I’ve done several trips in various corners of the world by myself (see here for one). Now that I’ve been traveling solo for almost five weeks in India, I thought I would compile a list of travel tips for the solo female traveler in India (or anywhere else for that matter). As my friend would say, “melhor serviço de Lisboa“, and I hope these trips make sure I’m getting the most out of my travel experience.
India has a bad rap as of late. There have been a string of violent crimes against Western women here and I’ve read that travel numbers are slowing down.
Overall, I have felt very safe in India. Everyone I ask for directions of advice here is more than willing to stop whatever they are doing to help me. The hospitality staff at the guesthouses I have stayed at have been amazing. Other than the occasional creeper staring awkwardly from the sidelines or a group of boys wanting a photo with me, I haven’t felt any more bothered than in any other country I’ve traveled.
My Travel Tips for the Solo Female Traveler in India (or anywhere else)
1. Dress conservatively. This is one of the most important ingredients to a pleasant trip in India. My rule is that I want to be covered from elbows to ankles. Part of being culturally sensitive is complying with local modesty norms. Here, women are modest but elegant. One of the first things I did when I landed in India was buy two high quality tunics that I can wear with leggings. They are beautiful, lightweight, wrinkle resistant and don’t show dirt – basically the idea travel garment!
2. Follow all your mother’s rules. Look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t take a drink from strange men. All of these still apply.
3. Don’t be afraid to be assertive. India is one country where it’s better to err on the side of not being nice enough. If a strange man pursues you on the street, or if someone rubs up against you inappropriately in a crowd, it’s okay to get angry. When someone tried to put Holi powder on my face even after I said ‘no’ twice, I hit his hand away from me. Needless to say, I was left in peace after that. That brings me to my next travel tip….
4. Learn “Get Away”. If you are able to loudly and angrily shout “Get away,” in the language of your choice, you will catch the attention of others around you and hopefully make the person bothering you hesitate. In India, “Jao” (pronounced Jayo) means “get away”.
5. Say ‘no’ to photos with strange men. It’s very common for a group of Indian men to gather around and ask for photos. I’ve heard that the reasons for this can range from wanting to pretend you are their girlfriend on Facebook to pick pocketing to wanting to press upon you and grope you inappropriately. As a rule, I politely say ‘no’ and keep moving. Use your own judgment with families and children.
6. Read Hotel Reviews. If I’m staying at a place for more than one day, I try to call ahead and make a reservation at a place that I’ve read online reviews for. In India, a call or email is sufficient to reserve a room and you don’t have to pay the booking fee for some of the online sites. In general, I avoid guidebook recommendations. Sure, the place was quaint and tidy when someone visited four years ago, but that doesn’t mean much. A write up in the Lonely Planet is inevitably the kiss of death for hotel value. The rates get hiked and the boom in business makes it likely the place will get run down. Sites like Trip Advisor, with constantly updated reviews, are a better source to get an idea of how a place will look when you show up.
7. Carry a Photocopy of Your Passport. As long as you are staying in a reputable establishment (see #6), leave your passport at your residence and carry a photocopy instead. If your purse gets snatched it’s better to lose a camera and some cash then this precious document.
8. Take the Right Meds. I’ve taken care of enough ill travelers to know how miserable it is to get sick in a foreign country. It’s no fun to take an anti-malarial pill every day, but getting malaria sucks. I once heard it compared to feeling so cold it’s like being dunked in an ice bath, but when someone touches you, you are burning hot. Carry oral rehydration packets in case you get struck with Delhi Belly (travelers’ diarrhea). Anti-allergy medication is readily available here, but it wouldn’t hurt to pack a couple of tablets until you can get to a pharmacy.
9. Say Your Partner is Joining You. Depending on the situation, it may behoove you to say to the inquiring person that your significant other is joining you at some point in the trip. For example, you could say your spouse is arriving this weekend from Delhi. Other writers have gone so far as to suggest that you concoct an Indian husband, but I think this is probably overkill. Nevertheless, it’s good to give the perception that you will be missed if something happens.
10. Reserve Your Train Tickets Early. India has a fantastic rail system, but tickets sell out weeks in advance. You can get on a waitlist for the seat of your choice, but there is only a small penalty if you cancel more than one day in advance (about $2 US), so book early and book often! This way you will ensure that you don’t end up in the general seating cars, where people are packed in like cattle.
11. Pack a Pashmina. Or buy one – this is India after all. The pashmina is one of the most versatile things that I carry. It can cover your head and add modesty to your outfit when visiting holy places, provide warmth (if you visit in the winter), shield your mouth and nose from road dust, and makes a lovely sun mat if you are having a picnic or a day at the beach.
12. Carry a Good Bag with a Lock. I love my Bedstu Hawkeye over the shoulder bag that I purchased from Zappos. It is roomy and has tons of pockets, is sturdy, and hides dirt relatively well. It also has a zipper which can be secured with a small travel lock and an outside zipped pocket that sits against my hip where I can keep small change handy.
Do you have any tips for being a solo female traveler in India or anywhere else? Please share them in the comments section below!