This fall I’ve decided that it’s time to get back in the solo travel saddle so I’ve booked a ticket to Malaysia and Indonesia. For those of you who don’t know, I lived in Kuala Lumpur for a summer. That trip changed my life. Upon returning home, the thought of living a more mobile lifestyle never left me. Sure, it took me years to get here, but now that I’m here I’m excited to go back, visit friends, and reflect on how far I’ve come. However, I’ll be making this journey alone. As a solo female traveler to a predominantly Muslim country, there are a few extra things to consider.
About Solo Female Travel to Malaysia and Indonesia
Generally, solo female travel to both of these countries is safe. Although Malaysia and Indonesia are predominantly Muslim, there is a freedom of religion here. Bali is predominantly Hindu and Animist, while Kuala Lumpur has plenty of Buddhists, Hindus and Christians. In bigger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, you will largely go un-noticed. However, when traveling it’s always a good idea to take care and not draw attention to yourself, no matter where you are.
Get Familiar with the Culture and How Women Fit into Society
This is honestly the most important thing you can do as a solo female traveler to a Muslim country. In a lot of places throughout the world, it is not common for women to travel so far from home by themselves, especially in rural areas. Many people are curious about solo female travelers so be prepared to tell your backstory. I’ve told people that my husband is back home (I’m not married) and in a few suspect situations, that he was just around the corner and I was going to meet him. In fact, I usually wear a ring on my wedding finger when I travel solo just to avoid any awkward situations all together.
First and foremost, learn a few words in the local language. Your ability to even just say hi/bye and please/thank you will go a long way. I’ve been invited into homes, received special treatment at lodges, and even been invited to weddings because I knew a little local language and cultural norms.
Familiarize yourself with how women act and are perceived. Then adjust your behavior accordingly. Sure, you should be yourself, however when you are a woman traveling solo, you don’t really want to attract unwanted attention. This isn’t to say you should act subservient or put up with any form of harassment. Instead, conduct yourself in a manner that doesn’t make you look like a target. Is this country known for being soft spoken? Is it inappropriate to wear revealing clothing or be drunk in public? It will help you stay safe and be more well received by local people.
Prepare a To-Do List for Your Solo Adventure
Since it’s just you, it’s important to stay organized. If you accidentally forget something, chances are your invisible friend forgot to pack it too! I’m a pretty organized person who gets a satisfaction from checking boxes on a list, so I find a to-do list to be very helpful. Make sure you have the proper vaccinations and medications for your trip, that your cell phone is unlocked (so you can get a local SIM card), you leave your itinerary with someone from home and you make yourself a packing list.
Pack the Essentials for Solo Travel
There are a few things I pack differently when I travel solo. First, I always try to have a carry on. When traveling solo in Indonesia and Malaysia you don’t want to be bogged down by excessive luggage. You want to be mobile and be able to keep your things close to you, especially on public transportation and in transit. Here are a few items that I always take with me for solo travel.
- Extra entertainment: Solo travel can mean long times with yourself. I’ll always bring a notebook, pen and extra books. An e-reader or Kindle is great.
- An Unlocked Phone: If I’m traveling with someone, chances are I can get away with not having a local number. However, when I’m traveling solo I want to have an unlocked phone to get a local SIM card. This makes it easier to call local emergency services, confirm hotel and activity reservations, and connect with the local community. If you’re the kind of traveler that has loved ones back home, a local SIM is cheaper for data usage.
- A Selfie Stick: Ugh. I’m ashamed to admit it, but ya, when I travel solo, I’ll rock the selfie stick. I don’t like to constantly bother people to take photos of me, so the stick allows me to still capture images. Of course, I’ll ask too, but as a blogger I’m picky with my photo so instead of burdening a stranger, I let the selfie stick do all the work.
- Tampons or a Diva Cup: In many Muslim countries tampons are hard to find, so if you use them bring plenty of your own. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Diva Cup. It’s essentially a re-usable cup that you can use when it’s that time of the month. It’s easy to use, takes up less space, and is better for the environment.
- A large, airy scarf: These are infinitely valuable in a Muslim country. You can use it as a head scarf, or tie the ends together and make a shawl that will cover you up without making you hot. For travel, they are also awesome for cooler nights or can be wadded up and wrapped in a shirt for an extra pillow.
Plan Some Accommodation and Group Activities
Whenever I travel solo I plan a few night’s accommodation and a group activity or two. I’m the kind of person who can’t just show up at a place and not have somewhere to rest my head, so I’ll usually book a private room for my arrival. It gives me a chance to unwind, have some privacy, and crash early if I need to fight jet lag. Otherwise, I try to stay in more social places such as hostels (usually with a common space, but my own room), a private room at an AirBnB, or I’ll even Couchsurf.
I usually like to do things on my own, in my own way and on my own time. However, with solo travel, I’ll likely join a group activity or two, just so I can get out and be social. For example, I might check out a local Couchsurfing meet-up for some street-eats. Or I’ll join a group tour for something that I couldn’t go do on my own such as a scuba trip or a boat ride.
Dress Appropriately for Solo Female Travel
Nothing makes my eyes roll more than hearing women complain about how they were treated in a Muslim country. They say this next to photos of them in long skirts (good job) and shirt sporting their midriff (what on earth are you thinking?). When you travel to another country where women dress conservatively, don’t wear mini skirts or revealing clothing. I can’t tell you how many times I see this.
I tend to dress down in baggier clothing that at least covers me to my knees and near my elbows when traveling to a conservative country, solo or not. Looking cute comes secondary to looking like a target. However, maxi dresses, bohemian pants that come down to the calf and a scarf shawl are great ways to still look cute and be covered.
Solo travel as a female provides a sense of empowerment. It allows us to reconnect with ourselves. When traveling to a more conservative country, take a cue from local customs and try your best to blend in. This not only allows you to stay safe, but it also gives you a better opportunity to engage with the local community.