Solo Female Travel in South India

by Ana

Interested in traveling to India as a solo woman, but having safety concerns? I have been there and can assure you that you have nothing to worry about. My advice is to consider starting in the South. Although Southern India is less touristy than the North, it is also more relaxed and great for making the first contact with the subcontinent. Read on to discover some tips about solo female travel in South India.

 

solo female travel in South India

 

Although I have always been a great advocate of traveling alone as a woman, and I don’t take people who talk negatively about places they have never been too seriously; I have to admit that I was unsure about traveling to India on my own. The country has an infamous reputation as an unsafe destination for solo female travelers and even I -who considers myself an avid traveler and quite open-minded- had some doubts about visiting India alone. But this year, thanks to the insistence of my friend Sara, I finally decided to give it a try.

The truth is I don’t feel entitled to talk about how it is to travel alone as a woman around India. It is a huge country and I only visited some places in the South. But I can tell you about my experiences traveling solo in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I can say that my trip could not have been easier! Maybe I was prejudiced and I had prepared myself for the worst, but in a way, I was even disappointed that everything was so uncomplicated. I think one of the reasons I traveled to India was that I was longing for an adventure and, in part, I was hoping that I would face many more challenges than I actually did.

In this post, I would like to talk about how to travel to and around South India as a solo female; hoping to dismantle some myths, give some advice, and encourage traveling to India without fear to any woman curious about this country. I have not been in the North yet, but I can assure that Southern India is amazing and definitely safer than you imagine.

 

 

Solo Female Travel in South India 

 

01 | South India Itinerary

 

One of the biggest mistakes most travelers to India make is wanting to visit a lot in a short time. India is so vast, with so many different cultures and traditions, that it is impossible to visit all of the country at one time. In my opinion, it is always better to see little and well, than visiting too many places with rush and stress. For this reason, I decided to visit only two states: Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

For my first trip to India, I chose not to visit the most tourist places, leaving the Taj Mahal, Jaipur and the Golden Triangle for future trips. I also decided to skip the big cities, as the unpleasant things about India; the dirt, poverty, noise, crowd, and traffic, are most evident in the cities. I was looking for an India of astonishing color, temples, traditions, music, dance, culture, nature, and people.

For these reasons, I decided to start in South India. Although much less touristy than Northern India, Southern India is supposed to be quieter and perfect for the first contact with the subcontinent. I flew from Istanbul to Chennai and visited Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu; then took a night train to Kerala and visited Varkala, Alleppey and its backwaters, a yoga retreat near Kochi and Fort Kochi.

Tamil Nadu, with its ancient temples, is the Hindu soul of the country. What I enjoyed the most were the scenes of everyday Indian life in the coastal town of Mamallapuram. Kerala, with its backwaters, surprised me with its tropical beaches and scenic landscapes. This state of communist tradition is also culturally diverse. In addition to stunning nature, there you will find lots of Hindu temples, mosques, churches and even synagogues.

 

Backwaters de Alleppey (Kerala)

A scene of the backwaters of Alleppey (Kerala)

 

 

02 | Visa

 

If the duration of your trip to India is one month or less, you can apply for an online visa (eVisa) and obtain it upon arrival at the airport. Like almost everything else in India, the website is a bit slow; but with a little bit of patience, you should not have too many problems. You can apply for your eVisa for India here.

 

 

03 | Useful Information

 

  • Languages: More than 20 official languages and about 1650 dialects are spoken in India. But don’t panic! A lot of people in India speak English. You will usually find someone you can communicate with.
  • Religions: Also a little bit of everything! India is one of the most spiritual countries on the planet. Hinduism is the most popular religion, with almost 80% of the population. I was surprised to meet also many Muslims and Christians in Kerala.
  • Climate: Humid and tropical. The weather is mild in winter and quite hot in April and May. From June to September, it is monsoon season and traveling can be more complicated.
  • Currency: Indian Rupees (INR), € 1 is approximately 70 Rupees. ATMs and credit cards work without problems.

 

 

04 | What to Wear in South India

 

vestir con ropa local en India

I have to admit I enjoyed dressing like an Indian.

India is a traditionally conservative country and, no matter how hot it is, showing skin is not acceptable. If you want to avoid unwanted attention whenever possible, it is best to dress in the local way; always covering your legs, back, neckline and shoulders.

I suggest bringing little clothing from home and buying clothing there instead. It is quite cheap and you will love all the colors! You can also buy fabrics and ask a local tailor to make you a salwar kameez (a long, loose top and pants, with a matching scarf). I personally loved the colorful Indian clothes and enjoyed dressing like an Indian. I remember, my first day in India, the receptionist of the homestay I was staying was surprised to see me dressed like a local and complimented me, saying that my look was “very decent”.

I always wore a kurta, a loose long top with wide pants or leggings underneath. I wish I had bought a sari, I think they are amazing! But, with its six meters length, they are really difficult to put on (and even some local women don’t know how!).

There are lots of shops, but a chain of quality clothes that I loved is Fabindia. Also, do not forget to wear your bindi (third eye) and put fresh jasmine in your hair. There is no better perfume!

 

 

 

05 | Cultural Shock

 

It is true that India is not the cleanest country in the world, but the level of dirt varies depending on the city or neighborhood. I can imagine cities, like Mumbai and New Delhi, accumulating large amounts of garbage. But the places I visited were not disgusting at all. Don’t let fears of dirt put you off experiencing India! It looks worse in your head.

Poverty is another thing that often impacts people traveling to India. Since I did not visit any big cities, I did not witness any huge slums. I did see people sleeping in the streets, but that does not always mean that they are homeless. Sometimes they are just people who do own a house, but feel tired and have the ability to nap anywhere.

I found it very curious to see the wandering sacred cows. Especially when they circulated freely on the road causing so much chaos in traffic. They always have priority. I was also surprised to see them eating bits of wall or trash.

 

vacas en Mahabalipuram, India

Wandering sacred cows, noise, chaos and a lot of color!

 

Indian food is spicy but delicious, and a paradise for vegetarians. By the way, do not forget that Indians eat with their hands; or, to be more exact, with the hand. Indians only use the right hand because they reserve the left for other, “more impure” things (like washing their feet or intimate parts). Try to respect this custom and always avoid using your left hand to eat in public, greet someone, or pay.

The most important thing is to accept that India is a very different culture that can fascinate or frustrate us or both at the same time. It is important to go with an open mind and heart, be patient, and let ourselves go with the flow. Most things work differently in India, but they have been like this for centuries and we cannot change them.

India breathes life. The country is a celebration for all of our senses with its explosion of vibrant colors, honking cars, wandering cows, crowded trains, smiling children, ancient temples, endless cities, intense smells, and spicy flavors. Accept things as they are, expect and enjoy the unexpected, find the humor, and join the party!

 

 

La mujer india y la flor de loto.

Indian woman and lotus flower

06 | Health and Female Hygiene

 

It is very important to always travel with a travel insurance. I have never needed to use it, which I am thankful for. But you never know what you will face on a trip. I use and recommend the travel insurance World Nomads. Click here to get a quote. Your health matters, never try to save money on this!

As you have probably already been told, when you travel to India, be prepared for stomach problems. The frequent advice is: to always use bottled water (for drinking and even when brushing your teeth); never eating raw food; avoid street food as much as possible; do not eat too much spicy, etc. But, even if you follow all these directions, it will be difficult not to catch anything. On the other hand, you should not be too worried about this. Everything will be gone in a couple of days.

It is also important to protect yourself from mosquitoes. Antibacterial gels always come in handy to wash our hands anywhere. Toilet paper is not used in India. They use water after toilet and it works well. But, if you want to use paper, always carry your own.

Menstrual pads are not good quality and tampons are difficult to find. It is best to bring them from home. Although I highly recommend to all the ladies reading me that, if you do not already, start using the menstrual cup. Without a doubt, one of the best inventions!

 

 

07 | Where to Stay in South India

 

India is a country with great offers in accommodations for all wallet sizes. You can find everything from expensive hotels to homestays with prices that seem like a joke.

When I travel alone, I usually go for Airbnb or choose reputed homestays, ensuring I have a point of contact at my destination before I get there. Without a doubt, the most interesting thing about traveling to India is getting to know the local culture and see how people live there. Therefore, I prefer to stay with locals in small family homestays that lend a personal touch to the experience.

 

La sencilla elegancia de la mujer india.

The humble beauty of Indian women.

 

Click on the links below for the best deals in accommodation



Booking.com

 

 

08 | How to Get Around

 

With one of the largest rail networks in the world, traveling by train in India is the best experience! I will not talk about the many kinds of tickets because other bloggers already covered this topic. But I advise you to book your train tickets in advance.

If there is no train available, local buses will also do the work with tickets at ridiculously low prices. Keep in mind, they are often crowded, run at full speed and are honking all the time.

Compared to the price of trains and buses, taxis seem like highway robbery. But if you have to move around at night, it is the best option. Don’t compromise your safety to save money. Negotiate the price well before getting in and stay firm if the driver wants to charge you more once you reach your destination.

 

09 | Safety as a Solo Female Traveler

 

In my experience, South Indian is a safe place for solo female travelers. Unfortunately, there is a lot of news about rape and crimes against women in India. But we should not forget that India is a subcontinent with more than 1200 million inhabitants. Based on the population of the country, rapes do not occur in India more often than in many other countries in the World.

During my three weeks of traveling in South India, I have to admit that I did perceive stares from both men and women. But they always came out of curiosity and interest. I was never intimidated by a man. Nowhere is exempt from sexual violence nowadays, but I was pleasantly surprised by the sense of security that I experienced in South India at all times. As I said before, I had prepared myself for the worst.

Having said that, women must be always particularly careful when traveling alone. Some more advice is:

  • Never walk out alone after dark.
  • Avoid traveling to another city at night.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and staying out late.
  • Be aware of cultural differences to avoid misunderstandings with men.
  • Express your opinions assertively and know how to say NO firmly if necessary.

 

 

Coloridas calles de Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu, India)

Colorful streets of Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu, India)

 

India is an incredibly religious country. Public shaming is a useful tactic if someone threatens your personal space or unpleasant situations arise. As most people believe in karma, there will always be someone willing to help you. If necessary, do not hesitate to make yourself be heard.

Once you get over prejudices and the cultural shock, you will understand that, as long as you are cautious and use common sense, nothing bad should happen to you. The people and cultural differences are precisely what makes India such an interesting country. Those same people are kind and will want to meet you, talk to you, take pictures with you, and so on; most of the time of genuine interest. Talk to them; we are all family on this planet, and travel means nothing without those chance conversations!

Do not let the fear of harassment, dirt, or poverty take away the desire to visit a country as fascinating as India. I already want to go back and, yes, now I also feel ready for the North.

 

 

* Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you make a reservation or a purchase through the links above, I will earn a small percentage. This helps me to keep my website running. I really appreciate your support. Thanks!

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26 comments

Ketki June 7, 2017 - 13:02

I loved your portray of Southern Indian and i nodded and smiled all the way through it. I think you have done justice to all the topics in a really nice way. And as rightly put by you, Kerala is super safe – i have visited the same places as you have (even though i am from India i am yet to visit Tamil Nadu). I hope you come back for more of India. Namaste 🙂

Reply
Nina June 7, 2017 - 13:19

I didn’t know that bottled water was a standard recommendation in India, that’s really useful! Thanks for sharing, lots of great info here!

Reply
Beverly June 26, 2018 - 00:18

Could you recommend homestays in Southern India as we love to stay with locals.
Thanks
Two Canadians
Beverly and David

Reply
Arali bandb July 4, 2018 - 08:43

good blog well written. It seems like you keenly observed things and applied that while travelling in India. Whatever you said is like 100% exactly the real situation and scenario. Wearing the local dress and about the spicy food etc., everything is true. I appreciate the effort you made to understand the local culture and stuff while travelling here. From my experience, south India is a really safe place with better people who basically have a basic education and knowledge. But north India the places are good but lack of education and high level of poverty make people inconvenient to understand things. So I also experienced the same and I also booked ma resort with the help of Airbandb.

Reply
Travel Geek September 18, 2018 - 11:45

Great article about south India really wonderful to read and pictures u r presented are great.

Reply
Vijay Sethupathi November 30, 2018 - 06:29

Great Posting…
Keep doing it…
Thanks

Reply
Ana December 22, 2018 - 11:38

Thank you Vijay 🙂

Reply
Yuva December 12, 2018 - 16:27

Thank you for visiting our southern states. I was excited, had goose bumps, and smiling all the way reading your writeup. I wanted to mention few points or correct some of the misunderstandings.

Climate: We usually experience hot climate during April to June. Monsoon season is between September to December.

Reason for our people to stare at foreigners is definetly due to curiosity and excitement. Local people at most of the tourist places, dont bother or stare at foreginers because they got used to this tradition/culture. Staring/glancing happens only from the people who visit these tourist places from non tourist places within India as they happen to see foreingers mostly on TVs/Movies, and the way you are dressed up. If you are dressed up in shorts/sleeveless tees, you are definetly inviting more eyes just because they dont often see that happening with our local people.

Wherever you go, safety is always a problem for a female in this world and not just India. As rightly mentioned, public shaming will help anyone at anytime(except the late nights). There are many good people out here to save you or atleast talk on behalf of you and pull you out of bad situation.

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Ana December 22, 2018 - 11:38

Dear Yuva, thanks a lot for your comment and your kind words. You brought a big smile to my face 🙂 I know people stare at foreigners due to curiosity. I never ever felt uncomfortable in India because of harassment, as happened to me in other countries. In India, I only found kindness in other people’s eyes. I hope to come back soon and explore more of your beautiful country, will try to avoid Monsoon season. Big hug for you!

Reply
Kunal Bansal December 20, 2018 - 13:38

Thanks from kunal Bansal for sharing such a lovely post. keep sharing!!!

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Ana December 22, 2018 - 11:33

Thank you for your comment and kind words, Kunal 🙂 My pleasure!

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Senthil Murugan January 2, 2019 - 20:52

Reading the 4th blog in 2109 !! impressive one, you nailed the south. If you have missed the following places, visit next time – Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Rameshwaram.

Reply
Self Driving Cars in Chennai January 14, 2019 - 07:52

Really inspired by your South India Travel..
Your way of explanation was great.. keep on making this kind of informative stuff.. Thanks for posting this useful content..
If you visit chennai do experience Self driven cars in Chennai
Self driven cars in Chennai.

Reply
Anoop January 30, 2019 - 12:59

Glad to know that you had a safe journey in South India. We want people to feel safe around us.

A South Indian

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Ana January 30, 2019 - 13:55

Thank you so much, Anoop. I felt very safe at all times and want to go back! Regards

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Saranya Rajesh January 31, 2019 - 08:10

Ana, really awesome portrait of South India, down from your heart. As a women, felt so much to be a proud india for your assured safety. Welcome again ANA. Keep in touch.

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Ana January 31, 2019 - 10:37

Hello Saranya, thanks to you for taking the time to read it and leave this lovely comment 🙂 Can’t wait to go back to your incredible country. Love, Ana

Reply
Reader March 19, 2019 - 13:36

Hi. I’m a south Indian. I just want to let you know that most of north India may not be as safe and conservative as south. Be 100 times more careful. I’ve experienced concerns for safety myself on my visit to delhi. A general caution is don’t trust strangers as you may not know their intent.
I appreciate you on your preparedness to deal with worst. This always prepares us from facing surprises in any field(traveling too).

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Ana March 20, 2019 - 19:31

Hello, my South Indian friend, thanks a lot for your comment. I can imagine, not all of India is as peaceful as the South. My stay there was so lovely! But I still want to travel and visit more of India, I will be more careful for sure. Best regards, Ana.

Reply
chinese enrichment centre April 1, 2019 - 06:09

Dear Ana, Your blog is very interesting . Really India is very good country for tourism. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Reply
Ana April 6, 2019 - 21:33

Thank you for your comment, India was amazing indeed 🙂 Have a nice day!

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Chitra Pandey May 29, 2019 - 10:44

Kerala is amazing place and you have explained it in a great manner.

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Ana July 7, 2019 - 16:07

Thank you so much! 🙂

Reply
Ram June 15, 2019 - 09:26

Chennai is an awesome place to see in South India. The traditions and customs that they follow gave them a unique place in INDIAN history.

Reply
Neha kumari June 17, 2019 - 17:01

I Love South India….and this blog is fantastic… 🙂

Reply
Ana July 7, 2019 - 16:10

Thank you so much! 🙂

Reply

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