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  • Writer's pictureMeru Badyal

An open letter to a fellow woman traveler

Updated: Aug 20, 2022

Travel Tips for Solo Women Travelers in India

Snow capped Himalayan view at Pin Valley National Park, Spiti, India
Pin Valley National Park, Spiti, India

A warm hello to my fellow solo women travelers! I hope that this letter finds you in high spirits & good health.

I understand that you are fascinated with India. But genuine safety concerns by loved ones have stalled you from planning a trip to India.

Well, traveling alone as a woman is an overwhelming experience even for Indian women, who are breaking the barriers daily to do so. Explaining it to a woman who has lived most of her life in a foreign country is not easy.

But let us try to make a connection at a human level - from one woman to another without sounding too feminist-y!

How do I go about as a solo woman traveler?

solo women traveler in Spiti India
Spiti, India

I’m a happy-go-lucky person who is over-friendly in real life! But my “solo woman travel avatar” is neither too happy nor too overly friendly. The idea is not to be rude, serious, or arrogant, for that matter.

The idea is to carry off a “Mona Lisa-ic” balanced expressions which do not give away too much. :)

I have not traveled the world, but I know that every woman feels it deep in her bones when she is in some “real danger”. The little girl in her grew up suddenly one day when the “male gaze” made her conscious of herself. In fact, no corner of the world or even confines of her own home is absolutely safe for any woman.

But, when you travel, you break both the societal barriers and barriers that you have created in your mind-heart!

So, when in India, just be a little cautious of unwanted male attention. People will stare at you because of your fair skin or blonde hair. Who am I kidding? We stare at everyone - sometimes out of sheer boredom or curiosity!

There can be a few unnerving experiences initially. It might be a bus conductor, a fellow commuter suddenly gone all mushy, or a beggar who just wants to get some “pity money”. Some people might even try to take selfies with you.

Being annoyed, scared, or intimidated should never be a choice, no matter which part of the continent you build your life in. That will take the fun out of traveling mode and initiate a “fear psychosis”.

Pro tip: Majority of Indians are curious, friendly, and helpful by nature. We love to interact with everyone and talk a lot. However, it is best to say a stern “no” or “nahi” if someone is bothersome. Politeness is not a virtue a solo traveler cares about anyway!

So, what is this overwhelming solo women traveler experience?

solo women traveler in City Palace, Jaipur, India
City Palace. Jaipur

India is a land of myriad realities - skyscrapers on the side of the town and slum dwellers on the other side. To a newcomer, it might look like a maze without any apparent outlet. No one can prepare you for traffic, noise, population, or foul smells!

So, that part you have to experience by yourself. You’ve to go through it all once you come to India. Interact, learn, make some mistakes, get shit scared, and then try again!

Pro Tip: Call 100 in case of any emergency. The police are proactive when it comes to foreign tourists as it spoils India’s international image.

1. Be cautious of beggars, hagglers, and thieves:

People in countries with too much noise and population learn to live by their wits. A thieve might try to confuse or outsmart you, a shopkeeper will definitely try to oversell and overprice a “vintage watch” to you, a taxi driver might dupe you by deliberately taking a long way.

Pro Tip: Thanks to GPS technology, you can at least outsmart a taxi driver. You can also ask for directions from someone so that you know the rough distance and time estimate. Taxi apps like Uber and Ola apps are quite popular and safe as the journey can be pre-planned online while booking the taxi.

2. Traveling alone as a woman via public transport can be intimidating:

In public transport, there can be instances of groping and touching. Women who earn their livelihood in cosmopolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai commute via public transport and learn how to manage the hard way. So, it is best to carry yourself with confidence and not make too much eye contact with anyone.

Pro Tip: Book everything online - flights, buses, trains, and taxis. It saves you from standing in big lines and haggling with taxi drivers. Also, carry your bag or at least valet on the front side of your body so that chances of stealing are far less in a crowded metro or bus.

3. Learn to read the social and cultural nuances a specific region has to offer:

India is a land of cultural and regional diversity! No two places follow the same social or cultural norms. So you’ve to learn to read the room in every new place you plan to visit in India.

I started my "solo women traveler" experience in Jaipur, Rajasthan. The magnificent state is a tourism hotspot in India due to its marvelous palaces, forts, and vibrancy. The state even has special discounts for women travelers. The local population is warm, hospitable, and kind towards tourists and is used to seeing foreigners.

So, starting your Indian holiday from a super-touristy place like Rajasthan Goa, Agra, or Himachal Pradesh is a good idea to break the ice.

Pro Tip: Don’t kid yourself when you are here. Indians are traveling abroad more than anyone else. Indian diaspora is settled in huge numbers across the globe. So, when you visit this myriad land, do not look down upon its population and develop unreasonable fears. Some of us might look down upon you as a “hippie” from Paharganj or Kasol. ;)

I have seen, met, and hung out with countless women solo travelers from France, Holland, the USA, and even Latvia during my meditation camps and extraordinary travel experiences throughout India.

Most of them are completely mesmerized and have fallen in love with India!

I met a woman backpacker who meditates and travels in India for 6 months a year. I know a Muslim French woman who works at a Ski resort in France and comes to India during her off-season in summer, every year since 1986. She taught me all about different Hindu deities in Pushkar lake. :)

Both of them move amidst us like it is their own land. From the outside, they might look and seem foreign due to the color of their skin. Inside their hearts and mind, they are more Indian than we can ever conceive them to be! :)

Copyright © [Meru]. All rights reserved.

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