India is like any other country when it comes to the safety of foreign travellers. There are touts and crooks and cheats everywhere, and India is no exception. Tourists are generally vulnerable because they can be too trusting, and tricksters and swindlers know every trick in the trade to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists.
The key to your safety, while travelling in India, is to always keep your guard up. Know that your safety is in your hands.
Beware of touts
There are no escaping touts, you will find them everywhere, especially in touristy places, in busy shopping areas, outside budget hotels etc. They will latch on to you and pester you with their ‘special’ offers, making them sound irresistible.
Do not get taken in by their glib talk; be wise and know that anything that sounds too good to be true, is not something that you want to be a part of. Steer clear from such people. Do not engage in conversation with them. Ignore them; trust me that is the best way to get them off your back. They are a tenacious lot, and will not go away – just pretend that they are not there and go about your job. Rude, I know, but they leave you little choice.
Book all your tickets and cabs through official channels or ask the hotel reception for assistance. Touts will fleece you.
You will find them everywhere and they will offer you a better exchange rate. However, there is no way of knowing if the currency they give in exchange is real or counterfeit. They can also flee with your money. Get your dollars exchanged into rupees only at authorized forex dealers.
Move in groups
You will be safer in a group than out on your own, especially when you visit far-flung places, away from civilization.
Share travel details
Always let someone know where you headed and when you are expected back. Share details of your cab bookings with the hotel reception. When you are in the cab, make a call to someone (it could be a pretend call too), telling them where you are headed, and share the cab details with them. You are unlikely to be harmed (not that this is common), by a cab driver, when he knows that someone knows who he is.
Backpackers and hitchhikers
India does not have a backpacking and hitchhiking culture. You do not want to do that in India. I cannot stress how unsafe this can be. Do not hitch a ride to anywhere. Some travellers do it, but why take a chance.
Travel well-trodden paths
Avoid exploring the countryside and remote locations on your own. Be around people, move where the crowds are. You need to confine your journeys to popular routes, instead of going on your own adventures.
Foods and drinks to avoid
Indian street food is available all over the place. There are food-stalls on the sidewalks, wherever you go. Avoid eating these foods. There are absolutely no food safety standards maintained and you will likely catch a nasty bug and ruin your trip.
Eat at reputed joints. You will find chains of popular fast-food restaurants, in cities and towns. KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and McDonald’s serve standard food across the country.
Tap water in India is not potable, so always carry your own water.
Do not venture out at night
Big cities have a nightlife and are relatively safer than small towns. Yet, it is not advisable to be out alone, late at night.
Pickpockets and bag snatchers
Crowded markets and tourist places are infamous for petty thieves. They pick pockets, grab valuables (mobile phones, bags etc.) and vanish into the crowds. They work in gangs and swiftly move the stolen valuables making it impossible to nab them.
Carry money and credit cards in concealed pockets. Do not keep valuables in easily accessible pockets of your backpack. Whenever possible carry the backpack across the front. Hold onto your belongings at all times.
Eve teasing is a euphuism used in India to describe street harassment. Sexual harassment, in public places, is very common in India. Men ogling at foreigners happens all the time, but they do not stop at that. They make catcalls and pass crude, disgusting remarks. They occasionally grab and grope women in crowded places (not all men do this, but it does happen).
The experience can get nightmarish when standing in a queue or in a public transport for some men can stand uncomfortably close and rub themselves against unsuspecting women. Avoid traveling in crowded public transport and if you have no choice, let your backpack provide that much-needed buffer. Travel in the women’s compartment in train in India whenever possible. They are safer and less crowded.
Find accommodation in safe-neighborhoods
Read online reviews before you book a room. Not all neighbourhoods are safe and not all hotels, guesthouse and homestays are what they advertise to be. Check online forums, for honest reviews. Take to Facebook groups to find recommendations for suitable accommodation. Post your queries and make reservations after you are satisfied.
Get a local SIM card with free data
SIM cards come in handy, as you get a free data pack, with which you can download apps like Google maps that can help you navigate. Autorickshaw drivers and cabbies often take shortcuts (unfamiliar routes), and having access to a map will make you feel safer.
Read this blog about Must carry things while travelling to India
Get a power bank
Imagine a scenario where your mobile phone runs out of battery. A power bank in your bag will come to your rescue. A SIM card is of no use when your phone battery dies on you.
Don’t carry too much money
Carry currency in small denominations. And don’t flaunt it around. Be discreet when you take out money to pay for a service.
Do not trust anyone
Hapless women and innocent looking youngsters are known to accost foreign tourists. Do not believe their stories of misfortune, they are not real. Carry on with your business, even as they chase and pester you. Do not make eye contact, do not smile and do not say a word. They will leave you alone when they get no response from you.
List of emergency numbers
Save emergency numbers on your phone, on speed dial. This includes numbers of your embassy, so you can get in touch with the mission in case you find yourself in trouble.