Tips for Traveling as a Solo Female in India
In many Western countries women hear a lot about occurrences in India that make loved ones afraid for our upcoming solo trips to India. We are taught to be afraid of other countries, cultures, and shown all of the negative things that happen there, especially to women. The truth is, these things can happen anywhere, and the chances of them happening to you are not as great as the media may make it seem. Personally, I have spent a year and a half traveling and living in India as a foreign solo female woman. It might help if you look Indian, but for those of us that stick out like a sore thumb, here is a list of things you should be aware of:
1. Cover Up.
I know in our home countries when it is over 30 C/90 F, us women might enjoy wearing shorts, tank tops, sundresses, etc. Although women in the major metropolitan cities in India do wear the same things as Westerners, chances are, you won't be spending as much time there if you are in India to study yoga. As well, this is not your culture, and because you stand out already with your hair color, skin color, cultural differences, etc, it is important to respect the most traditional aspects of Indian Culture, rather than show off the Western trends that have gained popularity here. This being said, wearing any loose pants, maxi skirts or dresses, and especially covering up the chest and shoulders area is best. As a woman, showing the neckline even when you aren’t showing cleavage can still bring you unwanted attention. Personally, I always wear a light scarf around my shoulders and chest, and I cover my body with loose fitting clothing from my arms to below my knees. I have found that wearing traditional Indian clothes such as kottas and loose pants go over well because they are lightweight, and it shows that you enjoy and respect Indian culture. If you wear leggings, it is important to wear a kotta, which is similar to a tunic or a long shirt to cover your hips. When I travel to a foreign country I have found it helps me connect more with the locals when I show an honest appreciation for it, even by wearing the local clothes. As well, you can buy any of these pieces at any market around India, tops and pants costing from $1.00 USD and upwards. One of the most beautiful things about India is the colors and intricate designs woven into all of the women’s clothing here, so take advantage and enjoy it! When in doubt, wear what the most conservative locals wear.
2. Personal Space.
There’s a bit of a joke amongst travelers here that there is no such thing as personal space here
in India. In India, "Guest is God" is written in the airport, and is truly practiced throughout the country. The culture is so family oriented that the western concept of individualism and isolation is quite foreign. At home, we often have our own apartments and work in our own offices or cubicles, and we live a lot of our adult lives on our own. In India, children stay with their families until they get married, and then they join a new family. There is an emphasis on giving, sharing, and enjoying life communally. I have often experienced people coming to sit right next to me when there is ample room, to look over my shoulder at what I am reading or writing, or begin talking to me simply out of curiosity. I found that many people are just curious about why you chose to come to India, especially if you find yourself in more remote areas. As a woman, you may recieve more attention than men, especially if you have unique features such as blonde hair. In some places, many people have never seen someone with light skin, or very curly hair, or with any other foreign physical attributes. Due to both this curiosity and the communal approach to life, you will likely find that many people may look at you, or even stare at you for long periods of time. Usually, this is because they are curious about you, and it isn’t considered rude in this culture to stare as it might be in the Western world. My advice is to trust your intuition, notice if you are feeling uncomfortable because it is different to be stared at, or because you can feel they have any harmful intentions, and respond accordingly. More often than not you will find that a simple “namaste” or a smile can break that barrier into a beautiful connection.
3. Stay Near Women and Children.
As a general rule of thumb, if there are women and children around, the area is safe. This is not to say that all men are dangerous by any means, I have met many incredible men here in India that have opened their hearts to me. However, when there are only men around, especially groups of young men, I certainly feel a shift in energy that makes me uncomfortable. I want to make it clear that I follow this rule of thumb anywhere I go, not just India. I believe that together we can spread awareness through our actions, and respectfully demonstrate self-respect so powerful that society naturally will follow suit. There is a camaraderie amongst women world wide, that acts as an invisible string that ties us together. We are all sisters, and we take care of one another in a light of the patriarchal society (save for a few small indigenous populations) we live in.
4. Follow the Rhythm of the Sun
Unless you are in Goa, where the rhythm is a bit different, most of India is up with the sun, and asleep with the moon. My experiences suggest following suit. There isn’t much of a nightlife culture unless you are in Goa or in a major city, where I would especially suggest to get home before it is dark. Even in Goa, it is important to be mindful of this rhythm and live accordingly, but there are many people, locals, and travelers alike, that are out all night enjoying the nightlife. In all other parts of India, I make sure that when I arrive at a new city, I arrive in daylight hours so I am not walking around alone at night, as well, I get to sleep early and wake up early to focus on my yoga practice. You will find that the social culture amongst travelers is more about spirituality, yoga classes, kirtans, trekking, or just enjoying the afternoon in a cafe and drinking a chai, than it is about getting wasted on a Friday night. My best advice is to just stay out with the sun, and of course, trust your own experience.
5. Have Faith.
The beauty I have found in India is that she gives you exactly what you give her. If you come with fear and mistrust of the people or the culture, you are only going to attract those who will give you something to be fearful of. When you learn to trust your own intuition, you will find that Indian people are some of the most educated, spiritually and emotionally aware people in the world, likely due to their rich history. There is a saying here that “Guest is God,” which everyone I have come across practices daily. I have been taken into the homes of people I met not five minutes earlier, and have been fed, given chai, and shown love from those who were otherwise strangers. However, I have met some travelers who have a hard time in India because they do not trust the people here. As previously mentioned, this is likely due to our cultural conditioning through the media and other sources. My advice is to only trust your own intuition and your own experience because the love of the people here is something I haven’t experienced so deeply anywhere else.
6. Trust Your Intuition
I mentioned this before, but I feel it is important enough to be mentioned again. Your intuition knows best. If you are too nervous to visit India, ask yourself why. Are these fears coming from your gut feeling, or from the fears projected on to you from your friends, families, loved ones, the media, or any other outside sources? When you dig deep enough, you will likely find that you were called to study yoga in India for a reason, and therefore, you are protected from any of the fears that are projected upon you, as long as you stay true to your path and continue following your heart in your yogic journey.
Overall, traveling in India as a solo female traveler is an incredible journey, and if it calls you, it can completely transform your life. Immersing into a culture so different from our own can be difficult at times, but this is the yogic practice— surrendering our egos, and who we thought we were, to allow for who we can become. It is important to let go of our home cultures so we can open up to India, whether it is our clothing choices, or getting used to being stared at a lot. This being said, it is important to trust your gut feeling about anyone you come across, just as you would in your home country or anywhere else in the world. Truthfully, Indian culture is so rich spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually, that the few “bad eggs” we hear about in the media are far and few between, like anywhere else. If you ever feel unsafe, leave the situation immediately. When you open up and let go of any fears, you will find the most incredible, giving, and loving people here in India. Remember that women band together, and as humans, we are all here to guide and love one another on our journeys.