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10 Safety Tips for Train and Bus Travel in India

The media has been treating India like a punching bag recently… and not without reason. Even Indian media reports on the horrid incidents occurring somewhat regularly in India. This will be one of many posts dedicated to safety tips for traveling India: safety tips for train and bus travel in India

Many of us heard of the tragic disgusting gang rape in Delhi last year, and some became subconsciously nervous to travel in India. Before this rape made world news, I was in Delhi riding buses, alone, at night. THAT rape hadn’t happened, but many others had. I didn’t make a fuss of my safety because I figured this could happen anywhere.

With more and more women coming forward about their attacks (the only good thing that came out of the mass attention), it’s becoming clear, if it wasn’t already, that safety for women is an issue in India particularly but not limited to being on transportation. Regardless, I will continue to travel throughout India just like many other women will. I have 14 tips for solo female travel in India that might help you.

I traveled solo and still continue to do so on overnight buses and lowest class trains, as well as local buses and trains, like in Bombay. I have additional information coming on how to book trains and buses, which classes to take, etc.

If taking trains and buses in India is daunting and something that stresses you out, then on the longer legs just FLY. It’s so cheap here in India. Use Kiwi to search for the low cost carriers and ask hotels to arrange transport to the airport.

trains india transport

Here are my Safety Tips for Train and Bus Travel in India

1. Don’t take heavy sleeping/anxiety pills before an overnight bus or train. It’s so nice to conk out (and I have to admit, even I’ve done it), but it’s not worth sleeping through someone taking all your stuff, is it?

2. I took a bike chain on my first trip to India. If I were to do another extended trip by train I would do it again. I ordered this Master Lock Chain from amazon for about 15 dollars. On buses this wasn’t necessary, and it wouldn’t be necessary on 2nd and 1st class trains. On sleeper class trains, it was necessary. Overnight sleeper and second class trains can get overwhelming, and I wouldn’t have slept well without this. The doors are open, people are on and off all night, and could easily grab my bag.

3. Hold your purse or “daybag” while you sleep. I wrap a handle around my arms and keep in in my sleeping bag, which leads me to my next point…

4. I never go on a long trip without a REI Trael Sack Sleeping bagmummy liner , and a

Therm-A-Rest travel pillow. Other than my contacts, it’s literally the most important thing in my bag. On trains it benefits me in that it keeps me covered from the blasting fans, keeps me covered from staring men, I can keep my purse close to me inside of it, and I stay a little cleaner in my shell.

travel india train

5. Stay covered up. The trains and buses are not the places to decide you want to express yourself or something like that. When traveling local buses instead of tourist ones, and lower class trains, you’re going to looked at anyways because it’s rare. Don’t draw more attention to yourself.

6. I find the closest family on the train and make friends with their kids, or at least say hi. I make them aware, without saying it, that there’s a solo female traveler on the train. For some reason it relaxes me; if something were to happen I’d like to think our newly made friendship would send them to my rescue.

7. There is this rule in guidebooks that says, “don’t smile to men in India” C’mon. I’ve said in my post about traveling India solo that it’s an unfair silly rule. I think that the reason I didn’t have problems is because I smiled, because I offered some of my snack, and because I didn’t judge these men that stared; I chose to believe they were just curious. Even some of my Indian guy friends call me naïve for that, so take it with a grain of salt- but it’s worked for me.

8. Hold your spot! I’m not kidding, I have had someone sit on my lap on an overnight local bus in the mountains coming from Sarahan. There is no such thing as personal space on Indian transport. The worst is the Delhi metro in rush hour or the Bombay slow local. On the overnight trains, even though you buy a whole bench to sleep on… others have bought a whole bench for their whole family. I have woken up many times to people sitting on my bench, fitting into the empty spaces my curled up body made. One at the end of my feet I can allow, but eventually a line must be drawn. They almost make me feel bad for having a whole seat to myself.

9. Overnight buses: if they stop for a bathroom break, obviously take your belongings off with you to the toilet. Don’t take long because I’ve met people who were left behind!

10. Don’t sick next to the pretty Indian woman who looks nervous, like she’s never traveled before… she’ll puke on you! (and no, they won’t stop the bus for you to get water and clean off)

safety tips trains bus travel india

Before coming to India do not forget these three very important things:

  1. Travel Insurance. I use World Nomads which is what Lonely Planet recommends
  2. a VISA. You would be surprised how many people email me saying they showed up without one and got sent home. Click here to see what one you need and GET IT ahead of time.
  3. I HIGHLY recommend that you stay online in India. You can get a SIM card and put it in an international unlocked phone. If you don’t have a phone like this, try Trabug. Trabug is a travel phone that you can have shipped to your hotel in India. This phone has the internet and all kinds of India travel apps on it. It’s more expensive than a SIM, but SIM cards are sometimes a huge hassle for foreigners in India. You don’t want to be in India without the internet.
2017-05-05T10:54:16+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing to live on the beaches of Goa, India almost four years ago where she is now a travel writer. Her website gives advice on the 35+ countries she's been to but has become the go-to site for India travel, focusing on offbeat places & “glamorous travel”. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE magazine, Tripadvisor, and Thomas Cook. Her blog is one of the top 50 travel blogs in the world based on traffic. She also enjoys writing for BravoTV.

40 Comments

  1. […] on the lowest class trains, but as I’ve said, I never felt unsafe and I’ve come up with some tips to make you feel safer during transport that I’ll put up […]

  2. […] not in Goa, making a scene always works for me. Stick with what you know ;) Be sure to read my safety tips for transportation in […]

  3. […] As with all transportation in India, take advantage of these safety tips. […]

  4. Shaun April 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Great tips! It’s very refreshing to get your point of view and perspective from the experience. I’ve been on public transportation in Central America and as a male get stares from everyone. I assume it’s just curiosity as well.
    To be blunt, the disgusting events those women went through makes my blood boil.

    • Rachel Jones April 4, 2014 at 2:06 am - Reply

      THanks Shaun! I think curiosity is a main factor, and when it’s just looking I choose positivity and believe the best. (but then at times like on Holi when a man completely gropes my boobs, it’s like ok fuck you mr.!!) One person treating a foreigner wrong can ruin their whole view on the country and its sad that there are so many men like this. The best thing now is that people are talking about it- young and old, in person and on indian blogs and they are at least acknowledging the problem!

  5. Annette | Bucket List Journey April 3, 2014 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    Great tips! I have only been on the trains in Europe, but a lot of these would still apply.

  6. Christie April 3, 2014 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    These are some great tips! You definitely need to use your common sense when travelling through India. I’m very glad #10 has never happened to me..haha! I was actually in Delhi last year when that horrific gang rape happened, and it was just the most awful thing :(

    • Rachel Jones April 4, 2014 at 2:09 am - Reply

      It’s a shame you were there at that time, but in a way it’s good that foreigners were there to play witness to the replies of the Indian women. So many foreign women were interviewed in international news and it helped spread the word, and I really think if that hadn’t happened, like many of the other rapes the men would have walked free .

  7. Jen April 4, 2014 at 3:18 am - Reply

    You need to add… don’t eat the train food! I heard many nightmares of eating train food in India. Great tips, especially number 10 ;) I miss Indian trains.

    • Rachel Jones April 4, 2014 at 6:51 am - Reply

      Ahh yes, I never got sick from it but did forget to get water and was dying by how spicy it was!

  8. Agness April 7, 2014 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    Great tips. Some of them can be followed in China and most of Asian countries I guess. #3 is the most important – to hold your purse or “daybag” while you sleep. It’s easy to fall asleep and get robbed.

  9. […] 10 safety tips for train and bus travel in India by Hippie in Heels: As safety is a big issue for many travellers to India, Rachel wrote a post on how to behave on bus and train trips in India. Rachel has been living in India for a few years now and she knows the country very well. So take her tips into consideration when you travel to India. […]

  10. […] have an entire post dedicated to safety on Indian trains and buses. I think sleeper buses are safer because you have a little door you can slide shut so no one even […]

  11. […] always felt safe in India, but now it finally feels a bit like […]

  12. […] have an entire post dedicated to safety on Indian trains and buses. I think sleeper buses are safer because you have a little door you can slide shut and there are […]

  13. […] Onward from Jodhpur, my itinerary led me to Jaisalmer also by sleeper bus. I find buses in India to be safe even traveling solo as a female. Bring your sleeping […]

  14. […] have more tips for Indian transport like staying safe on buses and trains, How to book a train, including which class and explaining the tourist quota and tatkal, as well […]

  15. […] rode buses alone, was surrounded by only men on multiple train and bus rides, and I never felt unsafe. There was ONE butt grab on a bus in Delhi and after making a scene the guy was embarrassed and the […]

  16. […] up and share your bed. Top tier you can sleep until you arrive! I also found that the train was incredibly safe, although I locked up my […]

  17. Nicole October 23, 2014 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Awesome tips ! Im headed to India solo in a few months and this blog is exactly what i’ve been looking for.

  18. Florn November 7, 2014 at 11:53 pm - Reply

    Ha! #9 happened to me. Bus left me during a bathroom break at night. All of my belongings were on the bus. The whole having to constantly pee and those over night bus trips were quite traumatic for me! I literally resorted to squatting down to pee right next to the bus, keeping one hand on the side of the bus, for fear of being left behind again. lol. Next time, I am just going to wear a pair of Depends.

    • Rachel Jones November 9, 2014 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      OMGsh that is my worst fear!! how terrible. Glad you can laugh about it now.

  19. JJ December 14, 2014 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Any thoughts on the wine scene?

  20. Preparing for India | January 14, 2015 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    […] 10 safety tips for train and bus travel in India […]

  21. Srimanta Ghosh January 29, 2015 at 3:13 am - Reply

    Hello Rachel,
    This is a good and informative post. These tips are very great for Woman’s who are planning to visit India. They should be more responsible on their own decision what to do or not.

  22. shridhar vyas July 31, 2015 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Dear kid -Rachel, Hare krishna ! I invite you to kindly visit ISKON Temple, Juhu Mumbai to know about indian phylosophy. Explore India there, in its devine and peaceful core. Beaches of Goa are symbol of cultural freedom in india but here you will find freedom from all fears. Hope you will be there soon. – Shridhar

  23. Chris August 26, 2015 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    Rachel, do the trains have electrical outlets? or do only certain classes have them?

    Thanks!

    • Rachel Jones August 27, 2015 at 3:31 am - Reply

      I know 3AC and 2AC do, cant remember about sleeper third class but I doubt it.

    • Pierrick October 17, 2015 at 4:29 pm - Reply

      Hi. I remenber there was outlets in the Sleeper Class.. But not workin’ really good !

  24. […] Unlike Europe where you can go from London to Paris to Vienna all in a week… in India that will just wear you out to the max. To fully enjoy India you need to RELAX, and they do not make it easy on you considering what a chaotic country they are. When you go from city to city you’ll have an annoying fight with a rick driver about cost, a sweaty dusty ride to the bus or train station, a long LOUD overnight ride with people watching you sleep, on a bus possibly a stop in the middle of the night to get a snack and use a horrible toilet, on a train you’re stuck with the squat one that is very dirty, then you have a fight with another rick driver to your hotel, where you’ll be told a price higher than agreed. Once you get to your room you’ll be beat! So, try to at least stay in the city you land in about 3-4 days. Any less than that, and you’re just going to be burnt out and become one of those people that hates India by the end. Read up on tips for train and bus travel in India. […]

  25. Himanshu Jain May 22, 2016 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    Hold your spot! This is so true while you are in Indian transport. There is always someone on search of a seat, I have had many weird experiences like yours. I have found another blog with travel hacks in Indian train, whats your comment on those?

  26. Eve May 25, 2016 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    Myself and a friend are traveling India at the moment. We are looking to get from Varanasi to Darjeeling, which is a 15 hour train journey, and the only class available is sleeper class. I was wondering what you would recommend, if we should get a sleeper class for 15 hours, or if that will be a bit too unbearable! We are not seasoned train travelers in India but we have done a lot of long distance journeys on local buses, which we love!
    Thanks,
    Eve

    • Rachel Jones May 25, 2016 at 4:09 pm - Reply

      Hi Eve,

      If you have a sleeping bag or liner and your own pillow, it’s not that bad – I don’t know the temp up there but the main concern would be no AC as many areas of India are hot.. would imagine Varnasi is but maybe no Darjeeling? I traveled sleeper class a lot , kept my backpack in my bed with me and slept!

  27. Billy December 5, 2016 at 8:44 am - Reply

    Good to know. I can’t believe people would travel all the way to India without checking that they needed a visa!

  28. Karoline D February 28, 2017 at 12:29 am - Reply

    Hey Eve,

    Thanks for your insight into travelling safely in India. India is a country where buses and trains are the primary modes of transport. It has to be relied upon necessarily. So one can’t just prevent themselves from visiting a country that is so culturally exotic just because of fear in buses and trains. It is a much better idea to travel smartly and definitely follow these safety tips that you provided. Thanks for sharing!

  29. carolijn March 17, 2017 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    I loved traveling by train and bus in India! We always traveled by sleeperclass or sleeperbusses and honestly I have not been scared for one second. I never put a chain on my backpack, I just put it below the lowest bench and my smaller bag between the ‘wall’ and my legs. Also in the sleeperbus I never took my belongings with me… I think I was just lucky that nothing happened, because now I read this I think that maybe I could have been a little more careful… I just did not feel unsafe… happy about that! Also about the ‘men-thing’. I have only met men who were so so soooo helpful, and not in a scary/wrong way. They truly wanted to help us on our journey. It’s part of their culture and maybe again…luck. It’s now one week since I am back home and I miss it sooo much. I will be back (:

    • Rachel Jones March 19, 2017 at 8:53 am - Reply

      Yes, luck plays a lot into your India traveling experience for sure. I’m glad you had such a good time here!

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