Traveling solo in Southeast Asia was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. It is hard not to fall in love with the culture, the food, and the people in each of the unique countries. But, setting out on your own in a place you’ve never been is a little nerve-racking– no need to worry – below I provide some tips and share some of my own experiences to prepare you for your trip:
Table of contents
- Pack Light
- Be aware
- Don’t over plan
- Bring a good medical kit
The best part about traveling through Southeast Asia – it’s HOT, which means you can leave all those heavy clothes at home. The lighter the clothes, the more outfits you can pack! I stuck to tank tops, tee-shirts and shorts. Tank tops are great to pack because they can fold up into practically nothing, are versatile, and comfortable.
Here are my top favorite clothing items for Southeast Asia:
- Tank top/tee-shirts
- High-waisted jean shorts
- Strapped sandals
Naturally, most people use travel backpacks on a backpacking trip, but there are plenty of other options. Backpacks are great if you are walking in areas that have poor road conditions, are walking long distances, or on cobbled streets (Europe). I went to Southeast Asia twice in the past 2 years and I used two different types of luggage: a backpack the first time and a rolling carry-on duffel bag the second time. Both of these were easy to manage, however, I found the duffle bag fit slightly more than my 60L Gregory backpack without compromising my mobility. Plus, I found the duffel bag was a nice option because it could be rolled and I could use the staps as a backpack if needed.
Tip: They create great travel backpacks that roll, check out this Eagle Creek Bag.
No Need to Worry – Just Be Aware
Southeast Asia has been consistently voted the #1 place in the world for female solo travelers, and for good reason. After backpacking my way through several countries in North and Central America, as well as Europe, I can confidently say that I felt the safest when traveling through Southeast Asia alone. I rarely had issues with men approaching me or making me feel uncomfortable. This was very much appreciated after being in other countries where I have been followed or cat-called.
Many assume that traveling alone as a woman is too dangerous – this isn’t true. The most beautiful part of travel is the people you meet. You soon realize that the majority of the people in this world are good. Bad situations can be found anywhere if you are not careful. Of course, things can go badly, but these situations are few and far between.
The best advice I can give is to just be aware of your surroundings – just use common sense!
I am able to give this advice because I have made this mistake before when I was out one night with a fellow traveler in Hanoi. I got lost so I decided to use the Maps.me app to find my way back to the hostel I was staying at. Next thing I know, a man on a motorbike drives by and steals my phone right out of my hand. So, now I was lost…with no directions..at night. Unfortunately, I was not paying attention and had to go the rest of the trip without a phone! Lesson learned.
Don’t Overplan- But Definitely Plan the First Night
I’ve done all different kinds of planning for my trips: full itinerary with everything planned, partial itinerary with some flights booked in advance, no itinerary with no flights booked in advance. While this is definitely a personal preference, I found that the less I planned the better. However, it is always best to have the first one or two nights booked at your first destination. You will be exhausted when you get off a long flight to Southeast Asia and the last thing you will want to do is spend time trying to find a place to stay.
As I said in the previous tip, the most amazing part of travel is the wonderful people you meet. The first time I backpacked I planned all of my accommodation and all of my transportation ahead of time which made my itinerary very unflexible. I had trouble with this when I arrived because I met great groups of people that would end up traveling around the region together – but I couldn’t go. I vowed to never make this mistake again. On the next trip, if I liked a place I stayed; if I met people I wanted to travel with then I left.
After arriving back in Bangkok for the second time this year with no flights or plans, I felt a true sense of freedom. The most I would plan was a couple of days out. It sounds a bit scary to plan things like flights a couple of days before, but flights within Southeast Asia are super cheap and always available. I caught a $40 AirAsia flight from Bangkok to Phuket just two days before departure.
Don’t Skimp on the Medical Kit
I already have to be careful what I eat since I am lactose intolerant, mixing that with foreign food can be a recipe for disaster. For this reason, I always make sure I have a good set of travel antibiotics with me to fight any kind of strong stomach bug that will put me out of commission. Fortunately, I did not have any problems in Southeast Asia, but I know some people who did.
I got salmonella in Honduras once and was terribly ill for a week without running water or a toilet. While this was a particularly unlucky circumstance, it was difficult to find a doctor that could help me in such a small town outside San Pedro Sula. I had to get local help and go back and forth to the doctors for antibiotics. After that, I made sure I took better precautions in terms of the food I ate and brought various kinds of medication just in case I had a similar experience in the future.
My recommendation: always eat where you see a lot of other people eating, both locals and tourists. Don’t miss out on the wonderful cuisine in this region, there are tons of available options, just use your best judgment. If you are really nervous, limit your meat consumption and stick to vegetable dishes. Southeast Asia is known for their delicious vegetarian meals. For example, Thailand is a vegetarian’s dream! Rice, vegetables, curry, pad thai etc. – there are endless options.
In terms of toiletries, no need for shampoo and conditioner. But I would recommend bringing any skin products since most lotions or body washes contain a skin whitening agent. Therefore, I would bring sunscreen (a solid if possible, to save room) a bar of soap or travel body wash, and travel body lotion. If you are particular about your feminine hygiene products, I would bring those as well. A new favorite among the female travel community is the diva cup, a portable and reusable menstrual cup.