hannahkonecny asked: Heya Alison! I just read your article on HelloGiggles about Women Traveling Alone, and it moved me quite a lot. I'm heading to India at the end of January next year with my sister Zoe, and although I'm unbelievably excited, I'm also a tad worried about my safety over there. What would be your biggest tips for travelling to India as a white, young female? Hannah
Hi Hannah, I’m sorry for the delay here. I meant to respond earlier but forgot. Then in the past 2 weeks I got a few emails asking this exact same question and thought it’d be helpful to write something publicly so I can share with other women as well.
Despite what age or race you are, women are at risk when traveling alone anywhere… whether it’s New Orleans, India, South Africa or Paris. Women deserve a medal just for being alive and living normal lives.
My biggest piece of advice is to trust your instincts at all times: if you ever feel unsafe, accept that you are unsafe. It’s easy to feel like you’re overreacting or being silly by worrying about somebody’s wondering eyes or a rude comment hurled your way — especially because women’s experiences are often denied legitimacy. But never feel dumb for worrying. If you think somebody is following you, they might be. If you sense you’re not in control of a situation, chances are you are not. Don’t feel like you have to be brave, and if you ever do feel unsafe immediately do what you can to get yourself to a safer location, surrounded by people you know, or at least somebody trustworthy.
When I first arrived in India I was quite fearless. My first day in Delhi, I accepted a ride with a Rickshaw driver who quickly befriended me and suggested he show me the city. I accepted. When we arrived at a busy market, I had no idea where I was. He led me up a staircase to a store, and introduced me to some people who would help me find a good sari. Luckily, the only bad result of this was that I got ripped off and overpaid for an outfit. When I left India weeks later, I would have never allowed a stranger to “show me around.” I guess the point of this is that you will learn as you go, figure out who to trust and grow from your own experiences, and that’s all good and necessary. Take calculated risks. Tell other people where you are going and what time you’re expected back. Always have a cell phone on you and be in constant communication with others if you can.
If you’re with others you have more room to explore safely; I went with friends to the border of India and Pakistan, I slept overnight in the Golden Temple with 3 other women. I hiked with a friend and a guide after my bad experience hiking alone.
During the last week of my trip when I was traveling completely alone, I was hardly ever in communication with others. This was okay too; I just was overly cautious to make up for it. Once in Haridwar I spent hours in my hotel room after the hotel concierge made a comment about how only sluts travel alone (something that may not have phased me earlier in the trip). In a hotel in Delhi, a restaurant server told me he wanted to “be my friend.” This was enough for me to take my meal to my room. Another man followed me around a market for about 20 minutes bothering me, asking me if he could “walk with me” (which he already was, of course), so I just went to a coffee shop to read or write until I was sure he was gone.
If this makes it seem like my trip to India was awful, know that it wasn’t. I loved traveling in the country and I think about going back all the time. But I also sometimes felt that my body was a public commodity, to be observed and touched and owned by others. I had never felt both so disconnected from and defensive over my own body.
Here are some thing I did in India which made me feel safer :
1. I wore a wedding ring (a fake diamond I bought at a Target) at all times and had a back-story about my fake husband. He was an important lawyer. I also had a picture of him (it as just a photo of me with my male friend from college).
2. I often made fake phone calls to said husband. When in cabs or rickshaws I would tell him the cab # I was in, where I was going, and told him to meet me outside when I arrived. I would make my phone ring and then pick it up, so it seemed like a real call. Yes this made me feel like a seriously insane person but whatever.
3. I made friends with other travelers and tourists and planned excursions with them whenever possible.
4. I picked hotels based off recommendations of people I knew or people who I met in India.
5. When I traveled on buses or trains, I slept on my bags and never put them in storage.
6. Depending on the city, I wouldn’t walk around alone at night. I remember walking home alone at night a few times in Dharamsala (where I lived for about 8 weeks), and in Rishikesh. In Rishkesh I walked from a night yoga class back to my hotel which was nearby.
7. I always had pepperspray on me. I also had a whistle on my backpack and a pocketknife, but in retrospect I would not recommend this. It could easily be used against you.
8. When people said “Is this your first time in India?” (which I was asked a lot!) I always said “Oh no, it’s my 4th or 5th, I come here a lot.” I highly recommend telling this lie.
I hope this helps! Sorry I wrote a short novel! Please feel free to ask more questions or email me for specific follow ups.