Tips for solo female travellers in India

Making local friends in India

Chaotic and bamboozling, travelling in India can be confronting, even for the experienced traveller. The reality for solo female travellers is it can be even more challenging, but don’t let that put you off exploring incredible India.

This amazing country is so full of colour, fascinating people, religious icons, ancient sites, fabulous street food and diverse landscapes. India is everything and more, and all at once. You wouldn’t want to miss this sensory overload of saris, sacred cows, slums, spices, car horns and incense!

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for a wonderful trip-of-a-lifetime in India…

1. The stares

As a female in India, you’ll enjoy your time much more if you come to terms with the fact that people will stare at you. At first this can be confronting, but once you realise it’s a cultural difference it won’t get to you as much and you’ll become more accustomed to it. Ways to avoid unwanted male attention include dressing conservatively and avoiding eye contact, as this can be considered flirtatious.

2. Safety

Female travellers are rarely the target of violent crime in India, however like anywhere you need to keep your wits about you. Some tips to help you stay safe on local transport:
When travelling by overnight train, choose an upper berth for more privacy.
Avoid eye contact and chit-chat with unknown men: both can be misinterpreted.
Try to book seats near the front of long-distance buses.
Sit next to other women when possible.

3. The crowds

Stepping onto the streets of India, one of the things that will hit you immediately is the crowds. There are over 1.2 billion people in India. The extreme numbers of people can come as a big shock, especially for women who are travelling alone. If the crowds become too much in the major cities, consider heading south to the waters of Kerala or up north to the chilled out hill stations of Leh or Ladakh to give yourself a break.

4. Hygiene

Whilst hygiene standards in India have risen considerably in recent years, they are still often below what we are used to in the western world. Make sure you drink treated or bottled water, avoid buying food from street stalls that has been sitting around for hours or hasn’t been cooked in front of you and opt for shops and restaurants that appear to have higher hygiene standards. Use hand sanitiser throughout the day and carry your own supply of toilet paper and sanitary products.

5. The poverty

With an increasing number of people living below the poverty line, the divide between the very poor and the very rich is extreme. Slums are home to many and you will see beggars of all ages, particularly children. While it is heartbreaking, giving them money can add to the problem, as many of the children are being exploited by bosses who make them beg. Offering them food or donating through a reputable charity is a safer option.

6. See the fun side

Finally, have fun and enjoy your time here. Remain lighthearted and know that an easy going attitude will get you everywhere in a place where nothing runs to time. Stay safe and take precautions, but be open to delays, change of plans and adventure.

For many, India is one of the most rewarding travel destinations. With preparation and an open mind, the beauty, profound spirituality and mesmerising chaos of India ensures it will be one of the most unforgettable travel experiences you will ever have!

Have you travelled in India and experienced the same or different? I’d love you to share your comments below…

* Photo in India by Lyn Darton, for the Intrepid Photography Competition.

About the author

Lorinda.Childs@intrepidtravel.com'
Lorinda Childs - From living in Turkey and working on a yacht, to exploring France and spending a season snowboarding in the Alps, Lorinda Childs loves throwing herself into new adventures. Her travel highlights include India, South America and a safari in Africa, and between trips you can find this well-balanced yoga teacher and reiki practitioner in our Intrepid sales team.

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21 comments

frybergn@yahoo.com'

I traveled to India this past September -October, with my adult daughter. We combined an Intrepid tour of Rajasthan with independent travel to Goa. What a fantastic time, great group, great guide. Very responsive to our needs and questions, and never a “hurry up and wait” moment. Everything ran like clockwork. I had one health issue, and Intrepid was all over it.

We got used to the staring quickly, and decided to be gratious with photo requests. It ended up being a lot of fun, since I decided to take pictures of the requesters! It turned an awkward moment into one of smiles and laughter, and some great memories! I I only felt unsafe once, at an evening at a beach shack in Baga, where there was a group of some rough looking guys partying it up. The owner of the restaurant came over, joined my daughter and I at our table, then had one of his staff escort us back to our hotel!

Louise.broad@xtra.co.nz'

A suggestion to travellers booking trips with this company to ask what their duty of care is to you if things go wrong.Do this before you leave.You might be surprised. When things go wrong in places like India you do not want to be left on your own so single female travellers be extra cautious

lindsay.gilbert74@gmail.com'

I’ve been to India 7 times, every time as a lone female but always for work or on a group trip and love it. Think how you dress, consider buying a salwar kameez if you’re going to be round for a while and wear sunglasses – that way you can watch the world go by without risking people catching your eye. Go with the flow, barter – especially tuktuks but make it clear that you are not gullible – be prepared to say no quite strongly. Above all, enjoy! Its one of the most fascinating places in the world and with simple precautions you shouldn’t have to spend all your time worrying (to Lisa C – I have taken many taxis alone and been fine – just get your hotel to get you one or use the prepaid taxis at the airport).

Great advice – thanks Lindsay!

thedomain@hotmail.com'

If you’re taking a cab…don’t let them put your pack in the trunk. I had one cabbie try and extort money out of me to get my bag back. Pay the driver once your are standing safely out of vehicle. I, too, had to fight with a guy to let me out and take me to destination. It started with, “Have coffee with me.’ And escalated from there. Ask your hotel to help you order a cab…they may know a reputable fella that will get you where you need to go. It also helps to take a fake phone call from your cell expressing that you are ‘on your way…and I’ll see you at the airport’ so that the cabbie thinks someone is anticipating your arrival.

Thanks for the input, Carla.

olliesteates@comcast.net'

I’ve taken 3 trips to India. The first 2 with Intrepid the 3rd alone with my adult daughter. We traveled throughout Kerala and Tamil Nadu arranging for cars between destinations and we had no trouble at all. Men were driving us in somewhat remote areas and they were perfectly respectful as were women. All were friendly and helpful. We had such a wonderful time we are going to do it again. The photo requests are charming and the most problem we had was a monkey trying to pull off my skirt. We dressed respectfully, ate with the locals, walked in remote areas. We really had a WONDERFUL time.

Amazing! India’s a pretty special, place, huh? So pleased you’ve fallen in love with it. Here’s to many more wonderful times to come. Cheers!

cazza.28@hotmail.com'

Lucy, surely Intrepid use reputable taxis drivers…….don’t let fear ruin an amazing experience! It is very different in India, just keep your wits about you, I’m sure you’ll be ok!

cazza.28@hotmail.com'

I travelled last October, 2014, on a Wendy Wu tour of Rajasthan. It has been the most amazing trip in my life! Yes I was stared at , often and millions of photos taken of me but I got used to it! I never felt threatened but I am not nieve to think it’s safe! Just be careful! I can’t wait to get back to India! Just use common sense in health and safety and you should be ok!

So glad you liked Rajasthan. Feel free to get in touch if you think we can assist with any of your upcoming travel plans – we’d be happy to help! Cheers.

I wouldnt be worried about taking a cab from hotel to airport. Organise it with your hotel and that way you can feel more sure that it is a reliable driver. I had no trouble at all travelling alone in India. Indian drivers are really skilled and take pride in their job, good luck and have fun!

lucy.mawdsley@yahoo.co.uk'

I will also be travelling alone and have to get in a taxi from the airport to hotel and back. These will be booked through Intrepid so I am hoping that they will be reputable cab companies or I am also worried about this now :-/

shanly@live.com'

Thanks for the valuable information -I have to visit there in coming months,Will definitely follow your tips for betterment

cie.lavie@yahoo.co.uk'

My first trip to India, I used Intrepid to get over the strangeness of travelling alone; although we were a disparate group, our group leader managed to keep us together without major fall outs; there were two particularly trying adults, who though in their seventies, were more like misbehaving children, but we all managed to get on with each other, without too much compromise; I did on the odd day, spend my time being more silent than on others; as I do believe it is good to have quiet time, even when on a journey. As for travelling alone, the staff from Intrepid made our holiday that much more enjoyable, as they took the stress out of making travel arrangements. The only complaint I had was that the trip was too packed with activity; I intend travelling to India and the next time, I will do it on my own, as the strangeness of the country has definitely worn off, & i feel confident with the contacts I have managed to make on the first trip. If you are careful about how & where you travel, the media hype about rape etc is just that; I have not felt threatened or alone, even if I had been on my own.

hi@bunterwegs.com'

i faced the problem of starring often at sightseeing places and ppl tried to talk to me (the famous question “can i take a photo fo you?”) .. so sometimes it can be really stressful (especially when your on sightseeing all day)

and don’t travel too cheap. safety first! it is better to spend some more money than staying at the cheapest hostel …

janesmail73@HOTMAIL.COM'

Don’t wear figure hugging or thin clothes that show underwear or have loose/plunging necklines that show if you bend over (or shorts). See what the other women wear locally and dress to cover to a similar standard. Wearing a veil/scarf can reduce attention also.

Don’t put yourself in a compromising situation. Stay in the company of women rather than men.

Blinda1rn@aol.com'
Belinda Atkins / Reply

I agree with everything said! I travelled to India to visit friends and spent quite a bit of time alone.
The staring was very hard to adjust to at first. I got a taste of how famous people must feel! You do get used to it and I was asked to be in many pictures. In fact, after a while if I wasn’t asked to be in a picture I got a bit put out!
India is an assault on the senses – you are constantly bombarded with fascinating smells, noises, colors and sights. Just go knowing it’s nothing like home (why would you go otherwise?) and enjoy. It’s by far my favourite trip ever!

chapinjs@gmail.com'

I’d add to #2 not to take a cab, especially to or through a remote area, without a companion, and some kind of protection. My father relates a story of a woman he met while travelling who took a cab from one city to another. The driver stopped every 10 to 15 minutes in more remote areas to attempt to rape her. While she was able to fight him off, it was terrifying for her. She tried to report the attempted assaults, and was met with shrugs by the authorities.

I am traveling to India alone, and will have two cab journeys alone from hotel to airport. Worried about travelling alone now.

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