When I told people I was going to India by myself, I was met with one of two reactions: either, they were completely in awe of me, saying something like ‘I could never do that’, or they feared for my safety, telling me horror stories they had heard of drugs, violence and theft. The concept of solo female travel in India has always been met with a response like this, but I decided not to let it hinder my plans. I was going to India. I had asked friends if they wanted to join me, and nobody could – so I went alone.
Why does India get such a bad rep?
India is a struggling country, where the poverty levels are overwhelmingly saddening. You already knew this, but you’re still interested in visiting. Because India is so much more than that – it’s a country rich with culture, tradition, history, colour; it will make you gasp in awe and exhilarate your senses.
What is important to remember is this: bad things can happen to innocent people – and they can happen everywhere in the world, not just in India. I spent a month solo in Goa and Kerala and encountered no problems whatsoever, and upon returning home to the UK, my phone was robbed in my own hometown.
This is not to say that there is no crime in India, of course there is. But this post is not meant to scare you into thinking if you come to India you’ll definitely get raped or robbed or abducted, because the chances of that happening are very low.
After travelling solo for a month in India, I have come to the conclusion that yes, there is a possibility that something bad might happen, but as long as you are prepared and take precautions, you can lower the chances of inciting any trouble. Remember that most people are out to help you; the majority of bad events will most likely be scams to swindle some extra rupees out of your pocket.
Here is why solo female travel in India is really not as scary as you might think, and tips on how to avoid trouble. If you’re worried about travelling India alone, I hope this post helps you decide to go for it!
Solo Female Travel in India: Expectations vs Reality
Fear #1: I’m going to get lost
In such a big country with town and city names that are hard to pronounce, it’s easy to think that getting from A to B might not be easy. Bus timetables seem to change as and when they want to, or are cancelled or diverted due to roadworks, so it’s easy to think you might end up stranded in the middle of nowhere. Guidebooks always say to not get your map or guidebook out in public, as then locals might think you’re lost and take advantage.
Reality: You’ll probably only get lost if you’re really unlucky
I had data on my phone the whole time I was in India so I could check Google Maps whenever I needed to, which was never really necessary but put my mind at ease. When navigating buses and trains, I made sure to arrive at the station early to give myself plenty of time to travel that day. You can check train timetables online here; bus timetables are harder to come by but guesthouse owners usually know when they are scheduled for. If in doubt, turn up to the bus station early; there are usually a few services on each route every day. Tuk Tuk drivers are mostly trustworthy; I followed where we were going on Google Maps, or advised the driver I had called ahead to my guesthouse and let them know I was on the way. This avoided them being able to take me to any other guesthouse.
Fear #2: I’ll get loads of unwanted attention from men
After reading horror stories online about girls being taken advantage of in India, I was worried I might end up dead in a ditch somewhere. I worried that because I would be travelling alone, there would be no one to be there by my side if I felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Being white, blonde(ish), with blue eyes, I worried that no matter how much I covered my skin, I would still receive a lot of attention from the opposite sex, and might be targeted due to being alone.
Reality: Most people want to help you
People in India are fascinated by the West and its people. I must stress that you probably will receive more attention than normal while travelling solo; locals will stare at you, ask you personal questions and probably ask for a selfie with you. Whilst it can be a little overwhelming and uncomfortable to start with, the truth is that you just get used to it. It’s normally completely harmless and is simply based on inquisitiveness. I politely refused having my photo taken if I didn’t feel comfortable, but sometimes had to be quite firm and hold a hand in front of my face. When asked if I was married or travelling alone, I told people I was on the way to meet my boyfriend or friends.
If you are stuck or need help, people will generally try to help you or at least point you in the direction of someone who can help. Despite their limited English and my non-existent Hindi, locals waiting alongside me at the bus stop helped me work out which bus I needed to take, and the bus conductors signalled to me where to get off the bus and where to wait for my connecting bus. Guesthouse owners gave me their insider knowledge and tips on what to see and do, where to eat, and what to look out for. In fact, at Mathews Palmy Residency in Alleppey, I felt like the staff really went the extra mile when I told them I was travelling alone; they advised me to be back before 11pm, not to speak to strangers, and gave me a business card with a map – it put me at ease that they were looking out for me.
Fear #3: I’m going to get robbed
After getting robbed in Cambodia in 2015, I was cautious that the same might happen again. That time, someone broke into my locker in my hostel, so I wasn’t there to actually experience the robbery. This time, because I would be by myself, I was worried about something happening while on public transport or even that I might get mugged.
Reality: Be sensible and you’ll be fine
Really, the chances of being robbed are very slim and I think as long as you are cautious you’ll be fine. It’s important to remember that you can get robbed anywhere in the world (my phone was stolen in my own hometown on New Years Eve this year!) Taking necessary precautions like using a locker for your valuables when out and about, keeping your money in a money-belt, and keeping your valuables hidden are all obvious ways to reduce the chances of having your belongings stolen. Invest in good travel insurance to cover your belongings just in case – I use World Nomads.
Fear #4: I’ll be lonely and won’t make any new friends
Before this trip I was a little scared that I would end up being completely lonely and miserable. I didn’t think I would make any new friends at all and had visions of myself crying myself to sleep every night or even just shut myself in my hotel room for the entire trip. I go into it a bit more in this post, but basically, I thought that because I had travelled so much with my ex-boyfriend, I was going to be completely unable to strike up a conversation with someone new. This is only the second (third if you count Naples) that I’ve travelled alone. I needed to prove to myself that I can be by myself or in my own company for long periods of time, and that I can actually DO stuff by myself. And I did!
Reality: I made many friends but also realised I like a bit of me-time
I wrote in this post about how I came to terms with being by myself and felt fine in my own company. A major fear was dining alone. But I actually didn’t mind being alone at dinner; I usually took a book to read, wrote in my notebook, browsed social media on my phone, took my laptop and worked, or even called my sister (through WhatsApp) and spoke to her while she was on her lunch break at home in the UK. I also got chatting to various groups of friends, other solo travellers, and the waiters in cafes and restaurants.
I made sure to go on organised tours so as to meet new people – these included a boat trip to the Kerala Backwaters in Alleppey, and Bamboo Rafting in Periyar National Park. I approached other travellers at my hostels and while waiting for public transport too, but chose not to stay in dorm rooms because I actually much prefer having my own space. This isn’t to say I won’t ever stay in a dorm room again, but for now I feel more content when I can come back to my room and hit the hay if I want to without having to socialise with anyone else (how unsociable does that sound!?) In India, I stayed in simple guesthouses where I had my own private room. Most of them had adjacent bathrooms, some of them had great common areas where you could easily meet other travellers. This worked for me, but I did find it was a tad more expensive than staying in a dorm, as I was effectively paying for two people (having been able to split the cost of a double/twin room had I had a companion to travel with).
Top Tips for first-time solo female travellers in India
- Don’t use public transport alone at night
In the daytime it’s generally busier, and if you try to seat yourself by a family rather than a group of rowdy boys. At night it’s less busy and it’s quite obviously dark so people can’t see as well if there’s something going on. Although I have a female friend who did this throughout her travels in India and had absolutely no trouble.
- Organise onward transport where you can
Ask your hotel to organise a tuk tuk to pick you up from the train station when you arrive, or a taxi if it’s dark. This might cost a bit extra but it’s worth it for the piece of mind to know you have onward transport organised.
- Dress conservatively
Don’t show too much skin (even in touristy areas). It will attract attention if you are wearing tight, overly-western clothes, so opt for loose, floaty clothes that cover your legs and elbows where possible. Many women say that wearing traditional Indian dress such as a salwaar kameez (a tunic dress worn over loose trousers, leggings or jeans) helped. I wore a pashmina most of the time (even when fully dressed) which I think drew attention away from me slightly more; the key is to cover your shape as much as you can.
- Keep your belongings secure
Take a combination padlock with you to keep your stuff locked up in a locker while out, or use the hotel safe where possible. Consider wearing a money belt or a bra with a secret pocket under your clothes and keep small amounts of money in your purse so as to avoid handling large wads of cash. I also kept my passport in this when moving about.
- Get your phone unlocked and get an Indian SIM card with data
As mentioned before, it put my mind at ease that I could use Google Maps or WhatsApp my family whenever I wanted to. If I knew I was going to be without data for a while, I let my family back home know, just so they knew where I was. Read this post to learn how to get an Indian SIM card for your phone as a tourist.
- Don’t be afraid to lie if you don’t feel comfortable
If someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, you don’t have to tell the truth. I’ve lied about my name, my age, my marital status, my job, who I am meeting, where I am going, and that I wasn’t a solo traveller and was on the way to meet friends/ family/ my boyfriend.
- Say ‘no’ if something doesn’t feel right
If you don’t want your selfie taken, say no. This might mean walking away quickly and speaking sternly to whoever asks you, but don’t be afraid to cause a fuss to attract nearby attention of other people if you feel uncomfortable.
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Shop my essential travel gear for India:
A decent guidebook, walking sandals and loose, floaty clothing are absolute essentials – oh, and of course a camera!
Ladies, have you travelled solo in India? How did you find it?
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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