Some people think I am brave for what I have done in the past three years. I left my job, moved to Tampico, Mexico, and have traveled extensively alone in my old Mazda, in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, on buses, and by plane. I rode my bike through Tampico, used public transportation, or walked to where I needed to go. From Mexico, I moved to Kuala Lumpur to write for a Malaysian e-learning company. I have traveled all over Southeast Asia and India, sometimes alone, sometimes by bus, by plane, and train. I have rented a motor scooter and a jet ski, snorkeled in the Perhentian Islands, surfed in Cherating, Malaysia, hiked the Everest Base Camp trail and several jungle trails in Malaysia.
But these are not actions of bravery. These are the actions of a woman with an adventurous spirit. A woman who started traveling as soon as she was able to walk. When I was eight years old, for example, my mother piled four of her five children into a pickup trailer and drove us by herself to a dude ranch in Montana ( she left the youngest at home with the maid). That was in the sixties. I don’t think bravery and daring-do ever crossed her mind. There was Montana. Why not drive there?
Women who don’t travel places because someone tells them it is dangerous are missing out. I don’t seek danger, and as a life-long traveler, I have strong instincts and an innate sense of how to take care of myself. It doesn’t take long to learn the rules. These rules are those that you learn when you live in a city for an extended period.
These are not actions of bravery. These are the actions of a woman with an adventurous spirit.
For the second time in two weeks I have heard people say that they would never go to India. The first time was on the way to India for my second trip. I ran into two women on their way to Sri Lanka. One woman claimed that she would never travel to India for she had heard stories of robbery, rape, and theft — no woman should go there. I would love to know her source. Was it another woman, a man, or an article about India? It wasn’t my place to ask, and it was just another airport café discussion anyway.
The second time I heard this proclamation about women traveling in India was from a man in his late twenties. We met at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur. He and his girlfriend were traveling Southeast Asia, and when I asked them about India, he said that he had been but he would never take her there. Too dangerous. That puzzled me, but again it wasn’t my place to ask further questions.
Western women who fear traveling alone in India are missing out on the experience of a lifetime.
I would be less of a person if I had not traveled to India. The first time that I went there, I went with another woman. We hired a driver whose only English words were “no problem,” and “in a minute.” He drove us from Delhi, and due to a lack of communication, we ended up in some unusual places.
After Jaipur, we decided to squeeze in one more fort before we moved on to Agra. We could see the fort in the distance so we knew we would not get lost. Then our driver turned off the road, away from the fort. I tried to inform the driver that he was going the wrong way, but he just said ‘elephant’. I thought that I was not hearing him right. No problem — in a minute. We turned down a street, and he asked us to get out of the van. Before us stood an elephant. Dolores had told me earlier that day that she would pay anything to ride an elephant, and here we were!
If someone else’s story about the dangers of India for female travelers is stopping you from exploring its rich, colorful, beautiful, rugged, poverty-stricken, busy, hectic, peaceful, and sumptuous culture, you are missing out.
Later that night, on the way to Agra, our driver drove off the main road and through a manure field. When the car came to rest we were sitting in front of a cement-block, dimly-lit house. Dolores and I looked at each other wondering if this was it. She had her mace that a military friend had given her, and we had each other, but that was about it. Before we could let out a sigh, about ten women of different ages poured out of a house. They invited us in for tea, showed us their shrine and looked at our bare shoulders. The living conditions were stark. There was no running water. The floors were either dirt or cement, and the children, beautiful as they were, were ragged. I don’t think they had ever seen the likes of Dolores or me, so the experience was rich on both sides.
My second trip to India was much more conservative. It was a group tour that I got roped into taking. I don’t regret the experience because I got to see a lot of Southern India. However, the excitement of travel for me is the spontaneity, the judgment calls, meeting the people who want to meet you because you are alone and you respect their country enough to travel it by experiencing it rather than gawking at it.
Western women who fear traveling alone in India are missing out on the experience of a lifetime. It might take you a while to realize how to haggle the price of a cab fare, or that stopping for too long in one place will draw beggars to you like bees to honey. But what woman doesn’t know where it isn’t safe, or if she has doubts not to go there?
I have traveled to many parts of the world, and I can understand that the same opportunity may not pop up in every woman’s life. However, if someone else’s story about the dangers of India for female travelers is stopping you from exploring its rich, colorful, beautiful, rugged, poverty-stricken, busy, hectic, peaceful, and sumptuous culture, you are missing out.