Exploring the Transformative Travel Experiences of Southeast Asian Solo Female Travelers

The ‘Travel Experience of Southeast Asian Solo Female Travellers’ details a study of the limitations and outcomes of women’s travel across Southeast Asia. In the article, researchers Dang Thuan An Nguyen and Liwei Hsu discuss this category of traveller as a new phenomenon, being a result of Asian women having more freedoms in the last century. While there have been studies of Solo female travellers, they are limited to the western perspective. As a result, Nguyen and Hsu focused their study on the travel experiences of 18 Southeast Asian women, who had travelled to multiple countries. The researchers collected anecdotal evidence from interviews with the participants. From this they found the similarities in socio-cultural restraints which influenced the participants travel. Positively, the study findings highlight the self-development and independence that Southeast Asian women gain from engaging in solo-travel, however there are still cultural perceptions which restrict the ways Southeast Asian women navigate solo travel.

Referred to as the suspicious gaze, many participants of the study recounted experiences of unwanted attention in their host country. One woman, aged 30 spoke of people who asked her why she was travelling alone. This curiosity is an innocent cultural misconception towards Asian people, although other women experienced overt racial bias as a result of these misconceptions. A Vietnamese woman received strange looks and whistles from men, who asked her, “Are you here to find some guys to stay behind?”. Although, she wasn’t surprised, since she had heard rumours about the high number of Vietnamese girls working as prostitutes in Singapore. An Indonesian woman received similar propositions while travelling in Thailand, making her feel scared. The newness of solo travel amongst Southeast Asian women, allows misconceptions about their reasons for travel to persist. Therefore, these women are still experiencing the negative outcomes from these cultural misconceptions. Understandably, based on these experiences, families of the participants were reluctant to support their solo travel.

Nguyen and Hsu found that the participants made compromises to obtain permission from their parents. They say that the cultural values of the home country, where Asian women are seen to be vulnerable and submissive, lend to the perceived riskiness of their solo travel. Firstly, many women compromised by going to neighbouring countries, where the culture would be similar. Other women had to enforce meticulous planning to inspire parental support. Participant number 12 said her parents wanted her to get married instead of spending her savings on travel, however she explained “I told them clearly about my life goals as well as the goal I want to achieve while traveling alone… and just hope that they will understand…". Overwhelmingly, participants received permission from their parents by explaining how they would navigate travelling alone. While the participants noted their parents did not support their solo travel they were persuaded by their daughter’s knowledge of their chosen country and ability to be independent. Although, the cultural misconceptions about Southeast Asian women travelling alone persist, there is truth in the family’s fears, which participants encountered in their host countries.

Nguyen and Hsu say the participants encountered the gender ideologies and social constraints of the host country, which they dealt with through resistance, or acceptance of the social norms. Some women chose resistance, using their holiday to explore their freedom in a new country, as participant number 2 did, recounting, “I accepted the dinner invitation from the guy I just met at the airport. It sounded crazy, but I had fun. It was one of my most memorable moments. I was always told not to hang out with strangers, especially men… but I did.” While, one participant, a Muslim woman said she wanted to try everything while travelling, going to clubs and pubs alone at night. In comparison, Nguyen and Hsu say the women who accepted the cultural restraints had more negative experiences. As one participant said, while travelling in Italy she had soap thrown on her by teenagers, “I was so surprised, and they just laughed at me and spoke in their language [Italian]. I did not know how to react, so I just walked away. I am not sure if it is called racist. But at that time, I did not feel good.” Some experiences pointed to more overt racism, as one woman encountered a hotel receptionist who ignored her, choosing to serve the white patrons in line behind her, “…I did not say anything and just walked out of the hotel, and he did not even stop me.” Despite the negative circumstances encountered by some participants, the majority reported an overwhelming sense of self development.

The major outcome of the study, Nguyen and Hsu found, was a feeling of freedom and independence which changed many of the women’s expectations and life goals. Several women noted the feeling of being free from social constraints while travelling. Upon returning to their home country, many participants felt conflicted with their home culture. Several women said they no longer wanted to get married and rely on their parents as they were expected to. From the results of this study, it is clear Southeast Asian women’s engagement in solo travel not only has positive impacts on their self-development, but can change the social perspectives and expectations within their communities, by exposure to its benefits. The nature of solo travel tests people’s ability to navigate unknown situations, be resilient, and exposed to different ways of life, as the participants have been. Although this conflicts with their home country where previous expectations of themselves were reinforced by their parents, perhaps conflict is a natural start to break down the social constraints of the participants home countries. Finally, other participants gained a feeling of empowerment, and confidence in their ability to travel independently in the future. Because of this, Hsu and Nguyen suggest that tourism providers, like the solo female traveller’s accommodation association should expand their platform so more women can access information about solo travel. Hsu and Nguyen say this could lessen the potential restraints they face, so they can gain the benefits of the study’s participants, and create the potential for social transformation.



Nguyen, D. T. A., & Hsu, L. Travel experience of Southeast Asian solo female travelers. Journal of Indonesian Tourism, Hospitality and Recreation5(2), 127-144.


Written by: Emily O'Dwyer



Artikel ini dipublikasikan pada laman womentourism.id | 7 Juni 2023