Purpose: This study aims to explore the meanings of solo travel for Asian women, focussing on how Asian women construct and negotiate their identities in the heteronormalised, gendered and Western-centric tourism space. Design/methodology/approach: In-depth interviews were conducted with 35 Asian solo female travellers from ten Asian countries/societies and analysed using constructivist grounded theory. The interpretation was guided by a critical stance and intersectionality lens. Findings: The findings show that solo travel provides a means for self-discovery but the path was different for Asian women, for whom the self is constructed by challenging the social expectations of Asian women. Western-centric discourse was identified in the participants’ interactions with other (Western) travellers and tourism service providers, as well as in the ways these Asian women perceive themselves in relation to Western travellers. In addition to gendered constraints and risks, the findings also reveal the positive meaning of being Asian women in the gendered tourism space. Research limitations/implications: By labelling Asian women, the study risks adopting an essentialised view and overlooking the differences within the group. However, this strategic essentialism is necessary to draw attention to the inequalities that persist in contemporary tourism spaces and practices. Originality/value: This study investigated Asian solo female travellers, an emerging but under-researched segment. It provides a critical examination of the intersectional effect of gender and race on identity construction for Asian solo female travellers. This study shows the need for a more inclusive tourism space. © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited.