Solo Travel in India – Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Go It Alone

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Over the course of the two years Heather and I spent travelling around this world, she told me, again and again, “I don’t want to go to India.”

Travelling the Indian subcontinent had always been a dream of mine. I simply had to go. Unfortunately, it looked like it would be solo.

While I had gone solo on previous adventures, never before had I attempted anything more than a few weeks on my own. And, of course, I had never been to India.

The real deal.

The big leagues.

Ticket to ride - my boarding pass from London To New Delhi, India.Ticket to ride - my boarding pass from London To New Delhi, India.
Ticket to ride - my boarding pass from London To New Delhi, India.29-Nov-2012 05:20
 

Naturally, I was scared. India is a difficult country to begin with. Would I be lonely? Was I making a mistake?

All these thoughts and emotions swirled around in my head as Heather and I shared a tearful goodbye at Newark International Airport. During the 15 hour journey to New Delhi, I tried to remain positive and embrace the adventure.

I was arriving almost 100% unprepared: no route planned through this enormous country, no return plane ticket, and no contacts on the ground – just a reservation for my first few night in Delhi in the Paharganj “backpacker ghetto” near the train station.

Luckily, a movie I had been meaning to see was shown on the flight over, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Watching this, I started to get excited about what lay ahead, and gained some valuable advice from this funny and heartwarming film:

Initially you’re overwhelmed. But gradually you realize it’s like a wave. Resist, and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it, and you’ll swim out the other side.

I was delighted to find The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel available on the in-flight entertainment unit.I was delighted to find The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel available on the in-flight entertainment unit.
I was delighted to find The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel available on the in-flight entertainment unit.28-Nov-2012 12:19
 

I was ready to dive in!

Now, after having spent a couple of months travelling solo through India, I can tell you – it’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, there are many things that make this a great country for travelling solo.

The World’s Friendliest People

I have never in my life met any people friendlier or more curious than the Indians. Since English is widely-spoken, it’s possible to have meaningful interactions with many locals. Even though I’m naturally a little shy and reserved, I found it very easy to strike up conversations with people from all classes and backgrounds, from businessmen on train rides to students sitting in cafes. People here are social – and they probably have to be – this dense country packed with more than a billion people is soon set to overtake China as the world’s most populous country.

I was very lucky to meet Vikas on my first day in Delhi. He was on a business trip from Kolkota and taking a few hours to see the sights in India's capital.I was very lucky to meet Vikas on my first day in Delhi. He was on a business trip from Kolkota and taking a few hours to see the sights in India's capital.
I was very lucky to meet Vikas on my first day in Delhi. He was on a business trip from Kolkota and taking a few hours to see the sights in India's capital.30-Nov-2012 16:09
 

While you should constantly be on the lookout for touts, scammers, and other unscrupulous characters, don’t miss the opportunity to get to know the locals. It’s the people that make this country so special. And even if you’re travelling solo here, you’ll never be alone.

Awesome Fellow Travelers

India attracts a certain breed of backpacker, much different than the party-hardy gap year types you find bouncing around Southeast Asia, Australia, and Europe. Travelers here tend to be a little older, a little wiser, and a little more sure of themselves and their place in the world. Yes, there are lots of visitors on a spiritual pilgrimage seeking a “higher state of consciousness.” Even though I was not there for yoga and meditation at an ashram, I still met some amazing people here – spiritual pilgrims and others that were full of knowledge, love, and excitement about the world unlike I’ve seen anywhere else.

I also found it was much easier to strike up a conversation and make friends – locals and fellow travelers alike – while travelling solo. You are generally seen as more approachable and friendly on your own.

A Special Note for Women

While all the above still holds true, it pays to be particularly cautious if you are travelling India as a solo female. Every Western woman I met in India had some story of being groped and harassed – and these weren’t just solo travelers, many were travelling with their boyfriends or spouses! The recent spate of violent rapes in this country is, unfortunately, not a new or rare occurrence. If you are going solo here as a woman, it pays to be extremely vigilant, particularly on overnight trains, in large crowds, and in the cities. Carry a whistle, team up with fellow travelers, and stay alert at all times.

28 thoughts on “Solo Travel in India – Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Go It Alone

    1. Erik Post author

      Hi Mariellen – glad to hear you agree and also great to get your take on solo female travel in India. You have a great blog – looking forward to reading more of your posts!

      Reply
    2. Sarah

      Erik, reading your experience of solo travelling in India hs just given me JUST the confidence boost I needed to go solo! I was supposed to be meeting my sister in Delhi in just over a week (with her bf), who has been backpacking in India for 4 months, but she’s unfortunately had to return home because of unforeseen situ at home, and now I face a one way flight out in a week, no experience of India, and as a woman am naturally nervous about what you mentioned, despite having backpacked on my own through South America. I’ll also follow the breathdreamgo link sent as a reply to your blog – the internet is a wonderful thing – so grateful to find your words – the balance has tipped from nervous to excited 😀 THANK YOU! Sarah.

      Reply
  1. lee laurino

    India is on my life list (bucket is too final) but as a solo female I will NEVER go without support….. just as i would not go to some places in the USA (newark, detroit etc) and i speak English…. however i have found some online support systems that will make my trip safe. for those of us who are timid, we can support the economy of india by employing guides, drivers, even arrange family stays before I leave…… i would rather be less spontaneous but safe

    Reply
    1. Erik Post author

      Hi Lee – that sounds like a good plan. There are no doubt many local resources you will be able to make use of, keeping you safe and offering you a great perspective of this fascinating country.

      Reply
      1. lee laurino

        I can use inspiration from your trip, to travel in a way I feel comfortable with. Knowing that ALL SOLO travel is outside my comfort zone, i press the limits when I can….. meeting several local guides or even travel writers that would enjoy some additonal work, will give me access to locals …. and someone to answer my many many questions.
        besides I travel with different goals….often never going to museums if i can visit a local market or even a grocery store…. India will be a huge challenge

        Reply
  2. SuzieD

    I think the important thing for a solo traveller is not where u go, but what options are available.

    I *really* recommend going on a trip with Exodus or Explore or one of those adventure companies. They are excellent and a great way to meet other people.

    However, I have also gone *full-solo*, so to speak. If u decide to do that my main tips would be…

    1. Stay in hostels, they are THE BEST place to meet other travelers.

    2. If there are no hostels, go on 1 or 2 day activity outings, e.g. diving, climbing, canyoning, etc. They are another great way to meet people.

    3. Carry your smartphone with you and join websites like Wandermates.com or AirBnB to help meet other people (like me http://www.wandermates.com/profileview.php?profileuserid=6 🙂 None of them are perfect, but they are useful.

    4. Go on a backpacker-type bus tour. They are brilliant also and a great way to hook w guys:)

    Reply
    1. Erik Post author

      Thanks for these excellent tips, SuzieD!

      Agree – hostels are the best place to go to connect with other backpackers…day tours/trips as well!

      We’ve done backpacker bus tours, and they’ve been a lot of fun, especially in places its hard to get around with public transport or difficult/impossible to rent a car.

      Reply
  3. eduardo andres

    Hi Erik! Great article! I’m embarking solo to India next Thursday and going over the same feelings, and, just like you, with no plans. I’ll get to Delhi and figure things out. Were you there for the monsoon? Enjoy your travels! Eduardo

    Reply
    1. Erik Post author

      Hi Eduardo – don’t worry – you’ll have a great time in India!

      I was there in the winter time, so it was dry and pleasant (though a little cold in the North part of the country). Enjoy your trip!

      Reply
  4. mykellyrogers

    I like the part when you said “team up with fellow travelers.” So even if I reach a destination alone, I don’t have to visit places alone. That way, I can be safer. Thanks for the tips.

    Reply
  5. Travelling Ides of March

    Thank you for writing such a postive post Erik! I am an Indian, female solo traveller and I cannot disagree with a single word here. Yes, I wish it were safer for women (even men) travellers to move around in the country, but I can’t deny the comfort I feel in my fellow Indians’ smile 🙂 I’m glad it was worth your time 🙂

    Reply
  6. himachalpackagetours

    India is actually the seventh largest country in the world,as well as the largest democratic country on earth.It can be a real adventure to travel in India even if you are alone.Every country and culture has its own view about how an individual should behave.

    Regards Manu

    Reply
  7. Raymundo Nava

    After taking some pretty time thinking about it (and reading you of course) it is decided! I am definitely going to India alone. It has also been a dream to me. A couple of questions, though. I intend to get to places like Mysore, Rishikesh, Agra, Mumbai and Delhi (I am probably getting to Delh first) How difficult is it to move around the country by train from Delhi? Is it safe? I will appreciate your answers 😀

    Reply
    1. Erik Post author

      Yes, the trains are safe. Just keep an eye on your belongings. One thing to consider is that trains are often sold out. You will really need to reserve tickets in advance, especially on popular routes. You can use the http://www.cleartrip.com website to do this. Alternatively, it is much easier to book buses, but these are less comfortable – especially if you are taking overnight journeys.

      Reply
  8. Joao Gomes

    Hi Erik,

    Thank you for sharing your experience, found it to be one of the most helpful blogs/tip sites I’ve encountered lately. I’m travelling to India soon, I dohave my flight back to Portugal booked but I know I’m gonna regret staying in India only for 3 weeks. It’s my first big solo trip and I can’t wait to dive in man eheh

    Reply
  9. Albert

    Hi Eric, You have mentioned safety tips for solo women traveler but forgot to do it for solo male traveler. The laws there are highly anti male and even male tourist have to be careful while traveling there. 90% of pick pockets there are women. There are women gangs who trap men in fake molestation/ assault cases for money. Lastly the rape laws there are not gender neutral,so if a male tourist gets raped by woman he has no way to get justice http://lifenstory.com/no_help_for_raped_men I do not intend to scare anyone but precaution is better than cure

    Reply
  10. Katyaini.ranjan

    Well…. I’m quite happy reading this bllog of yours. Many say that this country is wild and I believe it’s just because we’re more filled with “life.” And as far as the problems are concerned, they’re more or less the same for Indian toursists and foreigners. In fact, even residents face many of the aforementioned problems.
    Loved your open views for this culturally beautiful country.
    Katyaini

    Reply
  11. Katyaini.ranjan

    That and where don’t you find problems and crimes…. every country has some steriotyped ‘problems’ revolving around it…… I’ve heard it being said that US has too much ‘drug problems’ in teens and that Germans are ‘unfriendly and uptight’ but I recognize them for being superstitions.

    Reply
  12. Poppy

    Please be very careful travelling alone to India. Unfortunately it is not safe. It comes second in tourist deaths after Thailand. Sadly every tourist will seem to meet friendly locals and helpful taxi drivers, this is dangerous, the police must be avoided too. Spiking is commonplace to render people helpless prior to being robbed, raped or killed.
    Experienced travellers are likely victims of crime. To go alone is crazy, the demographic of victims is make aged 28-45yrs old. Goa is the most dangerous and most corrupt.
    I visit India frequently I stay with family.

    Reply
  13. Harvey

    I’m a 67 year old man in an 18 year old body, I’m planning to solo travel India the end of October this year,my aim is to spend 4-6 weeks traveling and taking photographs. I intend to publish a book of my works at the end of it, does anyone have any tips for me

    Reply
  14. Taichi

    wow that so beautiful place. I hope , i can go to there with my favourite online travel agent.For your recommendation maybe you can use my favourite travel agent. Please find it in here maybe you can get many cheapest flight go to india

    Reply
  15. Drumles Den Haag

    India is an amazing place, but I would never travel alone there. I do traveled with my boyfriend but whenever I went somewhere by myself, I got harassed. Apart form that, I would go back because the country itself is such an experience! Nice people, the food is amazing, the culture is even more interesting etc etc

    Reply

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