Travelling in India is one of the most amazing travel experiences you can have. If you’re from a western, English-speaking country then travelling in India is likely going to be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. The colours, the sounds, the smells, the sights…everything is new.
Back in 2008, I spent a month in India as part of a World Challenge Expedition when I was 17. We spent two weeks hiking in the Himalayas, a week in a small mountain village and the rest of the time travelling around and visiting the sites such as the Taj Mahal and New Delhi.
If you’re planning to travel to India, check out these travelling in India tips to make sure you have a happy, healthy and fun trip!
Traveling in India tips: 15 things you should know before you go
India is fun and exciting but there are some things you need to know to help you enjoy your trip there. Here are some of my tips based on my trip and those of friends.
1. Expect the culture shock
If you’re planning a trip to India, chances are you’re aware of just what a different experience you’re likely to get.
India is full-on.
It’s different from anywhere else I’ve travelled and once you learn to embrace the culture shock and go with it, you’re going to have a great time!
From cows in the middle of the streets to kites being flown from rooftops, elephants walking down the main street of a town, tuk-tuks, motorcycles and cars beeping incessantly and a mudslide blocking our route out of the mountains, I had so many new experiences during my month in India and they’re some of my best travel memories to date.
2. Do your research
India is huge and there’s no way you’re going to see it all (unless your trip is spanning several years!). One of the biggest tips for India travel is to do your research. Doing your research and making sure you’re not trying to cover too much ground will be vital for a fun trip.
There are plenty of places that could be considered the best places to visit in India; Goa, Delhi, the Himalayas…
Doing your research includes reading posts like this to know what to expect, looking up travel times between the places you want to go and (realistically) planning based on that.
Some people love to share their travel terrors rather than the good parts, while others want to share only the good parts and not the others.
Chances are you’re going to experience both good and bad times while travelling in India but they’ll make for excellent travel tales when you return home.
Was I thrilled to have to sleep on a cramped minibus after hiking for 2.5 weeks in the mountains due to a mudslide? No. Do I think it’s now a cool story? Yes.
3. Enjoy the food but known English Indian food is very different
If you’re travelling to India because you love your English-style butter chicken or Vindaloo and want the ‘real’ thing, you’re probably going to be a little disappointed.
Indian food, real Indian food, is delicious but it’s nothing like what they serve in most restaurants back home.
The spices are different, dishes are usually less sweet and creamy and the sauces are thinner than they are in the UK and other countries around the world.
Tomatoes are more commonly used in Indian dishes, sauces vary depending on the meat used and heat from chillies isn’t such a dominant aspect of the food. It’s also common to find lots of vegetarian dishes such as dahl, pakora and more. Enjoy!
4. Delhi belly & traveller’s diarrhea tablets
If you tell someone you’re going to India, they’re probably going to say something along the lines of “oh, don’t get Delhi belly” at some point in the conversation.
And yes, Delhi belly is a thing but it’s by no means inevitable.
I managed not to get it during our trip, and I know plenty of others who also didn’t.
However, there are some precautions you should take to avoid it and have a more enjoyable trip.
Some of the top tips for travelling India and avoiding Delhi belly are:
- Inspect bottled water: sometimes bottled water is not what you’re expecting and is a bottle refilled with tap water. Our westernized stomachs aren’t used to this water and it’s probably going to cause some upset. Check the seal on the bottles before purchasing.
- Avoid ice in drinks and ice creams for the same reasons as above.
- Consider going vegetarian: These days I eat mostly veggie at home and including when I’m backpacking. Not only does much of the Indian population eat mostly vegetarian, but it’s delicious, good for you and can help avoid upset stomachs from meat that’s been left out a bit too long compared to what we’re used to.
5. Get the necessary vaccinations or medications
Part of your research for your trip should include looking up the recommended vaccinations or medications for your trip.
During my trip to India, I was taking Diamox for altitude sickness in the Himalayas as well as Malarone for malaria. I’d also had some travel vaccinations for things like Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis since we were hiking in very rural areas.
The NHS fit to fly website has great travel to India tips and advice when it comes to travel health!
6. Forget your understanding of personal space
India’s population is huge. As of writing, it stands at 1.38 billion. And while, yes, it’s a big country, that’s still a lot of people. In Mumbai alone, there are around 12.5 million people and over 11 million in Delhi.
All that to say that you’re going to have to give up your understanding of personal space when travelling in India. This is the same for my China travel tips too and you should expect people to stand very close to you in queues, as you’re walking through cities and elsewhere.
It takes some getting used to but you’ll just enjoy that personal space more when you return home!
7. Be aware of pollution
Though I don’t particularly remember there being too much pollution when I visited India, India is home to 22 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world.
The air can feel smoggy and thick and it’s not just the insane humidity you can get in places like Delhi.
As we’ve become accustomed to doing so anyway, bringing a mask would be a good idea to help protect yourself against the smoke. Especially if you’re in a tuk-tuk and don’t want to breathe in additional vehicle fumes or dust.
Another top travel tip for India is to use the AQI (air quality indicator) to check what the levels are where you are and take precautions as necessary.
8. Dress conservatively and wear appropriate clothing
Part of travelling is exploring and discovering new cultures and ways of life. It’s important to be respectful of cultures when travelling. Not only is it just good manners but it’ll also help you avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself.
When it comes to what to wear in India, many people wear jeans and a t-shirt and it’s best practice to keep your shoulders covered when visiting religious buildings. Don’t wear tight clothing (this will also help keep you cooler!) and if wearing leggings you should do so underneath a dress or skirt.
Clothing recommendations also change a little depending on where you’re visiting. In Goa, which is a popular tourist destination, you’re more likely to get away with wearing whatever you like.
9. Be wary of scams & pickpockets
As with any country, there are people out there looking to scam you. Every country and city has its own scams and cities in India are no different especially if you’re in what’s considered more tourist places in India.
One of the biggest scams in India is to do with buying tickets for trains and India tours. There are a number of “tourists offices” in Delhi that will try and sell you tickets and tours but there’s only one official tourism company that will sell you the real thing.
One of the biggest tips for traveling to India is to buy your tickets online at IndiaRail (the official site) where possible. If you know your plan and plan to stick to it this is a great option, if you’re more of a ‘go with the flow’ type of traveller, then make sure to buy your tickets within the train stations, rather than at a store.
Other scams include those at temples and mosques where a man may put a red dot on your forehead and ask for money. You don’t need to give money, nor do you need to go along with this if you don’t wish to.
There are also the common travel scams of taxi drivers claiming they don’t know your hotel or that it’s closed down and then trying to take you to another one that their friend owns, or where they get a commission. Make sure you keep the number and address of the hotel you’re staying at easy to hand so you can call them or insist you are taken to that address.
10. Be prepared for locals to want photos with you
When you go to India, it’s not unusual to find you’re drawing attention. In some places you’ll travel, locals won’t have seen many white-skinned, fair hair people or tall women. If you’re both a woman, tall and have blonde or red hair then the chances are you’re going to be stopped for photos quite a bit, or notice people taking photos of you.
Thom and I have had people stand next to us when we’re taking photos of each other, as well as whole families wanting photos with us.
It’s strange, to begin with, but you can politely decline if you’re uncomfortable with it.
11. Don’t forget travel insurance
As with any trip you’re planning, travel insurance is important! You never know when you’re going to get sick, lose something or have something cancelled leaving you out of pocket.
If you’ve got good travel insurance you can recoup some of these costs and not have to worry about the price of medical care should you need it.
12. Travel with snacks
While street food can be delicious it can also not be. A good travel tip for India, and for other countries too, is to travel with snacks!
Pick up your favourites from markets and stores and keep some in your day bag too so that you can keep hunger at bay (and avoid h-anger if you’re anything like me!).
13. Get a local sim card for your phone
If your current sim card charges a lot for data while travelling in India, then it’s worth getting a local sim card.
This way you can look up directions on Google maps, check out bus and train schedules and things to do as you get around. Having the access to internet is like having your own travel guide for India in your pocket.
In India, Airtel and Vodafone India are the biggest network providers. In general, Vodafone and Airtel work well in North India but Airtel is reported to work better in South India than Vodafone might.
If you’re flying to Delhi or Mumbai, you can pick up a sim card at the airport. This makes things super easy and means you’re connected right from the go! Some hotels and hostels will also be able to sell you a sim card too.
14. Carry hand sanitizer and toilet paper
We’re all pretty used to carrying hand sanitizer these days, and I’d recommend ensuring you’ve got that and some toilet paper with you at all times when travelling in India.
Toilets and rest stops may leave something to be desired compared to what most of us are used to and chances are you’ll be grateful for having these two small items.
15. Learn to travel slow and go with the flow
Don’t expect everything to run to schedule when you’re getting around India. It’s not uncommon for buses and trains to leave late or not at all.
Travelling in India is a good lesson in being flexible and going with the flow – something I struggle with sometimes – but travel is a great way to learn!
Have you travelled to India? What are your top India tips?