Is India Safe to Visit? A Woman’s Perspective
Before traveling to India, I was terrified. As a female traveler, I wondered if India was safe to visit as a woman. I heard horror story after horror story, one’s you’ve probably heard of, too. The horrific rape cases, the Delhi belly, and the pollution are all good reasons to skip India. And a lot of people often do. After spending months debating whether I wanted to tick this country off my bucket list, I figured I’d go to India and decide for myself.
Is India Safe to Visit?
The city of New Delhi, India has 29.6 million people, which is 5 million more people than the entire continent of Australia. In a place as densely populated as India, it is inevitable for there to be crime. Things like pickpocketing, tourist scams, and the rest of your average travel mishaps are widely present in India. But if you take proper precautions, India is as safe as any other country you travel to.
Is India Safe for Women to Visit?
Here’s the truth. There is no doubt that the violence against women present in India is horrific. In December 2019, a woman was set on fire by her rapists while she was on her way to court to testify against them. Other gruesome stories include the 8-year-old girl that was gang-raped and murdered in 2018 and the 23-year-old that was brutally gang-raped and tortured on a public bus in 2012. But if you’re wondering if India is safe to visit, it’s still yes.
I’m Not Trying to Scare You…
I’m not telling you about these cases because I want to scare you out of traveling to India. But the fact is, these concerns are part of the reason you’re probably reading this post in the first place. I would prefer you to hear it from me and know that in spite of this, India can still be a safe place for women to visit, and they do so all of the time.
Though the news will tell you that rape cases have increased in the last few years. This isn’t exactly true. The number of reported rape cases has increased. Though this isn’t exactly comforting, there isn’t some sudden urge for men to want to rape women. There are just more women standing up for themselves, and fighting back. You go, ladies!
Is India Safe to Visit for Solo Female Travelers?
Yes! There are many solo female travelers I met during our time in India who never experienced any issues. Indian people are some of the sweetest people you’ll meet and I never felt unsafe during my month trip! There is a perception that women get groped, cat-called, and “eve-teased” everywhere in India, regardless of circumstance. Though these incidences DO happen (even to Indian women), there a few things you can do to prevent falling victim to the harassment. This is how you stay safe as a solo female traveler.
Stay at Reputable Hostels
You may famously remember this vlogger who was basically held hostage at her hotel by the hotel staff. After she published that video, the hotel she stayed at was shut down by hotel management due to her bravery. But this sheds light on a common scam in India. AirBnB’s and other smaller hotel chains/guest houses often fake the images and reviews on their websites.
This makes it hard to find safe places to stay during your India travels. When you stay at reputable hostel chains, you’ll be able to meet loads of other young travelers from all walks of life in a controlled environment. Once you find a hostel chain you like, you’ll be able to find their other hostels all around India and have a similar experience. Here are a few amazing options.
We stayed at Moustache Hostel in both Delhi and Jaipur and loved our experience there. All of the beds come with curtains and a locker which gives you some privacy and security. Moustache Hotels are also well known for their awesome common areas that make it easy to make friends and meet other travelers. They usually have a paid in-house breakfast in the morning and are happy to help arrange your travels to other parts of India. Also, if you book your next Moustache Hostel during your stay, you get 10% off!
Bombay Backpackers Hostel
We stayed at Bombay Backpackers in Kolkata and it was such a little gem! Even though there were no curtains on the beds, the hostel always felt like you were coming home. Every single morning, the hostel staff would cook up breakfast and make us chai. In the afternoons, they’d grab everyone from their rooms for Chai in the common area which made it the perfect place to make friends!
Madpackers Hostel is an awesome hostel chain that we used when we went to Agra! Their hospitality, cozy common areas, and inviting environment make them one of the best hostel chains in India. Definitely a reputable hostel option that is certain to make your trip special and let you meet other travelers.
Hosteller hostels are also a reputable chain of hostels that are located all over India. Their commitment to quality bedrooms and good customer service is what you come to expect. Also, if you’re on a budget, every hostel has a kitchen in the common area where you can cook goodies and share them with your new friends. As a matter of fact, we made friends with some Indians in Delhi who taught us how to cook Paneer Masala in the kitchen! Such a great cultural experience.
Making friends is a huge part of any travel adventure. Although traveling solo is doable, you will feel more comfortable having people around you who know the area. India isn’t a place where you go “off-the-beaten-path” as a solo female. That’s just an honest fact. Other women may have done it and have been successful, but I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t risky. Group tours at hostels are also the best ways to enjoy the city because you get to avoid the harassment and have someone who knows where to take you.
Wear Conservative Clothing
The moment you land in India, you’ll notice that women dress more conservatively than other countries, especially in Southeast Asia. Even in more developed cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, women were wearing jeans and t-shirts. You can wear shorts and a tank top, it’s certainly not illegal. But if you’re trying to avoid negative attention from men, covering up is your best bet.
What should I wear to stay safe in India as a female traveler?
Personally, I was so paranoid about sexual harassment that the first thing I bought was a Kurti Pajami (Indian traditional wear). What started with paranoia, ended with me just loving dressing up in Indian clothes. Daily, I received compliments from both men and women alike regarding my outfits. I even got mistaken for an Indian woman! If you’re looking to blend in, and want to look stylish while doing it, invest in a Kurti Pajami.
P.S: You can find cute ones like this on Amazon if you really wanted to get a specific one, but you can find them all over India for about $5 USD.
Jeans and a T-shirt
Like I mentioned, women in developed cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata wear western clothing. If you don’t want to spend extra money just to travel through India, just bring jeans, t-shirts, and some cardigans. I definitely didn’t see any women bumming it in sweat pants while I was there, though.
If you want to be really extra, which I personally love, women all over India wear Sarees! They are beautiful, elegant, cheap, and the women who wear them look like queens! It’s considered more formal wear, but the moment you land in India, you’ll see tons of women (usually older generations) sporting their elegant sarees!
Stay In After Dark
Before I speak on this, I want to be clear that every place in the world is safer in the day time than at night time. But in India, it is imperative that you do not stay out alone after dark. Furthermore, do not get drunk by yourself anywhere in India.
Although, it is infuriating that people think like this… this is what one rapist told a film crew regarding his brutal & fatal sexual assault of a 23-year-old in 2012, “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night,” he told the filmmaker, Leslee Udwin. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes.” I do not condone, nor do I agree with his statements (obviously). But if this is what the sexual assailants think in India, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Like I mentioned earlier, Indians are bold and forward. I personally love that about the culture, but it turns some people off. If at any point you feel harassed, or threaten and ignoring them doesn’t work, it is perfectly acceptable to tell people to “fuck off”. That was almost verbatim told to me by one of my male Indian friends in New Delhi, so I have it on good authority. Moreover if at any point someone is bothering you, don’t be afraid to make a scene and call for help.
Travel During the Day
This goes back to staying in after dark, but this is true whether you’re a solo female traveler or going in a group. If you can avoid it, land in airports no later than 8 PM, and don’t be at any local train stops after dark. Things can get sketchy pretty quickly, and the couple of bucks you’ll save is not worth your safety.
Go on Organized Tours
When I landed in New Delhi, I stayed in a nicer hostel and part of town. At that hostel, they offer an amazing tour of Old Delhi where we learned about the culture, visited viewpoints, and tasted tons of delicious food. This was easily our favorite part of our time in Old Delhi. When we returned to the city after an overnight trip to Agra, we tried to recreate the tour on our own, and got lost in the ghetto of Delhi, not realizing it was a bad side of town. Even though I was with a male companion, we still felt unsafe. This is going to be true of any urban city with large amounts of poverty, so save yourself from trouble and book an organized tour.
If you want a great company that will organize your entire trip through India for you, we really love India Someday. Use our code CHASEFORADVENTURE05 for 5% off their fees.
If having the entire trip planned out isn’t your cup of tea, you can find awesome group and walking tours here.
Don’t Go “Off-The-Beaten-Path” on your Own
This is especially true when entering rural parts of India. Where education levels are low, the treatment and respect of women are low as well. Though India, I’m sure, has beautiful places to explore if you were to just get on a motorbike and explore, it’s not the country to do it alone in. Find friends at hostels or on CouchSurfing and travel with them.
Are Indian Men Creepy?
Every culture and country has its creeps, but men in India get a particularly bad reputation. Although rape, groping, and other types of sexual harassment happen in India, this is not the standard. Everyone we met was nothing short of welcoming, kind, and helpful. Even when men would approach me to take a selfie, they made absolutely zero body-contact out of respect. Staring is a common concern among foreign travelers, but you’ll find that everyone stares in India, not just the men. They usually stare out of curiosity, and not to undress you with your eyes. Trust your intuition, and you’ll be surprised by how many sweet and sincere people you’ll find.
On that note, however, it’s important to know the cultural norms you need to respect to avoid unwanted attention. For example:
Keep Your Hands To Yourself
Listen, y’all. I’m a hugger. My first, second, and third instincts are to hug everyone I meet. Here’s the issue, in India, men don’t usually touch other women. This is especially true if they are married. Whenever you meet a new man, either fold your hands up (like you’re praying) and say, “Namaste”, or shake their hand. Once you’ve become friends with someone, the rules change and you can hug, high five, or do whatever is appropriate for your relationship. But save all of that for when you trust them and get comfortable.
Don’t Be Overly Friendly
This was troublesome for me because I’m a bubbly, loud, and excitable human. I’m always keen to start up a conversation with a stranger, be extra polite, and say hello to everyone. That is fundamentally weird in India. Overt friendliness is confused with sexual interest to some men, commonly men in lower socioeconomic areas and with lower education levels. There is also the unfortunate perception that foreign women are easy. Even the slightest bit of extra attention can lead them on, and create an awkward situation for both of you.
Don’t Make Eye Contact
I learned from an Indian female friend that making eye contact with men is also confused with sexual interest. Throughout my time in India, I made sure to never look or acknowledge a man on the streets as I was walking. I was never harassed, addressed or bothered. Also, if people are staring, not looking helps it not affect you. You honestly don’t even notice the creepy stares if there are any (which my Indian clothes helped prevent).
Just Keep Walking
It’s extremely common to be overwhelmed when you land in India and have dozens of people “harassing” you to come into their shop. Indians are very entrepreneurial and bold. They are not afraid to get in your face and ask you for a sale. You just have to accept that’s the way of life over here. If anybody asks you to come into their shop or Tuk Tuk and you’re not interested, don’t acknowledge them. It feels rude at first, especially if you’re coming from Western countries, but it’s not. You’ll notice local Indians will do the same exact thing if they’re not interested.
Pro Tip: A friend explained to us that “No, Thank you” is actually interpreted as “No, Yes”. Though you might think you’re just being polite, you’ll be sending people the wrong message.
How to Get Around so that India is Safe to Visit
InterCity Train Travel
My absolute favorite way of traveling through India was through their country-wide train system, IRCTC. For long train journeys (15hrs+) we would pay no more than $10 per person, and it included a bunk to sleep on, dinner, and breakfast! It was a convenient and fun way of traveling, especially if you do it with friends.
There are bunks where you share the space with as many as 8 people and others that you can share with just one other person. If you’re a solo female traveler worrying about safety in India, you can either purchase a 1A First Class Ticket (2-4 people in a closed room) or find friends at a hostel to travel with. To stay safe during your visit to India, make sure your train departs no later than 9PM, and only depart out of densely populated stations. Also, never land in your new city after dark.
Flying in India is the safest, and fastest method of travel in India, and can be as cheap as a First class cabin on a train. You can find flights for as little as $20, but if you’re restricted to certain dates or need to arrive in your new city before dark, your flights might go upward of $100. Also, India is massive! If you’re restricted to only a 2 week holiday and want to see cities East to West, or North to South, you will only accomplish that by flying. Skyscanner lets us find the cheapest flights when we needed to fly from Mumbai to Chennai (and frankly anywhere in the world)!
Uber / Ola
In India, you can find rickshaws, tricycles, and cabs that can take you anywhere. In my experience, however, Uber and, the Indian equivalent, Ola were cheaper, easier, and safer. Because you don’t have to negotiate or get approached by seven other rickshaw drivers trying to get your business, you avoid the hassle.
Final Thoughts on Staying Safe During Your Visit to India
As you can see, traveling safely in India is possible! I would hate for you missing out on this amazingly colorful country, just because of a few bad eggs. In retrospect, I can’t believe India is a country I was scared of visiting. I have an essay of emotions coming to a blog near you, but in the meantime, know this:
- I almost cried when I left
- We met the most amazing people who consistently went above and beyond to make us feel loved, special, welcomed, and SAFE
- The country is absolutely beautiful, rich in history, and interesting
- The food is delicious, though that’s no secret
- Indian people have such a warm, special place in my heart and I’ve gathered memories I’m going to hold in my heart forever- We are coming back to India next year, and it’s almost exclusively for the Indians who live there.
I want to give a HUGE thank you to every kind stranger who put us in their car to show us around, invited us into their home to cook us a traditional meal, came to our rescue when we looked lost and frustrated, who refused to let us pay FOR ANYTHING when they took us out, and who left me feeling like I have family in a country so different from my own.
I am beyond grateful.
If you’re scared of going to India, talk to me before you decide to skip it. I will change your mind.
Are you afraid of traveling to India? Ask any questions you have down below and I’ll get back to you!
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