 

Of course, some of these spaces really aren’t friendly to women traveling alone, people of color or people of different races, ethnicities or practices. So listen to your gut. Use all those skills that you use when you’re traveling in any foreign environment. Pay attention, try to assimilate as much as possible and be aware of prevailing practices. 

I find that national and state parks are often friendly environments. It means there’s a better infrastructure for and expectation of tourists and visitors. And the people who visit the park systems come from all over to explore and see new things, so diverse experiences and perspectives are baked in.

11) Stay organized. This is a good tip for any road trip, but when you’re in places with dust, sand and rocks, where opportunities to offload trash and especially recycling are rare, a few extra steps could save your sanity.

  • I built a little trash bin for my backseat out of the box that formerly held a case of almond milk from Costco. A small trash bag fit perfectly inside and was sturdy and stable. I put it within arm’s length of my driver’s seat. I tossed trash at gas stations but kept my cans in there until I could recycle them. 
  • I chose biodegradable and compostable servingware and dishes to lessen my impact while eating away from home. My sandwich and snack baggies are biodegradable and compostable too. I carry dish soap with me so that I can wash out my reusable water bottle each night.
  • I have an old rug over my floor mat so that as I’m getting in and out of my car with filthy shoes or hiking boots, cleanup is a little easier. I can grab the rug and shake it out along the way, then toss it in the washing machine on hot when I get home. 
  • I always keep a pretty big bottle of hand sanitizer in my center console. But I also have hand sanitizing wipes there, because sometimes you’re just dirty, and liquid sanitizer is only going to smear it around. I also have some Seventh Generation cleaning wipes handy so that I can wipe up spills like coffee or yogurt or bugs that find their way onto the dashboard and die. My car may be pretty cluttered during a solo road trip out west, but I don’t like it to be really grubby.

12) Stay comfortable. A road trip can be good for the soul, but it can be hard on the body. These are the ways I take care of myself.

  • The sun is much stronger in many parts of the west, especially at elevation, so I keep sunscreen in my center console. I always put it on my hands and wrists, as well as on my shoulder if the sun is coming through the side window.
  • I tore my hamstring at the connection to my hip this spring, and I’ve always had piriformis syndrome, so I put a custom cushion on my seat. That makes my lumbar support all wonky, however, so I also put a cushion behind my lower back. Yes, I very much feel like an old lady. I suppose maybe I am. But the ache is intolerable otherwise.
  • Being in the car puts me right to sleep. Literally, if I’ve been going hard, I can doze off at a stoplight driving across town. So I give myself plenty of time to sleep at night, in case my insomnia kicks in, and I try to avoid driving more than five to seven hours a day.
  • I also break up a long drive with a short hike. I use the pro version of the AllTrails app to find hikes along my route. I can think of no better way to restore blood flow while seeing unique gems, and an hour doesn’t put me too far behind. 

13) Prep your entertainment. Speaking of staying awake: You might not have cell service during your solo road trip out west, which means you also might not be able to make phone calls or listen to music. Download a lot of podcasts, audio books or language lessons. You can feed your brain from point A to point B. 

You can also download the Otter app and do some writing while you’re driving. Not literally, of course, but the Otter app allows you to speak into your phone and get a rough transcription of your thoughts, which you can send to email and clean up later. That’s actually how I wrote this blog. It was composed while I was driving from Vernal, Utah, to Salt Lake City amid some of the most gorgeous but remote scenery you’d ever hope to see.

14) Stop at the rest areas. They tend to be a little bit cleaner than gas station bathrooms, and there are often interesting tidbits or brochures about the region inside. Iowa has some of the best rest areas along I-80, with fascinating facts about the wind power turbines that you can see in motion all around you as you drive.

There’s usually some green space, if you need to get out and stretch your legs a little bit. Or If you need to close your eyes for 15 minutes, you can pull off at a rest area, park in one of the spots a little further toward the edge, lock your doors and put your seat back

And I’ve seen some amazing scenery from rest areas. Driving back to Idaho Falls from the Tetons during a solo road trip out west, I stopped at remote rest area along the Snake River. The sunset was so stunning that I went back to my car and grabbed my phone to take photos. The rest area in Glenwood Canyon, in Colorado, is right beside the sparkling Colorado River. And a rest area that I visited in Utah on my way to Salt Lake City had a path to the top of the hill at the edge of the parking lot where you could see a massive lake, plus whole eras of paleontological history in the bluffs behind it. 

So stop at every rest area that you see. You never know when you’re going to get another chance to go potty, and the views can be phenomenal.

15) Stop at the viewing areas. My someday dream is to endlessly road trip with enough time to stop at every scenic pulloff. Getting out of the car is different than seeing the scenery at 65 mph. The air will smell different from place to place, depending on the flora and fauna. It might feel warmer or cooler or drier. You can hear the sounds of native birds and animals. Getting out and appreciating the detail of a place from the viewing area off the highway is a sensory experience. Most highways have signs at least a mile in advance so you can make your way over. 

16) When you set out on a solo road trip out west, you need to understand how to drive up and down big hills … aka mountains. Please don’t freak out when I encourage you to learn how to drive in the mountains. Believe me, I didn’t know how to for a long, long time. I grew up in very flat northeast Indiana. A little bit of time with Google or YouTube can help teach you how to use your gears and your brakes on steep inclines and declines and hairpin curves.

You also need to be aware that wild animals could cross your path, especially at twilight when deer are more active. And in certain parts of the country, you’ll encounter a lot of bicyclists riding on the shoulder. So you should watch not just the road, but also the sides of the road. 

17) Knowing how to handle things like a massive rainstorm, hail or an encounter with an animal is really important too. I didn’t grow up knowing this either. (Except deer. It was an unfortunate and expensive rite of passage to hit a deer driving alongside woods and fields every time you went anywhere, growing up in the rural area where I did.) I lived for three years in Chicago, so I’m comfortable in spaces that are dense, noisy and heavily populated — places without falling rocks or moose. But I promise you that this is something you can learn. 

If you really want to be empowered, try taking a wilderness first responder course — graduates are called “woofers.” While it’s intense, and it’s not necessary for a solo road trip, it will help you prepare for any eventuality and make you aware of things you should avoid or do in the outdoors.

18) And before you embark on a solo road trip out west, you should read our general solo travel safety tips. Among the important considerations here: 

  • Don’t tell people that you’re traveling alone.
  • Don’t tell them where you’re staying.
  • And be hyper-vigilant about the cars around you or the people hiking around you on a trail.

As with hiking, you should always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be there, so that if something happens, people know where to begin the search. I also share my location on my iPhone with a loved one. I may be traveling solo, but I have a whole support team back home.

One of the things that I love about a solo road trip out west is the sense of openness and awe and wild. I feel as if there are endless new vistas around every corner or at the top of every hill, and wide open spaces where I can think and explore forever. 

I also love the challenge that comes with being alone in these wide-open spaces where Mother Nature is in charge and you have to play by her rules. You have to be smart, savvy and aware. You have to have a plan A and plan B and a plan C.

Stopping for a hike in Wyoming during a road trip.
A hike off of I-80 in Wyoming in Medicine Bow National Forest.

The good news is that just about anyone on a road trip is happy to share their tips and advice. So many people going in the other direction have told me about their favorite spots in the town I’ll be passing through next, or a majestic view on the highway ahead. So many people have been willing to share information or ask questions. They call it trail magic when you’re hiking. I’m sure there must be a similar name for the kindness I’ve found during a road trip.

A solo road trip out west can be an incredibly moving, empowering and stunning experience. You’ve heard of Eat Pray Love, right? For me, it’s Drive, Think, Hike. I don’t always have someone to travel with, but I’d never want to give up those experiences. So pack well. Fuel up often. And get ready to see things that blow your mind and crack your heart wide open.

The views expressed on this website represent the opinions of the authors; we encourage you to form your own opinions and confirm any facts.

This post likely contains affiliate links. If you shop or make a reservation through these links, we may make a small commission (for which we are very grateful!) at no extra cost to you. Not all links are affiliates, and we only suggest products and places that we have experienced.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn advertising fees by linking to and affiliated websites.

Travel better! Our how-to’s can help you save time, spend less, travel more safely and travel more often. You got this!
Dream and discover. When the world gets smaller, your heart and mind grow bigger. Get inside the travel stories that move us.
We work with brands and individuals. Travel coaching, marketing and writing are our sweet spots!