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She's Independent in India
Women-centered travel tips

 

Mei-Yin Teo is a Canadian freelancer whose greatest loves are travelling and recording her adventures. Just recently back from India, she offers woman-friendly tips designed to make solo travel to this part of the world easier for you.


The moment I stepped off the plane in New Delhi, I was overwhelmed by a rush of conflicting emotions. The thought of exploring this enchanting land was thrilling but I was also so wary of being in a country where women still practice "sati"--the custom of a widow throwing herself on her husband's funeral pyre.

The hordes of people, the pollution and the show of poverty alarmed me. I grappled with this culture shock and real fear set in. The thought of jumping on the first plane back to North America was very tempting. But, I'm glad I calmed down and stayed because this journey turned out to be one of the greatest adventures of my life.

To be fair, I must report that I did experience some problems travelling in India. Most of them boiled down to the fact that I was a foreign woman and that I was travelling alone. Or, perhaps it was the merger of the two, which did become quite a challenge.

I guess that, in some cases, Indian men have developed a distorted view of western females. Maybe they've watched too many North American action videos highlighting promiscuous and independent women. However, I discovered that the best way to avert problems is not , in the slightest way, to feed into these stereotypes.

Almost immediately, I encountered unwanted advances by the local male population. Though the stares and touching were irritating, generally they were quite harmless. On a few occasions, usually in a busy market or a crowded street, I had men brush up against me--and it was no accident! These incidents left me more offended than anything else and I learned from them.

Tip #1
D
ress conservatively. Foreign women who dress in a sari seem to experience less harassment. Tempting as it is to defy custom and to dress in sleeveless shirts and shorts, it's not worth the hassle. I found a T-shirt (with sleeves) and light, cotton pants kept me cool and respected Indian custom.

Tip #2
A
void eye contact, because in their culture, contact signals to Indian men that you are both available and approachable. I also began to allude to a husband who was close by or who I was meeting shortly. (One woman I met even wore a fake wedding ring to keep men at bay). In India, the fact that you are connected to a man commands respect for a woman.

Tip #3
L
ife sure is funny! When I finally joined up with male travellers, the situation became entirely different. Because Indian men assumed that my companion was my husband, they virtually ignored me. I was invisible! Any conversation was directed solely to him since it was a waste of time to deal with me, a mere woman. This "all or nothing" approach really frustrated me.

Tip #4
T
o me, travel is about meeting other people along the way. The first thing I did when I arrived in a new city was to book a day tour. This gave some order to my day (desperately needed when you're alone) and I felt safe in the company of other travellers, most of whom could speak English. In fact, it was on a tour of Jaipur that I met Anberin who gave me many interesting contacts. In Bangalore, for four days, I stayed with her mother, Dilshad. It was so good to meet this independent business woman--she even had her driver take me sightseeing.

Tip #5
B
ecause I hated sitting down to eat alone, I usually ate my biggest meal at lunch in the company of other daytrippers. Then I grabbed something small like a samosa (a meat or vegetable dumpling) from a street stall to have in my room for dinner.

Tip #6
T
hen I met Ingelise Larsen, a journalist from Copenhagen who was covering the political problems in Kashmir. We agreed to go our separate ways during the day and meet for dinner. This was a perfect arrangement! We had something to look forward to, we ate out and it was nice to share the day's experiences.

For 20 rupees each (less than $1.00), we ate thalis which means "tray." This popular meal consists of rice served on a round metal platter with side dishes of vegetable curries and chutney placed in metal bowls. We also bought wonderful biscuits which were handy for our late-night hunger pangs.

Tip #7
A
s a single traveller, I saved activities like bathing, reading, catching up in my journal and writing postcards to pass the evening hours. I went to bed early and rose early.

Tip #8
W
ith time, I learned a novel way to avoid line-ups. I tried India's "women only" ticket lines at the bus and train station and also at the movie theatre. In Jaipur, when Michael, a Swiss traveller and I came across a long queue to buy tickets to the cinema, I was dispatched to the women's line which was very much shorter.

Tip #9
I
found that when I wanted to escape the chaos and confusion of train stations, I could take refuge in the women-only waiting rooms. It felt safe and relaxed in this pseudo paradise. The only catch was that women were usually accompanied by their noisy children, so if you wanted to sleep, forget it!

Tip #10
F
inally, above all else, from my solo stay in India, I learned that this seductive country's beauty lies in its unpredictability. Being alone here requires a sense of humor and will test your patience more than once. But, get past these petty annoyances and you will discover the mystic that has lured travellers to this magnificent land for ages.

 

Ed. note: If you enjoyed this article, you'll probably want to read:

India - She Fights Her Fears
Preparing for a trek
Spider, Spider
India -- Do Your Pre-Trip Research!
A mixed bag of travelling tips

 

More solo travel motivation...

If you need further motivation to try solo travel, here are a few more links you might like to follow...

 

Keeping yourself safe and happy...


 

 

 

 

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