Deservedly or not, India still has a reputation that means solo female travellers still have to consider if they want to go to India or not. Unlike other destinations where travellers jump at the opportunity to visit, sporadic news reports of gender inequality and crime can temper anyone’s desire to visit the colourful and unique country.
During a comparatively short 3 week tour of northern India we experienced no major safety issues that dramatic detractors of India would have you believe. Common sense is a must as per travelling to any country and there are things to be aware of if travelling as a lone female and here are some of the truths experienced.
India is a great place to eat if you are travelling solo. If your stomach has been trained and is strong, there are a plethora of street food options available. Not only are they cheap, but it’s also a great opportunity to converse with locals and other travellers as they enjoy their food around the food cart.
If you’re concerned about street food hygiene there are many canteen and gas food places where you can enjoy authentic Indian food such as Haldarim’s and Nizam’s. So if you’re the type of person that doesn’t like to eat alone in a restaurant there are plenty of solo dining options.
It was to be said that the budget end of accommodation in India is not quite up to the standard of other countries, say in south east Asia. You will have to get used to the cleanliness levels.
It seems that scrubbing and wiping of surfaces isn’t really a thing in India, only dusting. Bedsheets and towels often do not look the cleanest, so bring your own travel towel which can back up as a bedsheet.
Toiletries provided are minimal if provided at all, so if you’re skin doesn’t deal well with soap, bring your own life luxuries.
Finally, if you’re not used to spraying your privates clean after the toilet always makes sure you have a supply of tissues with you wherever you are.
Light clothing!! In the heat of an Indian summer we’d love to wear little shorts and vests. Apart from the disrespect to religious people and places, as a female foreigner you get stared at even more than normal.
So cover those shoulders and find some light airy trousers. By the way, the trousers don’t have to be those bright traveller trousers with elephant prints on either! They are no more authentic than the horribly unhygienic fraying string bracelets around travellers’ wrists and ankles.
Meeting other travellers
As India is such a hot travel destination it’s not difficult to meet other travellers especially in tourist hotspots. Although India does not have a bar scene where backpackers can flock to, the usual suspects such as hostel chill-out areas, walking tours and transport stations provide plenty of opportunities to meet other travellers.
Even if you have no Facebook or Snapchat friends in India you can use a solo travel app to find fellow travellers. Some are general, some focussed on dating and some focussed on finding fellow solo female travellers. These apps will be particularly helpful during the summer when there are far fewer travellers in India willing to bear the heat.
Locals that you may share a table with at a restaurant or a train carriage with will often strike up conversations too. Interested in sharing thoughts and opinions of India and your home country, the local people are proud of their country and particular region, keen to share great places to visit.
As a female traveller you will be stared at by the local men all the time. Not subtle glances but blatant head turning lingering stares. Nothing ever really escalated from this, and although initially intimidating it is probably just because the locals do not see many fair skinned people. In fact younger locals will often ask for selfies or even take photos of you without asking. If you ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a celebrity, go to India.
Slightly more intimidating can be people following you around trying to befriend you. These guys often work in gangs as well. Probably trying to make a quick dollar somehow it is best to be firm with these people and get yourself to an area with lots of people.
As soon as you step off the train even before you check-in strangers will come up to you to “help”. Most of the time the “help” will lead onto them trying to sell you something or an outright scam.
Be especially careful at train stations where people will try to make you miss your train and then organise an expensive taxi for you. Do not trust anyone at the train station except for staff behind the official ticket counters, do not trust people hanging around close to the ticket counters.
It is true that locals see $$$ when they see travellers and so anything without a price tag needs negotiation. A prime example are tuktuk, where an opening offer by the driver will be significantly more than an appropriate rate. They’ll never use meters especially for tourists, so check the distance to your destination and work out a fair price.
It can get to having to do the negotiation dance everyone and some argue it’s over pennies, but the pennies add up especially on long trips.
The biggest danger travellers will encounter whilst in India is probably crossing the road. As with travelling it is about having the confidence to dive in. A big gap will never appear on the road, so whenever there is a small gap just walk slowly and confidently without making sudden changes of direction and the road will magically open up for you. Very apt for this unique and mystical country.