Avoiding the sads while traveling alone in Asia
May 19, 2011 3:02 AM   Subscribe

Single female traveling solo for nine days in Kuala Lumpur and Bali. Please reassure me that I'm not going to be sad and lonely and freaked out the entire time.

I'm pretty well-traveled early 30s female, but have never traveled alone in Asia before. Or anywhere, really; I've always been with a partner or friends. But I now have over a week of time on my own, with a weekend in Kuala Lumpur and then a week in Bali (Seminyak). I'm looking for reassurance that I might be able to meet people, and suggestions for the best way to do that in each location while still staying safe. I'm looking into various group tours (specific recommendations welcome) as well as specific bars, restaurants, etc. where it's expected that you can mingle and chat with other people. I'm very sociable and fun, so in the right situation I'm happy to start up conversations with strangers.

Any general travel tips for KL and Bali are also gratefully received (I've read through other threads on these locations, but new advice or suggestions are great!)

FWIW I'm staying in upmarket accommodations in both locations, so no hostel situations where it's more or less expected that you'll meet and hang out with other solo travelers.

Many thanks in advance for easing my nervous mind; I don't want what should be an amazing experience to be lonely and miserable!
posted by ladybird to Travel & Transportation around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you generally sad and lonely and freaked out? If yes, try to frame this as a holiday from that. If no, is there a particular reason you feel like it will be a big part of your trip?

Kuala Lumpur, if you like to get your drink on, try Heritage Row. If you want to be alone amongst a crowd, go to Petaling street at night. If you want to enjoy solitude but not worry about being conspicuously alone, get some spa treatments. (I had a wonderfully ticklish fish pedicure there one night. No amazing difference in skin feel, but the lulz were considerable.) If you want someone else to sort it all out for you, get on some bus tours. I'm sure your hotel will at least have a wall of brochures. Lots of people shop the day away in AC comfort, I'd probably look for a cooking class (untested example)

If you are gravitating to places other travelers will be, meeting people can be as easy (and cheesy) as melting a big grin across your face and asking a question. 'You from Canada/Germany/Italy? Cool. Is that Tiger beer/Sambal/Roti chennai? Is it good? Mind if I sit with you?' If you get a 'no' you can just disappear again. Usual stranger danger applies as it would back home. The taxi driver scam mentioned here is probably worth noting.

I never felt unsafe on my own at any time in Malaysia. I was a little slow to pick up that some spaces are 'men only' but you won't see this in nightspots. You may get well intended questions to the tune of 'You married? Babies? Why not married? Don't you want babies?' but that wasn't a big thing in KL. No advice on Bali, I'm afraid.

If all that fails, enjoy your own company for a while.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:46 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was in Bali for two days alone when I was 20 (stopover). I did find it a little stressful - mainly the people constantly trying to sell me things rather than harrassment. One evening, though, I went down to the beach just on sunset and all the hawkers had left for the day. It was only families there - mainly women and children, all swimming. I got talking to a few families and women and had a wonderful time. It was even relaxing.

Other tips: wear a fake wedding ring. Expect to spend a few hours in your hotel every day recharging (i.e. hiding from the constant hawking/selling/begging). Expect to overpay for things and don't beat yourself up about it. Enjoy the food. Stalls on the side of the road sell wonderful juices, and rice meals for only a couple of dollars.
posted by lollusc at 3:48 AM on May 19, 2011

While many people use CouchSurfing primarily for accommodation, it's also a great way of meeting people just to hang out or get a drink. The KL group looks pretty active, and has lots of posts about different events around the city, as does the Bali group. Maybe try contacting some of the people on there to find new friends to explore the city with, either locals or fellow travelers.
posted by hasna at 3:56 AM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

I second the couch surfing idea. It is the best thing for women. You get to hang out with cool local women/couples or expat women. Couch surfing is a bigger plus for females than males in my opinion.
posted by tarvuz at 3:59 AM on May 19, 2011

I met people on buses and trains. I did the hostel thing but still managed to meet people outside that setting.

Be friendly, strike up conversation with people, even if they are in a group.

Even the days I travelled on my own (which were few), I was experiencing so much that it didn't bother me.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:24 AM on May 19, 2011

I was very nervous the first time I traveled abroad alone, but was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. You can travel at your own pace, and I found that I was much more aware of my surroundings and noticed things I probably would not have seen if I had been there with a friend. You no longer have that "cultural bubble" that can be created between two or more people observing a foreign environment.

So take all the advice for meeting people / making new friends because that is a great part of traveling solo as well, but try just going around alone sometime also - you might enjoy it :)
posted by seraph9 at 4:32 AM on May 19, 2011

I was in KL last year and it is crawling with ex-pats and Western tourists and very developed. You don't want to be walking alone at night in most areas or on secluded streets at any time, but you should be fine in the tourist areas using common sense. Also, apparently cab safety is a big issue in Malaysia, so either get an approved cab or try and rent out a private car.

Also, eat here.
posted by the foreground at 4:36 AM on May 19, 2011

Seminyak is calm and safe. A place where the higher end tourists go. You can go to Kudeta and meet some new people.

If Kudeta is too posh for you, you can go to the Kuta beach and walk around there. There are many places where you can socialize; Hard Rock Cafe, Bounty, Ocean Beach Club, etc. There are many tourists there, so just relax and be social. Most people there have a laid back attitude. There are also local beach boys to hang out with... if that's your thing.

Crime level is low. Ocassionally, you will meet people that are too friendly or annoying. Just ignore or avoid them... usually they try to sell you things or want something.

I don't know what's your idea of fun, but if you want to go paragliding, I can send you my friends' contact info. They love flying.
posted by bbxx at 4:55 AM on May 19, 2011

I traveled alone in China for eight or ten days some years ago. (That's not where you're going, but being alone was a huge deal.)

I had a great time during the day - I felt confident, I had fun, I saw precisely what I wanted to see. I loved the feeling of figuring things out by myself. I imagined telling people about my trip. Seriously, I had a couple of the best experiences of my life (climbing the hill/mountain at Eight Buddhist Sites, walking around Bei Hai park as often as I wanted).

The evenings were pretty tough. I got lonely, I went to bed early. This is what I'd do differently (bear in mind that I was a lot younger then and very shy): obviously, I could have gone out (and you have the advantage of the internet; all I had was lonely planet). I could have gone to some of my favorite public places in the evening - the big parks and the shopping district, for example. I could have planned my down-time better - done some writing, maybe. I would have treated myself to proper dinners instead of eating snacks because I felt nervous about going out alone. And I would not have put up with the dysfunctional lamp in my rented room that made it hard to read in bed--my mandarin was so-so, I was alone...but now I would drag myself, the lamp and the dictionary down to the concierge and get it sorted out.

TL; DR: If you think you'll have down times, plan for them. And it's always better to push yourself a little.

But even with the blah evenings, I wouldn't trade that trip for anything. It lives in my memory as if it were yesterday and I learned a lot about being in the world.
posted by Frowner at 5:08 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

One general piece of advice about staying safe - if you are ever in a situation where you feel nervous and threatened, there is a simple solution: start acting really weird.

Theives and other bad guys look for marks. They do not just randomly pick targets, they watch and wait, until they see the easy mark.

If someone is walking down the street talking to themselves, having spasms, and picking their nose - well, a crazy person is NOT an easy mark. A crazy person is unpredictable.

If you feel nervous while you are alone, pick you nose and loudly have an argument with your imaginery friend. Trust me, this works.
posted by Flood at 5:24 AM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm looking into various group tours (specific recommendations welcome)

Just back from 6 weeks in Bali here...something you might like to look into might be an all-day cooking class. We went on one in Ubud which was a fun & informative day: market shopping, then a bit of an explanation in the rice paddies about farming & village life, then back to the family's compound in a really beautiful setting for cooking, culminating in a feast of around a dozen different dishes. The hosts were fun & friendly & very eager to tell all kinds of things about Balinese culture & life.

Our particular class was more about home cooking, and to be honest it didn't teach much about the cuisine that I didn't already know or couldn't work out for myself ("This is ginger. This is galangal") but there are others run by higher-end restaurants that would be more educational, if that's what you're after. All in all, a fun & sociable day - there may have been about a dozen fellow tourists - with tasty food thrown in. Not sure if similar things are offered in Seminyak, but that should be easy enough for you to google. Otherwise, Ubud is only about 2 hours away.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:26 AM on May 19, 2011

PS - Bali felt overwhelmingly safe to me. Lovely people, very friendly. Supposedly a bit of hassle from hawkers in the south around Kuta, Legian & Seminyak, for example, but from what I saw very pissweak in their aggressiveness compared with, say, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey or India.

For KL, I can't recommend much as I've only spent a few days there passing through, but I really loved just idling during the heat of the day in the mosque where the two rivers join. Cool marble & breezes, right in the centre of town but seemingly a million miles from care.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:34 AM on May 19, 2011

Carefully choose a book to bring with you. Jane Austen is good; interesting, but not so much that you get engrossed and don't pay attention to your travels, emotionally calm.
posted by theora55 at 7:41 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you feel nervous while you are alone, pick you nose and loudly have an argument with your imaginary friend. Trust me, this works.

Ha! Yes, I do this in my ordinary life in New York City. Even just squinching up your face in some weird way works well because if you're smiling, they'll use that, or look angry, they'll use that.
posted by sweetkid at 9:42 AM on May 19, 2011

sorry hit reply too soon -- so having a sort of squinched up bug eye expression, they don't really know what to do with you and will leave you alone.
posted by sweetkid at 9:43 AM on May 19, 2011

No location-specific information, here; I just want to say that avoiding the sads will probably be a lot easier than you think. Traveling alone is splendid and freeing. When you're traveling with someone else, you're constantly accommodating your movements to their moods and needs: deciding when and where to eat; to walk more, or rest now; to see the museum, or the soccer game; to overspend on something foolish, or be a frugal tightwad; and on and on and on. Think how many travelers you see bickering, sniping, glaring at each other. For traveling, your own company is better than the company of almost anyone else (unless, of course, you're in love, but that's a whole other destination).

And if you're eating alone in a nice restaurant, and you think that other people are looking at you and pitying you--no, they're envying and admiring you, for your class, confidence, courage and mystery.
posted by Corvid at 12:08 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

« Older Staying in Mumbai for Cheap   |   EKG Changes In Athletes? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.