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The 5 most common fears about travelling in India

written by Jo Stewart June 25, 2015

“Oh you’re going to India? I would love to go to India but I’m too scared because [insert all manner of fears].” If I had a burrito for every time someone said a variation of that line to me when I told them I was going to India, I estimate I would have about 50 burritos (and some serious heartburn).

India seems to be one of those travel destinations that people want to go to, but don’t because they fixate on all the things that could go wrong. People, it’s time to park your excuses and clear your fears, because if you’re intrigued by India, you should most definitely experience it in real life.

Here are some straight-up answers to “India fears” people confessed to me. And unlike the ‘Jerry Springer Show’, these are actual, real confessions from real people.

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1. “I’m scared of getting diarrhoea”

I have a friend that has an irrational fear of getting diarrhoea in public. Before you laugh, when I returned from India more people asked me about my bowel habits than what the Taj Mahal was like. So, either my friends are a bunch of weirdos obsessed with bodily functions or their curiosity reflects that of the general public.

While travelling with a group on Intrepid’s Golden Triangle trip, we ate local food – from small family-run eateries to fancier hotel restaurants and street food. None of us (to my knowledge) pooped ourselves in public, and I myself didn’t even need to break open a packet of GastroStop. One person in the group actually got constipated. I don’t know how that’s possible on a trip to India, but it happened. The fact that I even know that about someone I had known for less than 48 hours shows how quickly you bond with strangers on group trips. We all exercised the normal precautions of drinking bottled water, but pretty much ate everything else that came our way, and I came home with zero catastrophic diarrhoea incidents to report.

2. “I think India is too unhygienic for me”

In a country where cows, goats, camels, pigs, horses and dogs all share the road with trucks and cars and humans, it’s a good idea to leave comparisons to your home country at the door. Ok, I admit I was aghast at the sight of locals drinking holy water that thousands of pilgrims had just walked through barefoot, but mostly I stopped myself from comparing India to my own country.

While my brain was calculating exactly how many fungal infections were present in that water, I was missing enjoying the sensory, spiritual spectacle of being at a Sikh temple in Delhi. So, for a good time, simply turn off the part of your brain that would be shocked that anyone would drink that water, or eat on the side of the road where pigs and street dogs mingle….because you aren’t at home. The point of travel isn’t to relentlessly compare every little detail to what people at home would do and make a value judgement based upon your own code of cleanliness. Plus, science says that living an overly-sanitised, super clean, bleach-fuelled lifestyle actually does more harm than good.

3. “I’m a female and I don’t want to get harassed or hassled”

Recently, India has received a lot of media attention about violent crimes against women, and while India is definitely going through a major cultural shift in relation to the rights of females (like many other regions in the world, including my own country), I personally don’t believe that’s a reason not to visit, if you want to. No doubt, India is a challenging country to travel in as a solo female, but you’d be remiss to think that all Indian men harass women, or all Indian women are nothing more than victims. While in India I met lots of whip smart, empowered females. I also met lots of lovely, genuine men.

While you definitely have to be aware of your own personal safety (as when travelling anywhere, or just living on planet earth) travelling with a group and with a local leader is a good way to put yourself at ease. Oh, and when using the train, ride with the ladies in the women’s carriage. Always. And for further reading, Intrepid have a whole page dedicated to women’s safety tips in India. 

4. “I don’t think I’ll like the food”

Plot twist: most Indian food isn’t that hot. Apart from crying real tears while breathing air thick with chilli dust at a wholesale spice market in Delhi, everything else I ate in India wasn’t even remotely hot.

When it comes to hot food, South East Asian cuisine can deliver a knockout blow. And I’ll never forget making the rookie error of trying to be hard core by eating a whole, deep fried chilli while in Sri Lanka. But in India, it’s easy to avoid hot curries by sticking with the dhal, korma, tikka and tandoori options. Stay away from phaal and vindaloo and you should be right. If in doubt, eat all of the chapati and naan. The garlic naan, cheese naan, plain naan, stuffed naan, butter naan. All of it was made for folk afraid of spices (I don’t understand you, but I respect your life choices).

5. “I’m afraid of using squat toilets”

I was on the road from Agra to Delhi. It was 45 degrees, there was a long queue to use the toilets, so I wasn’t waiting around for the western flush-style toilets to become available when I could be spending that time eating an ice cream by the side of the road. There’s no story here except that I used a squat toilet, lived, then ate an ice cream. Like with most things in life – it’s not a big deal, unless you make it a big deal. Apply that same philosophy to your whole trip, and you’ll have a good time. Think of it this way: you can waste time fussing, worrying, resisting and obsessing, or you can just go with it and use a toilet that billions of people around the world use with success every day.

The only thing to fear is fear itself, and maybe spiders. But not India. See for yourself on one of our small group adventures

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40 comments

winston November 17, 2020 - 8:22 pm

I love India and travelled there by myself, staying for a month. I’m a Canadian male, well traveled to developing countries, a healthcare professional, so that’s where I’m coming from.

And as beautiful as India is, let’s take off the rose coloured glasses. If you’re going with a tour group (3 star and above treatment and amenity) and having your hand held the entire way by a guide, it’s less likely you’ll find yourself inconvenienced. But if you’re a solo traveler and you’re not eating at restaurants for all three meals, you actually sample street food (use common sense), etc. and even have hand sanitizer, there is still a good chance you’ll get some stomach issues. It is what it is! Let’s not sugar coat it. People still defecate and urinate in public in this country and you can be offended until you’re blue in the face but you can’t deny that it’s true. Hygiene is a problem. And that’s not just me saying it, even local Indian news reports on it. Just Google it; don’t read forums full of random posters talking about personal experiences, check out reputed news sites.

And the pain is not that one might get stomach issues, it happens even in first World countries, but it’s the FACT that hygienic toilets are lacking when you might need them most.

Having said that, I can’t wait to go back to India.

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Krishnpal Singh November 10, 2020 - 4:32 pm

Thanks for sharing!!!

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smanek October 16, 2020 - 5:17 am

Thanks for sharing this blog. It’s really an adventurous and fearful journey you have experienced.

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CouponDip January 8, 2020 - 4:39 am

I’m an Indian and I can totally relate to these fears. Be sure to ensure your safety first.

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swati@greenhill homestay December 24, 2019 - 11:58 pm

The very common fear that is among the women travelers is that India is not safe for women at night. Well, it is not like that. India is safe for women and many women do travel in the evening as well. Just book your traveling seats and accommodation so that you don’t have to suffer.

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Mees December 19, 2019 - 5:11 am

Thank you for caring.

– A proud Indian

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Meesa February 18, 2019 - 9:10 pm

Thanks for sharing this insightful article. I hope it helps to attract more travelers and tourists to the country.

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Jenny December 15, 2018 - 5:06 pm

Thanks for bursting these myths, Jo. India is a beautiful country with an amalgamation of different cultures & religions. So, it is bound to be shocking for outsiders. I’ve visited India and found it eclectic & beyond amazing. So, travellers shouldn’t let these myths get in the way of experiencing this amazing country.

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Anna Catharina Odvall October 1, 2018 - 1:44 am

My first trip to India was 4 years ago. I arrived in Delhi 1day before my Intrepid food adventure started. Took the train from the airport, so nice new & clean, wow. Met a couple of Afghani guys (in Dehli to get their Canadian visas) on the train so our idea was to handle the metro trains together. Didn’t need to, a well dressed young man offered to help us buy tickets. No scam, he asked us to come along to the ticket booth (actually moved us ahead of the queue) and explained how things worked. They all followed me to my metro line and went off to find theirs. Going down the stairs a beautiful young girl smiles at me and I smile back. She asks if it’s my first time in Dehli and we chat. She’s going 2 stood further on the same line so she takes me to the women’s carriage and tells me to always opt for this when alone or without male company. Finally arrived at my stop I decide to take a rickshaw to the hotel. The poor guy seem to have trouble finding it, so once again I’m thinking ‘scam’, it just turned out I had gotten off on the wrong side of the tracks which meant he had to find a place to cross. The next day I went all over Dehli and only met helpful people. This truly was a first in a big world capital. Going back to India in 5 weeks time, can’t wait

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Mariusz Wasilewski July 20, 2018 - 12:22 pm

I travelled around India and Nepal for 6 weeks. Sometimes I felt worn out and met a lot of challenges and I was happy to be back home, however maybe just because of all the difficulties and obstacles I now crave for more. India is a wonderful place and it changes from state to state. People are mostly pleasant except some pushy vendors but overall if you would like to experience something completely different than the rest of the World, don’t think twice and fly to India. It is inexpensive and so rich with culture, culinary sensations, traditions and beautiful sarees that local women wear daily. If you scared then I would recommend you to fly to a province of Goa first. It is the smallest of all in India but has beautiful beaches, fine dining, remains of Portuguese past presence and lovely villas as your accommodation. Challenge yourself and you won’t regret. I didn’t and would love to go there again, except there is still so many other places to visit.

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Denise January 18, 2018 - 7:47 pm

My two sisters and I travelled in India for about 4 weeks. Hired a car and driver and took a train (not overnight). Had a wonderful time. None of us got sick but washed hands all the time with sanitiser. I don’t like Indian food but I loved it in India. It was a very different experience but had great time and saw lots of wonderful things.

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Jessica January 18, 2018 - 4:08 am

I lived in Delhi for about three months while I was working at an international NGO. There is a big difference between what you see at tourist sites and hotels, and conditions the vast majority of the country is living in. India has serious problems with pollution, open defecation, trash, poverty, homelessness, women rights and stray dogs. I mention the dogs because at one point I was walking home, and four dogs started following me. Many of my Indian coworkers wouldn’t let there daughters out past 5pm on their own. As a women who went to India by herself, I wouldn’t recommend that single women travel to India alone.

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Anonymous March 29, 2018 - 6:34 pm

Hi

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Priya January 25, 2019 - 3:48 am

Woman’s safety is a concern but not ro the extent than people don’t leave girls beyond 5 pm.But certainly India is vast and certain part of India ,you have to exercise those options basically area around Gurgaon .Even myself being Indian,I prefer not staying late when alone ,not taking Taxis before 4 am and after 11 pm when alone or with kids just as a safety measure.But most part of india is safe if we take these small precautions.Well India is certainly in the process of taking a big shift in terms of women’s rights .Just wanted to add so as to give a picture as local which can help many solo travellers.Majority of Indian would actually go out of their way to help out without expectations .Happy travelling

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Sue January 17, 2018 - 8:37 am

I would agree with all of these 5 fears but I still absolutely loved India. As they say ‘it’s an assault on all 5 senses- so wildly colourful, amazing taste sensations in the food, wonderful food aromas but also disgusting stench in many places, so many different sounds from animals, crowds , music and traffic, and touch sensations from luxurious silks and fabrics. I’d go back tomorrow and thoroughly recommend Peregrine and Intrepid.

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Wendy January 17, 2018 - 8:09 am

If we worry about stuff like this we miss out on visiting most of the most fascinating and moving places on earth. Maybe it’s best if the panic merchants and whingers stay home after all.

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Wendy January 17, 2018 - 8:05 am

If we worry about stuff like this we will never get to see most of the most fascinating places on earth.

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Jay December 5, 2017 - 9:28 am

Every single one of these fears except for “I don’t think I’ll like the food” is totally legitimate . If you don’t like the food you are a Phillistine with rocks for tastebuds . But if you are a woman you absolutely should take a number of precautions in India you might not take in Europe . You will almost certainly get diarrhea unless you are vigilant about what you eat and drink, especially drink. One badly sourced ice cube could result in violent diarrhea. Yes India may very well be to unhygenic for you . India is dirty. There is a different standard of hygiene . If you do encounter a squat toilet the squatting part is the least of your worries. It’s the vomit inducing stench you should fear. India is incredible. A completely unique potentially life changing experience. And challenging. And yes, there are many westerners who are simply not cut out for traveling in India . We haven’t even covered pollution and poverty yet.

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Aj November 19, 2017 - 6:22 pm

Very well written and i agree 100%/ the country has do much culture, history, art that no where in the world you will find it- just go with oprn heart and enjoy. Multicultural country with in just 1 place.

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Anonymous November 12, 2017 - 6:03 pm

Fourth trip to India coming up in December looking forward to another wonderful adventure!

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Monica S. November 19, 2017 - 8:57 am

I’ll be going to India in December too! How long are you staying for?

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Bill November 12, 2017 - 2:06 pm

Thank you for this. I’ve been to India 7 times now and your comments are exactly right on. I’ve gone alone 4 times, with a group once (Thich Nhat Hahn and monks and nuns and 100 westerners) and twice with a partner. All were good.

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Matt November 11, 2017 - 11:01 am

I’ve been to India three times with my fourth schedule for this upcoming February. It’s a lovely country with awesome people. Your article is well written, spot on, and made me laugh out loud a couple of times. Saving it for future reference

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Anonymous October 29, 2017 - 7:44 pm

That all sounds great but my friends report that all the above listed fears were justified in their own experiences in India.
I have seen the photos and talked to them there.
This is no way saying don’t go but I think it’s necessary to present a balanced view here for potential travellers.
I have travelled right thru Asia many times over the years , and no not to India and I am very wary of articles that state it’s all fine don’t worry.This is disingenuous.

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kartiknifm October 11, 2017 - 8:55 pm

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Tanya September 18, 2017 - 9:56 pm

This is a nice post for adventure fears. Thanks for the sharing 5 most common fears about travelling in India. Your post is very helpful for me.

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Corey Nyla June 23, 2017 - 11:37 pm

Pretty good post. I found your website just right for my needs. Thanks for sharing the great information. Good Luck!

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ART June 6, 2017 - 7:48 am

Excellent article. When I was embarking on a trip to India a few years ago, I remember getting a few ignorant and misinformed comments from certain people who couldn’t understand why I would even want to visit India. Of course I didn’t pay any attention to them and am sure glad I didn’t because I would of missed out on an amazing experience. I always find the people who have the most ignorant things to say about other parts of the world are the same people who have never been anywhere and are always afraid to step out of there comfort zones. Just my perception.

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helen dobson April 7, 2017 - 4:42 pm

If readers are worried about the things you have mentioned above then staying home is probably their best option because wherever you go in the world you could find the same excuses for not going.
I go anywhere, a solo female, eat anything and the only time I have been sick on food was in Los Angeles.
The only time I have felt unsafe was in Hollywood and the dirtiest toilets I have found are in the western cubicles rather than the squat toilets where users generally use a shower spray to clean them when they have finished.

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Karen January 22, 2018 - 10:44 pm

Hi Helen, I’m also a solo traveler and was hesitant about going to India alone next month. You made me feel better. Thanks. Any chance you’re going to be in India in March? I’m really looking forward to the Holimoo festival!!

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milly April 6, 2017 - 9:10 pm

This speaks to me on a deep level. While I myself haven’t been to India, I had to share the same responses about travelling through other parts of Asia. Still baffles me that people are willing to sit around at home, assume India is a big ol’ mess, and never experience it for themselves.
I’ll book my trip tomorrow

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Alan Moncrieff April 6, 2017 - 7:29 pm

My partner and I returned after a 5 week journey of adventure of India, only one meal made me literally sweat but I continued to devour its because flavours were divine. India is a destination waiting to be explored and enjoyed.

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Lorraine April 6, 2017 - 7:25 pm

My husband and I travellled on an Intrepid tour of nthn India three years ago. We were both 66 years old the. My husband was a bit concerned about going there but I always knew it would be fine and it WAS.. the people we met as we travelled were lovely, curious about us but most welcoming. Unfortunately my husband had a nasty fall in Bikaner , and we had to go to a medical centre in the dark dodging cows and walking…….however the care my husband was given was full on.. naturally the resources were not as good as ours but the people who helped us went out of their way to assist… I can only say. Try it. You will either love India or loathe it, but either way you will always remember it.

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mohan4795 February 6, 2017 - 8:03 pm

Hello, Thanks for sharing such a fantastic blog.I really appreciate your blog to share information about India

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Sandhiya March 24, 2016 - 6:06 pm

Yes, agreed with you.
Being an Indian, I feel insecure visiting few places, it can be the culture or guys attitude and infrastructure for women safety like dressing rooms, bathrooms, toilets.

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Billy February 25, 2016 - 1:15 am

My biggest fear is if that wheel chock slips and the Mahindra tractor flattens them 4 kids in the photo   India…….the greatest nation on the planet. Totally disorganised, health and safety out the window, its crazy and absoultely fantastic. Its like getting to be a kid in the 70’s 80’s again. Nowhere like it.. take me back Mother India.

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Rick February 24, 2016 - 3:22 am

Just recently got back from 2 months on the trains in India. The food sadly wasn’t hot even when I ordered it hot. I didn’t see the ladies in our company get harassed in any way except to have people pose with them for pictures in the out of the way places we visited, i.e. Hampi, Bundi, Kochi etc. Bring wipes and that hand stuff (forgot the name as I never used it) and you should be fine. On the up side, while the people were rude by our standards in not having any real concept of personal space they were the nicest friendliest people I have ever met, the sights were wonderful and different and the food is certainly different but its delicious although not spicy enough for me, lol. Apparently Jo Steward and I are kindred souls as I also explore the different. As for traveling to India go for it just remember not all the trains serve meals so be ready to order some Chai, chicken cutlets or biryani from the venders wandering the aisles and DRINK lots of water.

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Melissa February 23, 2016 - 9:40 pm

My husband & I recently visited Northern India & took our 10 year old son. I did have some trepidation about travelling here with a child, mainly because of comments from others & yes, our first aid kit was fully stocked but we found India no harder than other Asian countries & just followed our usual hygiene practises (hand sanitizer etc) & had no problems. We travelled with Intrepid on a family trip & had a amazing time in unforgettable India.

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Yasir July 6, 2015 - 6:08 pm

I have visited India back in 2008 and months were June & July. That was the time of local festivals which usually blocked roads for hours and Trains during those days were extra crowded.

Unhygienic food & environment is still a biggest problem for India. People also don’t like cleanliness and there was so many open toilets.

But they took really good care of their heritage which is a biggest reason for tourist attractions. Really a nice article

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Mirna July 5, 2015 - 1:46 am

This is awesome! Fantastic blog and I’d agree that these seem to be the most common fears. And the amount of times I’ve been asked about bowel movements and Delhi Belly! Jeez! Although, admittedly I did have to pop a gastro stop haha. Still, worth every moment and the experiences definitely override the fears 🙂

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