In general, Asia is a fairly safe destination for women travellers but the usual hazards are real and you must stay aware. If it’s your first time travelling alone, or you are quite a sensitive kind of person, then heading off to countries with a greater culture shock rating, such as India and parts of Central Asia, may not be the best idea. There are some places that you can expect a fair amount of ‘hassle’ as a solo female. The major, more cosmopolitan cities, such as Tokyo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong and are good places to start off if you are feeling a bit nervous.
Many women argue that Asia is one of the least scary regions to travel through. In Buddhist countries, there is a large emphasis on respect for females and a deep-rooted sense of family, and a deep fear of shame means that sexual harassment of women is less common than in other parts of the world.
Asia is a well travelled destination and because of this, you’ll meet lots of other solo travellers along the way to share your journey with if you so choose.
Here are our tips for making the most of travel in Asia.
If you want to be alone
If you want to be left alone, then act like you’re not on your own. It’s time to put on a bit of an act – behave as though you are looking for someone, perhaps as if you’re looking for your driver and you’re annoyed that he has not yet arrived to meet you. Another brilliant strategy if you’re really being bothered by someone, perhaps a local man trying to sell you a tour or a hotel, then stare at the ground in mock embarrassment and say that your brother doesn’t like you chatting to strangers. It’s a lie, of course, but sometimes such tactics may be necessary in order to regain control of a situation.
If you want to get a fair price
A classic question any shopkeeper will ask you is a seemingly friendly one: “Is this your first time in our country, ma’am?” Never say yes. More often than not, it’s the merchant’s way of deciding how much they can rip you off by. Make it clear that you’ve been there before and you know how it all works (or ignore the question completely and talk about something else) and you’ll get a much better price.
If you are trying to keep clean
Always carry a little roll of toilet paper or a pack of tissues with you. Especially in countries such as India, and in regions less well visited by foreign tourists, there is regularly no paper available in toilets – even those on bars and restaurants. But don’t put paper in the toilet. Put it in the waste basket so that you don’t block the system.
If you want to save money
Teaming up with other travellers for the short term can be a good way to save some money, especially if you want to go on a particular tour or do a certain activity. It can also be more fun in a group and you may enjoy the camaraderie. Although be warned – don’t spend the money you saved on beers afterwards with your new travelling friends! Also, always use licensed taxis and public transport to avoid getting ripped off by independent traders.
If you want to get to know the locals
Asian people, particularly those in South East Asia, are used to living in large family groups and spending time with lots of people. A solo existence is unusual and they will find it strange that you’re travelling alone. Expect some direct questions and you won’t get upset when they find you weird. Take the time to talk to people and explain your lifestyle and situation and you may get a lot out of it. It also gives you the chance to be nosy and ask lots of personal questions that simply wouldn’t be appropriate to ask a stranger back home. Have fun with it!
If you want to stay in touch
Pick up a cheap mobile phone in your first destination that isn’t tied to a particular network or provider and then buy new SIM cards in each country you reach. Having some money stored up on a pay-as-you-go phone is budget conscious and means that you can always make an important phone call at a moment’s notice. Keep numbers of local taxi firms and your hotel in there for extra security.
If you want to avoid male attention
This one is common sense, really. Wear loose fitting clothes that cover your body as much as possible and avoid eye contact with strange men. Softer harassment such as winking and staring can still be quite unpleasant but it’s not just you – in many places, such as India, men consider this acceptable behaviour. The best thing to do is ignore it, keep your arms folded, or flash a wedding band in their direction (a fake one if necessary).
If you want to keep hold of your belongings
Theft is an issue in most Asian countries, as indeed, it is everywhere. So the general rule of thumb when travelling is – Don’t travel with expensive jewellery.