Friday, July 8, 2011

Traveling safely, solo style.

I have been surprised by people’s reactions to my traveling Asia alone, some are perplexed I’m even considering solo travel while others are genuinely concerned for my safety. I have nothing but good things to say about my adventures, and because the same questions keep coming up, I thought I’d write a little blog post about it all.

Being a loner:

When I did the Quad (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia) I rarely had any time to myself. I landed in Phuket, Thailand, made my way to Patong and that night had made friends with some people in my hostel. I had a solo ferry ride to Koh Phi Phi and there I met some really fantastic guys I ended up traveling the rest of Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam with. It wasn’t until we parted ways in Saigon that I was alone again and in a way it was exactly what I needed: a few days to recharge myself and eat ice cream, for lunch, in bed without being judged. There are two reasons I think it’s so easy to make friends in the Quad, firstly, because it’s so cheap to stay in dorms, you instantly make friends with your roommates. Secondly, because it’s such a ‘loop’ you end up seeing people over and over again. Thailand is a really fantastic place to start out solo traveling. If you stay in dorms in any of those countries during high season, you will have to make a concerted effort if you want to be alone.

In India, and now again in Indonesia, there are not really many hostels around, this is probably because hotels/guesthouses are so cheap. The consequence is it’s a bit more difficult to make friends, although I found it easier in India, probably because of how abrasive it is. Here in Bali I’m not such a fan of the majority of tourists; drunken Australians in wife beaters, woo! I’m also busy trying to work through my TEFL course, so am not going out as much as I’d like. It’d be pretty easy to make friends in Kuta if you went to a bar, wife beater essential, and started doing shots. I’ll be changing locations soon, and hopefully there will be some shared accommodation, as this is really the best way to meet travelers.


I’ve been really blessed on my travels, except for the occasional stalker in India, the ‘hey darling’ in Bali and the stares in Cambodia, I’ve had no problems, at all. I don’t really believe in letting fear govern my life and it’s the same when it comes to travel. I have a few rules for myself traveling and they are as follows:

Walk on the opposite side of the road to traffic, particularly at night.
Carry your handbag on the side furthest away from traffic. If you are wearing a backpack take it off in crowds and hold it under your arm, tight. Don’t put your backpack on your front, it looks awful and gives the impression that there’s something SUPER valuable in there which is very intriguing.
Don’t drink before you’ve made decent friends who will watch your back.
Don’t do drugs. Seriously. Here in Asia people get paid by the police to sell you drugs and let them know, you’d have to be an idiot to risk it.
Ensure you have safety money hidden in various places in your luggage – USD is best, but local currency is fine. I would suggest at least a week’s extra.
When in transit use your bag’s rain cover as a secondary protection to keep everything in place and away from the hand’s of others. I use this on my camera’s bag when I’m in a busy area. Remove any camera branding if possible (I cut off my lowpro label).
Familarise yourself with the currency, the costs, and always check your change. Don’t carry too much cash on you.
Before you leave home make sure you buy a medical pack containing pills to help deal with food poisoning. Use bottled water to brush your teeth in remote areas.

And my most important tip for traveling Asia is: to be kind. You will get hassled, more often than you can imagine. Sometimes it feels like a constant battle just to walk down the footpath without being attacked by the pleas; “motorcycle” “transport” “waterfall” “massage” “look at my store” etc. It gets annoying and some days it’s enough to put you in a bad mood, but please take the time to remember that this is their profession and it’s how they earn money to feed their families. As awful as it sounds, in some countries it’s better just to ignore them completely (especially Bali) if you are not interested. My secret weapon in Cambodia for the “transport” chimes was to tell them “walking, exercise!” cheerfully while enthusiastically skipping away. This was matched by a big smile and them repeating, “exercise! walking!” which is much more pleasant than being taunted down the road.

Until recently, I hadn’t seen much animal cruelty. Please consider whether the animals you want cutesee pictures with actually want them too. In Kuta, Bali, within the space of five minutes I saw a girl cuddling with a chained up monkey (photo attached) and a group of guys huddling around a caged monkey. Our tourism is what supports these ventures; the owners wouldn’t do this to the animals if we didn’t make it profitable for them to do so. When you give attention or custom to people who treat animals unfairly you are supporting animal cruelty.

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