India is often listed as a country unsafe for travellers, especially solo women. However, being a solo traveller myself for many years now, I constantly work to break this myth and help out travellers come to India, have fun and take back amazing memories. Here’s a few quick tips to help you stay safe.
This would apply to mostly everywhere you go. Carry just as much luggage as you can carry all by yourself for long distances. Prefer backpacks as compared to strolleys and carry on suitcases. Pack your luggage in a way that everything you need in transit is easily accessible and yet safe from pickpockets and slashers (there are often slashers who rip your bag and take whatever appears on top. Try keeping your hands free so you can navigate around. You will find just about everything you need here too, so if you can avoid carrying something so you can buy it here, do that.
Stay in safe hotels and neighbourhoods
Do your research well. When you pick hotels/hostels for your stay, check their reviews everywhere, on Facebook, on Tripadvisor, ask around in various travellers groups on social media, etc. These reviews will tell you about experiences of other people, and will give you useful hints of if you should avoid the place or if it is doable. Don’t always setlle for whatever is the cheapest, safety is more important than cost.
Avoid going out alone after dark
Quite many cities in India are known for their nightlife. It is always fun to just let down your hair and enjoy the night. As far as possible, try tagging along with someone you know when going out after dark. If you are going alone, inform your hotel about where you are going, what time you plan to be back and ask them to call a cab for you. Keep your phone fully charged when going out after dark.
Never, ever, ever leave your drink unattended
This is a no-brainer anywhere in the world. And yes, it even applies to a simple glass of water. Never leave any food or drink unattended. Never accept any food or drink from strangers. Not everybody around is a devil who would spike your drink, but there isn’t anything like being too careful either.
Wear clothes to blend in
Women in India don’t always drape a saree everywhere. Wearing kurtas, jeans, etc is acceptable, but try to keep yourself covered as much as possible. Besides helping you blend into the crowd, it will also keep you safe from the harsh sun (and resultant sunburn) that India receives almost throughout the year except a few winter months. Wearing a wedding band/ring (even if you are not married) would also be helpful sometimes. I strongly believe women should be free to wear whatever they wish to, but I also like being safe. Clothes are no measure of safety, however, blending into the crowd could help you at times.
Get a local simcard
Getting a local simcard should be a priority, preferably the moment you land here. You can get one from the airport itself. That will give you instant connectivity to local people – your hotel, your guide, etc. It will also give you data connectivity, to keep you connected to everyone via the internet.
Don’t trust strangers, not even kids
Go with your gut. Avoid following strangers, even kids blindly. If you need help with directions to a place, ask at a shop or some establishment instead of random strangers on the road. Using Google Maps would also be a good idea. Never fall asleep in cabs, that’s never a good idea. When taking a cab/rickshaw/etc. ask the hotel to arrange one for you. Also, take a picture of the driver and the number plate of the cab/rickshaw and send it your friend/family/someone responsible, who will know to raise an alarm if required. Even when you are in a cab/autorickshaw, it is never a bad idea to keep Maps open in your phone and follow the route being taken.
You can always say No
Be confident, and stern when you say no. Don’t waver, don’t sound scared and timid. Be firm. Your body language should also reflect the same. No harm acting like you know the place like the back of your hand. Always research the location well on Maps and memorize the areas and paths and routes as much as possible.
Be mindful of local sentiments
India has its own culture and traditions and it is often easy to end up doing something that would offend the locals. So be mindful of local sentiments. Refrain from PDA, avoid being insensitive about religion, avoid making nasty remarks about India, Indians or Indian things. Nobody likes being told such things. It is understandable not to like something, maybe the food, maybe the crowd, maybe the cleanliness, but try not to be vocal about it.
Carry required medicines
Most people visiting India end up with a stomach upset and are unable to handle the water and food in India. India is the land of amazing spices and delicious food, and not everybody can handle it. So carry the medicines you might need to manage that and get better. Ease yourself slowly into the Indian diet, don’t plunge into it rightaway. Insist on bottled mineral water as far as possible.