Should Women Travel to India Alone?

A Kind of guest post By Max’s wife:

As an avid traveler and an independent woman, I have always thought that there’s no place on this earth that is so strange and foreboding that I might have to skip visiting it at one point or another.

From the lush French countryside, to the mysterious and historically-rich China, to the jungles of the Amazon, and even to the mountains of Machu Picchu, I have visited all of these places by myself, and though these were all unfamiliar territory to me, I have enjoyed every minute of my past trips. So far, the worst that has happened to me was getting an upset stomach from eating questionable-looking brie, getting lost in the alleyways of Beijing, and going into a mild panic attack when I had some difficulty breathing due to the high altitudes of the mountains.

Compared to the stories of other travelers, what I experienced were minor inconveniences, while other women had some experiences that were truly disturbing, and sometimes I wonder if traveling alone is such a good thing nowadays.

traveling alone
Travel alone to India

One news report that haunts me is that of the Danish traveler who was attacked, mugged and raped at knife point in New Delhi last year. This was not the only documented case of assault on foreign women in India that I have heard of. In fact, there are numerous cases that have been widely reported in the media, not only of assault on female tourists but on the women of India as well. I have always wanted to go and visit India, but fear for my safety and well-being makes me want to think twice about going solo. Friends have urged me to cross out India on my bucket list, telling me that it’s better to be safe than sorry. In fact, many women have expressed concerns about traveling there, and many more have opted not to go at all.

Upon reading up on India’s culture and talking to my Indian friends to know more about how women are treated there, I have come to the conclusion that the country has a long way to go when it comes to upholding women’s rights and protecting them from being abused. I am aware of the various threats facing Indian women and foreign visitors alike—staring, groping, stalking, and more seriously, rape. With such threats hanging over a female traveler’s head, it does make me wonder if India is worth the worry and the hassle.

But even in this very patriarchal country, there still is evidence of kindness from local men. There was one fellow traveler’s fond recollections of the kind man who was running the hostel where she stayed, who boiled her pack of ramen noodles and got medicine for her when she had an upset stomach after a whole day of eating nothing but spicy food. There were also the men who defended a good friend of mine who was groped in New Delhi.

After getting over my initial fears, I started to wonder if people were forming prejudices based on the bad things that have happened and the men who have committed these crimes. Is it really fair to form an opinion that stems only from the negative aspects of a nation? And what about those people who are perfectly innocent and had nothing to do with it? I’m sure that though there are some men who are capable of doing such crimes against women in India, but there are also men who are respectful of women and who would not even dare to think of doing such things.

Still, to be on the extremes of either side will not do anybody any good in life. Be too cautious, and you end up missing out on life’s greatest adventures. Be too carefree, and you run the risk of getting into trouble. As a female tourist, perhaps the best thing to do when traveling alone would be to use common sense, trust one’s instinct, be polite, find the good in others, but at the same time, be wary of those who could cause harm. Though it seems quite a balancing act, it can be done. Here are some tips for women who are planning to travel alone in India.

1. Do your homework.

As you would for any destination, spend time learning about India and its customs before arriving. Take the necessary steps to be prepared, and expect that what is actually there will greatly differ from your expectations and the things that you are used to back at home. It’s important to be physically and mentally prepared for this trip. Plan your itinerary wisely, and avoid visiting areas where drug crimes are rampant.

2. Avoid late night arrivals.

If possible, schedule a flight that will enable you to arrive in the morning or afternoon. Avoid going out at late hours of the evening or in the wee hours of the morning. Before heading to your hotel to rest for the night, check if there’s anything that you might need and buy them before it gets dark. There’s no sense dashing off for a quick trip to the convenience store just because you have a hankering for chips. Anticipate what you’ll need, get them, and then stay indoors at night.

If it can’t be avoided, don’t travel by foot at night. It’s safer to opt for pre-paid taxis. Note the license plate on the taxi and make a call on your cell phone (it’s up to you if you want to make a real call or a staged call) and state the plate number and destination within earshot of the driver.

3. Dress conservatively.

wear appropriate dress
Wear kurta when traveling around India

India is a conservative country, so to avoid drawing unnecessary attention, leave the shorts, tank tops and skimpy attire at home and dress conservatively. You could purchase a kurta, which is a long, loose tunic, and this is always appropriate to wear. Though this will not guarantee your safety, being modest in dress will minimize unwanted advances.

4. Exercise caution when interacting with strangers.

Some men in India may misconstrue your friendliness as overtures for something more than what you are willing to offer. While it’s true that interacting with locals is one of the best parts of traveling, it’s wise to always be on guard. Never reveal too much information about yourself, especially about places where you’ll be staying.

5. On train journeys, book an upper compartment.

taking the train
Taking the train

If you’re traveling by train, always book the upper compartment so that you will avoid being groped while you’re sleeping. Traveling in two or three tiered air-conditioned berths is safer than traveling in the general compartments.

6. Keep family and friends in the loop about your travel plans.

Always keep your loved ones updated about your whereabouts and travel plans. They have to be able to track you down and help you in case trouble arises, so make sure that you have a fully-charged cell phone with credits on your person at all times.

7. Be assertive.

Put up a self-assured or confident front. Your demeanor may determine how people perceive you and the attitude they adopt towards you. The vibe that people need to get from you is that you are a strong woman who is capable of taking care of herself and being defensive if the situation calls for it. Strong women can cause people to back off because confident and outspoken ladies intimidate them. Learn how to say no in a firm manner, because sometimes, saying a polite “no, thank you” will get you nowhere. Be firm, and say no with a sharp, almost brusque manner to get pushy people to leave you alone.

It is impossible and unfair to stereotype a nation of one billion people, and bad experiences will be hard to avoid. But by refusing to accept these occurrences as the norm, learning to guard yourself against harm, and choosing to focus on the positive will make your trip to India a memorable one. Keep yourself open to positive experiences, and stay safe.

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