Important tips for female backpackers in India
In this post on important tips for female backpackers in India, I will only be talking about female backpackers only. I feel this topic needs a post all of its own because backpacking in India poses challenges at the best of times and while this is part of the joy of visiting in the first place it can become taxing.
Whats more For female travellers in India, there a few extra considerations to think about. Domestic backpackers are few and far between although they are on the rise among the younger crowds from cities down south. Lone female travellers are pretty much unheard of so you are likely to turn some heads.
Obviously, I am not a woman so that you may ask, what do I know about being a female backpacker in India? Well, I have spent a lot of time on the road and shared many journeys with girls so have learned a lot over the years about what it is you are likely to expect.
Again I will reiterate this Post is about Female travellers only if you would like more general information regarding safety I have written two posts about that. The first part is on staying safe in India is about the hustle, overpricing, protecting yourself against theft and the ever-present pollution. The second part on is it safe to travel in India and that is about environmental issues, avoiding political violence, legal matter and staying safe on the road. Feel free to check them out as its fun to travel, but it is essential to do it safely, and it helps to arm yourself with the knowledge of what to expect.
So why is there a problem in the beginning? For a variety of reasons, in my opinion. The first is in traditional Indian society, neither the bride nor groom gets a say in who they are going to marry. That’s mostly down to the parents, and I have heard of times that the parents would consult mystics or ask neighbours to weigh in when they get stuck on such a decision. That leads to a lot of unhappy marriages. Despite young Indians starting to refute this ideology, the custom still persists in much of the country.
Another issue is the portrayal of a western woman being a bit lose in Hollywood, music videos and the porn industry. India is very much connected to the web. So this image as you can well imagine is easy to presume. Especially if you come from a rural community and to be fair, I have often seen some very scantly clad western woman just walking around in places that are just not appropriate. Indian woman would just never do that even in cosmopolitan areas such as Mumbai.
The last point I would say on this is the most disturbing and causes the biggest problem. Many Indians have a strong preference for having baby boys to girls, why? Because of a male being the heir to the throne, so to speak and seen as the primary breadwinners. What’s more in traditional Hindu culture when a woman is married, the parents will have to pay for the wedding and provide a dowry. It can be incredibly expensive for the more impoverished people and this has lead to simply being more men than woman. In some parts of the country, it is very evident indeed.
The Indian government has banned sonograms to protect against gender-biased abortions, and this helps of cause. Never the less one report estimates seventy million “lost” woman. I am not sure how anyone would come to those estimates, but it is fair to say a whole lot of woman are missing! This will inevitably breed Depression in many communities and poses a threat of sexual assault from frustrated men. This is a serious consideration, and there have been reports of very violent sexual crimes across parts of the country.
That being said, most trips to India do go incident-free and as sad as these facts are that is the reality. Hence the need for my separate Post important tips for female backpackers in India and here they are. I can not overstate enough this is not to scare you, but you as a woman do have a few extra considerations to take into account, and if you use a little caution and common sense, you will more than likely be just fine.
Tip one – Dress modestly.
The bottom line is you will get lots of unwanted attention, and there is no full-proof way to stop that. But there are measures you can take to minimalise how much you receive and unless you enjoy it, this is the kind of information you will want to pay attention to.
You will get stared at a lot and its something you will just have to live with. There is no way to stop this. One Indian official back into 2016 said he wanted to make illegal for men to stare at a woman for more than 14 seconds? Seems like an exact amount of time? It is not just a western woman who get stared at. It is Indian woman to. For a powerful perception of what it is like to be an Indian woman, check out this incredible article from the Guardian. I found this to be very insightful.
My first tip for female backpacker in India is dress modestly. The local woman also do it. Even the young ones adhere to that ideology. You will cause a lot of heads to turn in the wrong way if you start walking down the street in hot pants. Sounds Intuitive but I have seen it several times.
Cover up as much as possible and not just because of the stares, it also helps to keep the searing Indian sun of your skin. Also, a local woman will be less inclined to hold the stereotype of a western woman being a bit lose. This image is also glorified in Bollywood and cricket were scantly clad white girls are paid to jazz up the entertainment. Indian woman would simply not do this as it would shame their families.
If you do get stared at, don’t return them unless of cause you want to pursue it further. Dark glasses and wedding rings are both tricks I have been told are very useful at warding off unwanted attention. Scarves are a winner for several reasons. They mask the shape of your body and soak up the sweat while keeping the sun off. They also come in handy when visiting religious sights where it is custom to cover your heads. Use a thin material, or better yet dress like a local. Loose wearing saris are received well by the local people.
Men will want to have their pictures taken with you and its nice to feel like a celebrity for the first twenty photos. But this will get old fast! I have seen men go in for a sneaky grope as well as the picture. What’s more that picture will more than likely be shown to their friends exclaiming of your one-off night of passion and how you could not resist his charms. No joke! I have heard this story over and over again.
I have seen on several occasions men form a straight line for selfies with western girls on many occasions. I have had a string of girls line up for pictures with me before. But I am not going to lie. I am a man, so I really liked it, haha.
Tip 2 – Take care while using public transport.
You would take precautions surely in your home country, and it is no different in India. A lot of it is common sense, don’t talk to strangers, don’t take unlicensed taxis late at night, this is undoubtedly an issue in England. Let me give you some tips that may not seem immediately obvious.
If you are travelling overnight by train and you can’t afford 1AC try and request the top bunk as this helps you avoid being groped in the night and yes I have actually seen this more than once.
The downside is if you purchase that seat your seat number will be in the isle and this will attract attention if it is possible to ask to swap. If I have a female companion, I swap and form a kind of barrier from prying hands and even elbows grazing over your boob counts as a contact to some people somehow? Sounds terrible but sometimes it is necessary
If you drive late at night from an airport, use the airport taxi service inside the terminal. This is way safer than going outside to negotiate your own as this may be unlicensed and you just don’t know who the driver is. So it is just not worth the few rupees you will save. If you can use the uber and ola apps and if you do get in a rickshaw by yourself text someone, even if it is pretending. Never let anyone else get in your taxi, and if the driver says this is just my friend, the answer should always be a firm NO!
Try and move around in the day time as this will reduce the risk of harassment. Public bus stations, in particular, get pretty weird after dark. If you can, and you know where you are staying, inform the hotel you are on your way.
Tip 3 -Availability of lady products.
Number 3 of my 4 important tips for female backpackers in India is the availability of Lady products. It is not so hard to get sanitary towels as they are widely available from just about any corner shop or pharmacy. However, if you prefer tampons bring all you will need for the whole trip from home. I have never seen them on sale, so I would not presume you will be able to buy them on your journey. One girl I travelled with was on a year-long trip and bought al the tampons she needed. That is a lot of room in your bag taken up so if you are on a long journey you may want to switch.
Thrush can become a problem on the road, particularly on the run-up and during the monsoon, Canesten is not widely available so if that is your prefered brand take it from home. However, medicine with Clotrimazole is easy to get your hands on from any pharmacist. Clotrimazole is the active ingredient in Canesten anyway. But ladies the choice to bring it from home or purchase a local brand is all down to you.
As for the contraceptive pill, take all you will need with you. It is tough to get your hands on, let alone your desired brand. As much as life on the road definitely isn’t sexy you just never know when you will meet the man of your dreams, or you might be on a journey together with that man. Either way, come prepared!
Urinary tract infections are relatively common due to dehydration and long haul trips. Often it is not possible to hydrate properly on long bus journeys as toilet breaks are few and far between and often very public, and you might not feel comfortable going thus increasing your chances of getting a UTI.
Levofloxacin and Ciprofloxacin are widely available over the counter without a prescription at most pharmacies. It may be wise to take your own supply if you are going somewhere remote. Remember taking other antibiotics can also cause urinary tract infections as a side effect. Research suggests that cranberry extract may help as prevention, so if you know you are embarking on a long trip maybe invest, especially if it is a recurring problem for you.
Tip 4 – Spreading the costs.
If you are a solo female backpacker, you will find there is not much in the cost of a single room or a double room. If you can find another traveller to pair up with there is always plenty of twin rooms available. Alternatively, you can try bargaining harder but you loose that leverage in the high season as someone else will just snatch the bed up.
In Rajasthan woman, travellers get a discount on the busses but, just remember to ask as sometimes they “forget” to give it to you. Oh and another bonus of being a woman you get your own ques! If you are in a couple, trust me when I say use this to your advantage. That’s a trick I have been grateful for more than once as these ques are invariably shorter and often more ordered. When booking a train ticket and you have maybe met or come with another female traveller, always try and make sure your train tickets are in the same cubicle so you can keep an eye on each other.
Summary of my post tips for female backpackers in India.
After reading this article, it could be easy to become paranoid. The truth is that most trips to India for woman go without incident and most Indian people you meet must surely be the most beautiful people you could hope to. Some are not! And to avoid any problems, you just need to exert a little common sense, don’t walk down dark roads in the night, don’t flaunt your wealth and keep your room locked while you sleep. Nothing you wouldn’t do in your home country, right?
This Post aims to arm you with a few extra tricks and tips to help you get the most out of your time in this fantastic country. If you have any questions or need any further information that you think I might be able to help you with, feel free to leave it in the box provided and happy trails.
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