How to be (very, temporarily) alone
January 2, 2016 3:19 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to go somewhere and spend a while (a few days to a few weeks) without seeing or interacting with another person. How, logistically, would I do this? Difficultly level: no car.

This is something I've wanted to do for a while, just because I think it'd be an interesting experience to spend a chunk of time writing and thinking and being alone with myself for a bit.

Some sort of meditation centre? Isolated cabin? Camping?

I live in Ottawa, Canada, but answers for other places are welcome, as this is something I'd consider traveling for.

I got neat ideas of what I could do with this time from this thread but am more interested in how I could practically achieve this.
posted by ITheCosmos to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Are you wanting to avoid a car as any part of your trip? If you're ok riding in a car, it seems like you could rent a cottage somewhere isolated and hire a cab/shuttle/etc to take you there and pick you up.

(Or are you looking more for suggestions of retreat centers or other organized places that specialize in this?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:49 PM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

i've taken a rucsac, with a tent and food, and just walked off into nowhere before today. but it's probably not the kind of thing you'd do alone the first time you do it.

you could also hire somewhere (an apartment) and simply not go out. there's no real need for it to be isolated unless you want to go outside. but i guess that doesn't really meet the romantic ideal.

you'd think there must be jobs (fire lookout?) that involve this.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:01 PM on January 2, 2016

There are a number of artist and writing residencies that provide this (and bonus, some are subsidized). A great aggregating site is but I can also recommend just searching online.

FYI, I attend 1-3 residencies per year - many being very isolated - and was surprised to hear at each of my residencies that a not-insignificant number of people end up discovering they really really dislike such conditions once they're there and pay sometimes exorbitant amounts of money to leave immediately. Some of the places I've been have been more remote/extreme than others and have worse attrition rates, but all the ones where this topic has come up have told me it happens frequently. So make sure you have an exit plan as well.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:14 PM on January 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Parkbus is a company that offers bus trips from Ottawa to Algonquin Park in the summer. You could try to rent a cabin or make arrangements for backcountry camping in a spot that's a hikeable distance from the drop-off/pick-up point.

Also, Outward Bound trips include "solos" of up to three days. As I understand it, you're basically left alone during that time to reflect on what you've learned during the trip.

A cabin on a private island could also work. I'm sure the people/companies renting them out will provide the necessary boat transportation as long as you can get yourself to the harbour somehow.
posted by as_night_falls at 4:25 PM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I bet PEI in the wintertime is lovely. Rent a cabin.

In the same area (ish) is Cape Breton.

Closer to home (ish) is a writers retreat on Toronto island open year round.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:42 PM on January 2, 2016

You are a bit far for my favorite recommendation, which is the private guest house at St Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan. I have stayed there several times. It's a small house all to yourself far enough from the main monastery buildings to feel very comfortably isolated. The monks ask that you come to prayers a couple of times a day; these are very brief, it's easy to get in and out without talking to anybody, and the walk to and from the guesthouse is pleasant. The monks are Benedictines, and do not have a set payment for staying. I have stayed when I could pay nothing, and also when I could donate generously. The first time I visited, the guestmaster did meet me to spend a few minutes going over a few things; on all subsequent visits, they've just left me a key.
posted by not that girl at 5:12 PM on January 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

It's true you would do this on an Outward Bound excursion, but the three-day solo is usually part of a longer trip. Mine was 22 days with a three-day solo. Shorter trips have shorter solos. You may not want to spend 19 days roughing it with strangers in order to get 3 days alone. Additionally, you're basically given a gallon of water a day and some sort of super-nutrtious oat bar. I also had a sleeping bag and a book on edible plants and a journal. Since my OB trip was off the coast of Maine, we each got our own island. However the group leaders checked on us every day and 7 different groups of people landed on my island while I was there. That said, it was a very private and introspective time, but probably not what you're looking for. This time of year, in Canada, I'm guessing you probably want to be inside.
posted by bendy at 5:30 PM on January 2, 2016

I don't know where you are in the world, but if my grandmother just recommended a charity called "A Week End Away" to me on the phone, I'd google it to high heck, because it's what she knows I want most.

For myself, that might look like Lewis & Clark Leadership (FB), leading an adventure camp for young women in the Southern Appalachians in the summertime. If you're bike or train-savvy, it might just look like the photos on Everything Will Be Noble, or a combined bike/train stay in a cabin. (Treat yourself!)

Or, if you can find a a Korean-style spa like this one, it should be both affordable and comfortable as long as you can go with someone who's been before that you trust. Mefi mail me for more info!
posted by torridly at 6:05 PM on January 2, 2016

I'd suggest renting a cabin or rural cottage next to walking trails/country lanes/bike trails, near a village with a general store.

In the summer I think there's a lot of stuff near Wakefield,QC and Gatineau Park.

In the winter if you're not careful and prepared, you might be snowed in and going nuts due to lack of a daily walk until you phone someone to bail you out.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:30 PM on January 2, 2016

How about cycle camping, or cycling out to a cabin/cottage etc? Even if you do the bulk of the distance by train or other motorised transport, doing the last leg on a bike on your own (provided there's little traffic) gives you this nice transition over to a quieter way of living for a few days. If you stay a few miles away from some sort of settlement then it's far enough away that you can feel alone, but having the bike with you means that if you need to buy more food or matches or whatever you can still sort it out fairly quickly.
posted by doop at 12:49 AM on January 3, 2016

In case you haven't seen it yet, definitely check out the "Calling all remote adventurers" AskMe from last year: "Where do you travel to feel like you're the only travelers in a peaceful oasis? What I'd really love is an amazing sense of remoteness and quiet."
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:33 AM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, yeah, sorry, I have no problem with cars, I just don't drive, to answer LobsterMitten's question.
posted by ITheCosmos at 6:47 AM on January 3, 2016

Pick a place that is near nature/trails but do it in their off-season. So, I've stayed at skiing condos during summer/fall/spring and been very alone. I've also stayed at places big with summer vacationers during winter. I too usually do it without a car (take a bike to get to store if necessary). I have someone drive me there, complete with provisions I expect to use for the week. Usually have no need for the "general store" that is some miles away.

While cabins sound great, they are usually more expensive than vacation condos in the off-season. One place I stayed in the fall and never saw a soul the whole time after check-in was in Cable Wisconsin at the Telemark condos. (It helps that the hotel part was closed/abandoned.)
posted by RedEmma at 7:28 AM on January 3, 2016

Oh! I almost forgot: another way to do this very inexpensively is to housesit for someone who's going on vacation. I've done this many times, and recently spent Thanksgiving week in a beach house that way. Very isolating, very calming, and you usually have very set tasks that take a minimum of time. (Like dog walking two times daily or somesuch.)
posted by RedEmma at 7:32 AM on January 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have a tent?

Because you're in Canada. Even from the middle of a decent-sized city like Ottawa, You can walk to the middle of nowhere pretty easily.

I'd just start walking north out of the city with my tent on my back with a plan of finding a nice isolated spot to pitch my tent somewhere around Lac McGregor.

I've done this multiple times before in Canada and if you just keep walking, always tending in the direction that seems lowest population density, you end up alone within two day's walk no matter where you start.
posted by 256 at 2:21 PM on January 3, 2016

Response by poster: Got a memail from someone who didn't wish to post this in the thread but said it was OK for me to mention it here in case it is of use to someone; they suggested looking into Jesuit retreat centres:
posted by ITheCosmos at 5:50 PM on January 3, 2016

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