Strategies for women to travel safely in India
THE experience of traveling in India is often described as most amazing, exhilarating, magical, and even life-changing for some.
I love traveling in India and have made 10 trips there, and will be making another trip again soon. Many people have asked me if India is a safe destination as there has been a lot of negative press about solo female travel and women traveling in India.
Concerns about unwanted attention from men, sexual harassment and assault have come up multiple times so much so that some women have opted not to go at all.
There is no easy answer to this. I can’t say that India is a safe or unsafe destination.
However, I believe that the key to amazing experiences in India is to practice safe travel strategies – strategies that are applicable to any destination in the world. It’s all about preparation and being aware of the local culture.
Do your homework
India is not one of those countries where you can just “wing it” and hope you would have an easy time traveling there.
Do your homework, research and spend time learning about the country, its culture, and customs before arriving. Otherwise, you will end up feeling anxious, stressed or unknowingly put yourself in danger.
Take the necessary steps to educate and prepare yourself, for what awaits you there may be considerably different from what you’re used to.
Try not to arrive at your destination at night
Try to avoid late night arrivals but if you can’t, then book at least your first night’s accommodation with a reputable hotel with an airport transfer in advance.
Airport transfers from hotel might be overpriced but this would help you feel confident upon arriving at an unfamiliar place late at night and to avoid touts who often take advantage of those who appear lost or without a plan.
Avoid wandering alone at night
Women should avoid wandering alone at night in India. Try to do as many sightseeing activities during the day and retire to your accommodation when it gets dark.
When traveling on public transportation, opt for seats reserved exclusively for women, the ladies’ carriage or upper berth on trains.
India is still a conservative country which means you should follow the rules by dressing modestly, wearing loose-fitting clothes that cover your shoulders and legs. Avoid wearing tops that scoop too low – showing cleavage is not advisable.
You can wear Indian attire such as a kurta (long loose tunic) or a three-piece suit known as the salwar kameez. They come in a variety of designs and colors, comfortable to wear, and are easily picked up at local shops and department stores.
Watch your body language
Indian society is still very traditional, so genders relate differently there. You can’t relate to the opposite sex in India in the same way that you would in a Western country.
For example, what may seem a friendly word or a simple gesture like touching someone’s arm while talking could be perceived as an invitation. As such, interacting with men in India is a balancing act of being cautious and friendly.
That said, this does not apply to all Indian men as India is modernizing rapidly. I have many great friends who are Indian men and we interact pretty well without any misinterpretation.
However, keep things in perspective and try not to get too friendly especially with tour guides, taxi, and rickshaw drivers or hotel staff.
Trust your instincts and be assertive
Always trust your instincts. Be perceptive of situations. If you sense that someone is harassing you or being overly intrusive, just walk away and don’t bother with politeness. Or sometimes you may have to make a white lie about a husband or boyfriend who is arriving shortly, to protect yourself.
Female travelers must be assertive when traveling in India because it’s more important to hold yourself well than being polite.
Do not be afraid to speak out especially when someone is eve-teasing or cheating you. Make a scene if you have to because social shaming plays a big role in Indian society. Many will come forward to defend you and shame the guy who harassed you.
India can be a safe destination
India can be a safe destination. It’s not as bad as the media might make it out to be. Just respect that things work differently there; there’s no point fighting against the cultural norms but embrace the differences and go with the flow instead.
Come to India with an open mind and heart, and India will open up to you.
And that’s when you will find Incredible India.