India is unlike any other country in the world. Positive, fulfilling energy soars through the air as a ribbon of rainbow, and wraps itself around your soul like a bowtie on a present. This country will leave its mark on you in ways you may have never thought possible. It’s more difficult to travel to as a female, so below is a guide to solo female travel in India.
You need to visit India when you’re ready, after you’ve traveled quite a bit on your own. I do not recommend this country for first time travelers. There’s so much to absorb, experience, and comprehend in this country, which is why you need to be ready.
But when you’re ready, you’ll know.
It’s the most rewarding country you’ll ever travel to
…because it can be so difficult at times. India is where you come to surrender, absorb, and accept what happens around you. It’s where you come with an open heart and an open mind, and leave with a feeling of love, nourishment, and happiness. But there are many reasons why you need to travel to India.
Prepare for a lot of alone time
India is not like Southeast Asia. There is no “paved route,” you won’t have busloads full of backpackers traveling in the same exact direction for weeks on end.
You’ll most likely be one of the only foreigners on the buses and trains. You’ll probably be one of the only foreigners in a town or city, especially if you go to the lesser known destinations (which I highly recommend).
Many tourists that travel to India stick to the Golden Triangle, which is Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra (Taj Mahal). If you’re short on time and want to see a little bit of India, then this is an okay option, however I would not recommend it. There are many more places to visit in India that are more welcoming, beautiful, and magical. I found the Gold Triangle destinations to be full of scammers, touts, and rude locals who only want your money (instead, if you still want to stick to the north, visit places such as Bundi, Udaipur, Jodphur, Varanasi, and Rishikesh)
In order to experience the real India, you’ll have to gather a bit of courage and go to the lesser known destinations. My guide to Kerala, Karnataka, & Goa, as well as my guide to Rajasthan gives plenty of insight as to how you can do just this.
With all of that said, every traveler in India is on a different journey, a different path. Some people only have 2 weeks, while others have years. There is so much to see in this country that not one person will do the exact same route. You’ll stay at guesthouses more than hostels, and there are more chances to interact with locals than any other country you may have been to. Take advantage of this!
My best piece of advice (especially if you want to experience “real India”) is to feel comfortable with traveling completely alone before embarking on a journey to India.
You have to be stern
This means saying and meaning no. You’re going to get a lot of unwanted attention as a solo female in India, you’re going to get approached by men who are going to ask you for rickshaws, to talk, to see their shop, etc. Saying no and walking away is my best piece of advice. Trust your gut. If you ever feel uncomfortable, leave the situation. This is especially true while you’re in India.
There’s a common scam in India where rickshaw drivers will tell you that the road is closed/ there’s a parade/ there’s voting/ the hotel is closed, etc. They will then drive off into the middle of no where and demand upwards of $200 USD or else they will leave you there.
They tend to do this to people they think they can take advantage of. Walk with your head high and your energy loud and proud ladies, and you will be fine.
I also recommend doing a few things:
- ALWAYS follow your location on Google Maps
- If they say any of the above excuses, immediately ask them to pull over and get out of the rickshaw
- When initially getting into the rickshaw, tell them you’re meeting your husband, you’re following them on the map, and that you’ve spoken to the hostel already to tell them of your arrival
Dealing with Harrassment
Unfortunately this can happen ANYWHERE in the world, so this piece of advice holds true for every single country.
I’ve been groped a few times while traveling in India. Men have also made sexual faces and gestures towards me. IF this happens, bring attention to the situation. Yell at them, point your finger, be loud, clear, and stern, and make sure they know what they did is disgusting. Usually, you’ll have people come to your rescue and help you. If he doesn’t stop or continues to harass you, call the police.
Local transportation is a fun and an efficient way of traveling
I love traveling on public transportation in India. It’s one of the greatest ways to meet locals and interact with them during their day to day life. I’ve been told to stay away from public transportation, and that piece of “advice” couldn’t be anymore wrong. Take the buses and trains, they’re experiences you cannot miss out on in India.
Stay in Guesthouses & Homestays
Since many destinations in India don’t have hostels, the next best option is to stay in a guesthouse or homestay. This is an incredible way to interact with a local family and further immerse yourself into their culture.
Book a guesthouse or homestay with booking.com
Surrender to India
There will be so many times where you’ll want to say no to an experience or situation. India is a country where you should say yes (as long as you know you’re going to be safe). In order to experience India, you’re going to need to surrender.
In Bundi, I went to a wedding and wore makeup that made me look like a Bollywood actress. I was dragged around the wedding like a celebrity, taking hundreds upon hundreds of selfies. I let loose and danced in the middle of the dancing circle surrounded by over 200 people, not caring about what I looked like. Because of this surrender, I gained a family status among everyone at the party.
While I was in Goa, I surrendered to India’s beauty and spent every single day for 2 weeks on a deserted beach that tourists have yet to find. In Udaipur, I said yes to having a chai with a little old man who has been a tailor for the past 30 years. I surrendered to the solitude of the desert in Jaisalmer and spent my days with a local learning about the village ways of living. In Orchha, I said yes to a chapati invitation from 2 village girls and spent the day with them and their family. I printed off photographs from them, and their shrieks of pure joy will ring in my heart forever.
I agreed to drink a chai with the owner of a restaurant in Khajuraho, and received delicious homemade dishes in return. In Varanasi, I surrendered to the insanity and chaos of the cycle of life and death that is a part of Indian culture. In Rishikesh, I surrendered to the spiritual energy and have grown in more ways than I could ever imagine.
Getting a SIM card in India should be one of your top priorities when you arrive. Having a SIM card will not only help you tremendously with getting around, but it’s also another thing to have to ensure your safety if you’re ever in trouble. You’ll be able to contact your hostel, call police, follow your location on maps, etc. It’s also great to have in case Uber or Ola (their verison of Uber) is operating in the area you’re staying in.
I use Airtel and it works pretty much everywhere (except Hampi).
Always dress conservatively
You should wear pants or a long skirt and a shirt that covers your shoulders, especially once you are north of Mumbai. In Kerala and Goa, it’s more acceptable to wear shorts and a bikini solely because you are near the beach. Otherwise, cover up, ladies! It will help divert any unwanted attention as well. Even wearing a skirt around your head is a great way to blend in (I actually love this style now!)
You always have a boyfriend or husband, whom you’re about to meet up with
This is another safety tip to avoid any unwanted attention. Solo female travel in India is still a very new concept, and many locals here don’t see females traveling alone, ever. Always say you have a husband or boyfriend, especially while in a rickshaw.
Don’t wander around alone at night
This is an obvious one and something I would recommend for ANY country!
Don’t be afraid to say no to selfies
You’re going to get asked for a lot of selfies. While I usually say yes to families, females, and children, I always say no to single men. You really never know where that photo is going to end up.