Solo Female Traveler Safety in India – #2 General Tips

So I took the last blog post on women safety to mention how I am paranoid about safety. So you can probably take these tips I have for women (esp solo) travelers with a pinch of salt. Or maybe you are paranoid like me too ๐Ÿ˜‰

Time

Okay to be outside time: 8.30am to 8pm

Depending on the area you can venture out before or after the ‘Okay times’ but these are the timings I usually keep in mind. In urban areas I know well I may push the night limit to 9.30pm but only once in a while. In Rewalsar the place felt (and probably is) safe so after finishing my dinner at 7.30pm I decided to circumambulate the lake once and then return to my room. Half way across the lake I realised that the town has no street lights! All the lights belonged to shops lining the road – these shops closed so I had to cross the next half of the road in pitch dark! So in small cities even 8pm is too late sometimes.

It’s very important to first figure out what is Okay time in the place. For eg: In Bangalore – despite being a metro city the rickshaws become very fussy after 9.30 and they charge 1 n 1/2 times the usual rate. In Delhi I had kept my time limit at 6.30pm in the evening – by the time I reached the hostel it was dark and I felt I should make it 5.30pm for Delhi (told you I was paranoid) :p

If you are like a night time party person then ensure you have good escorts with you. Keep these timings in mind when booking transport as well. I have often taken buses that start at 10.30pm or reach at 5.30am – the chances are that everything would go smoothly, but in case something goes wrong then its a problem worsened many times over due to the timing. So avoid or have backup plans – basically numbers of people you can call to come pick you up in emergency.

Door

I don’t think a lot of guys get this. On one of our traveler meetups – the talk just came up and one guy suggested sleeping on the platform. Both girls, me and (travel friend) Snigdha just went crazy with the idea, because we need a door that is locked and bolted before we consider even relaxing.

An electronic/key lock won’t do because even junior staff have master keys to open these locks for cleaning purposes hence it compromises safety big time. There has to be a padlock, a latch that I can manually close. Ideally two, fat latches. This is something I make a point to note when taking a room.

Exits

I met one uncle once who is a fire expert. As in he consults with buildings to chart out a plan to make the place fire friendly i.e. – detection units, escape routes, alarm systems and so on. So he has a habit that is somewhat similar to mine – he always notes exits, different routes to navigate a building and so on. When I take a room I usually look at alternative routes to exit the place. I also take the elevator, stairs, different routes just to get a lay of the land. No I don’t do it in a paranoid, someone-is-trying-to-kill-me-way, hahah I just like getting the lay of the land. So yea this is something I do.. when walking on roads, avoid v narrow lanes, keep room to run, stay in lighted regions, if in a small subway section then keep an eye on exits someone shouldn’t just block it, if the place is empty where and how far are people in case I have to reach them in hurry and so on…

It may sound silly to notice when the footpath is too narrow or when there are fences on both sides, no quick exit, but I was reading about a urban planner talking about women-safety design in cities and these are the aspects they address. Keeping the walkways spacious, frequent exits, good lighting – these are all basic people safety measures that need to be taken at the design level, but owing to the congestion and overall lack of design sense India very often doesn’t have these things.

Policeย 

Before you think you want to call the police anytime you are in trouble, keep in mind that there have been too many cases where the police are perpetrators of the crime, or they may make it worse. Good, now you can consider contacting the police as an option when in trouble. I have a very nice and friendly story about a police person who helped me find my missing laundry clothes ๐Ÿ™‚

There are specific helpline numbers for women to contact the police when in trouble. You can always find them from a police station and save them on your phone in every new place. Most urban cities you can always call 100. I have tried it in Mumbai couple of times, it works – the police actually came in 5 mins when I called 100 on two separate occasions – a street fight & gas leak ย that I had reported.

Contacts

Ideally have the contact number of few locals who you somewhat trust and can call in times of trouble, or to just check up on all the above info – what time is too late? safety in transport options and so on.. You can get these contacts from Couchsurfing, IndiaMike and other travel forums if you simply don’t know anybody. Usually I have always found that at least in all bigger cities I have some far off friends, Twitter contacts, extended family and so on. So usually I have couple of people in back of my mind who I can contact in trouble.

Strangers

Now a large part of travel especially solo travel is to meet new interesting people on the road, make friends and so on. So how does that work when we are also trying to be safe?

Instinct. I have no other answer but to go on with my instinct in these matters. I have made friends with guys and girls. I think its similar when we are in the city and working/studying as well – we make friends with people we don’t know much about – except that they are in the same office/class with us and then hope for the best.

Precautions to take: not be in a compromis-able situation with a new friend – like late out at night with very new friends who you don’t know that well. Be very aware when eating out with them, in case someone slips anything into the food.

Social Updates

This is one important point – I never update my status with real-time location whereabouts. I remember earlier when I used to go for tweetups (meeting twitter folks) and its the norm to tweet “I am ‘here’ with @so n @so” but I simply don’t do such stuff anymore. No one needs know where I am right now, esp if I am going to be there for next sometime. Cause that can allow someone to come to that place and then stalk me. So I usually do updates about a place once I have left or am just about to leave.

Clothing

I usually wear a jeans n tee kind of clothes and its fine except in some places. Like when I was at Kanyakumari somehow people acted quite odd so then I changed into traditional Indian kurta-churidar dress and it was better. So again always better to do a fair bit of research before going. In many religious places they only allow tradition Indian clothes, full length pants and things like that. Though overall I don’t think its such a big deal.

Crowds

This is important cause a lot of foreigners are interested to see festivals and such, but usually I would suggest to avoid going amidst crowds – seeing them from a distance is ok. Whether for a festival or a line at the bus these are often places were sick guys hang around and will grope surreptitiously. So always better to keep away from crowds even if they are only-women.

In fact crowds related to certain events like Holi in Varanasi or Ganesh Utsav in Mumbai are all very circumspect and to be avoided assiduously. Always when you see or you think there would be a crowd at a place be very careful. I usually avoid all festivals but this year I went to see Ganesh Utsav visarjan in Mumbai and Dasara in Mysore – both towns I know well. I had a good experience and overall was impressed by the arrangements so I guess if you be very careful then its a good chance that you would have a much better experience because its not that bad. ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope these tips help you prepare for safe travels!