India Travel Tips for First-timer Visitors

India Travel Tips for First-time Visitors

Mesmerizing, gigantic, beautiful, chaotic, exasperating, dynamic, and fantastic – India is all this and much much more. Traveling to India is pretty much on everyone’s bucket list. There is so much diversity of culture, languages, history, landscape, and cuisines, that it is impossible to experience them all in one life span. While traversing through India, you are going to have one of the most rewarding and remarkable experiences that you are going to cherish all your life.

However, traveling to India can be quite challenging for first-time visitors. As soon as you land, you may feel disoriented and overwhelmed. After passing some time in the crowded and tumultuous cities, you may need a respite from the sensory overload. However, don’t let these minor problems dissuade you from visiting India. If you are vigilant and follow some basic tips, things are quite manageable. Check these India travel tips so that you are better equipped to visit this amazing country. These travel tips will help the first-timers to have a stress-free, healthy, and safe Indian holiday. 

1. Don’t Try to see all of India in one trip

India is huge, dense, and well-spread out. The list of must-sees is so long, that it is impossible to write them down. If you are trying to cram too much into one trip, you are making a big mistake. Concentrate on a few areas and experiences rather than trying to tick everything off your list. Traveling between cities can take time, especially by road and train. Keep your plans realistic or be prepared to suffer from fatigue and burnout. Remember that India has much more to offer than the Taj Mahal, Goa, Rajasthan, Kashmir, and Delhi. Explore places like Ladakh, Sikkim, Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Kutch which are away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and give you the opportunity to rejuvenate yourself. 

2. Plan Ahead for your Indian vacation

India packs a lot of amazing experiences and sights within its vast borders. So plan, organize, and make your reservations in advance. It is also a good idea to get all your entry documents in advance of your departure to India. An itinerary that takes one week in Europe may take double the time in India. Trains in India get booked months beforehand, and flight tickets can be costly if bought last minute. Remember the country boasts of a population of 1.35 billion and is always bursting with tourists.

India has diverse and extreme weather conditions. Thankfully, there are some places worth visiting every time of the year. So plan accordingly. The best time to visit India is from October to March.  Avoid May-July as the temperatures are soaring in most parts of the country. However, India can be unpredictable. Religion, weather, politics, and transport system may disrupt your carefully laid-out plans. So if your plans go awry, accept it and go with the flow. November and December are the best months to visit India.

India Travel Tips
Ram Bagh, Jaipur

3. Forget personal space in India

Indians are very curious by nature and they don’t understand the concept of personal space. They will stare, ask intrusive questions, request pictures, follow you, and even touch you. It can be frightening and frustrating, but you have to remember that it is a different culture. People are raised in big joint families and are used to sharing everything. Most of it is harmless, so take a deep breath and be assertive. If you are female, don’t be over-friendly with men as it may give a wrong signal. Don’t hesitate to call for help if someone is being persistent.

4. Dress Conservatively in India

India is a conservative country and you have to dress accordingly. Showing lots of legs, cleavage, or shoulders will get you unwanted attention, especially in small towns and villages. In metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai, you can take more liberties with your dressing. Always carry a sarong and loose pajamas with you that can be used for cover-ups. Unless you are on a beach, keep yourself covered and try to blend with the crowd.

5. In India, watch what you eat

Unfortunately, India has a bad reputation for travelers succumbing to ‘Delhi Belly’ (traveler’s diarrhea). So one has to be extra cautious about what one eats. Indian food is lip-smackingly delicious and has amazing diversity but it is spicy and can be unhygienic. So choose your food wisely and never overeat. Avoid salads, fresh juices, cut fruits, ice-cubes, and milk products at all costs. Eat sparingly, avoid very spicy food, drink bottled water (check the seal), and focus on hygiene and quality. 

Street food in India is yum. If you can’t resist the spicy Pav Bhaji, succulent jalebis, mouth-watering Chola-Bhature, or crispy dosa – visit busy and clean stalls, eat only freshly cooked dishes and avoid food like panipuri, meat, and fresh juices. In fact, it is a good option to turn vegetarian – the choices are mind-blowing and it is much safer. Travel with medicines for common ailments like diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Don’t forget to get the necessary shots before you leave your country.

6. Know the Transportation 

India has very efficient intercity and interstate transportation. You can choose to travel via flights, trains, buses, and taxis. Indian Railways has one of the largest networks in the world. Traveling by train is the best way to know local people and their culture from close quarters. If you are going to use trains for long distances, do not opt for the cheapest fares as the coaches would be really crowded and very basic. Looking for a cleaner, roomier and superior facilities? Opt for air-conditioned coaches even in winters. Be vigilant and carry locks and chains to secure your luggage as thefts in trains are quite common. Don’t expect trains and buses to depart or arrive on time. All tickets can be booked online through websites like MakeMyTrip and Cleartrip.

For traveling within the city, you can use Metro(in a few big cities), buses, taxis, auto-rickshaws, and mini-vans. Keep a lookout for pickpockets in a crowded metro/bus. Using Uber or the local Ola is a good option as you don’t have to endlessly explain your destination and haggle for prices. Uber can also be used for inter-city trips, especially for short distances. They are not that expensive and much more convenient, especially if you have more than one person in your group.

India Travel Tips
India Railways

7. Beware of Fraudsters and Touts  

One has to be extra vigilant while traveling in India. From cab drivers, shopkeepers, beggars, currency-exchangers, porters, street vendors, guides to even small kids – everyone will try to extort money from you. Vendors and guides have become a pro at ripping tourists and expect the prices to be tripled at least. Compare prices and bargain hard if you are buying from street shops that have no written prices. Beware of fake products, fake tickets, small thefts, and pickpockets. 

Don’t give anything to beggars, or you will be hounded by more. Make your bookings from trusted or government-approved sites. Avoid deals that look too good to be true. India is a very affordable destination and most of the things are really cheap. As a tourist, you will always pay a little more. Accept it and try to minimize the damage. Remember those street sellers really need the money. Take recommendations from frequent travelers & locals so that you experience the place in the best possible way and don’t end up in tourist traps. 

8. Pack Diligently for your Indian trip

If you are visiting India in the summer months, pack lots of cotton and linens as it can be scorching hot during that time. The hot and humid conditions may tempt you to bring flimsy and skimpy clothing, but remember India is an orthodox country. It is best to be conservative in your dressing in smaller cities and towns. Winter conditions vary in every region, so check the weather conditions before packing your woolens. Keep suntan lotion, umbrellas, face masks, sanitizer, insect repellent, hat, scarves, wet wipes, adapter, and medicine kit handy. Don’t overpack as you won’t be able to resist shopping in India. 

9. Follow Social Etiquette in India

Indian culture is very different and you are bound to get a culture shock when you reach India. The Western culture and logic will not apply here, so forget them while you are in India. There are so many languages, caste, festivals that you will soon lose track. Indians are sensitive about their traditions and it is better to follow some of their etiquettes when you visit the country. 

Avoid public display of affection as Indians are not used to it. In a few places, kissing in public is an offense. Pay attention to gender-specific areas. Train, Metros, queues, religious places all have a separate section for women and this rule has to be followed strictly. Respect the elders/Indian Gods, use your right hand for eating, remove your shoes before entering the temple and cover your legs and shoulders before entering the temple. Many vegetarians are not comfortable eating in places where there are non-vegetarian dishes around. Confused about local customs? Follow the locals and you will survive. Indian have their share of culture shocks when they travel 

10. Carry Cash

Credit cards and Debit cards are used widely in major cities and it is easy to withdraw money from ATMs. You still need to keep cash in hand to pay the street vendors, small hotels, porters, rickshaws, etc. Cards and ATMs may not work in small towns and villages, so always keep a reasonable amount of cash with you. Guard your money against pick-pocketers in crowded places. Keep small cash handy for everyday purchases. Avoid exchanging currency at airports as they give the worst exchange rates. India is one of the best places to travel on a budget

India Travel Tips
Things you should NOT do in India

11. India’s traffic Is Insane

Indian cities are noisy and chaotic. There is mind-boggling traffic – cars, motorbikes, cows, buses, trucks, carts vendors, cyclists, throngs of people all jostle with each other to get space on the narrow streets. Horns are screeching, traffic rules are ignored and there is chaos everywhere. Sidewalks are full of street vendors, potholes, and building materials. It is a daunting task to cross the roads as traffic never stops and pedestrians are given no priority. Follow the locals if you want to cross busy roads – they are pro at the art of navigating congested roads. Driving in India can be tricky, so it is better to use taxis. They are quite affordable if you are not on a shoe-sting budget.

12.  Take a local sim

Don’t forget to buy a local sim with an internet plan. You may need to call someone in an emergency. Passport or ID proof is mandatory to buy a sim in India. Data becomes a necessity for Google maps, Google translation, Uber/Ola, restaurant reviews, travel tips, and other Apps. Data plans by Airtel, Vodafone, and Jio are very cheap in India. It may take a few hours before the sim gets activated.

13.  In India, choose accommodation wisely

Every city in India has a plethora of choices for lodgings. You have hostels, guesthouses, home-stays, Dharamshala, Airbnbs, hotels, and resorts. The prices start from $4-5 dollars a night for hostels to $500 dollars for the swanky resorts. The facilities in cheap accommodations would be really spartan, so choose judiciously. It is better to go with mid-budget hotels in India. They provide good value for your money and are very comfortable in all aspects.

14.  Learn the native Language 

In India, languages are as diverse as their culture. Every state has its own language and many dialects. There is nothing to worry about as all signboards, road names, and crucial information are written in English. Most people speak and understand English (fluent or broken). However, in small villages or towns, people may not know English. So it would not hurt to pick up a few basic words in Hindi or the local language. It would help you to communicate and negotiate with locals and earn some brownie points in the process.

India Travel Tips for First-Time Visitors
India Travel Tips

15. Learn to use the Indian Toilets

In India, people use water and their hands to clean their bottoms. Most homes and public places rely on water and won’t have toilet paper. There is a tap or spray installed near the toilet seat with no provision of toilet paper. Carry your own toilet roll at all times if you are not comfortable with the traditional Indian way. Till today, it is common to find squat toilets in India, so check before you enter the washroom. Public Toilets in India leave a lot to be desired in terms of cleanliness, infrastructure, and hygiene. Better to be well prepared with your own toilet roll, soap, seat cover, and hand sanitizer. Try to use washrooms in restaurants, malls, and hotels as they will be much cleaner.

16.  Stay Safe while traveling in India

India is an amazing destination, but it is very different from other destinations in the world. You will fall in love with its incredible beauty, amazing history, delicious cuisine, and diverse culture, but it can also exhaust and overwhelm you. It is an experience like no other and you should not miss it because you are afraid to deal with its complexities and contrasts. Be cautious, stay calm, and take precautions. Don’t travel at odd hours, avoid secluded areas, carry photocopies of important documents, wear a mask in big polluted cities, and don’t trust people blindly. Traveling in a group is another safe way to travel in India. Indian police can be called by dialing 100 and ambulance by 102. If the din and chaos of the big cities become too much to handle, escape to the spectacular mountains or rural areas to have a breather.  Hope these tips will help you to enjoy your Indian holiday.

While visiting Delhi, don’t miss the iconic Chandni Chowk.

PC – Flickr.com

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Mike

    Very useful tips!!

  2. Aidan

    Great tips. India is definitely on the bucket list so I’ll be referring to this when I eventually go.

  3. Sarah

    These are all great tips! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Vinn

    Love this post! So real and straight to the point. Very useful for travelers. Still India is amazing. Until now I can’t decide where to go for my first trip to India!

    1. Takeoffwithme

      You can start with Rajasthan if you are interested in history, culture, and food.

  5. Mohan

    Hi, I thoroughly enjoyed this post! India is unique for its culture and tradition which means unity in diversity. This is a perfect post for first-time travelers in India!! Thank you so much for the wonderful article!!

  6. Rachel

    I like the honesty of this post and the tips are very helpful 😀

  7. Sophia patel

    This is such an informative (and realistic guide) so thank you. I have only been to India once (I have family out there) but should I return this guide is the perfect too. Thank you!

  8. Bela

    Very useful tips for an Indian trip

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