Guest post on solo travel in Southeast Asia by travel blogger Bianca Knauf of MyWildEarth
How did I end up here? Is this how it all ends?
I found myself stuck in a jungle, miles from civilization, alone among wild elephants and monkeys with no idea how to get back. My city girl attitude wasn’t going to help me here.
I needed to be someone else. Someone I’d never been before.
I needed to become industrious; to think like a local and make a plan.
But let me rewind just a little.
Just a mere four weeks earlier, I’d left the comfort of my home for a life of unbridled adventure. I’d dreamed of traveling Asia for as long as I could remember and the moment had finally arrived.
The umbilical cord of comfort and routine had me holding onto something I never really wanted in the first place. Bills, traffic and a tiny cubicle were light-years away from the wonder and adventure I dreamed of as a child.
The confines of modern life had their teeth in me for far too long and I had to get out, kicking and screaming.
Unstoppable and determined, I let go.
With my possessions either in storage or sold, I left the safe shores of the USA with only a backpack and a passport to explore Southeast Asia with as much money as I could muster on a mid-level salary. Hint: Not very much.
I don’t think I was timid. I wouldn’t even say I was scared, but the adventure that lay ahead of me would shake my very core into a tectonic paradigm shift that would leave me spellbound by its immensity.
Here’s my account of how solo travel in Southeast Asia changed who I am, forever.
My Favorite Solo Female Travel Destinations [Video]
Need some solo travel destination inspiration?
Watch the video above!
You’ll learn nine of my favorite places to travel alone, though note this list is in no way exhaustive.
After watching, let me know in the comments below what solo female travel destinations you’d add to it!
1. I Became Tough
The moment I landed in Bangkok, I realized that in order to travel solo successfully I would have to think on my feet. Everything moved much faster there. The bombardment of sights and sounds took some getting used to, and my first tuk-tuk experience was nothing short of hair-raising.
It was there I had my very first feeling of complete inadequacy. The world around me was loud, busy and vivid. If you don’t watch yourself, you quickly become swallowed up by the melee.
Upon arriving at my “Condotel,” the room was pretty dreadful. Dinner included a fair share of ants and I must have had the worst Wi-Fi in the Eastern hemisphere.
As I sat there eating my Pad Krapow Moo Saap I was faced with a hard fact. If I was to endure six months of traveling Southeast Asia, I’d have to toughen up. Big time.
I took a deep breath, cleaned some space in my room and then in my head. Then I opened all the windows and curtains and let every part of the hot Bangkok night pour into my senses. It was maddening, but in a serene sort of way.
I had finally left the mundane life behind and my adventure was well and truly afoot.
It was a rocky start; but now it felt like a GREAT start.
2. I Became Brave
Shortly after Bangkok, my journey took me south to Krabi.
In the resort town of Ao Nang, I saw a completely different side of Thai culture. I visited temples and was made silent by their peacefulness. I explored markets and enjoyed the smells and tastes of the local cuisine.
I rented a scooter to explore the hidden beaches and winding roads. I found myself lost metaphorically and then shortly thereafter, literally. “Was that two lefts and a right or was it the other way around?”
My mind conjured an image of an elephant sanctuary on the way. Perhaps they’d know how to direct me back home. Except…oh yeah. I didn’t even know which way I came from.
A new plan emerged as I retraced my steps as best I could, looking for any signs whatsoever mentioning elephants. Finally, the correct turnoff came into view. Following the twists and turns through the jungle, the vegetation grew thicker.
“What if I never find my way back?” I worried silently, though anyone who saw me would have seen the anxiety on my face. Oh, how I would have given anything to see anyone at that moment.
Then suddenly I saw a compound. I had no idea where I was, but hoped someone inside would.
Parking my scooter and walking around the grounds, my fear melted away for a moment. Nobody was in sight. It felt like I had entered an abandoned world created just for me to discover. I looked in awe at the buildings and structures.
The Thai people will turn the most basic of resources into something useful. It’s a survival attitude that turns coconut husks into rope and bamboo sticks into makeshift houses. They had taken what looked (at first) like a plight of poverty, and turned it into considerable comfort and bounty.
It was at this moment I realized, hey, I can be this survivor. The person who makes something out of nothing and who gets out of sticky situations with ease.
I hopped back on my scooter and rode out towards Ao Nang like a cowboy heading home. No, I still had no idea where I was going; but if you’ve been to Krabi, you’ll know it’s a topographical paradise scattered with hills, cliffs and lookout points.
Using my newly-realized survivor instincts, I looked for the highest point I could find and just drove until, thank goodness, I started to see landmarks in the distance. First the spire roofs of familiar temples and then finally, the blue ocean.
That water would be mine so soon. I just needed to find the way.
Sure, there were many wrong turns along the way; but I finally made it back with some daylight to spare.
It may seem mild now, but this is one of the bravest things I felt I’ve ever done. And I was thirsty for more.
3. I Lost My Prejudice
It was weeks later in Kuala Lumpur that I saw women in burkas shopping at Nike and Under Armour. I don’t know what exactly I expected, but seeing their white sneakers sticking out from the black flowing garments left me feeling…surprised. They seemed very comfortable in their domain.
Had I always thought Muslim people were, by definition, oppressed and deprived?
As far as Kuala Lumpur goes, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Another afternoon, while out picking up dinner in a local market, I stopped at a stall and ordered a bag of stew. Two girls wearing the most beautiful head scarves stood behind the counter giggling. Suddenly, they turned to me and asked shyly if I could take a photo with them. The interaction was the highlight of my day. In fact, it stuck me that I must be as different to them as they had originally been to me. I returned to the stall numerous times to chat with my new friends, swapping cultural stories and having our minds opened.
The trip was a wonderful reminder that regardless what we believe or how we dress, we are actually very much alike.
4. I Became Kind
Further along my travels I reached Bali. Once I got past the hustle and bustle of Kuta and traveled deeper into Ubud — a place of yoga, wellness, hiking trails (like Mount Agung), and Bali flower baths — a kind of peace came over me.
By now I wasn’t afraid of new experiences and had let go of my need to control every outcome, which made Bali solo travel a much more enjoyable experience.
Now, it was all about rolling with the punches and looking at everything — both good and bad — as being part of the experience. I was awash in that freedom I’d been searching for from the beginning.
Additionally, it was in Ubud that I discovered true kindness. The kind that sets off a domino effect.
Once one person experiences sincere altruism, they can’t wait to offer the same to someone else. I saw tourists playing Frisbee golf with local kids. Locals were teaching travelers how to chisel wooden face carvings. It was like a Utopian paradise where kindness was their anthem.
There was even one time when I accidentally left my sling bag filled with valuables at a coffee shop, only to find the staff running after me to return it.
You cannot help seeing people differently when the dog-eat-dog world is left far behind. I decided to always keep this part of me alive, even if I was back in the “real” world.
Quick tip: if visiting this incredible place, try to do a bit of research into the best times to visit Bali. For instance, if you’ll be doing a lot of outdoor activities or riding a motorbike to get around, you may want to avoid the rainy season. Moreover, it’s recommended to spend at least 7 days in Bali to see the main highlights.
5. I Became the Guru
While meeting other travelers on my journey, it soon became clear I was the one people were seeking advice from.
“Where should I go? Is it safe?”
New travelers were relying on me to guide them into this magical world.
Was it only a few months ago that I was the baby bird lost in the wild jungles of Asia? Not anymore.
So many of these life-changing solo travel experiences were, to be honest, seemingly inconsequential: getting lost on a tuk tuk, having conversations with women of other religions, keeping my mind open to the small but kind gestures of others.
But so many times these small gestures can have a huge impact. And while backpacking Southeast Asia, they made a huge impact on me.
Is solo travel worth it? If you ask me, absolutely.
Solo Travel Tips
New to solo travel?
I made so many mistakes when planning my first trip solo — like booking out every second of my itinerary so that I had no room for adventure.
That’s not what I want for you.
To help you plan a meaningful and memorable trip, I’m sharing my top tips for planning the perfect solo trip — with confidence!
*Featured image via myeviajes/Pixabay
Hi, I’m Bianca and I have traveled across 6 continents, sometimes alone, but in recent years, with my husband and beautiful young son. The spirit of adventure has never left and it permeates my day-to-day life. I am currently based in Cape Town, South Africa, planning my next adventure. Follow my travels on MyWildEarth.
Want to live your best life through travel?
Subscribe for FREE access to my library of fun blogging worksheets and learn how to get paid to travel more!