In this post, I am going to write about planning a trip to India, Indian transport and how to travel around India. I live in India and still when research for things I notice that I don’t know so many things. After traveling across the length and breadth of India for so many years, which includes some solo travel in India.
At times it used to be confusing for me when I started traveling solo and I understand that it is more difficult for the foreign travelers coming to India. India is so diverse and culturally different from western countries. I understand everyone does their research when planning a trip to India but still there is so much to know.
I worked with European companies and I remember that it used to be overwhelming for some of the first time visitors to India. When I was in the Fashion industry, 80% of my business associate were women from different European countries. We used to share our views on India and how they felt about everything. Some of them like to try different Indian things, go shopping, eat Indian food while some of them just want to work and go back home asap. Some of my clients liked India so much that they use to come back for vacation. I can say India is country which either you love or hate.
They always have some basic question about how to travel around India, can we travel solo in India, where to travel for the first time in India, how to use transport in India and can we drive in India?
I came up with some basic information and insiders tips for how to travel in India.
How to start planning a trip to India
Here are all the necessary information about Indian transport and places to visit as a first-time traveler to India. These tips are also helpful for the Indian people traveling across India.
Plan number of days in India
India is very diverse and you can not see all of it in one trip. A foreign traveler regardless of his or her country or the validity of Visa can stay in India for 180 days.
If you plan to visit for 2 to 3 weeks then select a particular region and explore that area. Don’t try to rush from one place to another and don’t try to visit maximum places in the short span of time. Feel the place, grasp the culture and not just “see the places”.
For example, if you plan to visit Rajasthan then you need minimum 2 weeks to visit all important cities, for Kerala you need 10 days at least and Goa you can experience in a week. These states have a good transport system still it takes time to travel from one place to another.
So, don’t rush too much because you will be tired by end of the trip and don’t enjoy your trip.
Plan where to go in India
As I mentioned earlier about the diversity of India, it is very important while choosing which places to visit in India. We have Himalayan mountains where you can trek & camps, rivers where you can go rafting or fishing, Forests where you can go for safari and see Tiger & other wild animals in their natural surroundings, tropical beaches and backwaters to relax. If you plan to travel in India with kids then consider the activities and places accordingly.
India is an ancient civilization and different rulers of different ethnicities governed it at different eras and in different places. Due to this, we have some grand forts, palaces, historic monuments, beautiful temples, mosques and churches all across India. The architect and workmanship are very diverse, no two monuments are same. There is a lot of fusion in architecture.
Other then these India is has a lot to offer to the people who look for cultural experience, yoga, Ayurveda, and food. Different regions of India have different things to offer.
Where to start India trip
Once you decided what you want to do and where to go in India. Then it is time to decide where to start your India trip. It is better to start your trip from a laid-back place like Goa, Hampi, Kerala, Rajasthan or up in the Himalayas, which are more tourist friendly. South of India is better to start an India trip in comparison to the North of India.
Don’t start your trip by visiting intense cities like Varanasi, It can be overwhelming for a first-time traveler to India. If you like India then these cities will be your favorite places in India. Start with a slow pace and absorb the feel of India.
After traveling in India for sometime people develop a special connect with India. There are things you don’t like but there are certain things which an expat love about India. Check what is life like in India for an expat.
What is the best time to travel to India
Generally speaking, the best time to visit India is between October to March. These are winter months so temperature is less and it is pleasant to travel.
In case if you are interested in Ayurveda retreats or yoga then travel in monsoon months of July and August. According to Ayurveda rainy season is best for this kind of activities and treatments.
There are so many interesting festivals in India, if you want to experience those then you have to plan accordingly.
So there is a good travel time for India but for certain places in India you can travel all year around.
Book your flights to India
Once you have planned how many days, where you want to go and when you want to go then book your plane tickets for India. While traveling by a direct flight or stopover (which can be cheaper) is a personal choice depending upon budget. I recommend that you should travel to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai because there are more flights to these cities hence the flight tickets prices are better.
Selection of Accommodation on budget
India is an affordable destination for western travelers because things are cheaper here. It was popular among hippies long back. To be honest, when looked at some of the accommodations and areas where they used to stay, I cringe. I personally feel unsafe in that kind of accommodation. There was, infect there is, the wrong perception about foreign travelers staying in those kinds of super cheap areas.
Even if you are on tight budget, select your accommodation in a decent area.
Hostel concept is very new in India but it is fast picking up. There are some nice standalone hostels and also some hostel chains across India. So if you are on a tight budget stay in a hostel instead of a cheap hotel in the dingy area. It will cost from 5 to 100 USD.
Even the hotel industry has evolved a lot after the entry of many hotel aggregators and apps. There is so much competition in the Indian hotel industry that now you can get a decent hotel with no frills between 1200 to 1800 INR (16 to 25 USD) for two people. You can also do couch surfing if you are in contact with someone in India for local experience.
Choose the accommodation wisely because a good place can always make or break your experience.
Book accommodation for a few days
I personally recommend that you should book accommodation for initial few days. In this way, you can ask your hotel to arrange a pick up from the airport if you are landing at night. It is so much convenient and safe in a new country or a new city.
Work on Budget in General
In general, India is cheap and you can survive on less money. Work on your budget and decide how much you want to splurge. A budget traveler can survive in 30-35 USD a day depending upon activities you choose to do. Keep in mind that entry ticket for some famous monuments is higher. For example, an entry ticket for Taj Mahal will cost you 15 USD. While making budget consider these things.
Otherwise, it is a choice between comfort and money as it’s everywhere else.
Get your Visa
You can apply for Indian visa online but it takes time to process and so keep that in my when you plan your trip. If you physically apply it will take 4-5 working days but at times it can take a week to 10 days also. It’s ideal to apply two weeks before the trip. For more information check this Indian Government website
Indian transport and How to travel in India
Air travel in India
In the last one-decade airline sector has evolved in India. Many budget airlines started operating across India, which made air travel quite affordable.
Now the air travel has become cheaper and convenient as compared to other modes of travel. If you are traveling for a few weeks and have a fixed itinerary then book air tickets in advance. If you book plane tickets 30-45 days or more in advance then you will get cheaper prices. Sometimes air tickets are cheaper or equivalent to the AC train tickets.
I personally check the air ticket prices on websites of popular aggregators like Make My Trip or Expedia before making a booking. Also, check the cost of a ticket on airlines website for comparison before making a final booking.
Train travel in India
The Indian railways are the 5th largest rail network in India after US, Russia, Canada, and China. It is government operated system and that’s why the prices of non-air conditioned class tickets are very cheap.
Train connectivity is very good in India except for the mountain regions. It is one of the best-connected travel networks. The advance booking for train tickets starts 120 days before the travel date and for some sectors tickets sell faster. It’s better to book a train ticket in advance to avoid inconvenience at the last moment.
The international tourist bureaus for booking a train ticket are located on all major railway stations and they have special quota for foreign nationals.
Now the train tickets can be booked online on IRCTC’s website with the international mobile number and credit card.
Bus travel in India
The bus network and booking system have improved a lot in the last few years. The buses are the most practical way to travel to mountain areas of the Himalayas where there is no train network. There are many private companies operating buses and most of these buses are Volvo buses with comfortable seating. Some of the long-distance buses have bunk beds for sleeping. The bus tickets can be booked online on different travel aggregators websites. The most popular ones are Red Bus, MakeMyTrip, Goibibo, Cleartrip, and Yatra.
Other than these many Indian state governments operate bus services between different cities. My favorite is Rajasthan state government corporation and Himachal road transport corporation. Interestingly Rajasthan government’s bus service offers 30% discount to female travelers.
Other than booking online bus tickets, you can go to the main bus station to catch a bus. There are so many regular air cool buses from one city to another though there is no seat reservation in these. You will get a seat in these buses on first come first serve basis. The ticket price for these buses is much cheaper than reserved Volvo buses.
Water travel in India
The inland water travel in India is still in its initial stage. Though waterways in India are defined like highways.
The most popular and best-managed waterways and inland water travel is in the backwater of Kerala. The State water transport department of Kerala government operate tourist and other boats to several parts of Kerala from Alappuzha. These boats are very economical and a good way to experience the backwaters of Kerala. This is a great experience which I recommend everyone in India.
Travel in cities of India
Public transport in most cities is not very tourist friendly and quite crowded. The most economical mode of transport in cities are Tuk-Tuk, which in India are known as autorickshaw.
Nowadays cab aggregator like Uber and Ola are available in most of the cities. The cost of riding by these cabs can be equivalent to the cost of an autorickshaw. Download these apps if you have taken an Indian sim card.
Delhi Metro is a good public transport system in Delhi.
Cycle rickshaw is another popular mode of travel in cities for short distances. Many people find it inhumane to ride it because another human being is pulling it for them. But there is another side to this. The people pulling rickshaw are the mostly unskilled workforce of India and it is a decent source of income for them to live with dignity.
Get an international driving license because if you are going to places like Goa or Hampi and some other tourist places then you can rent a scooter. The motorbikes and scooters are an economical and convenient mode of transport in many tourist places. If you have a valid international driving license then you have an advantage.
I don’t advise a foreign traveler to drive in big cities like Delhi or Mumbai because traffic and driving experience can be overwhelming.
In short, I can say that Indian culture is very different from Western culture and it can be a cultural shock for some people. So mentally prepare yourself and do some reading about India. At times it can feel strange or chaotic, so keep your mind open for unfamiliar.
India is a place to see, experience and feel with an open heart. Indian people are welcoming and hospitable but like a basket of eggs there are some rotten eggs, these people may try to scam you. Use your common sense and avoid these people, don’t let someone ruin your experience.