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I didn't have my first passport until I was nearly 22; this isn't terribly old, but I grew up in an area where most of my peers had passports by age 10 and airily talked about all the exciting vacations they were going on with family. Back then, I didn't feel at all jealous, since I honestly didn't have much interest in traveling.
The change in me happened pretty gradually. I did just wake up one day and decide that I wanted to visit every capital city in the world I could possibly get an airline ticket to. In my teenage years, I started making summer trips down to Baltimore, Maryland, and attending concerts in odd nooks of Pennsylvania and New York. Once I did reach my 20s, I began exploring my home state of New Jersey a lot more.
As I started to see how much there was in my home state, from beaches to forests to state parks with beautiful waterfalls, the wanderlust started to stir in me.
Since then, I've been collecting travel points on my credit cards like a nut, and visiting as many new countries as I possibly can. I absolutely love Chinese history and Japanese culture, but I really do hope to explore Asia more broadly over the next few years.
Regardless, I love traveling with my partner or with friends, but sometimes vacation schedules don't always pan out! I've done a fair bit of solo traveling, and I've gathered together several tips for women traveling alone in Asia to share with other people interested in visiting the region. A lot of these pieces of advice can be applied to any nation, but some will be more geographically specific.
Coordinate your arrivals carefully; it's best to get to a new place during the day.
I know it's tempting to book a red eye and sleep through at least part of your flight, but if the red eye will plop you in your destination before dawn, think twice about booking it. The same applies to late night or early morning trains. If you have to leave before dawn, consider paying a little extra for that slightly later train.
In general, most train stations are going to be in decent enough areas of a city. There will probably be a good amount of people around, but if it's the middle of the night, it'll be hard to say. When I went from London to Paris, I arrived after midnight and the train station was shockingly empty. I'm used to cities that never sleep, but it was a weeknight, so most of the very small amount of train station activity was probably other tourists like me.
You ought to let someone know where you are all the time.
This can be done pretty casually; I'm not telling you to check in with a family member back home every five minutes. That's just annoying for both you and them.
Keep a close friend abreast of your travels, whether that's through pictures, texts, snaps, or Instagram story updates. Have one friend you know well who knows your travel itinerary and will know something isn't quite right if you go too long without contacting them.
For a little more boots on the ground support, if you are staying at a hostel or AirBnB, you can strike up conversations with your fellow guests or with the host. Even if you're strangers, people are pretty thoughtful, especially if you're friendly and they know that you're traveling alone. Personally, AirBnB hosts are among some of the friendliest people I've ever met.
You should always err on the side of caution with your accommodations.
I know this can make taking a budget vacation a little bit harder, but see if you can splurge on a hotel where you'll have your own private room. If you're using AirBnB or a similar service, look very closely at the reviews and make sure they have a good number of them.
If you're worried about being uncomfortable, you can also look for female hosts or hosts who are couples. You want to feel safe and be able to relax wherever you stay, whether that's your hotel room or your hostel bed.
If you're traveling on a tighter budget and focusing on getting beds at hostels, make sure you're only looking at options with a lot of reviews. It's also wise to make sure that your bed is going to be in a safe part of the town or city; this applies to whichever kind of accommodation you're going with. Traveling solo can be really safe when you take precautions like this.
Whether you're going to explore volcanic craters and tea fields in Indonesida or looking to find all the best food in Tokyo, traveling in Asia is an amazing experience.
Being a solo female traveler doesn't necessarily mean you'll be alone all the time.
Whether you're flying into Siem Reap in Cambodia or Hanoi in Vietnam, you're going to be in some pretty big cities. Sure, people always say how there's crime in cities and how they're more dangerous than suburban and rural areas.
However, if you're concerned about being alone, you can explore most tourist destinations, monuments, and historical sights in a city, and you'll probably never be the only person there.
If you're really worried about being alone, there's no reason you shouldn't try to make some new friends! Traveling solo gives you a unique opportunity to interact with people and meet new people easily. If you're feeling shy, try to make some new female friends.
Crowds can be annoying sometimes, but they also provide a level of safety. Statistically speaking, crime generally happens at night. If you avoid walking around in secluded areas at night, you shouldn't have too many problems.
Sometimes, as women, we might run into a bit of sexual harassment. It happens absolutely everywhere; but frankly, the most common crimes in most cities will be bag snatching thieves. If you just keep your bag close, wear an over the shoulder bag, and follow common sense when it comes to our valuables, you'll be just fine.
Before you go, spend a little time researching local etiquette.
If you're going to Japan, knowing some key polite words will make navigating much easier. For example, suimasen, or the more formal sumimasen, translates to "excuse me." It also has some alternative uses, such as being used in an apologetic manner, but it's a word that can open a lot of proverbially doors for you (and maybe some literal ones, too!). In addition to knowing basic words to pardon yourself if you're in a crowd and need to move along, it's also good to know about local customs.
There are plenty of debates about what women should wear and what we shouldn't wear, but that's a battle for another day. When you're a solo female traveler, it's wise to be a little conservative with how you dress, especially if you stray beyond tourist hotspots and beach areas. If you are staying in a beach area, you can don your flip flops and tank top without any fear, if you choose to. People are used to seeing tourists ready to hit the beach pretty much everywhere in the world where the climate is appropriate.
If you're exploring southeast Asia, it's a wise idea to cover your shoulders and knees. If it's hot, make sure your clothing choices are light, like a t-shirt and some ankle-length pants. You don't need to go overboard and cover every inch, but being a little conservative like this commands more respect.
If you want to be safe and navigate everything with ease, work on learning the native language of the country you're visiting.
Trust me, I know how daunting that is if you're thinking about learning Japanese or Cantonese. I've been studying Japanese for years and I'm still a novice. When you're planning your trip, this should be part of your preparations. Learning basic greetings and keywords for communicating at stores and restaurants will take you pretty far.
Luckily, there are a lot of great ways to learn a foreign language fast. Best of all, it's actually better for your mind's overall retention of the language if you do study it in a more condensed period of time.
For example, spending two hours every day studying a language, it will stick a lot more than your high school Spanish or French classes did. Any destination for female solo travel becomes a lot easier to navigate if you can understand a fair bit of what the people around you are saying.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, get acclimated and relax.
Traveling in Asia is an incredible experience since you can see so many unique cultures, but when you're alone, it's easy to feel small.
If you're in a new city and suddenly find yourself feeling lost and overwhelmed, it can be a little scary, especially if you're traveling solo. If you need a little time to gather your mind and collect your nerves, look for a cafe where you can just sit down with a warm, familiar drink and relax.
If you're in a more serene and natural area, find a nice, bright spot to sit down and just take in your surroundings for a little while. As a woman traveler, I will find myself wondering what the heck I'm doing alone in a foreign country.
However, if I just stop and remind myself that I do feel safe and I am prepared, I can usually get back to feeling excited about traveling solo. It's incredibly freeing to go on a trip alone.
Wherever you are, be friendly, but also be confident.
Body language accounts for a lot everywhere. If you do find yourself in an area where there aren't as many people or you don't feel quite as comfortable, trust your gut. Stand up straight, keep a confident stride, and keep your face impassive. Pouring over your phone too much and staring at Google maps is a dead giveaway that you're a tourist.
Alternatively, if you're in a busy market place and the sellers are heckling you a bit too much, simply smile and give a firm "no" in the appropriate language. Becoming aggressive or angry will not get you as far as being polite and straightforward.
In general, even in a metropolitan area, being cheerful and confident will go a long way. If you need to ask a clerk for help or even if you're just ordering food somewhere, being polite will instantly win you points.
Making an effort to speak the native language will also make locals much more receptive to assisting you. Even if people can speak English, most greatly appreciate it when tourists don't just throw English at them.
If you're going to explore the nightlife scene, look for tours or events.
If you go on a tour or attend an event, there will be crowds and perhaps even a guide. If you've got a guide, you just have to keep your eyes open and be a bit aware of your surroundings. As long as you listen, you ought to be fine.
Wherever you go, you should always know how to get back to home base without the use of your phone. If you're in a city, memorize the train lines you need to take. You should always have your phone charged and it doesn't hurt to carry a battery pack either; but just in case, always know how to get back to your hotel room or hostel.
As long as your phone is still alive and well, Uber and its competitor Grab have drivers in many Asian countries; including, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Even if you're far from home, you can still call an Uber.
Once you're there, hold on to your common sense and have fun on your trip!
In general, traveling solo is actually a lot safer than you might expect. Doing all those little common sense things like not going out alone at night, not leaving your drink alone at the bar, and keeping your valuables locked up goes a long way.
Most people aren't going to care about your iPhone at this point, but if you wear overly fancy jewelry during a night out on the town... well, that's not a good idea at home or when you're traveling abroad.
Embrace being a solo traveler. I know plenty of people who only travel solo who encouraged me to give it a try as well. Once you start your trip and get on that plane, traveling in Asia really isn't scary at all.
I've spent hours scouring the internet for travel tips, so I hope this location-specific compilation of advice is helpful. There are a lot of tips for women traveling alone in Asia, but I've found these ones to be the most helpful.
Every country is a little different, so if you're doing a longer vacation and making it more of a tour of Asia rather than just a one-off trip to one nation, definitely do your research! For example, if you're thinking of visiting Japan, a guide for first timers will serve you better than a list of spots for the seasoned traveler.
My long term plans definitely include visiting Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia, but it'll happen all in good time. For now, I'll keep paying all my bills with my credit card, paying that off at the end of the month, and raking in those travel points while I plan my next trip to Asia.