India is a country of paradoxes and juxtapositions. When you travel there, you’ll either love the country, or hate it! It is clearly not for everyone. Just like masala chai, you either love it or don’t care for it.
For those of us who do love it, India is one of the most exciting places to visit on earth. And I am not being partial in my statement. I have spent a third of my life living there. Whenever I go there, I find it a haven filled with life, culture and excitement. Right from the time I step foot out of the plane, every moment of my life becomes an adventure. Each breath I take suddenly becomes a crash course in learning to live in the moment.
India has a reputation for being unsafe for solo women travelers. I would like to add, that it’s unsafe only if you do not follow some basic unspoken rules and guidelines.
The most important thing to note is that Indians are very traditional people at heart. They love their culture… and anything seen as opposing it will naturally come under attack. So, as long as you respect the culture and traditions, you will be fine. Indians, while they welcome westerners and other tourists wholeheartedly into their country… they do not welcome the influx of western and modern ideas into their culture.
India is definitely not for everyone. To be in India, you will need to adopt or change your mindset during your stay. Among the chaos, crazy traffic, large population, heat, dust, and noise, you will also have to stay vigilant about your safety.
While you’re there, it is best to take each moment with the “Surrender and go with the flow” strategy. Make this your trip mantra. Nothing happens as it should over there, and there is no point getting frustrated. Things will happen in their own time and pace, slower than what you expected, but they will happen. So just breathe deeply when delays happen (and they will happen, a lot!), and open yourself up to the full-on experience of what this amazing country has to offer.
The most important set of guidelines are listed below. Some of these might seem drastic, but these will help you blend in and keep you safe, trust me!
RULE #1: Cover yourself up. A Caucasian female will stand out. Indians find lighter skin attractive, so you will get attention as it is. Wear loose fitting clothes, and drape a scarf around your shoulders, and this should get you by relatively unnoticed.
RULE #2: This is an extension of the previous point. If you badly want to blend in, consider getting a tan, or going brunette for your trip.
RULE #3: Do not smile at strangers and avoid eye contact. Without realizing it, this is a habit for most women. We want to come across as being “friendly”, so we instinctively smile a lot. And we want to absorb our surroundings, so we stare. Stare all you want, just through sunglasses. Smiling is fine, as long as you smile at a female or a child.
Ever see photos of indian people on facebook or instagram?! Most likely, they won’t be smiling. Yes, even for the camera!
RULE #4: Wear Indian clothing and accessories, this will immediately remove the pressure off your shoulders… suddenly you will no longer feel like the center of attention. Most of the time I’m in India, I dress modestly, like a loose t-shirt, jeans and a scarf around my shoulders. And most often, Indian clothing – such as the three-piece suit known as a salwar kameez.
RULE #5: Do not laugh openly in streets, or roadside restaurants. This somehow gives the impression to others that you are a very “carefree woman”. You will not find many Indian women laughing gaily on the street, and neither should you.
RULE #6: If you are in an auto-rickshaw or cab, and the driver starts to become chatty, talk but do not openly engage in the conversation. Remember, you are in a precarious situation here, the driver can take you anywhere. You want to come across as a traditional conservative woman who does not engage in conversations with strangers. Just say ” I do not understand.”
RULE #7: Please, do not get drunk, no matter what the circumstance or situation. If you are with a male friend at a bar, maybe that’s OK then, as long as you know you will ride back with him safely.
RULE #8: Stay on your guard. If you must smoke, do it discreetly.
RULE #9: Do your research! If you keep yourself informed, you will have less of a “lost damsel” look on your face.
RULE #10: Be confident! How you carry yourself makes all the difference. People do not like to mess around with someone who is likely to put up a fight.
RULE #11: This one is a BIG no-no! Do not hitchhike in India. Even when with a male companion! It sends the wrong signals. No one would hitchhike unless they are broke and desperate, and thus vulnerable.
RULE #12: Do not beg on the streets, i.e. be a begpacker. Yes, this is apparently a thing now. All westerners are considered “rich” when compared with their less-privileged third-world counterparts. So, not only will you be considered insensitive, but you may open yourself up for mistreatment.
More general information on how to travel safely (for all travelers) can be found in this article: Safety first.
Solo travel in India can be fun, adventurous and amazing! Realize that much of India is still a traditional society, and in certain parts of society the genders do not mix. Many of the men in India are just not that sophisticated when it comes to flirting and dating, etc.
Obviously, there are lots of educated and well-traveled men in the modern metros, like Delhi and Mumbai, who understand the signals we take for granted in the west. But lots don’t and will take your friendliness as an open invitation for sex. Err on the side of caution. As a tourist in India, keep safety in mind at all times.
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