Unless you’ve been offline for an extended period, you’ve heard about the recent horrifying bus rape in India, and ensuing riots. I spent August and September of 2012 backpacking in India as a single white female. I’m here to tell you that I avoided the worst, and I’m going to share my strategies. Note that this is not a social commentary on the status of Indian women. It is your survival guide.
Can it be done? Absolutely. Are there risks? Yes. But with the right degree of caution India is not only a magnificent and intriguing travel destination, but safe as well. Do you need to be careful? With certain things, definitely. Here are some foolproof ways to make your time in India as smooth and safe as possible:
Indian women outside major cities don’t often go out on their own. Prepare yourself for what might be considered harassment back home. Marriage proposals, leers, catcalls and looks aren’t unusual. Grow thick skin and let it all bounce off. Most importantly, do not respond in anger. Men may laugh at you, or it may put you in an uncomfortable situation.
Never stay in a room at a hotel without a secure closure such as a sliding bolt. If your windows don’t lock from the inside, find other options; not just for safety but to keep out mosquitoes and opportunistic monkeys!
Note: this rule applies to men too. One male traveler I met had a male hotel staff member enter his room and try to sexually assault him. Make the right choices and be aware of your surroundings.
Women drinking on their own in public will attract attention; so please ladies, do not get tipsy. Even if you go out in a group, take a taxi home. Drink only with people you trust if you plan to have more than a couple, or consume alcohol back at your guesthouse, where you won’t have far to walk!
Don’t attract unwanted attention with your belongings
Keep your cash, fancy mobile phones or passports to yourself. As much as you may think this is common sense, I see this happen with alarming frequency. My own rule? Try never to carry more than 5000 rupees (approximately USD 100) at one time. I keep my passport locked up in a hotel or under my clothes in a passport belt.
Buy a cheap Nokia mobile phone (for less than US$20) made for the local market. You never know when you may need to call your hotel, a driver or a friend. As a plus, you can call home at cheap rates.
When traveling on long-distance buses or trains at night, ensure your valuables are kept on your person or in a locked compartment of your bag. Be aware that sleeping on your own in train carriages with multiple booths may invite peeping toms or the occasional grope. Curtained booths can make you less tempting. Or simply find a traveling buddy and remain vigilant.
In a town or city, educate yourself and understand any hot-spots or issues before traveling on your own after 10 or 11 at night. As an example, I don’t travel on the subway trains in New Delhi after around 9pm at night. Be prepared for huge queues.
On long-distance buses and on most subway lines, there is often a “Women’s Only” section or entrance queue. Utilize them if available, but be aware of your surroundings… women can be thieves too!
Try to Blend In
Don’t wear jewelry or fancy clothes – in other words, don’t scream “tourist”. If I am going off the beaten track I wear kurtas (long tops with slits) over pants and hiking boots. This outfit is practical in many ways: it keeps the men from staring at you, the mosquitoes from biting and the sun from burning you.
If you are a female traveling alone and follow these tips, chances are you will find yourself having a safe and genuine cultural experience full of adventure. India is a magical place full of scents and colours and wild experiences that are yours for the taking. Let your nose sniff out adventure, and if you can’t be good (as I surely struggle to do), then be careful!
Have you traveled to India on your own? If so, let us know about your experience in the comments below!