For adventurous women, India poses a wide range of experiences that span from trekking the frozen Zanskar River, pub-hopping the streets of Bangalore, and going shoulder-to-shoulder on a night trek with trained guards at Periyar Tiger Reserve. There is a lot to explore in this diverse country, but there’s one question women traveling around India will run into again and again—is India a safe destination for female travelers?
With a population of over 1.4 billion, traveling in India can be challenging for women when it comes to the matter of safety, but after six years of exploring this beautiful country, I believe safety is also a state of mind. With the right mindset, cautionary steps, and savvy tech skills, it is possible to plan a safe workation as a woman in India.
Here are my essential safety tips for women traveling in India.
Choose Assertiveness Over Politeness
If you want to travel safely in India, understand when to say no, when to stand up for yourself, and when to walk away. Unfortunately, there’s a chance that you may experience behaviors from men like crossing boundaries, staring, and groping. For example, I’ve found that drivers often crowd and hassle me at train or bus stations to offer their services. Instead of bothering with answering them and trying to be polite, I simply say no and walk away.
If you are in a place alone with a man and sense anything unusual, try to walk away to a space with more people around. Once when I was traveling on the train, a man who sat opposite my seat started staring at me. The train was approaching the last station and I was the only one in the compartment. Without hesitation, I got up and switched to the next section of the train where there were a few more people.
On the other hand, spaces with too many people can also be dangerous as this is where you are most likely to be groped. It can happen anywhere from a dance floor to a crowded bus, so be aware of your surroundings always. If it does happen to you, make a lot of noise and call for help. In India, being publicly shamed is a huge embarrassment and people will speak up and defend you.
Avoid Arriving at Night
I have traveled to different parts of India using various modes of transportation. But one thing I religiously stick to while traveling through this country is never arriving at a new destination in the middle of the night. If you don't have any other choice, make sure someone from the accommodation meets you at the bus stop, train station, or airport. Most accommodations offer pick-up services, which is much safer than taking random taxis at night.
Try to avoid wandering on foot at night. If you leave a restaurant or pub late at night, ask the front desk or reception to arrange a taxi or auto. If you are commuting within the city alone at night, call someone (or pretend to) and share the taxi number loud enough for the driver to hear. This will make the driver aware that they can't mess up with you.
Take a Cab
Use taxi apps like Uber and Ola to get around in major cities. Strongly disagree and stand your ground if the driver wants to pick up an unknown person along the way. There are also cab services with women drivers, like Sakha Consulting Wings in cities like Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata, and Indore, Go Pink Cab in Bangalore, and Pink City Rickshaws in Jaipur. Try taking sleeper-class compartments mainly used by women, families, and other travelers or women-only compartments during long-distance train journeys to avoid any unpleasant encounters.
Set Clear Boundaries
Setting boundaries is a balancing act of being friendly and protecting yourself when dealing with men. To make sure they are not misreading your signals, you can call them baiyya, which means brother, so that your diplomatic or social behavior is not misunderstood. Some men may try to ask you personal questions, but you should never reveal too much about yourself or your travel plans. Unless you know them well, never eat or drink anything someone offers you.
Safeguard Your Data and Gadgets
While traveling in India, always have your gadgets locked and password protected, whether it’s your laptop, phone, or tablet. Never leave your devices unattended when you are working in a cafe. Either lock it and hand over your gadgets at the reception desk or ask them to keep an eye on them when taking a restroom break. Use a padlock to lock your hostel lockers and gadget bag when using busy metros and public transportation.
Never connect your devices to public WiFi, as this makes your data easily accessible to hackers. When working in coworking spaces or cafes, ensure you don't leave your confidential data in public view or vacate your desk without locking your laptop. If the coworking space doesn’t have separate login credentials for each individual, use a VPN that hides your IP address.
India is a diverse country with many different cultures and customs that vary from region to region, so you will need to research whichever place you wind up going. In most areas, it is appropriate to wear casual jeans and tops, but it is better to evade shoulder-revealing, knee-revealing, and body-hugging clothes to avoid unwanted attention. If you are visiting religious places, especially temples, make sure to wear a traditional dress like a salwar or saree. Western wear is much more acceptable in destinations like Goa and certain parts of Bangalore, Mumbai, and other metropolitan cities.
Save Emergency Numbers
Make sure to have the emergency dials saved in your phone ready to dial if you get into any undesired situations.
- 100: Police
- 1091: Women Helpline (All India)
- 139: Security assistance in train. If you are not in a situation to dial, send a private message to the RailwaySeva Twitter account for instant response.
Helpline 112 is an app integrated with an emergency response system to address emergencies. The app requires registration along with your phone number, state, and current location and asks what kind of help is needed. Always keep someone updated about your daily travel plans so they can act promptly in emergencies.
Carry a Self-Defense Tool
A self-defense safety tool will give you the courage to navigate any place without feeling vulnerable about your safety. If you are a female traveling through India, a self-defense tool like pepper spray or a taser is a must, just like your phone and travel documents. But remember, a safety tool works only if you can easily access it at the right time. So if you are traveling alone in a cab at night or walking down a lonely road in an unknown place, keep your safety tool within easy reach, whether you feel threatened or not.