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Is India Safe for Female Travellers?

Updated: Jun 19

India has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to the safety of female travellers, and this is the question I am most commonly asked about travelling in India: Is it safe for women?


In this travel guide, we will go over everything you need to know to travel to India as a female. I have been to India 6 times, alone, with friends, and with my husband, so I know how it all feels. I have been all over the country and spent almost 2 years in India altogether, so I think I have a good grasp on whether India is safe for female travellers.



CONTENTS




I Dream of Mangoes Hiking in Himachal Pradesh, North India
Hiking in Himachal Pradesh, North India

 


Is India Safe for Female Travellers?

The Bad Rap


There have been some very nasty situations involving groups of Indian men assaulting women in the most horrific way which you may have come across on the news in the last few years. This mostly occurs in villages, and to local women, which is awful, but these types of crimes against female tourists are extremely rare.


Since a particularly horrendous incident on a bus in Delhi in 2012, and the uproar that followed, India has worked really hard to improve its image and make female tourists feel safe. In many big cities, you will find female police patrolling crowded places and male and female-separated train carriages; where often at night the female carriages have guards.


I will tell you now that India is safe for female travellers, as long as you take the right precautions. I have never felt in danger in India - but there have been a few creepy situations, and if you're a female reader you'll know that these happen all over the world, not just in India. The truth is, the world is not safe for women, anywhere.


I Dream of Mangoes learning to use Tibetan Singing Bowls in Mysuru
Learning to use Tibetan Singing Bowls in Mysuru

 


What Should I Wear as a Female Tourist in India?


This is another question I get asked a lot.


Traditionally in India, women's clothing covers the legs, cleavage, and shoulders, but having your midriff exposed is no big deal. In the bigger cities, the young modern Indian girls nowadays often wear shorts and crop tops, and you'll find people in bikinis on the beaches of Kerala and Goa without a thought.


In villages, or at sites of pilgrimage (where people travel to from villages) – if you wear shorts people will stare at you. And I am talking 20 lads surrounding you and basically eating you alive staring at you. They may have never seen a female leg before, apart from their mum's, and you may as well be doing a porno for them right there.


I wore shorts in Hampi, and I experienced this first-hand, it was very uncomfortable. Nowadays, unless I am at the beach, I tend to just stick to long skirts or combats, but I don't think too much about the top half. T-shirts and vest tops do not draw much attention.


I would never suggest telling a woman what to wear, but if something were to ever happen, the first question all the men would ask is “What was she wearing?” Sick isn't it?


So if you would rather not be stared at, do as they do, wear bottoms that go past the knee and a loose-fitting top.


This is a double-edged sword though. I genuinely believe that males act pervy like this because they have not had any exposure to it, just like private school boys in the UK are sexually repressed giving rise to rape culture. All the Indian lads who work in hostels are very used to Western tourists and don't blink an eye at a bare leg - because of exposure. So surely more exposure to more scanty clothing means less perviness in the future?


Whether you want to be the pioneer of this movement is up to you!



I Dream of Mangoes making shapes in the tea fields of Munnar
Making shapes in the tea fields of Munnar

 

Not sure what to pack for your trip to India? Check out my article:



 


Precautions you can take as a Female Traveller in India


So apart from how you dress, there are other precautions you can take to minimise your risk as a female traveller:


  • Do not go out late at night, and if you must, be in a group of at least 3. In Indian culture, women do not drink alcohol and go out on the razz (apart from the wealthy, modern areas of main cities) so if you go out late you're very likely to bump into drunk men, need I say more? If I want to enjoy a few beers in India I'll do it at my hotel, or go out with a group and have transport home pre-arranged.


  • In relation to this first point, I would like to let you know that I have taken night buses and night trains in India alone and this is completely fine. The police on the trains are looking out for you, as are the bus conductors, and fellow women travellers.



I Dream of Mangoes cycling around the backwaters of Kerala
Cycling around the backwaters of Kerala


  • As a general rule, in Indian culture, men do not touch women they are not related to (unless you're very good friends) – so if a man you don't know tries to put his arm around you for a photo, or even shake your hand to greet you, do not do it. Put your hands together and say Hello or Namaste, which is a perfectly polite greeting. Touching each other is not normal or necessary.


  • In very crowded places, walk with your elbows out. This stops guys from 'accidentally' brushing up against you in order to feel your body. This happens. One time in a market in Mysore I kept feeling someone brush against my side, and every time I looked up it was the same guy, doing loops to keep touching me. After the third time, I screamed at him “I know what you're f*cking doing!” and he quickly disappeared.



Whenever I travel, I always carry my personal alarm made by Empowered by Ashley - I love it! Thankfully I have never had to use it, but I have tested it and it is LOUD.



The beautiful Taj Mahal with I Dream of Mangoes
The beautiful Taj Mahal

  • Along the same vein, if anything should occur, and a man is making you feel uncomfortable, call it out immediately. Shout, draw attention, and nip it in the bud swiftly, do not be shy about this.


  • Say no to selfies! You will get asked a lot, especially if you're blonde or tall, for selfies. I normally only say yes if it's kids. We said yes to one lad in Mumbai and ended up having a queue of 30 men waiting their turn for a pic – never again! I do not want you to think that all Indian men are creeps – this is not true. It tends to be less educated men who do not understand the signals you are giving off.


  • Plan your periods carefully. I have never found anywhere that sells tampons in India, and often sanitary pads are kept hidden in most shops (apart from some chemists). I use a menstrual cup to avoid these issues, but you also need to be aware that some toilets don't flush, or have sinks, or bins. I have written all about how you can plan for backpacking on your period here.



 

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no cost to you. I only link to products I use and love.


Other Advice for Travelling India


FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE for India, do what I do, and have a browse on Travel Supermarket - choosing a cheap policy with a high Defaqto rating.



Below are just a few extra things to be aware of if you are planning a trip to India. There is more detailed planning advice in my article: A pre-departure checklist for travelling India.


  • People can be nosy. It is not uncommon for people you don't know to immediately ask you about your level of education or why you don't have kids when you're so old. Take this in good humour!


  • Do not give money to begging children. They are often being exploited by a beggar-master and giving them money perpetuates this. Even if you give a begging child a chapatti they may sell it back to the restaurant half price so they can get the money.


  • I have eaten street food all over India with no qualms, and I haven't ever had a Delhi belly. Do not be afraid to try Indian food!


  • Find your sanctuary. When I first went to India, in Mumbai in 2013, I loathed it. The car horns, haze and hassle were so overwhelming I wanted to cry. But as much as I am embarrassed to admit it, Starbucks saved me. Air conditioning, door security, Wi-Fi and soundproofing, meant that I could take a break from the streets and calm my nerves. I don't need Starbucks any more, but there was a time when it helped!


  • Be confident! People can tell straight away when it is your first rodeo – and they will take full advantage (don't take it personally, it's all part of the hustle of life in a country with more than a billion people trying to get by).


  • As a general rule, if you have arrived somewhere new and a man is offering you unsolicited help, it is likely to be part of an elaborate scam. If you need assistance, seek out a woman, someone who looks like a student, or better yet, someone in uniform.



I Dream of Mangoes dipping Mala beads into the Ganges in Rishikesh
Dipping our Mala beads into the Ganges in Rishikesh

 


Is India for Me?


India is not for everyone.


Some people really dig the India experience, the colour the chaos, and the hospitality of the people – India sure puts on a show! I personally love it, I have been 6 times already and don't plan on stopping.


But it's not for some people I know that! I think your attitude largely determines whether you will enjoy India or not. If things like incessant car horns and cow pats on the pavement annoy you, then it's probably not your bag.


If you want to go on a frenetic adventure like no other, India will provide. I have written everything you need to know to plan a trip to India in my article: A pre-departure checklist for travelling India.



Palolem Beach in Goa
Palolem Beach in Goa

 


My Bad Experiences as a Female Traveller in India



For full disclosure, I am going to tell you about the incidents that have happened to me whilst travelling in India.


The first was in Fort Kochi, when I was walking down an alley to my hostel just after dark, and a young boy grabbed my breast. I pushed him off and told my hostel owner, who promptly put a CCTV camera in the alleyway.


The second, a guy climbed into my bed on a night bus with a bag of chocolate biscuits, hoping to get laid. I had met him at the bus station, with my 2 friends, had a great chat, and exchanged numbers so we could all go for a friendly coffee when we got back to Mumbai.


He obviously thought this meant I wanted to have sex with him immediately – so he somehow made his way onto my night bus. When I told him no, he disappeared into the night. In hindsight, I should have kicked off there and then, but I was young and bashful.


When I told my friends later - all the women on the bus started shouting at the driver for letting this random man on. The bus driver was reported, and the man was tracked down (by my Indian friend) and publicly shamed by his Imam.


Neither of these situations were nice, but I can tell you I have experienced far worse growing up in the UK.


So yes, India is safe for female travellers – as safe as many other countries anyway, as long as you take some precautions.



I Dream of Mangoes volunteering with Cherai Tails Dog Shelter in Kerala
Volunteering with Cherai Tails Dog Shelter in Kerala

 


Solo female travel is very common in India now – it's easy to meet people, especially if you start somewhere tamer like Goa or Himachal Pradesh - and then get more adventurous when you get used to things.


I hope this guide answers your questions on whether India is safe for female travellers – if you have any specific questions hit the comments!


States I have been to are Bengal, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala (best til last).



Happy Travels xx



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Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I have purchased with my own money, use well, and love.

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