Are you wondering if India is safe to visit as a solo female traveller? Back in February 2019, I had the same questions, worries and fears before my trip. Funny enough, I never wanted to visit India solo. I was terrified to even think about it! So when a friend of mine asked if I wanted to visit India together with him, I enthusiastically said “Yes!”.
I booked flights, paid 80 USD for my e-visa just to learn that my friend couldn’t join me anymore. Of course, I had a choice to cancel my trip, but quitting (and wasting 380 USD) was never an option for me. Eventually, I decided to travel to India alone and have my own unique experience.
Want to learn more about me and Fifty Flights? Check out my story here.
What to expect when travelling in India
To have fun and safe travel, it’s essential to know what to expect when travelling in India. I usually joke that having low or no expectations is easier, but India is a bit different case. Be ready to experience stressful, chaotic, loud and squalid India. Every day you will see enormous piles of trash, men urinating everywhere possible, homeless people and cows aimlessly walking on the road. At the same time, India will show you its culturally rich, impressive, jaw-dropping and unforgettable side. Women will smile at you, you will make friends and indulge together in rich Indian history, visit some incredible places, and create memories for a lifetime. However, remember that India isn’t an easy destination. It’s absolutely not!
India will test your patience, and you will learn what a real Indian level of spiciness is. You will see that respect for time and punctuality are non-existent in India. Frankly speaking, as a traveller from a 3rd world country, I am used to overcoming different hurdles. However, travelling in India was another level of challenge. Unfortunately, there are high chances that you might get groped, flashed or harassed on the streets if you are a female solo traveller. I was shaking from anger and powerlessness when it all happened to me. Yet I didn’t want to give up on travelling there despite countless odd situations. At the end of the day, I still found one thousand and one reasons to love India and embrace it just the way it was.
India Travel Tip 1: It’s essential to use your common sense and travel with caution. Do not walk alone on the streets when it is dark. Dress modestly and cover your shoulders and knees. Wearing appropriate clothes shows respect for local culture and is one of the safety measurements.
Using public transport to travel in India can be hit or miss, especially for female travellers. In Delhi, I recommend you to use the metro. It’s generally safe, has WiFi on stations, works until midnight and most importantly, has women-only passenger cars.
For intercity transportation, I had a good experience with overnight buses and trains. I downloaded the RedBus app and used it from Day 1. It’s a reliable source with fair prices, reviews for bus companies, and their online payment system supports international cards. For female travellers, it offered a convenient feature. For instance, when you book a bus ticket, it shows where other females sit or sleep (if it’s overnight sleeper bus) and other men can’t reserve seats next to them. Oh, and I always booked upper berth if available as it is safer.
India travel tips for solo travellers
I started my own travel blog so that I can post my raw and real travel experience, tips and advice. To not sugarcoat any experience is one of the core principles of my travel blog. Today I want to share my India travel tips with everyone who is planning to visit this beautiful crazy country.
I hope the following advice make your India trip easier and far more enjoyable as you can avoid some uncomfortable incidents. These recommendations are based on my 4 weeks journey visiting 6 different cities in Northern India:
- Sexual harassment in India is a big thing. Always trust your guts and don’t lose common sense! Don’t walk alone at night, and when possible, find other travellers to explore the cities with.
- India was full of scummy people and fake websites. For example, just to find a ticket office for foreigners at the train station in Delhi, I had to ignore 7 swindlers who tried to take me elsewhere. If you need any information, contact officials only! Same applies to websites. Thus, if you need to buy something, trust only reliable web sources.
- Buy local sim card as it’s super cheap and has crazy large data packages, essential for your trip. It takes 24h to activate an Indian sim card, which can be quite annoying.
- Before booking any transportation, check departure and arrival times. You probably do not want to arrive at 4 am to a new city. Even though Indian buses never arrive on time, I wouldn’t risk it.
- A lot of men and families will ask to take photos with you. I would only agree to take a picture with families or a group. It’s your right to politely decline the offer as well. Though we had a few times when Indian men were live streaming to FB with us in the background, thinking we didn’t notice it.
- Use official taxi apps. Uber works just fine, it’s safe and available everywhere. You can even get Uber motor rickshaw! Sometimes Uber rides were so dirt cheap that I paid a bit extra.
- Do not give away your number or personal information to anyone. I made a mistake by adding an owner of a small hostel in Delhi (who seems to be nice at first glance) to my IG account. You probably can guess what happened next and why I blocked him after.
India Travel Tip 2: Take your time to explore India, do not rush. you might be tempted to visit it all in one go as India is so big and diverse. And in my experience, India is safe and fun to visit when you don’t squeeze everything in 10 days trip.
Travelling in India is such a rewarding but exhausting experience, and I advise you to have a rough plan for the places to travel alone in India. For example, I decided to stick to Northern India in my trip and cover the Rajasthan region. In 4 weeks I went to Delhi, Udaipur, Jodphur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Varanasi and Agra. I spent just the right amount of time in each city and saw places I was interested in. Backpacking Rajasthan is a fairly popular itinerary, so I knew I’d meet other travellers along the way. And remember, it takes ages with public transport to get from one city to another.
India Travel Tip 3: Food safety is a big concern thanks to infamous Delhi belly. I personally had no problems with eating in India. I ate a lot more street food than one can imagine. But a lot of my traveller friends had terrible cases of food poisoning and had to visit hospitals. So make sure you have travel insurance, drink filtered water only, and avoid eating at places, which you don’t trust. A lot of foreigners stick to eating cooked meals only.
India Travel Tip 4: You won’t have any problems to find accommodation in India suitable for your budget. I used Airbnb, Booking.com and Hostelworld to book my hostels and guesthouses. Make sure the place has recent positive reviews. Also, check the calendar for any big local festivals as in this case you’ll need to book lodging in advance.
As I am a slow-paced traveller, I’m never in a hurry to visit all the sightseeing places and cities. Actually, it’s enough for me just to have a rough idea of what I want to do. But I should mention that travelling in India can be really stressful and can easily give you anxiety. So you might want to do a research beforehand. I recommend checking out the weather and festivals calendar. My silly ass thought it was always warm in India. And guess what? I had to buy a jacket in Delhi because it was freezing there in February! Somehow, I managed to plan a celebration of the Holi Festival in India as it was an opportunity not to miss!
I travelled to Varanasi to celebrate Holi Festival, and it was both exciting and stressful. I spent 6 days in this city in the north-eastern part of India, and I firmly believe that Varanasi is a must-visit town. Why? Because this is a place where you see life and death come together. The river, which Indians call “Mother Ganges”, has all the secrets and sins, wishes and prays, dead bodies and ashes. As you might have guessed already, a lot of people come to Varanasi to die. You will see families coming to cremate their loved one by the banks of the Ganges river. Yet you won’t hear them crying. You won’t see them sad when a few hundred bodies burn 24/7.
On the ghats (steps which lead to the river banks) you will meet sadhus, holy men. They are mostly completely naked and covered in ashes, smoking hash and drinking tea. First, they can be quite intimidating. I will never forget how during Holi Festival someone unexpectedly threw powder in my face. One of the Babas (sadhus) saw it, came to me and used his clean piece of cloth to wipe the powder off my eyes. Visiting Varanasi was definitely one of the most vivid and memorable travel experiences I ever had. I will go back one day as Varanasi gave me the life lessons I needed.
While I explicitly told you that Varanasi is a must-visit place in India, there are a few more things to remember while travelling to India. First of all, celebrating any festival in India is dangerous for women. Yes, I really mean it. Other 2 girls and I went out with our 10 male friends to celebrate Holi Festival from 10 am to 12 pm. In those 2 hours we were in the city we saw no Indian women on the streets. Later it made sense why women stayed at home. I was groped 3 times despite 2 male friends protecting me at all times. But I am a tough nut, so I also fought back, kicked and punched my abusers.
Travelling in India can be extremely exhausting and tiring, and it’s a raw truth. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time there, made friends for life and had one of the most unforgettable trips ever. But I was emotionally and physically drained after my time in India. Witnessing the horrific poverty, filth and drastic gender inequality made my trip unsettling. I expected India to be poor and dirty, but the reality was beyond my imagination. And I think it’s only fair to warn everyone who is heading there to be prepared for some disturbing scenes.
Final thoughts: is India safe for solo travellers?
I believe India is one of the countries, which you have a love-hate relationship with but still want to come back and explore more. It’s luring and one time is not enough to visit it all. For example, I already want to go back to India and travel in the south and central parts.
My tip for the successful exploration of controversial India is to keep an open mind and adjust your expectations. It’s a beautiful country, one of the oldest civilisations, and has some of the most world’s most beautiful places. But as an old proverb says, when in Rome, do as the Romans. Indian reality will hit you and you need to behave according to it. Show respect to culture, adjust your attitude and be open to learning completely different traditions and customs. I found India to be relatively safe for solo travellers as it’s a popular destination. Mostly because I was avoiding throwing myself into circumstances, which could lead to troubles. I didn’t walk alone at nights or wore revealing clothes, and I fought back if someone was crossing my boundaries.
I hope my travel story helped you to understand what travelling in India is about. If you are still wondering if India is safe, you can drop questions in the comment section below, and I will get back to you.