India is a wonderful country to visit, yes, even for a female solo traveler. But any traveler can fall prey to a scam, so here are some tips to help you avoid that trap.
Is India Safe For Female Solo Travelers Like Me?
I've solo traveled around India as a woman, for months at a time, and I love it! Here's a photo of me wandering around the small streets of Rishikesh town in Northern India.
During my travels I've felt safe and enjoyed exploring, but there are good things to know before you set off on your trip. And balance is key. When I'm in India (and traveling anywhere on my own), it's essential to be cautious, but I've also broken lots of rules that people recommend: I took food from strangers, took night buses alone, and rode on scooters without a helmet...but the main thing that kept me safe is my ability to have clear boundaries. Also note: I'm not saying you should do any of these things. I'm only saying I did, and was fine. But every situation is different, and every person is different.
But there are a few tips that are essential for any traveler, and especially for a female solo traveler in India. Learning how to say no (in a kind but clearway) is vital for life and also comes in handy in India. That's true when it comes to bargaining for Rickshaws and also for declining the advances of the guy at the hostel who's hitting on you because he thinks you're easy because you're a Westerner (true story). But it's all very manageable, and India is very safe. But that said, I also encountered a number of scammers so I put together my top list of 5 ways to avoid getting scammed. So let's jump in. Also, here's a link to my FREE video course on How To Avoid Scams in India that goes into a bit more detail and gives more tips on what to do.
Top Tips To Avoid Scams When Traveling in India
1. Stay Alert
This is vital. Whether you're alone or in a group it is essential to be aware of your surroundings. This may seem obvious or easy to do, but when you've just gotten of a 7 hour bus journey from Delhi to Jaipur, you might find yourself tired and out of sorts. And it is in those moments when you have to rally your energy and maintain an awareness of your surroundings and know what's going on.
You are more likely to fall for a scam when you're distracted, disoriented, or not paying attention to what's going on around you.
2. Be Wary of Rickshaw Drivers
There are many lovely and honest rickshaw drivers in India. But there are also more than a handful that are not. Many will attempt to charge tourists up to 10 or 20 times the actual price. This has happened to me on numerous occasions. In addition they will sometimes work in conjunction with other drivers to attempt to convince you that their hyper-inflated rates are fair. Knowledge is your best line of defense here. Reach out to your hostel or hotel in advance and ask them how much a ride should cost.
When I was traveling around North India, I once had a rickshaw driver tell me the price would be 200 rupees for a ride. But I knew what the price should be and later found someone to take me for 20.
Why Does it Matter? Isn't It Good to Give the Rickshaw Drivers a Bit Of Extra Cash?
No. It's not. And here's why. On one hand I totally understand this line of thinking. What's wrong with paying a rickshaw driver extra money if you can afford it? Well the problem is this... In several cities I visited I saw first-hand and heard from locals that they can have trouble getting a ride from rickshaw drivers in their own cities because the drivers would rather sit and wait for a tourist to come by that they know they can overcharge, rather than give a ride to a local in their own city for a fair price. So paying a fair price for transportation is actually a responsible way to travel. You don't want to try and undercut people on prices, but as we now know overpaying doesn't do the local economy any favors either.
In addition with rickshaws, sometimes they will tell tourists that their hostels are: closed, burned down, over-booked...anything. Luckily like many other scams, this isn't one where you're in any danger. But the rickshaw driver likely just wants to take you to a different hotel where he will receive a commission for bringing you there. But that said, if you don't have a hostel or hotel booked, sometimes rickshaws can recommend one, but it's really best to do your own research in advance.
3. Do Some Prep Work
Lots of scams involve being uninformed and overcharged for something: cabs, hostels, trains, clothing etc. If you have absolutely no frame of reference for what items in India should cost, it'll be tough to know if you're getting a fair price. I once paid more than 4 times the appropriate cost of a scarf because I didn't know in advance what a fair price would be. Remember you can always ask the locals who work at your hostel or hotel.
Also when it comes to being prepared it is essential to know how to pronounce your destination (in an Indian accent) and know how far it is and how long the journey should take. This is really important when it comes to getting to your destination safely. If you can't pronounce your city the way locals say it, you risk being mis-understood and going the wrong place. Also it's important to know how far away a place it because sometimes it's mentioned during a price negotiation. Drivers will sometimes claim a place is far away even when it's nearby. It also ensures you're not mistakenly taken take too far away.
4. Plan Your Strategy For Beggars
When I first left for India, I was really worried about beggars and I was worried about the level of poverty I would encounter in India. The reality was different than I expected (and of course it varies greatly by city). As someone who has lived in NYC and Los Angeles in the US, I must say I'm sadly somewhat accustomed to seeing poverty and homeless people. However, the level of poverty in India is indeed different than in the US. A major factor that makes it different is the deformities and mutilations that some people have, which can feel shocking to witness. But that said, it's good to have a strategy going in.
Now, technically begging, and giving money to beggars is illegal. That said, many people do beg anyway, and many will give money. Whether or not you give money is of course up to you. But it's good to be aware that some beggars do make up stories to try and solicit money, and others do commit acts of harm to themselves (like removing limbs) to make it easier to get money. But it's also hard for me to imagine someone being so hard up for money that they're willing to lose a limb in order to more effectively beg.
But there's one category of beggar that no one should give money to: children.
What kind of person doesn't want to help a child in need?
Sadly, children are at times kidnapped in India and forced into begging for money. So giving money to child beggars can encourage this type of behavior. That said, these children, if they are kidnapped, are often severely malnourished. So if you want to help them, and do something positive, buying them food to eat is more helpful in the moment than giving them money. That's because you'll be able to see them eat the food and will know for sure that it's going to them, not a kidnapper. But of course, if you know the child and know that they're in a safe environment, but are simply in need of money, then of course giving money can be wonderful and helpful.
5. Get Comfortable Saying No
If you only master 1 skill when prepping for your travels or during your travels, this one will carry you the farthest. Especially for women. I find that a lot of females have difficulty saying "no" at times for fear of being seen as mean or rude. But when traveling solo, especially in India, these concerns must go out of the window. When you're traveling in India, you have to put your own safety and comfort first. That means putting it above other people's feelings.
That doesn't mean it's okay to be rude. Not at all. It just means it's okay, and vital to be able to say "no" when you need to. I can't even tell you how many travelers I've met who (admittedly) got themselves into really bad situations because they were worried about hurting someone's feelings.
And in the case of scams, you have to be able to say "no" and to walk away from bad deals and anything or person that makes you uncomfortable.
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