Scared? Of course you are and so is every other lone female traveller before they embark on this adventure. But actually, once you get started, you really will wonder what on earth took you so long. You are going to have a ball. The few following snippets of advice may help you find your way a little easier at the beginning or dispel some fears before you set out.
I have heard that Western women get hassled a lot. Is this true?
Yes and no. Travelling around S/E Asia and seeing how some Western women behave it really isn’t surprising that we all end up being viewed as loose women and getting tarred with the same brush. However, most of the problems stem from oblivious Westerners wearing inappropriate types of clothes in the wrong environments. Some places have higher levels of tolerance or are more de-sensitised to Western dress than others. These are usually the more touristy or beach areas. If you are sensitive to these situations, make an effort to understand and respect the local and varying cultures and ask advice regarding how to dress, then you will be fine.
Many of the countries of S/E Asia are strictly Muslim and in many places it is rare to see an uncovered female head while shoulders and knees are covered almost without exception. You can choose to wear shorts and tops with thin straps anywhere but doing so in some places will subject you to stares at best and persistent unwelcome attention at worst. Additionally your choice of attire will also be offensive and embarrassing to your hosts.
If you go to places more off the beaten track then you will instantly become the focus of attention in many S/E Asian countries, particularly if you are blond and particularly if you are a female travelling alone (a completely unthinkable concept for most S/E Asians). Most of this attention is pure curiosity (from males and females); some of it will have sexual overtures but usually without intimidation while a tiny proportion is of a rather more unpleasant variety.
Of all S/E Asia, Thailand is probably the most hassle free and safest bet for solo females and most incidents occur only around the drug and alcohol crazed full moon parties where extra caution is highly advisable.
Will I get lonely?
There is a generally bandied about myth that travelling alone is one long string of meeting people and partying. But speak to any lone traveller and they will tell you, yes of course, there are lonely times. The wonderful thing is however, that those lonely times will be interspersed with meeting all sorts of people, some of which you will share incredibly special times with and never forget. Sometimes you will hook up with other travellers for a while before each of you goes on your lone way again. This mix is what makes it all worthwhile.
Travelling long term over several months isn’t like an extended holiday as some non-travellers assume – it is like normal life. There are highs and lows, happy times and sad times. Learn to roll with this and accept everything won’t be perfect all the time.
How is it best to meet other travellers?
There are infinite ways you can do this depending on your own character. Outgoing extroverts will have no problems as opportunities arise almost daily but if you are a little shyer then you may have to take steps to hook up with others.
Booking into a dorm room rather than having a private room is an almost sure fire way to get talking and mingling with others. There are many places throughout S/E Asia which offer dorms (always the cheapest accommodation option). If there is no dorm available then try and book into places which have some sort of bar or communal area where people will naturally gather. If you learn to smile frequently and say ‘hi’ you will find yourself getting into conversation with other travellers easily.
Booking yourself onto organized trips and excursions can also be a way of meeting other travellers. The options in S/E Asia are endless and include such things as island hopping, snorkelling and learn to dive trips, trekking, tubing on rivers, overnight camps in the jungle and exploring ancient cultural and religious sites.
Are there lots of solo travellers in S/E Asia?
Tons and tons. And here are some brownie points for the girls – it appears the majority of solo travellers are female. Boys tend to travel in twos and groups.
What are my cheapest accommodation options?
Dorms are always the cheapest option. These can range from small 4 bed types to large 16 beds or more. What you get also varies enormously – you may or may not get fans, air-con, screen partitions, bunk-beds, bedding and towels and so forth. Separate male and female dorms are not uncommon either especially in Malaysia and Indonesia.
If you don’t have a dorm option then as a lone traveller things can get a little more expensive – small single rooms are rare. This means you end up paying the same rate for single occupancy as a couple pay between them. The good news is that as there are so many solo travellers out there you may be able to hook up with another person staying at the same premises to share the cost of a double room with two beds. Don’t be shy to ask. It can seem odd asking a stranger if they want to share a room but chances are your would-be roommate wants to save money too. Your approach will generally be met with an eager ‘yes please’ rather than some-one thinking you are weird.
There are many budget accommodation options all over S/E Asia and what is available and how it is named varies from area to area and country to country. In Indonesia for example the name ‘losmen’ is used to denote the cheapest/most basic type of accommodation. Hostel, hotel, guesthouse, homestay, bungalow etc – all these may mean different things in different places. You will always pay less for a fan room than air-con.
In 2012 the cheapest dorm bed I found in Thailand was 180 Baht (approx 3.50 pounds) while most of the time I was paying around 5 to 7 pounds for a private room (often with shared bathroom). Decent hotel beds can be had easily for less than 10 per night. Malaysia and Indonesia are much the same.