Is It Safe To Travel In India With a Camera?
“We're going on a trip around the world for a year.”
“Wow! What will be the first country?”
“We'll set off in India.”
“Nice. Will you take your camera?”
“Of course, I'm a photographer.”
“Really!? Isn't it dangerous to walk around with your camera in India? I mean...?”
A lot of conversations went like that when we talked to people about our plans to travel to India. Some were concerned about our safety just because of the fact that we chose India but when I mentioned taking my photography gear there was even more concern. We've been told all the horror stories about being drugged on Indian public transport or being mugged in alleys. According to the stories, there was a 100% certainty that my camera would disappear after a week or two.
We've been traveling a month in India now and we've used local public transport for the greater part so I can tell you my point of view now. I've traveled to more challenging countries so I never came with the fear of being mugged or the thought of having to cling on to my camera bag constantly but I know there's a lot of you that have questions on safety in India, especially when carrying expensive photography gear.
Is India safe in general?
Yes! Absolutely! Just like any other city or country you have to use your street smarts but India is really safe to travel in general. Big cities like Delhi or Mumbai can get pretty hectic and crowded so sometimes I do wear my camera shoulder bag in front of me instead of the back to make it more difficult for pickpockets. Other than that we've never felt unsafe anywhere. We travel on a budget and that means a lot of walking around and ending up in little alleys and backstreets but nowhere I felt like it would be safer to put my camera away.
When I'm shooting, I normally carry my camera in my hand and wrap the strap a few times around my wrist but that's more of a precaution in case a car, motorcycle or auto rickshaw bumps into me and I loose my grip. They do come awfully close sometimes! Yeah, I do get questions about my camera and people look at it but you can get some portrait opportunities out of those conversations. Don't forget to check out my photography tips for more info on photo opportunities here.
When I'm not taking pictures, my camera sits safely in my Think Tank Retrospective 6 shoulder bag. I bought that bag two days before we set off on this trip but I really love it and it even looks good too. Everything I need fits in there like a glove. I wear it on my back most of the time without any worries of it being snatched whether we're walking around in the chaos of Delhi or in a sleepy beach town.
Safety on public transport in India
So what about my photography gear on local buses and trains? It's just been a month but I already can't remember how many buses and trains we took. Not once did we feel unsafe and we only go for the cheap tickets. No expensive air conditioned class for us. We store our backpacks and camera bag in the overhead compartments and enjoy a hot chai while we head for our next destination.
Our peace of mind: The Pacsafe Travelsafe
I can already hear your next question: “What about night trains and buses or if you want to sleep?” Well, for those occasions I've bought something that has given me peace of mind many times. The Pacsafe Travelsafe 12L is a portable safe where I can store my camera gear when I really want it to be safe and when I'm not there to keep an eye on it. It's a sturdy bag with a metal netting that closes with a cable lock. You can use the same cable lock to secure any other bags or backpacks too. All you need is a large object, pipe or pole. On trains, metal rings are always available to secure your stuff with a cable lock.
Are hotels and hostels safe in India?
We pick our hotels and hostels carefully just so we're sure to have a comfortable stay but we do like it cheap. We try to stay in the $6 - $12 range for a private double room and we always feel safe with leaving our stuff and photography gear I don't use in the room. And just in case we end up in a shady place, there's always my TravelSafe to store my gear and give me piece of mind.
So, as far as our experiences go after a month of traveling on a budget; India is safe to travel around, no question about it; with or without expensive photography gear. Don't worry too much and just use your street smarts. You'll be fine. Until now I feel safer walking around here than some big cities in Europe or America. You don't have to worry taking out your camera anywhere and start walking around with it. Just be aware that there are a lot of poor people and you will stand out with a big camera.
But don't let that discourage you to shoot some nice pictures, especially if you're into street photography.
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