• traveling india alone a pep talk

Traveling India alone is hard. Here’s a pep talk.

I’ve gotten a few e-mails this month that really bummed me out. Three people sent me long e-mails about how difficult they were finding India to be and how badly they wanted to go home. One girl said she hadn’t left her hotel in Bombay in 3 days since she arrived because she was so scared. Another girl in Kerala said she didn’t want to travel anymore in India and wanted to change her flight to go home because every time she left her hotel she started crying. One e-mail was from a guy, so it’s not a gender problem. They all regretting coming and regretted traveling India alone. One was really hoping I could come meet her and travel with her.

They were experiencing serious culture shock. They aren’t alone in feeling this way. I met lots of people traveling that were having breakdowns saying they hated India and were ready to book a ticket out.

Mumbai4It always surprises me how many people say India is the last place they want to travel to. If you look at travel blogs that talk about India, mine included, there are posts about scams to look out for, how to stay safe in India as a woman, how to dress to “avoid rape” since that’s they way politicians address the situation here, and posts talking about how you have to “keep your chin up” so you don’t let India defeat you.

slums mumbai airportThere is a love/hate relationship with India and I go back and forth on that- although about 80% of the time I love it here. But of course I do, I’m an expat here now living a comfortable life in laid-back Goa.

When I was backpacking solo, that number was a LOT different.

It was a struggle. I won’t lie about that. Scams were barely avoided daily, I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone, and I got tired of the stares. After a couple weeks I had to shake it off and ignore those things or I knew I wouldn’t come to love India like I’d hoped.

I made a list in my travel journal of the things that bothered me that I needed to shrug off. It was long… and when I re-read it, I realized how silly they were on their own.

The problem had been that they compiled throughout the day and frustrations grew.

So, the next time I was in line and a man cut in front of me, I let him. I didn’t even roll my eyes (ok, maybe I rolled my eyes a little bit at first). When a rickshaw driver quoted me 4x the normal price, instead of getting angry I patiently explained I knew the real route price and we should settle on a more fair price. When people stared at me, I stared right back. (But then that got awkward so I stopped….)

Anyways, the point is: my stress levels went down and I started to actually enjoy India and eventually came to love the place and the people.

manali india himalayas hippietaking a photo with each person here wasn’t annoying, it was fun

jaisalmer camel safari tips

When you’re here short-term, I truly think it’s best not to let the scamming and lying get you down.

Just go with the flow, know it’s going to happen, and make the best of it. If you don’t then you’ll be one of those people who goes home and says, “India was terrible! The people were so rude and it was filthy!” I hear it all the time and I ask them if they really changed their mindset and tried to like India enough.

It’s such a different and difficult country to travel in and the media doesn’t make it sound like a dream, so people come with preconceived notions of the horrors that await them… and they don’t look past them when a few come true.

On this blog, I try to to be realistic and let people traveling to India know that it isn’t going to be a breeze, but I also show the glamorous side to India, the luxury hotels, the kind locals I’ve gotten to know, and fancy clean restaurants. The important thing is once you really begin to understand Indian culture you will be less agitated when things go awry- because at least you’ll know why.

Also, obviously the higher your budget is in India the easier your trip will go. You can hire a driver in an A/C car.. get a nicer hotel, eat at nicer places, etc. Although I am an expat here now, I was a backpacker and when I write on here, I keep what it was like in mind so I don’t try to “sell” India as a perfect destination.

Varanasi Travel Tips Ghats Indiawhere on earth would you see this other than India?! Honestly!? I love that men hold hands here to show friendship. I’ve even gotten used to the ATM guard having a loaded gun in his hand. 

Varanasi Travel Tips Ghats Indiakids selling pooja offerings… although I agree with research not to give money to them, I do sometimes buy things like this or at least play with the kids. 

Varanasi Travel Tips Ghats IndiaAsking this guy to let me row really gave him the giggles. He couldn’t believe I wanted to do the work! Crazy foreigner!

Varanasi Travel Tips Ghats India

Now, if you’re here as an expat or long-term, obviously it’s no way to live to just ignore the things that bother you. I admit when a man cuts me in line at the pharmacy now, I step right in front of him and tell him to get back. Everything in moderation :)

Your first couple weeks in India might be difficult, but keep at it, and keep an open mind. Open your heart to the people you meet and don’t keep a guard up (other than obvious safety guards).

Unlike lounging on a beach in Thailand, you have to really put a mental effort into being able to relax and enjoy India.

 

 

2017-07-06T16:57:02+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Hippie in Heels, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

57 Comments

  1. Roger September 24, 2014 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    Is it easy to get a prepaid sim card as I have read somewhere it takes a week

  2. Emily September 24, 2014 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    I think it is definitely all about the perspective! Thanks for the pep talk though – we land in Chennai in less than a week!

  3. Alex, Backpacking Brunette September 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    Thank you for being so realistic! As someone who plans on backpacking India, your honesty is appreciated.

  4. Glamourous Traveller September 24, 2014 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    Good advice. When I was preparing to go to India, having heard all the horror stories, I braced myself mentally for the extreme worse problem I could face.

    I thought “maybe I’ll be cheated” and how would I deal with that “bargain/ verbally argue”. If people were going to stare at me, I just kept in mind to expect everyone to stare at me (just keep walking).

    It’s almost like if you can imagine the worst things that could happen (but I mean not rape bad or head butting cow bad) and you can deal with it mentally before you go, you’ll inadvertently set the bar really low in terms of expectations, and may be joyously surprised when India beats the bar.

    • vinay nagyal September 25, 2014 at 9:22 pm - Reply

      95% cases of molestations are happening at lower economic levels. just follow the rules you follow for, say ,New York.

      • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:10 pm - Reply

        Yep, just have to stay alert and not go in dark alleys!

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:20 pm - Reply

      good point- reading ahead of time can really help you mentally.

  5. Jo September 24, 2014 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this post. I think I’ve been getting a bit carried away reading all about your awesome expat life in India, so it helps to have a reminder that backpacking is very different. Attitude is so important when travelling, it makes all the difference between a total melt down and a minor irritation you can laugh about later!

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jo, yeah I realized I was painting a pretty overly-nice photo of India and want to stay realistic on here.

  6. Rebekah September 24, 2014 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    I love that you’re honest about both the challenges and charms of India. I’m looking into yoga teacher training programs and so I might end up in India after all, your blog makes me want to go

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:19 pm - Reply

      you should totally check out ashley abroad’s blog who just did that!

  7. venus john September 24, 2014 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    i can completely understand the emails you got.i feel the same way being indian and its a struggle getting out of the house and getting some shopping done and paying bills..i have to go back home and recover from the experiemce of being around some very rude people..and more.. india is only for the strongest and its a great boot camp..

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      So true.. running errands in India can really take it out of you.

  8. Jasper September 24, 2014 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    So, I’ll be backpacking through India on a solo trip next year and I’m really, really nervous. I’ll only be there for about a week, so I’m afraid that maybe there won’t be enough time to start to love the place. Do you have any tips/could you make a post about making sure that a short stay in India is as enjoyable as possible?

    Also, I haven’t done this yet, but I just want to thank you for this blog and your frequent India posts. They really help encourage me or at least make me feel prepared! You’re wonderful. :)

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      Have a bigger budget! That’ll make a week long trip amazing. Other than that, just staying positive is all you can do. In one week you might be lucky enough to only run into nice people. Crossing my fingers for you!

  9. Andrea Anastasiou September 24, 2014 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    I really love how you paint an honest picture of what travel in India is like.

    I agree with you about the mindset thing. After six weeks of being in Vietnam, the constant hassling from the locals to buy things grew exhausting to the point where it was starting to irritate me. I then decided I was being ridiculous, and that in order to enjoy my time here I’d have to change my mindset – so now, I don’t let it get to me, and I smile back and say a polite no thank you, and carry on walking. As a result, it doesn’t irritate me as much anymore.

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:17 pm - Reply

      that’s really cool that you’ve seen positive mindset help in the same way in Vietnam. I’ve heard it’s difficult with the scamming too.

  10. Emer September 24, 2014 at 9:32 pm - Reply

    It is tough living here alone at times, even in Goa, but there are little things that can surprise you. The other day I was waiting outside the ATM, with my head turned, and when I looked back a man had cut in front of me, OF COURSE! He must have felt my death glare, because he turned around, realized that I was there (I don’t know what he thought I must have been doing when he first saw me), apologized profusely, and let me in front! It’s an unpredictable place, and it’s important to not give up on it!

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:16 pm - Reply

      hahahah death glares are so helpful! don’t give up on india people haha thanks for that story.

  11. Cyra @ Gastronomic Nomad September 24, 2014 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    Great post Rachel! I love India and I agree with you that the frustrations just tend to kind of build up over a short period of time, rather than being something really big, bad and horrible.

    I actually found it funny having photos with everyone – men, ladies, parents grabbing their kids and shoving them next to you so they don’t miss out on a photo opportunity.

    Getting ripped off occasionally is annoying (okay, and on a couple of occassions I did get REALLY annoyed) but I think the worst thing for me was the staring from men. Such is life in India. :)

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:16 pm - Reply

      Hi Cyra, I loved the photos too although after a couple years I no longer take photos with people. It’s become a bit annoying now. and yesh there were times when I got really mad at rip offs as well! it’s bound to happen.

  12. Michelle September 25, 2014 at 12:49 am - Reply

    Rachel: I believe that you have alluded to “like attracts like” in India……..that sending out negative/fearful energy attracts the same and vice versa.

    I like the pep talk idea, as traveling solo, in a very different country can be wearing at times, especially on a budget.

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:15 pm - Reply

      that’s a good way to put it “like attracts like” I LIKE that.

  13. Veena September 25, 2014 at 1:13 am - Reply

    Great post! A friend and I have spoken at length about encouraging first-time visitors, particularly if they are traveling alone, to either book a tour or plan on spending time in a smaller place when they first arrive. I can’t imagine what it must be like to land in a city of 14 million people and be expected to know what you’re doing, so sometimes giving yourself time to ease into that situation is good. And the tours give you a structure and a built-in group of people in a similar situation.

    But that’s beside the point. What I really wanted to say is that I couldn’t agree more with your point about keeping at it and keeping an open mind — so many of the people I’ve known who didn’t like India were the ones who arrived with preconceived notions of getting ripped off or getting harassed on the streets, and they didn’t give themselves a chance to actually enjoy their time there. India has so much to offer, but you have to be ready to accept it, and I love that you mention that.
    xx

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:14 pm - Reply

      Thanks Veena! Yes and open mind is imperative in India.. it’s all about learning the culture and trying new things.

  14. Joella in Beijing September 25, 2014 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    Great pep talk, Rachel! I always like how you try to be realistic on your blog about India travel. It still sounds like a great country to visit (to me) but like you say, you don’t try to “sell” it or make it sounds perfect. I hope the people who emailed you managed to find a way to enjoy the rest of their stay.

  15. Kaleena's Kaleidoscope September 25, 2014 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    Great points! It’s really all about perspective and not letting certain inevitable things get to you. I realized similar things in Korea– of course I think traveling in Korea might be rainbows and butterflies compared to India, but it took a while for me to stop getting so angry about the stares, cutting, and shoving. Also– the boys totally hold hands in Korea too! You’ll see drunk old men stumbling down the street arm in arm like an old couple. Always gives me a chuckle haha.

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:11 pm - Reply

      I’ ve heard Korea can be really difficult.. lots of people have written about the staring problem. And how funny about the had holding! love it!

  16. Franca September 25, 2014 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    I really like your honesty Rachel, traveling solo in a country like India must be awesome but also has its challenges :) I like that guys aren’t afraid to hold hands in public, in some countries that might seem a bit odd, but I love it :)

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      I love it too! One of my favorite things.. that and lungi’s!

  17. rebecca September 26, 2014 at 10:14 am - Reply

    great pep talk! Im heading to india in a few weeks for an indian wedding and then carrying on to do a bit of travel. Really looking forward to it and certainly expecting the cultural shock. However I am aware that it all still might get to me.

    I will have to stalk your site to see the India tips. (Love the row boat photo)

    • Rachel Jones September 27, 2014 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      Thanks Rebecca, and Indian wedding- how fun! I still haven’t been to one, they are always at times I’m off traveling. Enjoy the dancing and food!

  18. Danni @Leftnleavin September 29, 2014 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    I adore this post.

    I can be a pretty anxious person and suffer from odd sensory issues ( certain really loud noises make me nauseous…it’s really awkward) but I am still SO excited to go to India.
    We just left Morocco and I wrote about how conflicted I felt at times. We had some of best and worst moments in Morocco. It’s nice knowing that just because I don’t love place 100% of the time doesn’t mean I’ll have a bad time over all.
    I agree with everyone else- if you go in knowing what to watch out for and expect the worst you’ll have much better time and will adapt more quickly.

    Thanks again for being so frank in your writing- it makes me feel brave too.

    • Rachel Jones October 1, 2014 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      You’re coming to India- yay!! So cool. I’ve heard the same about Morocco and that it can be difficult at times. Since you’re feeling brave you’ll have a kickass time in India, no worries girl!

      • Danni @Leftnleavin October 1, 2014 at 11:23 pm - Reply

        Thanks for the vote of confidence! Will definitely use your posts for planning.

  19. Teri October 1, 2014 at 12:59 am - Reply

    I just got back from a two week business trip to Bombay. One of the big things that struck me this trip is just how tolerant the Indian people are. They tolerate the heat, the noise (honk ok! haha), the crowds, the traffic. I too have learned to be more tolerant while there. Things happen when they happen. Scheduled meetings are fine, but being 15 minutes late is still being on time. I’ve also learned the better I tip, the better the service I get. My driver is always on time because he knows he will get a nice tip on Friday. The only thing I have not overcome is going out on my own. I don’t leave the hotel or go sightseeing unless I have someone with me. I had been in a situation when visiting a temple whereby upon leaving and waiting for our hired car to pick us up, in a matter of minutes we were surrounded by a large group of women with babies and small kids begging for food or money. I don’t think I could handle that on my own, but your article has encouraged me to try.

    • Rachel Jones October 1, 2014 at 7:33 pm - Reply

      honk ok! lol yeah i think that they tolerate things so well maybe because they don’t realize how hot or loud it is in comparison? I have no clue how they stay so “shanti!” I think you should totally try to venture our on your own. Once you’ve done it a few times it’ll be like second nature to you.

  20. heather williams October 1, 2014 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    hi rachel!

    i wöuld löve löve löve söme advice ön transpört and höw yöu göt fröm city tö city safely. i think that is the part that möst cöncernes me.

    i will be göing sölö, and have heard aböut these things called rickshaws? but i wöuld like tö knöw höw it was för yöu if yöu used them and höw the system wörks..

    alsö i think yöure such and inspiratiön, and i löööve reading all öf this.

    (sörry my ö had döts!)?

    heather xxx

    • Rachel Jones October 3, 2014 at 7:12 am - Reply

      You can take rickshaws (auto’s rick’s rickwalas) within cities for rides that are less than about 30 min they are just fine and comfortable plus cheaper than a car. In some cities like bombay they use a meter, and other times you negotiate before you get it. They’ll have a list that shows the rates per meter.. just check that they show you day time rates!

  21. Shirine Taylor October 3, 2014 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    I’ve had a fun time reading some of your posts about India today, especially because I like to see other females reactions to the county. My first two or so months (cycling across the north as solo twenty year old female) were mostly wonderful – I thrive on chaos and craziness and had some intensely amazing homestays for weeks at a time in different remote villages – until I started to realize what was really going on around me. In some parts men tried to rape me on a daily basis, I couldn’t even stop to eat because I would be surrounded by every man in the village, and I was handed porn and asked for it too many times to count. Not just that, it’s the fact that even women there believe themselves to be inferior because they have been taught that since the beginning, and because of the caste system, the poor are in an Unbreakable chain of poverty and destitution while the rich walk around like they rule the world.. Anyways, I could obviously go on and on about this..After a year over there (mostly in untouristic areas, many of which had never seen a foreigner) I can say that my love hate relationship is probably at about eighty percent hate, twenty percent love, and that’s only because I absolutely loved Zanskar and Ladakh (and enjoyed Kashmir and the Punjabi region). I enjoyed reading your stuff today because though you do point out some of the negative, you have done so in a “nice” way which makes it enjoyable to read while still understanding it’s rough. Obviously everyone’s experience there is different and it really depends where you go, I personally never want to return – a country based on equality is the worst thing in my mind – so I will continue to read about this diverse and confusing country through your eyes now! Sorry for the long post ;)

    • Rachel Jones October 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm - Reply

      wow it sounds like you had a really tough time. I’m so glad you shared your experience. I think it’s really helpful for people to hear that different areas can give you different outcomes, along with some bad luck of meeting assholes over and over!

  22. runawaybrit October 6, 2014 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    Another great India post – I love reading your take on life in India. I’m really sad to hear about the girl in Mumbai who was too afraid to leave her hotel, as my experience has been that I feel safe here.

    If you get another post like that point her in my direction and I’ll arrange to meet up with her!

    • Rachel Jones October 7, 2014 at 9:15 pm - Reply

      That sounds like an awesome plan! I will totally do that next time, because I get a lot of people afraid of Bombay

  23. Michael November 30, 2014 at 2:54 am - Reply

    Hey, Im about to go to India. I’m excited, but as i’m going alone, i’m worried i’ll spend a lot of time alone. Are there people in the hostels etc outside of Goa? Thanks!

    • Rachel Jones November 30, 2014 at 10:50 am - Reply

      there are a few hostels popping up like Zostel and Stop brands.

  24. Ishani December 17, 2014 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much! I was so worried about my trip to India. Now I know what exactly to do and what not to.

  25. Amy March 22, 2015 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    Thanks so much for your post. I am planning to travel India in October for around 2 months and have been getting a lot of negativity from family and friends about being a solo white female backpacker in such a ‘dangerous’ country. A pep talk was definitely needed and I will certainly try to go with the most open mind possible and allow india speak for itself rather than be too influenced by the negativity of the media and other people’s negative opinions. Love your blog – it’s a huge help in planning my trip!!

    Thanks
    Amy x

    • Rachel Jones March 24, 2015 at 8:29 pm - Reply

      Awesome – that’s really great to hear! I’m glad the blog articles are helping you! :)

  26. Justin Brown January 29, 2016 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    Rachel, I have to say that your blog is an amazing resource, and thank you for that. This article especially is a huge help, as I am planning to attempt to do long-term backpacking in India the end of this year, and need to prepare myself for what to expect. By what you have been saying, I think I should probably budget myself a few weeks stay in a guest house or hotel somewhere nice to get myself acclimated before I set out for the roads. So definitely, thank you, and keep up the great work!

  27. Miguel Neves August 17, 2017 at 3:51 am - Reply

    Hey Rachel,

    I’m browsing through your blog as I go, ’cause I’m going for three weeks to India in two weeks time. Loving the advice and getting ready for my hardest trip ever. In regards to money would you recommend bringing euros and performing the exchange in the local banks? Is it easy to find banks in the major cities in Rajasthan? I want to avoid the exchange houses or exchanging money here because of commissions, so what’s your opinion?

    Thanks,
    Miguel

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