More women travelling solo

More women travelling solo

Although some state governments are taking steps to ensure the safety of women travellers, women can do things on their own to stay safe

Divya H N says travellers shouldrespect the culture of theplaces they are visiting.

The solo woman traveller is no more a rarity in India. Multiple surveys, data sets and findings point to the rapid emergence of this subset among Indian travellers, itself a rapidly burgeoning group. 

On January 1, the Kerala government announced a number of schemes for solo women travellers, including setting up safe, clean and affordable lodging facilities in all major towns in the state. A few days before that, the Madhya Pradesh government submitted a proposal to improve security at tourist spots, make policing women-friendly, and hire more women in tourist interface jobs — like tour experts, ticketing clerks, hotel staff and even autorickshaw drivers and cabbies — to attract women travellers.

These two announcements show how states are looked to tap into the growing market of women visitors. But while these many women agree that India is generally a safe place for female travellers, recent incidents of rape, that have shocked the nation, have cast a cloud on this assumption.

Shilpa Prakash Chavan, a software engineer who has travelled solo a couple of times, feels that recent reports of sexual assault have indeed dampened the spirits of solo women travellers in the country. “Safety concerns are always a sticky point for us. For example, I always depended on private cabs for local travel, since public transport is undependable. But when cab drivers find out that I am alone, they always charge me more. And I don’t want to argue with them then so I pay what they ask,” she says. 

“Even small things, like a missed call to the hotel room landline, is enough to make one feel paranoid; like they know I am alone,” she adds.

Shilpa swears by proper research and planning ahead. “Plus carry a pepper spray and share your travel and trip details with your family,” she says.

RJ Rashmi Ullal, now a freelancer and HR manager who also runs a YouTube channel by the same name, points out that trekking solo is something she would advise women against. “It is not safe; in an isolated, unfamiliar terrain, many things can go wrong.”

Rashmi Ullal always carriesa pepper spray.

She points out that trekking in Ramanagudda in the Charmadi range, Baba Budangiri (Chikkamagaluru taluk) and Yelagiri in Tamil Nadu is comparitively safer. “Even then, I suggest women go in teams of five to six; that’s a safe number,” she says. Rashmi adds that a pepper spray is also a permanent fixture in her bag. She is planning to go for trekking in Pune next, another ‘safe city’.

Solo women travellers, who share their experiences on social media, reveal that mostly unpleasant incidents tend to happen in places that are considered ‘party spots’, often beaches. They dress conservatively, avoid venturing out alone after dark, except in well-lit tourist areas, and keep their phones handy. “We need to understand the mindset of the country is still largely patriarchal so it is safer to not to do anything that would attract attention quickly,” says Chithira Pillai, manager in an MNC.


Travel platforms see rise in bookings from solo women

Prashant Pitti, executive director and CTO, EaseMyTrip, points out that safety concerns are a major concern for solo women travellers. “Apprehensions have increased after the recent incidents in Hyderabad and Uttar Pradesh. However, states such as Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Rajasthan and Kerala are safer; most women feel comfortable here and plan their holidays at these locations,” he says. Prashant adds that from their end, the company recommends women avoid isolated areas and stay in well-lit and crowded locations.

Sunil Gupta, MD and CEO of Avis India (a car rental service), says that the trend of solo travel gained much prominence in 2019, especially among women. “We saw a year-on-year increase of 20 per cent in the number of women booking self-drive rentals and chauffeur-driven rentals combined on our platform,” he says. He attributes it to growing spending power and desire for new adventures.

Tips and tricks for women travellers

Divya H N, assistant manager projects in a biopharma company and a seasoned traveller, says that her mantra is ‘be safe but be fearless’. She shares some safety hacks for women travellers to keep in mind.

Have a detailed itinerary -- plan the locations you will be visiting every day, your mode of transportation, the approximate timings -- and share it with your family or loved ones beforehand. Do a thorough research about the places that you’ll be visiting.

It is also advisable to book your hotel and travel tickets in advance. Go through the reviews of the places you will be staying at, to see if it’s safe or not. I suggest hostels for solo women travellers; they will meet more people there.

Make friends with the local people, like shopkeepers and the hotel staff.

Be polite and respectful of the local culture. I am not saying you should not dress the way you want to but also consider the sensitivities of the local populace. Wear attire that conforms to their culture so that you don’t garner unwanted attention.

Learn some basic self-defence techniques.

Be careful about what you post on social media. Not saying that you shouldn’t share pictures on social media about the places you are visiting but it doesn’t have to be in real time; maybe you can wait for a day or two before posting these. Even if you are going live, share details intelligently.

Carry some cash with you all the time. Keep that and your important documents with you; don’t keep it in the bag.