The week before I headed to India, I was in Sri Lanka, sitting at a trail summit admiring the view, and sipping on a cold coconut- a reward for hiking in the hot sun.
As I sat, I listened to a group of women (American, European, Australian) talk about how they’d never consider venturing to India on their own for fear of their safety.
I spent three weeks traveling a small fraction of India. The places I visited were developed for tourism (as are most parts of India the average traveler will be interested in visiting).
During my travels, I never felt unsafe.
Sure, a lot.
But, there’s a big difference between being uncomfortable and actually being unsafe. The same precautions you’d take traveling anywhere else as a woman alone apply to India.
And, to be candid, the sexual harassment I experienced in Sri Lanka was far worse than anything in the parts of India I visited.
People will stare (it’s not malicious, they’re curious).
Some may even ask for photos (it’s okay to say no).
It’s loud, crazy and hectic (take a moment to pause and breathe, and you’ll be okay).
Wherever I went, I never felt threatened.
A few stray dogs actually put me on edge more than any humans.
Twice, as I tried to walk past strays, I was met with vicious growling. Both times, men (one a stranger, another a hostel friend) didn’t hesitate to put themselves between me and the animal as a means of helping.
I wouldn’t say India is a place where you can let your guard down. Travel there is harder for women on their own.
But, that’s no reason to fear visiting.
India is a beautiful country, where I saw incredible things and met wonderful people. I’d go back in a heartbeat, yes- even as a solo traveler.
15 Tips for Visiting India As a Solo Female Traveler
The old saying, fake it till you make it works like a charm here.
When asked by people on the street, I said it was my second or third time in India. Them thinking I’d visited before gave me a degree of street cred- even though I hadn’t.
When I asked questions or for directions, I was direct and succinct. I acted like I knew where I was going and doing, even when I didn’t.
If I hailed a tuk tuk and someone’s friend also jumped in (common in India), I was firm- ‘no, your friend cannot ride, too.’
I was more open with my hostel hosts, fellow travellers, or cafe owners I trusted, asking for recommendations or their thoughts on things.
But, when out exploring, I walked confidently because there’s something to be said for looking the part to be treated like it.
Be Aware of Top Scams
The ones in India are similar to other countries in Asia.
Be on the lookout for people selling train/transport tickets if they’re not at the official booth; receiving incorrect change; people offering tours on the street (always go through a legit provider); and tuk tuk drivers who try to take you to ‘special stops’, or tell you a road is closed.
The stops are total scams, where you’ll be pressured to buy something (because your driver gets a kick back), and the roads are rarely, if ever, closed- they tell you they are to try and take you to a friend’s hotel.
Candidly, I have a hard time understanding how people fall for some of the scams I’ve heard about.
For me, if I’m traveling and feel overwhelmed or confused, I just take a moment to breathe. Remaining calm helps me think through solutions and determine what I should do next.
Use Women & Families As a Crutch
On public transit, at red lights, and in lines, I always sat or stood next to women or families.
It’s less likely men will harass you incessantly when you’re in the company of other women or families.
India is a country of mixed religions- Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. It’s not mandatory you dress modestly, but you’ll notice locals don’t reveal much.
I think of it this way: If I’m visiting a new country and trying to blend in, and not draw too much attention, I take cues from how the locals dress. This holds true, regardless of where I visit.
Even if you see other foreigners wearing less, it’s best to cover up as a solo traveler. And really, this just means shoulders and knees should be covered.
I found the less skin I showed, the less attention I drew.
Chat to Other Foreigners, Befriend Travel or Walking Pals
Even if your itinerary isn’t flexible, like mine, and means you can’t just float around the country with newly befriended travel pals, it’s still worth chatting up other travellers.
You never know what kind of tips someone may share, or whether your plans will match up with someone else’s, creating an opportunity to buddy up on tour stops, or even just for dinner.
Choose Seats on Trains Strategically
I took trains several times in India, and never once felt unsafe.
Indian Railways has a good safety record, and there are usually police or guards on each train, patrolling throughout the duration of the ride.
That said, if you plan on taking trains, there are some things you can do to help ensure your journey is smooth.
Sleeper trains run 24/7 in India, because of the sub-continent’s size. So, you may find yourself on a sleeper train, even if you’re not on an overnight journey.
I avoided 1AC class since the compartments lock from the inside, and there aren’t any curtains.
Whenever I booked, it was always either 2AC and 3AC.
The main difference between the two?
In 2AC, beds are only stacked by two, vs. by three in 3AC. I’ve also heard 2AC is a bit cleaner and has nicer amenities (pillows, blankets, sheets) than 3AC.
On all my train trips, I chose 2AC since it was only a few dollars more than 3AC. In 2AC, my favorite bunk is side, upper berth. You have a curtain, which provides privacy, and you’re out of eyesight from anyone walking the aisles.
Use Rideshare Apps to Call Tuk Tuks Where Available
No need to negotiate with a tuk tuk driver or demand the metre be turned on, which can be more daunting as a woman on her own- especially if you’re talking to a group of male drivers standing together.
Instead, in major cities (Delhi, Agra, Amritsar, Jaipur), use Ola and Uber to call cars or tuk tuks. Doing so also eliminates any confusion about where you’re heading, and removes the chance they may try to upsell you on a tourist stop, or lie to you about a road closure.
As with anywhere else, make sure the tuk tuk license plate matches what’s in the app. If it doesn’t, cancel the ride and re-book.
Understand Indians Stare
It doesn’t matter what you look like- if you’re not Indian, you’ll be started at. I noticed this most in big cities, but it happened everywhere.
Most of the time, it’s just curiosity.
If people came over to talk to me, they wanted to know where I was from.
Sometimes, they asked for a photo. But, that was pretty much the extent of it.
Know It’s Okay to Say No To Selfies and Photos
I’ve heard white women with blonde hair are more likely to be targeted for photos, which kind of makes sense, based on my experience.
I have dark, black hair, and when I visited India- my skin was pretty tan from spending the year in the sun in Asia.
There was no doubt I was foreign, but I didn’t stand out as much as someone would with a lighter skin tone and lighter hair.
Whether you get asked for photos a lot or only a handful of times, know that it’s okay to say no.
Whenever men on their own or in groups asked, I said no. If women or families asked though, I considered it.
Sometimes, I still said no if we were in a busy area where I knew us taking a photo may spark interest from others to ask as well (e.g. trying to avoid a snowball effect).
Limit Times You Walk Alone at Night
Parts of India, even Rajasthan as a state, are relatively conservative. It’s uncommon to see many women on the streets after dark, especially outside of cities.
I chose to mostly go out during the daytime, and eat dinner at my hostel (Zomato made ordering delivery a breeze).
If you want to go out, let someone from your hostel or hotel know where you are going. And, stick to well lit, busy areas, preferably with women and families around.
A Few More Tips For Women Travelling India On Their Own:
- Get a SIM if your phone is unlocked- it’s a game changer for helping you understand where you are, where you need to go, or look up details on the fly
- Wear sunglasses when out and about so people can’t see where you’re looking. Sometimes, if they catch you gazing at their shop, tuk tuk or whatever it may be, they’ll take that as an invitation to try and sell you something
- Tell your hostel/hotel owner where you’re going/when you’ll be back each day, or make sure someone else knows your plans
- Don’t show off flashy belongings– Apple watch, jewellery, name brands, etc. I felt fine, walking with my iPhone in my hand most times to help capture photos, but wore minimal possessions otherwise
- Have a firm plan for any night travel– either have a transport arranged to meet you at the train station or airport via your hotel/hostel, or know how you’re going to get from Point A to Point B, and inform your hotel/hostel of your plans and estimated arrival time
- Download Google Translate on your phone to help with transactions where the other person doesn’t speak conversational English
In Sri Lanka, I had a three-stop method to dealing with unwanted male attention while traveling. That system didn’t work in India- if i responded to men who followed me, trying to talk to me or asking me things, it seemed to only encourage them.
So, my system became this: Wear sunglasses so people can’t see what I’m looking at, and don’t talk to men who are loud and pushy, and just trying to sell something. Although I don’t usually like flat-out ignoring people, I found the less attention I paid to them, the less they bothered me.
Bottom line: India is too beautiful a country to miss experiencing because of fear.
Is it challenging at times?
Is it uncomfortable at times?
But, if you’re not traveling to learn, grow and discover new things, then why make the journey so far from home?
Have you ever travelled to India, or would you consider going on your own?
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2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Solo Female Travel in India”
You make great points about female solo travel in India. I agree that traveling alone doesn’t necessarily result in dangerous situations, but I will say the constant harassment gets mentally-exhausting, even for the thickest of skins. I had similar instances while traveling in Morocco and Turkey (which I assume aren’t as bad as India), and for a while it did put me off from traveling to other countries out there. But learning to toughen up based on repeated experiences did wonders for me, and I started using the same tips you wrote in my travels. Ignoring the cat-calls and trusting my instincts in the environment I was in were the most-important aspects I discovered. While I would now choose to go with at least another person to places like India in the future, knowing how to handle these situations– alone or with people– are indelible to have. Thanks for sharing!
Completely agree with/understand your point about how the harassment can be exhausting. I struggled my first few days in Sri Lanka, because it was so intense (worse than anything I’d experienced in Istanbul or Cappadocia). But, at the same time, I had a few really beautiful exchanges with Sri Lankans that wouldn’t have happened if I’d closed myself off completely, so I think part of it is finding a balance of some sort too.
And, I can’t wait to return to India, either on my own or with a friend. I feel like I saw and did a lot in my nearly 3 weeks there, but even then- didn’t even scratch the surface of the sub-continent. It’s a shame so many women are afraid to visit on their own because of what they’ve heard in the media- it really is a gorgeous country.