India is very popular country to travel to. Not only because it’s incredibly beautiful but a lot of people who travel here boasts about the cultural experience that you get in India.
And yes, we chose to travel in India for these very same purpose. There’s so much to see in this country that traveling for a month in India is barely enough. Actually covers very little. And even if India is chaotic, and can be a mess, it’s hard not to give it a chance when you have a deep love for learning and travel.
This is why we are writing this post. We for a fact can attest to the challenge traveling solo (or even not solo) as a woman can be in India. If you are planning to visit (and we are not stopping you), here are 9 things to know before traveling in India as a Woman.
Things to Know Before Traveling in India as a Woman
1. The Way You Dress Means Something
As modern as our time is right now, there are still many parts of the world that still feels, at the very least, very conservative. Women in India, especially in the Northern India, or anywhere that is not considered a metropolitan city (think Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi), still wear Sarees or Kurtis.
This actually keeps everything just so colorful and preserved when it comes to culture. However, on the other side, if you are traveling and wearing short pants, sleeveless and short dresses, be wary because this can be to our disadvantage.
Weather in India can get so hot, with 30+ degrees Celsius in the monsoon season. Expect much hotter during the summer time. This is why it will be normal for a tourist to choose to wear very comfortable clothes. In our personal experience, although a lot of the people who are tour guides and hoteliers especially, will tell you that whatever you wear is okay, you certainly get looks (and a lot at that) when you’re wearing very short clothes especially if you’re alone, and not only from men, but also from women.
2. They use their hands when eating
This is something everyone can of course learn from India before visiting, and doesn’t straightly affect you as a woman. However, it’s nice to know especially if you’re traveling in public transports like the train or are walking in a lot of public places where people are eating better be prepared to see that.
Food is so delicious in India and you will find so much variety! It can be spicy but definitely taste great.
3. Long trains what to book
In India you’ll have to travel long distances, and unless you will take the plane everywhere, that means traveling by train. It’s one of the cheapest and most beautiful and unique ways of travel. However if you’re a first time traveler. There are a lot of things in the train that can surprise you. Most especially if you are traveling solo as a woman.
Most of the women we talked to especially the young Indian women who travel, suggested that you book at least the AC 2. These are the 2 Tier Air Conditioned part of of the train. You’ll have a place to sleep with pillows and blankets. You will also be able to cover yourself when you are sleeping. In the day time, you’ll be sitting sort of like being in the plane, or an air conditioned bus.
When we were traveling in India, we booked the Sleeper class. It’s actually 2 slots higher than the second class, the lowest class in the train. Basically, you get a place to sleep too during night time and will be sitting with people in the day time. There is no air-condition, and you’ll have to bring your own pillow and blankets, and you’ll have no cover. Of course, the biggest main difference is that if you’re booking this class, you’ll be with people who are traveling in this class. We’ve never seen foreigners with us in this part of the train, so you’ll be definitely sitting with locals here.
We didn’t have a bad experience. But you’ll just have to consider that the toilet will be a public toilet, and may not be the cleanest (can smell a bit at some point). But it was a great experience to travel this way. We traveled Sleeper class multiple times in India, together most of the time, and I traveled (Rachel) solo in a 28 hour train ride from Mumbai to Kochi. We booked all our tickets in India in advance and we totally recommend this. We did with 12 Go and you can check it below:
4. How city trains are Crosby and you can get pushed
Another way of travel this time within the city is by the city train. The cost of this travel is incredibly cheap just a few cents of USD. And also a very fast way to travel and a lot of the locals travel this way. What you need to be wary of is that most of the time you’ll be standing. Unless you’re one of the first in the train and that when there’s a stop. There’s just so many people who want to go out and go in at the same time, so expect pure chaos. Ruben had to cover me, or I had to of course cover myself and fight for me to not get pushed when people are going out.
In the city trains, there are actually sections only for women, so if you’re not comfortable with the general section you can also go to the women section only. Or if you’re traveling longer, and don’t want to bother with any pushing or pulling, there are also first class tickets.
You can also use AirBnb; just click here to get $30 USD of your first booking with AirBnB.
More Things to Know Before Traveling in India as a Woman
5. How men can get handsy
Now here comes some of the most controversial part of this post. You’ll have to note of course that when we say men are handsy, we don’t mean 100% of the people here. Some of the people, especially the ones from the city, or the ones that are much younger, and have higher education or more open to the modern world will not act this way. But there will certainly be people who are very handsy. So yes, you need to be very careful.
Let’s just say that some of the men will try to get their way, without thinking that there’s a consequence. It’s like they have a curiosity that they want to fill, or that maybe they’ve seen something in the television or the internet, and because matters of anything sexual is a very taboo secret in India, they don’t know how to react.
One experience we had was when we were waiting to ride in a general class seating in a train, a guy gropes my chest. It happened for a quick couple of seconds. But this guy has definitely waited for his chance to do it. I was waiting for the fast train with Ruben. And because there will be many people in a hurry to ride the train, people will not line up, so it’s just all people very close to each other trying to squeeze themselves in, and he got his chance.
And yes, I didn’t have the chance to confront him because I was so in a hurry to ride the train. But I wish I had time to confront him because just him thinking he can easily get away with these things, and that he’ll do this to another woman again is pretty appalling.
This is of course very unusual, especially in Asia. Asian men are usually very down to earth, and will not be handsy in any way, especially men in South East Asia. At least in my country the Philippines, I can’t even think that it can happen.
6. How men can misinterpret a smile
Another controversial matter. It’s actually hard to say that a smile is not something you should give out easily. Because there were definitely moments when you know people are nice, especially women. But I can’t disguise the fact that a lot of men will take this as a hint of some kind of permission. Yes, I meant a very normal smile.
In normal circumstances where you will smile to a stranger. Especially if you are asking for directions or you’re just sitting next to them in a bus or a plane, or you just simply cross paths with them in a market, a smile is something normal. But there were a lot of times men have misinterpreted this, and tried to get a chance like sit next to me, or stare at me in a way that they need or want something. You don’t exactly know what they want, but it is highly recommended to be very wary of this.
7. Not a lot of people in the north speak English
If you commute by public transport a lot, like rickshaws, even in trains, you’ll have to know that a lot of people don’t speak English. And even if the rickshaw driver tells you they know where you want to go, 99% of the time. They don’t so they will ask you the exact address at some point. Or they will take you to the place they want to take you (like another hotel or another place), especially if they want to increase the price of your fair.
This is very important. You’ll need to know where you are going by having a map with you (use apps like Google Maps so you can calculate the direction and the amount of time) not only to save time, but to keep yourself safe.
While Ruben and I travel together rickshaw drivers will try to take us off the track, to get more bucks. And it’s very frustrating when you’re in a hurry. But here in India, a lot of people just want to get money from the foreigners any way they can so you’ll need to know how to not get taken advantage of.
8. You can push for freedom of expression, but you may be highly misinterpreted
People here have very strong inclination to their beliefs. So yes, just expect people will be against you (or at least you’ll get looks), if you’re doing a lot of public displays of affection. So be careful with how you act around your partner, and the way you dress and carry yourself. Just a general way of respecting the culture of the country you’re visiting, or to not get misinterpreted in many places or in various ways.
9. They see women secondary
Sadly, this is a truth. Especially in a country like India. Well, if there’s already gender disparity in a lot of areas in Western and other progressive countries, what can you expect in a developing country like India? We even met women who are parts of the higher society who had the chance to grow up in a much open minded way. And they also believe that women are looked to as second class compared to men. They get lower respect so yes, they have to make their name harder than men in power.
Hope it’s helpful this article of things to know before traveling in India as a woman. Do you have more tips to share or are you traveling to India soon. Let us know in the comments below!
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