India is an exciting country, full of vibrant colours, steeped in spirituality, and abundant with incredible cuisines!
As a solo woman traveller, I was feeling apprehensive about how to stay safe in India. Luckily I had a good friend who had travelled India as a solo woman who reassured me that it was perfectly safe for women. Just needed to follow some extra precautions to feel and stay safe.
So here are my top tips for staying safe in India as a solo woman traveller!
1. Start in the South
I was very apprehensive about travelling to India as a solo woman explorer but had a deep calling to go and so I sought guidance from my friend who had travelled there before.
One of her suggestions was to stay in Kerala, in South India as this is more calm and peaceful. I took her advice and was very grateful for starting in Kerala. The locals were friendly, helpful and kind. The women there are very inspirational, I often saw them bossing their husbands around, it was brilliant! Not at all how I pictured women to be in India.
There is a calmness and peacefulness within Kerala especially around the Sivananda ashram, where I stayed. I felt incredibly safe in India here.
Once I was settled in Kerala I spoke to the local women who informed me that South India is a great place to start as it is much safer to travel alone. Other areas I have been recommended are safe for women travelling alone are Bangalore and Rishikesh.
Another recommendation I received if the Indian culture is completely new to you. Is to travel to Sri Lanka first, which is very safe for female solo travellers. The culture, climate and food are very similar to South India but much more Western.
Personally I travelled to South India first and then went to Sri Lanka. It was a welcome treat when my driver took me to Pizza Hut on the way to my hotel!
2. Wear appropriate clothing
This is my favourite and most important tip! Before you go to India buy clothing which fits with the Indian culture of how women dress. This will not only make you fit into the crowd but will make you feel safe in India, which is equally important.
I am a big fan of Western clothing, we are lucky to have the freedom to wear whatever we like. But when travelling I like to respect the local culture and women in India. I found some very fetching bright pink harem trousers and only wore baggy trousers in India. I also bought baggy t-shirts and lightweight jumpers.
Women in India do not show their body shape with tight-fitting clothes. They also cover up their legs, arms and shoulders as a sign of respect.
Wearing these clothes meant Indian women looked after me as I looked more like them. This is really important when travelling solo, to be able to fit in with the culture. It also demonstrates a sign of respect for that country and culture.
This is especially important to research if you are planning to visit or stay at an ashram. Some ashrams have very strict dress codes.
3. Invest in a big, lightweight scarf
This was my favourite item of clothing and so, so useful! I bought 2 large scarves from an Indian market in London, but you can get these from many markets.
They are so handy to carry with you and if going outside I would almost always wear my scarf especially when the weather was too hot to wear a jumper but you want to cover up.
I draped mine around my shoulders so if I felt self-conscious from locals starring, it happens, you get used to it! I could cover myself with my scarf. Just makes you feel much more comfortable and safe in India.
4. Stay in an ashram
Living in an ashram is not for everyone I admit! But I lived in an ashram for 2 months and absolutely loved it. Read about my experience in my blog Living in an Ashram.
An ashram is a spiritual retreat where people can visit or live, usually for a small donation as long as ashram rules are followed. They normally include meditation and yoga practices to help improve the wellbeing of an individual.
Ashram living is a really great way to immerse yourself into the Indian culture in a safe and secure environment. It is also an amazing way to make new friends who you can then continue to travel with.
Now there are hundreds of ashrams in India and they are all very different so finding the right ashram for you is vital. Personally I was looking to deepen my meditation and yoga practices and I really needed a strict schedule each day. Be sure to check out the rules and day schedule for the ashram before planning to stay there.
My advice is to stay in an ashram first when travelling India for the first time to build your confidence. You then will have the knowledge and support to stay safe in India.
Another quick tip is to buy one of the ashram branded t-shirts. Firstly you have a nice souvenir and secondly, you will be surprised how it warms the perception of you to the locals. My friend and I stayed at Amma’s ashram and the local women were so warm and loving to us when they knew we had stayed there. So amazing to witness.
5. Make plans for when you first arrive
Now I know a lot of travellers enjoy the thrill of just rocking up to a foreign country and finding a place to stay. But this is where I greatly differ, I am a serious planner! I love planning and have definitely made the mistake of over-planning my trip and so missing out on the natural spontaneity that travelling can be all about.
But when it comes to India, I would highly recommend planning at least the beginning of your trip.
Remember when you first arrive in a new country, it is easy to feel quite disoriented especially after a long flight. And this can make you feel very vulnerable. Planning ahead will help you feel confident and safe in India which will allow you to make better decisions.
Personally I am happy to pay a bit extra at the beginning of a trip by pre-booking taxis to my accommodation. Booking more luxury hotels in more popular areas so I have time to get my bearings and build confidence.
Most luxury hotels will organise your taxi from the airport to their accommodation so you know someone is waiting for you at the airport. This prevents you from hanging around the airport looking lost.
If the driver is good and reliable you can ask for their contact details and always use them. I did this in Sri Lanka and he became my personal driver for my whole trip! He even waited an hour for me when I was delayed on a bus.
My plan for my first trip in India was to book the first few days at a nice hotel close to the ashram I wanted to stay at. This meant they organised the driver to pick me up from the airport and I was able to visit the ashram for a mini day trip to see if it was somewhere I wanted to stay.
6. Avoid travelling at night
Now I know a lot of confident travellers do travel around at night as fares are usually cheaper and it makes things easier. But if this is your first trip to India as a solo traveller I would recommend avoiding night travel.
Yes, it can be a bit pricier but you will feel so much safer. Even in my hometown in England, there are incidences that happen at night that feel far scarier than they would in the day.
Firstly make sure you book flights which land in daylight. I ended up staying in Bangalore airport for 6 hours (from midnight) to wait for my hour flight to Trivandrum so I arrived at 7am.
It is really safe in Bangalore airport by the way! I was even watching some episodes of Vanderpump Rules on my laptop I felt that safe.
When travelling to new destinations within India on buses and trains, I always set off in the morning. That way if there are any delays, it is India, expect many delays! I know I will still arrive at my final destination in the daylight. Bear in mind it gets dark around 6pm.
7. Stay close to families
Another good tip I received before travelling was to stay close to families when using public transport.
This is a great tip! You will be surprised how mothers with their children will look out for you. Also quite often there are a few mothers with children who seem to hang out together so it seems to be a common culture habit for women to travel together.
Even if you end up standing in a more busy carriage, I prefer to be close to families rather than be on my own in a carriage.
Another watch out for travelling on public transport that I learnt the hard way! Always get off buses and trains quickly, preferably in the middle of the crowd.
The Indian culture can be pretty pushy and waiting to be the last person to disembark is cutthroat! I’m not sure how I got off some buses and trains! The people getting on will not wait patiently for you to disembark like they do in England. This is a big difference between Indian culture and English culture.
Also, just waiting at the platform, it is better to wait with families with mothers and children.
8. Do not walk around after dark
This may feel quite limiting as a woman. I understand as a Western woman, I do not like being told what I can and cannot do based purely on my gender. But when in a foreign culture, it is best to follow the local customs.
As a general rule, women in India do not tend to travel alone after dark, which is from 6pm.
This is one of the perks of staying in an ashram. Some ashrams will organise group trips so you can explore after dark safely with the teachers and fellow community.
At Sivananda ashram, they sometimes organise a sunset trip up one of the mountains to meditate. It’s a truly magical experience and beautiful to experience India safely after dark.
9, Travel in groups if possible
I know this is an obvious point and defeats the point of travelling as a solo female explorer. However if it is possible it is safer to travel as a group. This is another reason I loved living in an ashram. I made some great friends who travelled with me to the next beach town and other ashrams.
The advice I was given whilst in India was that it is safe to travel as a solo woman in South India. However, in North India, it is better to travel as a group.
10. Download the local map
This will really help you feel safer in India. Personally I was recommended an app called MAPS.ME which was a lifesaver!
Any maps app will work well including Google Maps. If you download the local map before going to India, then you can use your GPS on your phone to locate where you are.
Personally I like MAPS.ME because it is fairly straightforward to use. You can easily pin places of interest like your hotel or temples. It also shows you bus stops which is useful when using public transport.
A map app which works offline is super useful when navigating public transport as they don’t announce the stops in India. And it’s not always easy to read them as you travel by. Using a map means you can track where you are on your journey and get off at the right stop!
Hope you enjoyed my blog on Staying Safe in India as a Solo Woman Traveller. I would love to hear your comments and advice for staying safe in India. Any questions just send me a comment!
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