Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Wed July 13 2016

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  • Shannon Wolf | July 13, 2016 9:00 PM ET

    Solo Female Travel in India: Realities and Tips

    Solo Female Travel in India: Realities and Tips

    PHOTO: One of the best decisions I ever made was coming to India. It has both tested and blessed me in so many ways. (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    Traveling the world as a solo female, personally, has been nothing but liberating throughout my near-two years on the road.

    With that said, I have always believed in equality, not once pigeonholing myself into a specific category and when the option came to travel India solo, my opinions remained the same. I booked my ticket excited although admittedly, a bit nervous after hearing all of the negative press regarding India’s rape culture and dangers.

    But do you think that stopped me? Two words: Hell no.

    As I sit here in beautiful Rishikesh sipping on a cappuccino on a bright and sunny day among locals, couples and solo travelers, my response about warnings is this: Come to India when you feel you’re ready to simply experience this beautiful yet crazy country for what it is.

    READ MORE: Cruising Along India's 'Little Venice'

    The un-sugar coated truth about traveling India, as a solo female from my own personal experience is this:

    In the three months that I have been in India, I have had both incredible and injustice-filled experiences traveling alone.

    I have been treated with kindness and respect from local women and men who I can proudly call my friends and likewise been treated as a second-class citizen simply because I am a woman.

    I have slept alone on overnight trains where people treated me as their family and in Varanasi, ironically one of the holiest cities, been shockingly groped on the daily as people walked by me. I have traveled alone on all forms of transit by day, sleeper class trains throughout the night and wandered the streets alone without any issues, feeling nothing but safe 90 percent of the time.

    What it all comes down to is remembering that despite some adversities, the world still remains a beautiful place and to not let your fears stand in the way.

    PHOTO: Traveling on general class trains is a truly authentic experience in itself.

    Below are a few tips to make sure you have the best experience possible traveling India as a solo female:

    1. Start off in the South and work your way up

    For first time solo-travelers it can be quite a culture shock — especially when starting from a chaotic city such as Delhi.

    For an easier introduction into India, start in the south where it is more relaxed and westernized then work your way up through Rajasthan, and the North; which can be slightly more intense (but luckily, you’ll be used to the culture by then).

    2. Follow your gut

    One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to simply follow your instincts and use common sense. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Always be sure to trust your own judgment as you would anywhere else in the world.

    3. Always book the upper berth on trains

    Booking the upper berth on sleeper class trains alleviates the unnecessary stresses of long-distance train travel such as people forcing you to move from your seat as they pass when you want to sleep.  Plus, you’ll be elevated above all the chaos below. It allows you to have a bit more privacy (although people will continuously stare at you) but overall, it just feels safer — and that’s what really matters.

    4. You need to be strong-minded

    I will admit my biggest hurdle with India has been the total disregard for gender equality, which is very alive and real unfortunately. I have learned that the best thing you can do is breathe through it.

    Feeling as though you are a second-class citizen is enraging but it teaches you as well how lucky we have it back in our home countries.  

    5. Dress accordingly

    Depending on where you are in India, be sure to dress appropriately. In places that are touristic such as Goa, Hampi and Rishikesh, despite what you may read, you can get away with wearing shorts and a tank top without getting accosted much by men.  However, when you are taking any sort of public transit, traveling from place to place or in any other areas of India, you need to be covered up respectfully to avoid unwanted attention.

    READ MORE: Air India’s Record-Breaking Circumnavigation of the Globe

    6. Don’t be afraid to speak up

    If there is an injustice, such as someone making you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason — don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your opinion. This is very important, as a lot of locals don’t seem to have the same concept of boundaries and personal space.

    7. Keep an open heart and mind

    This is the most important piece of advice. India is an intense but extremely rewarding country giving you back exactly the mindset you bring into it. Be nice but always keep aware, embrace it for what it is and you will come out of it with a completely new perspective and truly grateful for all of your experiences.

    PHOTO: Even though you may arrive solo, you will meet so many wonderful people to travel and share experiences with.

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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