A woman alone in Indochina

“A woman alone in Indochina” – that would make a good title for a novel, but the idea scares actual women.

Shhh, she's actually in Lebanon...I have talked to several women who said they were considered traveling in Southeast Asia, but were afraid to go alone. Literally afraid, for their safety. I spoke with a Brazilian woman who expressed a great deal of concern over visiting Vietnam. Exasperated, I finally had to point out that Brazil has 20 times the murder rate of Vietnam, and that an armed policeman on a busy corner in São Paulo was in more danger than a woman walking down a dark alley in Hanoi.

In particular, I don’t understand the specific fear of “aloneness”. It is not as if the alternative is taking a Secret Serviceman along with you, a professional bodyguard. You are considering bringing your boyfriend; he doesn’t have dark glasses and an earpiece and an Uzi slung under one arm. He has a copy of the Lonely Planet guide and a baseball cap with the name of his favorite football team.

More important, though, you don’t need a bodyguard.

If you go to Southeast Asia, probably nothing bad will happen to you. In groups or alone, most visitors to the area come back unscathed except for mosquito bites and the occasional sunburn.

If you go to Southeast Asia and something bad does happen to you, it will probably something accidental: diarrhea, a fall, or a traffic accident. If it isn’t accidental, it will probably be something commercial: you will be conned or cheated out of money.

Everyone I know who has had any sort of trouble in Southeast Asia was in one of those two categories: a total accident or a scam. Note that traveling in pairs or a group doesn’t solve these problems much at all. Watch what you eat, don’t drink, or at least don’t drink to excess, and exercise a reasonable amount of skepticism (Gee, what are the odds that this tuk-tuk driver’s cousin just happens to be own a jewelry shop, which just happens to be having a sale today?) about any proposed transaction, and you’ll be fine.

If they are a victim of an actual crime, it is typically sneak theft, like pick-pocketing or burglary. I have never met anyone it happened to, but I have read about it, so it must happen once in a while. If it does happen to you, what is your boyfriend going to do?

I have met lots of women who said, “I am going to travel in Southeast Asia alone, and I’m worried.”

I have never, ever met a woman who said, “I traveled in Southeast Asia alone, and I had a problem.”

Southeast Asia is safer than where you live. It isn’t perfectly safe, so be smart, but there is no sense being paranoid.

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