Welcome to the first post of a new series called Women Who Wander. This series focuses of Solo Female Travel. The aim of this series is to enable Solo Travellers to tell their stories. Also to provide encouragement for those who have yet to venture out on their own. While I am not a seasoned solo traveller myself, I hope these stories will not only inspire you, but also give myself some inspiration!

Frist up is Meg and her story of solo expat life in Malaysia.

Get to know Meg

Solo Expat Life

Hi, Fox here although some people call me Meg. I’m an avid adventure enthusiast and outdoor love. Travel is my passion. I’ve been to 29 countries across 5 continents and I’m currently based in Colorado. Aside from seeing the highlights of a region I often include off-the-beaten path, unique experiences in my travels. My stories include taking local transportation across parts of Indonesia, living in 3 different countries, and summiting the highest peaks in Colorado.

You can read about my stories, tips, and tricks over at www.foxintheforest.net.

You can also find fox on:

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What They Don’t Tell You About Solo Expat Life

Solo Expat Life

I shot up gasping, panicked, breathing heavily, and wide eyed. I looked around the room, unable to see anything familiar in view. It’s freezing, I mused reaching for the AC remote. Ugh, I simply do not understand how Celsius works – the numbers are meaningless to me and it’s too early in the morning to do math. The concrete walls and chipped vinyl floor amplified the cold blasting from the wall mounted unit.

The anxiety held on tightly in my chest. Why was this happening? As I began to come to I checked my clock 2:45am. I threw my head back down on the pillow, rolled over and tried to go back to sleep but my mind wasn’t having it. Why was I here? What am I doing staying in this stranger’s house in a strange land? I’m thousands of miles and an ocean away from anyone that I know. But most importantly, why was I a brave, daring, and sometimes reckless woman, so anxious?

It was day 3 of this madness and my third night living in Malaysia, I flat out didn’t get it. To say I was excited to move out here for 4 months is an understatement. I read up on the various cultures, learned a good amount of the language, read everything I could about being an expat and no where did it mention that 2am panic attacks were just part of the deal.

There are lots of things people don’t tell you about what it’s like to be a solo expat. Perhaps it’s because it’s nearly impossible to describe, or maybe it’s something that becomes so integral to your everyday life you simply don’t think of it as being that big of deal. Either way it’s what makes being a solo expat so alluring. Seeing what’s on the other side, testing new waters, whatever it may be you have that experience all to yourself and only you are influencing how you feel about it.

Making Local Friends is Challenging

solo expat life

This may be a little bit obvious, but I didn’t truly understand how difficult it would be to connect to the local community until I failed a few times. Language and cultural barriers are obvious, but it’s tough to understand how real that is until you encounter it. Before I left for Malaysia I learned enough of the language to speak conversationally. The problem was I was self-taught and Malaysians were not accustomed to hearing their language spoken with an American accent. Despite my funny “mat salleh” accent (lit “mad sailor”) my language knowledge got me pretty far. English is widely spoken in Malaysia, but making the extra effort to converse in Malay earned brownie points with local contacts.

However, the biggest factor that helped me fit in and make real connections is because I adjusted my mannerisms, tone, and attitude to not stand out as being so “foreign.” It’s tough to do, because you can’t change who you are, but knowing cultural queues and acting on them got me quite far.

The best piece of advice to give to anyone moving to a new country is to read up on social behavior, act accordingly, and enroll in a language course. Even if you suck at communicating and you don’t do things quite right, the honest and in-depth attempt never goes unnoticed. I relied heavily on online groups such as Travel Buddy and Couchsurfing to get out and meet local people. If used correctly these online networks allow you to meet locals who are interested in meeting foreigners. I’ve formed lifelong connections through both of these websites and I encourage anyone moving to a new place to get involved.

Making Expat Friends is Easy

Solo expat life

Expat friends aren’t a bad thing. In fact, my roommate and coworker was a fellow expat (from South Africa). She is one of my best friends to this day. It’s easy to become friends with expats because you share the experience of living in a foreign land. Believe me, you are going to have insanely frustrating days. Expat friends provide a valuable shoulder to lean on. I have friends who I cherish from all over the globe. It’s a great network and I’m always smiling when I reflect on our time together.

Where these relationships become dangerous is when they turn negative. It’s easy to get frustrated with life in a new country, especially in a place where that life might be more difficult than home. However, surrounding yourself with negative people will only further isolate you from your new home. Choose your expat companions wisely and don’t be afraid to leave those behind you aren’t enhancing your experience.

The Everyday Mundane Becomes Fascinating

solo expat travel

This is easily one of my favorite parts about solo expat life. Simple things like eating, commuting, even just relaxing become these eye opening experiences that you simply can’t replicate in your home country.

I have the exceptionally vivid memories of eating on the street with my roommate under a metro overpass in tiny chairs just musing and watching life go by. Motorbikes zooming dangerously close, hawkers shouting their wares while people crammed to get the hottest thing off the grill. It would consume me. I felt integral, yet insignificant to a part of life a world away from home.

Conclusions about Solo Expat Life

solo expat life

Solo expat life is refreshing. It caused me to pause and think of my own tiny impact on this massive planet. At times it overcame me in a way that I can only describe as seeing myself outside of myself. Like a drone hovering above my being. A big part of why I travel is to seek that feeling.

Eventually the late night panic attacks subsided. I figured out how to communicate and made friends and slowly, I rebuilt my life across the globe. Being an expat allowed me to expand my horizons in ways I never thought possible. The joys and pains of solo expat life never failed to surprise me. Despite a rocky start, the reward far outweighed trouble.

Find more Women Who Wander entries here

Finally, If you are interested in writing for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at youngandundecidedblog@gmail.com. Can’t wait to share your stories

Solo Expat Life

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61 thoughts on “Women Who Wander: Meg’s Solo Expat Life in Malaysia”

  1. I love travelling although i’m not brave enough to travel solo. I’m afraid of feeling lonely. But I loved reading Meg’s account of her expat life. And by the way, I’m from South Africa too.

  2. Traveling anywhere solo can definitely be intimidating but even more so when it’s far away from everyone you know and there is a language barrier. I think making friends with local people happens differently depending on the country your visiting. In Japan we made some friends that will last for a lifetime but in other countries we’ve visited it’s been more challenging. I agree that reading up on social aspects of a culture is highly important before visiting.

  3. Thank you for this different and original article, really liked the layout of this post. We think that making local friends is yes a challenge but it’s amazing because you can learn lots of things about their cultures and their way of thought 🙂

  4. It’s easy to relate to that feeling of everything familiar being away for thousands of kilometers, since I’ve been travelling solo a lot. At the beginning it was because the other part didn’t want to spend their vacation “sitting in an airplane for 12 hours” or “walking through one street after another”, but than I just fell in love with it! Sure, there are let’s say limitations in a sense, but the feeling of being alone somewhere strange and unfamiliar when everything at the end just turns out to be the best trip you’ve ever had – that’s irreplaceable. 🙂 Wishing you a lot more happy journeys!

  5. Cultural barrier is definitely one of the biggest reasons why it’s not easy for expats to make local friends in the short term. I also lived as an expat shortly in a country of a totally different culture, and could only make acquaintances rather than friends :). But once you’ve been there for a longer time things will change.

  6. I loved reading Meg’s story and I think travelling solo is a hard challenge for yourself but the people will have benefit of this!! I grow up as a person while travelling solo, I feel free and with a lot of passion to discover more and more about me!! Anyway I’ve been travelling with my wife for the last 2 years, a different journey but I love it too!! 😀 thanks for sharing it

  7. I don’t think I could travel alone, I love to have someone to share an experience with but I can imagine it takes great courage and is so rewarding, you mention the everyday mundane being fascinating, that’s one of my favourite parts of travelling. Being insignificant in their culture but in awe at everything going on around you. It’s amazing

  8. Sounds like you had a great experience. I was lucky enough to live in NZ, Colombia, Mexico and Peru and I agree its hard to make friends when you are not going to be there forever. You have to make the most of life though and the experience and enjoy it 🙂

    1. One of the main struggles of solo travel it seems is to make long term connections with people. But hey, we get to travel the world so can we really complain? Once a while someone will come along that you just click with which is a great change!

  9. A very interesting post! I would love to spend some time in Malaysia, it is one of the only countries I haven’t been to in South East Asia. What a bucket list goal too of summiting the highest peaks in Colorado.

  10. I dont call my self an expat, but I live in a foreign country and its not the first time. Even though I speak Spanish I found it challenging here in Chile because they speak differently. I got some Chilean friends, but they are all very “international” meaning they have been travelling a lot as well. Sometimes my own shyness makes it hard to ask people to do something together with me. I dont feel I am the funny Nana as I am in Denmark where language is not a problem. So I get you totally!

  11. Definitely agree that it can get really unsettling in the beginning and rewarding after some time. I was fortunate to have local colleagues who were open and welcomed me to their circle when I was all alone abroad and going a breakup at the same time. Now, we are good friends!

  12. What an interesting read! I’m also an expat and although not so solo anymore as I found a boyfriend in London I can definately relate to this post!

  13. what I like about your stories and photos is that I live the moment through your words and pictures. I feel it very natural and real. geat post and keep traveling 🙂 you are inspiring

  14. I love reading each and every one of these comments! Thank you all for your love and support. It was truly a great article to write and I had a lot of fun with it. My time in Malaysia meant a lot to me and I made some real connections there. I grew tremendously as a person. I look forward to reading more of this series 🙂

  15. Reading up on local culture and customs and learning the language is definitely vital, not only for expats but I’d say for travellers too if you’d like to stay longer and truly get to know the country. It’s always pretty tough at one point but it’s good to remember why you came in the first place and what awesome experiences you’ve made since then 🙂

  16. I can relate! In my 20’s (I am now in my late 40’s) I was a solo ex-pat in 4 countries – France, Canada, Switzerland and to a lesser extent Botswana. (Its complicated) I loved it and those years totally made me who I am today. It was all amazing – I loved it. I met some fantastic people who are still in my life now. In fact next month I am travelling to Denmark to visit a girl I met in France in 1990 when we were both au pairs working in the French Alps. It has made me independent, adventurous and open to meeting new people and trying new experiences. I am 50 in a few months and we are packing up and moving our life to Australia – because life is too short and I want adventure!

    Living in a country, working in a country – they are the ways to really understand about a place. I have travelled extensively but the thrill and the challenge (because it can be right?) of adapting to new customs, languages, foods, cultures still gives me the biggest buzz!

    1. Woagh! That’s incredible Tracy! I have family members who travelled a lot in their 20’s aswell and are still in touch with their freinds from all over the globe! Moving to Australia sounds so exciting! Wish you all the best!

  17. You’re very brave to be a solo expat! I love solo travel but I don’t think I could leave my hometown of NYC for more than a couple of months at a time. I especially like the advice about reading up on social norms before you move. I work with many French expats here in NYC and they sometimes have trouble adjusting to small differences, like the fact that New Yorkers don’t say hello as often as French people.

  18. I can relate to moving abroad solo ,thousand miles away from family (except the panicked attack!) Moving to different country takes a lot of adjustment, You need to make sure you fit in the crowd. But my experience is more liberating and it gave me the freedom and confidence to travel and explore more.

  19. I can sort of relate to the late night panic attacks while I was volunteering in Ecuador for a semester. Even though I traveled with a group so I wasn’t completely on my own, I didn’t know any of them before we met at the airport. I didn’t have panic attacks but I can remember laying in bed one night thinking, “what was I thinking??” I think I may have even cried. But it ended up being one of the best experiences in my life to date. #farawayfiles

    1. I had this exact experience in Romania this summer. I didn’t sleep for the first 3 nights just absolutely stressing asking myself “why have I done this? this is crazy!” haa. Definitely the best thing I have ever done 🙂

  20. I stayed and worked in foreign country for about 11 years and I totally understand what you feel. First year was the toughest as everything seems to be unfamiliar to me. But then the following years gradually getting better. Today, if I looked back at those years, I will just smile thinking of life lessons and experiences that I had. Sometimes I am missing those days. 🙂

  21. I agree with the point that it’s much easier to make friends with expats than locals! I met most of my French friends through situations like work or being roommates, but I made expat friends just by connecting with people on Facebook and then meeting in real life.

    I traveled alone a ton in Europe, mostly because it doesn’t really occur to me to coordinate with someone before I plan a trip! I love the freedom of wandering and doing whatever I want, but I think there are some trips and travel experiences that are more fun when shared too.

  22. Great concept Chiera. Living abroad is one of the most challenging and exciting things you can do. As an expat with a partner I can only imagine this experience as a solo female traveller has its own unique challenges. I admire Meg’s commitment to learning the language and adjusting to the culture in Malaysia. I am sure she has many fascinating stories to tell. Thanks for sharing with us on #FarawayFiles

  23. Celsius is easy! 0° is freezing and 100° is boiling. It’s all based on water. Aim for something around 25° and it’s all good.

    Hey, Chiera – great idea. I think there are huge mental barriers to travel, and it must be harder for women travelling alone, with friends and family raising their eyebrows.

    Sharing experiences, showing that it can be done – and done spectacularly! – is one good way of chipping away at cultural expectations.

    This last day in particular I have been so inspired by women standing up against racism and sexism and corruption.

    1. Personally, when solo travel first came to mind I instantly shut it down. No way. Too dangerous. But hearing stories of these amazing women like Meg who embrace it and come away from it with such independance is inspiring!
      Yes! The Womens Marches were one of the more inspiring things I’ve seen in my 24 years of life!
      Thanks for your comment Pete x

  24. Meg, thank you for your honest post, normally you see everywhere how cool it is to travel alone but nobody mentions drawbacks it has in the beginning. But I think this is the rule to almost all activities when you have to come out of your comfort zone. Maybe the good advice could be to travel solo for the first time to some neighbouring country to encounter the very basic problems and than travel still further and further 🙂

  25. Lovely article and great timing. I am currently adjusting to a new life in Spain I feel many of your early pains, apart from I am a full supporter of celsius, you can keep that non-sensical farenheit! Great photos too, thanks for sharing your experience, I am sure many people will find it helpful.

  26. Love this new series! Thank you for sharing Meg’s journey and experiences in Malaysia. I think there are similarities about feeling like the outsider when moving abroad, whether in the Far East or Scandinavia. Doing it on your own takes it to another level and I am impressed by her positive attitude! Cheers from Oregon this time! #FarawayFiles

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