5 Things a Single Woman Traveling to India Should Know
If you are a single woman traveling solo across India, congratulations! You are in for a series of unforgettable experiences!
Probably you’ve already researched it, but India is not a monolithic nation. There are too many cultural and geographical sub-strata in India for an outsider to quickly figure out.
As a result, your journey through India will expose you to a rainbow feeling, in terms of people, art, architecture, food, weather, locales, wildlife … the list is endless.
So how should you, a solo female traveler to India, go about it?
Here’s 5 things you must absolutely know if you’re a single woman traveling solo in India.
1. Relish some of the most tasty foods and drinks in the world, but …
First thing’s first, Indian food is full of delightful spices, almost sinful sweets and desserts and unbeatable sorbets.
There are a couple of things you’ll want to bear in mind. One, the mouth-watering food, especially street food, is often quite spicy and hot. Hygiene standards vary slightly and you don’t want to get sick when you’re a woman traveling alone. Unless you’re sure, don’t overindulge in spicy food – your digestive system might get offended!
Two, India is not a one-size-fits-all nation, so local flavors and ingredients influence every single recipe. That means the taste of even the most omnipresent foods varies across states – a mutton sandwich in Kerala can taste quite different from a mutton sandwich in Goa.
Most states make a clear distinction between vegetarian and non-vegetarian food – you’ll find a huge number of exclusively vegetarian restaurants in all states.
What about drinks?
Alcohol is banned in 5 of the 29 Indian states – in these states you can buy alcoholic drinks only from a small number of licensed shops. Most large cities (but very few small cities or towns) in the remaining states have well-equipped bars where you can chill out with a drink or two!
One extremely popular non-alcoholic drinks is chaas or lassi. It is, literally, the watered down version of curd (yoghurt) and goes great with almost all Indian lunches and dinners. While it’s available almost across entire India, it’s a little less common in the southern states than elsewhere.
2. Carry cash as well as card
Cards (Visa, MasterCard, and occasionally Diners) are accepted at all major business establishments. Yet it’s a good idea to carry some cash in the local currency (INR), because small businesses, street vendors and highway restaurants work mostly on cash basis.
Tipping for services like local transportation in cabs is not a common feature. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, you’ll find public transportation a great bargain (but also crowded). Whenever traveling from one city to the other by a taxi or a railroad, make sure you carry at least two times the fare in cash.
Solo female travelers aren’t as common in India as they are in Europe or the US, but over the past two decades this has changed drastically. And carrying cash adds to a great deal of convenience
3. You can take care of yourself
Almost all Indians you’ll meet are quite respectful towards women, especially if they understand you’re from a different country. That’s because one of the core tenets of the Indian culture is “Treat your guests next to your gods.”
That, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful at all.
Here are a few pan-India helpline phone numbers you can reach out to in case of an emergency:
Medical emergencies: Dial 108.
Police: Dial 100
Women helpline: Dial 1090
And of course your home country’s embassy contact number
Many states have their own helpline numbers, in addition to the above.
Additionally, there are a few women-centric apps you may want to check out, like Himmat, Smart24x7, bSafe etc. While all such good apps are GPS integrated, some also offer helpline support.
Other universal rules apply here too: be respectful towards the local culture, dress conservatively when in doubt, use services of professional organizations instead of relying on an individual and keep your family and friends updated about your travel plans on a daily basis.
Stop Hating Being Single and Embrace It!
4. Hunt for good bargains in hotels
The internet revolution hit India late, if you go by European or American standards. Yet, online businesses and ecommerce have picked up at an amazing pace.
As a result, you can book your hotels and restaurants almost as easily as in most developed countries. TripAdvisor, MakeMyTrip, Trivago, Ibibo are some of the most popular portals from where to book.
Before booking a hotel, make sure you check how far it is from the nearby tourist attractions that might interest you. Talk to friends if someone has been there earlier, read reviews and learn to spot the fake reviews from the genuine ones. As a solo traveler, you don’t want to land into the wrong kind of hotel and waste your time looking for a better one.
5. Do your research, but …
India is too large a country for you to cover in a single trip. Every region of India has a long history, full of rich art and culture. To fully enjoy it, researching your target destination is an absolute must. Pretty much like everywhere else, locals love it when they see you know a thing or two about the place or show the same passion as they do in food and wine festivals.
Reading stuff online, leafing through your The Lonely Planet guide or browsing through your favorite travel app will help you better appreciate every single place you visit. When you visit The Taj Mahal, for instance, your primary knowledge of its history will be a great plus.
That said, don’t research to the point of looking at everything with an uninvolved, dispassionate eye of an academic. Ancient eastern cultures like those of China, India or Japan have histories that go back to times when history was not recorded. So keep your eyes open and drink in every small detail that you’ll never find in any book or any website.
To do that, feel free to occasionally talk to locals (relax, not everybody wants to sell you a trinket!). Ask them, in non-judgmental ways, how they feel about the place you’re visiting. You’ll be surprised with the kind of wisdom and insight you can collect this way (India has a long tradition of passing knowledge from one generation to another, without using books, so this isn’t unusual).
As said earlier, Indians are quite respectful to women, so any of your questions are almost sure to elicit a great response.
A little planning, a little research and a little care will make your journey to India one of your most cherished memories! So have fun!
Mayank Batavia is a India-based teacher, blogger and freelance content writer. Technology laws, email marketing, math puzzles and trivia interest him. He writes for his technology services news blog www.almostism.com. He gave up trying to learn playing the flute, for which his family and neighbors wish to express their deepest gratitude.