19 uncensored tips from a woman traveling solo in India

Jaime making beautiful crafts with an artist in Srinagar city in India.

I’ve known my fearless and adventurous friend Jaime for a few years now. We met in Vancouver, Canada, enjoyed Burning Man together, and experienced many outdoor adventures and cooking nights with our friends.I’m very proud that she pushed herself to take a long break from work and set out to do a long term travel.

She is currently in India for a few months and despite the many scare stories, she’s been able to navigate through the country, connect with people and picked up street savvy tips on having the experience of a lifetime while staying safe. J

aime took the time to share how she picked up the courage to take a break from work to do long term travel and share a load no BS advice for travelers, particularly if you’re a woman exploring India. She talks about how to deal with men staring, how to minimize scams and the three important words you need to know in India.

Why did you decide to take a break from work to travel? 

I wanted to travel India since I graduated from university, but my parents thought I was too naive (they weren’t wrong) and I had no money to travel. Hence I postponed it for a few years. I was feeling there was something missing in my life: my independence and I wanted to really truly live my life to the fullest, battling my insecurities and just be me.

After a few years of working with a company, it dawned on me that it’s always been my dream to travel either South America or India. Three weeks of holidays is just not enough. I did a lot of research, like I pretty much interviewed all my friends plus more about India.One friend told me – the slogan for India is ‘incredible India’ take this opportunity to really see how incredible India is.

Pretty much all my friends who have been to India said it was their best place they have to travel, even as a lone woman. And when I heard stories of you traveling, I really wanted to fulfill my dreams of traveling.

Jaime in Leh, India watching the Dalai Lama celebrate his 79th birthday on July 6 with Richard Gere.

What would you say to people who fear getting out of their comfort zones and daily routines to travel?

I personally feel that it was the surrounding people like your friends (not the ones in Vancouver) and family who love you and care about give you the most fear. Before coming to India, my friends and family were like “What the hell – are you insane? Did you hear about the rape cases in India? Don’t go there.” Hence I was postponing my flights and was just not sure until my boyfriend Shuvi said, “Honey, don’t let their fear get inside you. Do want YOU want to do, it’s time to start living your life and not theirs.”

I used to be an executive assistant and hence an OCD planner. Everyday, every time there was something to do. If there was nothing, then I’d freak out. Coming to India, I had somewhat a plan (for my mom’s sake). But plans always change, and India really will teach you a lesson on “routine”, or that it’s impossible to have one since nothing is really on time in India, including people and transport.

Prior to starting my travels, I did an ‘Osho Meditation’ session in regards to ‘no mind’ and I learnt, there is nothing in life you should have possession off. Life is full of surprises so just sit, relax and wait for those surprises to come.

How has it been traveling as a woman alone in the areas you’ve been in India?

“This is one of the coolest temples I’ve seen in Bhagsu.”—Jaime

India is still a patriarchal society, so men are everywhere. And they just don’t mind their own business, they stare and you just have to get used to it. And also, they are full of shit (literally full of bullshit) and you can’t trust a single guy (even some young Indian men who are my friends).

You need to accept that they are many Hindus and Muslims so there is no sex before marriage in the culture. And many of them see ‘foreign women’ as an opportunity for some fun. So hugs are generally a no-no but a simple handshake is allowed. If you are too friendly with them (even the younger ones like my age) they want to take you as their bride even if you have a boyfriend or husband. So let’s say – play it safe.

What advice to you have for women traveling solo in India?

1. Be confident and assertive

I am not a mean person, but seriously India, you need to be a little mean because many men just won’t leave you alone. And a little meanness makes them GO AWAY. I had this guy who has a wife and kids and he constantly calls me and gets out of his way to try and see me to the point a female friend from Mumbai said, next time he calls you “tell him to stop calling or else you will call the police.” This is how straight forward it is. There is no niceness in this game, you just need to stand your ground.

Triund mountains, sleeping under sars, shepard and goats

Jaime trekked up the Triund Hill in Mcleodganj. “You would think we would be sleeping under the stars but instead we were sleeping under crazy lightning show, hail, snow, rain and crazy gusty winds which we thought we may get blown off the mountain. Thank lordie for my friends sleeping bag. And a Shepard just slept under a tarp like structure with his many goats and sheep,” Jaime explained.

Also Indian men have no boundaries and they think that foreign women have none. So they will take any chance for some fleshy advantages. If they touch you on the shoulder, brush it off, meanly. I think India has turned most solo travellers into monsters.

2. Three words you need to know in india:

“We did a wonderful overnight journey to Phuktal Monastary, Zanskar. But due to High altitude sickness we didn’t end up checking the place out fully. To our surprise the Monastery was closed. Thankfully we didn’t have to break into a school and catch a wild bird for supper. A homestay invited us to stay at their place and their 2-year-old was so curious about us.”—Jaime

(i) Neh-hi: No. You need to say it strong and loud and they will pretty much leave you alone, especially in Delhi.

(ii) Bai- yah: brother. Once you say it to an Indian men, they can no longer touch you because you have put them in the brother class meaning brothers don’t mess around with sisters.

(iiI) Namaste: hello/ good bye. Still say hello to women, and children. And that you are not aggressive, just assertive with men.

 3. Travel light

Traveling in India is exhausting, with many hours on public transport and having to find hotel rooms. Pack what you need only, not what you think you need. You can buy everything you want in India. Maybe not lighters but matches are available. So many women have such heavy backpacks they can’t even carry which gives men opportunities to grab their ass sometime (happened me in Delhi). Last thing for you is to be exhausted and not have any signs of defense.

When you are traveling as alone girl, you never leave any of your belongings behind. And there are some places that are dirty and full of urine, feces and puke. So you have to learn how to squat (with easy access to your own toilet paper) with both backpacks on. Always carry a small rucksack in front of you, not only you protect your breasts but makes you bigger and the men smaller. And combined with a scary looking face, they literally fuck off.

“I’m so inspired by this French woman Sonia. She is a single mother of two wonderful children. She has had continuos battles with family politics of being a vegetarian and a single mother, yet she still stands strong as a steel rod. Through her many journeys through India some 40 years ago she seeks simplicity, kindness and calmness – shanti shanti. Plus she loves dancing trance too!”—Jaime.

4. Indian women – probably the best people on the planet

If you are stranded in a bus/ train station at night or early hours in the morning, stay in the station at least until dusk. Luckily, many women travel with their families throughout India. So if you see an Indian woman, even if you don’t know Hindi and she doesn’t know a word of English, go straight to her and try to communicate with her in sign language. They are more than happy to have you join their company. I had a friend who slept in the bus station next to a group of women and their kids.

5. Indian men and unwanted attention

Indian men are not there to rape you, or harass you. But if you give them an opportunity, some of them will take it. So always stay on the safe side. You are already traveling alone, so unwanted attention is glowing around you.

“This was on a six-hour bus ride on local transport. They pack everyone like sardines. Luckily no one vomited.”

My friends cannot emphasize this enough: dress appropriately in India. Cover your chest, arms and legs, even if it’s 40 degrees. When I was in Praharganj, in Delhi, a group of young women were walking around in shorts and spaghetti strap. And men were staring at them in googly eyes. So really if you don’t want attention dress moderately like the Indian women.

6. Rape alarms and pepper spray

Touch wood, I’ve never had to use it, but I know I can if I need to use it. So again, if you have a chance get one. It’s better for you to feel safe traveling alone.

7. Paying a little more for protection

I know as travellers, we are always on budget. But staying in a place where you need to pass through many alleys just to save a couple hundred rupees is just pure stupid. 50 rupees is $1 US, do the math.

Also, since you need to be on alert all the time, a good night’s rest is heaven rather than hell, especially In Praharganj in Delhi where a lot of rape cases happen at night you do not want to be strolling around after 9 p.m., so get back to your hotel by 9 p.m.

8. Buses

Many travelers opt for the Volvo buses, but to be honest, I have been in India for two months and I haven’t taken a single Volvo bus. Normally local or non-AC (don’t tell my mother). As a general rule, if you are traveling in the daytime, take a local bus.

Jaime hanging out in Triund mountains.

For overnight journeys, take a Volvo (even though they drive like crazy) because it’s better to be with the travelers. Apart from traveling from Mcleodganj to Delhi where all the Tibetans take the non-AC bus, do yourself a favour and don’t count pennies.

9. Trains

I have met a few women who take the cheaper class trains. I spoke to a bunch of Indian travelers and even they don’t travel the cheaper classes because it’s not only less safe but a lot of people (from outside) can just pop into your compartment and steal your luggage.

Just let you know there are hardly any lockable doors on trains in India. Everything is open. The cheapest I take is 3-tier AC meaning that there are three bunk beds, and you are on the upper deck. Pretty much it’s all to yourself. If you are traveling overnight, be wary of the staff sleeping on the floors just before you enter the toilet. See if anyone is following you. And when you get in, lock it immediately.

10. Get used to exercising your kegel muscles

These are the muscles that keep you from wanting to pee. There are many times, and many nights I refuse to go to the toilet if the toilet is outside (not in your room) and many local buses don’t stop for pee breaks (maybe after 5 hours). So get used to exercising those muscles.

Jaime connected with another global explorer in New Delhi who took off six months to travel.

11. Having no expectations

Meaning ZILCH! India is full of surprises, I think that’s part of the “Incredible India” slogan. Remember, you may not get what you really paid for, for hotels, transportation, food, clothing, tourist sights, everything. So travel India with an open mind because you never know what surprises will bring you.

12. Always receive the item first before paying and check the price printer on the item

This goes for hotels, public transport, phone recharge, groceries . . . everything! Hotels: go in and check bathrooms, beds and bedsheets, air conditioning, TV, and especially the lock. All rooms comes with one or two bolted locks which you can lock from inside. Check locks that are working before agreeing with price.

13. Public transport 

People are always trying to scam you even for a few rupees (literally less than a cent). So do your homework and check around for the prices. There are many public transportation options, so make sure the receipt you get is actually what you want.

Auto richshaws: this is best way to travel and negotiate the prices first. I prefer these than taxis so if you feel a little unsafe, you can always jump off. They only go around 20km/hr and always stop due to traffic jams.

Prepaid taxis: if you have a smart phone really check the address they put on the slip, because in Mumbai, I was at the counter with one address and he printed a completely different address. So I spent 30 minutes arguing with the damn taxi driver. They are also the safest transport from the airport.

A local artist in Sinegar, Kashmir.

14. Phone/SIM cards

I’m writing this because obviously I got scammed. Pretty much it takes 24 hours if I register your SIM (security reasons). If they demand money at first, just pay for the SIM (50 rupees) and you will come tomorrow to pay the rest once your SIM is registered.

Obviously I didn’t and shelled out $22 for a 3G data plan, talk time and SIM. And when my SIM card got registered there was zero balance. Every time you top up, wait for the message that pops up on your phone saying “recharge successful” stating how much you put in, its validity, and then you pay. Do not pay them the rest until you receive that damn text.

15. Groceries

there is always a printed cost of the maximum they will charge you for an item. So make sure they don’t get more money than it is worth. When buying fruits and vegetables, make sure that you pick the veggies not them because they end up giving you the rotten ones in a new paper bag. So if you go back to your hotel with a sack of rotten vegetables, don’t start feeling sorry for yourself.

Scams are bound to happen to everyone in India, even the locals get scammed all the time. So take it with a grain of salt and say at least it was money and not your life.

16. Asking for directions

“I went to a birthday party in Bhagsu. You know it’s a brilliant party when you danced with people who are constantly smiling, when your knees and feet hurt, your clothes are stinking with sweat and it only costs you $8 which includes a full meal too!”—Jaime

There are no street signs anywhere in India and sometimes it is impossible to find a place. Don’t ask a stranger for directions at night, you are just asking for trouble. Ask shop owners and women. If a man approaches you and tells you to follow him-don’t. You are asking for trouble. If you have a smart phone with data, that’s also a good idea to find where the hell you are.

17. No where is safe in India

Many solo travelers and locals have agreed that there isn’t a single safe place in India where you can roam around alone at night or in quiet places. Even in Mcleodganj (where majority of the Tibetans live), I don’t walk alone at night. So be smart and always travel with another traveller.

When I was in Rishikesh (the yoga central of the world) some solo women were going to the beaches alone, and literally, Indian men would be masturbating on the next rock. So don’t think you are ever safe.

18. Tell people where you are going

Tell people where you are going, whether its another traveller, a local or even your parents/ friends at home. Sometimes as a lone traveller, you just want to go anywhere. Yes feel free to go anywhere but let someone know where you are going so they don’t get worried sick about you.

It also helps, when you are talking about the place you are going because a group of university students may approach you and ask if you want to share a taxi with them.  And if there is a female student, best to stick with her.

“We stayed one night at Golden Palace houseboat, accompanied by many younger children and having dinner ‘Kashmir’ style at their home!. We attempted to paddle a small route and failed miserably. It was nice just being a kid again.”—Jaime

19. If you get harassed, please don’t just do NOTHING

It drives me bonkers when I hear other female travelers who get harassed and they are too embarrassed to do anything. This does not teach the violators anything. I’m just waiting for that one guy to touch me and my whole hatred with harassment will just get dumped on him. I got pinch on the butt in a packed metro in Delhi with my big backpack. And instead of doing nothing, I turned around I shouted, “Who the fuck touched me?!” And they all turned around in shock. An Indian woman and I gave the man a good slap on the face with my Lonely Planet Book. It’s big and heavy for a reason.

On the bus, when a man tried to reach something over me, I turned around give him an assertive stare and he hasn’t done it since. Also, in Mysore I heard there are a lot of flashers. This is when pepper spray is handy. I don’t think the men will love it when their precious parts gets pepper sprayed on. Also take a picture of the flasher and show it to the police. The good thing about Indian men is that they literally fuck off if you put them in their place.

“Getting ready for our Zanskar Valley trek from Padam to Photoskar with our three little donkeys!”—Jaime

When me and two other girls arrived in Delhi by bus, we were surrounded by taxi drivers wanting to take us to our destination. Literally we pushed them, and said ‘neh-hi’ or simply, “fuck off”, then they give you maybe a feet of space. Then we ran to an auto rickshaw, quickly negotiated the price and left .

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When life steers you in a different direction

Surin

The wonderful people who kept us company for the whole day in Surin.

I was looking forward to the Full Moon Party in Koh Pagnan island in Thailand for two months and it was the only fixed plan I had in January. Everything else was up in the air. 10,000 to 30,000 people go the party every month to dance the night away and enjoy themselves however they please. I was more attracted to the event for the electronic music and dancing on the beach, which is hard to do in countries with many regulations like Canada.

Because I just got my open water diving license in Bali, I wanted to go to one of the best diving sites in the world, which is Surin Island south of Thailand. So I thought I could go there for a few days to dive then head to Koh Pagnan afterward.

I booked my accommodation for three nights on Koh Pagnan ahead of time because it was going to be busy and I looked online on how to Surin Island and tried to find the bus and ferry ticket, which was not as easy as it seemed.

Navigating through organized chaos

Rush hour on the BTS skytrain in Bangkok

After the first two hours of being on public transit, I finally got to the bus terminal to try and get the ticket because you can’t book it online. But at the first bus station when I asked for Surin, he told me I had to go to Mo Chit bus station an hour and a half away to get to the island, which wasn’t on the website. But the site information could have been outdated for all I knew.

Five hours after navigating through the organized chaos city that is Bangkok, I finally get to Mo Chit. I asked the info booth how to get to Surin, got our tickets and waited for the overnight bus to take us to our first stop. The website I read said from the first island, you can take a 7:00 a.m. ferry to get to another island first before getting to Surin Island.

We left at 8:00 p.m. and arrived at 5:00 a.m. to Surin. So when I asked someone where the ferry was they gestured that there was no ferry in the area. When my friend pulled out the map to indicate where we wanted to go, we found out we went eight hours in the wrong direction! We headed north to the city of Surin, which is different than the island of Surin. Who knew there would be two things named Surin? Someone told me next time I should ask for “Koh Surin,” which means Surin Island. Mental note.

We could have gone back to the south or just head up to Chiang Mai, which we were planning to do after the Full Moon Party. I said, “Well we’re already this far, let’s take the bus to Chiang Mai.” Unlucky for us, the earlier buses were full so we had to wait 14 hours for the next bus, which was another 14-hour ride to Chiang Mai.

New friends in Surin

We looked for a coffee shop with Wi-Fi to stay at the whole day. Thankfully the first cafe’s internet didn’t work otherwise we wouldn’t have met the wonderful people who spent time with us at another coffee shop.

I found out that the 21-year old woman staff member was originally from Cambodia, which instantly made me homesick from my Asian home Siem Reap. I spoke a bit of Khmer (Cambodian language) with her, and she was so surprised. She came to Thailand to work, which is what many Cambodians do, and works seven days a week at the shop. She had the most adorable laugh and she so reminded me of the wonderful smile and friendliness of many Cambodians I met while I was in the country for eight months.

We saw a mix of older Western men and local Thai women, whom we said hello to and we started chatting casually here and there. I learned from them that most people in Surin speak Khmer partly because they are so close to the country.

I was surprised how long they hung around the coffee shop, but one of the women, Sudjai, was friends with the owner. They told us a bit about their family, their work and many other random things.

Our highlight of the day was when they offered to drive us to the night market so we left our stuff at the coffee shop. It was nice to have a mini tour of the city. I asked myself, “When in Vancouver and other cities could you feel comfortable leaving your bags at a coffee shop and have people offer you a ride for dinner after meeting them after just a few hours?”

We all grabbed some food and brought it back to the coffee shop to eat together. They stayed with us from the morning until our bus came at 8:00 p.m. Before we left, Sudjai said, “Next time you’re in Surin, you can visit our family.” I am chatting on Facebook with Sudjai now and she said again, “So when you visit Thailand next time you can stay with us for free.” I told her next time we visit Thailand and have time, we will go to Surin on purpose and include a visit to them as part of our trip.

It’s so beautiful that around many parts of Asia that I’ve been to, I can easily talk to people and find people to connect with wherever I go.

We then continued on our journey to Chiang Mai and the northern mountains, which led to my most memorable days in Thailand. I will tell you in my next post how I ended up watching the full moon during a silent sitting meditation with a group of world travelers and Thai owner of an organic vegetarian farm instead of the originally planned Full Moon Party.

A fixed destination can distract you from the path you were meant to take.

How to take the BTS train in Bangkok

The BTS train station is a very cheap and easy way to get around Bangkok. It’s clean and has air conditioning that you will enjoy on the very hot days. Here’s how you take the train:

1. Get coins

The ticket machine only takes coins. You can exchange your bills for coins at the ticket office close the machines.

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2. Select the fare of your destination

The fares of the BTS station range from 15 to 52 baht from depending where you want to go.

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 3. Put your ticket in the slot with the green arrow to open the gate

Remember to keep your ticket until you exit your final destination! You’ll need to put the ticket in to open the gates when you exit the station. Otherwise you’ll pay about 40 baht to exit.

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Happy travels.