Southeast Asia is one of the most stereotyped regions for women traveling solo. Uninformed people are always labeling Asia as dangerous or unsafe, especially for a woman traveling alone. Fortunately, that's just not true. East and Southeast Asia are a backpacker's paradise; brimming with cheap hostels, street food, and free photo ops. The truth is, traveling Asia is no riskier than traveling Europe or North America. As women, we should be keeping our wits about us everywhere we go; even in our everyday lives. But traveling as a woman isn't just about safety. What about transportation, hygiene, and battling loneliness on the road? Here's your complete guide on how to travel solo as a female in Asia.
The big question everyone is curious about: Is Asia safe? Yes, of course it is. Just like anywhere else in the world, you should be aware of societal norms and customs so that you don't stand out as a bumbling tourist. Generally, Asians tend to dress a little more conservatively than Westerners, with tourist hubs like Thailand and Bali being the exception. Still, you don't want to be that woman who doesn't know what the acceptable skirt length is. Blending in also keeps you from being targeted by criminals and pickpockets. Safety in Asia is the same as everywhere else: Keep an eye on your personal belongings, store your money in different compartments, have a working cell phone with you, and be aware of your surroundings. If your instinct is telling you something is off, don't ignore it. It's always better to be safe than sorry. All of these are important, but my favorite safety tip of all time is enroll in STEP before leaving on a trip. The Smart Traveler Enrollment allows the U.S. embassy to contact you in case of natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency; and makes it easy for friends and family to get in contact with you. It's a free sense of security during your travels.
They say it's about the journey, not the destination. Well that may be true, but the destination is a lot more fun than getting there. The hardest part of traveling solo that no one wants to talk about is the complete reliance on yourself to arrive safely and efficiently at your destination. That can be difficult if you're going off the beaten path in a country that isn't primarily English speaking. In areas where public transportation is nonexistent, you should always download offline maps, do your research beforehand, and keep a translation app handy. The last thing you want is to be stranded somewhere with no plan B. That being said, things don't always go your way so keep an open mind and stay calm if things go awry. 99% of the time, locals are incredibly friendly and will always help you get where you need to go.
Hygiene and its available products vary wildly from what you're used to in the Western world. Public restrooms often lack toilet paper, soap, and sometimes water. Always carry a travel pack of toilet tissue and hand sanitizer with you. Not just for restroom situations, but for eating out. Those street food stalls are delicious but can ruin your day if you're not careful. It never hurts to give your chopsticks a quick wipe down before you chow down. Depending on how long you're traveling for, you may want to stock up on hard to find products like tampons and deodorant. If you can find them, they likely won't be the kind you're used to, or they'll be very expensive. Pro tip: pack your own (reef safe) sunscreen and bug spray! Asian products will either have bleach in them or lack the appropriate amount of DEET.
Traveling solo doesn't mean being alone the whole time. Even if you enjoy your solitude, being on the road for weeks or months may have you missing regular human interaction. Pick a good hostel that has a cool hangout spot or bar. This is the best way to safely connect with other travelers just like you. You may even meet a group you really like and make some lifelong friends. There are also apps like Bumble or Facebook Groups for meeting up with other travelers in the area. You might be surprised to learn that there is a whole community of solo nomad women out there looking for like-minded females. Just remember to exercise caution when meeting people via the internet. If you're not looking for new people to latch on to, you can always chat up your bartender or taxi driver. If you're really an introvert and not as comfortable with face to face interaction, send a text to a friend back home; or even better call your parents. I'm sure they would appreciate it.