Traveling solo to India can be the ultimate adventure for any wanderlust-y young woman. However, as fascinating as this solo trip may sound, it is also terrifying in equal measure for many of my female friends in the west and elsewhere outside India.
As someone who’s lived in this country for over 20 years and has many solo traveling experiences here to boot, here are my 16 tips to making the most of your time in India.
1. Get an Indian SIM card as soon as possible
As a solo female traveler, staying connected all the time is one of the wisest safety measures you can take. Make sure your phone is SIM-lock free before you come down to India. To get a SIM card all you need is your original passport, passport photocopy, visa copy, local address proof, and a passport photo. Usually, the SIM card is activated within a few hours. Put your emergency contacts on speed dial and use Google Maps wherever you can. The most popular network provider companies in India are Airtel, Vodaphone, Idea and Jio.
2. Blend In
When in India, do as the Indians do. But if you ask me what do the Indians do and what they are like, the answer won’t come easy. Indian cities and towns are as different as chalk and cheese. In fact, we Indians ourselves experience culture shock as we move from one state to another.
Blending in could be as simple as observing the local girls and incorporating their mannerisms, and clothing for yourself.
3. Ignoring People Is Not Rude
At certain places, hawkers and rickshaw/cab drivers of all shapes and sizes may come and try to pester you to buy their goods or services. It’s not a time for polite acknowledgment. As cold as it may seem back home, in India you just move away without the need to say anything or to nod at them.
4. Pick up a Few Hindi words
It’s always helpful if you can pepper up your conversations with a few local words. The most brilliant word that you can use here is the Hindi word ‘bhaiya’ which means ‘brother’ to address the local guys, vendors, drivers, shopkeepers etc. In most of North India, you can use Hindi. If you are traveling to any of the 5 Southern states – Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra, Telangana, Kerela, pick up some basics in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu (for both Andhra and Telangana) or Malayalam respectively. Éach of these languages is quite different from another. (And that should not be surprising- we speak over a 2000 different languages in India).
5. Clothes make a lot of difference
Try to incorporate comfy Indian clothing in your daily outfits. You can wear a salwar kurta – where kurta is a tunic top while salwar is loose fitting trousers. Salwar kurta is usually worn with a dupatta or a long scarf. You can also wear kurtas and kurtis (shorter tunics) over your regular jeans or trousers. In any case, carry a few tunic tops for your India trip.
If a guy asks you out for a drink from the get-go of meeting you or keeps insisting on getting drunk together, it’s a sign for alarm bells to ring. Though the Indian culture has progressed a lot but still women who drink can be easily viewed as “easy” here (though this may not be the case in progressive big cities like Bangalore and Mumbai).
7. Listen to the Gut Feeling
Some things and some people just don’t feel right. There’s always a thin line between crazy-good, unplanned adventure and getting yourself in some serious danger. Follow your intuition as much as possible.
8. Simple Tricks to Make Friends
Most Indians are big suckers for a foreigner appreciating their culture and tradition. A few words of praise will take you a long way in striking conversations, and to make friends here.
You can also keep yourself updated on cricket and Bollywood, the two major Indian obsessions that will ensure you have lots to talk over with anyone here.
9. If you’re feeling unsafe…
-> Make a scene (helps when there are people around)
-> Dial 100 (Indian police number) or women helpline numbers.
-> Befriend a local family and tag along with them
-> Take shelter in the nearest temple or in any religious place of worship.
10. Dealing with Indian Men
I am not going to generalize the men here but I’m pretty sure you’ve heard enough horror stories about them on your own. The funny thing is that a good number of them here have an equally skewed perception of foreign ladies, especially westerners, with many of them thinking of white women as some kind of nymphomaniacs.
Since you can never know in the first instance what kind of Indian man you’re dealing with, it’s best to go slow, appear as modest as possible and open up slowly to them.
When you’re traveling between Indian cities, try to take domestic flights as much as possible. If you plan in advance, these domestic flights will not just be cheaper and faster but also a much safer mode of travel. If you need to travel by train always book the 1st class compartment. And no matter how broke you are or adventurous you’re feeling, never ever take the sleeper compartment, especially in the North and North-West India. For inter-city buses, take the Volvo AC ones for which you’d generally have to book at least a week before.
12. Connecting With Locals
One of the best parts about traveling is getting to meet interesting new people and with the right kind of mindset, I am pretty sure you’d meet lots of cool folks here. However, be careful about revealing too much information about yourself in the first go – especially the fact that you’re traveling alone.
13. Visiting Temples
As a birthplace of 4 different religions (Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism), religion is literally like an opium in India so remember to follow all the rules of any religious site you visit. Most Indian temples require you to remove your footwear at the entrance and some of them require you to cover your head with a scarf or a dupatta. Photography and videography may be restricted in a few religious places so be considerate to that.
Indian food is known to be spicy but there are certain dishes you can eat without reaching for a glass of water in panic. Here are a few options:
-> Idlis, and Plain Dosas with coconut chutney
-> Khichdi – It is lightly spiced rice cooked together with lentils. Rich in proteins and carbohydrates.
-> Upma – A thick porridge made of rice flour or semolina, it makes for a good, light breakfast.
-> Rotis with cream and sugar – Rotis are Indian bread made of wheat and sometimes with few other grains like pearl millet, finger millet or sorghum.
-> Parathas with curd – Parathas are rotis stuffed with a variety of things like boiled potatoes, cheese, spinach etc.
Change of water can upset the best of tummies! Ensure that you only drink bottled water or carry a steripen to sterilize your own water. Before buying bottled water, make sure it comes in a sealed bottle and the cap has not been tampered with.
16. Late Nights
Most Indian cities and towns close down completely by 12 AM or max by 1 AM. In fact, India’s so-called pub city, Bengaluru (Bangalore) has restrictions to close all the watering holes, restaurants and public places by 1 AM. So late nights, in general, are not encouraged here for the most part. If you love the nightlife, keep in mind the Indian city or town you’re in.
For example, while you may be easily able to get away with traveling alone late in the night in Mumbai, the same cannot be said for India’s capital, New Delhi.
- Refuse to take any auto-rickshaw or cab where the driver’s friend comes along.
- Carry a pepper spray
- Keep a copy of your driver’s license to show as identity proof while keeping your passport stacked away safely.
- Try not to make any unnecessary display of wealth – for example, opening your MacBook in the middle of a dusty bus ride
- Call for help – make a scene if you sense something wrong or anythig untoward happens.
- Try not to appear alone even when traveling solo – keep busy on your phone. Pretend to keep talking on the phone if need be.
If you have any more tips or suggestions to add for the benefit of our community, let us know in the comments below! 🙂