Written by travel writer, Julie Miller.
With five trips to India now under my belt, I guess I’m becoming somewhat of a frequent traveller to what I consider one of the most intriguing, beautiful and addictive places on the planet.
I am often asked, however, if India is safe for solo female travellers. Let’s face it, India doesn’t have the greatest reputation from a safety perspective, with high profile rape cases involving both locals and tourists a cause for national shame.
Australia’s Smart Traveller offers this advice for female travellers:
“Women should take particular care in all parts of India, including major cities and tourist destinations, even when travelling in a group. Exercise vigilance at all times of the day, avoid walking in less populous and unlit areas, including city streets, village lanes and beaches, and take care when travelling in taxis and rickshaws. Avoid travelling alone on public transportation, autos and taxis, particularly at night. Foreign women can be subjected to unwanted attention and more serious harassment and assault. Successful prosecutions are rare.”
I too have experience the ugly side of India’s sexism: I’ve been abandoned in the middle of nowhere by a so-called host because I wouldn’t cross the line with him; I’ve been stared at, pointed at and had lewd gestures made towards me when I was travelling in the front seat of a car with a male driver; and I’ve had the odd grope and feel-up in crowded places. Nothing that’s been life-threatening or scary, mind – just annoying.
I have also observed how my Indian girlfriends deal with unwanted male attention, and offer this cautionary advice:
Tip #1: Dress appropriately. I know it’s every woman’s right to dress as they please, and the way we dress should not be considered an invitation to sexual favours – but if you want to be invisible, it’s better to blend in. Revealing singlet tops, shorts and mini skirts might be appropriate for the beach, but not in the heart of Delhi, no matter how hot and steamy it is. My advice instead is to hit the shops – indulge in the beautiful, colourful and affordable fashions of India! You’ll be comfortable, look great and will be protected from the searing sun – a win-win situation.
Similarly, if you are swimming anywhere, cover up with a sarong or loose pants and t-shirt. It’s just not worth the unwanted attention.
Tip #2: Avoid public transport at night. Taxis – booked by your hotel or restaurant – are cheap; alternatively, arrange for a driver recommended by your tour company or agent to be on call. It’s worth the added expense to know that you are in safe hands.
Tip #3: If you are travelling for a few weeks or longer in India, it’s worth investing in a local SIM card, preferably with a data plan so you can use the internet. Add some emergency numbers to your contact list, and use the phone as a prop when travelling alone in a car or train – if you are seen to be communicating with other people, it’s a deterrent to the bad guys. (Mantra Wild: We give our Solo female travellers a mobile phone while travelling!)
Tip #3: If travelling on an overnight train, opt for a top bunk for more privacy. (Mantra Wild: Make yourself known to the ticket inspector, and ask them to tell you when you get to your stop. It can get confusing where to get off with train stops in Hindi. They tend to look out for female travellers)
Tip #4: Ride in women’s only carriages on city trains if they are available.
Tip #5: Make up a boyfriend, husband, travelling companion. You are always on your way to meet him. You are never single and out to mingle.
Tip #6: Homestays not only offer cheap accommodation, but they are also a safe option for single female travellers. Hosts very quickly become like family, and will usually give you great advice on the local area, how to get around, and how to travel safely.
(Mantra Wild: We have a complete listing of solo female friendly accommodation across India for our clients).
Tip #7: Travel with other women. What could be more fun than exploring India with a gal pal? I have had my best experiences in India travelling with a small group of like-minded women.
Tip #8: Make a fuss. If a creep gropes you, call him out – public shaming is a great defence! (Mantra Wild: In places like Delhi, there are public notices displayed with special numbers for women to call if you need help).
Tip #9: Finally – and I know this is a shameless plug – but allow an expert like Reena Tory from Mantra Wild Adventures to plan your itinerary! Reena not only has a passion and deep knowledge about India, but she also has great local contacts who are hand to help you out and see you through an emergency. (Mantra Wild: Thank you Julie 🙂 )
Have you travelled to India as a solo female? Leave your tips and feedback on the comments below!
Who is Julie Miller?
Julie Miller is an Australian freelance writer who scrapes a living doing the things she loves best – travelling and writing. She has been widely published in travel magazines and newspapers throughout Australia and internationally, including the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun Herald, Escape, the West Australian, Holidays with Kids and American Express Platinum Magazine. She is the recipient of several awards for her writing, including the 2010 Friends of Thailand Award recognising her journalistic efforts promoting Thailand as a destination. She has also twice been a finalist for the NTIA Best Travel Writer award, in 2010 and 2014 (for a story on India published in the Sydney Morning Herald). She is also the author of several books, including Something is Out There (2010, Allen & Unwin) and Free the Bears (2013, Pan Macmillan).