If you’re a girl and you’re planning to trek through Asia on your own, take some time to plan. Asia is a totally different monster compared with Europe and North America. Language barriers, the climate and cultural differences mean that you have to be a little more careful and a lot more resourceful to stay safe and on budget. Though some of the tips below seem quite antisocial, they’ll be helpful when you’re not feeling particularly friendly or open to meeting strangers (sometimes alone time during travel is just as important as social time).
Leave the short shorts for home, or when you’re traveling in a group. Tank tops, mini skirts, and see-through anythings will draw unwanted attention even from the most well-meaning people (men and women included). If you’d like to travel in peace, don the sleeves and knee length cargo pants. Trust me! Things to bring: a shawl/scarf, hat, sunglasses, sarong, cargo pants, safari shirt.
Take advantage of shuttles
Shuttle services from the airport are a great way to get into the city centre hubs without having to deal with evening cabbies. Places like Singapore and Hong Kong have great airport transport systems (train or bus services) that will save you a lot of money (i.e. 6 USD from Singapore Airport to your hotel doorstep using the van shuttle service). These are an especially smart option when you’re arriving really late at night.
Sign up for tours
Though I prefer to wander cities without a tour guide, when traveling alone group tours are the best way to meet new friends. Oftentimes you will run into the same folks over and over again and can plan travel together. I particularly enjoy cycling and walking tours – they are a great way to exercise, green and intimate.
Travel with an iPod Touch
Download the Skype and Google Maps applications. Wifi is quite prevalent in Asia, even in the tiniest towns. Being able to check email, book hotels and plan itineraries online will be a big help. With an iPod Touch, you won’t have to worry about lugging a big laptop around – and you won’t get charged accidental roaming fees because it’s not your mobile phone.
Bring a book
If you’d like to sit in peace (at the train station, airport, restaurant) without the risk of someone trying to hit on you, bring a book and read it. Nothing says, “I want to be left alone” more than an engaging, engrossing book. This also works well when you’re on a 12 hour flight and the person next to you just won’t stop talking.
[Feminists will want to shoot me for this one] While in Bali, I met a fellow traveler who gave me the best piece of advice: buy a wedding ring. I was complaining about how hard it is to stay anonymous in Asia as a lone woman and he suggested buying a decent wedding ring (preferably gold) and having a tight story about my (non-existent) husband. After a few weeks staying in Ubud on my own, many of the local people started to notice my daily routine. It made me nervous, especially since the only ones who decided to talk to me about my stay were men and it would usually happen at night on my way home from dinner. Having a tight story about not being alone will help during those moments when you’re feeling threatened or a bit worried about safety.
Trust your gut
Instinct isn’t always right, but you can’t lose by listening to it. Sometimes even the best situations don’t feel quite right. Listen to that little voice inside of you that is just about ready to push the panic button. There’s a reason you’re feeling off and though it might not be so obvious, it’s smarter to listen than to ignore. In Kuala Lumpur, as the days passed, I started to feel more and more uneasy about hanging out there. My hotel wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods (which may have contributed to the dodgy feeling I had), but I found it odd that the longer I stayed, the less comfortable I felt (it should be the opposite). So one night I made a decision to leave – to abandon my India tourist visa-in-process (which was already late in the first place) and just move to another country. The nagging feeling in my stomach and the growing fear I had wasn’t something I could ignore. Don’t ignore that little voice!
Don’t be stupid
Don’t walk home alone in the dark, don’t walk down quiet abandoned streets, don’t follow strangers to areas that you don’t know, don’t forget to lock your door when you go to sleep. Common sense right? Well, just don’t be stupid!