After reading yesterday’s news of an American woman who was gang-raped near Manali, I felt I had to address this topic. Sometimes it is necessary to get rides with strangers, but this is a heavy reminder to be careful about it.

The report didn’t include many details, but accepting a ride from three men at night is not something to be thought of at any time unless you are in danger of freezing to death or something. I have no idea what she was thinking. Anyway, my heart goes out to her.

Still, as I mentioned previously, violent assaults on foreign women are really, really rare here; but the ones that happen get so highly publicized that they scare people off. Please don’t let these few assaults keep you from coming to India. You are almost certainly safer in India from rape than in your own country.

So, in the interest of helping people avoid trouble, here is my advice (most of which is for men, too):

Be discriminating about who you accept a ride with. Really, look closely, and if you have a bad feeling, don’t get in even [or especially] if they insist. Don’t get in a car with a bunch of men, even if it is the only ride around. Even two men is usually too many if you are a woman alone.

The great majority of people I have met in India over the years are good people, no matter what class or economic strata they belong to—and that includes the poorest of the poor, who are sometimes the most generous and helpful of all. However, although I don’t like saying this, in India it is better to try to get rides with middle class people in decent cars. In any case, avoid getting lifts with laborers and truck drivers or groups of men of any class. Middle class families and couples are a much safer bet.

Dress as conservatively and neatly as possible. This will make it more likely that decent people who might otherwise pass you by will give you a ride. And you must be aware that, whether they should or not, many Indians associate people who look sexy, edgy or hippyish with ‘free sex’, and this certainly gives some people the wrong idea. Women, please read my post on how to dress. Trust, me. It matters.

Don’t wear an expensive watch or jewelry that might make you an appealing target for theft. Take off any edgy accessories. Hide your money and passport, and keep your valuables with you at all times.

Avoid hitchhiking or taking rides from strangers at night. If you are stuck somewhere, it is almost always better to stay put until morning. Try to let someone know where you are and what the situation is, even if they are far away.

Get the license number before you get in the car and text it in a message to someone along with your destination. Or at least try to make sure someone where you are getting in knows who you are going with.

If you are drunk or stoned, you are an easy mark, so it’s better just stay where you are until you can think straight.

Don’t accept anything to eat, drink or smoke from someone who has given you a ride, but do it politely. You can always say you are fasting just now, but don’t then proceed to get out your own snacks, etc.

Learn a little self-defense, or at least carry some pepper spray.

Know where you are going. If the driver seems to be heading somewhere you aren’t going, tell him to stop and let you out. Call and tell someone if there is a problem. Or get out the pepper spray.

Oh, remember that taxi drivers are also strangers, so be a careful with them also, especially if you are a woman alone. If you are taking a taxi at night, note down the plate number and text it to someone. I personally hate cell phones, but they do have their uses.

There are no guarantees, but if you are careful and sensible, you are so much less likely to run into serious problems.

Writing this post reminds me when, as a young and foolish college student, I hitchhiked a lot throughout North America, from Baja to Alaska, and all around Europe. I estimated that I put more than 25,000 miles on my thumb, and much of it was solo. Very, very foolish indeed. But I was probably more careful than many kids my age, especially as I wasn’t into drugs. I usually took a good look before I hopped in, and sometimes I backed off. And I always made a point of being dressed neatly (cords and a sweater) because I figured it would help get decent people to stop. Must have worked.

But somehow I did it without any serious problems. There were a few close calls (including two slimebags who thought that the only reason I would hitchhike alone was because I was looking for sex, both of whom dumped me in the middle of nowhere when I turned them down), but I always got out of them. Back then, more people hitchhiked to get around. It wasn’t so unusual. But I certainly never told my family about my adventures. They would have been horrified!

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