If you believe everything you read on the internet about traveling to India as a woman, you may be giving the trip a second thought. With this guide, we hope to ease your concerns and share some tips and tricks we learned after spending nearly two weeks traveling through Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur in December of 2015. We certainly had our doubts as we planned the trip for our little sister's wedding, but were pleasantly surprised upon arrival.
First things first, don't believe everything you read on the internet! Of course, you'll want to mind your p's and q's - an obvious general tip to women traveling anywhere abroad - but the majority of time you will feel very safe.
Prepare for Staring
The most common nuisance you will experience as a woman, and especially as a woman of a different ethnicity, is staring....lots and lots of staring. From anyone and everyone! People have no shame! When someone spots you, they will find it hard to take their eyes off of you. But as the locals reminded us, it's often likely that you are the first white person they've ever actually seen in person. At first this was entertaining and we fed into it with games in the car like "Sour or Sweet?" to see who would smile or wave back. By the end of the trip, we were exhausted by it and used our sunglasses as a shield.
Prepare for Pictures
In addition to staring, people may ask for your picture. Some days we felt like celebrities. Hello paparazzi! But it's funny, if you open your mouth and smile with your teeth, they will tell you it's not necessary to smile so big. An instance that became very amusing to us by the end of the trip. So our smiles just grew bigger and bigger. No RBF here. ;)
As we became more comfortable in the country, we turned into paparazzi ourselves. You'll come across so many different walks of lives and will want to document it. Emily had no shame taking people's pictures and even learned how to ask permission. It went something along the lines of "Photo le sakate hain?" On rare occasion, someone may not like this and will say "nah" (pronounced "nay") and that's your cue to move on.
Use the Word No (Nah!)
This brings us to our next point - "nay." Get familiar with this word - you'll be using it quite a bit. The poverty and begging you see in throughout the country is heartbreaking. If you're anything like us, you'll want to help everyone. (By the end of our trip, we had a goal in mind - provide shoes to everyone in India without. We haven't figured out how to do this yet, but it's on our list. #lifegoals.) What seems like a small amount of money to us seems like a very large amount of money to them. But the moment you start handing it out, you'll be swarmed, followed, and harassed. As much as you'll want to help, it's best for your safety to avoid any handouts.
Hire a Driver
Most hotels are able to provide a driver for a day or half day at a minimal cost. We felt uneasy about trying to catch cabs from strangers once we were outside of the hotel, so opted for this option. The drivers were knowledgable about the area, spoke some English (not always great, but enough to communicate), and stayed close by, which made us feel safe.
Don't Drink the Water
Our number one recommendation to anyone traveling to a country with unsafe drinking water is to purchase aLifeStraw water bottle. This was by far the best $30 we spent in preparation for the trip. We used it everywhere, even to brush our teeth, and neither of us experienced illness or that infamous "Delhi belly." For that feat alone, we'd say it's worth it!
Dressing modestly is considered respectful in India. We recommend covering arms and legs and avoiding sleeveless tops, shorts, and short skirts. You'll probably do a little shopping while you are there and can find some customary pieces to help you fit in the crowd. A dupatta, or long scarf, is versatile and can be worn over most anything. Following local tradition with help deflect some attention and since a foreigner will attract a lot of attention as it is, dressing modestly will make things a bit easier.
Be Prepared and Aware of Surroundings
Incidents against women tourists in India are rare, but do occur on occasion. It's smart to have a plan in place in case things do go awry. Creating a fuss, especially in public, will be shameful to the harasser and will cause others around to come to your aide. Don't be afraid to speak up or be vocal if you find yourself in an uncomfortable position.
Know How to Contact Police
Most of the major tourist spots will have a police post somewhere near the entrance or exit. Become familiar with these when you arrive at new locations. If you need to call the police in India, find a phone and dial 1-0-0.