You gotta be smart when travelling in India – and any other foreign country for that matter. Everything you’ll read below is from my personal experience – yes, even sexual harassment and stalking.
Let’s start with some tips for travelling safely in India, then we’ll go over different safety issues I’ve had to deal with in India.
16 travel safety tips for India
- If you’re travelling alone, don’t tell people you meet. Say your friends are nearby. Don’t say anything that makes you seem vulnerable.
- Do not wear revealing clothing, dress modestly (I feel bad just having to type that line, it’s so wrong for me to say this to anyone). Visit a FabIndia or Khadi store and buy some local clothing. Wearing Indian clothing allows you to blend in better and stay covered.
- Don’t wear expensive jewellery, clothes, or bags. Also, be careful standing on the side of the road using your phone – they get snatched by guys on motorcycles.
- Don’t assume it’s safe to trust women. Because of this inherent trust, women have a much easier time operating as pickpockets for example.
- Avoid going out late at night, especially alone.
- If you will be travelling alone at night, purchase a safety whistle or alarm. I carry pepper spray.
- Keep a confident and assertive attitude when dealing with strangers. Strength respect strength, don’t let anyone push you around.
- Carry your phone with you at all times.
- Before getting into a taxi or rickshaw take a photo of the license plate and send it to a friend and share your daily travel plans with someone.
- Be aware of pickpockets in tourist and crowded areas. Keep valuable items in a backpack with an anti-theft compartment. Do not keep valuables in your front or rear pockets. Carry backpacks on your front when in crowded areas.
- If someone is following you, enter a shop. If they’re waiting outside still, call Police on 100 or ask someone to tell the person to get lost.
- Be careful accepting free food, drinks, or rides.
- If you’re female, always travel in the female coach on the underground Metros.
- On trains book an upper berth. The trains are busy. The upper berth gives you some extra privacy.
- Avoid arriving in a new city at night. It’s better to come during daylight to get your bearings.
- You will constantly be asked to take photos with people. Take them as long as you feel comfortable. Usually, it’s harmless, but sometimes people will push their luck, even with male tourists.
Moral policing & Public Displays of Affection (PDA)
Moral policing is when locals take the law into their own hands because they perceive someone is doing something they shouldn’t.
PDA such as cuddling or kissing, or even just walking beside an Indian girl in my case, has resulted in locals in rural areas attacking foreign couples.
While large Indian cities are more liberal and tolerant, small cities, towns, and rural areas are far more conservative.
It’s always best in India to limit displays of affection, short of holding hands, to your hotel room.
Tattoos in India
Tattoos are generally fine and normal in India, but there was one case in the past where a foreign couple was harassed for having a Hindu Goddess tattooed on their shin. You may want to consider covering up religious iconography during your trip.
Dealing with theft in India
Alongside pickpockets, bag and phone snatchers on foot or motorcycles are not uncommon. My mobile phone was stolen as 3 men pushed past me on the Delhi Metro. My Sister-in-law’s mobile was snatched as she stood outside our apartment complex texting.
To avoid them, don’t walk and text especially on the side of a road and prefer backpacks to purses as they can’t be pulled down your arm easily.
If someone grabs your phone or bag, let them take it. Chasing or aggravating thieves is not recommended as they’re desperate people and have nothing to lose.
Go to the nearest Police Station and file a First Information Report (FIR), travel insurance will cover your loss.
Dealing with stalking in India
I had to deal with a very shady gangster looking fellow following me around Ranchi, Jharkhand. Luckily I found a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) officer nearby.
If you feel like someone is following you, trust your gut, and follow the below plan:
- Keep calm and breathe.
- Verify you’re being followed by turning around multiple times to check if your turns are being mimicked. Stop and see if they pass you or not, then continue and look again.
- The moment you’ve verified it, begin making your way to a safe place like a bank, showroom, international brand’s store, or main road (anywhere with people). Do not isolate yourself or go into a place like a public toilet where there maybe nobody.
- Inform people you’re being followed.
- Call the Police on 100 or ask someone to take you to a nearby station. The stalker should leave once they see the Police. Have the officer walk you to your hotel or assist you to your next destination.
How to avoid unwanted attention while travelling
If you are touched inappropriately in public, make a scene right away. Yell at the person and make others around you aware of what has happened.
This attracts attention to your situation, and others will come to your aid. Then call the Police or look for the nearest officer.
Some men in India don’t understand “just friends.” The women in their lives are either family members or girlfriends – there is no friends category. This also applies to male tourists (gay men in India will act on signals).
To avoid unwanted attention:
- Don’t be overly friendly. Keep a balance between friendly and guarded.
- Staring back can mean you’re interested.
- Smiling back can mean you’re interested.
- Take new friendships with locals slowly. Don’t straight away trust them and accept an invitation somewhere. Verify their identity and story first.
India Survival Guide Table of contents
- Travel Essentials: Before You Travel to India
- Arriving in India: Getting to Your Hotel & Airport Amenities
- Tourist Scams to Avoid in India
- Avoiding Fake Money & Ripped Notes in India
- Avoiding Bad Accommodation
- How to Bargain, Get Refunds, and How Much Rickshaws Cost
- Avoiding Counterfeit Souvenirs in India
- How to Be Street Smart in India
- Buses and Trains in India Explained
- Food and Drink Safety for Travellers
- What to Do If You Get Sick in India
- How to Deal with Air Pollution in India