The world of a “Solo Female Traveller” is not as easy as it looks. And I am so tired being judged for having a good life of travel (well, most of the times). Therefore, I am writing this confession of being an Indonesian Solo Female Traveller after having plenty long-term travels these couple of years. You can agree or disagree, but I am going to spill out my mind here.
First of all, let me explain the truthful world of being an Indonesian female. I speak for all the women throughout Indonesia despite our ethnicity and religion. Living in a conservative environment that still holds a strong belief of old tradition, I was told to become a good manner woman who would be able to attract a good gentleman to be married with. It was said the end of the line of your goal is to get married and have children. It was not.
As time passes by, I realise that these traditions have shifted, especially from the Western world that finally influenced the Asian part. Women can work. Women can have a career. Women have same equality as men. Her opinion matters and she can decide her life as she wanted. Family tradition still has some influence, but women tend to become independent by herself even more. And that’s how I challenge myself to go alone whilst travelling on my own path.
The ‘not so’ brave Asian.
People think that when I said “Yeah I am alone on this trip”, they thought that I was brave. When I went to Vientiane Laos and meet up with other solo female travellers from Japan, other male travellers though that we were strong to go out there by ourselves. They still think that Asian female is conservative that would not dare herself to travel by ourselves. Of course, it has open their eyes that hey we were different than any Asian stereotype. While I was travelling in Cappadocia Turkey and had the blast of time of the Red Tour, I got to befriended with 2 Malaysian couple that was in awe when I told them I was travelling by myself (Malaysian and Indonesian has similar languages and traditions). They didn’t expect that there were Indonesian that were brave enough to travel to Turkey, let alone a single female.
The truth is…
I always feel scared the night before I leave for the trip. I had many sleepless nights and thinking, “Damn.. I am going to do the crazy solo trip again”. It was the excitement and fear of leaving the place that I called home. I was afraid that I would never come back to this place again. One of my friends even said this when she saw that I was super nervous to leave, “I thought you already get used to travelling alone, but why you’re so scared?” But I did. As a person who always organises things, I was afraid if I left something out. I kept checking all my documents, browsed the transport information and made many backup plans. I think even though I have travelled to many countries, I will always feel this fear creeping up on me every night. But hey.. when I browse around on what things should I do to the place I will go, the fact is I can’t wait to get there sooner!
“Why did your family let you go?”
I remember the last day I was at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport after the Yipeng Lantern celebration, I was going to go home after travelling endlessly for 4 months. There were a couple of ladies with their daughters speaking in Indonesian languages in front of me. They kept smiling at me (probably thinking that I am not Indonesian), then we started talking and she was super surprised when I told them I was travelling alone for the last couple of months and even celebrated Ramadhan in Thailand with new friends. Their question was always ringing over my head, “Why did your mother let you go alone? I would never let my daughter go by herself”. I was laughing because truthfully I didn’t know how to answer that very quickly.
The truth is…
It was hard to explain it to her as it could be a very long story. So I will explain it here.
It was not easy at the beginning. Trust me. My mum was the type of person who got so protective of their children. She did not let me take the job in Bali when I was 23 years old whereas most youth of my age already experience living outside their home by themselves. It was hard for me to convince her when I decided to move to Ubud back in 2014, but I explained all my plans to her, including; I have the steady job to do there, I have plenty of friends who live there, and I have been there and know the road already. 3 months after I moved in, she flew to Ubud to check on me, and I did my best to show her that I have a very good life. She was satisfied and also fell in love with Ubud charms and stayed there for 1 month. If it’s hard to convince your parents by words, show them, they need something to see as the proof that you are lived well even though you are far away from home.
After that, I learn the grasp how to never make her worries during my travel. I keep sending her my itineraries, my travel tickets, my photos (including selfie just to let her know I’m alive), and always text her whenever am on board to the new country. She got the grip and already used to the way we communicate.
“You are the first Indonesian I have ever met!”
And yes I got that kind of response mostly on every people I have met and told them I was from Indonesia. I often ask them to guess where I come from, and it was so rare for them to answer that I am Indonesian. I guess not much Indonesian travel that far enough, or maybe mingle with the people around and show them who they really are. For the people who have been there, they would be happy to see me and talked many things they have done in Indonesia (oh, especially compliments on the food!). But for the people who have never met Indonesian before, they would say “I don’t think I have ever met Indonesian traveller before”.
The truth is…
I am already used to hearing their response whenever I told them I am from Indonesia. Deep inside I feel stuck between happy nor sad when I look at how surprised they were. Moreover the fact that I was the first person they have met and known that Indonesian can do backpacking as well. It broke my heart, even more, when most people don’t really know geographically where Indonesia is. As soon as I opened up Google Maps, they got amazed seeing that Indonesia is a huge country with so many islands. Yes indeed. What even more shocking is that most people thought that Bali is a country instead of Indonesia. My oh my.. am I not devastated enough to know that!
So to overcome this opinion, I put Indonesian flag on all of my backpacks so that people (noticing me or not) know that I am Indonesian!
That poor single lonely girl.
Meeting with the other westerners solo female travellers, they would be nice and befriended with me easily – seeing that we were in the same boat, despite our nationality. I do envy them sometimes. They live in the world where women can go solo and it was okay for them to travel alone. A very open-minded way of thinking. But when you were surrounded by the other Indonesians, it is the opposite. they would like, “What? Why are you alone? Poor you..”. Yes, they took pity on me instead. Or worst and most people would ask, “Are you single? No boyfriend to be with you?”. Geez… it’s like a stereotype that woman has always to be accompanied by a man. As you see, it’s not common that Indonesian woman goes wandering alone by herself, as most people think that you are vulnerable and lonely, so they might target you as a victim! So they say…
The truth is…
I am free. F.R.E.E. I can do anything I want, whenever I want and wherever I want to go. I couldn’t careless with anyone would think about me. So when I feel bored at home and no one can come to accompany. Hell.. I can go by myself. I don’t need to wait for others to go and point direction as they like. I am free and I don’t need to depend on someone else.
Another point of view is that the society thinks that woman always have to be accompanied by man wherever they go. More or less, they feel like stepping ahead of having a partner – much better if the guy were rich, handsome and have a steady job. Oh, my. I got so many responses saying that I should get married and have kids instead of travelling solo. Yes, I live in around a conservative culture where women should be lower than men. But hey, women are human too who wants to achieve many dreams in life. Being a wife and a mother will always be a woman’s nature – but women who have a higher purpose in making a good future for the world. Damn, now that is something!
After experiences Couchsurfing, I realised that even a stranger in a foreign country can be your ‘home’. I still can’t believe that there were so many nice people out there who would take you in when you are travelling solo. I am not gonna lie, there are always some cases about bad people out trying to scam you, but you can always take precaution on everything along the way. You’ll be amazed how the stranger’s kindness can change the way your thinking! 🙂
The bad timing.
When you read all those blogs about being the solo female traveller that never feels alone. That is so damn true. You will never be alone indeed. There will always someone new knocking on your life, whether it will be an everlasting friendship or just a passing-by visitor. Either one of those, you know that you will expand your network and knowledge of people.
The truth is…
Sometimes the timing is not good. In some cases, when you want to see the greatness just by yourself, there will be someone along the way that will bother you (asking you to take a picture together or selfie). But in some other cases, when you feel like you want to be with someone to see some greatness, you have no one to share it with. Then again, not all of your travel buddies are on the same page as you are. Despite the companionship or the loneliness along the journey, I think a human would never feel satisfied with whenever they face a great moment. For me, I always feel grateful for anything that comes along the way. I think people meet each other with a purpose. Destiny has something that will tell us what they bring into our life – either a blessing or a lesson.
Work remotely – Fun or no fun?
When I told them that I live a nomadic life, working freelance whenever I got wifi, people would be in awe and said, “Geez! You can work while travelling wherever you want!”. It is true. I got a chance to travel in some of the great places while working on my freelance work and still earning some income.
The truth is…
Not all places have great wifi. Especially to the city that goes into the forest and has no signal. I remember when I was in Luang Prabang I couldn’t do any graphic design work online, so I had to work as the waitress for a couple of weeks to earn some money. One other thing that made me distracted is the fact that I couldn’t concentrate hard enough to work and travel at the same time. In one hand I want to explore first, but how can I do if the time is limited? And on the other hand, I have some deadline. See? Hard choices. Working remotely is not as easy as you think it would be.
This is just mostly are my rambling and the real deal of being solo female travellers for quite sometimes. It has some happiness and yet it also suffocating a bit when you surrounded with this kind of deal. So I might warn you by this post what you’re gonna have to face on, for the solo female traveller newbie out there! It sounds scary but trusts me. It will be worthed!
Are you also an Indonesian Solo Female Traveller? Do you have any opinion or something to share?
© 2017 Writing & Images copyright of Marina Utami.