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I had flown alone before, but my current trip to Asia was the first time I truly traveled alone.  On my trips to France, Ireland, and Mexico I had people to pick me up at the airport, and an instant group of friends awaiting me when I arrived.  While I knew that would be true when I reached Thailand to begin my internship at XploreAsia, my trip to South Korea was my first real solo travel experience.  I not only flew alone, but got myself to my hostel on my own.  I was nervous before I left, as I don’t speak a word of Korean.  However, my fears proved to be unfounded.  I was easily able to deal with the things I was concerned about, such as:

Getting Around

English is very present in cities like Seoul and Bangkok.  Most signs, particularly those at airports and on trains, display both the native language and English. This makes getting around on your own easy.  Trains, especially those in major cities, are incredibly easy to navigate.  Particularly if you have experience with a train system like the El in Chicago or London’s Underground, you shouldn’t have any issues.  The trains I’ve seen were also cleaner, larger and generally safer feeling than the ones back in Chicago.

On the off-chance you do get lost, I have found people in South Korea and Thailand to be very helpful.  Whenever I stopped to look at a map in Seoul, someone would approach me and ask if they could help.  In Thailand, people are similarly kind.  The only thing to be wary of is that, in my experience, Thai people will nod and give you the impression they know what you’re talking about, when they have no idea.  This means it may take a bit longer than anticipated to get where you’re going, but eventually you’ll find someone who is not only able to help you, but very happy to do so.

The train stations in Bangkok have gorgeous views!

Catcalling

One of the pleasant surprises of traveling alone in Asia was the way men reacted to me, or, rather, didn’t react to me.  I’m used to walking around alone in Chicago and Europe, where catcalling is a pretty regular occurrence.  Men in Chicago aren’t always the most polite, and I have had a few instances where I felt threatened.  European men seem to have picked up a lot of their English skills from rap songs, and it shows in the way they speak to women.  Even in small-town Ireland, as soon as summer rolled around and I began wearing shorts, honks and odd groaning noises became a regular occurrence.  Completely on my own in Seoul, I expected more of the same.  While I received my fair share of stares, men didn’t yell things at me or catcall at all.

Thailand is a bit different.  Men will call out to you in the street, especially if you are wearing shorts or are otherwise dressed less modestly than the typical Thai woman.  However, the things they say are generally far less offensive than what I have heard in other countries.  While I would prefer to just be ignored, I’ve always preferred “Hey, beautiful!” to the more aggressive and sexual catcalls I get back home.  In Thailand, most men just say “Hello!”  I can even say hello back, and the conversation usually ends there.  If not, I’ll hear “How are you?  You’re beautiful.  I like you.  You have boyfriend?”  That is generally the extent of their English, and personally, none of these interactions have left me feeling shaken or worried. 

Obviously it’s still important to be careful, especially in a country where saving face is so important.  Just as I always ignore men back home so as not to provoke violence, here I generally smile as I walk away when strange men approach me.  Saving face is very important in Thai culture, and people can react very badly when they feel embarrassed.  As such, I try to maintain my distance without offending the man in question.  Just like back home, no matter how annoying I find being approached, I never tell the man off or get visibly angry. 

Walking across a London street, keeping an eye out for catcallers

Walking Around at Night

As most women have been told since we were little girls, you should always avoid walking home alone at night.  However, at some point, you might get into a situation where you do walk by yourself at night.  Personally, I have always felt much safer doing this in other countries than back in America.  I never walked alone after dark in Korea, but I have done so a couple of times in Thailand.  While it’s not something I would advise anyone to do, regardless of gender, I haven’t had any scares or issues. 

Taxis are also readily available in Thailand, so there shouldn’t be any real need to walk alone.  I’ve found that taxi drivers here are great about taking you straight to your door, particularly at night.

Judgment

As a woman traveling on your own, other people are going to have a lot of opinions about what you’re doing.  They may think you’re crazy or reckless.  They may tell you horror stories to try to convince you not to go.  Even when you leave home, you may still get comments.  When I went to Mexico, many people expressed shock that I was there on my own.  “You’re so young!” they would exclaim.  I look quite a bit younger than my age of 25, and this doesn’t help the number of people who are concerned for me.  These people are generally very well-intentioned, but I wouldn’t take what they say to heart.  Do your research, be mindful of your surroundings, and use your street smarts, but don’t let the opinions of others dissuade you from following your dreams of traveling.  Before I moved to Ireland, my family told me it was a bad idea.  I didn’t listen, and trusted that I knew myself better than they did.  It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made, and now my family are supportive of my travels as they see how good traveling is for me.

When traveling alone, don't be afraid to ask a stranger to take your picture. The nice girls who took this one for me were happy to do it!

It’s great to travel with friends or family, but sometimes there’s no one in your life who can take off work or afford to go with you.  Rather than letting the fear of going alone hold you back, I recommend taking the plunge and traveling alone.  You’ll get to do what you want, when you want, and discover that you are more independent and capable than you ever believed.  Deciding to travel alone as a woman is the greatest thing I have ever done for myself.  I hope that other women that have considered traveling alone embrace adventure and discover not only the joys of seeing the world, but their own inner strength and confidence.

Mary Leonard is an intern at XploreAsia.  You can follow her travels on her blog, Wide Eyes and Wanderlust

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