My experience and tips for backpacking India alone as a solo female traveler
India doesn’t have the greatest reputation as a destination for solo female travellers and especially if you are planning on backpacking India alone your plans will probably be received with worried looks.
I think India is the most incredible travel destination on the planet! What other country offers so much diversity, spirituality, history, iconic sights, amazing nature, wildlife, food, festivals and so much colourful and excitement?
So should a solo female traveller go backpacking India alone?
So what if you are just dying to travel India and none of your friends want to go or can’t make your dates?
I’ve never been one for delaying travel plans just because no one else wants to go and I’ve spent a lot of time (more than 24 months in total ) backpacking India alone as a solo female traveller so I get asked this question quite alot and wanted to give you my honest answer based on my experience.
Most media would say India is too dangerous for solo women but here’s MY honest opinion from my experience backpacking India and living in India for over 3 years…
My first time backpacking India
My first time backpacking India was in late 2012/ early 2013 and I spent 2 months backpacking the country with my boyfriend and to be honest I’m glad I did it with a guy.
My first time in India was quite a culture shock, we tried to see the whole country in only 2 months so we made alot of the same mistakes many 1st timers make – we traveled too quickly, I got sick, scammed in Delhi and it was challenging and quite overwhelming.
Also, back then there were no backpacker hostels in India yet so we didn’t met many other travellers and so I’m really glad that I didn’t go alone and that I went with a male friend for my first India backpacking trip.
Since then I’ve been back 7 times for many months at a time, I’ve travelled with friends, on tours and now mostly I travel alone. (I wrote a whole post for Wanderlust Travel Magazine about practical tips for women traveling in India.)
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Should you backpack India alone on your first trip?
Of course, you can safely and enjoyably backpack India alone as a solo female traveller (now I do all the time) but if it’s your first time in India and you’re a solo female without much travel experience in Asia then I would recommend that you don’t backpack India totally alone – at least not for the first few days.
I say this, not because its particularly unsafe, but because traveling India can be challenging, overwhelming and frustrating, in some of the less popular touristy areas you may find it hard to meet other solo female travellers to pair up with and you will probably encounter many scams and hassles and so you may just not enjoy India so much.
If you don’t know anyone else who wants to go then it could be a good idea to book a short tour to get your trip off to a good start and then once your acclimatised more to India you can carry on backpacking India solo, hopefully with some awesome new friends that you met on the tour or stay in a popular backpacker hostel to met others and get tips from the staff. (Here’s my recommendations of the best hostels in India)
G Adventures are my favourite tour company for backpackers. I like how they visit not just the famous sights but also include some more cultural and off beat experiences and they support local charities that you often get a chance to visit. (See here for the tours of India I recommend.)
What to expect when backpacking India alone as a solo female
I’m not saying that it’s unsafe for solo female travellers backpacking India alone. Of course, there are several cultural considerations you need to be aware of and you need to use your intuition and common sense. For more detailed tips check out this post.
In all this time the worst things that have ever happened is that I got scammed in Delhi the taxi from the airport and I got groped slightly twice on my first trip once in a busy street in Mumbai and once on and packed local bus, and this was when I was with my boyfriend, but really it was just a very brief opportunistic touch that wasn’t really going to lead to anything worse.
If it happens to you should and push the guy or shame him and you’ll find that other people on the bus or in the street will come to your aid, they may ever beat him up.
But mostly it’s the constant attention from touts, scammer’s, beggars and leering men that really gets on my nerves. The hassle is a lot worse when you are a solo female alone than if you are with a female friend, male partner or in a tour group (in that order from my experience)
But, the good experiences out number the bad, the people of India have been wonderfully hospitable towards me, strangers have helped me out many, many times without asking for anything in return, men have given up their seats for me and moved over to respectfully give me space on public transport, I’ve been invited to share in a family’s wedding anniversary celebrations and I have many wonderful male Indian friends – so please don’t assume everyone is out to scam or grope you but it is something you need to be aware off.
If you are backpacking India alone as a solo female I recommend starting somewhere in South India where traveling is easier, cleaner, less hassle and safer. Somewhere like tropical Kerala or the beaches of Goa is an easy place to start an Indian adventure, although be careful because if you start in Goa you may like it too much and never leave Goa and not see the rest of India! I’ve seen it happen so many times where backpackers get stuck in Goa – trust me it’s hard to leave! I should know I can’t either! Check out my perfect India backpacking route that I recommend here.
After my 4th trip to India I basically decided to base myself in Goa for most of the year (apart from the monsoon) and then I travel for a month or so at a time from there instead of being on the go all the time. (Yes, I also got stuck in Goa! 🙂 )
Nowadays I think nothing of jumping on a train and backpacking India alone but that’s because I’ve been here for a while, I’ve heard every scam in the book and I think my intuition is pretty good. I can tell who is dodgy a mile away, I can speak a little Hindi, dress in Indian clothes and I’m confident (one of the most important safety tips) The touts and scammers can tell I’ve been around India a couple of times and usually prey on backpackers that they can tell have just arrived.
In fact, I even find traveling in India easier than other places now, because I’m so used to it although sometimes the attention and looks I receive from men still gets on my nerves I ignore them and try not to let it bother me and I don’t feel unsafe.
So should you backpack India alone as a solo female?
If you have some experience backpacking in Asian countries and have a good intuition and common sense and a cultural understanding of India then, from my experience, I don’t feel it’s unsafe to backpack India alone as a solo female (and I know many other women who have been backpacking India alone with no problems.) although you may find it more enjoyable to go with friends.
However, if you haven’t done much backpacking before, maybe you’re 18 and it’s your first backpacking trip outside of Europe/ North American/ Australia then I would recommend you try and find a travel buddy or at least take a tour for the first week or so until you get your bearings – I think you’ll find it more enjoyable and after that yes, why not backpack India alone as a solo female traveller. There are now plenty of backpacker hostels where you can meet other travellers and with cultural understanding, common sense and it’s not as scary as the media makes it out to be!
Never let fear, or the lack of a travel partner, put you off from following your dreams! India can be a challenging travel destination but, in my opinion, it is also the most exciting, transformative and possibly life changing destination there is!
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