I didn’t intend to be a solo traveler. I wasn’t against going travelling alone, but it wasn’t on my radar at that time in my life. It was my second year into teaching and I was searching for some winter sun. I’ll admit I went on to the Air Asia website with the mindset of, ‘where is the cheapest place I can go for 10 days to escape the winter.’ It turns out it was Malaysia, which wasn’t half bad, as it was somewhere I had always wanted to visit.
Thinking a girls’ trip might be nice, I asked a friend if she would be keen and before I knew it we were all booked in for a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi, staying at some seriously luxe resorts with the plan to take some tours and drink cocktails by the pool.
When I booked the trip I was in a relationship and expecting to go on a girls’ trip, but by the time it came to depart, I was single and travelling alone. Despite some reservations about traveling alone, I felt I would have a safe trip in Malaysia, and a real urge to set out anyway. This is how I became an accidental solo traveler and realised there are many reasons to love solo travel.
If you are going travelling alone, it is great to have someone to greet you on arrival. Once you’re seasoned at this sort it out when you arrive, but if it is your first, or one of your first singles vacations book that transfer!
I booked into the very comfortable Hilton Double Tree, which was very comfortable with gorgeous rooms and a buffet to rival anything I’d seen before, but in hindsight it was great for two of us, but perhaps not me on my own. It was a little way out of the centre of town and shopping areas and getting there did mean getting into a taxi or getting the hotel to drop me off. I just didn’t feel safe wandering through some of the districts in between by myself and this would be a serious consideration for any future solo travel in Malaysia or in fact anywhere worldwide.
Other than a few key city sights, I was keen to get out of town and enjoy a day trip.My first full day in the capital was spent on a day trip to Malacca. Located a couple of hours south of KL we spent quite a lot of time on the bus, punctuated by the odd stop. The tour itself was quite mediocre (I wouldn’t recommend it!) but this was somewhat advantages as the mediocrity of the tour helped us to bond and we spent the bus trip chatting and getting to know each other. It was here I met another solo female traveller from Poland.
Connecting with fellow travellers
Feeling a little like a new kid at school asking if I could ‘play’ I suggested to this girl that perhaps we could have dinner together. She was more than happy to spend some time together and upon our return we set off to explore the markets. She was much more used to solo travel than I was and had already been in the city for a week. I explored places with her that I would have been worried to by myself and we had a great time having a meal and then viewing the twin towers by night. Being a solo female in Malaysia was made all the better by meeting someone else in the same position but a little more experienced than me at the time.
That night on our return we came across a taxi driver who was quite opportunistic and took advantage of having two white foreigners in his taxi by speeding and barraging us with explicit sexual innuendo. My heart was certainly racing and I’m not sure what I would have done had I been alone. Luckily I had my new friend with me and we both got out at her hotel pretending that was the end of the journey. We then called another taxi to take me back to my hotel. Being a solo female in Malaysia did leave us a little vulnerable but watching a more experienced traveller than me at the time be assertive with this taxi driver gave me the confidence to tackle any issues I may have in the future. This sort of experience could happen anywhere in the world and having this in the back of your mind ‘just in case’ and being alert is a good strategy incase you do find yourself in a situation that feels a little intimidating or uncomfortable.
My time in KL flew by and before I knew it, it was time to board another flight to Penang. I’d heard that there were so many things to do in Penang so I was excited to set off. Just a quick hop in the plane, before I knew it I was being driven by a lovely driver (who like many Malaysians has been to Australia, or have children studying there) to my resort in Batu Ferringhi up on the coast around 1 hour north of the capital Georgetown.
The Lone Pine resort was amazing. My room was huge with two double beds, a walk in shower, large balcony with a day bed and an outdoor bath with pool and beach views to boot. I was seriously feeling spoilt. The hotel itself was lovely, however it was definitely set up for couples and not singles. I’ll admit I did feel a little lonely travelling alone here and this also harks back to my earlier point of choosing accommodation suitable for solo travellers. Because my friend had become ill at the last minute, everywhere I checked in to asked me where she was. This meant constantly explaining why I was alone and even going on a solo tour of Penang as we were the only two booked! I was loving Malaysia, but I was definitely ready for some company.
After three days in Penang I was really missing conversation and when I heard two Aussie accents at the table next to me, I couldn’t help but blurt out “I’m traveling by myself and I’m a bit lonely, can I join you?’ Luckily for me, they’d been traveling as a duo for 3 weeks and were also up for some company! Whilst I did feel a bit awkward revealing my position as being on a singles vacation, it paid off and we had a lovely evening drinking Thai beer shandies and chatting about our lives. I was starting to feel that this journey was one where I needed to spend some time alone with myself, but when I really needed someone they would pop up. This also proved to be true in Langkawi.
In terms of things to do in Penang, other than a little bit of loneliness of an evening in my solo state, I was not lacking for things to do. The main strip of Batu Ferringhi is its own little destination in itself. Every night a vibrant market comes alive and I bought myself quite a few trinkets and lovely scarves that I still wear today. During the day you can enjoy paragliding or tubing on the beach. I opted for a beach side massage which was just what I needed. The restaurants in Batu Ferringhi are top notch and I ate well every evening. A favourite meal was lobster and cocktails. Just because you are a solo female traveller, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get dressed up and enjoy yourself, so I made sure to do this and treat myself!
It is also important as a solo female traveller that you extend yourself a little, so I took a car to Georgetown to explore. I had had a taste on the rickshaw as a part of a tour but wanted to see more of it for myself. I found myself a little lost in the streets and perhaps a little shy to try and ask where I should go. I ended up finding myself at the shops and enjoying a nice lunch before catching the bus, well initially the wrong bus, back to Batu Ferringhi. Luckily I had a notion it wasn’t quite right (you will develop this and you should listen to this the more you travel!) and the bus driver helped me get off at a stop further up that intersected with the bus I needed to be on and I made it back safe and sound. I should also note that I chose to get a Malaysian sim with phone and internet connection so should I have been really stuck I could have always called the hotel for help. When you’re travelling alone it is peace of mind to have a good back up plan if all seems lost!
It’s very easy to catch a cab in Penang and I took a day out to organise a tour of the island at my own pace. I visited the butterfly farm, Penang Hill funicular railway and botanic gardens. At some locations I had the taxi driver wait as the taxi ranks were very quiet and at other locations I paid my fare and then caught another taxi once I was done. I did consider catching the bus back to the hotel from the funicular railway but it was very busy and it was going to be quite a wait so I opted for comfort over cost and took another taxi. All up it was no more than $60 AUD for the day which is very cheap in comparison to Australian fares!
There are lots of things to do in Penang and drink cocktails by the pool was a key one for me. I had a good mix of tour, time at the hotel, exploring the markets, nice food and beachy walks. After a few days I was ready for a change of pace, so I was excited to get in the taxi to the sea port and take the ferry to Langkawi. Always one to want to try new things, we’d decided to transfer by sea rather than by air for this island hop and I felt excited about this despite now travelling alone.
I must have been feeling more relaxed at this point, because I fell asleep for nearly the whole ferry ride from Penang to Langkawi. I jammed my handbag and backpack between myself and the wall and quite happily nodded off, The nicest resorts are out of the city, so I headed off to the Meritus Pelangi resort about an hour out of town. I settled into my spacious room with lake views and spent the afternoon relaxing and deciding how I would spend my time. We had originally left Langkawi open for relaxing, but now I was going travelling alone, I figured I might get a bit bored, so I worked out how to get myself to the Sky Cab and set off.
The Sky Cab is the worlds steepest cable car, ascending 708 metres above the ground. It is very often shut down due to poor weather and on this particular day I rode alone with a large tub of water for company to ease the sway of the wind. Travelling alone meant I didn’t have anyone right beside me to share the wonder with, so I did the next best thing and took advantage of that Malaysian sim card I’d bought by sending my sister a photo message with a picture of what I was up to alongside a happy birthday message. It was too spectacular to keep to myself!
In addition to the Sky Cab excursion, I also booked a jungle walk, evening dinner cruise on a yacht and a mangrove safari. The tours were so reasonably priced and it also allowed me to get to meet new people. Just because you’re on a singles vacation, it doesn’t meant that you need to spend all of your time alone. It is a great opportunity to meet new people, start new conversations and book tours that you want to do without having to check in with a travel mate.
The resort wasn’t particularly full, and I had finished reading all of my books and magazines, so I felt getting out and about was the best option. I had a great time on all of the trips, but memorably on the yacht cruise where one of the waiters took a shine to me and kept on calling me ‘teacher Laura’. I also got stung by a jelly fish and had to be doused in vinegar – glamorous! Going travelling alone got me out of my shell, put me in charge of my travel plans and gave me the flexibility to do whatever I wanted. Small challenges had also given me the confidence to tackle any problems I may face solo and gave me the confidence to tackle future travel by myself.
Like Penang, at the point when I was craving some company this time company came to me. I’d gotten a little dressed up and decided that instead of spending the night alone in my room I’d go and enjoy some daiquiris by the ocean. A drink or so in a couple came up to me and asked me if I was alone and would I like to enjoy them. I thought ‘why not’ and ended up drinking, chatting and dancing the night away with two awesome people. When you travel it may not be the person you’d be friends with at home that can make your trip and on this occasion meeting a couple who were just a smidge older than me meant we had some great chats and life insights as well as lots of dorky dancing, not really caring who was watching. Those chats helped influence some changes I needed to make in my life at the time and quite a few daiquiris later I returned to my room, said, ‘stuff it’, ordered noodles at 2am and drunkenly gulped them down before enjoying the queen sized bed, diagonally, to myself. Going travelling alone has its advantages!
The round up
I would highly recommend solo travel in Malaysia. Whilst I had a few times that I felt out my comfort zone, this is part and parcel of travel, let alone solo travel and helps to build your courage, resolve and problem solving skills. If you can solve a small problem on your own, darn you feel pretty good afterwards!
Solo travel in Kuala Lumpur requires really thinking about where your hotel is located as some are on the outskirts and although lovely, will mean getting in a car. Going travelling alone means you will need to think about your accommodation choices, but bully for you because there’s no debate, you get to pick what you like! Same goes for tours, activities and the pace of the holiday. The fantastic thing about solo travel in Malaysia is it is really easy to book last minute tours so if you’re feeling lonely or bored the turn around time is quite fast, so you won’t be left on your own for days on end.
Singles vacations don’t always come about because you are single. I’ve done solo travel as a single, with a boyfriend and with a husband back at home. Whilst I wouldn’t say Malaysia has a huge singles scene, you can safely travel a single person whether your relationship status is this or not. The Malaysian culture is very respectful of women and other than our rogue taxi driver (who was not Malaysian) I was treated very well.
Are you thinking of travelling solo?
Whilst my first solo trip was by accident, it ended up being just what I needed. It forced me to have time by myself post a difficult separation and it also taught me that things work out how they are meant to. If you are a bit nervous about a solo trip, here are some things that I have learnt that may help you.
- Begin by booking a shorter trip. That way if you’re not loving the solo aspect, its not long until you go home.
- Say ‘hello’ – catch someone’s eye and introduce yourself. They may not become a travel buddy, but you never know if you don’t ask.
- Try and book a location where you know there will be other solo travellers. My hotels weren’t ideal as I didn’t book a solo trip initially, but I made it work!
- Enjoy the time to yourself. It may feel a bit lonely, but the head space may be just what you need.
- Get a local sim if possible. You can always text home for a bit of moral support if needed!
- Just when you think you’ll never have another conversation with a living person again, you’ll probably run into someone to chat to. The world kind of works that way. Hang in there!
Lastly, enjoy yourself. Live in the moment and remember that sometimes the most disastrous travel experiences turn into the best travel stories!