This is a Guest Post by our awesome guest blogger – Christine Winkler.
Christine is a 32 yr old globetrotter from Germany. She visited India recently and wanted to share some useful tips for foreign female travelers in India. Many travelers have asked me this question during my travels – ‘How safe is India?’. This is how Christine & I came up with this idea of providing my readers a safety guide so that they don’t feel uncomfortable while visiting this beautiful and diverse nation.
Christine is an animal lover, avid reader, occasional writer and she usually has at least one creative project going on to escape from her mundane nine-to-five job. Wanderlust is a serious issue for her bank account but she’s still running a bit behind in her “one country a year”-challenge.
“So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.“
I’ve always been fascinated with India, the mysterious culture, all those colors, the mouth-watering food…the subcontinent was a dream destination for me. However, India is not known to be an easy destination and unfortunately there’s a lot of negative press about India, especially when it comes to women’s safety. Seriously infected with wanderlust I wouldn’t let anyone stop me from finally traveling to India and I hope with a few of my tips you’ll also be able to enjoy India to the fullest.
Let’s get into it
For experienced travelers it goes without saying, but still I can’t stress it enough: before you jump on a plane, make sure you checked the visa regulations for your country. Also incredibly important (although you hopefully won’t need it): a health insurance, preferably one that covers a back haul to your home country in case you get seriously sick or injured. I don’t know about the quality of India’s hospitals but I wouldn’t want to find out. Medicines are really cheap in India but I’d still recommend to bring your own if you need to take meds on a regular basis. I hear it can be tricky to get antidepressants or birth control pills, so better stock up for your journey! Also I never travel with a first aid kit so in case disaster strikes I am prepared and have some painkillers or whatever I need on hand. Also it’s best to bring products like tampons along. A hand sanitizer gel never hurts and be aware that toilet paper is very rare, so if you insist on using it – bring some tissues (but do not dump them into the toilet, mostly there are buckets nearby. You don’t want to clog the toilet.
A big question especially for female travelers is of course “What kind of clothes should I carry?“. You should not only take the climate but also the Indian culture into account when making your sartorial choices.
For everyday activities I highly recommend maxi skirts or dresses. They’re great for sightseeing since you’ll be covered up enough to be allowed into temples and won’t catch nasty looks on the streets. Also they’re really comfortable to wear when the Indian heat struck. Make sure you’re decently covered up, it’s always a good idea to opt for shirts with a more modest neckline and that covers your upper arms. I usually bring some kind of scarf along when I’m out and about in a more conservative country. It helps to adjust to the local dress code and has proven to be really helpful when riding a tuk tuk – the level of air pollution in cities can be literally breathtaking.
When it comes to shoes I’d stick to practical and comfortable ones. I mostly wore sneakers or flats, nothing too delicate since sidewalks and streets can be cragged or even nonexistent. There’s really no point in wearing those really elegant strappy sandals if you sprain your ankle on your way to your accommodation in them. Also keep in mind that if your shoe size is on the bigger side it can be tough to buy shoes in India, you might have to search stores high and low to find something that fits you.
Some guidebooks recommend to buy Indian clothing upon arrival. Might not be a bad idea, but it really depends on your fashion taste and body type. If you’re thin and not too tall this might work perfectly. But a normal built German friend had to shimmy herself into a Salwar Kameez in size XXL (the biggest they had in that store) despite normally needing a size M or maybe L, so keep in mind that sizing is most likely different from your home country. Getting clothes tailor made on the other hand is much cheaper than at home and could be an option if you’re somewhat patient and willing to spend some time researching and shopping around.
On a sightseeing tour, I always try to have some small rupee notes handy in case I need them. It’s much more comfortable to have them handy than having to rummage through your pockets or wallet desperately searching for them. Or risking to get scammed by people unwilling to give you change.
Maybe we can express ourselves more fully if we say it without words.
When I arrived in Delhi, still really tired and in full jet lag mode I realized I forgot my hair brush. I figured…shouldn’t be a problem to get one, after all Delhi is a big metropolis. So we asked our driver who didn’t understand what I needed but still stopped near a street with lots of shops. First shop – nobody understood what I needed. Second shop, third shop, fourth shop – I only got offered brushes that are used for hair dyeing. Getting a bit desperate we went into a place that said to be a hair salon. Nobody at the reception understood us, so they called for somebody and we ended up going up and down several staircases, entering the salon and got offered a haircut, a lot of talking in what I guess was most likely Hindi happened. There were at least 10 people involved until one of them understood what we needed and brought us to a shop nearby that sold…hair brushes!
Why am I telling you this? Well, even if some people might not speak English and it’s difficult to communicate, don’t hesitate to try to talk, mimic or even draw whatever you want to say. I was touched how many people were going all the way to help us even if we weren’t their customers. A lot of Indian people spoke amazingly well English so it mostly wasn’t a problem. If not they were usually still very friendly, so don’t be afraid to go out, talk to people, even if it’s maybe just a little small and a “Namaste” when visiting a holy site. They’ll most likely smile back.
When traveling to India, you need to be aware that you will stand out. Even if you dress modest, even if you’re wearing Indian clothes, people will stare at you. It’s not necessarily uncomfortable, I felt like most people were just curious, most likely some of them never saw a “white person” in their life. This was especially the case with some school classes we’ve met at several touristy places in Delhi. Gandhi Memorial, Arts & Crafts Museum…first they stared, then they were waving and smiling and sometimes we had to give high fives to what feels like a complete middle school. It’s also not uncommon that people ask to take photos with you. Gives you kind of a rockstar feeling which first was a little weird but we happily agreed to take pictures with the kids. As a female traveler I’d say children, families or groups are fine to take pictures with – as for with single men, just listen to your guts.
If you feel uncomfortable because you feel people (especially men) are too intrusive don’t be afraid to put a foot down. For intrusive sales personnel I found it best to ignore them. It’s not rude to walk away when they try to lure you into your shop or try to sell you things you really don’t want. They’ll try every sales technique in the book and I got pretty fast fed up of this, especially in Agra with the „You’re in the city of love, you should buy this, you’ll never come back here and don’t you love it…“-attempt. This can happen even if you only have a very short glimpse at something so don’t be afraid to just walk away. For intrusive men I’d suggest to call out on them, don’t be afraid to tell them loudly that their behavior is uncalled for and you don’t want to be treated that way. If this doesn’t help try to get help and remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.
Want to know what Christine is up to? Feel free to check out her Instagram.