Q: Have you heard anything about the experiences of young people traveling the youth hostels of India? My 22-year-old son is making serious plans with two roommates to travel there this summer. I'd rather their first experience abroad be Europe, but they are looking for something different. Are they crazy? Am I crazy to worry?
A: The ever-present threat of terrorism is enough to make anyone worry.
In November 2008, Mumbai hotels and public places were targets of coordinated terrorist attacks. Recently, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert that "terrorist groups may be planning attacks in India," although it has not advised against travel in India.
That's largely because the 2008 attacks heightened security in the country's most tourist-laden cities, especially Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur and Goa. However, visitors should still avoid rural areas and those on the northern and western border with Pakistan.
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Travel security experts also advise extra vigilance around days of national significance, most notably Republic Day (Jan. 26), Independence Day (Aug. 15), Ramadan (Aug. 11-Sept. 9) and Diwali (Nov. 5).
Have your son register at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ to receive the latest updates on travel and security information.
Those cover the broad security concerns, but you have the added worry of your son being a young traveler. To help set your mind at ease, we shared your question with Patrick Evans of STA Travel, an industry leader in student travel.
"As with any destination, you have to be careful and smart about your surroundings," he says, "but India — especially places like Mumbai — is a modern country in many respects and very safe for travelers of all ages."
He adds that hostels are a good budget option, and those in India are similar to others found worldwide — "with limited facilities, but generally clean rooms and full of fellow travelers." Evans also recommends staying at an inexpensive hotel, such as the Hotel Ajanta (www.hotelajanta.com) in Delhi, which has beds from $35 per night.
One of the biggest safety issues applies to hostels in general. Many lack lockers for securing personal belongings, so Evans suggests purchasing a retractable cable lock. This will allow your son to secure his belongings to the furniture in the room.
"It also comes in handy to lock your gear to your seat so you can take a nap on a bus or train without worrying about someone stealing your luggage," Evans says.
He also stresses the importance of knowing hostel rules and reporting transgressions to the manager. "Most want to keep their hostel a safe, enjoyable, clean environment," he says, "so they will usually take care of any problems with roommates or facilities that arise."