India can be incredibly overwhelming for solo female travellers. However, equipped with the right knowledge, a positive attitude and a little preparation, visiting this diverse and vibrant country will be an incredibly rewarding experience. As the saying goes: ‘forewarned is forearmed’. So here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Do your research
The fear-mongering in the media perpetuates a negative image of India but, in reality, this isn’t the case. India is modernising and many parts in the country are safe and well-disposed to foreign nationals, especially women.
Having said that, it is highly recommended that you do some research before your visit – understand its culture, customs and traditions. And remember that India is incredibly diverse, so you’ll need to be perceptive to the cultural nuances of each new place.
Read blogs and guidebooks written by other solo female travellers, and check online forums to gain an insight into India. Make a list of the places best for solo travellers and head there.
Consider local customs when it comes to clothing
India is a mix of conservative and liberal minds, and the dress code for females varies from region to region.
It is best to take your cue from locals and dress accordingly. In urban cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Goa, there is more freedom to wear what you like. It is generally fine to show legs, arms and shoulders in big cities.
However, in traditional states like Rajasthan and other smaller towns and villages, dressing modestly and appropriately will ward off unwanted stares and potential advances. Avoid body-hugging clothes, plunging necklines, tank tops or mini skirts in the smaller towns and villages. Cover your shoulders, legs and arms – wear kurtis and leggings, loose long pants and t-shirts or shirts. Dressing the way the locals do gives the signal that you respect their culture and are ready to embrace it.
When visiting religious places, always cover your head with a scarf.
Be confident and vigilant, not fearful!
Like every country, there are certain places in India more prone to crime. Be wary of your surroundings and keep an eye on what is happening at all times. However, Indians in general are very helpful and welcoming to foreign tourists, especially women. So if you find yourself in an uneasy situation, don’t be afraid to seek help.
When travelling on local buses or in public places, body-brushing and eve-teasing incidents may occur. If this happens do not stay silent. Voice your discomfort and don’t shy away from making a scene in order to shame the perpetrator.
If you’re lost, don’t allow your body language to show it. Instead, be assertive! You can ask the locals for directions and, moreover, you always have Google Maps to guide you.
Always stay in places with plenty of foot traffic and do not venture through deserted or dark alleys alone. Err on the side of caution.
It is easy to get in and around the Indian sub-continent, with plenty of buses, taxis, rickshaws, metros, flights and trains avaliable.
Only use registered public transportation and trusted cab services. And remember: do not take a taxi that has a broken meter or does not have a meter.
You can download cab agencies apps like Ola , Uber or TaxiforSure. These cab agencies have GPS-enabled systems, making your journey safe and smooth. If you’re taking a taxi, turn on your GPS to keep track of the route and if you notice any changes, point it out to the driver and tell him to take the route you’d prefer. Do not allow the driver to pick up friends in the middle of the journey.
Always note the taxi/auto registration number and name before hopping in, and send it to a family member or friend.
Do not travel by public transport at odd hours. If you know in advance that you’re going to be late, do not take a local taxi or bus at night. Call up your hotel and ask them to send the cab or book one from the trusted cab agency that can track your journey. There are a few female driver services operating across India such as TaxShe and WomenCabs in Bangalore and Viira Cabs and Priyadarshinitaxi in Mumbai, among many more.
If travelling by train, always book into a 2 AC or 3 AC class and try to take an upper bunk. If travelling by bus, grab a seat in the front and, if travelling by metro, board the ladies carriage. There are ‘ladies queues’ at railway stations, and ‘ladies seats’ on local buses and metros – take advantage of them.
Do not hitchhike in India.
Choose your accommodation wisely
Book accommodation in advance. There are many backpacker hostels scattered throughout the country that are not only economical, comfortable and safe, but also help you meet other travellers and swap experiences.
You might also like: A Backpacker’s Guide to India on a Budget.
Get a local SIM card
Getting a SIM card in the Indian sub-continent is easy. If you’re arriving in India on an e-tourist visa, you will be issued a ready-to-call SIM card at immigration. The SIM will have 50 MB data, 50 rupees of credit and a welcome pack that contains the do’s and dont’s, emergency numbers, tourism information and maps. This SIM card is available at airports in the following areas: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Panjim, Varanasi, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Jaipur, Bengaluru and Amritsar. To get this SIM card, visitors have to show the first page of their passport and a copy of their e-visa at the immigration counter.
If you’re landing at an airport that doesn’t offer the SIM card service, it is best to buy it from the retailer. There are many carriers to choose from: airtel, Vodafone, idea or Jio. Before purchasing the SIM, check their data plans and tariff. To get the SIM card, you will need to submit a copy of your passport and visa and, for some providers, further details. Upon leaving the store, the card should be activated within one to two hours.
Learn the lingo
There are several languages spoken all over India, and the dialects vary from place to place. It is unrealistic to think that you will learn phrases in every language but picking up a few essential phrases in Hindi will help you in many ways – and it will charm the locals.
Although English is commonly used all over India, there are some necessary words in Hindi that you should know: namaste (hello/goodbye), theek hai (alright or OK), haan/haanji (yes), nahi (no), dhanyavaad/shukriya (thank you), aaj (today), kal (tomorrow), khaana (food), chale jao (go away), kripya (help/please), chalo (let’s go).
Keep the emergency numbers handy
Safety is of paramount importance when you’re travelling solo anywhere in the world so it is wise to keep the relevant emergency numbers handy. Here are some of the important emergency numbers in India:
• Women’s helpline: 181
• All in one emergency number: 112
• Police: 100
• Fire: 101
• Ambulance: 102
• Anti-Stalking Cell (New Delhi): 1091
• Helpline for Women (New Delhi): 1092
• Indian Railway helpline numbers: 182, 138 and 1322. You can also tweet to the Indian Rail Minister for any kind of complaint regarding railways, be it bad food, safety, medical, over pricing, etc.
• Tourist helpline: 1800-11-1363
Don’t reveal too much to strangers
When speaking with strangers it is important not to reveal too many details about yourself, your home life and your family. Do not give out your phone number or your email, home or hotel address. In addition, remember that actions can be misinterpreted – people, especially men, may mistake friendliness for something more. Read each situation carefully.
‘NO’ is your weapon
As a solo female traveller, you should realise that you’ll attract some unwanted attention – even more so because you have different physical characteristics than the locals. Plenty of people will try to get a picture taken with you. There’s no harming having your photo taken with children and families, but say ‘NO’ to single men approaching you for a selfie.
Do not go off the beaten path
With such an incredible landscape, you’re sure to be spoilt for choice in India. Solo female travellers can start off with the Golden Triangle: Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. This is the most popular tourist trail, so beware of touts. Or you can go down south to Kerala, which is calm and less hassled in comparison to North India.
This South Asian country is blessed with a plethora of trekking trails spread from North to South and everywhere in between. Traversing through breathtaking landscapes is an experience in itself. A word of caution, though: go with an organised tour group instead of embarking out alone.
Interact with locals
One ethos of Indian culture is ‘God is Guest’. Indians love to welcome new people into their world. Although, as we’ve advised above, caution is important, make sure you take every chance to speak with local people about their hometown. They’ll help you find some of the hidden local gems that guidebooks and travel blogs wouldn’t even know about.
Trust your gut
This is perhaps the most important tip when going solo in India. If the situation doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts.
Remember the basics
• Pack wisely
• Get copies of your essential documents: your passport, identity card, etc.
• Do not carry many valuables.
• Be sure to get the necessary vaccinations before coming to India.
• Book a guided tour whenever possible.
• Carry a reasonable amount of cash at all times.
• Get travel insurance.
• Stay connected via phone or social media. Always keep a family member or friend aware of your location and travel plans.
• There are several women-safety apps in India such as SmartShehar, VithU and Suspect Registry. Download them.
• Carry a whistle with you.
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