7 Ways to Survive India as a Solo Girl

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India mimics the rhythms of the ocean. At times, it’s benign, lapping gentle waves at your feet, tickling your toes. Then there are the trying moments, a violent storm that slams your body, jarring nerves to the brink when you drop any social veneer and gulp heaps of utter shock.

Friends warned me. I prepared myself, reading Wanderlust and Lipstick’s Guide for Women Traveling to India, Beth Whitman’s excellent guide.

Still, there’s reality. Physical encounters are obvious, but what about the internal inputs? As you absorb the logic or chaos of India, it can be daunting to a solo explorer, especially a lone female.

Reality is nothing to fear when armed with practical information.

1.  The Staring

I can confirm, you will be stared at. Walking down the street. In a restaurant. Standing in the ATM line. It won’t be a glance of mild interest, and then they look away. There’s a focused intensity as people rake their eyes up and down, examining every detail of your being. Sometimes I look down at myself to ensure everything that should be covered, is. Not every person you encounter will do this, but it will occur frequently. India is not like Europe, where travelers blend in, often ignored by the general public.

Tip: Many worry a man’s attention will be followed by an unseemly proposition. While some ladies might invite this, others don’t. Much of the staring is simply curiosity. Some locals have never seen a foreigner before, so they are intrigued. Eventually you notice that women stare as often as men. This can be unnerving, but try to remember that while you

February 28th, 2011|Categories: Travel Tips|Tags: , , , , , |67 Comments

When Sickness Makes You Weak Minded

I’ve been offline pretty much all week not because of good times and tequila shots. That should be the case. I’m in Baga Beach staying in a 3-bedroom villa and was psyched about hanging with Christine Gilbert. Instead of playing with her son Cole, I’m battling my second bout of traveler’s diarrhea after narrowly recovering from a staph infection (Staphylococcus aureus).

I posted this nasty picture of my arm on Facebook:

The arm was steadily healing, but today it’s stinging again and looks like a tiny fissure is forming.

The mind whirs while in this precarious state. I feel worn out, spent, and am probably riddling this post with typos and grammatical errors because antibiotics leave me dizzy.

  • I want to throw in the towel. Go home. Then I want to kick myself because I worked hard to be here and returning home means failure.
  • I want to curl up in a ball and cry.
  • I feel guilty for not enjoying Goa. I should be out exploring the coastline on a scooter or snorkeling. All I really want to do is lie down all the time.
  • I’m beginning to determine that the SteriPEN might not work, or I used it incorrectly. I’ve experienced the same symptoms twice in the past two months.

Help me out people, I need some intense words of encouragement right now.

Am I overreacting or simply experiencing the banality of sickness in long-term travel?

February 25th, 2011|Categories: Goa|Tags: , , , , |32 Comments

A Love Affair Ends

Dear Volunteering,

Alas, all things have a natural end. I’m sorry it had to come to this, but our time is over.

It’s a myth that love affairs are riddled with happiness.

Sometimes, you nearly made me cry.

On the good days, you had me grinning ear to ear.

Despite our rocky time together, I’ll always remember the endless sunny days, our walks to school together, dancing to Marathi disco and eating Cadbury chocolate until our fingers got sticky.

I’ll think fondly of our lively dinners and visits to all the neighboring villages.

Most of all, I’ll miss our children. Make sure Sanghvi continues her studies. She’s so bright. And don’t let little Rohan get bullied anymore. Watch Suresh mature, I’m excited to see what kind of man he grows into.

As I lounge in Goa sipping frothy cocktails and admiring a pool boy’s behind, your memory will fade, but not your impact.

You forced me to discover reserves of patience I once thought was a mirage. You taught me to accept, even when I didn’t want to. How holding a child’s hand means more than offering an extravagant gift.

Thanks for these 3 months, it lasted longer than any of my relationships, really.

I’ll leave you with some pictorial tokens of my affection. Please don’t cry, you’ll only make it worse.



February 17th, 2011|Categories: Savarsai|Tags: , , , , , , |37 Comments

What I Do All Day

When you’re volunteering overseas it’s the opposite of pleasure travel. I eat the food given to me, sit on freezing concrete and pace my time according to a schedule.

Since I’m working at a home for children, everything centers around them.

Wake up call is 5:30 or 6:00 am

Yeah, fantastically early. Even in my previous life I never woke at 5:30 except for a bathroom break or nightmare jolt. Prakash makes the kids do calisthenics to get the blood going before school. It’s actually fairly refreshing.

After we’ve been sweating to the oldies, they get their ration of toothpaste.


7:30 am is morning prayer and follows the essential Gandhi philosophy:

Be compassionate to all living beings

Live a simple life

Treat all people equally

Be kind to each other

Respect others rights to be different

Be thoughtful

Help others

Do your best in everything that you do

Be happy

My favorite part is when they all sing:

“Live a life of true… and happiness you will find… Gandhi, Gandhi, Gandhiji, Gandhijiiiii!!!”

School Drop Off

After a breakie of chapatti and lentils, I usually take the Marathi primary kids to school at 10ish. It’s a close 10 minute jaunt to the Savarsai village.

I’m constantly amazed how the kids can walk on sharp rocks and uneven paved roads with their tiny bare feet!

Kitchen Duty

Once in a

February 13th, 2011|Categories: Culture, Savarsai|Tags: , , , , |22 Comments

What Works, What Doesn’t: Feline Mishaps and Acne Explosions

In this edition, where should you hang your silky boxers? And preventing blindness can be a pain in the retina.

What Works

1.  Fucidin Cream

My cute little cat scratched my face so severely once I had to visit the doctor. He literally gasped upon seeing my disfigured face. When I mentioned using Polysporin on the injury, he set me straight. “Polysporin? Does nothing. Use this.” Only available by prescription in Canada, Fucidin kicks Polysporin out of the stadium. It’s nuclear antibiotic cream that I’ve used time and again. Unlike Polysporin, I don’t need to apply much, so the tube lasts forever, healing cuts or scratches lightening fast. Keep in mind – even a small scratch can get infected. Beg your doctor for it before leaving or borrow my cat if you need.

Cat got your tongue?

2.  Sleeping Bag

I love, love my sleeping bag. Some people think packing a sleeping bag is pointless, but it depends on the bag. Mine is solely for tropical countries, good at +15/22 °C, fits into a tiny sack, and feels like a bag of air. When you need some warmth and distance between you and that questionable hostel mattress, a lightweight bag is useful. Stay toasty with layering and a decent sleeping bag liner. Cost: $35 CDN.  www.mec.ca.

3.  Buying Clothes at Value Village

I admit my skepticism at this idea, but gave it a go. Did I mention my skepticism meter is broken? This worked way beyond my expectations. My Kodak pants and Roots rain jacket are constant characters in my India wardrobe. For items I’ll toss or re-gift to my favorite hostel buddy, I never worry about

February 9th, 2011|Categories: Travel Tips|Tags: , , , |23 Comments

Coconut Chutney – Indian Holy Grail

It’s no secret that I am violently in love with coconut, so when my volunteer host, Kavita presented me with homemade chutney at dinner one evening, I nearly fainted with joy. Is coconut better than sex? A close second.

Chutneys are used as an accompaniment to the main meal. They can be wet or dry, and are usually a grainy texture.

I managed to extract the recipe from Kavita. You may not be physically present in India, but try this recipe to taste an authentic chutney. It’s sooo damn good!

Hardcore Coconut Chutney

1 small red onion
1/4 cup of fresh coconut (dried coconut is an acceptable alternative)
1 tomato or tomato paste
Lots and lots of garlic (3 or 4)
1 green or red chilli (your preference)
2 tablespoons of peanut oil (or vegetable oil of your choice)

  • Dice the onion, tomato, garlic and chili. Put aside.
  • If using fresh coconut, shred into small pieces.
  • Combine all the ingredients except the oil. Blend together with a mortar and pestle or a food processor.
  • Pour oil into a pan, fry the chutney on medium high until heated through.

Combine it with a vegetable, basmati rice or Dal. Dip your chapati in the chutney, it’s yummy!

* I highly recommend adding extra coconut, it’s a nice contrast to the chilli.

February 7th, 2011|Categories: Savarsai|Tags: , , |20 Comments