10 Safety Tips for Women While Traveling in India
By Beth Whitman
|Author and fellow woman traveler on a camel in India.
The questionable safety of women traveling to India has been much reported in the news of late. The truth is that women are treated quite differently in India than in most Western countries. We don’t have the same rights as men and far too many crimes against women go unreported or, worse, unpunished when they are reported.
Men’s behavior toward foreign women is most often immature. They may try to touch you casually in an elevator, for example. However, there have been incidences of rape against foreign women. Though these should be taken quite seriously, it doesn’t mean one should cancel a trip to India. Such crimes are rare and, in most cases, can be prevented by following some common sense practices.
Despite the images of Bollywood women dancing around in revealing attire, India is a socially conservative country. Culture dictates that women (Indians and tourists alike) dress in clothes that keep their arms, shoulders, and legs covered.
It may not be fair, but it’s true.
Dressing conservatively isn’t the only thing that will help a woman stay safe in India. As a traveler, it's always important to play by your host country’s rules. As such, women need to be particularly alert when traveling to India and, in order to avoid potential issues, must conform to what’s expected by the locals.
Here are some precautions to take to ensure that your dream trip to the subcontinent lives us to your hopes.
- Avoid unnecessary attention by wearing modest attire. Keep in mind that Indians are a traditional people who dictate conservative clothing be worn even by visitors.
- Plan your itinerary well. Make sure you have confirmed train tickets and flights and that you arrive at train stations and airports in daylight.
- If traveling by public transportation, whether by taxi, rickshaw, train, bus, or metro, travel with someone else. If that can’t be done, try to make friends with other women so you’ve got someone to look out for you.
- When traveling by bus or train in a large city (i.e. shorter routes), board last so that you can position yourself close to the exit. Keep your back to the door, facing the other passengers on board. Keep your belongings close, and secure them by wrapping your bags’ handles around your wrists.
- When taking an overnight train or bus, secure your luggage with a cable lock to ensure against theft while you are asleep. To prevent thieves from grabbing contents from your bag, always lock the zippers together. Consider investing in bags with security features such as slash proof handles.
- Do not open your hotel door to strangers. If you expect a hotel employee to come to your room for something (room service, housekeeping or maintenance), let him in but keep the door open or step out of the room while he is in there. Don’t worry about being taken as rude; that’s much better than the possible alternative.
- If traveling by train, expect porters to swarm you upon arrival at the station. Be generous in tipping, as he can be helpful in getting you to your seat amidst all the chaos.
- Avoid being over-friendly with Indian men as this may give them the wrong signal. Though it may sound rude, avoid striking up conversations with your waiter or hotel staff. When traveling by public transportation, sit with women and children if possible.
- Always appear confident and as if you know where you’re going. Thieves target those whom they perceive as vulnerable and who will not put up a fight.
- Learn a little Hindi. Whenever you notice someone is violating your personal space, do not be afraid to wave them away with a loud, “jao jao” (go away).
Beth Whitman is the author of the Wanderlust and Lipstick guides for women travelers and runs tours to India through her company, WanderTours.