Mariellen Ward in a navy top and bright green skirt in a temple opening in Lucknow, India.

Solo Female Travel in India — Is India Safe?

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Solo female travel to India is much more popular than you might think. In some ways, India is actually a very good destination for solo female travel, despite all the warnings and dire media reports. I’ve spent many years traveling solo in India, and I now live there – in Rishikesh, which is an ideal destination for a solo female traveler interested in Yoga. (It’s called the Yoga capital of the world!)

Having said that, I know that as much as I love India, and the adventure of traveling there, it’s not for everyone. People tend to either love India (me!) or hate it. For those of us who love it, India is the most exciting destination on earth. Every moment is an adventure, a sensory overload, and a crash course in learning to live in the moment.

To be in India, you really need to learn to surrender and go with the flow. Otherwise, it’s an exercise in frustration. I always say that India is in charge, and India always wins. So if you are willing to keep your ego in check, and open yourself up to the full-on experience of being in India, you may discover the magic that keeps us Indophiles hooked.

This guest post is written by Mariellen Ward, owner of India travel site BreatheDreamGo.com and an expert on India travel, particularly traveling in India as a Western woman. An earlier version of this post featured an interview with Mariellen; you can now find that here. All photos in this post are hers unless otherwise specified. See more on Mariellen at the end of the post.

Orange temples nestled into green hills on a turquoise lake in Rishikesh, India.

Reasons to Travel to India

1. Transformation. The main reason to go to India is the one that people – including me – have the hardest time explaining, or putting into words. India is different. There’s nowhere else like it. Some describe it as the soul of the world. It knocks you wide open, and can transform you and your life.

As cliché as that may sound, it’s absolutely true. Many travelers will tell you that India was the best, and worst, place they ever went. They loved it, hated it, miss it like crazy, and can’t wait to go back. India gets under your skin like nowhere else, and I cannot tell you exactly why this is true. I can only tell you that my first six-month trip to India, in 2005, completely changed me and my life.

2. Food. Indian food is a magical phrase to many people. The New York Times even did an investigation on what makes it so damn good. Something about the unexpected and counter-intuitive combination of flavours. And not only is the food in India amazing, it changes completely from region to region. The rich curries and thick breads of the north are absolutely nothing like the spicy dosas and steaming idlis of the south.

3. Color. India is colorful, in every sense of the word. The clothes are colorful, the festivals are colorful, the temples are colorful. Most foreigners experience extreme sensory overload in India, which is part of the reason it’s so exciting to travel there. The culture shock does eventually wear off, but never completely. Color is also the reason the clothes shopping in India is so spectacular!

4. History. India is unique because the culture is unbroken. Though it is a fast-changing and modern society in many ways, it is unchanged culturally and spiritually since ancient times. India never experienced anything like the Cultural Revolution in China, which all but wiped out the past. You can visit an astonishing number of ancient monuments all over the country; you can take part in spiritual rituals that have been performed in the same place and in the same way for thousands of years; you can watch classical dance performances at thousand-year-old temples.

5. People. I’ve spent years travelling solo from one end of India to the other, and probably the number one reason I’ve had such an amazing time is the people. Indians are warm, friendly, and helpful and are often driven by an intrinsic philosophy known as Atithi Devo Bhava. This translates to Guest is God. When hospitality is good in India – whether in a simple homestay or a five-star hotel – it cannot be beat.

6. Festivals. There’s a festival just about every day in India. In fact, the atmosphere in many markets and temples is festival-like all the time. Indians like to celebrate and have fun, they feel joy easily and never hesitate to express it. Some of the bigger festivals of India are well-known and many people travel to India to experience them, especially Holi and Diwali.

7. Yoga and wellness. There are many places in India to go for Yoga and wellness retreats. You can stay in an ashram, take a Yoga teacher training course, or simply do a Yoga vacation on the beach. Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga, designed for the health of the body, and Wellness programs are often in the Ayurvedic tradition. To find out more, check out my guide to Yoga in India.

8. Nature. You might not think of nature when you think of India. So many images are of the bustling cities. However, there are many remote parts of India that are spectacularly beautiful, such as the Himalayas of North India and the jungles of Madhya Pradesh in the centre of the country. Trekking, wildlife and tiger safari, and whitewater rafting are just some of the options.

Blonde woman riding a bicycle against a painted wall with a blue door in Kochi, India.

Is India Safe?

India is a challenging destination for a wide variety of reasons that include the population density, extreme weather, lack of infrastructure, transportation delays, complex bureaucratic procedures, corruption, proliferation of scammers, Delhi belly, and culture shock.

It is not, however, a particularly challenging destination due to crime. Crimes against tourists, including female tourists, do happen, but they are relatively rare. Probably rarer than you think, given the onslaught of negative media attention.

The main reasons you need to be on your toes while traveling in India are water, mosquitoes, and con artists. Travelers’ diarrhea, aka Delhi belly, is the single biggest problem travelers to India face. Bad water is the biggest cause of Delhi belly – much more so than food poisoning. Watch out for water in ice cubes and sauces.

The second biggest problem is con artists, touts, and scammers. They are masterful, and unfortunately plentiful, and prey on newbies to India at airports, train stations, popular destinations, travelers’ haunts, and backpacker neighborhoods. I’ve heard some unbelievable stories about these guys (they are almost always guys), telling newly arrived tourists their hotel burned down, their train was cancelled – and the biggest doozy of all – that Delhi was closed down due to pollution. Do NOT believe random strangers in busy tourist places!

The third biggest problem is mosquitoes. You need to be very careful of mosquitoes all across India, largely because of dengue fever, which is not preventable. There is no vaccine, so try not to get bitten.

Malaria is less of a risk in India. In the 5+ years I’ve spent in India, I have never taken an anti-malarial pill, and have never had malaria or dengue fever. I liberally use mosquito repellant with DEET, though. (Note from Kate: if you have questions about malaria or dengue, make an appointment at a travel clinic before your trip and speak to a medical professional.)

Those are the biggest problems. But there are others, of course. Women need to be careful with regards to the opposite sex in India, just as they do everywhere else. I’ve had some creepy encounters with men in India, but I’ve never felt threatened or unsafe. I was groped once in crowded Old Delhi, I’ve been followed several times on the street, and stared at countless times.

In India, the men can be more pervasive, persistent, and annoying than other places, but they rarely cross the line. The worst things I’ve heard from other travelers are usually stories about public masturbation. While that is not good – yuck! – it is not life-threatening.

Mostly, you need to be careful at night: ensure that someone reliable is picking you up at the airport or train station, for example. And all women need to realize that India is not the west; the genders relate differently. What might be perceived in the west as an innocent flirtation could be taken for an open invitation in India. Western women have the added disadvantage of being perceived as “easy.”


Do your parents or friends say that India isn’t safe?

Here’s how to figure out if you should believe them.


Mariellen Ward in a green and blue dress holding a blue shawl behind her, sitting on a rock in the Ganga river.

Solo Female Travel in India

As I mentioned already, India is not for everyone, so before deciding to travel there, have an honest conversation with yourself. It’s an exciting travel destination, but not an easy one. Think of it this way: if you decided to take up mountaineering, you would not start with Everest. You would start with a smaller mountain and work your way up. India is like Everest.

Even seasoned travelers, people who proclaim, “Nah, I’ve traveled for months in Southeast Asia, I’ll be fine,” get their socks knocked off by India. It is not like Nepal, or Vietnam, or Thailand. There is nowhere else like India. So be prepared for a long learning curve, unless you start with a small group tour or a custom tour.

This is the reason I started India for Beginners tours. To give travelers the hand-holding they need – whether they just need help with some bookings, itinerary development, or a full custom tour with guides.

You also need to do some research to learn about the popular tourist destinations and better neighbourhoods. I recommend sticking to the well-traveled tourist hotspots when first in India. These places can be annoying because tourists also attract con men, touts, and scammers. But they are safer than wandering alone into a remote or sketchy area.

I also recommend reading blogs, books, and guides to learn about the local customs. I wrote a lengthy post on my top tips for women traveling in India to cover many of the basic things you need to know.

(Note from Kate: I always keep a guidebook PDF on my phone — it’s filled with critical information, like locations of medical centers and how to get between cities, and it adds zero weight. I recommend the PDF version of Lonely Planet India.)

Mariellen Ward wearing a white and red top and black hat and posing in front of a scalloped window opening in a temple in Mind, India.

Tips for Women Traveling Alone in India

Dress modestly. Bollywood movies can be very racy, and there are many modern and westernized areas of the country where young Indian women wear short dresses, jeans, and sleeveless tops. But as a foreigner who stands out, and who isn’t likely to know exactly what’s acceptable and what isn’t, it’s wise to err on the side of modest.

This is especially true when you’re travelling in remote or traditional areas of the country, including Rajasthan, even though it’s a popular tourist destination. Here’s more detailed information on what to wear for travel in India.

(Note from Kate: Consider getting a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf. These beautiful scarves have a hidden passport pocket in them. I love these scarves (I even designed my own!) and they are so good at keeping your valuables hidden. They’re also extremely chic and they work in India as well as they work in Paris.)

Get a local SIM card. The first thing you should do when you land in India is get a SIM card at the airport. Having a local number will not only be extremely convenient, it can help keep you safe. Everything is done by WhatsApp or text message in India – everyone has a mobile phone and they use them for everything.

Use taxi apps. Download some taxi apps like Uber and Ola for use in the big cities. Traveling by GPS taxi is very safe in India, and also very inexpensive. You can use your local SIM and taxi app to arrange pickup at airports and train stations, for example – places that are notorious for scammers, touts, and drivers who overcharge foreigners.

(Note from Kate: I recommend locking up your valuables in a portable safe in your hotel room. I do this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and I consider it the most important thing I pack.)

Pack light. India presents lots of travel challenges like transportation delays and infrastructure fails. If you pack light, it’s much easier to deal with the unexpected. You can just pick up your bag and “adjust a little,” as they say in India.

Don’t slum it. In some countries, it’s fun to travel as cheaply as possible, stay in cheap hotels, take local buses, etc. This can be true for India, too, but as a solo female traveler, or someone new to India, I don’t advise it.

Spend a bit more for 2AC class on the train (though 3AC is often fine as well), a decent guest house in an upscale part of town, and a taxi rather than a bus. There are also some good “luxury hostels” in India, too, especially in the major tourist centers like Delhi and Jaipur.


READ MORE:

Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women


A mural in Delhi featuring a woman in a red dress holding a long cigarette holder.

Best Destinations for Solo Female Travelers in India

The best destinations for female solo travelers in India are those that are already popular, and where you’re lucky to meet other like-minded travelers. You can get an overview of India (and more resources) in my India Travel Guide.

Delhi

Delhi is the capital of the country, a huge, sprawling city with an illustrious past. Most people arrive and leave from Delhi, and there’s a huge expat community (largely due to all the embassies), so there’s lots of available for visitors in terms of hotels, hostels, hip neighbourhoods, tourist attractions, great shopping and much more. Delhi is the cultural and culinary capital of India, so you can spend weeks here exploring and never run out of things to do, see, and eat.

My top tip for Delhi is to stay in leafy South Delhi, the most prosperous area of the city. Avoid the touristy areas of Paharganj, Karol Bagh and Connaught Place: though you can find cheap accommodation in these places, they’re crawling with scammers and con artists. I lived in Delhi for several years. You can read more about the city in my guide to Delhi.

Where to Stay in Delhi

Hotels in Delhi and Mumbai (especially Mumbai) are pricier than just about anywhere else in the country. You can get a cheap hotel in a place like Paharganj OR Karol Bagh, but I don’t recommend these areas for solo female travelers (though it can be fun to go and visit, and the market in Karol Bagh is the biggest in Delhi).

If you want a luxury hotel: ITC Maurya is one of the top hotels in Delhi – it’s where heads of state stay, including the President of the United States. It also features a couple of the top restaurants in the country. This hotel was a pioneer in providing female travelers with a floor to themselves. I’ve stayed here several times, and always enjoy it.

Additionally, The Imperial is my favorite hotel in Delhi due to its historical significance, location, incredible art collection, and because just walking in the lobby makes me feel like a movie star. The Imperial has lovely rooms, and a floor just for women travelers with extra security and amenities that include a silk bathrobe and a box of very high-end toiletries.

If you want a mid-range hotel: Shanti Home is a reasonably priced boutique hotel in South Delhi, a residential neighbourhood, that gets a lot of positive reviews. It features a rooftop restaurant, lounges on each floor, and sophisticated Indian decor. Shanti Home is on the TripAdvisor list of safe hotels in Delhi.

If you’re on a budget: Prakash Kutir is a B&B is the trendy Hauz Khas neighborhood of South Delhi. It has a home-like feel, pleasant rooms, a great location in South Delhi, and will give you an authentic experience of staying in an Indian home. This is my home-away-from-home in Delhi now, I feel like a member of the family.

Check out more hotels in Delhi here.

The golden city of Udaipur, Rajasthan, India, rests on the blue river at dusk.

Rajasthan

Close to Delhi, the desert state of Rajasthan is one of the most tourist-friendly areas of India. It’s also very beautiful, historical, and fascinating. In spite of my many years of travelling all over India, I still love Rajasthan, and I don’t think its popularity with tourists has diminished its charms.

You can follow the well-traveled route: Jaipur, Ranthambhore, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Udaipur, and Jaisalmer. Or you can get off the beaten path and go to Shekhawati, Bundi, Bikaner, Mount Abu, Bharatpur…and all the small villages, fort hotels, and desert camps in between. All of it is worth experiencing.

Where to Stay in Rajasthan

If you want a luxury hotel: You can really splash out in Rajasthan’s incredible palace hotels, but it will cost you. The Oberoi Udaivilas Hotel in Udaipur was voted the best hotel in the world by Travel+Leisure, for example. The Taj Lake Palace Hotel, also in Udaipur, is apparently one of the most photographed in the world. And the most incredible place I’ve ever stayed is Suryagarh near Jaisalmer. Here are a couple of options than are a bit more affordable.

If you want a mid-range hotel: Shahpura House, a great choice in Jaipur, has the traditional Rajashtani architecture and décor that you want and it’s affordable safe, and located in Bani Park, an upscale and residential area. Lots of women’s groups stay here.

If you’re on a budget: Inn Seventh Heaven, a haveli-style hotel, is a personal favourite. The rooms are full of authentic Rajashtani character, there are tinkling founatins in the open-air courtyard, and the rooftop lounge and restaurant is a great place to chill. The haveli has a thick, wooden door with spikes: no one gets in here without the staff knowing. I felt very safe!

Check out more hotels in Rajasthan here.

Mariellen Ward wears a white Indian top and pink trousers and poses on the banks of the Ganga river in Rishikesh, mountains behind her.

Rishikesh

If you’re into Yoga, you can’t miss Rishikesh. It’s a great destination for solo female travelers. Rishikesh is a sacred city, located where the holy Ganges River leaves the mountains to begin its journey along the plains. It’s in a very picturesque location as the river runs through a valley, with the foothills of the lower Himalayas rising on either side.

The small town is chock-a-block with temples, ashrams, and Yoga schools – as well as guesthouses, cafes, organic food stores, and the ubiquitous hippie market full of elephant-print harem pants, embroidered pillow covers, and jute bags.

Lots of solo female travelers head to Rishikesh to take Yoga courses and soak up the vibe in this chilled-out town. It’s also easy to get to. Just about a five- or six-hour drive north from Delhi, you can also get there easily by train to Haridwar (and then taxi) or by flight to Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport, just 18 kilometers (11 miles) away.

Do note that as Rishikesh is a sacred town, meat, eggs, and alcohol are illegal, though the smell of marijuana (ganja) wafts through the streets. Marijuana is illegal in India so I would highly recommend that you don’t get involved with it, or the people who use it.

Where to Stay in Rishikesh

The place to stay in Rishikesh is a Yoga ashram, and there are many to choose from. But for those who want a hotel stay, there are lots of guest houses and a few higher-end places, too, such as Divine Resort or Yog Niketan by Sanskriti – both with great views of the Ganga River. But my advice is to try an ashram stay.

Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram is right in the heart of Tapovan, the trendy part of Rishikesh, and it’s run by a husband-and-wife team: He’s a highly revered Indian yogi and she’s Canadian, so here you get the best of both worlds: authentic Yoga and a well-maintained ashram. I call this place the Canadian Embassy – literally all of the students are from western countries with a high proportion from Canada.

Check out more hotels in Rishikesh here.

A line of brightly painted beach shacks beneath palm trees on the sand in Goa, India.
Beach shacks in Goa — via Pixabay

Goa

Goa needs no introduction! Most people are aware of this tiny, tropical state – famous for full moon beach parties, night markets, and hippies. It’s a very touristy area, and most westerners feel right at home.

North Goa is where the action is. If you want to party, this is the place. Be aware however, that it’s not what it used to be. The government has brought in some strict laws against partying on the beach. It’s also probably one of the least safe places in India for foreigners because of the drug scene. There have been several murders over the last few years.

I much prefer South Goa, which is quieter, more remote, much more naturally beautiful, and probably safer. South Goa attracts a slightly older, less party-hardy crowd.

Where to Stay in Goa

There are so many places to stay in Goa, it’s hard to know where to start! You can find everything from the simplest beach shacks at a few dollars a night to luxury five-star resorts. There’s also Yoga retreats, heritage mansions, homestays and Airbnb. Most people pick the area and/or beach first, and then find their accommodation. I found my favorite place (no, I am NOT telling), by walking on a beach in South Goa.

Ashiyana Yoga Retreat is located in one of the parts of North Goa that is still quite peaceful, on Mandrem Beach. It’s a lush property, back from the beach behind a beautiful lagoon that has a wide range of accommodation from simple huts to gorgeous themed rooms (I stayed in a fairy-tale-like room named after Jaisalmer) at various price points. They also provide lots of Yoga and wellness options.

Check out more hotels in Goa here.

A cafe in Mumbai filled with pictures from India and Britain.

Mumbai

Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is perhaps the most westernized city in India, and many consider it to be the safest. It’s definitely the most fun, with lots of cool neighborhoods, hip cafes, creative co-working spaces, and the best nightlife in the country. It’s also a densely packed and expensive city, and affordable accommodation options are hard to find. I prefer to stay in Bandra, a trendy suburb. Here, Airbnb is definitely your best bet.

Where to Stay in Mumbai

If you want a luxury hotel: splash out on the iconic Taj Mahal Mumbai Palace Hotel near the Gateway of India in Colaba.

If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel: Abode Boutique Hotel is one of the hippest hotels in Mumbai. The location near the Gateway of India in Colaba can’t be beat (it’s behind the Taj Mahal Mumbai Palace Hotel). If you can’t afford their private rooms, there is an option to choose a room with a shared bathroom.

Check out more hotels in Goa here.

Cliffs and beach leading into the ocean in Varkala, Kerala, India, palm trees rising from the hills.

Kerala

Kerala is a tropical state in the very south of India known for having beautiful beaches, a rich and unique culture, and a gentler, more laid-back vibe than many other parts of India. I often advise people to start their India travels in Kerala because it provides a soft landing. Also, there’s so much to see and do, aside from the obvious attraction of great beaches and some fun beach towns like Varkala (my favorite) and Kovalam.

Cochin, also known as Kochi, is a fascinating historical trading port that is well worth a visit – it has a small but lively café and arts scene – and it’s also quite near the backwaters, one of the most famous regions of the state. I recommend a day cruise on the backwaters, but would avoid an overnight journey.

You can also venture up in the hills, the Western Ghats to see tea gardens and spice plantations, plus there are a couple of national parks and biosphere reserves. I believe virtually all of Kerala seems like a good option for a woman traveling alone in India. Here’s an overview of some of the best places in Kerala to visit.

Where to Stay in Kerala

If you want a luxury hotel: Coconut Lagoon in Kumarakom, a luxury property in the backwaters, is one of the most elegant, unique, and special places I have ever stayed. It is also considered one of the world’s leading responsible/sustainable hotels.

If you want a mid-range hotel: Malabar House in Cochin/Kochi is a very special place, owned by a French woman with a discerning eye. It’s romantic, unique, and well-located in the heart of the historic part of town. The food is sensational, too.

If you’re on a budget: In Varkala, I prefer to stay away from the “scene” on the North Clifftop – it’s fun but very busy. I like Kaiya House even though it’s on the main road and about a 15-minute walk to the beach. A small, intimate, and beautifully designed guesthouse, it’s a good place for a solo female traveler because it’s run by Deborah, an American woman, who is incredibly helpful.

Check out more hotels in Kerala here.

A tiger safari in Madya Pradesh, India, with a safari vehicle driving through trees on golden grass.

Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh is a big state in the center of India and it doesn’t get a lot of tourists. The main reasons to visit MP are Khajuraho – a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site – and the tiger reserves. MP has the best tiger reserves in the country. But if you can only go to one, and stay in only one of the many fabulous jungle lodges it has to be Kanha National Park, one of my favorite places on this planet.

The premier lodge of Pugdundee Safaris – my favorite tiger safari company in India – Kanha Earth Lodge is architecturally stunning, constructed of natural materials like wood and stone, and blends beautifully into the environment. It’s in a rural location, far from the busy area that surrounds the park gate, and has won many awards for sustainable and responsible practices. But the best reason to stay here is to go into the park on safari with their excellent naturalists.

Check out more hotels in Madhya Pradesh here.

The golden buildings of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, perched on the blue lake at dusk.

Travel Insurance for India

Travel insurance is vital for trips to India — or any other country. If you get Delhi belly so bad that you need to go to the hospital, or trip and break your ankle while climbing down a temple, travel insurance will help you in your time of need and protect you from financial ruin. If you need to be flown home, it could save you well over $100,000.

And it’s not just about injury. If you get robbed, travel insurance can refund you for what was stolen from you. If your flights are cancelled due to weather, travel insurance can refund you. And if you have a death in the family and need to get home immediately, travel insurance will help you get home fast. Adventurous Kate recommends World Nomads travel insurance for trips to India.

My #1 India Travel Tip

India may not be for everyone, but if it’s calling you don’t hesitate. Go with an open mind and heart…but make sure you do your research ahead of time!

Mariellen Ward wearing a white top and tan trousers, posing in a temple in Khajuraho, India.

About the Author

Mariellen Ward is a Canadian travel journalist who publishes the award-winning travel site Breathedreamgo.com, based on her extensive travels in India. She has a BA in Journalism, has been published in leading media outlets around the world, and lives up in the clouds in Rishikesh, India. Through her company India for Beginners, she offers itinerary planning, travel services, and custom tours.


READ NEXT:

Mariellen Ward on Women Traveling Alone in India


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110 thoughts on “Solo Female Travel in India — Is India Safe?”

  1. I’m in India at the moment travelling solo and I have to say I have a world of respect towards the woman travelling solo here. It’s a tough but extremely rewarding country and I could agree more with what you said about how India very quickly reflects back on you the mindset you bring to it.

  2. Great tips, really happy to hear about locals rallying around you when in need.

    Dressing the part is a big sign of respect and I completely agree with doing that, no matter what country you’re in. Reading posts like this will remind me to be more conscious of solo female travelers. The world is never as scary as the media wants you to believe it is and first hands knowledge really proves it. Rachel @ Hippie in Heels has tons of great info on solo female travel in India as well.

    1. Thanks for the shout-out Shaun 🙂 I just love reading posts about India. I’ve been here almost 2 years now and agree with all the Mariellen has said! You have to have an open mind and be friendly- India will accept you! I was on my own for a while and like her, had a couple tiny problems but nothing to make me feel negative toward india

  3. Amelia Tuttleby

    I have to thank you for this wonderful information about solo travelling in India for women. One of my dearest friends is from India and has often spoken to me about visiting her family with her next time she goes over. To begin with I am quite naive on Indian culture so I was a bit uneasy about travelling with little to no information on the place i was visiting. Your blog has provided me with an excellent starting point into my research and I cannot wait to delve further into my research in preparation for my trip!

  4. I have read so many different experience of solo female travelers going through India, pretty much all of them had some kind of incident on their way, but nothing really major. It is truly shame what kind of image media create about so many countries. I honestly had guys grabbing me where they shouldn’t in crowded places in Berlin, but noone says it is a sexist place. It is nice to see that you had a great experience. I am really looking forward to visiting India at some point in my life. I Really want to visit the festivals and take photos! 🙂

  5. I just returned from India. Although a very interesting and beautiful place, it’s also extremely chaotic and there’s so much that will tug at your heartstrings (quite possibly the most poverty-stricken country I’ve visited, with Cambodia following closely behind). Out of almost 40 countries visited, I’d say India is the one I’d be last to recommend to anyone brand new to traveling abroad… let alone a solo female traveler. Of course, this certainly will vary by the individual, but I do think novice travelers would find it very overwhelming.

  6. Loved reading this interview! I have followed Mariellen’s blog for a long time now. She understands India very well. I agree, it’s better to be prepared as a solo traveler to India. It might be shocking for many! Since I am an Indian, I am used to many things and I know how to deal with them. India is a lovely country and it’s safe as long as you are well prepared to deal with some stupid people. The more aware you are of things, the better it is.

  7. Having grown up and travelled extensively (solo and otherwise) in India, I agree with most of what Mariellen has to say. But as someone who loves to go off the beaten path, I disagree that solo travellers should keep off it. I think that’s where you really experience the virgin beauty and genuine hospitality of India. Since these are places that see very few tourists, they are actually very welcoming of the occasional wanderers and chances of genuine local interactions are much higher. As a woman, I actually feel much safer off the beaten track, in a small village in the middle of nowhere, than say a bigger town on the tourist circuit where the locals can no longer keep track of who’s who. Of course, like anywhere else in the world or the country, you have to do your research.

    Overall, a great interview and some very interesting thoughts 🙂 Thanks to you both, Kate and Mariellen, for sharing the “other” side of the India story!

  8. As an Indian and having grown up in India, I have to say, what a well written and balanced view of traveling in India. I’ve traveled with family in India, but never solo, and would probably be scared to, but I really liked Mariellen’s thoughtful advice and agree with everything she said. Great writing!

  9. Dear Kate, dear Mariellen, thanks for this post!
    I never traveled solo, and I’m now considering taking my first solo trip, to India.
    I’m a bit scared, and this post (together with others I have read) are giving me the right strength to do it!
    Especially, Mariellen’s pictures are so beautiful that really make me wanna go there!!
    Thank you very much!

  10. Thank you for posting this interview. I have been considering traveling on my own for many years and will be heading out on my own soon and it’s good to read an interview like this that is honest and direct. India is a country in particular that continues to fascinate me, and I’ll keep the advice from this interview in mind when I make it out there.

  11. I traveled to India for the first time last month, not really feeling called to it until I found a cheap flight out of Madrid and booked without thinking twice. Despite the stares, a scam and coming back home with a nasty parasite, I felt moved. Mariellen’s blog was a huge help in not only feeling prepared, but also comfortable with my decision to go.

    I’d book a flight back in a heartbeat – you see everything and nothing of the world when just crossing the street in India.

  12. Hi Kate,
    This was a great interview. I’ve been reading Mariellen’s blog for a while now and It’s heartwarming that despite the negative publicity / media backlash recently, people are still visiting and loving India. Because there truly is so much to love! Being an Indian, and despite having lived in Delhi my entire life, I still find the unwarranted male attention a bit disconcerting at times, but it definitely isn’t as extreme / life threatening as the media makes it out to be. And while I’m not a solo-traveler myself, I can assure you that by exercising basic precautionary measures and just keeping your wits about you, India can most certainly be experienced solo.

    That being said, Kate, do you have any plans to visit India any time soon? 🙂

  13. That is an impressive selection of Indian-style clothing. I should make more effort with my travel wardrobe! I should also check out India one of these days!

  14. Great interview! Having completed my first solo trip around India this year I agree with everything Mariellen says – she is always an amazing source of information and support for solo female travellers in India. The thing I found hardest I think was adapting the way I interact with people, particularly men in India – I am naturally very smiley and outgoing, and I had to learn that smiling and making eye contact with men in certain parts of India was most likely being interpreted in the wrong way. Definitely be safe but don’t be scared – India is an amazing, beautiful country; in which you learn more about life in one day than you would in a year in other places, and as Mariellen says it is like nowhere else on earth! Even my negative experiences there would never stop me from going back, as the positive experiences and wonderful people I met hugely outweigh the challenges 🙂

  15. Mariellen has put across her “India experience” beautifully! 🙂
    I’m sure it would be of great help to all of you female travelers who are contemplating travelling to my country.

    I’m from New Delhi, India and I’d just like to say a few things-

    -Yes, India is not the safest for solo female travellers. As much as I love my country, I despise the attitude that some men have towards women. So “hand-holding” as Mariellen puts it is correct. One has to be “cautious” at all times. Once you align yourself with the country’s culture, you’ll be more at ease to explore different parts. But for starters, sticking to big cities is a good idea (primarily because it’ll be easier to get a “feel” of the culture, without missing the western amenities).

    I think try visiting the country with a companion, and just get a basic idea of how the country functions, from public transport to accommodation to other such things. See if you can manage things on your own, without relying so much on other people, and then if you’re ready, take the plunge and go solo! 🙂

    And if any of you needs help or is planning to visit India, feel free to address your queries to me. I’ll be more than happy to help! 🙂

    Cheers!

    Anya

  16. I’m slowly becoming fascinated with India, I love how people talk about it as a place you have to learn how to travel in. I sort of feel like I’m getting my “china legs” right now. I was curious about needing to stay “on the beaten path” and if thats in the country as a whole or just in the cities?

  17. Thankyou so much for sharing you amazing travel experience in India. I would love to travel there myself, but after hearing so many bad things it’s hard not to be afraid to go there on your own. It’s great that you’ve given many women the confidence to re-consider travelling to India solo. I also have a lot of female friends and family who feel the same as I do, and I’ll definitely be sharing your story with them!

  18. I just spent 5 months travelling through India with my boyfriend and I have a huge amount of respect for women who do it alone! I definitely agree that you have to have the right attitude and you have to wait for India to call to you because it is totally overwhelming at times. For this reason I would never suggest India to first-timers. It is so so so important to respect their culture in terms of modesty of dress and behaviour – it got to the point where even I was staring at Westerners!! I wore a fake wedding ring but many people in India didn’t understand that’s what it meant. Also, we told people we were married and although the staring is inevitable I found men generally treated me with respect after learning this fact. India is so worth the experience!

  19. What an insightful article. Thanks you. I haven’t yet been to India but when i do I will revisit Your article in preparation…

  20. Following Mariellen’s blog these past few months has made me understand India much much more than I thought I did already and through her posts I’ve seen places I never dreamed, and now feel far more educated about.

    Though I plan to travel with my partner, if she was to travel alone I think that with the wise tips that Mariellen has given would put my mind at ease a little more, though I’d be lying if I didn’t worry about her anyway!

  21. A petite woman, having grown up and travelled to several developing countries across Asia and Africa , I felt India stands out to be a country of chilling contrast. It is a place where locals can be at your feet at one moment and at your throat when your head turns. Beautiful land, unfortunate society. It is fantastical.

    Always be on alert. Think twice before you do anything with anybody. Be self sufficient and keep it to yourself..

  22. I like the tip with wearing Indian clothes to blend in with the local culture and agree with Mariellen to be cautios and not fearful as a negative attitude only leads to a negative experience. India has always been on my list and these tips are very helpful.

  23. i spent four months on my own in India last year and had my fair share of negative encounters despite modest dress and other precautions… and i had countless conversations with other women who had their own unpleasant stories… but at the same time i have met plenty of women that never had any problems and could not believe my experiences!?

    i tried to unravel the gender issue: http://savstravelnotes.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/the-gender-divide.html

    and general safety/survial: http://savstravelnotes.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/a-survival-guide-to-india.html

    BUT i have to say, despite all that India was an incredibly interesting and complex country to visit and it still has me puzzled a year after i left…. i, personally, would not recommend it as a destination for first time travellers… it was pretty hardcore!

  24. I don’t know why you folks think India is all good and nice and rainbowy. I would never recommend India as a tourist destination to any of my western white friends. What you get to see is a put on facade for the show, the reality is much darker and horrifying. Every 20 minutes there is a rape occurring in India and Delhi is the worst. People in general are cold, ruthless and cunning in Delhi and no one has time for you if you are in a sticky situation. Women especially the ones from open, civilised and liberal societies are always viewed as “easy” by a large chunk of Indian men and the reason is, the overtly conservative and inequality ridden history of this country. Women have always been treated as a man’s “daasi”- a slave and Indians to date are entangled in that abominable ideology. The country is so backward and traditional which is why they haven’t been able to grow and improve people’s lives. I left the country 4 years ago and I am never going back.

    1. While I find the attitude towards women in India very upsetting, I don’t think it’s fair to write India off as a tourist destination. India is such a diverse country and I found the south to be very manageable as a young Western female travelling on her own. I met a few young blonde girls who travelled the north on their own who didn’t have any problems, though I personally would want to travel the north with a friend.

    2. I don’t think Mariellen indicated at all that India was “all good and nice and rainbowy,” Aman — I think she painted a very realistic image with a lot of both light and shade.

    3. To put your Indian rape statistics in perspective, you might want to check out rape statistics in the USA: once every 6 minutes. Is this what you are referring to as “open, civilised and liberal?”

      Although I am a “western white” female, the conspicuous racism of your comments is not lost on me. I recently visited India on a solo trip – Kochi, Varanasi and Amritsar were my main destinations – and I found as many contradictions as a first-time traveler to the USA would no doubt find.

    4. Aman you are an Indian Right? Respect the country, She is your Mother. I am an Indian woman and have faced harrasments but all is not dark, come on how can you defame your own Motherland. Respect as it gets you more respect. Better you have left but do not abuse because it shows that you are bitter and dark somewhere like the people you hate so much. I was never treated like a slave. Yes, conditions are gloom but then a ray of light is there. This country educated you you ate its food. so consider that

      1. Hmm…i didn’t think my statement would get as many responses as it did. Its been a few months since I wrote what I wrote and I might have written it while my head was very hot due to then recent rape incident that happened somewhere in North India. Let me clarify my position and you are welcome to either take it or leave it, and I am addressing all of your comments in one go.

        1. Its very obvious and a fact that the attitude towards women in India is more deplorable than anywhere else in the world save for few other conservative places like Middle East and certain African countries. I am not being a racist, the definition of racism is completely different to what we are talking about here. However, the general attitude towards women anywhere in the world does tend to be on the wrong side. In India this problem is made worse by our history and figures in our history who seem to condone the incredibly sexist notion of a woman being a man’s “daasi” (slave). Read the works of Manu (if you are familiar with who he was) to understand what I am on about here, and then this ancient belief system is just carried on in the present day by our ignorant society without giving it any thought whatsoever or even questioning it.

        2. The culture of the country in general while very diverse and vibrant and enchantingly chaotic, is also very conservative especially when it comes to women. I am a husband, a brother, a friend and I find this erroneous “standard” set out by the men in the society for how a woman in India SHOULD conduct herself, to be despicable. Have you ever tried reporting a harassment to the police? they will make YOU feel like a criminal, they will label YOU as “lacking morals” and blame YOU for bringing this on yourself by dressing evocatively, and trust me, their definition of “evocative” is anything that doesn’t have a veil. Large infact a majority of these police”men” come from little to virtually non educated rural backgrounds where they were brought up to treat women as a second citizen, so expecting them to understand the pain and frustration a modern liberated woman who has been harassed goes through, is like asking the Pope to understand the reason for my athiesm. But I digress.

        3. Why should a woman have to behave a certain way to be safe, in India? why can’t she walk on streets on her own without fearing for her life? Why a woman MUST be accompanied by a male everytime she decides to go out alone or after 5pm? Isn’t that reinforcing a sense of sexism that a woman needs protection so she needs a male presence ALL THE TIME? Let’s face the facts here, women’s rights in general in western countries > women’s non-existent rights in India. Just Google it, the stats are fairly recent and were conducted by a reputable world agency. And Datta, I am bitter? yes to a certain extent, wouldn’t you be? but “dark somewhere”?? absolutely not! infact, I don’t even understand how does criticising the appalling but true situation in India make me “dark somewhere”?

        Either way, I have said my final and true to the core words on this matter and no one can deny them. You are welcome to disagree with me, you won’t be the first and you sure as hell won’t be the last.

        1. Aman, consider these two things before passing a judgment on India:
          1) It is the second most populous country in the world. Where there are more people, there will be much more of everything in equal proportion- crime, progress, and beauty.
          2) India is a democracy, meaning there is more freedom of speech and no regulations over media hype. To my previous point you might argue that China is more populous than India but there not as many incidences of rape. However, China is NOT a democracy, meaning most such incidents are swept under the rug or not allowed to be reported at all. Ergo, there is no way of knowing the real situation in such an opaque system.
          In my opinion India is no different than any other country in terms of safety. Misconceptions like these are often birthed by a select few, but truth is that India just doesnt bother to defend its image internationally.
          I recently visited Malaysia and before visiting, i was told that being a muslim country, it is better to dress conservatively there, but i was shocked to see women flashing half their butts in malls! Every country has its share of misconceptions, which later leads to surprises for the traveller. My advise to anyone considering a solo trip to India- enjoy the land, like any other. Have no inhibitions, but be cautious at all times.

        2. Amman, thank you for your valuable insights. I came to this site for exactly the kind of information you have provided. If people have to devote so much time to a discussion over women’s safety in India, then there is obviously a problem. A writer whose livelihood depends on travel to India would have to be cautious in describing the situation obviously. And if there is a problem then how can it ever be solved by ignoring it? Therefore, your honesty is a necessary first step. These men harass women and tourists with impunity. It costs India in terms of tourism and business, but mostly in terms of the misery in which it’s women are forced to live. With more men like you in government and in the police force in India, the problem could be solved. There should be punishment for people who harass others, and if there were, it would stop.

    5. Thank you. I don’t understand it either. There is such a dark side here maybe people refuse to see? Especially for women. Women are not valued from birth here in the society. There are some amazing people here I’ve met, but most people walk right over you and as an overall culture with a history of institutional degradation of women… I don’t get the rainbows

  25. Awesome interview! I have to admit, all the scary news about female travelers in India has gotten me a little hesitant on visiting India. But then, on the flip side, I’d laugh at anyone who thought Mexico was too scary to visit, so I guess it’s all relative. Great post though, definitely more keen to visit now!

  26. I travelled India alone at the start of the year and I agree with Mariellen. I didn’t have any serious incidents and I would recommend it to other solo female travellers (provided they have experience travelling around other countries).

  27. Great post! This post is very interesting and insightful.
    Any female tourist would be worried about their safety when travelling alone, however you have given some really valid tips and your invaluable personal experience about travelling as female. I was also looking through your other posts on your blog, there is some excellent material! Many of my questions have been answered on your blog. So pleased I found your blog, I will defiantly be checking regularly, not only to find out tips on my next overseas trip, but just out of curiosity of the many destinations you’ve visited. Thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge. I will keep these in mind when traveling overseas next☺

    Haleh, Perth, Western Australia.

  28. Laura16151059

    What an interesting post. India has always been a country of curiosity to me – possibly not top of the list to visit, but full of beautiful and enriching culture and experiences. I would be hesitant to travel alone anywhere however I like the way you described the Indian people as “family and community minded”. I have several friends who have travelled to India on volunteer trips and such who said it was a life changing experience – perhaps I will have to upgrade India on my list of places to travel. Thank you for the insight.

    1. I’m glad to hear that you’re considering it, Laura. I know this post won’t change anyone’s opinion overnight, but if it gets you to CONSIDER it a bit, that’s what’s important.

  29. I loved this post, it was a nice read. Showed me a little piece of India and you are certainly brave to be doing it on your own. I don’t think I would be able to do it, definitely not brave enough but India does look like a beautiful country, definitely rich in culture although I am aware of the politics and dangers predominantly in certain parts. I think as well, this post has good tips for travelling solo as a female anywhere, not just India. Thanks for that I will remember them!

  30. Great interview.
    The fact is that any place can be dangerous I guess if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. But exercise a little caution, and a fair bit of logic, and most places in the world are ok. India is so brilliant, it would be sad if people who wanted to go there decided they wouldnt suddenly because of safety…

  31. Such an informative post. I have always wanted to go on a solo trip so this post was very enjoyable. Thank you for providing so much insight. It was very reassuring and I hope to be able to go on a trip very similar in my future. Definitely on my bucket list, thank you for sharing!

    -Sara

  32. Very informative post. I have always been wary of travelling to India and many of my female friends will take great heart from this.

  33. This blog was so informative and in depth, your images enable viewers to be engaged with the content and as a travel blog is so important. I myself are now influenced to visit India

  34. Hello Kate!

    I loved reading this interview; such an informative one. I’ve always wanted to go to India and people always warn you of the dangers of it, so it’s very reassuring and encouraging to read this article. India is definitely on my bucket list so I’ll be sure to keep this one in mind whenever I do go there. The blog overall is so interesting and inspiring. I would love to start traveling solo after university and your blog and your experiences have been so useful so far.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Stacey.

  35. I have always dreamt of travelling through India, however I have always been afraid of the risk of travelling as a woman by myself. I am aware that it would be hard travelling, not a walk in a park like a trip to France or Germany. Nevertheless, I believe if you are smart enough, do you research and stay strong and smart about your travels, it can be done safely.

    1. Hi Emma,

      I am from New Delhi, India, and I can understand your fears and apprehensions about travelling solo to India. I honestly suggest you first try the so to say “India experience” with a co-traveler, and then, decide for yourself if you are comfortable enough to take the plunge solo. I say this because firstly, yes, the attitude of some men towards women here is (to say the least) disrespectful, and secondly, Indian culture is quite different from the Western sensibilities (you might find the bigger cities easier to navigate and get used to, but if you want to explore the interiors, I suggest you first visit India with a friend).

      Cheers!

      Anya

  36. Should point out that while I’m not a woman, traveling *anywhere* new builds a fair bit of confidence in yourself. Stepping through that trepidation is part of what makes traveling so… freeing? confidence-boosting? I’m not sure the right word there…

    That being said, going from comfortable first-world life to traveling through India seems a lot like going from playing Little League to the major league. There are probably other places in Asia to get your traveling legs before attempting to tackle India. One may not have the time or the interest in visiting, say, Thailand, but even a few days might acclimate you to some of the huge differences…

  37. The fear and misconceptions regarding India is reason enough for me to go. Most travel here without incident, and coming here in person will remove the lens that the media puts on us, causing us to interpret a country in a certain way without having traveled there in the first place.

  38. I definitely would not travel in India solo. Too many horror stories from female friends who have done it.

    One of my closest friends loves India and has been more than 10 times. But this last time, after far too many unwanted gropings by strange men on buses, in crowds, in stores etc. decided she’d had enough and that, next time, she’ll be taking a male friend with her.

    You seem to have been lucky, but from what I’ve heard from many female friends, it’s not the norm. And, yes, I travel overseas and have lived overseas (Thailand) for more than 12 years, so I’m not a naive traveler.

  39. I have many people ask me the same question. I had no problems while travelling in India except during Holi. I had a few men grope me and always ask for hugs so they could rub up against me but it is not a reason not to travel to such an incredible country.

  40. Thanks for the really great post. I came across it when looking for tips before coming to India. I’ve now been here for 4 months and will stay until the end of my 6 month visa. I love it! I just wanted to give a few more tips for women to stay safe that I’ve picked up since being here:

    1. Buy an Indian Sim Card. This will help immensely with feeling safe. Call or pretend to call a friend or hotel owner in a 4am taxi… Use the 3G maps to get your bearings of a new place. Things like that.
    2. When getting off a bus or train at a new destination look for other travellers or a family and stick by them until you’re safely in a taxi, etc.
    3. Never travel between destinations when you feel sick or over tired. Most of the horror stories I’ve heard have been because the person made bad choices because they were too tired or sick to put extra effort into being safe.
    4. If catching a taxi late at night have your hotel owner ask the drivers name and take a photo of the number plates. Take photos of buses too! I’ve been left on the side of the road at 4am when going to the toilet once. I was lucky I knew the bus company name and number plate to get my stuff back!
    5. I have heard several times that when young Indian men ask to have a photo with you it’s because they are going to take the photo home and tell their friends they slept with you. This may or may not be true. But a good way to avoid this is ask for money – in the very least you could make money, otherwise you’ll quickly defer them.
    Lastly, enjoy yourself and make loads of friends. The Indian people are mostly lovely and LOVE to talk!

    1. Crystal, Most people ask for pictures from our ‘white friends’ as they consider all white people celebrities from Hollywood than other reasons (there are exceptions everywhere as you know), but generally that’s the main reason… all the more reason to travel to india, to feel like a hollywood celebrity… haha — 😀

  41. Love this post, really good extra boost of confidence for my upcoming India trip. India’s the only country that I’ve ever been nervous about but I feel like my recent couple of months in Nepal will have hopefully prepared me a little bit!

    Love the all of the outfits in the pictures!

  42. This was an eye-opener! Lots of great info. I’m traveling to India next year, partially solo most likely and partially with one friend. I’ll pass this on for sure!

  43. Hi Kate,
    First, I want to give you a big thanks for such a nice blog. I am not surprised with the Women security issue in India. You have raised a vibrant issue in your post. in the the last few years, the environment is changing for the women. They are not safe as they were before. But the new government is bringing some changes to protect the women. I think now India will be the most protected tourist destination in the world. Indian Govt. is making a huge efforts to ensure the security of girls. Probably, the results will come soon. Nevertheless, not all the places have the security issue. There are many places like Golden Temple in Amritsar, Pushkar in Rajasthan, Shirdi sai Temple In Maharashtra. So many examples can be listed here……So enjoy the Indian Travel Destinations without any worry…….

    Thanks again kate…………Keep posting these kind of valuable posts…..

  44. I am an Indian and live here and have travelled solo and I am a bit on the fair side and I wear western outfits. My dress suggestions donot go for hot pants, short skirts, spagetti tops, full pants, jeans and salwar kameez will go well. The scarf can be a dirt obstructor. I have faced gropping staring on a daily basis so it is better you gain confidence and confront. I usually act quick and hold the groper’s hand and confront him in public. Avoid isolated places. as you would in your own country. One thing I note is the tendency to click the pics of the impoverished, refrain from that. It creates a negative impact. We are proud of the Nation as you are and we take offence and we grow judgemental. The so called innocent looking children can be theives. Understand this you get your idea of India from stupid hollywood movies that never show the actual picture. Similarly we form a certain stereotype about the western world based on the same stupid movie that rarely shows the reality. Do not believe the movies based on India, they are sickenigly prejudiced. Befriend women more and young couples, they will give you decent advice. Knowing English helps. USA also has rapes so does any other country. India has its women right and child right at decent place the problem lies elsewhere that is the execution part. The whole country has its distinct culture. Places like Mumbai, Bangalore and WB can be a breather for you.Never try spicy food. The safest starter is dal fry and roti or plain rice. Even I avoid spicy food as hotels do not have the hygene standard to maintain balance. Bargain and do not but any thing. The formula is (Price stated/2- 100 or 10) go for it do not buy from the first shop you enter if you do not get the deal. Do not give alms to beggars…THe law prohibts begging. For more info you can e-mail me Happy to help as a fellow woman. 🙂

  45. I love the photos. I have enough travel points to travel to Mumbai or Delhi for free. I am a seasoned traveler, but I have never been to India. Where should I land? Mumbai, or Delhi? I only have a month or six weeks.

  46. Dear,
    I am planning to travel to india. solo female for the first time. i am planning to visit the golden triangle. what travel agency u advice me to contact? is it true that 4 strs hotels means three stars in west?

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