India is one of the places on this earth whose culture is truly captivating. It’s so unique and complex that you often can’t compare it to anything else. It’s a place that unless you experience it for yourself, immerse yourself into this great land, it’s often hard to grasp any more than India’s outer layers. Beneath the veil lies beautiful landscapes, rich history, evocative culture and so much more.
Lifting that veil however, takes much courage, especially as a solo female traveller. India’s outer layers consist of many embellished folk tales, stereotypes and blanket accusations about a country subdued by poverty, inequality, pollution and violence.
Sure, there are still parts of India that do face these issues, but where in the world doesn’t? I can assure you that India is not all the stereotypes that surround it. After all, how can we paint one picture of a country with a population of greater than 1 billion people?
Let me tell you about my experience as a solo female traveller in India. I’ll just come out and say that in some ways it was challenging. Being a solo female in India is not as easy as being a solo female traveller in other Asian countries, and that’s a fact.
Firstly, people stare, they stare a lot. They stare if you’re covered from head to toe and they’ll stare if you’re showing a bit of leg. For me, that was one of the major challenges, because of course you start to wonder. Are they staring at me because I look foreign or are they staring at me because I am a woman? What if staring leads to provocation? Am I vulnerable? These are the questions that go through your mind, and questions that you probably would never ask yourself in a country like Thailand for example.
What’s important to understand is that roughly 65% of Indians still reside in rural areas. They are far from the modern world we live in. Caste systems and strong family values still govern much of their traditions. Go to Mumbai or Delhi however, and time travel about 50 years into the future, with many embracing modern practices, including strong women’s rights activism and equality amongst all. In these places you’re less likely to feel as though you’re the centre of attention and more likely to feel like a face in the crowd, but of course as with any major city, you’ll still have to bring your A game when it comes to safety.
So, going back to my point, you can’t paint India with one brush. Therefore the fear instilled in travelling India as a solo female cannot entirely be justified. The opportunity to travel India should be embraced if you are to truly experience this world for what it is.
Here are my 7 tips for travelling India as a solo female. They worked for me and now I want to share them with you, my fellow wanderlusters.
Buy a SIM card
Buying a SIM card is easy in India, especially at airports across the country. For as little as $10 you can get yourself a few gigabytes of data and unlimited calls for 30 days with reputable providers including Airtel and Vodafone. The benefits of having a SIM include -
- Knowing where you are at all times with Google Maps
- Being able to make a call incase you get stuck or are in danger
- Being able to look up anything you need, from nearest doctors to best food in town
- Being able to chat with your friends and connect with others at all times
- Avoiding excess charges when you have to make a call home and having the opportunity to use WhatsApp any time
Stay in Hostels
You’d be surprised by the number of high quality hostels located all throughout India. These places are where you can meet fellow travellers, educate yourself about the happenings of a city and take refuge from the chaos that often lies on the doorsteps of busy cities like Mumbai & New Delhi. Check out Zostel, India’s first chain of backpackers' hostels, or browse through Hostelworld for a place nearest to you.
Join travel groups
A friend of mine who runs a few of the backpacker Facebook groups recently created one group solely for female backpackers in India and surrounding regions. I suggest before you travel you get yourself onto this group. It’s a wonderful community of support for females, and solo females, travelling through India. Ask questions or use the site to look for previous threads and connect with other female travellers who may be travelling to the region, or have ventured there before. There is also another informative group that is available to both males and females titled Backpacking India Nepal Sri Lanka Maldives. Check out this group as well. It's another community where you can find a lot of insightful information from both travellers and locals.
Yes it’s a free world and 2017 but the fact is that in some places it’s just not ideal to be walking around in a pair of short shorts and a singlet. Dress in true Indian backpacker style and opt for some harem pants and a t-shirt instead. You’ll avoid a lot of unwanted attention and almost blend in with the travelling crowd. In some touristy places, such as the more popular beaches in Goa, it is OK to wear a bikini on the beach, but be mindful about where you are and cover up when walking back through town.
Be open to meeting other travellers
Sometimes being a solo traveller means you can enjoy your downtime and disconnect, but other times it's the chance to meet like-minded individuals who share your values and can speak with you all night long about the places you've been and the experiences you've had. I think India attracts a certain kind of traveller and if you're open to it you can often associate with many of the travellers you meet. By connecting with other travellers I found that I was rarely alone in India, and to top it off I made some incredible friends.
Put safety first
One of the most important things about travelling India, and travelling anywhere, is to put safety first. If you're going to be reckless and carefree then India might not be the best place to do this. India is a place where you should always be aware of your surroundings. If you're going out at night always go in a group. If you feel suspicious about something trust your instincts and remove yourself from the situation. If you're in a crowded place keep an eye on your belongings. It's not rocket science, just standard precaution. Staying safe will ensure that your trip to India will be a memorable one and not one that you want to forget.
Don’t be afraid
I think the most important thing is to not let fear get in the way of your life experiences. If you really want to experience India don't be afraid of its stereotypes and the stories you hear in the media. Instead, take in all that I mentioned in this post and the positive experiences of the thousands of solo females who have travelled India before you and embrace everything that this incredible country has to offer. Despite the challenges India faces, it truly is a beautiful place and a journey worth embarking on as a solo female traveller.