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 intense 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But the magic I felt wherever I went and the lost yet the still familiar connection to our fellow humans superseded any negative feelings.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 has organized the 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 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 just to 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!
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 has ganged up on you and is 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).
There are, however, some parts of your body you can reveal that would still be considered culturally acceptable. It’s ok to show your mid-drift and parts of your belly like how it’s displayed 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 traveling 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 do this much in Western culture, but here it’s the norm in India and isn’t viewed as physical assault.
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.
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.
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.
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 ten 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.
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 still say it’s a good thing to experience how the locals travel, but it’s hazardous in general for women, especially those going alone at night. I highly recommend booking either Sleeper Class or A/C Class. I’ve taken a general class, and government buses when I didn’t have my tickets reserved 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 a 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.
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 hassle of trying to bargain for rides from dodgy rickshaw drivers.
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 harass 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 most significant advantages of traveling alone as a woman in India is that there will always be someone willing to help you.
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.
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!
Looking forward to your reply, havingtimers!