Is India a Safe Destination for Women Traveling Alone?

A woman looking out the window of a train in India

India’s vast population, rich culture, and rapid societal changes make it one of the most captivating destinations in the world. However, the safety of women traveling alone in India remains a concern for many. In this article, we will explore some common misconceptions and provide tips for safe travel, specifically for solo female travelers.

Then vs Now

In 2005, when I first started traveling in India, safety was not as hotly debated as it is today. As a Canadian who had never traveled alone before, I was more concerned about falling ill, feeling lonely, or adjusting to the climate. Even as a solo female traveler, embarking on a six-month journey across the country, I wasn’t overly worried about my safety.

Times have changed since then. Over the past 14 years, I have lived and traveled extensively in India. While I have experienced a few uncomfortable incidents, such as being stared at or followed by creepy individuals, I have never felt threatened or unsafe.

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From “Eve teasing” to sexual harassment

The landscape shifted in December 2012 when a horrific gang rape and murder of a young Indian woman made international headlines. This incident led to a paradigm shift, transforming the term “Eve teasing” to the more accurate “sexual harassment.”

Since then, women’s safety has gained significant prominence. Recent cases of gang rapes and murders have reignited concerns, prompting several countries to issue travel advisories. However, whether sexual assault is actually increasing or it is a result of increased reporting and attention remains a difficult question to answer.

Is India unsafe for women?

The question of whether India is an unsafe travel destination for women is misleading. While anything can happen anywhere, it is unlikely that most women traveling in India will face aggressive or hostile behavior. However, staring and unwanted attention are common occurrences.

Instead of focusing on safe or unsafe places, it is more valuable to consider how one travels. Are you practicing what I call “safe travel strategies”? It is also important to note that instilling fear in women about travel perpetuates a modern form of seclusion, rooted in sexist and misogynistic undertones.

Statistics show that most attacks against women happen within their own homes and are perpetrated by men they know. While India presents some unique risks related to staring, unwanted attention, and sexual harassment, it is possible to mitigate these risks and travel confidently within one’s comfort zone.

How to stay safe in India

Here are a few crucial travel strategies that I believe are particularly important for India and female travelers:

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1. Research

Before embarking on your journey, make sure you thoroughly research and understand the culture. In India, gender dynamics differ, and traditional values still prevail. Interactions with the opposite sex may be perceived differently compared to Western countries. A casual gesture or remark could be misinterpreted as an invitation.

2. Dress appropriately

Except for a few areas like South Mumbai and Goa, India is still a predominantly conservative society. It is essential to dress modestly and adhere to societal norms. When in India, I often dress modestly and frequently wear traditional Indian clothing like a salwar kameez. This not only garners respect from locals but also helps me blend in as much as a tall, blonde Canadian woman can.

3. Attitude

While politeness is valued, confidence is more important when traveling alone, especially in a country like India. Trust your instincts and walk away if someone makes you feel uncomfortable or harassed. Ignoring those who stare, beg, or invade your personal space is an effective way to discourage them. If you find yourself in trouble, don’t hesitate to call for help. Indian society places a strong emphasis on social shaming, and people will come to your aid.

4. Destination and location

As part of your research, identify which parts of India are more tourist-friendly and considered safer. For instance, in Delhi, I recommend staying in South Delhi, an upscale residential area with fewer touts, con artists, and individuals who prey on tourists. States like Kerala and Rajasthan, which attract a large number of tourists, are generally safer for female travelers, including those traveling alone. Goa, while popular, has a vibrant party scene and has been the site of crimes against female tourists. It is important to exercise caution and avoid involvement with drugs in Goa or any other area in India.

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5. Travel and transportation safety

Traveling in India can be overwhelming, particularly when it comes to booking tickets and navigating various forms of transportation. During transit, women often face unwanted attention and potentially dangerous situations. Take extra care with your bookings and when traveling by train, plane, bus, or car. Avoid arriving at train or bus stations late at night, especially without reliable transportation. Inform others of your plans and, most importantly, do not trust random strangers at railway stations or airports offering assistance or rides. Utilize reputable taxi apps like Ola or Uber, or opt for pre-paid taxi services.

It’s also worth mentioning that you can hire women drivers through initiatives like Women on Wheels in Delhi or Pink City Rickshaws in Jaipur. Delhi Metro and Mumbai’s commuter trains have dedicated “Women” cars, while long-distance trains often have women-only compartments. Traveling in these spaces can create a safer and more convivial environment.

For more tips on women traveling in India, you can refer to my article here.



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