Unpacking with Danielle

Travel & Exploration

Category: Travel

SoloFemale Travel

TL;DR: Don’t worry about it. ¬†Be smart, plan your trip, and have fun ūüôā


Do you like the pun in my title? ¬†I’m playing with my last name, Solof ūüôā

Moving on, I’m going to get serious for a minute. ¬†Solo Female Travel. ¬†It’s a thing. ¬†Ladies, you can do it. ¬†You can so do it. ¬†You just get a job, save your money, buy a ticket, and go. ¬†It’s your fucking life, so take it by the ovaries and go.

Oh my god. I'm a girl.

Oh my god. I’m a girl.

Here’s the thing: I never thought about traveling solo as a woman. ¬†I never worried for my safety or loneliness. ¬†Not until¬†other people ¬†brought it up.

It didn’t occur to me until I read another travel blogger’s post on solo female travel. ¬†This guy actually has guest posts from women on traveling solo as a woman. ¬†Again, I never thought about it as a thing. ¬†I’m a person- what difference should it make if I’m male or female? ¬†If I want to do something, I should find a way to do it. ¬†But the more I live and the more people I meet, the more I realize it’s a thing and it’s worth addressing, because regardless of if it’s top-of-mind for me or not, it’s top-of-mind for other people, and it can hold them back.

I must be lucky that I grew up not ever thinking I was different- that I could or should be different- because I’m female. ¬†The “female” part of me is just biology as far as I’m concerned. ¬†The rest of me is my own creation, and what that is is my own decision. ¬†Therefore, focusing on “female” travel is a cultural issue, not a personal one.

Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve come to realize are hot-button issues when people think about women who travel.


I’m a VERY independent person. ¬†Sure, I like company, but I also need time and space to do my own thing. ¬†It’s no different with travel.

When you’re on your own, you don’t have to discuss anything with other people. ¬†Every decision on what you do is yours. ¬†You never have to deliberate or negotiate, you just do what you want to do. ¬†That’s freeing. ¬†That’s simple. ¬†That’s easy.

Boat ride. -Borneo

Boat ride. -Borneo

Even when I’m traveling with friends, we need time away from each other. ¬†Every few days we may go our separate ways and do different things. ¬†We’re two separate people who have different needs and interests. ¬†I don’t want to hold someone back from what they want to do and I don’t want to be held back either. ¬†So, we’re together when we want to be together and apart when we need to be apart. ¬†It has always worked out well.

Being Alone

So often people think I must get so lonely when I travel.  Like, my god, how could I possibly spend a few hours on my own?  Let alone days or weeks, or even MONTHS?!

For starters, I’m not actually alone that whole time. ¬†I do meet other travelers while I’m out doing stuff. ¬†We become friends and hang out while we’re in the same place. ¬†I genuinely enjoy this part of solo travel- all the people you meet on the journey.

Also, I like my own company. ¬†I don’t need other people to entertain me or distract me from myself. ¬†I enjoy the space to explore my thoughts and experience a new place through only my own filter. ¬†When you’re with other people they often share how they experience what they see and that can influence how you see things. ¬†What if you took that away and just had yourself? ¬†What would you see? ¬†What would you discover on your own? ¬†That’s a powerful and important thing to experience, your own views and insights directed only by yourself.

Enjoying listening to rain forest sounds.

Enjoying listening to rain forest sounds. -Borneo

This isn’t loneliness. ¬†It’s solitude. ¬†And it’s much needed, especially in a day and age when we’re bombarded with messages from every angle.


So you’re a woman and you’re on your own. ¬†Don’t men, like, want to, you know? ¬†And like, isn’t it uncomfortable? ¬†Or, are you, like, loose?

This is one of my biggest pet peeves when people find out I travel.  They make all these assumptions about the kind of person I am.

Girl who travels = floozy.

It just doesn’t make sense. ¬†Like, I don’t even know where they get this idea, that’s how off-the-wall it seems.

Look, if a woman lives that life, that’s her thing and let her go do that. ¬†But these two things do not go hand-in-hand and I don’t appreciate it when people assume I must be this way because I travel. ¬†In fact, I’ve met plenty of female travelers who are not this way and plenty of women who never travel who are this way.

And for the record, some of the sleaziest guys I have ever met have been in my own backyard in the United States.  I lived in Seoul for a year and rode a sardine-packed subway everyday to work and was never touched inappropriately.  The very day I arrived in New York I could spread my arms out on the subway and not touch anyone, and some guy still grabbed my ass.  So what does that tell you?


It must be so hard to date.

Again with the subject of men. ¬†I know my purpose in life is to get married off so some guy can inherit my dowry (my grandma did hand sew some lace and towels for me, and they are rotting in my parents’ basement), so I guess we should address this.

First, I don’t travel to meet guys. ¬†I travel to see the world.

Second, who knows who you’ll meet when you travel. ¬†Chances are, you may meet someone, get to know them for a week or so, and then go your separate ways. ¬†Maybe you’ll keep in touch through social media, and maybe you’ll meet again, temporarily, in the future, and you’ll keep nice memories. ¬†That’s probably what it’ll be.

But you might meet someone great and the connection will persist. ¬†You’ll keep in touch, very close touch, and find a way to bring your lives together.

I’ve never had this experience, but I know quite a few people who have. ¬†Like with most dating, most relationships are temporary and thus end, but some do last a very long time.

This is who I dated in Seoul.

This is who I dated in Seoul.

The trouble I find is that most people believe that if you’re traveling there is no shot in hell you could meet someone great. ¬†Or if you did, there’s no way it could last because of the ephemeral nature of a nomadic life. ¬†But I disagree, mainly because of people I know who’ve made it work and what I believe is possible.

This is what I think: a relationship lasts because two people want it to. ¬†That’s it. ¬†I know people who live in different cities, time zones, and countries from their partners. ¬†But the relationship lasts because they want it to. ¬†All the other shit people bring up are excuses. ¬†I’m not encumbered by all of that, but most other people are. ¬†I also know that if I start bringing that up, it’s a sign I’m just not that into the person.

So while being set in one city and having the opportunity to see someone a lot over a long period of time makes things easier, being nomadic makes you cut a lot of the bullshit.  You only bother with people you really like and only great connections turn into relationships.

And only great relationships are worth it, because you need time and energy to focus on the world ūüėČ

The World is Not What You Imagine It To Be

Americans seem to think of the world as the United States and the Rest of the World, as if all other countries that are not the US must be the same. ¬†Well guess what? ¬†They’re not.

Traveling solo, female or not, varies from country-to-country. ¬†You need to do your research before you go abroad to any country. ¬†How women are treated in that country may be different from what you’re used to, and sometimes it may be better. ¬†I’ve found that as long as you do your research and follow the customs of the culture you’re visiting, you will be fine.

Some of the customs or “changes” you make to your normal routine may not be obvious. ¬†An obvious thing would be wearing a headscarf in conservative Muslim countries. ¬†But I also found that having my hair dyed blonde in Mexico drew unwanted attention. ¬†When my hair was darker I blended in more and it was less of an issue. ¬†In South Korea, the issue was v-neck tops. ¬†Women there do not show their breasts, not even a teeny, tiny bit. ¬†Not even their chest above their breasts because it’s considered too sexual. ¬†These are all things you can figure out by doing little research.

I had to cover my knees at Batu Caves. Not a big deal. -Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I had to cover my knees at Batu Caves. Not a big deal. -Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Men generally have less to think about on this front, but it’s never a reason for women to stay home.


The big point I’m making is this: it’s not a big deal. ¬†If you want to travel, do it. ¬†You’ll be fine on your own. ¬†Be smart, do your research, and jet set.

Just remember one thing: Love everything you get from it.

Malaysia: Part 1

I’m about to embark on big trip- a Southeast Asian adventure, and it occurred to me that I never wrote about the other trips I took this past year.

Here’s Malaysia.


Malaysia. ¬†Why did I go to Malaysia? ¬†I don’t know. ¬†Maybe it was those “Journey to Malaysia” commercials that aired years ago.

Not this, but something like it.

Even before I decided to teach in Seoul I thought, ‘But maybe I should go to Malaysia???’ ¬†It was one of those alluring thoughts you have, but you don’t know why you have them. ¬†I just felt compelled to go. ¬†So I did.

I found a round trip ticket from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur for only $314.  Sold.  The next day I realized it was because the airline, AirAsia, had just had a crash.


‘It’ll be fine,’ I told myself. ¬†‘It was one crash in how many years?’

Days went by.  I did research.  The airline was notorious for safety issues.  They were more concerned with quick turnaround times than making sure the plane could safely get off the ground and stay in the air.

They were banned in Europe and the American government strongly advised not flying with them.


Teaching in Korea was a way for me to get away from a terribly run American company. ¬†A place that was more concerned with making money in the short run than customers coming back next month. ¬†‘If they had an airplane, would I get on it?’ Absofuckinglutely not.

Oh shit.

More time goes by.  I put it in the back of my mind.  I focus on planning the trip.  My friend Carmen wants to join.  She buys a ticket for the same flight.

Carmen and I meet up one evening to outline our trip, using the Malaysian government’s tourism website. ¬†The afternoon prior we each review the site and make a list of where we want to go. ¬†Then that evening we compare lists.

A lot of what we want to do is the same- everything there is to do. ¬†We spend the evening figuring out how we could bounce around the country and do it all in 2 weeks. ¬†We’re two weeks out at this point. ¬†Within a week we have it all figured out and booked.

Now it’s a week out and I start typing up an itinerary for both Carmen and me. ¬†This is a tip I learned working at Ashoka, an international organization whose staff travels A LOT. ¬†Having your itinerary on one sheet of paper keeps you sane.

I go to input my flight details and I see this:

Flight confirmation email.

Flight confirmation email.



I mean, I just can’t.

I stop sleeping. ¬†My mind is racing with thoughts that I’ll disappear, my carcass strapped into a seat, limbs floating, head bobbing, in some Southeast Asian sea. ¬†It would happen in Southeast Asia. ¬†No flights go down around Korea. ¬†They only go down down there. ¬†It’s like Asia’s Bermuda Triangle.

I turn into a mad woman.  Looking at that email I felt like I was staring death in the face.  All because of the allure of going to Malaysia.

My third sleepless night I get up at 3am. ¬†I check my email. ¬†AirAsia’s moving my flight time and I can get a refund. ¬†Oh thank god. ¬†I open Google flights, read reviews of Singapore Airlines, book a flight, and fall asleep.

I tell Carmen the next day. ¬†She gets it. ¬†She thinks I’m crazy, but she gets it. ¬†Whatever. ¬†I’m not above “a sign”.

A few days later, Sunday, I arrive in Kuala Lumpur. ¬†Carmen’s already been there for day because she took the worst flight of her life. ¬†Crowded. ¬†Noisy. ¬†No food. ¬†She described landing as, “the plane falling on the ground.” ¬†But she survived. ¬†And the flight attendants were hot. ¬†SO HOT.

air asia flight attendants

Of course they were hot.  This company was just like the one I had worked for in Chicago.  The only way they could have their women was hot.

My flight with Singapore Airlines was great. ¬†It was like being in an adult crib in the sky. ¬†They even played delicate music during landing. ¬†It was like we weren’t even doing it.

And the flight attendants were beautiful.  They were not cheap sluts you use and abuse for the night.  They were classy.  They were worthy of being- dare I say- the one.

Don't you want to marry them?

Don’t you want to marry them?

Getting into the city was easy. ¬†There’s an express train from the airport to KL Sentral, the city center. ¬†It comes every 15-20 minutes, takes about 30 minutes, and only costs RM35 (~US$8).

We stayed in a hotel right by the train station, mainly out of convenience, so I waddled over to it. ¬†Carmen wasn’t around. ¬†She was out seeing sites for the day, and of course I ran into international travel confusion. ¬†The hotel only had one key for the room, and Carmen had it, and was I really who I said I was, and oh, I don’t know where the cleaning people are, maybe they have one, sit here for a while at this desk in a back room with piles of money on it because I don’t trust you to go in that room but I do trust you to sit alone in front of tens of thousands of dollars in cash.

Eventually they found someone to let me in, and when they did I definitely got A LOOK.

I freshened up a bit and decided I should go out and see something of the city.  Maybe the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park?

Kuala Lumpur Bird Park

Kuala Lumpur Bird Park

Didn’t happen. ¬†I stepped outside and the afternoon heat and humidity of a thousand dragons’ breaths hit me. ¬†I walked across the street into a mall and just stayed there.

The thing about shopping in Korea is that, Korea is so gung ho about its own brands that sometimes you just can’t find what you’re looking for. ¬†Like, I get that you have all these awesome clothing shops, but I’m not a size -6 so I can’t buy anything here.

But in Malaysia, people are all shapes and sizes.  Oooooo.  The clothes fit!  So the nasty heat led me to a much needed shopping spree.

The mall's Lunar New Year display.

The mall’s Lunar New Year display.

After clothes shopping, I stopped in the pharmacy for a few things.

Packaging at the pharmacy reminded me of the medical journals my parents have laying around the house.

Packaging at the pharmacy reminded me of medical journals my parents have laying around the house.

Then after the pharmacy, I discovered laksa (because looking at gross pictures of people’s skin infections never killed a doctor’s child’s appetite).



This is how Wikipedia describes it:

Laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup in the Peranakan cuisine, which is a combination of Chinese and Malay cuisine.  Laksa consists of rice noodles or rice vermicelli with chicken, prawn or fish, served in spicy soup; either based on rich and spicy curry coconut milk, or based on sour asam (tamarind or gelugur).  It can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Southern Thailand.

I didn’t know any of that at the time. ¬†I just looked at a picture, pointed, paid, and ate. ¬†I also had a milky tea, too. ¬†It was the right thing to do.

Six months later I ordered this dish at an international restaurant in Beijing. ¬†I was eating with my friend Matthew. ¬†He’s gay and has the taste buds of a god. ¬†He was super jealous. ¬†It’s moments like that that make you feel like you’re winning at life.

So yea, I recommend laksa.

I don’t really remember what happened after that, other than weird men staring at me. ¬†At some point I went back to the hotel and somehow got into the room. ¬†A while later Carmen came back and we exchanged stories. ¬†She’s a Cuban refugee who grew up in Miami. ¬†She was loving the heat, humidity, and fresh fruit juices. ¬†And palm trees galore.

I don’t know what we did. ¬†Probably bummed around the hotel for a bit and then I think we got something to eat. ¬†We were heading out that night for Borneo, so there wasn’t time for much. ¬†We had to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Miri, then Miri to Mulu, a UNESCO World Heritage site. ¬†We were going to explore caves.

Goin’ to Asia, Again

southeast asia

It’s December 10th. ¬†I’ve been back in the US for 3 months. ¬†2/3 of that time has been relaxing. ¬†I’ve slept a lot. ¬†I’ve gotten back into jogging and yoga. ¬†I’ve reconnected with lots of friends and relatives up and down the east coast. ¬†I’ve even managed to stick to a low carb diet and lose 17 lbs.

But I’ve got the itchiest fucking feet and I can’t wait to catapult myself back to Asia.

I leave in a month, January 10th.

Why then? ¬†My friend Liz, who I grew up with, is going to Singapore for a month for work. ¬†She wants to travel on weekends and is nervous to do it on her own. ¬†That’s where I come in.

Liz and me before our 10th grade dance.

Liz and me before our 10th grade dance.

A more accurate portrayal of our friendship. Slaving away doing homework at my kitchen table.

A more accurate portrayal of our friendship. Slaving away doing homework at my kitchen table.


In my mind, traveling in Asia is easy. ¬†Flights and hotels in the region are cheap, many attractions are comfortable with last minute planning, and there’s always something interesting happening, even when you’re just lounging in a cafe.

‘What is that guy¬†doing?’

‘What kind of bug is¬†that?’

How do they poop?’

It’s so easy I end up driving myself crazy considering all the possibilities. ¬†There’s so much I want to do, and putting the puzzle together to make it all fit is a challenge. ¬†When it comes to travel, FOMO is very real for me, at least during the planning stage. ¬†In the moment, though, I’m not above saying, ‘Fuck it. ¬†I’m tired,’

So what’s the plan for this trip? ¬†I fly into Bangkok on January 11th. ¬†Spend the week there, adjusting to the time and seeing the city. ¬†Liz will meet me there the following weekend. ¬†Then off to Bali for a week. ¬†Liz will meet me that weekend. ¬†Then we’ll fly together to Singapore. ¬†I’ll stay with her, in her corporate housing, spending her hefty per diem, for the week. ¬†From there, we’ll go to Ho Chi Minh City. ¬†After that, Liz will go back to Singapore and I’ll stay in Vietnam, or something.


What’s different about this trip is that I don’t know when I’m coming back. ¬†Every other trip has had a definite start and end date. ¬†This has a fixed start, but no fixed end. ¬†That’s unusual for me, but I have my reasons.

Originally I thought I’d teach English in Vietnam next. ¬†That I’d use Liz’s work trip as a deadline to get myself back to Asia, and that after she left I’d settle in Ho Chi Minh City, find a job, and teach again. ¬†But part of being home has made me realize that’s not what I want. ¬†I liked teaching English, but not enough to want to make a career out of it. ¬†What I really want is to travel. ¬†And I really want my home base to be in a thriving, multicultural city.

Earlier this year I came up with a challenge for myself: visit one new country for each year I’m alive. ¬†That means, when I’m 54 years old, I will have visited at least 54 countries. ¬†I’m 31 and I’ve been to 27, so I have some catching up to do. ¬†This trip is an excuse to get 4 or more countries on my list.

That said, I don’t want to be adrift. ¬†After being tied down to jobs for many years, a few months of running wild is nice. ¬†REALLY NICE. ¬†But I am craving having projects and working in teams again. ¬†I am, and always will be, independent and a free spirit, but there is a sense of purpose and security that comes with being tied to something, and if I get a long leash, I’m happy.

So I figure as I travel, I can job hunt. ¬†As long as I have wifi and a VPN, it’s no different than being in New Jersey. ¬†And any place or person I’d want to work for would have a hell of a lot of respect and admiration for my approach. ¬†Then once we’ve sealed the deal, I can board a plane and head wherever I’m needed.

Until then, I’ll be trip planning, job hunting, and probably contacting you for leads ūüėõ ¬†If you’re curious, I want to return to either non-profits or tech (I love tech solutions for social problems). ¬†Check me out here.


And in case you’re curious…

Countries I’ve Visited:

  1. USA
  2. Canada
  3. The Bahamas
  4. Mexico
  5. Colombia
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Chile
  9. Argentina
  10. England
  11. Ireland
  12. Scotland
  13. Wales
  14. The Netherlands
  15. Belgium
  16. France
  17. Portugal
  18. Italy
  19. Hungary
  20. Norway
  21. Australia
  22. Qatar
  23. South Korea
  24. Malaysia
  25. Japan
  26. Hong Kong
  27. China

These are the countries I can comfortably say I’ve been in and done some exploring. ¬†There are others I could list, like North Korea, because I technically was on their soil during the DMZ tour, but come on. ¬†I didn’t really visit North Korea (though I’d love to go and keep my eyes wide and mouth shut).