POST UPDATED ON 18 MAY 2018
If you are reading this article I am assuming that you are a woman traveler who is interested in exploring India but is also wondering how she can have a great trip without compromising on personal safety.
Maybe you have read about women travelers who have had bad experiences in India, or maybe you heard that India is an unsafe destination for women.
As an Indian woman living in India and as a travel professional who has to travel a lot, I can tell you with absolute honesty: India is NOT an unsafe destination for women or anyone, for that matter.
Certainly, some women travelers have had unpleasant experiences in India. At the same so many more had amazing experiences and they even keep coming back. Personal safety is probably the #1 concern for women travelers around the world, not just in India. All travelers, and women more so, need to take basic precautions to ensure a smooth trip in every manner.
India is a friendly and hospitable country. Every traveler I met remarked that they never felt unsafe or threatened while in India.
Still, it is culturally and socially complex and women should be well prepared before making the trip.
If you are traveling pre-booked through an agent, then you will find yourself always looked after without any worries about safety. However, if you are traveling on your own as a solo woman or with women companions it is even more important to do your homework. Even women in mixed groups will find it useful to do so. Check out my article “7 reasons to travel pre-booked and have a perfect holiday to India”. If you need any help with this feel free to contact me.
So, go ahead and read my top tips and recommendations on how women travelers can enjoy the ideal tour through India.
1.Plan your trip in advance.
Incase you are not traveling pre-booked, I suggest you plan your itinerary. I say this because then you will have the opportunity to plan your transport, your local tours, accommodation and everything else, thereby ensuring you know exactly where you are going and what you are doing. This means you will not find yourself in any place, feeling lost and vulnerable or dependent on others for help.
2. Get accommodation in safe localities
Even if it means spending more, book yourself in safe hotels in safe localities. There is so much information available online so do your research well. There are many excellent hotels of all categories (but stick to 3 star an above), guest houses run by families, homestays, Airbnb, Zostel etc. You don’t want to have a room in a shady neighbourhood dominated by men.
3. Read up on Indian culture
I strongly recommend reading as much as you can on India. If you can inform yourself about Indian customs, dressing culture, women-to-women and women-to-men interactions, etc. it will make life much easier for you once you arrive in India. I am mentioning a lot of these here in this article. I feel information and knowledge is power, and it will give you the confidence to travel in India without being vulnerable.
4. Dress conservatively
Women in dress in a very modest manner and skin show is considered disrespectful and attracts unwanted attention. But what is probably worse, people will not respect you. Indian society is very class based and better dressed people are associated with better education and backgrounds and therefore, get more respect.
Clothes that reveal legs and midriff should be avoided, as should backless, or tank-tops. Regular, good ol’ t-shirts are perfect and non-controversial. Comfortable travel pants or jeans are ideal and inconspicuous. If you are wearing long dresses, then avoid the ones that have long slits that expose your thighs. Modern Indian women in big cities do wear shorts for leisure at home or in posh neighbourhoods, but you won’t find them wearing shorts to go out to see places of tourist interest or to restaurants.
When visiting religious sites, small towns and villages you need to be even more conscious of how you are dressed. Carry a scarf incase you need to cover your head. Modest is always good.
If you are planning to spend a long duration in India, it’s even better to ‘go native’. Get yourself a couple of kurtas and salwar-kurta sets with a scarf called a dupatta. These are wonderfully comfortable, fun, pretty, help you blend in easily and look respectable. You can buy these in many different qualities and budgets once you arrive, in local markets.
6. Understand the way men and women interact India
As a woman traveler it is good to understand that there are big cultural differences in how men and women interact in India as compared to in the West. Even though the country is changing and modernizing at a rapid pace, especially in cities, there are things to be aware of as a woman.
For example, it is not normal or acceptable for men to try an engage unknown women in conversation in public places. So, when they walk up to you and start chatting or ask to take selfies with you, you should know that they are really crossing a social and cultural line. Don’t encourage this. They would never attempt this with Indian women because they know it would invite an angry reaction.
In India, fairly harmless gestures like a smile, eye-contact, a hand shake and engaging in a little conversation from your side will be perceived as flirting or even sexual availability.
So, what do you do if you don’t want to create that impression and invite unwanted attention? Exactly what the Indian women do. Ignore them. If that doesn’t work, then firmly let them know you would not like to be disturbed. Don’t hesitate to speak loudly and get the attention of other people if this persists. Shaming publicly works well.
Now, I am not painting all Indian men with the same brush. Not at all. I have many male friends who are super safe and trustworthy. But as a western woman you should be aware of these cultural differences and mindsets. The men you will encounter will be at tourist sites and on streets. Most of them would have had almost no interaction with western women unlike well-educated Indian men who have had adequate exposure to western culture and know how to correctly interact with western women. I’m sorry if this talk of class sounds awful, but class and education play a big role in Indian society and social behaviour.
7. Don’t feel obliged to be super nice just because you are a guest in the country.
Many travelers are afraid to offend local people even if they are in an uncomfortable situation.
Here is an example: A random man walks up to you while you are at a monument and starts chatting with you. You don’t want to appear rude, especially because you are a visitor in India. So, you smile and get drawn into a conversation with him even though you would like to be left alone.
Here is another example: People (usually men) want to take ‘selfies’ with you. You don’t want to offend them, so you oblige. As soon as one does this, more will keep asking you for photos, then one will put his arm around your shoulder for the photo. This is a situation you don’t want but are too nice to avoid.
Don’t worry about not being nice or feel bad about it. Just ignore or say a firm ‘no’. You won’t be hurting any sentiments.
I’m not suggesting you should be rude or uptight while in India. You will be approached by women and families with children too out of curiosity and for photos. People also just want to interact with you (just like tourists want to with Indians) and that is harmless. But typically, men should not be encouraged.
8. Avoid being out late in the evening.
Incase you are not traveling pre-booked, plan your days, especially travel days, so that you are not out traveling after dark. If you are returning after dark, take radio cabs like Ola or Uber as they are GPS tracked. Travel in the day time as much as possible. If you are in a bus on a long journey, you can also request the driver to change your seat next to another woman passenger. If you are riding the metro trains in cities like Delhi, sit in the first coach which is reserved for women.
If your hotel offers an airport/railway station transfer take that so you know are going to the right place. Or take the pre-paid taxis.
In cities women do go out for movies and parties but return with a male companion or in a group of friends. Rarely will a woman take public transport late in the night.
9. Use your common sense, trust your gut
I think this is the most important one. Women are gifted with great instinct but unfortunately often ignore it. If there is something you are even slightly uncomfortable about, don’t go ahead with it. If something can be ignored and prevented from escalating, do just that.
Ofcourse it is important to not be paranoid. Then you have ruined your trip even before you started it.
Use your common sense, be aware of your surroundings, get your information from correct sources, and not blindly trust just everything that someone tells you, don’t share personal details or your travel plan with strangers. Try to remain in areas where you see other women and families.
You will come across smiling faces, helpful people and wonderful hospitality that you will never forget.
As a woman traveler, have you traveled to India? If so what was your experience like? Do you have any tips to share. You may also consider joining our Facebook Group to share tips and recommendations.
Read more travel tips for women travelers in India: