Staying safe on the Road.

4 Important tips for female backpackers in India

As many of you know, India has a rather ominous reputation for being an unsafe country for a woman to travel in alone. Is it as bad as people say it is? If so, what can you do to make your trip as safe as possible? In this blog I have called tips for female backpackers in India, you will find everything you need to know about such issues.

You may be asking yourself why only four tips? Why do other blogs have thirty? Well, as anyone who reads my posts know I like to keep things to the point. The odds are you have a busy life to lead and need to get back to them as soon as possible. You don’t need me to ramble on or include things like buying travel insurance. That is definitely not an issue that is unique to female backpackers in India, despite the fact I have read this in a number of blogs on this subject. I want to only make points that are valid to the chosen audience so you can absorb the content and get back to your day.

Your next thought might be well I’m not a woman, so what would I know? Well, you would be right. So that is why I have teamed up with one of my travel besties for this article. She’s a woman who has travelled in India and South Asia for two years so she has experienced all kinds of menstrual-related mishaps and clothing catastrophes. She knows exactly what it’s like to be a female backpacker. She will be offering her advice and expertise on what it’s really like to travel as a woman in India and sharing with you her very best top tips!

 

I will start by saying that there are definitely some quite large differences between how single female backpackers are treated and pretty much everyone else. There are certainly some extra considerations to make and a few precautions to keep in mind. However, the reality is that most people who visit India leave with nothing but wonderful memories that will last a lifetime, and there is no need to become paranoid.

I have many articles on India’s safety, but there is a definite need for a separate blog just for female backpackers. If you would like more general blogs on issues such as avoiding being a victim of a scam or looking at the more general hazards that face us all, please follow the links provided.

In this post, important tips for female backpackers in India, we will first look at why there is a problem in the beginning and then take a look at what you can do to stay safe. There is a lot to get through so let’s dive right in.

Woman In India

I was trying to get a shot of some of the local woman, all dressed up in the finest getup. This was the only woman who was happy to let me take some snaps as the others were very shy. My guide said they are not married, so it is just not the done thing. This shot was taken in a village outside of Jaisalmer. A trip out this way is one of the most memorable things for you to do on the whole subcontinent. To find out more, check out my backpackers guide to Jaisalmer. 

So what’s the issue anyway?

So why is there a problem in the beginning? Well, it is like this for a variety of reasons, in my opinion. The first is in traditional Indian society, neither the bride nor groom will get a say in who it is they will marry. That all-important decision is mostly down to the parents. What’s more, I have heard of parents consulting mystics or asking the neighbours to weigh in when they get stuck on the decision of who their children will spend the rest of their born days with.

That is a recipe for disaster if ever I head one, and it inevitably leads to a lot of unhappy marriages. I mean, you might meet the person of your dreams on your first and only try. However, it is just doubtful, isn’t it? Most of us are not still dating the same person we had our first kiss with. Quite frankly, can you imagine if you were? Many young Indians are starting to refute this ideology, and it is slowly turning around, although the custom still persists in much of the country.

Another issue is the portrayal of a western woman in Hollywood. Let’s be honest here, that portrayal does no one any favours, does it? Music, movies, Netflix and the porn industry all paint a very loose and immoral picture of a western woman.

While I know that is definitely not the case, it is easy to presume what you see on television is an accurate portrayal of reality, especially if you come from a rural community and have never even met a foreigner.

To make matters worse, I have seen some very scantly clad western woman walking around parts of the country where it is just not appropriate to do so. Indian woman would never wear such things, even in cosmopolitan areas such as Mumbai. Dont get me wrong, fashion is changing, and ladies outfits are indeed getting more revealing, but nothing on the scale of what I have seen.

Rose told me this; wearing hot pants and a Bikini top in Paharganj in New Delhi is not advisable. On the beach in Goa with other westerners is fine, there have been many times I have done this whilst soaking up the South Indian sun, but in the crowded streets? It’s a huge no no!

The last point I would say on this is the most disturbing and causes the biggest problem in my humble opinion. Many Indians have a strong preference for having baby boys as opposed to girls. So why is that? Well, it is because a male is seen as the heir to the throne, so to speak, and the primary breadwinners. What’s more, in traditional Hindu culture, when a woman is married, the parents will have to pay for the wedding and provide a dowry. It can be crazy expensive, which has led to there simply being more men than women. In some parts of the country, it is very evident indeed.

It has gotten so bad that the Indian government has banned sonograms to protect against gender-biased abortions. Never the less one report estimates seventy million “lost” women. I am not sure how anyone would come to those estimates, but it is blindly evident that many women are indeed missing! This will inevitably breed depression in the local community and poses a serious threat of sexual aggression from frustrated men. Indeed there have been incidences of extremely violent sexual crimes across parts of the country that have made international news.

Woman in India

This woman, who lives in rural India, would not have had a say in who she married. For me, it is a massive ask to expect anyone to spend the rest of their lives with someone they may not have even met, but that is the reality. 

Roses Tip number one – Dress modestly.

You will get stared at a lot! It’s something you will just have to live with, and there is no way to stop it. It is not just a western woman who get stared at neither. It seems to be the same for any woman. Here are some tips on how to minimise the stares; it is a good idea to take some precautions as it can be very intense.

My first tip for female backpacker in India is to dress modestly. If you do not, you will cause heads to turn for all the wrong reasons. Not going out in hotpants may sound intuitive, but I have seen it several times.  Covering up as much as possible does not just help with all the stares. It also helps to keep the searing Indian sun off your skin. Local woman do it for a good reason.

If you do get stared at, don’t return them unless of cause you want to pursue it further. Dark glasses and wedding rings are both tricks that are very useful at warding off unwanted attention. Scarves are a winner for several reasons. They mask the shape of your body whilst keeping the sun off. They also come in handy when visiting religious sights where it is custom to cover your heads. Use a thin material, or better yet, dress like a local. Loose wearing saris tend to be received well.

As a heads up, men will want to have their pictures taken with you often, as will a lot of children. It can be nice to pose with a few families but it can be very intense when you get requests from complete strangers. If you are not in the mood to get photographed to high heaven, simply respectfully decline. There have been many occasions where the men have got carried away when coming in for the shot and gone in for a sneaky grope as well. Just be warned, this actually happens a fair bit.  What’s more, that picture will more than likely be shown to their friends exclaiming your one-off night of passion and how you couldn’t resist his charms. No joke!

warnings for woman in India

This sign is on every Indian train and every class. Any society that finds it necessary to point this out is dealing with a huge problem. Dont touch the female passengers! 

Rose’s Tip number two – Take care while using public transport.

A lot of staying safe is simply common sense, don’t talk to strangers or take unlicensed taxis late at night. You would take the same precautions in your home country, surely? It is no different in India. Now let me give you some tips that may not seem immediately obvious.

If you happen to be travelling on an overnight train and can’t afford to sleep in AC class, I would suggest requesting an upper bunk. You can retire whenever you like when things get too much. You can take your day pack up onto the top bunk with you, and you are less likely to get unwanted attention up there. As bad as it sounds, it is realistic to say you are safer up there.

If you drive late at night from an airport, use the airport taxi service inside the terminal. This is way safer than going outside to negotiate your own as this may be unlicensed, and you just don’t know who the driver is. It cant be worth a few rupees that you may or may not be saving surly? If you can, use the Uber and Ola apps as every driver is registered. You can easily download the apps onto your phone, and you will be able to get a fair price for your journey without having to barter like a madwoman.

If you do have to get a rickshaw by yourself, never let anyone else get in your taxi, and if the driver says, this is just my friend, the answer should always be a firm NO! If you feel uncomfortable with the driver, you can always pretend to text someone.

Try and move around in the day time as this will reduce the risk of harassment. Public bus stations, in particular, get pretty weird after dark. If you know where you are staying, inform the hotel you are on your way.

 

Rose’s Tip number three – Some products are not available.

Sanitary towels are widely available from just about any corner shop or pharmacy. However, if you prefer tampons, you will need to bring every last one from home. I have taken both applicator and non-applicator tampons, and to be honest, the small non-applicator tampons are best. They don’t take up much room and for me, I find them a lot easier to change! A brand of sanitary towels in India I do like is the ‘whisper’ range. They are similar to the always brand that we have in the UK and are pretty good.

Thrush can become a problem on the road, especially when the air turns humid and you sweat! It’s an unpleasant part of backpacking life, but one that doesn’t have to be an issue. However, I have found that Canesten is not widely available, so if that is your prefered brand, take it from home. However, medicine with Clotrimazole is easy to get your hands on from any pharmacist. Clotrimazole is the active ingredient in Canesten so it should be fine!

If you take the contraceptive pill, you should make sure you have enough with you for the duration of your whole stay.  In the past I have been to see my GP close to the leaving date of my trip and got a few months supply. If you don’t want to continuously take the pill without it being reviewed by a medical expert, then I suggest you speak to your GP about either having a long term implant or changing what contraceptive you use.

Condoms are widely available in India, just make sure they are in date when you buy them. If you do require the morning after pill, you can get it from most pharmacies.

Urinary tract infections are relatively common due to dehydration and long haul trips. It is often impossible to hydrate properly on long bus journeys as toilet breaks are few and far between. They are also often very public, and you might not feel comfortable going, thus increasing your chances of getting a UTI. One thing you can do is take Cystitis powders with you and have one as soon as you reach your destination (when you are able to drink water again). If you know you are embarking on a long trip, maybe invest in some, especially if it is a recurring problem for you.

Woman's health

Being cramped up on a bus like this for days at a time with limited toilet stops dramatically increase the risk of UTIs.

Rose’s Tip number four – Spread the costs as much as you can.

She says: ‘If you are a solo female backpacker, you will find there is not much in the cost of a single room or a double room. If you can find another traveller to pair up with, there is always plenty of twin rooms available. Alternatively, you can try bargaining harder, but you lose that leverage in the high season as someone else will just snatch the bed up. In Rajasthan woman, travellers get a discount on the busses but, just remember to ask as sometimes they “forget” to give it to you. Oh, and another bonus of being a woman, you get your own lines to stand in! If you are in a couple, trust me when I say use this to your advantage.’

I have quite a few posts aimed at solo backpackers, but the one I recommend the most is travelling to India alone. This post is a great resource as it covers a broad range of subjects, from the prospect of feeling alone and isolated to saving money. I wholeheartedly recommend checking this out when you get the chance.

There is a sinister side to spiritual endeavour's for female backpackers in India

Many women enjoy India’s rich spiritual vibe and it can be a wonderful country to travel in. 

Summary of my post tips for female backpackers in India

I know after reading this article, it could be easy to become paranoid. The truth is that most trips to India for woman go without incident, and most Indian people you meet must surely be the most beautiful people you could hope to. Some are not! And to avoid any problems, you just need to exert a little common sense, don’t walk down dark roads at night, don’t flaunt your wealth and keep your room locked while you sleep. Nothing you wouldn’t do in your home country, right?

This Post aims to arm you with a few tricks and tips to help you get the most out of your time in this fantastic country with the smallest amount of risk. If you have any questions or need any further information that you think I might help you with, feel free to leave it in the box provided and happy trails, my fellow intrepid travellers.

Thanks, Rose for offering your advice on female backing packing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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