Tips for a solo female traveler in India

Bollywood films might portray Indian women in a very glamorous and fashionable way, but when it comes to real women on the streets of India the ground realities are poles apart. When you travel across India as a solo female traveler, you have to keep in mind that India is still predominantly a conservative country. The gender difference in society and double standards are immense here. In spite of the popularity that India has with western travellers and the millions of tourists that flock towards India each year, Indians still are greatly fascinated by white skin. Even the most cosmopolitan cities of India such as Mumbai or Delhi cannot be counted as an exception.

General perception of foreign women traveling across India alone

There is no doubt that Indian men are hugely attracted to white women, even more so with women who have blond hair and blue eyes. Blame it on the movies or media, the general perception of a white woman here is that she is easy, flirtatious, lacks values, drinks, smokes and is always looking to have sex.

Harassment a solo female traveler in India may be expected to face

Some of the most common annoyances faced by solo women travellers in India are constant staring, provocative comments, lewd gestures, cat calls and physical advances. In some rare cases women have also reported cases of groping.

Having said all of the above, there is no need to be panic or get worried to the point of paranoia. Most Indians are friendly and will go out of their way to help you. Indian families are extremely hospitable and welcoming.

The important thing is to be aware of your surroundings and to trust your gut feeling and there definitely are certain things you can do to minimize its occurrence..

Be alert, come prepared

The idea of this article is not to put you in a state of anxiety but to prepare you for your Indian journey, especially as a solo female traveler. Prior to your trip do read about India and try to understand Indian culture, traditions and customs. There are several blogs and websites that provide you with information and tips if you are a solo woman traveler in India, like this one.

What to wear In India

Cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Goa are comparatively open but nevertheless, we would suggest you try to dress modestly. Always look at the way the local women dress, and base your outfit on that. Avoid plunging necklines, shorts, miniskirts and body-hugging clothes. Many women who have travelled to India say that wearing local outfits like a salwar kameez or long skirts reduces the unwanted male attention to a great extent, especially if you are travelling to rural areas.

A salwaar kameez is a common outfit worn in most parts of India by women. The salwaar is a baggy bottom which is worn like pants and the kameez or kurta is a loose top. This outfit is usually accompanied with a dupatta which is a long multi-purpose scarf. All put together the dress is not only attractive but also comfortable and available is a variety of colours and patterns. Wherever you are in the country it is very easy to get it tailor made for less than Rs 300. In all Metro cities, brands such as Fabindia, Global Desi and W for Women have great salwaar kameez collections. India can get really hot so make sure when you shop it is light cotton or a fabric that breathes easy.

Swimwear

Another important thing to note is that in spite of having such an enormous coastline, India doesn’t really have a beach culture (except Goa and popular tourist beaches). It’s extremely rare to find Indian women swimming on beaches wearing a swimsuit. Most of the time they get into the water completely dressed in a saree or salwaar kameez and they don’t even swim. Most of the time, they just dip their feet into water.

Apart from Goa and few other tourist places. it’s hard to see anyone wearing swimsuits. We would advise you not to venture out to on an isolated beach and swim wearing a bikini alone. It is advisable that when you choose to go for a swim, you try to find a place where you can see other tourists swimming. It is much safer to go in a group. Don’t be surprised if you see people secretly clicking your photos in a swimsuit on their mobiles! Swimming in a big T-shirt and tights is always a good back-up option.

Transportation

Avoid travelling without reservation. It is better to book the three tier AC compartment rather than the general non AC compartment for an overnight journey by train. When you book train tickets try to get the upper berth as it will provide you more privacy.

When it comes to buses, avoid night journeys in general. Beware the double sleeper bus tickets that some private bus companies sell! What they fail to tell you is that the double sleeper bus actually has a narrow double sleeper berth, without any separation, for two people to share. Things can get really uncomfortable if you have to share this berth with a man.

In most metro cities you can find several private taxi services such as Meru cabs, Mega cab, Gold cab and more, whom you can call if you have to get to the airport late at night or reach some place in the wee hours. Make sure that there is no one apart from you and the driver in the taxi. Most train stations and airports have a pre-paid taxi service available around-the-clock.
Sometimes it’s good to be a woman. Make the most of it!

Most local trains have a ‘Ladies bogey’ which admits only women so they can travel safely. Most railway stations also have a special ‘Ladies queue’ to get tickets. All local buses have ‘Ladies seats’ reserved for women. In case of a long distance journey by train, all railway stations have ladies waiting rooms where you can rest for few hours in case of train delays.

Two’s company

It is easy to meet fellow solo travelers in hostels or hotels and team up and go travelling together for some part of your journey. In case you end up travelling with a foreign man, most Indian men would assume that you both are a couple and leave you alone.

Some more tips

Don’t venture out alone at night or roam around in lonely alleys all by yourself, do not accept food from strangers even if they eat a portion of the food they offer you, this applies everywhere in India just as in any other country.

Indian men can be persistent. It’s better if you ignore and avoid staring back at people who constantly stare at you as it could be considered as a sign of interest you seem to be showing in them. Don’t be afraid to attract the attention of a policeman.

While booking a hotel check out the room beforehand and see that the hotel has other foreign guests or families staying there at the same time as you. If you do your bookings through us, we can assure you that we’ve actually visited and tried all of the hotels we suggest.

Do not smoke just outside the temple or in rural villages as this will immediately attract all sorts of unwanted attention.

Always try to check the reputation of the masseur beforehand, either online or with your hotel. If you’re not sure whose opinion to trust, always feel free to give us a call and we’ll give you some of our personal recommendations

If you are sick or have some gynaecological problem try to visit a female doctor.

Always carry a book with you or an ipod. This could help in avoiding chit-chat with unwanted people.

Finally…don’t be afraid!

Create a scene: most men will back off when they know you can raise your voice and put him to shame.
Always have the number of the local police, that’s 100, on speed dial.

Say NO: Indian people in general can be very clingy. In case of any annoyance don’t encourage it. State clearly that you are not interested.

Ask for help: Indian people are generally very helpful. If you are lost or you cannot reach a place, always ask for help or directions. If you’re confused about whether you’re in danger or not, and not yet ready to call the police, call us instead, and we’ll help you out!

India is an amazing country full of surprises. Warding off unwanted sexual attention is a matter of common sense. So get ready to discover this magnificent land and don’t let anything stop you! We have no doubt that your journey will be nothing less than Incredible!