“Are you sure you’ll be okay traveling alone there?”
“But, you’re not afraid?”
“I heard that the men stare at you, I would be so uncomfortable.”
“You’re so brave for going to India alone.”
“They hate foreigners there.”
“Never go anywhere alone. I’m serious, it isn’t safe.”
This is just some of what I heard before I left on my seven-week solo trip to India, but it isn’t necessarily something new for me. Having traveled to both Southeast Asia and Africa on my own, I was used to hearing statements like this from people in my life and strangers. Luckily, they don’t usually come from the people who I am closest to, as they choose to support my decisions instead of judging them. Even if they may be thinking some of what’s listed above, they never say it to me.
Either way, I have never let these statements get to me or get in the way of my travels. I’ve always found that the reality of life around the world is much different than what’s projected in the media and on our television screens. Travel has taught me that people all around the world, no matter how different we may be from each other, are essentially all the same. Our basic needs and desires are the same, we just happen to live in different places, which dictate the way we live our daily lives and affect our every day realities.
Having traveled to twenty-eight countries across six continents, I have never felt in danger while traveling. But people who are fearful like to project their fears upon those of us who are fearless enough to go out there and see the world. Don’t let their fears and close-minded statements prevent you from living your dream of travel, especially when it comes to visiting India.
So the question remains, is India safe for solo female travelers? My answer is yes, at least based on my experiences and those of the women I met. I never once felt threatened or in danger, and this comes from someone who arrived in Delhi at 10pm and got into a taxi with a seven hour drive ahead. Aside from the crazy driving, which you can find in many other countries around the world, I didn’t feel unsafe once.
India is full of female solo travelers, and I didn’t witness or experience a single incident that made me question my travels there. So, as with travel anywhere, listen to your gut feeling and drown out the opinions around you, especially those in the media. Do what’s best for you. For now, here’s a little advice on understanding travel in India a bit better.
People will stare, but it’s not scary.
People will stare at you, but it’s not scary or uncomfortable. I know that I look very different than people in India, even though when asked where I was from, I would often say, “India, can’t you tell?” Of course, that invited immediate laughter, but I’d try to further convince them by listing all of my favorite Indian songs and breaking out my Bollywood dancing skills.
The reality is that with my light skin, hair, and eye color, plus freckles, I stuck out. So yes, people stared at me, but it wasn’t the first time I had this experience, so it wasn’t frightening because I knew it was out of curiosity. When I noticed I was being stared at, I smiled, and once the people saw that, they usually smiled back and I knew that they were just interested. Even if they didn’t smile back, nothing about their stares were creepy or full of ill intent, they were clearly just curious.
People will want to take photos with you.
While traveling through India, you easily get a taste of what it would be like to be a celebrity. No matter where you go, people will approach you and ask for a photo. Sometimes, it is just you alone, but usually, they’ll hop right in. Often it’s prefaced with a few questions: “Where are you from? What is your name? How do you like India?” These were the times I really didn’t mind taking a photo because I was able to at least have a conversation with some locals first.
At the Hanuman Temple in Hampi, a family even handed me their child for a photo. I felt a bit like a character in Disney World, but it was harmless and all in good fun. You can absolutely say no if you want to, and I did a few times, but sometimes I took it as an opportunity to meet some new people.
Trust your gut
If a situation makes you uncomfortable, trust your gut. In Mysore, an older man was persistent in trying to get my friend, Marisa, and me to go to the markets with him. No matter how much we told him no, he kept making up new excuses to places he wanted to take us.
We broke away from him by being as persistent as he was, but something about him just felt off, and we could tell he didn’t have good intentions. It angered me that I even let it get as far as it did. Still, I never felt in danger, just annoyed. Where he wanted to take us, we’ll never know, but later that day, we learned from one of the shop keepers that there are people who try to trick foreigners into coming to the market, but take them elsewhere where they can scam them. This can happen anywhere, but if you trust your gut, you’ll always make the right decision.
Locals are looking out for you.
One Sunday in Rishikesh, two of my friends realized they were being followed while they walked on the Ganga. It turned out that the man was drunk, and they turned around and yelled at him, but that didn’t make him stop. What did make him stop were a few men nearby who realized the girls were being followed. They saw the situation from where they were and went over to take matters into their own hands, beating the man up and scaring him away.
Apparently, this is a normal occurrence, as one of my friends from India informed me. She said that she had a similar incident with a group of guys taking her photo. A group of guys heard her tell them to stop and when they didn’t, they went over and smashed their phones. It was comforting to know that people will watch out for you if they sense you’re in any danger.
Just as with anywhere, we have to be safe, trust ourselves, and feel comfortable in whatever environment we are staying in. If something feels off, regardless of if it is or not, make the decision and change your plans. But, that’s advice for travelers no matter where in the world they chose to roam. For me, I felt more safe in parts of India than I do when I am at home.