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Travelling as an Asian female solo traveller can be quite an enriching experience. You’re on your own, so you’re free to do whatever you want, go anywhere you want and travel at your own pace. You don’t have to consider your travel companions’ needs, because you are your own travel companion. The thought of travelling solo will be daunting initially. Hence, this article is the ultimate guide on how to travel safely as an Asian female solo traveller. Or any woman who is considering solo travel, really.
More borders are opening up to international travellers, and most people I know are itching to get out of the country and start exploring once again. But travelling during the pandemic requires a lot of careful planning for things can turn on a dime.
Determine your budget
Setting a budget for your travels will enable you to have an idea of where to go, the activities you’re planning to do at the destination, accommodation, modes of transportation etc. This is particularly useful as a first time Asian female solo traveller.
Things to consider in your budgeting phase:
- Flying on a full-service airline or low-cost – important for my Singaporean readers who are travelling on VTL. Do check if the airline qualifies for VTL.
- Staying in a budget hostel or luxury hotel
- Destination-specific activities you might want to do (e.g. skydiving, hot air balloon rides, cooking classes etc.)
- Modes of overland transportation if you’re doing a multi-city trip.
Choose your destination wisely
Some destinations may be less safe for female travelers than others, especially when you’re just starting to travel solo. Do a Google search on “safe places for female solo travellers” and you’ll be presented with a list of interesting destinations to visit.
There are also so many different travel blogs catering to women solo travellers out there too. A lot of them provide highly detailed and informative, yet fun travel guides for female solo travellers. However, an Asian female solo traveller is quite a niche group, and I hope to find more content written on them someday!
Research and draft a rough plan for your trip
Having a rough plan for your entire trip can be really useful, especially when you’re planning for multi-city trips around Southeast Asia for example. It gives you an overview of the potential places to stay, things to check out at the travel destinations, and how you are planning to go from one city to another.
Check if your trip coincides with major holidays at the destinations (e.g. Songkran, Easter, Chuseok, Lunar New Year etc.). Travelling during the peak seasons such as school holidays or when it’s nice and warm during summer can affect prices and the availability of tickets, accommodations and activities. It’s also excellent to check out seasonal specials that are happening in the country you’re visiting as well. In Germany, summertime is excellent for picking strawberries!
Book transport and accommodation in advance
While I used to be the kind of Asian female solo traveller who loved to “wing it”, I now prefer the peace of mind that comes with booking your tickets and accommodation in advance. That being said, if you’re travelling around India, do book your bus or train tickets way in advance.
In some parts of Asia, it’s possible to buy your bus or train tickets at the station, or any reputable tour agency, or walk into any budget accommodation to ask for its availability. Truth be told, I’ve never tried it in Europe yet so if someone reading this and has the experience, I’d love to have a chat.
While travelling Europe however, I find it extremely convenient to have booked a ticket online. If the price difference between first and second class isn’t too wide, and your journey is more than 3 hours long, get that upgrade! All first-class trains amenities include a more comfortable seat, reserved seating and power plugs to charge your electronic devices. Some trains may offer free food and drinks too!
If you’re on a tighter budget, the least I’d recommend is to reserve a seat on your bus or train. It truly gives you peace of mind that you have an allocated seat onboard instead of rushing to the front of the line and praying you’d get a good seat. Also, having an allocated seat means you get to kick off whoever’s been occupying that seat before you. That satisfaction is priceless. Booking a seat also ensures you get the best view possible on scenic trains such as the ones in Sri Lanka and Switzerland.
Packing appropriately for your trip
The one absolute must-have clothing in my bag whenever I travel is a simple classy black dress. You never know when you’ll be invited to a party that requires a dress code. Important female travellers travel tips over here!
If you’re backpacking, take only what you can carry and leave some space for shopping while you’re at your destination. This also applies to ladies who are bringing a piece of luggage. Yes, you can solo travel and bring luggage. Nobody’s judging. Check out my COVID packing list here!
Check the weather at the destination. If you’re travelling during wintertime, remember to pack thermals, gloves, scarfs and extra layers. Pack a cute pair of shorts in summer, but bring a wrap or loose pants in case you’re travelling to a place that has a modest dress code. Regardless of weather and seasons, I always pack a lightweight waterproof rain jacket wherever I go. It protects you from the rain, wind and cool European summer nights. Plus, it doesn’t take up a lot of space.
Buy a local sim card or sign up for Flexiroam
Nobody can live without mobile data these days. As an Asian female solo traveller, apps such as Maps, Google Search and Instagram are so very essential during your trips. So you’ll need all the data you can get. Sure, some public places like airports, cafes and restaurants offer free WIFI. More often than not, their connection is spotty and you’ll be required to share information that you might not want to. Purchase a local SIM card or an international travel SIM card that’s available in your country.
Alternatively, sign up for Flexiroam. It’s a global mobile data provider offering competitive roaming rates worldwide! Note: Not a sponsored post.
I’ve used Flexiroam X for years now, starting from the microchip sticker you can paste at the back of your existing SIM card and toggle accordingly. Now I’ve switched to the free eSIM plan, and all you have to pay for are your data. Flexiroam offers Global, Regional and Local data in competitive prices to suit your various needs.
I love to bulk-buy my data, so I’d wait for when they have 1-for-1 offers, or 80% off, where you can get 11GB worth of data that will last 365 days for USD63. That’s a truckload of data that can last you months if you use them wisely.
Assure your loved ones
I grew up with strict Asian parents. So gathering the courage to tell them that I will be travelling solo took a lot of convincing initially. Most people are afraid of the unknown, so as a first time Asian female solo traveller, show them your itinerary, assure them that you have everything you need (including travel insurance), and promise that you’ll send them a daily message.
On my first solo travel to Southeast Asia, I got my phone stolen. But I still had my iPad with me, and I was catching up with Mum while on a catamaran from Koh Tao to Bangkok and had accidentally let it slip. Let’s just say that Thailand has superb network coverage – I got yelled at via Skype by Mum who was back home in Singapore. I did survive that trip, and they were less hesitant to let me go travel alone subsequently.
Survive the flight
If you booked yourself a seat in Business Class, for an international long-haul flight, you’re one of the lucky few. For the rest of us flying in Economy, at least there’s food. No food? Hope you’ve packed something to feed yourself throughout your journey.
I’d personally pack a noise-cancelling headset and a neck pillow for a comfortable sleep on a plane. Sure, enjoy the free movies and unlimited drink service throughout your journey, but it’s important to get some sleep to prepare yourself for the journey once you get off the plane. Stay hydrated with water, get up to go to the toilet at least once and you’ll safely arrive at your destination before you know it!
At your destination:
Be mindful of your personal belongings
Travelling solo comes with its challenges, such as nobody to look after your things when you have to go to the washroom. When travelling with a piece of luggage, PRO TIP: Pee on the plane, and at the airport before collecting your bags. On multiple journeys, pee in the train washroom!
Purchase a TSA- approved lock for your backpacks and luggage, and ensure that you either remember the passcode or don’t misplace the keys. If your accommodation has a safe, use it to store valuable items.
While exploring your destination, ensure that your bags have a zipper. It keeps the items inside more secure. Some destinations are more prone to theft-related incidents than others. In crowded places, keep your phone and wallet safely on your person (that means, in your front pocket) or if you have a daypack, keep it in front of you. Don’t give anyone an opportunity to regard you, Asian women, as an easy target.
Things that you must always have on you
I always keep these items in my bag for an “easy getaway” just in case of the unlikely event of an emergency. Remember, you’re not in your home country and you’re travelling alone. If you need to leave the country immediately, at least you have these things with you, not left behind with the rest of your clothes.
- Passport or identification card
- Mobile Phone
- Credit/debit card
- Local currency
- US dollars, Euros, GBP (any strong currencies)
- Phone charger or Power bank
Yes, I mentioned US dollars specifically because of how globally recognised the currency is. I’m a Singaporean and thought that having spare SGD – a country with one of the strongest currencies in East Asia- in my wallet was good enough for my travels. Unfortunately, some money changers might not accept SGD, or give you a crappy rate. So I’ve made it a habit to keep at least USD50 in my travel wallet just in case.
Know the local emergency number
Knowing the local emergency number is essential in case you find yourself in a bind. As an Asian female solo traveller, you need to make safety your topmost priority. If you find yourself in a potentially unsafe situation, pull yourself away from it, or alert the authorities immediately.
Look out for local happenings and activities you can join
If you’re living in a social hostel, you’ll find yourself at an advantage. There’re always things to do, and people around to do it with. For those who chose to stay in a hotel, it could be quite a challenge to find people to hang out with.
Look for events happening near you on Facebook or Google Search. Read destination guides on things to do. Go for cooking classes or group tours. Join the Couchsurfing community and check out their weekly meetups if you’re lucky enough they’re happening while you’re there. Go for Quiz Nights and Pub Crawls. Even if you don’t drink, there’re still a lot of fun people around.
Dress appropriately for the weather and the culture
If your destination is conservative, bring clothing that will allow you to blend in. Don’t wear heels while on day-trips while you travel Asia, or wear a fancy dress when the plan is to go hiking. Dressing for the gram is cool, but you’ll definitely stick out like a sore thumb and may attract some unwanted attention from creepy people.
Some destinations like in the Middle East will require you to dress modestly, so do take note of the culture and traditions of the destinations that you’ll be in.
Fake it till you make it – look confident to blend in
As a first-time solo traveller, it could be really daunting. Nobody starts out as a confident solo traveller though. This is something that comes with experience over time, and when you start getting comfortable in finding your way around on your own and learn to trust yourself. There were countless times while I was travelling solo and I was clueless as a goldfish. However, I try my very best to not let it show on my face.
That’s because women who are alone looking lost or confused can often attract the wrong kind of attention. Some people who offer help may be well-meaning, but there might be a small chance that the person might be out to take advantage of you. Put on your confident face, and walk as if you know where you’re going even if you actually don’t. If you’re truly lost, or have someone harassing you, seek help from the nearest woman, or a mother with children.
Try the local cuisines
Being a true Singaporean, eating is the highlight of my every trip. It is my favourite way to discover the culture of a particular destination. I am very adventurous with food and am keen to try anything and everything… reasonably of course. Find out what the local specialities are, and try to find local restaurants that are away from touristy areas. Some places off the tourist roads are cheaper and you might come across a language barrier trying to read the menu. Google Translate it or ask for recommendations. Trust me, if the food is good, you won’t regret it.
Eating alone is not as bad as you think, or how others make it out to be. You get to enjoy your food at your own pace, and people-watch at the same time. In Japan, there are restaurants catering to single diners too!
Talk to people around you – learn the basics of the local language
Learning the basics of the local language is a way to immerse yourself in the country’s culture. The least you can learn is “Hello”, “Bye” and “Thank You.” If you’re a shopaholic: “How much, please?” Most locals would be so thrilled to hear you speak their language. If you speak it well enough, you might even get a compliment (and a discount or two).
If you are in a country where it’s impossible to communicate, Google Translate has a function where you can record voices and have them translated as accurately as an AI could. I found this incredibly useful in South Korea when I was looking for a store that was supposed to be there but didn’t know it had moved.
Update your friends and family of your whereabouts
Remember how you promised your strict Asian parents that you’ll keep them updated every day. Do a check-in call, tell them about your adventures and assure them again that you’re having fun, you’re safe, and yes, you’ve eaten. If you’re travelling for an extended period, you can cure a little bit of your homesickness too when chatting with them.
If you’re an active Instagrammer, your stories of what you do on your travels will most definitely keep your friends and followers entertained.
Be safe, always
As an Asian female solo traveller, I almost always schedule all my activities when there’s light out unless I am in a big city that I feel comfortable in. When out at night, walk through well-lit places. Avoid taking shortcuts alone through a dark alley and always keep an eye on your belongings.
Sometimes you’ll come across people who seem nice at first but end up doing or saying something to make you feel uncomfortable. Worst still, have men harassing you for their entertainment. Those are the worst kind of people. Whenever you feel uncomfortable, calmly walk away from the situation or person. If you need to seek help, go to the next woman, a mother with children or a family. If they don’t speak English, explain that you need help from whoever, and trust me, there’re good-hearted people everywhere. They will keep you safe.
Meeting people at bars or clubs:
It was way easier to head out for the night to meet people pre-COVID times. However in Europe, bars and clubs are slowly opening up, so go out and have fun! However, stay safe ladies.
Again, be mindful of your personal belongings
Ensure your purse has a zipper. Keep it on you at all times, even when you go to the bathroom. Partying alone means being extra vigilant to ensure that you have a fun and safe experience.
Never leave your drinks unattended.
I’ve heard horror stories about people who went out partying and got their drinks spiked with drugs. A friend of mine woke up after a night of partying by the side of the road and without his phone or a wallet. Ladies, you might not be so lucky. If you suspect that your drink had been compromised, head to the bartender and get a new one.
Getting drunk ain’t classy, ladies. Know your limits!
Yeah, the drinks can be cheap. Or you’re awesome enough that people are buying you drinks all night. But if you get blind drunk at the end of the night and pass out in the middle of the street, who’s going to drag you home? You’re potentially an easy target for a mugging, kidnapping or even the most unimaginable. Drink within your personal limits. Take sips of water throughout the night. Your goal at the end of the night is to get back to your accommodation safe.
Ridesharing apps like Uber or Grab, and licensed taxis can get you home safely. I prefer taking Uber or Grab because you’re able to track your journey and report to the company if something is out of the ordinary. Remember to check if the vehicle plate number corresponds with the details on the app!
Keep an open mind, and know that you’re never alone
Taking that first step into solo travelling as a woman is quite daunting. There’s just so much to plan, so many people to assure (including yourself), and you may think: “Can I even do this?” The answer is: Yes you can, and you should!
Travelling solo has taught me to be more comfortable in my own skin. I learn to trust myself, make mistakes along the way and learn from it. I’ve experience so many wonderful things while solo travelling and made so many friends around the globe! If you keep an open mind, go out there and make some friends, you’ll never be alone. Sometimes the only time I can have peace is when I am on my bed, sleeping.
So, for all aspiring female solo travellers out there, I invite you to take a leap of faith and go do that trip you’ve been having doubts about. Travel safely and adventurously. If you think that solo travel might not be for you, who knows? Maybe you’ll have a change of heart once you experience it for yourself.
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