Can Females Travel India Alone?

10440184_10205782923705516_5438790698738773471_nFemale solo travel is both difficult and rewarding. In such a rich, traditional culture as India, I faced a new set of challenges in every situation. Whether it was dripping sweat beneath my long salwar kameez or having men snap photos of me without asking, I often felt uncomfortable, uneasy, and unsafe. I was blown away by India’s beauty, generous locals, and stunning range of scenery—but I wouldn’t recommend going there alone.

Can you travel India alone?
Well, of course you can. Before trekking off to India, countless travel bloggers (such as Hippie in Heels) told me Yes! I can travel India alone! Unfortunately, they never told me if I should – whether or not the day-to-day life in India would be exhausting or exhilarating; whether or not the risks were worth the reward.

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Things don’t work the same way in developing nations. Buses don’t show up, descriptions don’t meet reality, and people are extremely aggressive (they’re simply trying to live). With the help of my Indian friends, I made it through electrical outages, up hilltop temples, to wedding receptions, and across rivers unscathed. I have a vault of amazing memories and some not-so-great-ones. It definitely is possible to travel India as a woman alone. But I would never, ever, ever recommend it.

Males have much more freedom in countries such as India. As a woman, even showing my ankles, wearing a floor-length dress without tights beneath, or simply looking a male in the eye can be interpreted as a come on. I was constantly hassled, haggled with, and stared at. Certainly, the culture around me was vivid and captivating and new, but it was almost impossible to enjoy it when I felt incessantly bombarded.
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One thing I didn’t think about was how much I—a 6’0 white girl—would stand out. Throughout my month in India, I didn’t see more than ten white people. While my Indian friends were well-versed in Western ways, the majority of what uneducated people in India (ie. the shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and impoverished population I was interacting with on a daily basis) know about Caucasians is through Hollywood. I can’t really blame them for having negative views of the rich white girl who claims to be a broke backpacker/student, but I don’t have to pretend I felt comfortable in the sexually repressed, male-dominated culture, where somehow my legs become “tempting, sexual objects” in the relentless 40 degree heat.

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I met plenty of Indian women who thought I was crazy for travelling their own country alone. I often agreed with them. I found myself holding my breath, checking my driver’s route on Google maps, and hovering my finger over my suddenly-precious pepper spray. But still, I found time to be amazed; time to jump into the sea, time to laugh and join in temple singing. Sometimes, I even felt safer because of the colour of my skin—the tourism industry is desperate to change the negative image of India. The opinion that I, a foreigner, would be considered more valuable then one of their own women, is one of the country’s many tragedies.

I can’t tell you whether or not you should go to India alone, but I can tell you my experience, and let you make your own decision. While I traversed the country through rail, road, and sky, I posted a few words or photos every day at onemonthinindia.tumblr.com for you to ruminate on.

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I think once you get past the magic of India—the flashy colours, the distracting vendors, the constant intense attention—you see it for what it really is: poor. India is rich in culture, but the country is starving. I saw children with ribs like concentration camp victims walk through traffic selling glowsticks. Transvestites clap in the trains next to crawling orphans, all of them touching their fingers to their mouth, pleading for their next meal. Cycle rickshaw drivers, crazed with heat exhaustion, argue an extra 20 rupees for a 2 hour ride. That’s 40 cents, and still not enough to buy a CocaCola. Never in my life have I not been able to afford a CocaCola. I probably never will.

The truth is, there is no “real” India. All I have are my experiences. To me, India is the local politician celebrating his victory with firecrackers in the streets of Hampi. It’s the unreal blue in the eyes of the man that let me haggle him down for an elephant tapestry his wife made. It’s the woman on the train who offered me homemade cakes, even though she couldn’t speak a word of English. It’s the monks in the monkey temple rattling bells in worship to an idol made of tinfoil. It’s the man on the white horse surrounded by a band, proposing in the streets of Jaipur. It’s the auto rickshaw driver who dropped me off at Agra Cannt, looked in my eyes, and said “Next time you’re here, I’m dead.”

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I will never again call myself a broke backpacker. I am a millionaire. I have endless opportunities, thousands of choices, hundreds of reasons and ways and places to live, rather than just survive. India challenged my outlook. India exhausted my perspective. India is incredible, and I want to go back. But next time, I am not going alone.

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17 thoughts on “Can Females Travel India Alone?

  1. Wow, ive been hearing a lot of different ideas about solo travel in India lately.. most trying to make it seem like the easiest experience ever. Thanks for the honesty, loved your writing 🙂

  2. Very interesting! May I ask what cities you visited? I want to visit India, as my city has a high South Asian population and they always tell me how fun and beautiful their country is. It’s on my travel itinerary for now, but this article is making me question if I should go there alone or go without knowing anyone who lives in the city.

    • Hey!
      I flew into Mumbai where my friends driver picked me up – I would highly recommend this; after such long flights it’s easy to be disorientated and end up getting scammed! I spent 12 days in Mumbai before going to Goa, Hampi, Bangalore, Agra, Jaipur, and Udaipur.
      I skipped Delhi because every traveller I had met told me Delhi was their worst experience.
      Hampi was my best experience, in part because I met two males to travel with, which made me feel a lot safer.
      Feel free to read my everyday account of life as a foreign female in India at onemonthinindia.tumblr.com
      🙂

  3. Pingback: Is Traveling to India Dangerous? - Hippie in Heels

  4. As an Indian girl I completely agree with this article. India is a beautiful place to explore. But India is definitely not a safe place for women. Yes there are many places and people who will welcome and respect you. But the rest of them, the majority, won’t be the same. If you’re coming to India for the first time, don’t come alone. Bring a friend, some pepper spray, and self defence skills.

    • I was nervous that my Indian friends might take this article the wrong way – I still love them, of course! I brought pepper spray and self-defense skills. Luckily I didn’t have to use them, but they made me feel a bit safer. Thank you for inputting your valuable opinion.

  5. Your article brought tears to my eyes when you describe the poverty. I recently spent 4 months backpacking India with my boyfriend (turned fiance, on the mountains of Dharamsala!). I agree with you– it’s a wonderful, spiritual country that will challenge you to the core. I’m glad to read you caution women from traveling alone. I 100% agree, especially (in my experience) in the north. Even traveling with a male, I felt uncomfortable at times, and was even groped in the middle of the night on the train! While I think the vast majority of people have positive experiences, I did hear the occasional terrible experience. It’s good to understand the risk and take precautions, even if that means bringing along a friend.

  6. Great post! You write so well, too. You’re not the only person who has said that they wouldn’t travel to India alone as a solo female, and I’m not sure I’d enjoy it as a solo traveller. It took enough guts for me to go to Asia alone, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to tackle India just yet. Thanks for sharing your experience. I look forward to more!

    • Thank you so much! Good for you for travelling to Asia alone, but also for knowing your limits and comfort zone. It’s a learning process! I’m (hopefully) heading to South Korea in August myself 🙂

  7. Pingback: Yes, You CAN Travel India Solo, But SHOULD You? | Zafigo

  8. Wonderful, honest article! I am an American and traveled alone in India on my first solo trip abroad and loved it, but it was rough at times as a white woman travelling solo. I actually now live in Bangalore and still travel alone here regularly, but I agree with every word you have written! I still do recommend India to everyone, including solo women like me, but with caution and lots of caveats as to the hows and wheres for a good India trip. Reading your article reminded me why those caveats are needed!
    I wish there was a litmus test for who will love India and be glad they came here. I would say if you would seriously consider a solo travel trip to Africa or Central America, then India is a great option for you. If those places sound a bit too risky or rough for you, at least on your own, then stay away from India! That might be a bit extreme, but I agree with you that too many people paint India as an easier trip than it is. India is rough, and you kind of have to want or at least be ready for that rough time. If after reading everything you can get your hands on about India, especially honest and fair opinions like this one, you still want to travel to India, then go for it! It can be awful, but it can also be awfully wonderful.

    • Thank you so much for your input, Heather! I completely agree that there should be a test to see if travellers would enjoy India – but I also feel that every trip is unique based on uncontrollable experiences, such as weather, who you meet, and what crazy circumstances befall you while you’re there!

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