Field Travel for Women
Recommendations for Transportation and Accommodation for Women Traveling in/to the Field
This article provides an overview of recommendations related to transportation and accommodation for women while traveling in/to the field. As women, we navigate professional spaces and identities wherever we go — be it in the United States or India — and consider the safety of transportation and accommodation in all contexts. The information below summarizes some of the major takeaways from the experiences of female Fulbright researchers working in India over the past four years; however, we acknowledge that these insights are not representative of any researcher’s full experience or of the many varied and valid experiences that women have with various forms of transportation and accommodation in India.
Out of 27 respondents, 93% reported that they traveled in/to the field in a car. Other common forms of transportation included the bus/train/metro (67%), rickshaws (52%), walking (48%), and motorcyles (30%).
When reflecting on the ideal mode of transportation for women, one respondent stated that “It depends on the research site, location of the interview, and the comfort of the researcher.” Another recommended that you, “Always have [your] phone charged so you can look at [a] map.” The section below summarizes former researchers’ recommendations about various modes of transportation for women while they are working in or traveling to the field.
Several researchers recommended using Uber or Ola in cities where it is available. One researcher said that, “[Uber] has its own set of dangers but at least it provides a modicum of safety and the ability to let others know where you’re located, etc.” This thought was echoed by another respondent who said that, “I feel safer than in an auto or Ola/Uber because I have more control over my movements.” A third researcher recommended using, “Uber at night or to strange areas, for safety.”
In situations where Uber or Ola are not available, a private car was found to be an attractive option for transportation in the field. One researcher said that, “For my research, it was very necessary to have a car. Many of the villages we would visit were far distances from each other, and buses were very unreliable. Therefore, most of my research expenses went towards the car and driver.” While private cars may be desirable for safety reasons, one researcher expressed frustration with the logistics surrounding hiring and settling on a price for a private car: “I didn’t feel unsafe in cabs but I did feel like they were ripping me off because I was a foreigner. Also there were no taxi stands in villages, my hosts would have to call a driver, so I felt more dependent on my hosts in that situation (which could have been a problem if I had not felt I could trust them).”
Public Transportation (Bus, Train, Metro)
Respondents encouraged researchers to take advantage of the metros in Delhi and Kolkata but cautioned that travel buses and trains may lead to unwanted attention. For example, one researcher said that, “I think bus and train would invite the most probability of sexual harassment or molestation so the other modes of transportation may be best. The Delhi metro is usually safe since there is the women’s compartment and lots of security. Typically if traveling in a group or with a male companion helps to reduce the risk of stalking, harassment, molestation, etc.” Another researcher reported that they were comfortable using public buses but only during the daytime: “I felt fine taking the local buses, but I never took them alone because I knew I would need to come back after dark.” When deciding on which transportation to use for long-distance travel such as travel between cities, one researcher suggested that, “For longer distances (more than a few hours), I would suggest Bus/Train.”
Several respondents recommended traveling in rickshaws and generally trusted in the safety of this mode of transport during the daytime. One researcher cautioned that, “This depends on the situation. As a female, I avoided being alone in a rickshaw or taxi in remote places after dark.” Another added that, “Rickshaws are generally safe, but you get lots of pollution exposure in traffic.”
While a fair number of researchers used motorcycles as a mode of transportation during their research, this was not recommended as a mode of solo transportation. While one respondent said that, “It was convenient to ride on my research partner’s motorcycle to go from place to place,” she shared that, “If I was on my own I took an Uber or auto rickshaw.”
On the topic of purchasing your own motorcycle or bicycle, one researcher advised that, “I wanted to have a bicycle, but I was told it was pointless to buy one since I wouldn’t be allowed anywhere by myself! In cities I recommend public transport, if it’s reliable, otherwise cars are the most direct route.” Another researcher said that, “If I was more confident in my coordination, I might have rented a scooty, which I think would have been helpful.”
Accommodations for field work varied, usually depending on where the researcher’s field site was located in relation to their home city. Several women reported living in apartments in their home city and traveling to the field for day trips (therefore, no overnight accommodation was required). For those who stayed in the field for longer periods of time, however, researchers arranged accommodations in the field or near their field site. Several researchers mentioned that bathroom facilities in the field were limited and recommended eating/drinking lightly and bringing trusted snacks to the field. The following list provides an overview of the accommodations utilized by researchers:
- Living with a host family
- Paid guest accommodations
- University guest house
- Hotel near the field site
- NGO or foundation accommodation (spare room or guest house)
- Family or friends living near the field site
When asked what accommodations they recommended to other women during field travel, researchers suggested that women ask their affiliate organization for advice and try to arrange a housing situation in which you don’t have to live alone.
Researchers recommended choosing an accommodation where you have a flatmate or other cohabitants who can be informally accountable if an unexpected or difficult situation arises. One researcher advised that, “Staying with or near others makes it easier to meet people and also is important for safety or any unexpected health issues that may arise.” Another researcher recommended hiring staff such as cooks or maids for your dwelling who would also be aware if anything happened to you. One researcher advised that if your affiliate institution is connected to communities in the field, you can “Consult your affiliate institution to see if there are host families in the area you can live with.” Relatedly, another researcher cautioned against booking accommodations through Airbnb given the importance of having someone who can be responsible for you and aware of your whereabouts while you’re in the field.
In terms of physical infrastructure and amenities, there are certain features of your accommodation can be important for your safety and security. One researcher recommended ensuring that your accommodation has a lock on the door for safety/privacy reasons. Another added that if you require equipment for your research, you should make sure there is a secure and appropriate place to store your materials. Another researcher suggested that women “ensure that mineral water or clean drinking water is available” in their accommodations. Overall, one researcher encouraged women to invest in their safety and to “choose a place that will be relaxing, calming, and safe, even if it means you have to pay more.” Relatedly, another researcher added, “Don’t get the cheapest hotel — sometimes AC is worth it!”