I flew to Asia as a solo female traveller at age 23. It was the first adventure that I’d ever taken by myself and I was nervous, to say the least… Would I feel safe? Would I make any friends? Would I be able to relax and enjoy myself? During those six months in Southeast Asia, I had the absolute time of my life… I never felt in danger once, I had some unforgettable experiences and I made lifelong friends!
In my opinion, Southeast Asia is THE number one destination for solo female travellers. Crime (in particular, violent crime) is very rare in Southeast Asia and I honestly felt much safer wandering around most parts of Southeast Asia than I do in Europe, where I am from! From my experience, locals are more likely to invite you into their homes for lunch, rather than rob or harm you!
There are exceptions, of course, and just like anywhere in the world, you shouldn’t do anything stupid… like walk alone at night, flash your belongings around or get uncontrollably drunk! Get your research started early and check out this list of places to avoid in Southeast Asia. It’s full of destinations where we advise being more cautious and we even include a few places you may want to avoid entirely!
Below are some excellent tips for female travellers, compiled with the help of some fabulous ladies in our Facebook community! They will help you to prepare for your travels in Southeast Asia, pack appropriately, and most importantly, feel safe on the road. These tips are specifically written with solo female travellers in mind. It’s also a good idea to also read our general travel tips for Southeast Asia. Here you’ll get more fantastic info on saving money, avoiding scams, and making the most out of your trip.
Read Next (Opens in New Window):
- 10 Tips for Solo Travellers
- 69 Tips for First-Time Travellers to Southeast Asia
- Southeast Asia Backpacking Itinerary – The Ultimate Route
Essential Tips for Solo Female Travellers
1. Alcoholic Drinks
Never accept drinks that could have been spiked. For this reason, it is best to avoid drinking the alcohol buckets that can be found in many of Thailand’s beach resorts. These colourful buckets usually contain cheap alcohol (whiskey or vodka), ice, and a mixer, like M150, a cheap (and nasty!) energy drink. As the bucket is wide open at the top with no lid, it would be very easy for someone to slip something else into the drink. It is much safer to stick to drinking beer which you can watch being opened by the bartender, and also keep your thumb over the opening whilst you are dancing or moving around the bar chatting.
2. Underwear and Swimwear
Take more underwear and swimsuits than you think you will need, as sometimes these items can go missing. (Most often, they seem to get lost whilst doing laundry!) Underwear and swimsuits for sale in Southeast Asia can definitely be on the small side! So, unless you are a very petite size (6-8), it is definitely wise to take more of these with you in your backpack as it can be downright impossible to buy decent items while you are there. (One strange thing is that the underwear on offer in Southeast Asia also tends to be rather childish… bunny rabbits, kittens that kind of thing!)
- Don’t rely on buying clothes in Asia unless you’re slim. As a size 16, I only bought one thing from a market because everything else was so small! – Heather S
- A friend of mine (who was around a size 10) went to buy a bikini in Bangkok and the Thai lady said to her “one size fits all… but not you!” – Nikki S
- Don’t take too many bras, if you’re anything like me you’ll have to rinse them/wash them after every use but bikini tops dry out a lot faster, so I sometimes wore them instead. – Heather S
- Bring at least 2-3 bras, when I got my laundry done, they lost the two I had and spent a month without one. Apparently, my size doesn’t exist in Asia and if it did, it was so expensive. – Gabriela VM
3. Luggage Safety
Bring a small padlock with you and make sure your luggage is locked when it is left unattended, for example, when you are sleeping on an overnight bus or train. If you have a larger bag, sometimes you will be asked to place it in the luggage compartment underneath the bus… this will almost always be fine, as long as it is locked. (It is always wise to take two bags with you backpacking; one larger backpack for your clothes, toiletries, and other items and another small rucksack with your valuables in (money, passport, phone, etc.), which you should never allow to leave your side.
- Take multiple bank cards and copies of your ID. And keep them stored in various locations (day bag and main bag) so if one gets stolen you’ve still got a backup. Also, take a few hundred dollars in cash and split these across locations in case of emergencies. – Sophie C
- I always take an extra set of emergency clothes in my daypack just in case my main bag gets lost by the airline. – Jenny B
When packing your rucksack, it can be tempting to cram in as many clothes as you can. However, we believe in packing way less than you think you’ll need! You will accumulate many things along your journey and you definitely want to leave space in your rucksack to pick up new items of clothes and souvenirs! Laundry can be done very cheaply in Southeast Asia (around $0.50 a kilo), either by handing in a dirty bag to the nice folks at the hostel or by using public washing machines that can be found in many places. If you’re a DIY kind of gal, you can also wash your clothes yourself in the sink or shower using travel hand detergent.
- Pack lightweight clothing that you can wash in the sink and dry overnight. – Lizzy N
- I took a travel washing line which proved useful, especially because I did most of my own laundry myself in sinks and the shower, so it was good to hang them up in an outdoor area. – Heather S
- Flip flops (or easy-to-slip-on shoes) are a must, they’re the only thing you’re able to wear inside in a lot of hostels as it’s customary to remove shoes when entering. – Heather S
Mark my words ladies – a sarong will be THE most useful and versatile item of clothing in your backpack! You actually don’t need to pack this item before you go as it is super easy (and cheap) to pick up one (or several) when you arrive in Southeast Asia. Most of the touristy shops will sell a variety of colourful sarongs in a range of sizes starting at around $5 US. The sarong can be used as a beach towel, a bedsheet, a towel, a skirt, a top, a cover-up at temples, a turban… use your imagination!
- A sarong is a must-have item for female travellers! Useful for cover-ups at temples, on the beach, as a blanket on cold trains and planes… the options are endless – Cassy T
6. Period Products
It can definitely be difficult to find tampons in many places in Southeast Asia. So, if they are your product of choice for dealing with that time of the month, then it is wise to bring enough with you to last until the end of your trip. Many stores in Asia will sell tampons, however, they tend to be made of a plasticky material, rather than cotton, and so you may not find them as comfortable. Sanitary pads are available almost everywhere, however, again, you may not find the material as agreeable.
One of the best things you can do for your menstrual health (as well as the environment!) is to invest in a menstrual cup (such as the Mooncup) before you go. These reusable and washable items mean that you never have to worry about finding tampons or pads whilst you travel and you’ll have more room in your backpack for the fun stuff! See here some other plastic-free travel items that we recommend.
- Get a Mooncup! This has been my must-have item. It’s great for the environment, clean and easy to use! – Lisa D
7. Make-up and toiletries
The natural look is the way to go in Southeast Asia. In this hot and humid climate, makeup will only clog your pores and leave your complexion looking clammy and sweaty. Take only minimal cosmetic items (concealer, mascara, lip gloss) or better still, none at all. When it comes to toiletries… most products can be bought in Asia at drug stores or supermarkets while you’re there. However, if you do have a specific brand that you must use, then take enough with you to last the journey. Plastic-free travel items such as soap and shampoo bars are a great idea, not just for you but for the planet too!
- Shampoo bars, conditioner bars, and soap will save you a LOT of space and weight in your luggage (and save the environment from plastic waste). I took one of each which lasted me a good 4 months. – Heather S
- Don’t bother with makeup. You’ll never wear it. Bring sunscreen and BUG SPRAY! (Theirs has NO DEET, so it’s basically water). – Gabriela VM
- Bring your own condoms. I had a lot of trouble finding a normal size. You never know what can happen travelling! – Cata O
8. Download Grab
Grab is the must-have app for solo female travellers to Southeast Asia, ensuring that you will always have a safe and affordable ride wherever you are. It is the Asian equivalent to Uber and can be used in almost all Southeast Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan). To make sure that you have access to the internet at all times and can use Grab wherever you are, we recommend that you get a local SIM card as soon as you arrive. Check out our guide to the best SIM cards for each country in Southeast Asia here.
- Download Grab! Even if you hardly use it, you can use it to get a price for your journey so you at least know what you should roughly pay for a lift, so you know whether you’re being ripped off and charged tourist prices. – Heather S
- I used Grab a bunch. Make sure the license plate and car match the one on the app. And only pay via the app, do not pay extra if the driver asks. Cancel and find another even if it charges you. You can easily dispute it on the app and get refunded by reporting the driver. I had that issue twice. – Sara H
- I definitely recommend getting a SIM card so that you have access to the internet at all times to utilize Grab. I heard of others talking about taxi scam issues that they ran into that I never had because I used Grab. – Danielle S
While we highly recommend getting to grips with the fabulous hand-held butt washing device that is more commonly known as the bum gun, it is wise to carry some toilet paper or toilet tissues around with you in Southeast Asia. If you do decide to brave the bum gun, the TP can be used to dry yourself off afterwards. (I’ve known female friends who have developed thrush from having a constantly clammy under-area!) And, if you’re not quite confident enough to use the bum gun just yet, then your supply of TP will ensure that you’re never caught short.
- Bring TP with you out and about. Many Asian bathrooms do not supply it. – Ashley F
- Consider a “Go-Girl” some places don’t have a place for girls to sit on the loo, it might be very handy in certain parts of Asia. – Gabriela VM
Learning just a few words in the local language of each country will help you to feel more relaxed and comfortable, and also make locals believe that you are a more experienced traveller (even if you are not!). Knowing some local words will also make you safer as scammers often prey on the most naive and ‘wet behind the ears’ travellers.
- Learn basic phrases of each country. Don’t assume everyone speaks English. – Jenn P
- Try to learn a few conversational words of that country’s language: it might save you from getting ripped off. It will also help locals to feel comfortable with you. I am from India and am now learning Bahasa before I go to Bali, Indonesia. – Sharvi
As a solo female traveller, backpacker hostels offer a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow travellers. I remember on my first solo trip to Asia, I worried about how I would make friends… yet on the first night at the backpacker hostel I was staying at, I made friends instantly! Many of the popular backpacker hostels host events which are designed to help travellers meet each other (quizzes, cooking classes, pub crawls).
If you’re a newbie traveller, I would recommend booking yourself into a popular hostel for your first few nights in Southeast Asia where you can find your feet and start to feel comfortable. (See these hostels in Bangkok, for example.) Be sure to check out the reviews of hostels on Booking.com and TripAdvisor to find suitable hostels and remember you can always refer to our awesome hostel lists or ask for advice in our Facebook group.
- I backpacked solo through SEA for eight months and I would highly recommend staying at hostels where hopefully you’ll meet some kickass people. I travelled with the majority of people I’ve met at hostels and they are still my friends to this day! – Jenn P
- Don’t ask for travel mates online but meet people in person… then you know who you’re stuck with! – Dafna
- You’ll meet so many helpful and friendly people on your travels – never be afraid to just randomly start a conversation! – Sophie C
12. Your Belongings
While muggings and bag snatchings are rare, it’s always wise to keep your belongings close to your body whilst travelling. When you’re walking along the street, wear your backpack secure on your back (or better still on your front where you can see it). If you use a shoulder bag, walk the bag on the side furthest from the road to avoid guys driving by on motorbikes and grabbing your bag. As is the case with anywhere in the world, don’t flaunt your belongings and always keep valuables or money in hidden pouches in secure places in your rucksack (in several places). Anti-theft backpacks or money belts can be a good idea if you are travelling to more dangerous areas.
- Keep your phone close to you! Thieves on motorbikes may zoom by and grab it if you’re walking with it out. Don’t keep it in pockets or easy-to-grab areas! – Alexandra N
- Keep money, cards and phone, etc. in front of your body where you can keep an eye on them, and not all in one place, just in case your bag gets nabbed. Be wary of motorcycles who can drive by quickly and grab your bag. – Su J
13. Download Google Maps offline
Even if you get yourself set up with a local SIM card when you arrive, it’s always a good idea to download Google maps for the area you’re visiting onto your phone for those emergency occasions when you get lost and don’t have the internet. This way, you will be able to see if a taxi seems to be taking you in the wrong direction or you are being led out of your way by a new acquaintance. You will also be able to make your way back to your hostel if you get lost in a new city or town. And, if you don’t want to have to rely on your mobile phone at all, you could always go old school and get a paper map! (See here for more useful apps to use whilst backpacking.)
14. Dress appropriately
Southeast Asia is a conservative region with most of the countries being Buddhist or Muslim (the Philippines is the exception as it’s the only Catholic country). While women are not required to cover up (especially in the Buddhist countries), it is recommended that you dress appropriately, and not show too much cleavage/thigh/butt! For the most part, shorts, vest tops, and t-shirts are fine, apart from in stricter Muslim areas of Malaysia and Indonesia. Sunbathing in bikinis on beaches across most of Southeast Asia is also totally fine, however, going topless/nude sunbathing is frowned upon! When visiting temples or religious buildings you should cover your shoulders and your knees and adhere to any other clothing restrictions.
- Don’t walk around in your bikini unless you’re AT the beach. Please don’t go to 7-11, or get in a van, or walk around town or take a transfer boat in your bikini. In most countries (including probably your own) it’s frowned upon by locals. Don’t be that chick. – Jay W
15. Trust Your Gut
They say female intuition is a force to be reckoned with. Listen to it. If something doesn’t feel right or you get a bad vibe about a particular place or a person, trust yourself and get out of the situation as fast as you can. You may be wrong, but you never know, that gut instinct may just save your life!
- Take care of yourself and trust your gut feeling. – Emilie H
And one final tip…
- Get a massage EVERY DAY – you will not regret this cheap luxury! – Kelly S