Mind where you’re going
It’s easy to attract unwanted attention when you walk bewildered and looking confused, consulting a big map in your hand every few minutes. Make sure you have some idea of where you’re going before you hit the street. Study the map beforehand, know what bus to take, and try to look confident in the direction you’re going. If you’re confused about something, ask the receptionist or staff where you stay.
This is not to say that Indonesians are bad people lurking in the shadows waiting for tourists to attack. But as a catchphrase from an Indonesian reality show says, “Crime happens not only out of intent but because there is a chance. Beware!”
Most major cities in Indonesia have a reliable and organized public transportation system. But at times you may also find yourself in a dingy old bus without air-conditioning. Some operators may stuff as many people as they can in a bus, and the extra crowd will be standing in whatever space is left. Unfortunately, that creates an ideal setting for crime. Always keep your belongings close and within sight — sling your backpack to your front side or put it in your lap if you’re sitting down, and don’t put valuables in your back pocket.
Also, as with anywhere else, women sometimes fall victim to sexual harassment in crowded public transportation. If you feel inappropriate touching of any kind, do voice your discomfort and find a way to get some distance.
Another important caution is to hail a cab only from trusted companies. Many locals agree that BlueBird is the most reliable taxi operator you can trust. Online ride-hailing apps like Grab or Uber will also help, as there are generally plenty of drivers, especially in major cities.
Hitchhiking is not a thing in Indonesia — don’t count on it. If you can’t judge whether someone is offering a ride to help or because they expect something in return, don’t get in.
Many places like Yogyakarta and Bali are pedestrian-friendly. You can find ample sidewalks and you can see other people walking around. But otherwise, do not attempt to walk on the side of the road. In more urban cities like Jakarta, even the sidewalks are not entirely safe — sometimes motorcycles use the sidewalk to cut the line on traffic. Be watchful always.
You may experience some annoying catcalls when walking down the street but most of the time they do not mean any harm — just ignore. Also, avoid deserted or dark alleys when walking alone (in fact, take this discretion wherever you are in the world).
Many natural attractions in Indonesia — waterfalls, hills, beaches, and more— are tucked away in remote areas. It’s better not to venture to these areas alone. If possible, find someone with the same destination in mind and go together, or otherwise sign up for a guided tour. In tourist cities like Bali, it shouldn’t be hard to find fellow solo female travelers; even easier if you’re staying at a hostel.
What to wear
Many tourists are under the impression that they are expected or even obliged to dress conservatively when in Indonesia. While dressing conservatively will no harm, it’s not something that is forced on you. With the exception of the sharia-governed Aceh Province, tourists are generally free to wear whatever they deem appropriate. No one expects you to layer up while sunbathing at the beach or walking down the street on a warm day. Some temples may well expect tourists to cover up their chest and legs, but they do provide a cloth to wrap around you on-site.
If you’re walking down the street or taking public transportation, it’s best to wear, not necessarily conservative, but comfortable and unrevealing clothes to avoid unwanted attention. A pair of denim pants and t-shirt is pretty common casual wear for Indonesian women and therefore is considered appropriate enough to wear around. In big urban cities like Jakarta, the standard is pretty loose and you’ll see local women wearing all kinds of styles.
Where to stay
Many Indonesian cities have a wide array of hostels that are perfect for solo travelers, some of them even have all-female dorms. To avoid confusion, do your research and book in advance so you’ll know where to go upon arrival. Hostels are generally a great place to meet fellow solo travelers and make friends.
Do not count too much on public wifi, as it may be scarce. You may have to head to a café or restaurant to find free wifi and it’s just not practical to do so every time you need to access the internet. A better alternative is to buy a domestic SIM card and install it on your phone. Data packages in Indonesia are generally very cheap — for less than $7 you can get 2 GB data active 30 days. That way, you can conveniently stay in touch with friends and family back home and update them with your travel plans as necessary.
If you’re feeling wild and want to immerse yourself in Jakarta or Bali’s notorious nightlife scene, do not be discouraged just because you’re alone. Bars and clubs can be a great way to meet other people and make friends, both locals and foreigners. As with anywhere else, do not leave your drink unattended. It’s also important to remember that possession and distribution of drugs are very serious criminal offenses in Indonesia, even punishable by death penalty.