While I was writing my last post, I realized that sometimes we come across so much information on the internet that we get biased about a place. This made me thought that there are so many misconceptions about India that people who had never visited India might be confused like I was about the country I had never visited before. Then I thought that I traveled in India from Ladakh to Kanyakumari and from Kutch to Assam as a solo traveler or with a girlfriend or with family, so why not share my travel tips for India from personal experience. I have noticed that many people write so much about the safety and tips for India that by end of the post instead of helping, these posts scare people. Yes, we do have some safety concerns but not so much as some blogs write. We are a fast developing country, who is one of the pioneers in “IT” industry, we are not anymore land of snake charmer as some people show India.
We have a good mix of tradition and modernisation. Recently I read in a popular blog that “don’t brush with tap water in India”….. Really…, I don’t advise drinking tap water but bathing and brushing teeth is ok, no one gulp water when brushing.
Now the big question, why travel to India??
Well, India is one of the oldest civilization in the world. We have many ancient monuments, which are old yet beautiful. There is history everywhere with many interesting and mythological stories. India is the capital of yoga & meditation. India has so much cultural diversity from north to south, east to west. India has the beautiful Himalayan mountains in one part and we have beautiful beaches of Kerala. India has unique monuments like Ajanta-Ellora & Taj Mahal and at the same time National parks like Ranthambore & Bandhavgarh. India has rich cultural heritage. There is so much diversity in food, language, clothing, customs, and landscapes. People are hospitable, warm, and friendly. There are endless reasons to visit India.
If you are visiting India for the first time then here are some travel tips for India from personal experience and based on my travel across India –
Hotel and Accommodation
There is no special technique or method to choose a good accommodation in India, same logic you apply choosing an accommodation in any other part of the world. There are 5-star hotels, medium, and lower range hotels, now there are many hostels also. Check for people’s view and decide. While you are staying in a hotel and if you are a woman don’t get too friendly with the male staff, speak politely but maintain a distance.
Buy Sim Card
If you are traveling for 2 weeks or more then buy an Indian sim card for your mobile from the market. Sim cards are easily available all over India in many small shops, submit 2 color passport photographs, photocopy of the personal details page of your passport, photocopy of your Indian visa, photocopy of the proof of your home address in your country of residence (passport, driver’s license or any other Government issued document) and a proof of where you will be staying in India. You may be asked for a local contact number, in that case, give a number of hotels or any employ and ask him to answer the phone when mobile operator company’s representative call for verification. These sims get activate in 24 hours. If you have a friend in India then you can ask him or her to buy one for you on his/her name for you, it activates in 2 hours. Main mobile service providers are Airtel and Vodafone (They are panIndia), another option is Jio (They are also pan India but you need 4G + volte phone).
The third option is to buy online from Trabug, you can buy this before traveling and they deliver sim card your hotel. Check more details on Trabug The Indian government has started a scheme from January 2017 and giving free sim cards at major airports. These sims are available at the designated counter and collected by showing e-visa, these sim cards are valid for 30 days.
Money and ATMs
Don’t get currency exchanged from the market because chances are that you will get lower than the current value of USD. There are ATM’s all over India, even in smaller towns. If you have an international debit card then you can withdraw 20,000 INR (approx 300 USD) in a day from ATM and if you have to pay a bigger amount to hotels etc then credit cards are accepted at most places. Many restaurants and shops also accept credit cards.
Another travel tip for India from personal experience is applicable for travel every destination in the world. Never keep all cards and money in one place. Keep smaller denomination currency in outside pockets for use during the day and keep bigger currency in inner pockets along with important documents like a passport. Same goes for cards.
Food in very different in different parts of India, north India’s food is different from south or east or west India’s food. Our food is very diverse and even I can’t say that I have eaten all kind of Indian food. The big restaurants and five-star hotels have multi cuisine restaurants, you can easily get all kind of international food in India.
I have come across many Delhi belly stories. Infect I also once got affected with the bad stomach and I didn’t know why that happened. I always take few precautions from my experience. These are – Don’t eat uncooked food, drink bottled water, eat from place where you see locals eating and food is moving fast, when ordering food ask for absolutely no spice, fried food is not healthy but it is ok to eat once in a while, go to the places where you see food freshly made and lots of crowds and last but not the least there are many international chains in India from McDonald to Dominos etc. Eat with your eyes first and use common sense to judge if it will be ok for you to eat.
Good and Bad Attention
When traveling in India, it is possible that you may get attention due to the color of skin or color of hair, which is normal especially when you are traveling outside bigger cities. Learn to differentiate between good and bad attention.
Please remember that an action or gesture that may come naturally to you in your culture such as touching a person’s arm while talking to them, might be misinterpreted. A man can take it as a signal that you are interested in him. Be mindful and keep a physical distance from men even while you are open with them and they are friendly with you. If you are using public transportation maintain distance.
Sometimes people may approach to click pictures with you, it is ok to oblige them. It happened to me also when I traveled to smaller cities or south of India, some people approach me for clicking pictures with them. I am ok to click pictures with kids, families but if it is a group of guys then I politely refuse them.
Travel Between Cities
If you are traveling long distance than book flights, there are many airlines in India and air fair are less if you book in advance.
Indian Railway is a good option for long travel depending upon how much time you have. It is economical. Train tickets can be booked 120 days in advance. Online booking system is very convenient and you can book at Indian Railway website, but if you don’t have an Indian mobile number then you can’t book on railway’s website. In that case use cleartrip’s website, they allow train booking without Indian mobile number. I recommend booking a seat in AC3 or AC2 class considering comfort and safety for a woman traveler, they provide blanket and bedsheet for sleeping. Somewhere I read that it is better to travel by sleeper class as there are more people and families, so you will feel safe but I will not recommend this because it gets overcrowded and too noisy and people enter & exit coach too often. Instead, reserve an upper berth because it’s up and safe, I personally never book upper berth because I find it difficult to climb especially at night if I have to go to the washroom. I recommend don’t book side lower or upper berth because it is not safe and comfortable as it’s parallel to passage. If by any chance you get side berth then request and exchange with a fellow traveler, most people (Man) exchange.
Food is another point to remember if traveling a long journey. Some trains may not have a pantry car. Check the website of railway inquiry and you will know if your train has food available or not, in that case, you can get your food packed before boarding. These days some pvt companies supplier food in train, if you book online (Details are given on Railway’s website)
There are some destinations where direct trains are not available, in that case, you can use Volvo buses. These are safe and comfortable for a long journey if you are woman and solo traveler. I used Redbus and MakeMyTrip to book my advance tickets for many destinations and had good experience in general. You can choose your seat while booking.
Traveling in City
Taxi and autorickshaws are available everywhere. Another option is the app-based cab services like Ola and Uber are available in many cities. (Download the app from google play store or apple) These are competitive with autorickshaw (Tuk-tuk) in terms of price. The internet data price has gone down in India, so you can track your route.
In most popular tourist destinations like goa & many hill area/beach towns, you can rent a two wheeler at nominal daily rent. It is most convenient and cheap option to move around and explore the city on your own.
In India people wear all kind of clothes, we have almost all international brands selling here. But still it is advisable to dress a bit conservatively when you are traveling, it helps to avoid unnecessary attention. It is better to wear clothes covering shoulders, knees and also avoid cleavage showing. You can wear long tunics, t-shirts, and tops, jeans, palazzos, leggings with a long top, harem pants, yoga pants, long skirts. If want to look local then wear the Indian attire of kurta and salwar, which is easily available at low price in local markets.
It is ok to wear bikinis in Goa and some other beaches.
Short skirts, shorts, and short dresses are ok in big cities like Mumbai, Delhi (Some parts) and Bangalore if you are going to the pub etc.
Don’t look Lost
If you are in a new place and have no clue. Don’t look lost, sit in some cafe or go to some shop and ask for directions. If you have the internet connect then use it. Ask people for direction and use your instincts. Don’t follow someone, if you think he is taking you through a secluded route or unknown building. Look confident and half of your problem is solved. This travel tip for India is actually applicable for traveling anywhere in the world.
Don’t Arrive at Dark
If you are traveling to a new city then plan in a way that you reach in morning or afternoon but never arrive at night.
If you are going to a new city or exploring different areas in a city. Get the address written on a paper and if possible ask an Indian in your hotel to write it in the Hindi language. It is easier to show the address and ask for location because sometimes it gets difficult to pronounce local names with correct dialect, which can create confusion.
If you are buying from local market then be prepared to bargain, the way you bargained in other south Asian countries like Thailand. Start with an offer price, which is 1/3 of quoted price and finally you can buy it at 1/2 price. Follow you guts to do the bargain. I am not good with bargaining, so can’t give many tips.
Try to buy from fix price shops.
Most packed items have MRP written on them. This is the maximum retail price, you can always bargain that price down.
Compare prices from few shops before finally buying.
Learn to say NO
Sometimes when in the market or at monuments, shopkeepers or guides surround you and insist you buy or take their services. Say no politely and firmly, there is nothing wrong being firm and saying NO.
Don’t Give money to Beggars
You may come across beggars or children on streets, they will ask you to give money but never give them money for two reasons.
1. If you give money to one then chances are few more will come and ask money.
2. Sometimes it is kind of organized crime, where elder sends children forcefully for begging.
If you feel that you should give something to them then give eatables but don’t give sealed packet of food items because then chances are they go to the shop and sell it at less than MPR to make money.
Avoid Fake Information Offices
There are sometimes information offices claiming to be tourist office for a particular destination. Don’t go by what they claim, look at the website of that destination and find the information. Don’t let anyone fool you with manipulated information.
First Aid Kit
Always carry the basic cold, cough, fever and stomach ache medicine with you. We are used to certain medication for common problems. It is better to have own medicine because, in different cities, the same medicians are not available. I always carry a strip of these medicines while traveling. It saves lots of trouble in case of any problem.
These precautions are for everyone traveling in any part of the world but more important for the woman and solo women travelers.
Don’t go out in dark and secluded places. If you go out for pubbing and returning late then ask a local friend to drop you to the hotel or book a cab to drop you at the hotel instead of standing alone on road looking for a cab at late hours.
It may happen when you are traveling a long distance train or bus or sitting in restaurants. You will notice that someone is constantly staring, it is very irritating and overwhelming at times. I recommend that you ignore the person. I ignore the person but if that person doesn’t stop staring after some time then I stare back with the hard expression for few minutes. I noticed that most of the time they stop staring. No need to argue or comment, that is not required because most people stare just out of curiosity.
Visiting Holy Places
In India when you visit any holy place like temples then remove shoes, cover head especially when visiting Sikh temple, no need to buy offering they sell outside temples, if you want to offer something then buy some flowers, avoid pundits if they offer you express darshan and visit, do not point your feet at an idol or holy book in sanctum.
Observe people around you and this will help you notice all important places in the temple or religious place.
Travel time to airport and railway station
Always keep some extra time when traveling to airport or railway station to catch your flight or train because it is possible that you may get stuck in traffic. It is better to reach early than missing your flight. Keep the copy of ticket handy, it can be printed copy or ticket in mobile because without this security will not allow you to enter the airport.
Whenever you get room service of any kind at a hotel like someone dropping your luggage in the room after check in or delivering food to your room, it is recommended that you tip between 10 and 20 rupees or more depending upon what level of hotel you are staying.
Though squat toilets are uncomfortable, still I prefer these in public places. They are better in term of hygiene because we don’t sit on the seat and we can avoid unwanted bacterias. This is applicable for only public places not in hotel rooms. These days all hotels have regular sitting toilets.
It is sometimes an issue when traveling in big cities, use mask if you are sensitive. Drink hot black or green tea, it helps in clearing the breathing system.
There is no mandatory vaccination required for India. Still, if you are not sure to ask you doctor for confirmation or if you are allergic to something.
My travel tip for India travel from personal experience is that you must keep mosquito repellent with you. Hand sanitizer we all carry.
Visa and passport
Passport should be valid for six months beyond the period of intended stay.
E-visa is available for 113 countries, you need to apply minimum 4 days or maximum 120 days before the travel date. Double entry is permitted on e-visa. The e-Visa fee depends upon the nationality, it is divided into four slabs of zero, US$25, US$50 and US$75.
Travel to restricted areas
There are some states like Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and some parts of the states of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Mostly close to the international border). If you are going to areas close to the international border then check in advance about entry and take restricted Area Permit (RAP). Indian nationals also required Inner line permit for some of these areas. Special permits are needed to enter Lakshadweep Islands and it is not easy to get a permit for Lakshadweep because once I tried but could not get for these islands.
Best Time to Travel
You can travel in India throughout the year because of diverse climate. The hills and areas closer to the Himalayas are best during summer months. Otherwise, the best time to visit India is from October to March. India is affected by three main seasons .i.e. summer (April to June), monsoon (July to September) and winters (October to March).
If you still hesitant to travel on your own then travel with a group initially for a week to get the feel and then get on your own.
There is no rocket science for traveling in India. Just have an open heart & mind, trust your own instincts. Take clues from others experiences but don’t get prejudiced and make your own experience. India is patriarchal society and due to this you may feel strange in beginning but people are friendly and warm. Don’t do anything, which you won’t do in your own city or country and you will enrich yourself with memories.