We all travel at different times, for different reasons. We travel to discover parts of ourselves, parts of the earth, to meet new people, places and things and India is a destination that covers all these categories. Long seen as a haven for hippies and backpackers, the country’s social inequality often makes travellers hesitant about visiting the subcontinent.
India is the ultimate country for discovery though, be it through the maze of the country’s major cities or the peace and tranquillity that can be found the more remote regions. It’s this sense of discovery that makes India so perfect for those wanting to travel by themselves and while there are some precautions that you should take, travel to India can be affordable, accessible and safe, if you plan well.
We’ve put together our top tips for travelling alone around India to help take the stress out of your travel planning and to help you plan all that you want to discover.
As with most trips the more you plan in advance, the easier your holiday will be, in particular if you plan on doing a lot of travel within India or will be away for an extended period of time. There are a couple of no-brainers with this kind of trip, but you would be amazed how many people ignore them, namely get your visa (if required) before you go, get your vaccines from your local GP or tropical medicine bureau and buy travel insurance.
The next thing is to give yourself the time and flexibility within your itinerary. Often travellers try to cram in far too much into their trip to India, but it’s not the sort of country that can be taken at a whistle-stop pace. The best bet is to pick a region to explore rather than criss-crossing the country all at once.
Most international flights will take you into the major cities of Delhi, in the north, or Mumbai along the western coast of India. Delhi forms part of the tourist trail known as the Golden Triangle, which along with Jaipur and Agra lets you take in much of the region of Rajasthan and part of Uttar Pradesh.
If glittering temples and historic cities are what appeals to you in a holiday, this is where you need to go. North of Delhi is the colonial town of Simla at the foothills of the Himalayas, and this along with the cities and stop-offs of the Golden Triangle can be easily accessed by India’s impressive rail network.
If your gut tells you that the Golden Triangle and its city stop offs aren’t for you, there are more tranquil trails for you to discover, the most famous of which is, of course, Goa. Goa is a coastal region on India’s southwestern coast and has a relaxed kind of vibe. Westerners backpacking through the region are a common sight, and it’s a great place for many first-time visitors to India to dip their toe into this new culture.
Further south, the region of Kerala, has a beach-like, tropical feel, while on the east coast, the region of West Bengal, with its capital Kolkata is known for its tea production and the influence of the Buddhist religion coming from neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan.
Of course, there is far more to India than these quick mentions, but for one trip, one of these regions would give you more than enough to explore.
While planning an itinerary is something most of us can get to grips with, planning for the unknown is a little harder. One piece of advice I always give to first-time solo travellers is to listen to those who have gone before you: there are some great travel bloggers out there who deal specifically with the concept of travelling alone while others, like Hippie in Heels have an expert knowledge of India.
Image courtesy of Simply CVR.
Read up on the culture and customs of the region you are visiting and be prepared to put yourself outside of your comfort zone: Indian has a plurality of religions, social levels, histories and traditions that we do not learn about in the west, so while it is totally normal to be unaware of many of these, it is important as a guest to be respectful of them. Simple things like dressing modestly, particularly if you are visiting a religious site and can go a long way to making your trip a bit easier.
We all know we should do this on holiday, but it’s also very easy to be bit blasé about it. Don’t. Temperatures at their height can well exceed 40 degrees Celsius in India, and the humidity on top of this can be overwhelming.
Always make sure you have a bottle of water with you when you travel, even if you think you are going to be indoors for much of the day. Stock up on water when you get the chance and make sure the factory seal on the bottle cap is not broken before you purchase.
Bring a shawl or a hat to shade yourself from the sun as well as regularly applying sunscreen and insect repellent.
Image courtesy of Y'amal.
One big concern for travellers is suffering from the dreaded Delhi belly, and this coupled with my above tip leads me to recommend you carry some rehydrating salts such as Dioralyte when you travel. You may not need them but they are a great pick me up, even if you are simply exhausted by the heat.
As regards food, many Indians are vegetarians for religious reasons and as a result, India is probably the most veggie-friendly country you will ever find. Depending on the region, meat and fish dishes are available, but owing to their cost, are eaten in smaller quantities.
Many travellers choose to remain veggie for their trip to cut out the risk of eating dodgy meat and it is certainly a way of staying safe. For many, however, the flavours and spices used in Indian cooking are the triggers for an upset stomach, so with this in mind, pack some over the counter medication before you go and if you suspect that something doesn’t taste good or is too spicy, don’t eat it.
Image courtesy of Simply CVR.
With a population of over a billion people, India’s cities can be overwhelming for many travellers. Most travel between cities in India is done by rail and while the network of trains is impressive, the stations and the areas around them are incredibly crammed. Make sure you allow plenty of time, to both get to the train station and to board your train.
Stopping time for trains is only a couple of minutes, so you need to be at the platform, at your carriage’s stopping point ready to go. For this reason, it’s also best to travel light as you need to be able to move quickly.
Try to buy your tickets a day or two in advance to save time: stations often have separate queues for non-nationals and it’s best to use them to ensure you speak to a member of staff with a knowledge of English who can help you out.
If you are planning on travelling by rail in India, have a look at The Man in Seat 61's incredibly comprehensive guide to the rail networks, ticket types and itineraries available to travellers.
Within a city, buses, taxis, and tuk-tuks are all readily available. Buses are cheap and are pretty safe so long as you keep your wits about you. Many travellers, particularly women, worry about their safety on public transport in India, and while these fears are not unfounded, it’s important not the let that overwhelm you when you visit.
As a solo female traveller, you may get more stares and questions than a man in the same position but that is because women rarely travel alone in India. Be understanding of this, but also on guard and report any suspicious activity to the relevant authorities.
If someone does make you uncomfortable in public, either through their questioning or their physical behaviour, draw attention to it and call out the disrespectful behaviour. If you can, sit near other women on public transport.
Any attacks against women in India are very much carried out by a small minority of men and I wouldn’t let them discourage anyone from visiting this fantastic country. Just be on your guard, as you would in any big city, and don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do at home.
Dressing the part will also help you a lot, so pack some loose, light layers to cover you, and always carry a shawl or scarf you can use to cover yourself if needs be. They’re also great for keeping the sun off your skin.
Homestay host Shashi and his family, who are based in Mumbai.
While there's no doubt that a trip to India does require a bit of planning, there's no reason to let that deter your plans. India is one of the most fulfilling trips you will ever make and the hospitality, warmth, and humour of Indians is unlike any other in the world. Homestays are a robust industry in India and are an excellent way to get to know the local customs and to learn more about the traditions, cooking and culture of the region you visit.
Whatever your accommodation choice for your trip to India, embrace the experience of travelling alone in the sub-continent and let yourself enjoy the experience in a new part of the world.
With over 1000 homestays in India, you'll find the host that's right for your solo trip.
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