How to prepare for the solo travel in India
October 20, 2019
Exactly a year ago my personal life has dramatically changed.
After six long years I found myself in this very new situation and as a result, I started to question everything.
Who are you as a person?
What is it that you actually enjoy in life?
What makes you want to get up in the morning?
Whilst on this journey of self discovery, I decided that there is no better way to ponder about it all than whilst travelling. I love new adventures, however, it was going to be my first time solo.
As it happened, around that time the work needed me to go and help out with a project in India.
And when the opportunity presents itself, you cannot just not take it.
I decided to use this chance to explore that beautiful country I’ve learnt to love through my previous work visit there.
I already had a few states that I really wanted to see; the top three being Kashmir, Kerala and Goa. I have been in Maharashtra before, and this time around my work needed me in Tamil Nadu.
Below I listed a few tips you may want to take into consideration for the more efficient and safe solo travel as a woman:
TRAVEL DURING THE WINTER/AUTUMN MONTHS IN EUROPE
As the new year has just begun and it tends to be freezing in London at that time of the year, I took two weeks off work after my assignment was done in the middle of January. That meant I spent the first month of the year with temperatures between 25-35 Celsius. Anything to make my winter shorter.
TRY LESS KNOWN AIRLINES
Flying to India from London (or any other major European city) is very easy. You can either take a direct 7-11hrs’ flight with British Airways or stretch your legs in between at either Dubai or Oman. The stop-over version is always my preference as I like to take a break in the middle of the long haul flight. But some people find it rather stressful.
As it happened, the unknown at that time (to me) airline had cheaper business class tickets than the economy with BA or Emirates, so I decided to give it a chance. And I am so glad I did! Oman Air is the national airline of Oman, and the airport in Muscat is just a delight! Highly recommend you give it a go. Besides, who doesn’t like to travel business?
GET YOUR BODY READY
You may wonder what does that even mean, but you will thank me for this tip when you get there. A month prior to going to India, start taking some quality probiotics to strengthen your natural gut’s health and immune system. Do continue taking it whilst staying in India to ensure the balance of good bacteria over the bad kind that you are inevitably going to get in contact with, in India. Water contamination, mostly due to the poor hygiene standards, is a common issue there. And so, it is advised to get a few vaccines ahead of time to prevent you from catching any serious disease. For the full list of vaccination needed, check your government’s website.
On a similar note, drink the bottled water only (make sure it is sealed properly when opening it). Avoid ice and veggies/fruit that have been washed with the running water. Eat them by all means - especially mangoes and papaya, just make sure to clean them well yourself!
You may now think I am over-exaggerating with all this medical advice, but trust me the spices and the unknown to your body bacteria will try to get to you, and you don’t want to spoil your vacation time.
Have some Immodium on you as well as charcoal tablets. My favourite medicine that I purchase in the first pharmacy I bump into in India is Digene, these pink tablets do wonders whenever my stomach is even a tiny bit upset!
PICK A SAFE DESTINATION
I knew I will travel solo, which meant I had to pick “the safest” option of the three. I went for the most known Goa, but decided I won’t be just another typical European tourist there. Goa is a big state, divided into two parts, Northern and Southern. They are both completely different, and so depending on what you are looking for, you might find one is more suited to your needs than the other. More on this in a different post.
FLY EVERYWHERE - BEWARE OF THE DISTANCE IN INDIA
To get to Goa, I flew from Chennai where I was based for work, with a very appropriately named low-cost Indian airline, SpiceJet. The flight of over 700km cost me around GBP 50.00! I could have taken a train, but that would take too much time, and it may not always be the safest option for a solo woman traveller.
AVOID UNNECESSARY RISK
Some people might think you have not experienced India if you mostly stayed in the hotels. I have pushed my luck twice during that holiday, and both times I came to regret my decision as I unnecessarily exposed myself. So I would rather be safe than sorry!
Once, when coming back to my hotel (a 10-mins walk!) by myself late at night when it already became dark outside. I knew it was risky, because one - wild animals, and second, I am a blonde white woman by herself on the streets of India. And yes, although nothing major happened, I have been followed by a man who tried to force his presence on me, but luckily by the time he could do anything, my hotel’s doorman was there to take over.
Lesson learnt: always take the hotel approved taxi when coming back by yourself at night.
TAKE A TAXI - BUT KNOW YOUR PRICE
Second mistake I made was when I arrived to Goa’s Dabolim airport on a hot Sunday afternoon. I’d thought I will be able to travel to the hotel by the public transportation, just like some locals do. A big mistake. Public transit’s conditions are just not there yet. And I should have known better, having seen the buses on the streets before. But I really wanted not to behave like a typical Western tourist…
When you travel as a European, you are just not used to this kind of conditions and although I did had a ticket for a bus, I gave it up and just took a taxi instead. However, make sure to always agree on the price upfront and do your research. Inform yourself how much the ride should cost from A to B. It is not good for you nor the locals to overpay for the services. As a result, the drivers tend to give priority to the foreigners and it rises prices for the local people.
IS IT SAFE FOR A SOLO WOMAN IN INDIA?
I have seen recently a lady asking on a public forum whether India is really unsafe to travel as she has seen articles online
“on people’s experiences and apparently if you are a white western women (Which I am) it can be very dangerous, men will apparently be very inappropriate towards you and wont leave you alone and they can be very touchy feely and get angry if you rebuff their advances. I also read it is very common to see dead bodies on the side of the street or floating down the river - Is this actually true??”
and it made me feel quite sad and angry. Because the articles of this type stop many of us from going to experience these otherworldly landscapes just because of the constant bad press. Catching and dramatic titles and the news about murder and rape of the Western tourists sell well, so it tends to be exaggerated or even fabricated.
In my experience, as long as you respect the locals culture, and are curious and open about their customs, they will take it as a priority to treat you well, or even protect you if needed.
Yes, you need to have the eyes wide open, but the same applies anywhere else. Sometimes I feel more unsafe in San Francisco than I have ever been during my India travels.
Out of the respect to the local culture - India is a very religious place - wear long, loose clothing that covers your shoulders. My best advise: do not bring many clothes with you, just buy and wear Indian clothing over here. One, it is more comfortable, second less luggage to carry with you!
Yes, sexual assault remains an ongoing problem, but as long as you are vigilant, do not come back by yourself at night, and do not dress inappropriately, you should be fine! That is to say, bikini on the beach or by the swimming pool is totally cool!
YOU WILL ATTRACT ATTENTION
You look different than the majority of India population. Like it or not, people will be staring at you. Out of curiosity. They will also ask you to take a photo, not of them, but with you. So they can show it to their families or friends back home. Don’t be surprised!
IMMERSE IN THE LOCAL CULTURE
Try all the variety of foods, dances and clothes. Participate in the local festivals if you are lucky enough to find one around you. The Indian culture is so fascinating.
The colours, expressing feelings and mood through the dance, and the amount and variety of spices is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before.
FIND CONFIDENCE WITHIN YOURSELF
Perhaps naturally you are an introverted person, who would rather stay at home than go travelling by yourself. That is fine in principle - if you are not curious about the world out there. However, if you are curious and you feel you are missing out just because you don’t think you can travel by yourself, I am here to tell you YOU CAN DO IT.
Contrary to what some people believe, travelling is not supposed to be comfortable. Visiting a different country, exposing yourself to a foreign culture and customs is the definition of putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. But it will change you from within and you will come back stronger and more independent than ever. It is the fastest adulthood lesson available out there and one you will never regret taking.
Travelling solo has so many pros too! Imagine, there is no one to stop you from relaxing on the beach the whole day with your Piña Colada. Of course, if that’s what you want to do. Food preference issues - nothing of the sort! You go whenever you feel like it and eat whatever you feel like, no compromises to be made, no consideration for your travel companions. Are they going to be too bored exploring local history on a walking tour? You do not need to care and you do what you please and when you please.
OPEN UP AND MEET THE OTHER TOURISTS AROUND YOU
And when you miss other people’s companionship, just look around! All these people are on holidays too, and there is so much more that you have in common with them than not. For one, you chose the same holiday destination!
During my stay in Agonda, I met a German man who has just recently been divorced and he decided to “take a break from it all” during his three-month’s stay in that beach hut. He’s been reading books and writing the whole days although in his real life he is a financier.
India truly is a marvelous country that will surprise you at each step you take. From the cows walking around on the street, through the rickshaw drivers who can navigate any traffic, to the friendly locals who will take care of you as their own.
Do take that initial leap into travelling alone.
You will come back stronger, more confident and trusting yourself like never before.
You will grow as a person.