Solo Female Travel Going Off the Grid: 7 Life Lessons the Desert Taught Me

Everyone should spend time off the grid at some point in their lives. I know… I know… Now, you might be wondering where this article could possibly go to either encourage you or discourage you from going off the grid. And if you’re already in the adulting life phase, it might not be a feasible reality. Although, you can still do a long weekend camping in the backcountry (as an alternative). Let me tell you my solo female backcountry experience and the profound things going off the grid taught me.

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Camping in the Utah desert

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My True Story Living in the Utah Backcountry

It is no wonder there have been many famous books published about what I’m about to share with you. My favorites include Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Keep reading, I hope you’re intrigued or inspired by my true story going off the grid for a summer internship in Utah and the seven life lessons I learned.

The Back Story

I moved away from home when I was 18 to attend college. I was from a small town in South Dakota and couldn’t wait to see how big the world truly was.

The travel bug must have been inherited from my parents, who lived all over the world due to my late father’s 20+ year career as a marine.

As a young woman, I had zero desire to marry and start a family. I was a lone wolf in this venture. I could feel it in my blood. There was a calling to see the world, travel, and experience as many new things as possible.

That dream came true when I received a full academic scholarship to a college in Western Colorado. This was the golden ticket to the next phase in my life.

I didn’t know anyone when I moved away to go to college states away from my family, but I knew other things were calling my name. A quiet whisper and invisible force was pulling me in a new direction. You couldn’t see the force or touch it, but it was undeniably there. It was a feeling deep in my gut and soul.

I went to undergraduate school in Western Colorado which is an incredible outdoor recreation mecca.

I spent four years in college exploring the outdoors with the college outdoor program and never wanted the adventures to end. We traveled all over the desert Southwest and even Central America.

I had read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey and dreamed of experiencing everything Abbey described. The desert had called to me since I moved to Western Colorado to go to college.

My friends and I spent a lot of time in Utah recreating outdoors, rafting, kayaking, camping, and hiking. In fact, I never wanted to give that part of myself up. Moving home did not call to me after graduating college.

Being a “desert rat,” as Abbey says, was high on my life priority list at the time. As a matter of fact, living in the desert and finding a job was my number one motive in life.

Post College Summer Internship in Utah

Like all senior soon-to-be graduates anxious to brave the adult world, I found an internship before graduating with help from my advisor. The summer after graduation, I secured a position working for a network bridging newly emerged science graduates with the National Park Service.

I had landed a sweet post-grad internship working in the Utah desert outdoors.

I chose my undergraduate degree in Biology because I have always loved nature and being outdoors. At the time, I had high hopes of making a career with the National Park Service.

Not truly understanding what I had signed up for, all that mattered at the time was that the job meant being outdoors doing qualitative and quantitative plant and soil surveys for the National Park Service in Utah.

Utah, one of my favorite places in the world. Yes, this was a dream come true

Th next thing I knew, graduation came and went, and I moved to Moab, Utah.

Moving to the Utah Desert

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Newspaper Rock in Canyonlands National Park

The day after graduation, I was driving to Moab to start work.

It was May. I said my goodbyes. They were hard goodbyes to my parents, who had driven from South Dakota for my graduation. I wished we would have had more time together. I always wished for more time together… but our life journeys were different. Even though it was hard, the reality was our paths were different. Little did I realize I would never live close to my folks again.

I had nothing but my backpacking backpack filled with summer clothes, toiletries, hiking boots, Chaco sandals, my car, and camping gear.

I left everything behind in a storage unit except my dog. So, my dog went to stay with my parents for the summer. I didn’t have a choice. I had a job, I needed to make money, I was already dirt poor, and the dog couldn’t come with me on the job.

Despite having this opportunity, it was sad leaving my dog behind and saying my goodbyes. But I persevered and did what I had to do.

Then, I drove off into the sunset west towards Moab and stayed in a hostel.

I learned about hostels backpacking through Central America when I was in college. Hostels were a cheap place to lay my head.  Cheap was important back then. I had very little money. I’m talking like I felt rich if I had $100 in my checking account.

Living at a Hostel in Moab

Once getting to Moab, I was to report to Arches National Park. I had nowhere to live and stayed at the hostel temporarily in Moab until the work hitch started.

Now, you might be wondering what a young 21-year-old girl was doing living alone in a tent at a hostel in Moab, Utah. Well, I have answers for you.

I wanted to brave the world! I wanted to see the world and be independent. It was that simple.

Staying at the hostel wasn’t bad. There were showers and bathrooms. I would explore Moab. Hike around a little. I didn’t venture too far from places I already stomped around in college. Besides, work was starting soon.

I got a library card and spent time reading and chilling.

This is where I discovered what it meant to be an introvert; although, there was no label for it at the time I was accustomed to.

This is where I began to grow into myself as an independent woman. I liked being alone. I especially liked being alone outdoors.

The next thing I knew, the first work hitch was on the way.

Work Hitch Commenced in the Utah Backcountry

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Capitol Reef National Park

Once the hitch started, I would camp in a tent alongside a group of my fellow field researchers in the middle of nowhere, Utah. This is no exaggeration. There were six of us on a hitch. We were in the middle of nowhere.

We would drive hours into the backcountry of Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Parks.

The parks have different districts, and we would work in locations people never would go or could not go without backcountry permits.

Plus, you’re not (the general public) supposed to be off-trail as not to damage the delicate biological soil crust and slow-growing desert flora. We would work off-trail. It was part of conducting research.

The experience was everything I had hoped for. Finally, as Edward Abbey would say, I was living my life as a true outdoorswoman, a true desert rat, and it was a dream come true.

Going off the grid, in the Utah backcountry, I saw incredible landscapes of the desert Southwest.

Hitch Times & the Team

Since this was years ago, I forget the exact amount of time, but a hitch lasted eight or nine days, and then we got six or five days off. The gist was to get 80 hours in two weeks, and the rest of the days, you were off.

As I was saying when on a hitch, I had the company of my five teammates. All were incredibly smart scientists, field biologists, and botanists. I would describe each team member as incredibly courageous. Each taught me so much that my 21-year old soul absorbed like a sponge.

Only two of us were recent college graduates (interns) on the team. The other four teammates were seasoned park service employees, experts in their fields, knowledgeable individuals, one of which was a published author. It was an honor to know them every time I look back in time.

We all lived in our tents during the hitch and brought what would fit with us in the work trucks. We hauled our own water in plastic blue seven-gallon jugs from Moab. Anything cold had to live on ice in coolers trucked in with us. We packed enough food, water, clothes, and gear to last through the hitch. This required planning.

There was no electricity, showers, running water restrooms, or grocery stores. There was NO ONE ELSE but the six of us.

So, yeah… I didn’t have access to creature comforts. This is where I started learning to be comfortable in my own skin. There were many personal epiphanies about having modern-day commodities and how blessed I was.

I learned how precious fresh water, electricity, beds, showers, toilets, running water, and fresh food was. The contrast in my life choices started to become blatantly obvious – the contrast between living and going off the grid, then living in everyday society.

You see, in college, my friends and I went on backpack trips, whitewater rafting trips, but I think the longest I ever went without showering was 10 days. Living in the desert this one summer took backcountry and going off the grid to a whole new level.

Solo Female Travel When I Wasn’t Working

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Druid Arch

When I wasn’t on a hitch, I would drive to Moab and camp along the Colorado River or down Potash Road north of Moab… alone. I also looked for public land to camp for free. Then I would spend my free time hiking and mountain biking in the area.

Cell phone reception was spotty. This was over 15 years ago. It’s probably better these days. I’d check in with my parents, so they knew I was still alive.

I’d hit the grocery store, the library, then go back to whatever place in the sand along the river I found to be a temporary home. My two-person tent was perfect and cozy. I slept a lot, read, journaled, pondered all aspects of my life.

At the time, the entire experience was just something I was doing. It was all I knew to do. Besides moving home after college, it was the only option I had. It was the only option I wanted. I wanted to be a desert rat.

In the beginning, I never thought I would look back and say it was an experience of a lifetime. I never thought people living in a developed nation like the U.S. would most likely never experience what I have experienced.

Going off the grid was an experience that changed me – an experience that blossomed me into a tough young independent woman.

I loved being outdoors. I learned how to make things last way longer. Water, food, not showering, not washing my hair, not washing my clothes, and dealing with crazy weather. I learned how to fix things and make do.

I was okay with it. The reason I was okay with it all was that it was fun and I was free. I was braving the world. I was Braving the Wilderness, as author Brene Brown says.

Being independent was taken to a new level. It was an incredible experience.

I saw unique places in the U.S. There was an opportunity to learn more about plants and the desert soil. The opportunity was an honor of a lifetime. Nature was teaching me and providing me with lifelong knowledge, some of which is hard to articulate.

I had actually written my undergraduate thesis on Biological Soil Crust and Its Importance to the Colorado Plateau. I truly loved the desert, beyond academia.

Living in the desert off the grid taught me a lot of things…

7 Life Lessons Learned Going Off the Grid

Hiking in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

1. Appreciate the Little Things

Living in the desert taught me to really appreciate the little things. For example, as the summer went on, every time we had an opportunity to get in the work truck, escape the gnats, and turn on the A/C was a heavenly treat.

Don’t worry; the gnats were only bad when it wasn’t windy! They were tolerable depending on where we were.

Sometimes I would looooong to wash my hair or take a hot shower.

This is where I learned grit.

Yes, sand grit was in my hair, but I’m talking grit-grit – like old west grit and grace.

I learned tenacity and perseverance. I realized even more what it meant to be courageous and free.

In that time of my life, I was determined to live a life I wanted for myself and was cooking up how I was going to get it, no matter how lonely it was.

2. Respect for Myself, Peers, and Nature

Living off the grid taught me a level of respect for myself, peers, and nature that I would never have ever had the opportunity to experience in any other environment. We looked out for one another. We shared and were like family.

Hiking miles and miles of backcountry, no trails, through the desert can be hard work. I was in awe of the desert beauty.

There is no doubt in my mind why Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef are federally protected areas, after what I have seen, beyond the paved road for tourists. And, they should stay protected lands.

3. Grit and Grace

Nature will push you. Nature will hand you good days and bad days. Hot days, cold days, windy days, and wet days.

Under those circumstances, a newfound grit keeps you going. It keeps you doing your job. It keeps you persevering to a level you didn’t know you had inside of you.

Little did I know at the time that life would continue to challenge me in ways I would never understand. But I was equipped with grit that no one could ever take away from me. So, thank you, mother nature, for teaching me grit and grace.

4. Growth from the Inside Out

Being outdoors hiking ten plus miles a day in 90 to 115-degree Fahrenheit weather will make you grow. I’m talking growth from a spiritual level.

Living off the grid, I promise you will grow from a place so deep within yourself you didn’t know it was there.

Was the inner growth due to sweating so much I detoxed the previous four years of college, was the sun cooking my brain cells slowly, or was I truly experiencing and receiving lessons from God, the Universe, or Mother Earth?

When you move, you grow. Because experience and education change us. There is no doubt going off the grid will make you grow from the inside out.

5. Challenging Yourself Changes Yourself

When we have challenges in life, even if it means you’re hot, you’re tired, you’re thirsty, you’re lost, you’re poor, you want a shower but can’t have one… I promise it will make you grow. It will make you tough.

Getting through challenges made me learn to adapt.

The better we adapt, the better we are equipped to deal with the world. Because life can be just as hard as it is beautiful. We have to be able to adapt.

We have to learn to be flexible and agile to be our best selves and live our best life.

And here’s the thing, at the time in my life this story talks about, being hot and thirsty was nothing compared to other curveballs life would throw as an adult. Curveballs such as the sudden loss of my father, my husband being injured, being bullied at work, being subject to systemic oppression in corporate America, heartbreak, loss of careers, loss of friends, loss of pets.

But challenging yourself or getting challenged and working through those challenges makes you a better person. I promise.

In other words, someone once told me to think of hard things in life as messages from angels teaching us a better way. I believe this to be completely true.

6. In Stillness You Receive

One of my favorite authors today is Gabrielle Bernstein. Bernstein has an uplifting Super Attractor 52 card deck where you can select a card to read each day with an uplifting message.

One of my favorite cards says, “In stillness I receive.”

This is absolutely true. Going off the grid comes with quiet time. Quiet time means facing your thoughts – the good, the beautiful, but most importantly, the ugly.

It’s crucial life work to know yourself. Another reason I encourage everyone to live or spend time off the grid at some point in their lives.

As a result, there will be no hustle and bustle and silly mindless social influences.

You focus on living and surviving. Face the hard things. Grow from them. Know yourself. Then relish in the good stuff.

Author Marianne Williamson says in her book The Gift of Change, “God will teach us lessons in joy we need to learn. When we can’t seem to learn those lessons, God will teach us through pain.”

It’s just interesting food for thought. Provided that we face our thoughts. All of them.

Facing our thoughts helps us become the best person we can be for ourselves and humanity. We should all be serving for the greater good and seeking to be our highest selves.

7. Kindle Your Faith in Humanity

It is important to realize that there is something about being in nature and running into fellow human beings in nature that kindles your faith in humanity.

When you see someone else hiking, mountain biking, walking the dog, riding horses, or whatever in the middle of nowhere, you both connect. You connect with giant smiles on your face, a little small talk, but there is a huge spiritual connection.

Have you ever felt it?

The spark is a social connection of like minds, like souls, loving the wilderness.

Share the joy with others. Share your spark.

In Conclusion, Going off the Grid…

Going off the grid changes you. It changed me. Mother nature teaches us more about what is important in life. Mother nature teaches us to love ourselves and to respect ourselves.

We learn to trust our gut. Learning to feel what is right and what is wrong is an important life skill. Don’t ever forget it. It is our superpower.

Because there will be things and people in society that will try to force you to forget that. Be true to yourself. Be your authentic and best self. Tap into your superpower.

I hope you find this story compelling and intriguing.

I hope me sharing a very personal journey inspires you to find joy and happiness traveling and recreating outdoors.

Even if living off the grid for an entire summer isn’t an option, camping for a weekend and connecting with nature sure is.

With love,

Ashlee


My favorite life changing books

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I’d love to hear from you!

Have you done anything like this for yourself? If so, where?

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Ashlee Fechino

Ashlee Fechino is an outdoor recreation writer and founder of The Happiness Function based in Oklahoma. Her goal is to help inspire people to build a life they love by sharing how simple and fun it is to travel locally, connect with nature, and explore off-the-beaten-path. You don't have to spend a lot of money or use a ton of vacation time to explore close to home. Ashlee holds a BS degree in Biology and MS in Environmental Policy & Sustainability and has a passion for the outdoors. She is married to an expat Argentine, Pablo! They camp in their Aliner often and love road trips and hiking.

20 Comments

  1. Cristina Sala on November 12, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Hola Ashlee muy interesante el ultimo relato de Salirse de la Red y Las 7 lecciones aprendidas.
    Totalmente de acuerdo es la naturaleza la que a diario te enseña si le pones atencion.
    Buscastes y recibistes muchas lecciones . Tuvistes muchos desafios , pero como lo dices . Los desafios te hacen crecer interiormente
    Todo esta dispuesto para aprender en el camino de la vida. Para ello debes tener los ojos del cuerpo y del alma abiertos y vos los has tenido.
    Fundamental el conocimientto de uno mismo. Caso contrario no se encuentra el rumbo.
    Abrazo enormeeeee



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 14, 2020 at 10:34 am

      Hola Cristina, gracias por comentar nuestra publicación. ¡Nos encanta verte aquí y escuchar tus comentarios desde Argentina! Abrazos

      Hi Cristina – thanks for commenting on our post. We love seeing you on here and hearing your feedback all the way from Argentina! Hugs



  2. Daphna on November 14, 2020 at 10:03 am

    Loved this post! This is exactly the type of adventuring we try to inspire in our kids!



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 14, 2020 at 10:30 am

      Hey Daphna! Thanks for your comment! That really means a lot. It is nice to see you here too! 🙂



  3. Hannah on November 14, 2020 at 10:30 am

    Wow, what an incredible experience! I can see how it had such an impact on your life and became such treasured memories! What a wonderful environment to learn such important lessons, thanks so much for sharing them!



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 14, 2020 at 10:36 am

      Hi Hannah! So nice to see you here! Thanks for your warm comments. They mean a lot to me 🙂



  4. Megan on November 14, 2020 at 11:04 am

    Ok you are so brave and inspiring to go move to Moab and begin your adventure!



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 14, 2020 at 12:32 pm

      Hi Megan! Awww, thanks so much for your comment! Hope you can make it to Moab someday if you haven’t already.



  5. Tiffany Smith on November 14, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    All of this! I went to Nepal and was one of the few people on the trip that wasn’t constantly trying to find wifi and stay on my phone. I loved not feeling obligated to keep in touch with the world and I was able to appreciate what I was used to having like safe water, hot water, trash pick up, things like that. I wish everyone could have the experience of starting over someplace new, it brings such character growth 🙂



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 14, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Hey Tiffany – Thanks for commenting on this post! Wow, very cool personal share on Nepal. Nepal is on my dream list of places to go. Sounds like a special experience. You are right on – experiences like these cultivate personal growth big time. Good for you for reflecting and gifting yourself that kind of life experience.



  6. Krista on November 14, 2020 at 4:55 pm

    It definitely sounds like a good experience to have. I think you really appreciate things more and can focus on yourself by going off the grid.



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 15, 2020 at 10:57 am

      Hi Krista! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You are so right…



  7. Emma on November 15, 2020 at 11:39 am

    What a beautiful post, and such an incredible experience. I think everyone needs to do something like this that really gives them time to themselves to figure things out. Too much we are just being pushed along by what we’re “meant to do” and not thinking about what we actually want to do. I enjoy spending time by myself and think this is a really awesome thing to do



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 15, 2020 at 3:59 pm

      Hi Emma, thanks for your comment. I hear you, spending time alone is powerful and important! Have a great day today.



  8. Farrah on November 15, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    There are so many lessons to learn from a trip like this–I love all the ones you gleaned, especially that last one on kindling your faith in humanity while being in nature. I’ve found that as well!! <3

    I've never wanted to have kids either, but definitely have that wanderlust too! That's awesome that you got to do so many trips with your school's outdoor program! :] Moab is such an awesome place too! I spent a few days at a hostel there and loved the adventures I got to go on!



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 15, 2020 at 4:09 pm

      Hey Farrah – thanks for stopping by and sharing your personal journey as well. I bet we stayed at the same hostel in Moab! When I was there, there was only 1. I’ll have to look. So nice to hear about kindling your faith in humanity while being in nature. It is so true <3



  9. Burt Randall on November 25, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Thanks for sharing !! –Your post makes me even more close to nature, which I see & feel every day !!–



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 25, 2020 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Uncle Burt! Thanks for the nice comment and for stopping by! I love hearing this for you 🙂



  10. Kate on November 28, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    Wow what an incredible experience! This post is so interesting and insightful. I can totally understand how going off the grid would make you appreciate the little things more, and I’m sure it also helps to gain a ton of patience. What a beautiful way to connect with yourself and nature!



    • Ashlee Fechino on November 28, 2020 at 12:17 pm

      Hi Kate – thanks for stopping by and for the lovely comment <3