Solo Female Travel in India: My Best Tips

Solo Female Travel in India: My Best Tips

Of all the countries I’ve explored during my travels in Asia, I’ve always found India to be the most frustrating, yet exciting places I’ve ever been. India was the first ever country I’d been to in Asia, and going to India is much more of a culture shock for Westerners than, say, Japan. I’ll never forget the day I stepped out of the airport in Delhi, the strong wave of pollution and human chaos hit me hard. I remember finding it difficult to breathe and try and take in this intoxicating (literally) new environment.

But the magic I felt wherever I went and the lost yet still familiar connection to our fellow humans superseded any negative feelings. A lot of people describe their relationship with India as a love/hate one. This is also very similar to my experience. When you travel around India alone, especially as a female, not only is this culturally shocking to Indians in general (Since most girls in India don’t travel alone), but sometimes you’ll be viewed as “easy” and a target for sexual harassment and scams, since, according to societal norms, you’re “asking for it” being alone and without a man by your side. On the positive side, the human warmth and sense of community I felt in India moved me and made me think of how relationships tend to suffer in the West in the name of “progress”. India is organized chaos that brings your basic human rhythm back in sync. From the pulsing crowded markets, to the hundreds of cows wandering the streets mixing with the people and cars, to the Dalits or ‘untouchables’ walking around barefoot with nothing but a torn shirt on their backs, India will rip out your heart and put it back in over and over again. I’m not one to sugarcoat my experiences and want to give you my most honest opinion about traveling to India..so here goes!

 

1) Lots of people will ask for a photo with you

 

If anyone comes up and asks to take a photo with you, expect a long line to follow. You’ll feel like a celebrity…at first. The ones most likely to ask for a photo will be be a group of men or a large family, but it could be anyone. One after another will come up to you, asking you for a selfie. Or, they’ll just take photos of you without your permission. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want a photo with them, but my best advice is to just tell them you don’t take photos, otherwise more and more groups will keep coming asking for a photo, and before you know it you’ll be standing there taking photos all day and miss out on seeing the sights you came there to see!

 

Dipping my feet in the Holy Ganga river

Another important thing to consider is that if you allow a guy to take a selfie with you, other guys could get the wrong idea, and before you know it a group of guys have ganged up on you and are all fighting for a selfie! I don’t think any girl in her right mind would want this to happen. Use your best judgment when taking photos with the locals. You’d probably feel more comfortable taking a photo with a family versus a large group of men. Not to mention the risks if you agree to take the photo with the group of men, since they might to do all kinds of inappropriate things in the photos or even try groping you.

 

2) Be Careful of How You Dress

 

Unfortunately, India isn’t Thailand, and is much more traditional and conservative. Cover up as much as possible to avoid any unwanted attention or sexual harassment. Since wearing  revealing clothing and showing too much skin will attract lots of prolonged stares and negative attention from the locals, you’ll more than likely get “eve teased” (The word in India for public sexual harassment). For me it was more than enough getting prolonged, intense stares all the time (Especially being a blonde girl with green eyes, which is something some Indians have never seen before except in Hollywood movies, or, erm, other movies).

 

Even exposing your shoulders could land you some unwanted stares – Notice all the groups of men walking along the beach staring

 

Saree shopping in Mysore

 

There are, however, some parts of your body you can reveal that would still be considered culturally acceptable. It’s ok to show your middrift and parts of your belly like how it’s shown when you see women wearing saris. It’s just not as culturally acceptable to show cleavage or wear a mini skirt, although this is all changing. You won’t have to worry as much about this if you’re travelling in a city like Goa, which has more foreigners and the people are used to seeing women dress this way. When in India, do as Indian women do. If a man tries groping you on the train, give him a hard slap. We don’t really do this much in Western culture, but here it’s the norm in India and isn’t viewed as physical assault.

 

Wearing a traditional salwaar kameez in Jaipur, Rajasthan

 

Ancient architecture in Delhi

And yes, sometimes it’s in your best interest to pretend you’re married to an Indian man. I was always asked this same question, ‘Where’s your Indian husband?’ It’s true that it helps to pretend you’re married to an Indian man and say yes if anyone asks, since in Indian culture marriage is more respected than a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. If you don’t carry yourself in this way, then men will see you as available to them, even if you’re boyfriend is right there with you. You just have to keep your senses about you at all times, and pick your battles wisely. You can’t change thousands of years of tradition or culture, just because you think it’s not right.

 

On a beach near Chennai, India

3) You Will Be Stared At…A lot

 

One of the biggest frustrations for women traveling in India is the constant staring. Yes, you will be stared at on a daily basis. The stares are more curious than menacing, but they tend to be prolonged (i.e. lasting well more than a minute) and made me feel extremely uncomfortable at first until I got used to it. After a while I was annoyed by all the staring and started staring right back at them, and most of the time, it worked. Western women in general are perceived by Indian men as more easy going and overly friendly, and in general “easier” than Indian women, so the best way to avoid these negative perceptions is to walk with your head held high and a no BS attitude. It’s not the norm for Indian women to be so polite and friendly with stranger men who they don’t know, so it’s best you take on this attitude, too.

 

Foreigner shenanigans

 

4) You’ll Need to Sharpen Your Bargaining Skills

 

In the West we’re so used to everything having a fixed price. One exasperating thing about shopping in India is that you have to bargain for literally everything, from getting a ride in an auto rickshaw, to the price of your hotel room, otherwise you’ll be ripped off every time as a foreigner.  Almost nothing in India is a fixed price, and you’ll have to negotiate if you want to buy anything.

 

Getting a henna tatoo in one of the coolest markets in Delhi, Lajpat Nagar

 

My advice is to be as firm as possible, and if they don’t want to give you what you ask for, just walk away. I had to bargain all the time with rickshaw drivers, and even when I told them I’d been to India before many times, they still tried raising the price of the ride by 10 times or more the actual price. Another tactic rickshaw drivers use is agreeing to the price you set at the start of the ride, then trying to pick up other people along the way and making you pay the same cost while all the locals they pick up along the way pay less. If any rickshaw driver tells you they’re going to be picking up more people along the way, you need to get them to lower the price. Being a solo female you might not be comfortable sharing your ride anyway, especially if it’s only men getting in the rickshaw with you. I  suggest to never share a ride with anyone in India if you’re alone.

 

Incredible Taj Mahal

 

Taj

5) Book Train and Bus Tickets in Advance

 

India is a country with over a billion people, so train tickets tend to sell out fast. Book your tickets online or at the station, otherwise you’ll end up in the hellish nightmare that is general class seating, or the government bus. In the movies you always see the chaotic trains in India with hundreds of people clinging to the sides or climbing on top of the train since there’s no space inside. Never, ever take the general class seat or the government bus if you can avoid it.

You can download the IRTC App on your phone or book your tickets on the IRTC Official Website. I always used Red Bus to book my bus tickets in advance, since the government buses in India are horrible. I always say it’s a good thing to experience how the locals travel, but it’s really risky in general for women, especially those traveling alone at night. I highly recommend booking either Sleeper Class or A/C Class. I’ve taken the general class and government buses when I didn’t have my tickets booked ahead of time, and ended up suffering a lot. I ended up stuck in general class since I was stranded at the train station in Patna, Bihar in the middle of the night. I had to share my seat with 10 or more people crushed against up against me in the suffocating heat. The coach was so full that people were sleeping in the aisles. When I sat down all I could see were men all around me, but luckily I managed to find a woman to sit by. I woke up in the dark and felt someone massaging my feet, so I kicked at whoever it was since it was too dark to see anything. If you end up taking general class, don’t expect any human comforts but do expect to be cramped up with a pile of hot steamy bodies and risk getting harassed in the overcrowded dark coaches.

 

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Cramped in the general class train – There were around three other people sitting in my seat

The best way by far to get around India if you’re alone is by motorbike. You can hire a bike and drive yourself around to see all the sights. It’s much less expensive than hiring a rickshaw driver or an Ola or an Uber, not to mention you can go wherever you want whenever you want, all for less than $5 per day. If the thought of driving in India makes you terrified, or you don’t know how to drive a motorbike, I’d suggest taking an Ola or Uber cab. Ola drivers only accept cash, so Uber might be your best choice if you want to use a credit card. This also might be a better choice if you want a fixed price for your ride and you don’t want to have to deal with all the hastle of trying to bargain for rides from dodgy rickshaw drivers.

 

The best way to get around India!

 

It was so awesome to drive a motorbike through this maze of tea fields in the monsoon season! Munnar, Kerala

Should You Still Go to India As A Solo Female Traveler? 

 

The answer is YES!!! Now after reading all this, you probably think I’m crazy for still loving India. For every chauvinistic piece of poo in India who thinks he has the right to harrass a foreign woman just because she’s alone and he thinks she’s “easy”, there’s an equal ratio of knights in shining armor who would defend you to the very core of their being. One of the biggest advantages of traveling alone as a woman in India is that there will always be someone willing to help you.

 

Stunning temple in Chennai

 

Men were always willing to give up their seats for me on the train or bus, and were always offering to help carry my bags. It was flattering for me to experience that kind of chivalry that seems to have disappeared in the West. India is one of the most challenging countries to travel to as a Western woman, but once you’ve done it you’ll never regret this life altering experience for a second. India is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, so don’t let the fear mongering of the media or anyone trying to scare you away from living your travel dreams and coming to India. 

 

Watching the prayer candles float down the Holy Ganga (Ganges) river

 

I sincerely urge you to open your mind, and don’t let what anyone says stop you from having the one travel experience that will shock your entire system and change your life forever!  

 

Your thoughts? I hope this article was helpful to you in some way. I’d love to know about your experiences you’ve had traveling in India! Let me know what you think in the comments section or by sharing my article with the social media links. I’d love to keep giving you tips and advice so feel free to subscribe by email in the subscribe box below. Don’t forget you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!”

 

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    19 thoughts on “Solo Female Travel in India: My Best Tips

    1. Great post! I haven’t been to India but definitely want to visit sometime. The tea fields in particular look amazing. I agree with you about saying no to photos, I would always do that when travelling in South East Asia, it’s definitely the easier way. You look beautiful in the saree, would love to try one on!

      1. Thanks Janine! 🙂 You definitely should, I would say India is easier to travel in with a group just because of the sheer amount of people there and sometimes it gets so overcrowded, but that’s not to deter those who would like to try it solo 🙂 Kerala in particular in the South is known as “God’s own country” by the locals and everyone goes to see the beautiful tea fields there, definitely worth a visit. And yeah it is definitely best to avoid any kind of harrassment since sometimes these situations can escalate into that for girls unfortunately. Aw thank you!! I just love how sarees come in so many colors, the variety is astounding. Xxx

    2. Should You Still Go to India As A Solo Female Traveler?

      The answer is YES!!! Now after reading all this, you probably think I’m crazy for still loving India.

      This was one of the best line

      1. Aw thanks so much Neeraj!! 🙂 Really means a lot. And yes India will still always be my favorite place! So glad you enjoyed reading this. And keep coming back for more tips and advice for solo travelers in India! Xxx

    3. A very articulately written post here Ms Blosom, loved the way you have very thoughtfully balanced the odds and the beauties of our country and loved it that you understand the underlying fabric of interconnectedness within all this organised chaos, I loved it more so where you say that this organised chaos brings your system back in Sync! It’s very very true! Thank you for writing this! And please do keep coming here!

      1. Hi Vikram!

        Thanks a lot, I appreciate the kind words! 🙂 And that is exactly how I felt when I was there, it really brought me back to all my senses, I really feel like people in the West tend to live in a bubble, and have lost that important communal and human connectedness I felt in India. I can’t wait to come back again, whenever I do feels like home! Xx

    4. Great article, Blossom. I am going to share this post with my clients going to India. And not just the women, the men too — so they can get an idea of what the living experience and culture is like. Did you try to women-only train cars — like in Delhi? I tell my clients to use them. Best of luck with your travels.

      1. Hi Scott,

        Thanks for the support and I’m so happy you liked my article and found it to be useful. I also appreciate you sharing my article with others, I love sharing my experiences with other travelers, and hope to always help people coming to India for the first time. I did sit in the women-only compartments a few times, but I only found out about those later, after I’d already gotten in the Metro a few times cramped up against the door among only men. And thank you! I hope to go back to India soon. It’s one of the most challenging countries I’ve traveled, but I love a challenge myself so that’s why it’s always appealed to me. Xx

    5. Very nicely written. I do agree with the negative and positive point you mentioned. Solo traveler can travel in India after reading this but I think you should mentioned more specific name of place where people should more careful and where shouldn’t be. Its really a nice post, I will ask my friends to read and welcome you again to India

      1. Hey Samrat,

        Thanks, that means a lot! I can see where you’re coming from, maybe next time I could list those kinds of places. And thank you, I hope to see you come back again for some travel tips and advice for solo travelers! And I can’t wait to come back to India again soon! Hope you have a fantastic day. Xxx

    6. Overall you got great Journey!

      As Indian, I avoid using Sleeper Class trains as there are No rules for seats. Sleeper Class is New General Class.

      Just one curiosity, what made you visit (Patna)Bihar, that is one of the worst places to visit in India.

      1. Hey Abhishek!

        Thank you, it was definitely an incredible adventure..

        And yes you are right, there aren’t any rules! Which is why I wished I could have gotten the tickets in advance, but it wasn’t possible at that time..And I do agree, Sleeper Class seems to be like General class in lot of ways.

        Well I actually was traveling in Bodhgaya, and ended up having to leave there, and wasn’t able to get my tickets in advance. I was on my way South, and wound up stuck at the Patna station in the middle of the night. I wasn’t planning to actually stay in Patna, so I was glad I was able to leave the same day, haha.

        Hope you have a wonderful day! And I hope to see you coming back for more tips and tidbits for traveling in India.

        Xxx

    7. Hi, lovely balanced writing! Hope all the people from world listen! I know we ourselves are to blame for fear perceived and felt by solo woman traveller, but u will always remain in our heart as our goodwill ambassador. We will do everything to change our shameful image,but will take time! Do visit again !

      1. Hi Manish,

        Thanks so much for the kind words! 🙂

        Hopefully over time this image will change and things like solo travel will be more accepted in Indian society.

        Aw that is very sweet of you, I hope to come back again to visit soon, I can’t wait!

        Xxx

    8. Well said and we’ll explained Blossom. Being a solo traveler, I can very well relate to this article and am glad despite all conservation NY Country holds, you still loved this part of the world.
      Keep traveling and explore the beauty of the Universe.

      1. Hi Beena! 🙂

        Thanks a lot for your kind words!

        It’s great you’re able to venture out in the world solo as well, it takes some courage but once you do it it feels so empowering. And yes despite India being one hell of a ride, I think it’s some place that I will forever hold dear as my favorite place I’ve ever traveled! I hope to go back again soon.
        Wish you very happy travels!

        Xxx

        Blossom

    9. Hi! I feel a bit relieved after seeing this post! I am travelling also alone next February and I’m excited and scared both at the same time. I will travel from Bangalore to Mysore, and finally to Goa. Any recommendations in these places? Thanks a lot!!!!!! Xxx

      1. Hi Claudia 🙂

        I’m so glad my article was helpful to you, and so glad you made the decision to go to India!

        I am so excited for you! I’m sure you’ll have a real adventure. I haven’t been to Bangalore, but I will say there are some incredible places to see in Mysore, especially the Palace. I stayed there for almost a week and really loved it! It has everything from old Gothic churches to mosques to palaces. I’d recommend checking out some of these places:

        Keshava Temple
        Devaraja Market
        Chamundi Hill (Incredible views and temples up on the hill!)
        Brindavan Gardens (One of my top favorites!)
        Jaganmohan Palace
        Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion Museum
        Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya

        And for Goa, I’d suggest hiring a motorbike and going to some of these places:

        Basilica of Bom Jesus
        Sé Cathedral
        Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
        Goa Chitra
        Dudhsagar Falls
        Fontainhas & Sao Tomé
        Church & Convent of St Cajetan
        Shri Mahadeva Temple
        Fort Aguada **
        Altinho Hill
        Patnem beach (Quieter and less crowded)
        Palolem beach
        Anjuna beach
        Ashwem beach
        Chapora Fort
        Shri Manguesh Temple

        There are so many amazing attractions to see in Goa, it’s crazy!! But Goa is a place that all travelers seem to love, and I think you will too! Hope you have an incredible time in India, and wish you all the happiest of travels!

        Take care,

        Blossom

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