I'M A GIRL AND I'M CURIOUS IF BUSES AND TRAINS ARE OKAY FOR OVERNIGHT TRAVEL. ACTUALLY, IS INDIA SAFE FOR FEMALE TRAVELLERS AT ALL? HOW DO I STAY SAFE?
I'm writing (read: rambling) this just after a trip to Delhi so women's safety has been on my mind a little bit too.
The media finally shedding light on the violent attacks against women in India has most certainly dissuaded some women from travelling to/within India including a couple I spoke to before writing this piece. Yet some of us continue to travel with abandon despite the odds. So is India safe?
First things first, India is no country for women in general. My friend says Indian women should be granted asylum just on the basis on being Indian women and I agree. Yet everyday half a billion women wake up and go about their day and make the most of it.
That’s my approach to travel in India. Do it anyway.
My experience as a traveller in India is unusual because I’m an Indian woman who is sometimes mistaken for a foreign tourist. I have travelled solo and with friends from both India and overseas, and though I know there are some differences between how locals and foreigners are treated, I don’t think you’re more or less likely at risk based on race.
For myself and most girls I know, the discomfort they have experienced as travellers is limited to gaze, being one of few women in a public space and the lack of personal space. Staring is a national pastime in India, as is loitering, and the concept of personal space is positively western. These are things to get used to.
Though I have never personally experienced anything particular horrible on the road, others I know haven’t been as lucky. A couple of my friends report being groped, one said she’d been spat at and another woke up on a bus with a man’s hand in her lap. Fucked up doesn’t cover it.
So while we wait for the world to change, being a female traveller (Indian or otherwise, solo or with others) in India requires a brave face, a big, bold spirit and some sensible safety measures:
Do your research. Some places are more female friendly than others including all the places on this list. Always stay in a safe neighbourhood and set yourself a curfew if you need to.
Try not to draw too much attention to yourself, dress appropriately and keep a low profile as much as possible, unless somebody oversteps boundaries in which case it’s probably best to create a scene.
If somebody is making you uncomfortable, simply do not engage, and definitely do not feel guilty about not posing for photographs. Be firm without being impolite.
On buses, ask for a ladies seat. This is a thing. Unless the bus is full, you will be seated next to another woman.
Always take the popular (therefore populated) route. Take a registered vehicle if possible.
Get a local number with a data connection and get a juice pack. The internet is the best thing that ever happened to the modern day traveller. Google Maps is your friend in safety.
Take adequate precautions. Tell somebody where you are or when to expect you. Be prepared with a Plan B when it comes down to transport and accommodation.
Splurge if you have to. Sometimes it costs more money to be guaranteed safety. Think of reliable transport and a good place to stay as an investment in your wellbeing.
Remember fear begets fear. Don’t be paranoid. Find the balance between having your guard up but being positive and cool.
Feign confidence and walk purposefully. Even if you’re clueless, always act like you know what’s up.
Trust your gut. If something feels shady, it’s probably shady.
Here’s the thing. Scary shit can happen anywhere in the world and to anybody but the world is full of good too, thankfully far more good than bad. Travelling in India can be daunting, but it can be incredibly rewarding, and dare I say, even fun. Bonne chance, bon voyage.
I answered this question as a part of my series Ask Me Anything about Travel in India.
Image: Wear whatchu want in Goa (except while visiting religious places).