6 Things You Should Know Before Travelling as a Solo Female in India

Psssssst! — (If you’re considering traveling to India, whether you are a woman or not, you might also want to read this!)

Before I jump into it, I have to first point out that India is HUGE. Every state you pass through is like a whole other country of its own. Each region varies in dialect, language, culture, and food. Travelling through India is a beautiful experience, but as a solo female traveller, there are a few things I learned about making my way through India.

Travelling solo?! *gasp!* In India?! *louder gasp* And you’re a girl?! *chokes on gasp*

1. Every region is different. You might not be seen the same way you are in one place, compared to the next.

When you’re travelling, you’ll be “that solo female traveller”, but you’ll be seen and interacted with differently, depending on where you are. For instance, in most areas in the south of India (such as Kerala), women tend to dress more modestly, and shorts and tank tops are not a common sight. Women are also for the most part, treated respectfully and men (aside from staring) don’t tend to interact with women they don’t know. In the northern parts of India however (such as Delhi), women are free to dress however they like and go where they please. However, harassment levels are much higher, and women tend to get unwanted approaches. This brings me to my next point.

Super psyched to be out of my endless kurtas and look like a hippie for once!

2. Check your positionality.

 If you’re an Indian native or citizen travelling through your beautiful country, your experience is going to differ from a Caucasian female with blonde hair who has never been to India before. Who you are is going to define your experience, and this includes what you look like.

I myself am Afghan, and so I was able to blend in relatively easily, especially in the north, where people with lighter skin is common. In the south, everyone assumed I was north Indian until I opened my mouth. I used this to my advantage when haggling for prices or trying not to draw attention to myself. I would wear the local clothing, and refrain from speaking unless I needed to and it became a pretty comfortable routine. If you aren’t in a position to blend in however, you need to understand and accept that you will get stared at a lot, and sometimes people will approach you out of curiosity (the audacity! – just kidding), and you must be prepared for this.

Blended in until I made it into the family photo. Score!

3. Sometimes it’s actually better to stand out from the crowd than to blend in.

If you do stand out and can’t do anything about it, use it to your advantage! Blending in is great when you want to quietly observe from a corner, but it can also provide risks sometimes. For instance, as a solo female traveller on a local train, I found it safer if I dressed as a ‘foreigner’ and made it clear that I was not from there. While this caused more stares, it certainly kept me safer.

People who have intentions of harassing or bothering a woman will usually steer away from the loud and clearly foreign person that everyone is staring at. They don’t want to draw attention. While staying in local areas, I was comfortable blending in so I could observe everything and everyone in a natural way. However, I felt safer to stand out while travelling alone; and it definitely worked out for me. Other than very uncomfortable staring, I didn’t have to deal with anything I didn’t want to.

If you need more specifics on dress code, check out this packing guide!

Hello fellow traveller. Whatchu looking at?

4. People will stare. Most of the time, it’s from curiosity. Sometimes, it’s not so much curiosity as it is harassment (be cautious).

If you’re standing out from everyone around you, it will naturally be the case that you will be stared at.

A lot.

Travelling in India means lot of staring. It’s up to you to learn to ignore it or self- consciously make your way around and want to die of awkwardness (I was the latter one for quite a few months until I learned to adjust). As a matter of fact, the staring became such a normalized thing for me that when I returned to Canada, I found it weird for a while that I wasn’t getting stared at (#narcissist).

The staring is quite often harmless and is out of innocent curiosity. Everyone wants a look at the foreigner who is awkwardly fumbling around with a dictionary in one hand and google maps on the other, trying to figure their shit out. You gotta admit, it’s kind of a funny sight.  Again, this will differ depending on where you are. For instance, Goa seemed like it had more foreigners than it did locals. People staring is not common there. Kerala however, did draw out curiosity from locals, and stares are common, especially if you’re lighter skinned.

Hey stranger (literally)

5. Always have a safe route and a backup plan in case things go downhill.

In the case that the innocent staring becomes not-so-innocent anymore and starts to lead somewhere uncomfortable, you need to be prepared. Always check your surroundings and be aware of the people and locations around you. When I enter a new location, I scan my surroundings for 3 things:

  • Who looks like someone I should be careful to avoid? (this usually entails men or boys who are alone or in groups – better safe than sorry!)
  • Who looks like someone I can approach for help if I need it? (this usually entails policemen, security guards, families, couples, elder people, or girls who are alone or in groups)
  • if all else fails, what’s the fastest way to leave the area? (be aware of exits, doorways, and main roads/ streets where transportation is available)

Here’s to hoping things never go wrong, but sometimes, things suck and they do go downhill. You need to be street smart, play it safe, always have a plan and don’t take any stupid or unnecessary risks. It’s just not worth it. This doesn’t just apply to those travelling in India; these are safety precautions you should always be taking!

These lovely ladies took me in after I got kicked out of my train (because of a ticket misunderstanding) and was almost homeless for the night. — safety = success!

6. Interactions can teach you a lot!

Talk to people and immerse yourself in the experience. Don’t let your fears hold you back and take away from what could have been.

While safety always come first, paranoia and fear should be thrown out the window when it comes to experiences. Always embrace the opportunities you get, as long as you are sure you are safe. Travelling alone as a woman can be a scary and daunting experience, especially for women trying it out for the first time, but it can be an extremely fulfilling and enriching experience, if you let it be.

Taking a risk with the spiciest chilli sarbath in kozhikode… (it was manageable)

You are in solitude with only yourself and the occasional friends and people you meet on the road, and everything you experience is yours to enjoy alone. You learn so much about yourself, brave through experiences you never thought you could get through and emerge so much more confident and happier than you ever have been before. Bonus: you’ll have a handful of new skills and a whole lot more stories to gush about with your friends who will probably eventually get annoyed everytime you say “when I was in India” (you know who you are!)

Travelling solo is definitely an experience I would recommend to everyone, whether you are a woman or not.

Solo travel is almost never actually solo!

Most of these pointers can apply to a lot of solo female travelling in various countries, but this piece is written based on my personal experiences of travelling in India.

Remember, always be cautious but don’t forget to have fun and use the opportunities you get!

12 thoughts on “6 Things You Should Know Before Travelling as a Solo Female in India

  1. How did you do that(solo girl traveller) had covered india, France…. And why solo??. And what about your family… Am from kerala

    1. Hey Shakir!

      Travelling solo as a female definitely had its challenges, but the great part about travelling solo is that you meet wonderful people and are not solo for long! I met many local friends (many from Kerala!) Who helped me navigate India and even travelled some parts with me.

      I love solo travel because I have a lot more freedom, and I get to overcome a lot of challenges and build confidence in myself as well. I feel like travelling teaches us a lot of life skills, and especially if you’re alone and figuring out those skills by yourself.

      My family was quite supportive with my travels, although it was difficult to convince them initially. I was also travelling in India for academic purposes, which helped to solidify my reasons of travel, and gave a purpose to what I was doing as well.

      Thank you for reaching out! I spent a large amount of time in Kerala (10 months) and lived there while I was doing my internship. I absolutely loved it there. Have you read my blog post about Kerala? : https://travellingafghan.com/2020/07/04/first-glance-at-gods-own-country-kerala/

      1. @ghazal. It’s great to hear a reply from you. Thank you.
        One more question maybe it seems funny for you but its a fact.. What about the fund, expenses.. How did you manage staying here for nearly a year. Need that bcs am planning a trip too.

  2. Loved reading this. Thank you for sharing with us these valuable tips and showing us glimpses of your wonderful journey.

  3. I loved reading this blog post!! And I’m looking at a few other ones you posted too. I love Indian culture, and I have a few friends from there. Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to travel just yet. But I will plan a trip in the next 2 years. I did want to ask you a few questions about your experiences if you don’t mind answering 🙂

    How do you deal with paranoia and fear traveling alone, especially as a woman? For me, I grew up being told that I should travel alone especially as a woman; so I do have this paranoia for extreme safety lol.

    What did you appreciate most about your visit to India?

    How do you overcome the awkward stares? Lol being really fair-skinned with red hair, I feel like I’m going to be too self-conscious being stared at.

    I enjoyed reading your blog post! Such wonderful and exciting content! I will subscribe and be reading more today

    1. Hey! Thanks so much for your comments and questions! I’m so glad you reached out.

      In regards to fear and paranoia, I think it’s just a fear that you have to overpower through facing it. Personally, I also come from a relatively conservative culture and family, where solo travel for girls is definitely uncommon, so I can relate! For me, it was having to face challenges during travel which led me to realize that it’s not so scary after all! I actually just published a recent blog that speaks on this topic, feel free to check it out: https://travellingafghan.com/2020/08/06/10-things-i-learned-in-1-year-of-travelling/

      In terms of my visit to India, I really can’t choose a single thing. I had the privilege of being able to live there for a year and in that time, I completely fell in love with it. I have heard however, that visitors usually either hate it or absolutely fall in love with it. I was definitely part of the latter. I think India helped put life in perspective for me and I learned to appreciate life a lot more and learned a lot about myself and I think that’s what I appreciated most from that experience.

      haha you will definitely be stared at, and it’s gonna be awkward for a while but after some time it’s just something you get used to I guess. It’s funny cuz I found it strange that people WEREN’T staring at me when I returned to Canada! Just keep in mind that most of the time, people stare out of curiosity, not maliciousness and it’s pretty innocent. That’s how overcame it. If it was women staring, I would smile at them and they would smile back and it was a beautiful and silent exchange which I appreciated.

      If you want to discuss anything else, feel free to reach out! You can email me, or add me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/farghazal/?hl=en

      1. Thank you so much!! Your post and even your response helped so much! I’m excited to read more about your travels. And I will definitely contact you as well 🙂 Thanks so much!

  4. Très jolies photos
    Quand j’amoméliorerai mon anglais, je lirai aussi attentivement les récits de ton voyage
    Merci beaucoup de les avoir partagés

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