India is notoriously tough to travel – especially as a backpacker or solo traveller. But it’s also a warm, fascinating, beautiful country with so much to offer, and it should definitely be on every traveller’s list. I know that travelling India solo can seem daunting, so I’ve put together absolutely every single piece of advice I can think of in a bit of a mega-guide.
My India travel tips are based on two trips to India, as well as years of travelling solo around Asia and Central America! This is my bumper guide to solo female travel in India…
Girl’s Guide to Travelling India Solo
I’ve divided this post up into four sections – safety, packing, travelling, and hygiene. But all of them touch on safety a little, and much of the info is interchangeable. Read on for my top tips for solo female travellers in India…
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Is India Safe for Solo Female Travellers?
Let’s start with the obvious question first shall we? It’s a tricky one to answer because – as with any country – it’s not exactly black and white. But yes, personally I think that India is safe for solo female travellers AS LONG AS you follow some common sense travel safety precautions. I’ve shared a few below, and I also have some more great tips in the packing section for things you can buy to help you stay safe. Plus down in the Travelling section I have some more great tips for women travelling alone in India.
General Solo Female Travel Safety Tips
- Avoid walking alone at night.
- Avoid unlit areas.
- Check with your hostel/hotel staff if you’re not sure about certain areas, and ask if there is anywhere you should avoid.
- Safety in numbers – try to travel with others when possible, especially on public transport.
- Try not to get too drunk if there’s no one around who you trust to look after you. Same goes for drugs (and that includes bhang lassi).
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
- Always know your way home/back to the hostel.
- Keep a tight grip on your valuables and don’t flash them about in crowded areas.
- Don’t be too quick to trust strangers (applies to locals and fellow travellers).
Learn the Emergency Service Number – 112
In India it’s 112 to call the emergency services. Make sure you remember it because if you need it, you probably won’t have time to look it up.
Trust Your Gut
Remember to trust your instincts and go with what your gut tells you. If an area or situation doesn’t feel right to you, avoid it.
If you’re out and about and you feel unsafe, seek help. Pop into a shop or restaurant and ask them to call you a cab home, or order an Uber/Grab (more on those later), and wait inside until the car arrives.
Don’t Post Your Location Live on Social Media
I became wary after I received a message saying “oh I was too late – I would have come to say hi” a couple of hours after checking myself in somewhere. Because I don’t want random strangers to come over and greet me, I decided to upload all my Instagram stories at the end of every day after that. And the next morning I’d have several messages from men saying “oh wow you’re in my town let’s meet up”. It could be harmless – but I wasn’t really there to go on a dating spree! There seem to be a small handful of creepy guys who stalk their town’s location geotag (especially on Instagram) to find tourists and ask them out. Not sure how well that’s actually working – but good luck to them.
Anyway, moral of the story is that if you don’t want people to easily find you and find out everything about you in one fell swoop – steer clear of posting where you are!
Remember to Trust People
When posts are all about India safety tips like this one is, It’s easy to start thinking of nothing but the dangers that are out there. So it’s important to remember that not everyone is out to get you, and in my experience 99% of people are pretty damn lovely. If someone offers you help, it’s probably because they want to help you. If someone offers you tea, it’s probably because they want to give you tea, rather than murder you in some gruesome fashion.
So yes, take precautions, be sensible, and trust your gut… but also trust people, chat to locals, and don’t forget to enjoy all the experiences that come your way. In my experience, most folks in India are friendly, welcoming people who just want you to see all their beautiful country has to offer.
Long Skirts and Trousers
India is a predominately conservative country, so if nothing else it’s respectful to dress a bit more modestly than you might do back home. But it’s more than that. There can a bit of an attitude among a few (not all) Indian men that a “provocatively” dressed woman (you know, showing a sexy knee or whatever) is “up for it”.
I rarely felt comfortable having my legs out in India – being white and blonde I attract enough attention there as it is and I don’t like the way eyes linger if you have a lot of skin on show. In my experience, it’s much more comfortable to wear long dresses and skirts, loose trousers (gotta love an elephant pant), or a short dress with leggings. Makes life easier when you want to visit temples, too.
One of my top safety tips for solo female travellers in India (or anywhere) is to invest in an anti-theft bag. Preferably one with a cross-body strap. I really like the range from Travelon and have used their products for years. The fabric conceals a tiny wire mesh that stops people slashing the bag. I’ve actually seen that happen – well, I’ve seen the discovery, because generally people don’t notice until it’s too late. If you have a valuable camera, it’s worth switching the strap for an anti-theft strap camera strap too.
Take at least one padlock. For hostel lockers, for locking your backpack on public transport, for locking a door if you’re not sure how safe your hotel room is. Don’t travel without one!
Doorstop or Door Lock
Not sure about your hotel room’s security? Using a doorstop under the door on the inside can add an extra layer of lock. But I recently discovered the travel door lock from Lifeventuretravel door lock from Lifeventure and I think it’s an absolute must-have, especially for solo travel in India. It’s a simple, cheap little gadget that can be fitted to almost all doors to provide tamper proof security. Genius.
India has plenty of well-stocked pharmacies and things are super cheap there (a pack of antihistamines cost me less than $1) so don’t bring your whole medicine cabinet. A couple of basics are enough – Imodium, painkillers, antiseptic wipes etc. And a few of my friends swear by charcoal tablets, which supposedly trap toxins and can help you beat sickness.
You Pay How You Dress
If you’re on a budget in India, dress like it! Honestly, I’ve found so many times that prices go up depending on how I’m dressed or where I’ve just come out of. Day one in Udaipur I was wearing some torn elephant trousers and a sweaty old t-shirt. Day two, I was wearing a nice blue dress because it was my very last clean item of clothing – and I noticed that the prices I was being quoted were frequently double what they were on elephant pants day. It’s not a coincidence as this is something I’ve frequently observed – Indian vendors will often base their starting price on how much money you look like you have. So if you’re heading out on a shopping mission, get your backpacker uniform on and look cheap!
READ MORE: What Things Cost in Goa (includes some haggling tips)
Choosing Where to Go
My advice is to start slow, with small towns and villages, rather than the craziness of India’s big cities. But everyone is different! Check out my bumper guide to 21 of the best places in India for solo female travellers to choose your route. As well as my own experiences, I took input from other solo female travellers – so it’s packed with some great recommendations!
Reputations aside, India is a pretty straightforward place when it comes to actually travelling. Public transport links are great, there are cheap internal flights, and English is everywhere. Most signs are in English, many people speak English, and railway station announcements are in both Hindi and English.
Trains are a cheap and comfortable way to get around India. Personally, I’d say to avoid overnight trains unless you’re travelling with someone you trust. Safety aside, sleeper trains aren’t really comfy and the day train is a great way to see India’s gorgeous landscapes. If you’re really not feeling confident about taking public transport in India on your own, internal flights are often pretty reasonably priced and can be a much easier and faster way to get across the country.
Annnnd Relax – Don’t Overfill your Schedule
India is a big place, and there’s a lot to see. But with so many extremes and so many colours, smells, sights, sounds, dogs, cows, trash, cars, people, food, hawkers, parades… it can be a bit of a sensory overload. Not to mention that simply getting from one place to another, whether that’s across a city or across the country, can be an exhausting mission. It can all get a bit overwhelming – so my advice is to factor in plenty of downtime. If a city has two days worth of sights, stay for three days before moving on. I know it’s tempting to fill your itinerary with as much as possible but India is a tough place to travel and you’ll really appreciate taking it slow.
Get a Sim Card
Nothing makes travelling India easier than abundant internet. It’s super easy and cheap to get a local SIM card on arrival at Delhi airport. Just head to the Airtel stand in the arrivals hall and ask for a tourist SIM. It costs around £12 for a 28 day SIM package with 1GB of internet a day (more than enough and I was uploading pics and vids like crazy).
Download Uber and Ola Cabs
Uber is pretty prevalent in India and it makes getting around within cities much easier. It’s also really reasonably priced – sometimes costing the same as a metro journey. But I prefer the local company Ola Cabs. You need an Indian phone number to set it up so grab it as soon as you’ve got your SIM. It’s so worth it! My favourite feature is the SOS button that pops up on your screen the whole ride. If you need to click it, the app will send an alert with all your details (location, driver’s details, licence plate number etc) to Ola’s safety team, as well as to the emergency services if you need them.
Get Ready to be a Novelty
Even though tourism is a pretty big thing in India and many towns get a pretty big influx of Westerners every day – for some reason I found myself huge novelty everywhere I went. You’d think they’d be used to sweaty, pasty blonde people now, but nope. If you look like a foreigner you’ll likely attract a lot of attention from everyone (men, women, kids) – whether that’s stares, cat-calls, friendly hellos, or selfies. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it can be overwhelming after a while, so be prepared!
On one train I took there was actually a queue of people waiting to take a selfie with me. For the most part, people are really sweet about it – but I usually say no to big groups of men as it can sometimes be an excuse to grope! I’ll smile, shake my head, and say “100 rupees” jokingly*. If you do stop for a selfie with anyone, keep a tight grip on your bag (I hate myself for being so suspicious, but you have to be careful).
*To date, no one has paid me for a selfie.
How to Avoid Getting Sick in India
A lot of people seem to think getting sick in India is inevitable – but it doesn’t have to be. Just use common sense and be careful and you might be ok. I’ve been to India twice and never had Delhi belly!
The most important thing is to be wary when it comes to food. India is the one place in the world where I avoid street food unless I have a local recommendation – a street food tour is a great way to figure out which vendors are safe to buy from.
When it comes to restaurants, I tend to pay a little more and head to slightly more “touristy” restaurants. It goes against my normal Deep Travel values but it’s me being cautious. Restaurants aimed at tourists rely on TripAdvisor reviews and the like, so they don’t want people getting sick. The food is still great (it’s hard to find a bad meal in India) and there’s usually better hygeine standards. Don’t be over-squeamish but just make sure a place looks clean and has a working fridge.
If you’re really concerned about getting sick, try going veggie or just avoiding meat. I tend to avoid chicken in India unless I’m in a really clean establishment, but I’ve been ok with everything else. India is one of the best countries in the world to be vegetarian so it’s worth giving it a go here – I promise you won’t even notice!
Got a few more tips for avoiding sickness in India and general hygiene below…
Carry Loo Roll
My number one tip for Asia in general, and especially India, is to always have tissues in your bag. I often go all out and carry a whole roll of toilet paper. A lot of loos in India have no toilet roll, and if you’re caught short with Delhi Belly it’s not a pretty picture.
Prepare to Squat
In India you’ll be confronted with the classic Asian squat toilet. A lot of tourists avoid these because they’re smelly and daunting, but chances are the seat of the more familiar Western loo is pretty filthy. I actually prefer a squat toilet!
Top tip – I found out recently that I’ve been using squatters wrong for years! Usually I go in and turn around to face the door like we would in a Western toilet. But a lot of Asian toilets are the other way around. You’re meant to face the porcelain hood, and not squat directly over the hole – that way you avoid the dreaded splashback.
Use hand sanitiser religiously. Especially before eating and after handling money. Try to avoid putting your hands on your face or in your mouth, too.
Don’t drink the water
I’m always careful with water when I travel but in India I even use bottled water to brush my teeth. Can’t be too careful there! I LOVE my Water-to-Go bottle because it filters water from ANY source. Check my review for more info and you’ll never have to buy bottled water again – plus get 15% discount using my code ELUX15.
Another fab hygiene tip for female travellers in India is to carry a pillowcase or use a scarf to cover your hostel pillow. You can never be sure of the cleanliness of bedding and who knows how many people have drooled into that pillow before you?! A simple tip but definitely a handy one.
Got a question about solo travel in India? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email. I love sharing my India travel tips so ask away!