Shubhanjana Das

A literature lover and a fashion enthusiast, I dabble in fashion to merge my two loves. I get lost at grocery stores and find myself in shoe stores. When I'm not scrolling through Instagram, I like to live life out of a backpack and travel the country..

Fads and Myths about Solo Female Backpacking in India

Image Source: Rich P Blake/ 500px

“What do you mean traveling solo?”
“You’re a girl, you shouldn’t be traveling alone!”
“How do your parents allow such a thing?”

Just when our country was struggling to come to terms with all these youngsters setting out to travel without a decided itinerary and living out of their backpacks, choosing ‘instability’ over ‘secure’ 9 to 5 jobs, some women decided to break the glass ceiling and choose their own paths for themselves. And boy, do we know how society thinks about that, right? With security and safety acquiring greater priority over career and aspirations, why are these women traveling solo and living out of their backpacks? The answer to this ‘why’ is uncomplicated, really. The urge to explore and seek the unfamiliar is human. Unlike our society, it isn’t gendered and doesn’t distinguish male from female.  However, it’s the ‘how’ that seems to be bothering some people.

HOW can a woman travel the country without being accompanied by a man? It’s not safe!”
HOW can a woman live out of just one backpack? They need more things than men!
HOW can they expect to come back safe from night-long train journeys, shared accommodations, and hitch-hiking?

Actually, if we had to go on about the aunties in the train or the uncles in a restaurant shooting questions left and right like bullets on a battleground, we could go on for days. But, you get the drill. Now, cut to the amusing part. After all those questions comes the cautionary statement which almost always ends with “you know, just in case…” There’s hardly a suffix that follows to justify the statement with concrete logic. Oh yes, we are absolutely aware of the status quo of the country in terms of women’s safety, but we also think locking ourselves in our rooms in the fear of ‘safety’ is the last solution to it.


Shramona Poddar, aka Mishti and Meat, busted the ‘safety myth’ by sharing her own experiences with us, as intriguing as they are from all her years of traveling with a backpack, also say a lot about there are assumptions and presumed notions about safety that people tend to latch on to when they come across or hear about a solo female traveler. She says:

“I have traveled alone with a backpack to several places in India and till date, I am proud to say that I haven’t faced any big issue of safety which will make me reconsider traveling solo. Of course, there have been incidents, but that can happen to anyone. I might walk on the street and something might happen.”

She also pointed out how there is a surprising lack of products for women when it comes to adventure brands while men have thousands of options in travel shoes, jackets, pants. Does that come from a place of established understanding of these brands that women are not into adventure sports, backpacking, trekking, etc.?

The internet has come up with its own suggestions and tipoffs for “safe travel destinations for female solo travelers”, “things a female traveler should keep with her”, “tips for women to be safe while traveling in India”. While this may be useful for women who have just started venturing out by themselves, it’s far from being comprehensive and sometimes, even practical. Why? That’s because there’s ‘otherization’ at play when we distinguish female from male travelers. It is rooted in the inherent proclivity of people to blanket women with layers of ‘safety’, security’, ‘guidance’, effectively tying them down. If you’re wondering what on Earth ‘otherization’ is, let us elucidate. To tell women to not take a particular road, travel by a particular train, or not visit a particular place altogether, it is in effect, under the garb of cautionary advice, marking that same bold distinction that had bound these wanderers at home in the first place. Mountains aren’t higher for women, roads aren’t any longer, or the wild any more dangerous, so why should we have separate travel itineraries based on gender? I mean, let’s concentrate on making it safer for women to venture where and when and how they want instead of putting a heavier bar on our side of the scale to ground us? If anything, it is men with perverted intentions who ought to be caged and not the women’s fundamental right to seek freedom and independence.

We’re not saying your pepper spray or swiss knife won’t be useful to you, we’re not saying you don’t need to be cautious while traveling to a certain place at a certain time. Instead of gendering dangers, misfortunes, and unpleasant experiences, why not see it from a much more practical point of view? We asked Trishita Bhattacharya, a female solo backpacker, trekker, and “adventure seeker” what her thoughts are on the plethora of voices we now seem to have on women traveling solo and she had a message we would PREACH any given day:

“Solo backpacking is not considered safe but according to me, it’s about perception and confidence. If you’re well informed and research about the place that you’re going in advance, then there shouldn’t be a problem! Also, when you’re alone you tend to make friends on the road which is an amazing experience in itself.

So even when I’m traveling alone, I don’t find it very difficult to make friends and have incredible experiences along the way!”

Oh, look at that! She’s not only traveling alone but making friends along the way as well! Does that not say something about the fact that not every person out there, be it male or female, is at it to be the bad guy and harm us at every turning point? In fact, there’s a beautiful paradox at play when you’re traveling solo: You must be cautious of your surroundings to avoid the bad guys and, for that, you also need to find and befriend a few good guys. I don’t know what that tells you, but I think it shows the more humane and practical aspect of viewing traveling which also works as a metaphor for life- you have to trust a few people on the way to assure your safety and security and it doesn’t have to be your brother, father, or boyfriend.  When you always have your guards up, doubting every single individual around you, everything and everyone is bound to look like red flags.  However, it shouldn’t go without noting that sadly, the notion of insecurity and doubt has been so adeptly ingrained in us from the get-go, even before we could turn 5, that it takes years of unlearning and an insuppressible voice to be able to assert our autonomy to travel far and wide without imposed ‘security’.

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Here's why I love traveling alone and getting to choose when I do what without having to accommodate a different opinion (selfish as that may sound)- I get to spend a peaceful 2 hours with the sun until it puts up a spectacular show over the Fairytale Canyons and sets over Kyrgyzstan's Lake Issyk Kul, aka the second largest saline lake in the world after the Caspian Sea (which FYI, isn't actually a Sea!) I went here the previous day at noon, much against my wishes, when the sun was way too bright and unfriendly. A girl I was spending the day with didn't want to do this on the way back at sunset, and I can be quite a pushover around people. I'll do what they want, even though I don't really want to. I don't actively feel stressed over it, but much later, I'll sit back and wonder why I agreed. I've figured it's because I avoid confrontation when I know for a fact that I'll be able to do something my way eventually without encouraging conflict. Like with these canyons. I knew I had the luxury of time, and I was so drawn to the energy of the place that I just went back the next evening. The sun was in the mood for companionship and so was I. And we had a heady date together, in comfortable silence. I've always always had the best internal experiences at that hour. Time of day matters to me so much when I'm exploring a new place. Maybe a bit too much. Does that ever happen to you? PS: Take my word for it and get here for sunset if you're ever in Kyrgyzstan. The magic is real ✨

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However, traveling solo for women is not necessarily an expression of radical, ‘men-hating’ feminism to negate and reject the company of any man at all, be it from the beginning or along the way. The emphasis here is on that ridiculously diminished point of true choice wherein a woman gets to choose whom she wishes to travel with and if she wishes for a companion at all. If a man’s solo travels are seen as conquers and adventures, why are women’s seen as acts of extraordinary bravery and courage? Sure, you can compliment them for being ‘brave’, but there’s a thin line when the awe and shock often get blurred with condescension and of course, an elaborate list of 15 bulletin points of well-intentioned tips, tricks, and advice on ‘how to travel alone as a woman’.

Thank you, next.

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