India Travel Tips for First-timers
Mesmerizing, gigantic, beautiful, chaotic, exasperating, dynamic, and fantastic – India is all this and much much more. Traveling 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 experience which you are going to cherish all your life.
However, traveling to India can be quite overwhelming and challenging for first-time visitors. As soon as you land, you may feel disoriented seeing the crowded and tumultuous cities. If you are already booked or are planning to travel to India, check these 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 it all 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 in one trip, you are making a big mistake. Try to 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 Taj Mahal, Goa, and Delhi. Explore places like Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh which are away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and give you opportunity to rejuvenate yourself.
2. Plan Ahead
India packs a lot of amazing experiences and sights within its vast borders. So plan, organise and make your reservations in advance. 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 very expensive, 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. So if your plans go awry, accept it and go with the flow. November is one of the best times to visit India.
3. Forget personal space
Indians are very curious by nature and they don’t understand the concept of personal space. They will stare, ask intrusive questions, request for 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
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 pyjamas 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. Watch what you eat
Unfortunately, India has a bad reputation for travelers succumbing to ‘Delhi Belly’ (upset stomach). So one has to be extra cautious about what you eat. 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 diarrhoea, fever and vomiting. Don’t forget to get the necessary shots before you leave your country.
6. Know the Transportation
India has a 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 in trains 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 cleaner, roomier and superior facilities – opt for air-conditioned coaches even in winters. Be vigilant and carry locks and chain 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 Metros (in a few big cities), buses, taxis, auto-rickshaws, and mini-vans. 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.
7. Beware of Fraudsters and Touts –
One has to be extra vigilant while traveling in India. People will try to extort money from you – from cab drivers, shopkeepers, beggars, currency-exchangers, porters, street-vendors, guides to even small kids. 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 which have no written prices. Beware of fake products, fake tickets, small thefts, and pick pockets. 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.
8. Pack Diligently
If you are visiting India in the summer months, pack lots of cottons and linens as it can be scorching hot. Winter conditions vary in every region, so check the weather conditions before packing your woolens. Keep suntan lotion, umbrellas, face mask, 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. Public Toilets in India leave a lot to be desired, so it is better to be well prepared and carry your own toilet roll, soap, and hand sanitizer. Try to use washrooms in restaurants, malls, and hotels as they will be much cleaner.
9. Follow Social Etiquette
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 here. 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 India. Avoid public display of affection as Indians are not used to it. In a few places, kissing in public is an offence. 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-picketers 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
11. 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 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. Choose accommodation wisely
Every city in India has a plethora of choices for lodgings. You have hostels, guesthouses, home-stays, dharamshalas, 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 its culture. Every state has its own language and many dialects. Don’t fret as all signboards, road names and crucial information are written in English. Most of the 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.
15. Stay Safe
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. Indian police can be called by dialling 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 this tips will help you to enjoy your Indian holiday.
While visiting Delhi, don’t miss the iconic Chandni Chowk
PC – Flickr.com