Advice for first-time visitors and women traveling to India

Mariellen at Taj Mahal, India

Mariellen at Taj Mahal, India

My top 7 tips for travel in India

I often get emails from women traveling to India for the first time, and they are justifiably nervous about landing by themselves in Delhi at midnight. So, this post is for you. It is a collection of my best tips and advice. You should also check out My top safety tips for women travelling in India,  10 Tips for Women Traveling India , my post Planning to go to India? and Top 5 Myths about India.

1.Go with an open mind and heart

Be cautious, but don’t be nervous. Be open, but don’t be naive. Yes, India is overwhelming to the first-time visitor and most people experience culture shock (you can spot first-timers by the deer-in-the-headlights look they have on their faces.) I have said in other posts on this blog (Traveling solo in India) that India is like the cave Yoda sends Luke into: you will only find what you bring with you. So, don’t bring fear. Most Indians are the nicest, friendliest and most helpful people you will ever meet. Even when they are trying to part you from your rupees, they are mostly very nice about it. (Always remember that there are many very poor people in India who have not had the advantages, nor the opportunities, that we in the west have.)

2. Arrange for airport pick-up

Try to get someone to pick you up at the airport when you land. Many good hotels and guest houses will arrange this for you.

3. Stay in a residential neighbourhood

In Delhi, don’t stay in Pahar Ganj (the backpackers ghetto) or Connaught Place, the commercial centre of Delhi. Stay in one of the many very nice, leafy neighbourhoods of South Delhi. There are lots of mid-range small hotels and guest houses popping up nowadays. Search on sits like TripAdvisor for B&Bs and Specialty Lodging and on Airbnb. Look for places in: Green Park, Hauz Khas, Jorbagh, Greater Kailash, Saket, South Extension, or anywhere on the new Metro line.
M and elephant

4.Wear Indian clothes

Don’t bring very many clothes (aside from bras and underwear: read my Packing list for India). I wrote a blog post called 10 Tips for women traveling in India and my number one tip is to head straight to Fabindia after landing and buy several cotton salwar kameez sets (also known as suits). They are modest, comfortable, inexpensive and they will help you blend in a bit more. I also find that Indians tend to be more respectful of women whom they deem to be suitably dressed. Personally, I wear Indian clothes, including saris, almost all the time I am in India.

5. Find other like-minded travelers

It is easy to meet other travelers in India, especially if you use the Lonely Planet Guide (as everyone tends to go to the hotels, restaurants and attractions listed in the “bible” of travelers in India). But you can also look for other travelers on IndiaMike (there are usually monthly meet-ups in the big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai). The fantastic Journeywoman site — which caters to women travelers — has lots of resources for women going to India, including a service called Her Mail that connects women travelers with female locals. Also check out SoloTravelerBlog, a great site with lots of inspiring articles about the joys and benefits of traveling solo (personally, I think it’s the only way to go!) and Wanderlust and Lipstick for more India travel advice — even a guide book for Women Traveling to India.

6. Book a tour

There is a lot to be said for having someone guide you on your first trip to India. I tend to book all my own travel — it’s easy these days as Indian Railways and my favourite airline, Jet Airways, offer online booking — but for those who want to take a tour, take a look at the Goway Travel. They specialize in customized tours to India and they offer a very special tour, called Splendours of India, ideal for first timers who really want to experience the best of India. Gap Adventures and Intrepid Travel also offers lots of small-group tours to India. If you decide to take the train — and you really should, it’s a great way to travel in India — check out my Resources page for links to several very helpful articles about taking the train in India.

7. Get to know your destination

Read books about India, and by Indian authors and check out my Do’s and Don’ts. India has a rich historical and cultural past and it is still largely a traditional society, in spite of all the mobile phones, Bollywood glamour and Levi jeans. Find out as much as you can about Indian society, as it will make travel easier. Many foreigners get frustrated by the way business is conducted in India — but it is futile and a waste of energy to get hot-and-bothered. Much better to try and understand, show some respect for an ancient culture (that is much wiser than the west in many ways) and go with the flow.

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26 Responses to Advice for first-time visitors and women traveling to India

  1. Whitney December 14, 2009 at 10:54 pm #

    Thanks so much for this post Mariellen – I’m travelling solo to India in February (first time in India, first time travelling alone outside of North America)and although I’m ridiculously excited, I’m experiencing a bit of random terror, now and again. Today was one such day, and to find this post calmed me down a LOT. Love your whole blog!

  2. Suzanne December 15, 2009 at 4:40 am #

    Great posting Mariellen, Wish I had a trip planned to India so I could make use of some of these resources.

    Suzanne

  3. Virginia December 15, 2009 at 2:10 pm #

    Lots of great resources for the first timer here, Mariellen. You’ll put a lot of solo women at ease with this.

  4. Wanderluster December 15, 2009 at 4:09 pm #

    Thanks for the mention AND the great list!

  5. Mansi Gupta December 16, 2009 at 6:07 am #

    Hey!
    I am an Indian, living / born / brought up in Delhi and just want to say that this article has some of the most practical and sensible advice that I have come across.

    Especially the bit about Paharganj…. believe me no respectable family in Dehi will book a room for their relative or guest in that area. Stay Awaaaayyy!!

    Cheers! And hope you enjoy your stay in India!

    Mansi

  6. Niamh May 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    This is such a great blog Mariellen! Im a 20 year old female planning to go to India with a friend this august and september. I have’nt come across another blog or website on practical advice for first time travellers as good as this. You’ve reassured me so much so thank you! I look forward to reading more stories of your travels.

    Niamh

  7. Marla Fisher June 28, 2010 at 10:56 am #

    Hey awesome tips! I really hope to travel to India soon with my children, hopefully if I’m a mom with kids, I will be treated well as I have been in most other countries. Can’t wait!

  8. For 91 Days Travel Blog September 12, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Thank you for all the great tips. India is def. on our list to spend 91 Days! Bookmarked this post and further reading.

    Again, great help!

  9. redroom13 September 15, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    i am going to india in 3 days…

  10. Jaipur Hotel September 29, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    This is a good and informative post. These tips are very useful for Woman’s when they are going to travel in India. India is a most popular place to visiting all over the world. Here are lot of very nice places to visiting. Here are many heritage & budget hotels for safely staying. They provide heritage facilities at very cheap cost. Jaipur is one of most popular place for visiting in India.

  11. Nathalie November 1, 2010 at 3:43 am #

    I am so glad I came across your blog! I had no idea where to start to prepare for this trip, I’m going to New Delhi in a month and a half. Your blog has been so helpful 🙂

  12. Priyank January 2, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    I’m going to recommend this website to a friend! Thanks Meriellen!

  13. South India February 4, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    Hi,

    I’m from South India. I went through many of your posts and was really glad to read your views on India. You have given wonderful advice for the first time visitors to India, from what you learnt from your own experience in our country.

    Hope you will visit South India too and enjoy your stay here.

  14. Mariellen March 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Thanks for all your comments everyone! I am trying to make Breathedreamgo a complete resource for people traveling to India. There is a steep learning curve when you first arrive — and most people need a little extra help. I know I did, and I was so lucky to get it from Indian friends. Hoping to pass my good fortune along 🙂

  15. South East Asia Tours June 16, 2012 at 3:28 am #

    very nice and informative blog i really like it very much thanks alot for this information.

  16. Shalu Sharma July 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    You look really lovely in the red dress. Learn a little Hindi if one can, it can go a long way. Thanks for these great tips.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..The Qutub MinarMy Profile

    • Sandy July 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

      Shalu I believe thats true of all travel. If you try to speak at least a little of the language & are friendly & respectful I believe you get that back. People respond to you the way you treat them in most cases. I always try to learn at least some useful phrases & words to show that I care & am willing to put forth the effort to communicate. I believe in karma; what you put out you will get back.

  17. Beau February 10, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    One other tip – even if you think you’re doing everything right, apparently there is no such thing as a mistake in India – according to an Australia traveller Paul Jordon anyway. In July 2008 he was lecturing for a week in Nepal and hanging out with a local man from Nepal – and a couple of days before he was due to go back to Australia he decided to do a couple of touristy things with this local guy. That arvo they both caught rickshaws and went for a drive in the country in the Jogbani region but the local guy was having an in depth conversation with his rickshaw driver and the rickshaw drivers both accidentally crossed over the border into India (by a mere 5 metres). There was no obvious signage to Paul to indicate he was in India, but the Indian Police arrested him and accused him of being a terrorist. All the other locals were not charged – because locals can apparently cross between the borders of Nepal and India but tourists can’t. Paul spent almost a month in an Indian jail alongside 500 other prisoners. The whole story of this misadventure can be read in his biography – The easy day was yesterday.. If you really are thinking of going to India I urge you to read his story of how easily locals from neighbouring countries can get you into trouble in India, and if you try and tell Indian authorities it was an accident or a mistake or that that was where the guides took you, it’s no use, because you are still treated as guilty in India.
    I’m not making these comments to talk anyone out of going to India – but just warning you of the heartbreak and expense that might result if you do decide to go anywhere near the borders of India.
    Beau recently posted..HEIRLOOM SEEDSMy Profile

  18. Shahana March 6, 2013 at 1:37 am #

    For a safe trip to India single women travelers should follow the tips mentioned in Mariellen’s blog. Apart from these tips I would also like to advice some more useful stuff :

    1.Never give money to beggars
    2.Remain a little aloof and don’t make friends easily
    3.Ignore hawkers
    4.Avoid smoking and cuddling in public

    I hope this will also result in a safe and sound journey for a single women traveler.

  19. Diana Abend June 29, 2013 at 1:48 am #

    I have never been to India. . .

    I am also a solo traveler and I would love to visit India. But I heard about some rape cases happen in Delhi and some other major cities and I was thinking about to cancel my trip. I was looking for some guidelines for solo women traveler and I got this blog. Thanks for the post. But I am still confuse about should I plan a trip to India or not.

    • Mariellen Ward June 29, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      Hello Diana, Thanks for commenting, and you can contact me by email if you need more information. In my opinion, India is not any more unsafe than most countries. It is an unfortunate fact of life that women are raped in every country. However, the rapes in India have received a lot of media attention. Having said that, I also counsel “safe travel practises.” Travelling in India is wonderful, exciting and life-changing. But it is a very different culture from what we in the west are used to. You have to have a healthy respect for these differences and act accordingly, in my opinion. Well, that is what I have done, and I have travelled safely in India for many many months. PS Join the #WeGoSolo community on Twitter and Facebook: we encourage and support female solo travellers.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Why content is king and story is queenMy Profile

  20. siva krishna August 14, 2013 at 5:27 am #

    Thanks to Mariellen for sharing,you are information is useful to who want travel in India, India have a good historical temples and places in the world, visit to http://www.karnatakatravel.com/ for more information of tourist places in India.

  21. sonya February 19, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    women travelers to India have a viable and safe option: a women’s venture ([email protected]) that provides safe and comfortable home stay in Delhi/Gurgaon , assistance of all kinds including airport pick-up and drop-off. It also organizes safe, fascinating, economical journeys into the northern and western parts of India for small groups of women, offering them authentic, informative experiences of a wide variety of Indian flavours: spirituality, culture, history, adventure, festivals, rural life, cuisine, handicrafts, people, business etc.

  22. Rhiannon December 17, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    This is wonderful! I’ve been dreaming about India, and I’ve come up with about 3 or 4 trips – and this advice is simply wonderful. 😀

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