Travelling as a woman in India - 5 tips to stay safe

Tuesday, 14 July 2020


It's funny to think that a year ago today I was volunteering as a teacher in India. Staying in a shared house, riding in tuk tuks, and experiencing a lifestyle that was so different from my own. From the outside it probably looked like I was having the best time. My instagram stories showed beautiful temples and picturesque locations, but what they failed to capture was the constant anxiety I was feeling. To say I wasn't ready for India would be a massive understatement. I wrongly believed that because of the darkness of my skin and my indian heratige I would be okay. Besides, I had already been travelling, how was this any different? But, one month in and I had already heard multiple stories of girls being spiked, sexually assaulted and even nearly being raped. I was shocked to find out a week into my stay that my roommate at the time had narrowly escaped one of these encounters. She didn't leave our room for several days and ended up leaving the program early. 

Don't get me wrong,  I knew that India wasn't a place for women, and I fully went in expecting it to be hard. What I think I didn't expect was how hard it would actually be. I never thought that, even wearing fully covering clothes and walking in broad daylight, I would feel highly anxious just going the 10 minutes to the local shop. Nor did I believe that the day after I left my shared house, a man would be found hiding under the same bed I had been sleeping in for weeks. Although at the time I was so reluctant to admit I was having a bad experience (apart from to close family), I feel relieved to look back now and say, 'it was shit'. What I want to clarify here is that my experience was shit, I understand that there are so many people who would dream of the chance to visit India. And it's for this exact reason that I decided to write this post. These are 5 things that I wish I'd known before travelling as a woman in India. 

1. Try not to travel alone 

Whether you decide to travel there by yourself or with a group, I think this tip still applies. If you're leaving the place you're staying it's always good to be with someone else. Not only does this mean you have someone to take your boogie instagram photos, but you also have support just in case something happens. Additionally, you're waay less likely to get hassled if you're in a group. This is especially important if you're travelling on public transport (e.g. overnight buses/trains) or taxis. It's important to note that if you decide to go anywhere by sleeper bus you may choose a double compartment and basically be in bed with a complete stranger! 


2.  Wear conservative clothes

To be honest, this is a bit of a no brainer. As a highly religious country it's customary to wear conservative clothing, and as a tourist it's respectful to honor traditions. However, aside from tradition and respect, you'll find life a lot easier if you blend in. People will stare a lot less and give you less hassle (especially men) if you're wearing fully covering clothing. While this might seem odd to say now, I can garuantee that 2 minutes into your stay you'll understand. Attention is not something you want. Standing out means endless streams of hawkers and, unfortunately, can act as an invitation for people to take advantage of you. If you don't have the appropriate clothing beforehand don't worry! Take one or two long sleeve tops and trousers and buy the rest there. The clothes are usually well made and very cheap. In fact it's also possible to get garments hand made, with the exact material of your choosing, for a very reasonable price.

3. Understand that men might prefer to talk to men

While this may not be the case in big cities and very touristy areas, I found that this was the way in the rural villages. For a portion of my trip I stayed with my granddad in his village just outside of the town Jhind. While there, I noticed that only the women seemed to really try and engage in conversation with me, while the men preferred to talk to my brother and male cousin. As someone who has grown up with very progressive views surrounding gender roles and sexism, I found this aspect of India extremely hard. It wasn't like I was completely ignored, but it was made very clear that my opinions were not ones that would be acknowledged. Now, looking back, I believe that I would've felt more comfortable having known this beforehand and perhaps recognised it as just another part of the culture. 



4. Research, research, research

Knowledge is power, and I think this is particularily relevant in this case. If you're staying in hostels I would definitely advise researching them thoroughly. Same with any buses or trains you might be taking. Look at reviews, and check their policies and locations. Additionally, make sure they have the facilities you need. For example, some will have all female dorms if that would make you feel more comfortable. People are mostly good, and if you know where you're going and what to expect, I'm very sure that you'll be able to experience the best of India with very little worry. One of the main things that goes along with this includes researching ways to get around. This will ensure you're never stuck having to get into dodgy taxis or busses. This doesn't mean meticulously booking every transport, it just means checking in advance the different transport possibilities and their timings. For example, when travelling from Delhi to Jaipur, we were instructed to only use buses and trains that stated they had aircon, as these were usually the ones which frequently carried tourists and are safer for women. 

5. Understand that no matter what you will get hassled

No matter how well you research or how conservative you dress you will get hassled. In a country with so many people, and such a large disparity between rich and poor, being hassled is unavoidable. In many cases people will just be curious and don't mean any harm, but there will be a few where intentions may not be quite so innocent. I think the best thing you can do is just be aware beforehand so you don't get a shock when it happens. 


I think the main takewaway from this is to do your research. Ask about other womens experiences and plan accordingly. I in no way want this post to deter people from visiting India, merely be a guide to help people (escpecially women) stay safe. The country itself has some stunning areas and a culture that would be hard to find anywhere else. There is honestly no place quite like India. 

What's the hardest country you've ever been to? I'd love to know your thoughts below!











27 comments

  1. I've never been to India before largely because I prefer to travel to destinations that feel relatively familiar and safe so this was quite a harrowing read for me. A man found under the bed you'd been sleeping in?? Horrifying!

    These are really helpful tips so thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge. It was a very interesting read! :)

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  2. This was such an insightful read! I've done a lot of solo travelling and I have always wanted to go to India but it's always been the one destination that everyone tells female solo travellers to stay away from. Since then I've always been a bit scared of going - but these tips are really helpful so thank you so much! ❤️

    Amy / littlelionbooks.co.uk

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  3. It's deeply disturbing the amount of abuse women can be subjected to in India, especially as it's the world's biggest democracy and potentially the next big economic super power. A lot more needs to be done to protect women and equality, including a true elimination of the caste system

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    1. This is so true. They say that the caste system is not used anymore, but I vividly remember it being mentioned on a number of occasions while I was there only last year! In fact one teacher at the school used to introduce me by second name to her friends because it indicated my 'cast' level, which I found completely disturbing. I feel exactly the same way you do on this front. Thanks for reading and sharing your opinions.

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  4. This was a really helpful post as I'd love to visit India one day. My dad grew up there, so would love to see the country he lived in!

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  5. This is a really helpful and interesting post to read and one that should be a must-read for any woman thinking of visiting India in the future.

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  6. I went to India and I noticed how heavily male some places were during the day like Delhi.
    I was travelling with a group of guys and a few girls I'd initially asked to join me all declined because they didn't feel safe. It's awful that the problems I experienced (scams and confrontational hawkers) were only a fraction those that women experience.

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  7. All the points are very well joted. Traveling in India is definitely not a cake walk for a Solo woman traveler. But just being a bit cautious could play the trick.

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  8. I've never travelled alone before but I think these are such helpful tips. Safety is obviously the biggest concern as a lone female but common sense is a great help. The worst place for hassle was Tunisia, the men just wouldn't leave me alone, even though my husband was right next to me! Lisa

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  9. So sad that women have to adjust to all these men. It's not just in India. It's everywhere. Thanks for sharing this!

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  10. These are really important points. We need to take steps wherever possible to keep ourselves safe, especially when visiting another country. Every country has it's own culture and understanding that will help us to better identify the steps that we need to take. It would be great if we lived in a world where women would always be safe regardless of where they went, but that's just not realistic. Thank you for the tips.

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  11. This was very informative and interesting! I hope to travel to India one day so this is very helpful. Thank you for sharing!

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  12. This was really interesting to read! I've never been to India, but my brother has. I feel like whenever I do go anywhere I really like to research into it. I went to Cambodia when I was a little younger for around a month and it can be a little bit of a culture shock. Everywhere's different, everywhere has their own culture, and it is super interesting and amazing to see, but it can also make you feel a little anxious. Great advice though, thank you for sharing your experience!

    Chloe xx

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  13. Thank you for sharing this post, lovely! It's great that you share these things with us! I've always wanted to visit India because it's so different from my own country. If I do one day, I'll read your tips one day before the flight! :D Also, you look super cute in those blue pants! <3

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  14. My mother comes from Pakistan, but we live in the United States. Since my father is from New Jersey, I have very pale skin and would not blend into India well at all. That would not stop me from going, however, as I love your points on respecting the culture as much as possible and doing research beforehand.
    Also, if I went with family, I think the trip would be splendid. I have always wanted to go abroad. Thanks so much for sharing this!

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  15. It makes me disappointed in man kind that blog posts like this are even necessary in this world. While I respect all ways of life I have to say it is frustrating, as a woman, that we almost have to place everyone else's feelings over our own. Definitely won't stand in our way of experiencing all the beauty life has to offer. I hope I get to head to India soon, the natural beauty there is absolutely stunning!
    This is a super helpful post, thank you so much. It looks like you truly enjoyed your time there!

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  16. Great tips, if my daughter was old enough to travel on her own and said she was going to India by herself, I’d certainly be concerned. It’s a shame for such a beautiful country, but it’s the reality that she would get hassle. Following all theses steps would definitely make me feel better.

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  17. Thanks for sharing your tips and experiences, I have always wanted to visit India with a travel company or with a group of other ladies which I would feel more confident in then going completely on my own. These tips will make me feel better certainly travel :)

    Nic | Nic's Adventures & Bakes

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  18. Such useful advice -- thanks for sharing!

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  19. This is really interesting, I know a few people who have been to India and they all have great experiences. Thanks for sharing 😊

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  20. Wow, really good to know. I would definitely struggle with a lot of this

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  21. Wow, this is crazy. I would definitely have a hard time dealing with this, but would still love to see India

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  22. Thank you for sharing your tips on this. I don’t currently have any plans to go to India but I’ll certainly keep these in mind if I ever do.

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  23. It is so cool that you were volunteering as a teacher in India! I am sorry that you had a rough experience - I am hoping that as time goes by, more countries are up to speed with treating women... more than fair. It is so important to know the country's dress code. The culture is really interesting. Thanks for sharing all of this information! I haven't really been to many countries outside the US. I remembered Vietnam was already hard as it is!

    Nancy ✨ exquisitely.me

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  24. So interesting! Harassment is so hard, even if it is a global problem, being away from your country you only feel more vulnerable. But I'm glad you got to teach and help other people. I love your approach to culture and your beautiful pictures <3

    Lindifique

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  25. India has always been one of the countries that I want to visit but I've heard so many stories that I'm a bit scared of visiting the country.
    Maybe I'll have the chance one day.
    Thank you for sharing this post!

    INXSKY | Gold Stackable Rings

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  26. Nice post.

    https://swarnaz.com/

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