I really, really needed this trip. I needed to get out of town, to put on my pack and walk into the woods. I needed to spend a few hours in the car, music up and windows down. I needed to be alone in the woods, to take myself to dinner, to drink new beers, to catch up with one of my oldest friends. I just needed to go.
Asheville, North Carolina, is a place I keep going back to. The first time I went, I was 19. It was my first-ever road trip. I took my boyfriend, headed south on I-81 and felt like a grown up doing grown up things.
This visit was my fifth and the third that included the Great Smoky Mountains. Things were different this time though. It was the first time I went to Asheville without a boy, the first time I visited by myself.
Even though solo travel has become such a fundamental part of my life, this trip was extra special. I felt like I was reclaiming something and I went committed to doing things my way. It’s not that I hadn’t been able to do that previously, just that when you travel with a partner, you have to do the things they want to do too. You have to compromise, stop when they want to stop, eat when they want to eat, go when they’re ready.
When you go alone, you don’t. It’s all up to you, and you alone, to go and do exactly as you please.
DAY 1: DRIVING, TACOS + DRINKING AT A GAS STATION
On the day I drove to Asheville, I woke up at 5 a.m., like I usually do. I went to the gym, filled up my gas tank and stopped by the grocery store for a few additions to my snack pile. I came home, showered, told the dogs I loved them, threw my shit in the car and was on the road by 8:15 a.m.
The drive to Asheville is about five and a half hours from Richmond. I stopped for fuel once ($24.45) and went straight to White Duck Taco Shop for a late lunch and a beer ($18.03, including tip), which I’d recommend to any taco-loving friend, especially a taco-loving friend interested in trying creative and delicious taco creations. Then, I went to Wedge Brewing Co., in the River Arts District for a beer flight ($10, including tip). I drank a lot of beer in Asheville – with so many breweries, it’s pretty much a requirement – and both the beer offerings and the vibe at Wedge were my favorite.
Whenever I travel, I try to stay in interesting places. I stayed on llama farm in New Mexico and a teeny tiny cabin in Arizona and I managed to find a newly-listed tiny house just a few minutes north of Asheville for this trip. Located on an organic farm, the house was perfect for my solo traveler needs and the price was right for my budget ($350.54 for 3 nights, with fees).
After checking in at the tiny house and picking up some trail beers for the next day ($13.45), I headed back to Asheville, to the home of my middle school best friend. She was hosting a taco night, invited me to join and then we headed up the street for a drink at her local dive, the Brew Pump, “Asheville’s one-and-only gas station pub.” I got the IPA on special ($3, plus a $2 tip), played a card game and marveled and how I’d just bought a really delicious beer for $3 at a fucking gas station.
Total Spending: $70.93 (excludes Airbnb)
DAY 2: CLIMBING A FUCKING MOUNTAIN
As an obsessive planner, I’d spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I wanted to hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I compiled a short list, bought a trail map ($9.99), and scowled at the internet a bunch before finally deciding to hike to the top of Mount Le Conte via the Alum Cave Trail.
Determined to make the most of the day, I woke up early, made myself coffee and breakfast and headed out. I made it to the trail by 8:30 a.m. and spent the day there, coming off the trail around 3 p.m. after hiking a total of 12 miles, enjoying one trail beer and a serious pile of snacks.
I stopped in at the visitor center on the way out of the park and bought another trail map and a park patch ($8.48), snickered at the people freaking out about the lone elk making itself at home in the field next to the Oconaluftee visitor center and headed back to Asheville.
I got a (incredible) pizza, a pile of olives and a beer at All Souls Pizza ($34.89) before heading back to my tiny house for some light solo beer-drinking and a little writing before bed.
Total Spending: $43.37
DAY 3: 4 WATERFALLS, 2 BREWERIES, 1 LADY DATE
Having climbed an actual mountain the day before, I reserved the following day for waterfalls. I knew I wanted to see a few, but I also knew I wanted to get back to Asheville early enough to spend a little more time with my friend.
I woke up early again, had breakfast and made coffee, fueled up just before I got on the interstate ($24.03) and went straight to Mingo Falls, located just outside the park on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Then I headed toward the Deep Creek part of the park to hit three more waterfalls. I snacked along the way, was accosted by a couple of wild turkeys and made it back to Asheville by 1:30 p.m. where I picked up my friend and embarked on an afternoon of beer tasting. We shared a flight at Hi-Wire Brewing ($10.03) and a flight and some pretzels at Hillman Beer ($15.91), both of which I enjoyed.
I had really grand plans to take myself to a nice dinner but by the time my friend I were done with our beer tasting adventures, I was tired, it was raining and I wasn’t in the mood for anything that required much effort. I ended up at Universal Joint, on my friend’s suggestion, where I had a beer and a burger ($22.16).
Having successfully consumed the trifecta of delicious foods – tacos, pizza and burger – I went back to my tiny house, showered, played slow music, wrote about my feelings and got myself ready to leave the next morning.
Total Spending: $72.13
DAY 4: 1 FINAL WATERFALL + MORE DRIVING
I had every intention of eating breakfast in town and then getting right on the road, but I still had breakfast materials leftover and a quick google search told me I’d be driving right by Catawba Falls, located in the Pisgah National Forest. So I ditched my breakfast plans, took my time packing up and eating breakfast and headed 45 minutes east on I-40 where I was the first one on the trail to the falls.
I sat by the falls for a while and stopped along the way back to have one more trail beer. I wasn’t rushed, didn’t have any sort of deadline to meet and I’m so glad I took the time to just sit in the woods one last time and feel the forest around me. It’s what I needed and why I went to North Carolina in the first place.
I stopped once for fuel ($26.81) on the way home and continued eating my way through my snack pile along the way. I made it home by 4:30 p.m. and did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day.
Total Spending: $26.81
This trip was perfect. It’s exactly what I needed, a perfect mid-winter reset to shake myself free of the winter blues. Plus, compared to what I spent on my Death Valley trip, this trip was pretty affordable.
- Lodging: $350.54, or $116.65 per night for a precious tiny house
- Fuel: $75.29
- Dining Out: $75.08 on three meals out
- Beers: $54.39 at three breweries + one six pack
- Supplies: $44.86 on groceries + a trail map
- Misc.: $8.48 on souvenirs at visitor center