I can assure you there will be follow ups to this list of travel to India tips and advice. I’ve lived here for years now, and I’m still learning more and more about how to fit in here in India as a blonde girl.
I have a lot of male Indian friends and readers that I don’t want to offend, but I do have to be honest for my Western readers. There are certain precautions and things to keep in mind if you’re a woman traveling alone. Below are 14 tips for solo female travel in India.
henna, yoga, tea, relaxing afternoons, friendly people, elephants in the street. Udaipur is a dream.
India is stunning, magical, awesomely confusing, and jaw dropping. It really should be on everyone’s bucket list.
So why do people back home have thoughts of slums, rape, and danger?
I get it. First and foremost, I strongly recommend signing up for travel insurance simply because you never know. I use World Nomads, which you can check out here.
When I traveled to Uganda, I also signed up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) through the U.S. State Department because the country was considered dangerous at the time. It’s a useful tool, as they know where you are and can help you in the case of an emergency.
Although a great resource for visa requirements, vaccination details, and updated terrorist attack warnings sent straight to my cell phone, they aren’t always a reliable source for making your next destination decision as they make India seem very scary!
From the U.S. State Department on India:
“U.S. citizens, particularly women, are cautioned not to travel alone in India.”
“Women should observe stringent security precautions, including avoiding use of public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions, restricting evening entertainment to well-known venues, and avoiding isolated areas when alone at any time of day.”
The list goes on and on, telling me how to prevent from being raped, how to dress, and not to ride in a taxi alone, especially at night. They give advice on avoiding the increase in rapes, particularly in Delhi, and of “eve-teasing” increasing toward Westerners… Indian men are getting bolder, they imply.
Imagine knowing nothing about a country and reading that information… would you want to plan a trip traveling to India or choose a new country? Unfortunately, that might be all your parents or family members read, and it might be the only thing that is portrayed in mainstream media.
Take the State Department with a grain of salt. Perhaps politics are involved when they say, “don’t go here.” Check other government cautions such as the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. When you dig further they also give advice similar to the US for women but start out with:
“Over 800,000 British nationals visit India every year. Most visits are trouble-free.” -UK
It seems much more positive. Anyways, along with taking their tips with a grain of salt, I’m about to add a few more that personally, I think you should take with a heap of sugar (is that a saying?). I’m not saying they are the right way, but these India travel tips have helped me in the last few years I’ve lived here.
PS: Coming to Goa? I wrote a 170-page ebook the Insider’s Guide to Goa which you can buy with this link. It’s all my secrets to make sure you have the BEST time here, chill in the coolest places, and meet other travelers.
14 Tips for Solo Female Travel in India
I don’t know why guidebooks like to keep telling women not to smile. They say men take it as a come-on. Let me tell you something, some men here take even eye contact as a come-on. You can’t think like that or you might as well stay in your room. I smile and wave.
2. If a man wants to take a picture with you: know two things are possible
1) a line will form (you get to feel like a celebrity, but it will get old trust me) or 2) they aren’t always taking these photos in an innocent way. Many of my male Indian friends have confirmed that these boys will show your photo to anyone who will look and tell the story of your lovely night together (ew) or they will use it for umm, more personal photo-shopped media (ewwww).
I still take photos with men, but I will do a group photo. Just say straight up “One photo only, group photo.” I feel like a b*tch completely declining.
Ok, this one isn’t boys AND they got individual photos, each and every one of them. sigh..
3. If a family wants to take a photo- it’s the cutest thing in the world, just go with it!
I saw this family in 2 different states a month apart! for a country with 1.2 Billion people, that’s a miracle! One of many photos posed for at the Taj Mahal
4. Men staring can be annoying.
Try to ignore it. Don’t give them a reason to stare. Only if it turns to stares + whispering +laughing + you feel teased, should you say something. Because although the world is telling you they want to tear your clothes off, sometimes they really are just curious!
sleeper class train (more train tips) from Varanasi to Delhi, these boys watched me all night
5. If a situation turns uncomfortable-
First of all, let the men know. If it persists and still gives you a bad gut feeling, leave the situation completely.
6. Make a scene if something happens.
When I have encountered a problem (a sneaky little ass-grab), I went bat-shit crazy on the men and they cowered, embarrassed by their actions. My go-to is always making a scene when I’m being cheated or eve-teased. If women are around, they will help you.
Maybe it’s not the best advice but all together I’ve been in India two years and eve-teasing has happened a lot…although not so much in Goa, making a scene always works for me. Stick with what you know ;) Be sure to read my safety tips for transportation in India.
Bus in Northern India. Worst bus ride ever, so crowded, so cold, SO many stares
7. Be conscious of what you wear
If you’re clubbing or in Goa, by all means, wear what you want to, everyone else is, BUT be prepared for the attention it draws. Keep in mind, the overnight local buses and sleeper class trains are like being in a fishbowl. No amount of clothing/hiding made me feel covered enough. It’s unfortunate, and I do have remarkable Indian guy friends, but I can’t pretend like this doesn’t happen.
Tip: over your top drape a scarf to cover your chest, even if you don’t have cleavage, do what Indian women do with their duppata. Here are some more do’s and don’ts for how to dress in India.
You can hide, or pretend to be a dork (jk I wasn’t pretending. I NEED a headlamp to read, and I have to put a scarf or it leaves an ugly mark on my forehead!) but they will still stare
8. Have someone from the guesthouse meet you at the bus stop/train stop if you are arriving in the middle of the night (as most buses do) or even during the day.
It beats having to deal with the rickshaw drivers fighting over who gets to take the tourist at 10x the real price. Most guesthouses will pick you up for free. Tell them to call you by name so you know it’s really them. (Funnily enough, as soon as they say your name everyone starts saying “Rachel, no no come with meee!” So I also ask them “Where am I from?” or another question.)
9. You always have a boyfriend.
Don’t be silly. Not a possibility. You’re a beautiful unattached girl! You might as well be saying, “I want to date you, marry you, have your children and get fat.” You have a boyfriend, you love him, and you are meeting up with him in a couple days. If you meet a lovely guy you’d like to flirt with, by all means, be honest. But for the most part, you’re very much attached.
10. Be wary of even minor forms of Eve teasing.
There’s this really annoying thing that dumb boys and uneducated men like to do here, and that is graze their elbow over your boob.
I cannot begin to understand what they really get out of that, but regardless they love it. Resist the urge to bitch-slap. Most men who pull this stunt don’t speak English well enough to understand your yelling either. Don’t just let them get away with it though. I very softly push their arm off me and say “Hey! Very bad!” the same way I do to my dog when he humps me. I let the people around know what he did. He’ll at least feel embarrassed, especially if his wife is there!
Do NOT hesitate to go to the police for eve-teasing. This is not only happening to Western tourists; they do this to Indian women too. Police take it very seriously; they even have special force dedicated to stopping this crime. Many times, Indian women are afraid to go to the police because they may be blamed or judged.
As a tourist or even an Indian woman, help out by making law enforcement acknowledge these crimes. In Delhi, 1 out of 706 rapes the man was held accountable in 2012, so you can see why women don’t bother telling. I’ve actually read that the statistics are worse than that, but can’t find the source now. Imagine how much more go unreported.
11. Remember that even many Indians find some of their culture inhumane.
Keep in mind in villages in India some things that happen are very inhumane to not just Westerners, but Indians alike. Sadly, in India, there are areas that still drown baby girls at birth so they don’t lose money raising her and paying a dowry. 47% of girls are married before they are 18, although partly normal due to culture, some against their will.
Young girls have been forced to marry their rapists in rural areas. I could go on and on about the sad things I read in the news every day (I will say at least Indian papers don’t hide what’s happening here, though it could decrease tourism).
Because of the differences in equality here, expect some men to cut you in line, demean you, yell at you, or even expect you to get up and give them your seat (shocking, I know!). Catch me in a bad mood and they might get a “f*ck you,” which is truly just a waste of time. When I’m feeling zen, I shrug it off; I can’t change a culture that many Indians have been trying to change for years. But I do find it comforting that many Indians do want to change the culture.
12. Don’t let your driver “bring a friend.”
I thought, that’d be strange, why would a driver do that? They do. I still don’t know why it’s scary; I suppose because they will drive you off to the middle of nowhere and rape you? It could just be because the friend needs a lift. I cannot count the number of times a rickshaw driver’s friend has hopped in right before we take off.
I say, “Stop! Your friend cannot come.” If they have a problem with that, I get a new rickshaw. If they ask why, I don’t say, “Oh because I’m afraid you’ll rape me and this here is your partner in crime!” That’s just silly but why risk it since everyone warns of it?
This guy was friendly, but sometimes your drivers’ friend will hop onto the front seat with him
13. Be very careful when choosing to Couchsurf in India with men.
I get about 10-20 messages a week from Indian men asking me to meet them; most add a wink face or a “P.S. You’re pretty”. “Pick me up a bottle of Jack Daniels in the Duty-Free on your way through the airport.” –blank stare at the computer screen-
14. Remember, for each story you hear in the news, there is a nice guy in India outraged by the evil man who made the story happen.
Do not clump all Indian men in the untrustworthy category. Like any country, there are good and bad. It’s important to see what’s happening in the news, but not to let it ruin your mindset. Keep an open mind, be friendly, and keep smiling.
There is a strong love/hate relationship many people have with India. I struggled writing this post because I hate for India to have a negative image, but these are the things I would tell a friend of mine if she were to travel here alone.
Still worried about traveling solo?
If all of these tips made you nervous, don’t let that get you down. Traveling alone isn’t for everyone, and solo female travel in India is like jumping right into the deep end!
Extra Tips for Solo Female Travel in India
- Don’t forget to get your visa sorted. No sense in worrying about safety if you can’t even enter the country! I use iVisa to do everything online.
- Check out my complete PACKING LIST & $20 a day budget for India
- Of course, having a form of communication is pretty key. 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. It has travel apps on it and makes life a lot easier, although it can be more expensive.
- Again, get travel insurance! Although healthcare is affordable if you need the hospital for an IV, broken arm, or worse then the insurance will pay off. Good hospitals in India DO cost money and World Nomads travel insurance is SO cheap and affordable. It’s what I personally use while backpacking in India. If you look on my sidebar, you can even plug in your trip details to get a quote.
- Please take the time to read my whole blog (haha just kidding) and the Lonely Planet to India.
- Don’t forget these 15 documents!
- One last thing! If you are with friends and want to rent a villa in Goa, which is the most affordable way to go, you can sign up to Airbnb with this link and get $25 off your first booking (the credit doesn’t expire).
- Check my travel resource page for booking tips. I am obsessed with Kiwi for flights for about 1,000 but mostly because they search ALL the budget airlines giving you amazing deals. They’re also really great for travel changes and emergencies.
Have you traveled India solo as a girl? What was your experience like?
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