Tag Archives: Sri lanka

Never Smile at Indian Men…and Other Bullshit

Are you thinking about solo female travel in India? Having researched and read so many travel blogs over my travelling lifetime I feel I really want to blog about dispelling some horrendous and detrimental myths there are, particularly about travel in places such as Sri Lanka and  India.

Below are some of the following ‘tips’ that I read before both my solo trips:

  • Wear a wedding ring
  • Never tell anyone you are travelling alone
  • Say you are meeting your ‘husband’ later on
  • Don’t stay in cheap accommodation – it’s for prostitutes
  • Never tell anyone where you are staying
  • Don’t take night trains (as read in Lonely Planet!)
  • Don’t talk to locals
  • Don’t smile at Indian men

Having now travelled solo as a woman in both these countries I can fairly safely say that this is complete bullshit. Don’t smile at people? I met some fantastic Indian guys who are now my good friends. I strongly feel that by never telling anyone we are travelling alone, we are not helping the world – we are playing along with society’s idea that women cannot travel solo. That we should feel scared and we are better off staying at home.

I am not naïve. I have had scary moments all over the world including my home – the UK. But that does not mean for one minute that I feel I cannot travel alone. The same things that happen in India, happen in Thailand and happen in London. While I admit that in every society there are certain uneducated and bigoted members who do not respect women, and there may be more in some countries than others, I do not think we should cower in our apartments and never see the world.

Incredible India

I have wanted to go to India since I was teenager. It took me until age 27 to pluck up the courage to stop waiting for someone to come with me and just go! After everything I read I decided to join a group tour for the first part of my trip. As soon as I was there I felt comfortable enough to travel alone. And I did so for the last 10 days of my trip which resulted in some of the most incredible experiences of the trip: whizzing around the Himalayas on motorbikes, waking up at 4am to see sunrise from a temple, building bonfires on beaches by the side of the Ganga river, attending puja religious ceremonies with locals, rafting, bungee jumping, sharing delicious Indian food…the list goes on.

India Advice

My advice to any female solo travellers wanting to go to India but feeling unable to is…GO! Book on a tour for the first part to help you feel more confident but I would without a doubt feel MORE than comfortable returning alone to travel India, Sri Lanka and many more besides…

Advice I DID appreciate and listened to: Take precautions, cover up, have a plan if you arrive late at night, always lock your doors, don’t wander around alone late at night, stay in busy areas, avoid parks/alleys at night, walk on main roads, take a card from the hotel (mainly advice because I get lost and have a terrible sense of direction!) Here’s my top most useful advice.

What are your thoughts on solo female travel? Are you tired of the world telling you it’s ‘too dangerous’? Not safe? Or do you think it’s justified?

In Awe of Sri Lanka – Solo Female Travel

Sri Lanka. As my first experience of truly travelling alone I could not have had a better one.

So I arrived at the Colombo airport at 1am completely terrified. Panic started to set it. My flight was delayed so I was arriving even later than normal, would my hostel be open? I had been unsuccessful in my quest for Sri Lankan rupees and had only US dollars and Thai baht in my purse. What if everything was shut at the airport? I was completely alone, in a strange country, with no money, no working phone. I could hear my heart over the sound of the airport announcements as I waited a disturbingly long time for my backpack to arrive.

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The moment I walked through customs and spotted a taxi stand next to an open money exchange place I knew that everything was going to be okay. Things work out as they should do. Always.

Though I spent a mere ten days in Sri Lanka, I already knew I wanted to return. A new found love in my life. I have never found people so warm or so welcoming, everywhere you turn you are greeted with a full cheeky grin and a head wobble.

I had previously been freaked out by other people’s blogs telling you that women don’t travel alone in Sri Lanka, (read more about the myths) to wear a wedding ring, that people will attempt to feel you up on crowded buses, I could not have felt any safer. Always erring on the side of paranoid I was extremely covered up when I was travelling and aware not to drink alcohol alone.

Highlights of my trip:

  • Taking obligatory photos of my train snaking like a blue ribbon through the mountains, cutting through the rock in a feat of engineering – the only good thing that the British brought about
  • The ticket inspector doubling as a palm reader while I hung my head like a dog out of the window
  • A local guide picking me up and giving me a free, extremely informative, tour of the Temple of the Tooth and insisting on being my friend for the next two days, taking me to (male-only) street food stalls, teaching me to drive a tuktuk, seeing cave paintings for the first time
  • Purchasing vegetable samosas for a bus journey and being offered the owner’s sons hand in marriage
  • Seeing wild elephants EVERYWHERE you looked, a dream come true for me, I’m still smiling now
  • Being taught to surf in Arugam Bay, falling off, salt water in my eyes and nose and loving every minute of it
  • A 6 hour ridiculously cramped bus journey up to the north, surrounded by locals and a couple of backpackers with Bollywood music videos blasting at high volume as we veer across the countryside
  • Seeing dolphins on a boat trip and an unexpected  whale shark joining in on the action!
  • Actually crying at a family run guest house because everyone was being so welcoming

Tips

Visit the Sigiriya – amazing ancient Lion’s Rock

Go to at least one National Park- Udawalawe for more elephants than you can take it! Yala for more eles and a high chance of leopards!

Consider visiting the north

Marvel at the number of significant religions – Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian

Spend some time in the Hill Country

Watch the sunset at Galle Face Green

Beware if you visit a bar you will mostly likely be the only female!

Drink as much tea as possible

Eat rice and curry with your bare hands with the locals

Eat roti at every opportunity

Beware the local beer is strong!

The list goes on and on and I could not recommend this country any more. Wrecked by decades of civil war which officially ended in 2009, travellers are finally able to visit the whole country and I have no doubt that I will be back. Hopefully to live. Watch this space.

15 Tips for Solo Female Travel in India

Some small parts of wisdom to impart if you are thinking of travelling India (and you should!)

  1. If you are feeling unsure, book a tour for the first part of your trip. I did the India on a Shoestring 20 day tour with G adventures (but booked through STA Travel as they were having a sale!). I 100% recommend them, our tour group was 14 people ages 18-31 of a mix of nationalities and we travelled to so many places and it included so many things! The accommodation was great, in a couple of places it was like luxury. It was very easy, convenient and took the shock out of travelling in India for me.

2. Buses are cheaper than A/C trains

3. Book buses using redbus.com. I still have no idea how the train system works in India and while the trains on the tour were great, booking them at agencies was expensive and you can be put on a waitlist and sometimes you don’t know until a few hours before if you can take your train! As an extremely organised person I could not live like that!

4. Avoid busy, large crowds as I was aware this is where some unpleasant behaviour such as bum-grabbing can occur. I simply waited for crowds to disperse at say train stations before heading to where I wanted to go.Like most developing countries, India has a slower pace of life. Don’t get angry if your train is late! Enjoy the chance to people watch with a 5 rupee masala chai tea!

5. Cover up. Not only to be respectful but also out of safety. Yes in an ideal world women should be able to wear whatever we like, but we can’t and your safety is more important than your (and mine!) feminist views. It seemed to be more important to cover your legs than your shoulders in most places I went. Shoulders must always be covered at temples so…

6. Take a scarf – covering up, keeping cool in the hot sun, lying on for a sleeper train, bunching up as a pillow…so many uses!

7. Try ALL the food and yes I mean including street food! Curries, naans, chapattis, raitas, aloo tikka, paneer, chais, lassis…I was in food heaven in India! And I’m still exercising off all those paneer butter masalas…

8. If you feel unsure, LOOK confident. Pretend you know where you are going and head somewhere!

9. Speak to people. You won’t be able to avoid it so might as well embrace it. I met some really interesting characters and learnt so much about the country just from chatting with people near me on trains or buses.

10. Let people take your photo. It kinda feels like being a celebrity with the paparazzi following you around! For me, these situations are all about your attitude towards them. I smile say yes and try to engage them in conversation rather than just a pointless (to me!) photo. You WILL have to take more than one and likely with every family member. Go with it. If it’s a creepy guy say no, or one group selfie and move on. A lot of foreign tourists get annoyed when people take your photo without asking. I can understand the frustration but also I feel it is often because of the language barrier that the locals feel they do not have the English to ask. I sometimes stopped them, encouraged them to ask me and then said yes. Occasionally I just pulled a silly face as they were snapping me as they walked by.

11. Check out Zostel – an up and coming chain of hostels that are amazing value for money and offer free activities. They were also full of foreign and local tourists which I loved.

12. Travel by tuktuk! They were cheap and I felt that they gave reasonable prices for trips! In Thailand, a tuktuk will try and charge you 10x the actual price so India felt refreshing for this!

13. Tip! Usually 10% and remember that it’s a little for you but likely to be a lot for the locals. Even 10 rupees for someone to ‘look after’ your shoes while you are visiting a temple is expected.

14. Use a backpack! I am a new convert to the small day backpack but it was so useful and even if I had two litre bottles of water in it, it didn’t feel heavy!

15. Choose accommodation wisely. If I’m alone I feel much safer staying in a dorm with lots of other people rather than a separate room. I also make sure the location is central and look on reviews to see comments about location. The worst location would be one where I have to walk back to alone at night time.

I love using Agoda or Booking websites for booking accommodation as I feel it’s good value for money and sometimes cheaper than it’s competitors.

 

 

And here’s some advice about solo female travel in India that I didn’t take and got pretty mad about!

What are your India tips? Do you agree?