Like Jane Austen But Not: The Single Gal's Guide to Travelling Asia

1: Avoid Spaghetti Straps
Shoulders are an erogenous zone in many cultures. Particularly shy ones. In South-East Asia, nothing, and I do mean nothing, says “hooker” more than spaghetti straps. OK. Maybe fishnets, Perspex platforms and a basque. And if you packed those, lady, make like the real fetishists and change before you leave the disco. Mm?

2: Hold the Back Bars of a Motorbike, not the Driver
In most cultures, pressing your breasts against a chap you’ve never met is a recipe for mutual discomfort. Taking a motorbike taxi? Hold onto the back bars if you need support, or (better) centre your weight by resting a hand on either knee. Wearing a skirt? Sit side-saddle.

3: Sitting Upfront? Put Your Bag Beside You
@spunkygirllogue lamented the effect of sitting upfront in taxis on Twitter: and, yep, back is best. However, on some forms of mass transport, the driver will simply pick the hottest chick to sit upfront. If you’re the lucky lady, use your daypack as an impromptu seat divider, then sit back and enjoy the legroom. In a ladylike fashion, naturlich.

4: Dress Conservatively.
I am 36. That’s old enough to have chanted “whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”. So this advice sticks in my craw. Still, there are places where hitting main street in shorts and a T-shirt is equivalent to walking down Oxford Street in nipple pasties and nowt else. Observe what local women wear, and cover what they do. And, yes, this totally applies on the beach.

5: Cover an Extra Joint during Ramadan
In Islamic countries or regions, it’s polite to show respect during the fasting month of Ramadan. An unscientific sample further suggests that local gents get frisky of an evening, thanks to the sugar and/or arrack rush that sets in after sunset. To take the pressure off, cover one more joint than you usually would. Run out of joints? Cover your hair.

6: Get Married – Convincingly
In many Asian countries, folk marry at twenty-ish, breed promptly and stay married. Travelling as a solo woman, you’re an oddity. And, in some necks of the woods, a de facto slapper, too. Invent a convincing husband – one with a job and a reason he can’t be with you. Also handy? A reason you don’t have kids yet, and a place where you’ll be meeting him soon.

7: Live Somewhere Random
Fed up of strange men with best friends in your home city? Say you live somewhere really, really random. And hard to pronounce. Kamchatka, perhaps. Or Timbuktu. It may not take the pressure off. But it will give you a quiet giggle or two.

8: Stay (Relatively) Sober
Most female travelers are in much less danger of serious sexual assault when traveling Asia than during, say, their first week at university at home. However, off your tits or stumbling drunk without your friends in a strange town is never a good idea.

9: Unsure about a Lift? Write the License Number Down.
In Asia, there is not always a clear boundary between official and unofficial forms of transport. As in almost anywhere in the world, punctilious production of pen and paper will instantly sort the chancer looking for an easy buck from the chancer looking for an easy lay (or worse).

10: Make Friends
One often unacknowledged benefit of solo female travel is the ability not only to enter women-only spaces but to make friends with local women much more easily than one would as half of a couple. Looking to meet other travelers? Asking folk about where they’ve been before and where they’re going next is an excellent icebreaker.

11: Avoid Resorts with a Beach Boy Culture
Sex tourism in Asia is still, like most forms of booty commerce, a market whose demand side is overwhelmingly male. However, increasing equal-opportunity provision in parts of Bali and swathes of Thailand can make some beaches an oppressive prospect for the more sensitive lady. Unless you like gigolos spoon-feeding you tidbits. Which some women, clearly, do. You don’t? Plead allergies.

12: Wear Trousers on Long Journeys
On trains, buses, boats – anywhere where you might need to lie down and sleep – trousers are infinitely better than skirts.

13: Know What You’re Getting Into
In most of Asia, the solo female can expect no worse by way of sexual hassles than the odd bit of badinage from a motorbike or the sort of one-off grab that can happen anywhere. Heading to, say, northern Pakistan or Banda Acheh, Indonesia? Research the amount of routine unpleasantnesses you are likely to face and the risks of more serious assault, the chances of authorities doing jack about either, then decide if the destination’s worth it.

14: Stay Open
We travel in search of new experiences, not to face the world with fear. Most women who started traveling young will have a list as long as their arm of gobsmackingly risky activities they’ve survived intact – and many Asian countries are safer for the solo female than big Western cities. Don’t let your gender get you down. It’s a big world out there, and it’s for all of us. Enjoy it.

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7 Responses

  1. jessiev says:

    brava! i love this list – and it makes SO MUCH sense when pointed out.

  2. Thank you. You’ve just made my morning reading this. What better way to enjoy my cuppa then by reading a post that legitimately uses the words Jane Austen, slapper, gigolos and nipple pasties!

    Some good tips too. I got good mileage out of wearing a fake wedding ring in my younger travel days. And wearing the right clothes is so important. Although I do kind of miss the old Korean ajumas running across the road to tug down my shirt that was just a few inches short and displaying the small of my back as they excitedly told me that they had just saved me from a life of shame.

  3. Marilia says:

    Women traveling solo need this kind of list. It´s nice to read the knowledge of a fellow woman traveler before you engage on a trip.

    I´m about to go on a trip with my daughter and found this really useful.

  4. Empressnasigoreng says:

    This is very good advice. Re no 10, I also find old people great allies for fending off sleazy blokes. I had a fellow “accidentally on purpose” touching my knees on a bus in Sumatra and before I knew it some old lady had taken him to task and got the conductor to eject him from the bus so he spent the next 5 or so hours of the journey travelling on the roof! Ha ha!
    Another one is to wear sunglasses so you can look at men without them seeing you looking at them adn taking it as a come on. (This probably more Middle East than Asia).

    • MummyT says:

      The sunglasses one is a great tip: I have to say, I’ve not felt the need for it in Asia, though we haven’t been to Sumatra (and I’m not currently planning to go), but I will bear it in mind if we do. I punched a groper once in Marrakesh and got a lot of vocal support from other women when he got angry…

      And, yes, anyone who could be the mother/grandmother of the groper makes an amazing ally. If I hit trouble, I’ll try and enlist an elderly lady.

  1. July 3, 2011

    […] Like Jane Austen But Not: The Single Gal’s Guide to Traveling Asia – Travels with a Nine Year Old […]