Hello! I am Kripa. I live and work based out of Southern India with my husband, who shares my love of travel (although not my obsession with packing and gear).
I have been traveling internationally since the age of 14, when I took my first solo trip to India.
Currently, I am finishing a MA in Communications, working full time for an international NGO, and taking pleasure jaunts as often as possible. We travel for months at a time for work – through India, the US, Europe, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Aside from India my favorite places are Israel, Spain and Brazil. I don’t do much solo traveling anymore (husband, you know?), but I truly loved traveling alone and learning about different cultures when I did.
Why did you decide to travel to India by yourself?
Although I am not Indian, I grew up in a heavily Indian-influenced household from birth. My family was involved with various Indian spiritual and humanitarian organizations throughout my childhood, and one in particular always grabbed my attention and inspired me. My mother took my brother and I to India first when I was ten years old to visit the headquarters of this NGO, and it definitely changed the trajectory of my life.
I loved India – people, food, culture, spiritual philosophy, clothes… everything. However, my mother hated the heat and the dirt, and refused to return. So four years later – filled with begging and pleading – they finally agreed to let me come back to India by myself.
Now, I traveled around quite a bit by myself at this age, but I did have a home base with the spiritual and humanitarian organization that I mentioned earlier. Most of the solo travel that I did was on behalf of the organization, visiting various areas that were either receiving aid currently or applying for aid.
That trip at 14 was the end of me. I don’t think I could imagine living in the US ever again, and certainly not in any one place for more than a few months at a time. Now I live here and am super involved in this NGO’s works. I married a man who wants to live this lifestyle and enjoys traveling as much as I do. We’re on the road about 8 months out of the year, and the rest of the time we’re here in Kerala, India.
Did you have any trouble traveling solo there? (hassles, violence, etc.)
I have been remarkably lucky in that there have been no major instances of violence or harassment towards me. Of course, there are always going to be small things that most tourists in India – particularly women – will have to endure, like the constant staring and sometimes the men who follow you down the street. Though in my experience this type of behavior usually subsides after a few minutes of ignoring it.
In general, I find Indians to be super friendly and willing to help. Before I got married I did tend to engage with more Indian women than men, but the men I’ve since encountered with my husband have all also been very kind and helpful.
Did you ever feel unsafe?
I don’t recall ever feeling particularly unsafe, per se. However, I do recognize that I feel a lot more cautious than women travelling in India I’ve met who aren’t so influenced by Indian culture. Having lived and traveled here for so long has definitely had an impact on me, and I think it is ingrained in me to emulate local women’s behaviors and attitudes that I’ve learned along the way.
Tell us about one of your favorite experiences from traveling alone in India.
In 2002 – I was about sixteen – the NGO I work with sent me to Gujarat to prepare the venue site for an inaugural program in the aftermath of the 2001 earthquakes. Our organization had adopted some villages to rebuild, and the construction was almost complete. I was supposed to meet a few more people there, but I arrived earlier than them. I was sleeping in one of the half-constructed houses and was enjoying my morning chai on the porch, waiting for the rest of my team to arrive when I was approached by a group of local women and children.
This was a few years before Mp3 technology really took off, and a friend of mine had lent me her Walkman along with some Simon and Garfunkel tapes. I was listening to it when this group came up to me. They had traveled 16 hours by bus to attend this inaugural function, and were so excited to meet me. We spoke basically no common language, but one of the ladies indicated that she wanted to listen to my music.
I gave her the headphones and she started dancing. The music didn’t suit the type of dance she wanted to dance, so then the other ladies and children started singing and clapping in traditional Gujarati tribal style. This went on for several minutes before they pulled me into the group and started teaching me the traditional tribal style of dance.
To this day this is one of my most treasured memories. The openness and sincerity of Indian people and culture has made a huge impression upon me, and the transcendent capacity of music and dance is always inspiring.
Were there any special precautions you took to feel safer while traveling solo in India?
I have always worn traditional Indian clothing, and once I turned about 19 I started wearing jewelry that indicated I was married – traditional neck tali, bangles, and wedding ring.
While actually traveling I made sure never to get in the mixed cars on trains – only the ladies cars. I also didn’t go out much at night unless I was in groups or in a place that was particularly tourist-friendly and accustomed to seeing women alone at night, like resorts or certain parts of large cities.
>>Don’t make these packing mistakes on your trip to India.
Did you meet any other solo female travelers while you were there?
Several – most of them were at the tourist resorts that I would frequent in my early 20s, and it was a lot of fun to hang out with them and enjoy their company. I would also occasionally encounter other women who were doing missionary work, or volunteering at other organizations, and that was great to have ladies to compare notes with.
What’s your number 1 tip for females traveling solo to India?
Dress modestly and respect the culture. Most of my solo travel was to and from remote rural places in the south for my work, and along the way I’ve learned a lot about the norms in Indian society where women are concerned. Dressing in traditional Indian clothing – salvar kameez or sari – draws a lot less unwarranted attention.
In larger cities there is a lot more freedom of movement (although, even then I’d still tend towards caution), but in rural areas it is unusual for women to be out after sunset unless accompanied by a male relative. Depending on where you are, this can be more or less of a concern, but learning cultural norms such as this one has definitely helped me stay safe.
Of course, in very tourist-populated places such as Goa, and other beach resorts the rules are very different, so it does depend on what part of India you are traveling in.
About the author: Kripa is originally from the US but now lives in southern India with her husband. She works full time for an international NGO.