India is a country of contradictions. It’s chaotic, beautiful, exasperating, and overwhelming — and it has the power to change your life. Here are some tips to ensure that you have a great time as you experience this country for the first time.
1. Travel Insurance:
Sure, India is definitely more inexpensive than some other popular tourist destinations. But when it comes to an injury or illness, it’s best to make sure you have coverage as things can get quite expensive.
2. Phone Connectivity
If you have an unlocked phone, the best option is to get a SIM card when you land. If not, you can also use Trabug. This is a smartphone for rent in India, powered by a 4G connection and compatible with all Indian networks, so you wouldn’t need a local SIM.
3. The People
The first thing you might notice about Indian people is that they tend to stare. I interpret this stare as just curiosity — and in Indian culture, it isn’t seen as being rude. You can definitely talk to locals and strike up a conversation, since most are interested in striking up a conversation with you as well. Don’t be surprised if some don’t give you the time of day, as many of the locals are quite well traveled themselves and aren’t exactly in awe of tourists.
4. Learn the Language
Many people in India do speak English, but just like in any other country, it’s great to greet and thank people in their local language. It helps create a connection that can lead to further engagement. Here are a few common words and phrases to get started:
Tik hay: Okay
Kitna: How much?
5. What to Pack/Wear
Packing for India can be overwhelming. As a frequent traveler to India, I often find myself wracking my brains each time as I try to bring things that are “cute” yet appropriate. The weather is so hot most of the time that wearing shorts and tank tops seem to be the easiest things to pack.
But while cities like Mumbai and beach towns like Goa have a much more relaxed “dress code,” most other cities in India are on the more conservative side. Avoid wearing revealing clothing, and focus on packing light, airy clothing due to the extreme heat and dust conditions (depending on when you decide to visit). As a rule of thumb, try not to stick out conspicuously.
To avoid unwanted attention, I wear loose pants, jeans, sleeveless loose tops, and long skirts below my knees during the day. At night if it’s a fancy restaurant, I’ll wear black pants (or jeans) and a classy top. At bars, I notice most people dress in jeans and tops. At the nightclubs, you will tend to see more cocktail attire.
6. Getting Sick in India
Before traveling to India, I usually visit my local travel clinic for any vaccinations that are recommended for the cities I will be visiting. The biggest risk in India is the water: drinking tap water or unfiltered water is a definite no for tourists. In some countries like Thailand, for example, I am able to eat the street food and not experience any issues, but in India my stomach is unable to handle the street food. Therefore I stick to eating in proper food establishments and avoid raw vegetables as much as possible. I also avoid juices as I don’t know if the water that’s being used is filtered.
India has an amazing variety of vegetarian food — so when in India, I actually avoid meat, as contaminated meat can also cause what’s known as “Delhi belly,” or an upset stomach.
If you do however get sick, access to healthcare is easy, if you have money. Staying in a hotel means instant access in most cases to a hotel doctor. If there is no on-site doctor, the hotel will arrange to have one visit your room shortly. You can also make an appointment to go see a doctor, and chances are that you can get that appointment the same day, even if you might have a wait at the clinic.
7. Traveling around India
If you are taking public transportation in India, be aware of suggestions from taxi and rickshaw drivers who insist on taking you to specific hotels or shops. They are probably getting a commission for these visits, which will be added to your bill.
Also, keep in mind that taking it slow is wise. If you try to cram too much into a trip, you might feel overwhelmed by the pace due to the heat and hectic environment. Spend a few days in one spot and you’ll be less stressed, allowing for more immersive experiences, and you’ll come away feeling happier about your trip.
Decide ahead of time which India you are looking to experience on this trip: wildlife, trekking, beaches, houseboats, Mughal architecture, or religious sites such as temples, and plan ahead so you have a rough itinerary.
8. Best Time to go to India
Avoid India during the monsoon, as it can be difficult to get around, especially as some cities experience severe flooding. Summer months are especially grueling as it’s tough to travel around in the heat.
Mid-winter is the best time to visit the south of India as there’s some respite from the heat. Temperatures are pleasant, and walking and traveling around becomes fun. It is best, however, to avoid cities like Delhi and the hill stations and mountains in winter, as it can be very cold. Temperatures start heating up again in February and peak in May and June, when anyone who can retreats to the hill stations, which by now have become very pleasant.
All things considered, between November to March would be the most recommended season to visit India.
9. The Traffic
Nothing I tell you here will prepare you for the hustle and bustle that is India. The concept of “personal space” is non-existent, to the point where you can smell body odor and you will smell the coconut oil on people’s hair. You will see so many rickshaws, autos, cows crossing the road, dogs, horses and carts, bikes, cars, and, oh, even people crossing these busy roads! You’ll hear so many sounds in any given moment, that it’s practically a concert!
10. India and Spirituality
India is a secular country made up of many different religions. From Hinduism to Islam to Christianity to Buddhism, you will encounter it all here.
The dominant religion is Hinduism, and many can find it baffling as there are more than 80 gods. Visit a local temple and try to understand the customs and rituals, which are really very fascinating.
India is also the land of spiritual gurus, ashrams, and meditation ashrams, and it’s the birthplace of many forms of yoga. Take some yoga classes and see the difference in how it is practiced in the East versus the West.
Overall, if you take it slow and exercise caution, you will walk away with a joyful experience, a better understanding of the people, the culture and the country.