Things to know before you go to India

Things to know before you go to India

India is mind-blowing, intense, colorful, difficult to digest, and one of the most fascinating destinations in the world! 

Nothing can really prepare you for the attack on all senses, but you can make your stay much more pleasant in this incredible country by learning a few things before you arrive there. Here is everything you need to know to make the most of your trip. 

Visas

Most visitors are going to need a visa to enter India. You can apply for an e-Visa here if required, at least four and at most 120 days before your arrival date. Also please make sure that your passport still has a minimum of 6 months validity from the moment you enter India. 

Get travel insurance 

You really shouldn’t travel anywhere without travel insurance and India is no exception. If you get ill or injured, any medical treatment you require will be covered by your insurance and will be reimbursed. Some insurance policies will also cover you for theft, lost luggage, cancellations, and anything else that can go wrong during your trip. This will give you peace of mind knowing that no matter what happens you will be taken care of. 

Language

India has 22 official languages. Hindi and English are the most used ones. 

Get vaccinated 

Before traveling to India it is advised to consult your doctor. Depending on your area of travel the doctor may recommend vaccinations like hepatitis, rabies, tetanus, etc. Most vaccinations are best taken before the trip. 

Expect insane traffic  

It is like there are no rules. Cars do not follow lines, street signs, or any other rules found in Europe or America. We noticed that they love to drive between the lanes, finding even the smallest gap to overtake. Honking is like a strong habit and a sign for everything. If you want to pass, just honk. If you want to make it right, just honk. Or maybe you want to sign something, honk again. There are no rules for pedestrians. Don’t expect drivers to stop at pedestrians crossings. Just look left, right, and dodge cars, bikes, and carts when slowly crossing the street Don’t worry, after a while you will get used to it, and you will consider it to be fun! We don’t recommend hiring a car. It is better to hire a car and driver because it would be a lot safer. 

Get ready for culture shock

Whenever you will visit India for the first time, it is guaranteed that you will experience culture shock. There is no use in fighting or trying to change it. You should rather prepare yourself for it and accept things the way they are. Surely, things will not be the same as you are used to back home. Open your mind and try to leave your expectations at home. There are several new customs you will see here that may be strange for you. India is the second most populated country in the world after China, so expect crowds and a lot of things going on around you. People riding on top of busses, or seeing 5 people on a motorcycle are just some of the sights. 
 

Poverty

India is famous not only for its culture but also for overpopulation. The poverty imbalance is huge and the poverty rate is very high throughout the country. You will likely encounter people begging for money in the streets, especially in cities, suburbs, and little towns. If you would like to do something rewarding and help local people you might want to consider going to volunteer in India; there are lots of projects available with local NGOs and charities. 

Stay safe

Generally, the criminality level is moderate and India is relatively safe for tourists. The most common types of crime are theft and scams. It is best to be careful. If an offer is too good to be true. We got scammed on our first day in India. You can read our story here

If you are going to travel solo, especially if you are a woman, be extremely careful, especially at night or when going off the beaten tracks. Always have your guard up when taking a cab and be curious about the route you are going to. 

Heating and hot water

Most of the hotels in India may not have centralized heating. Generally, they have air conditioning or small electric heaters and small water boiling tanks that must be switched on before taking a shower. Be ready to use the cold water after the small tanks get empty.

Public transport 

It doesn’t matter how much you traveled or how many things you saw in your life, transportation in India will amaze you. Expect for the all other means of transportation are really really crowded. Expect to find people traveling on top of buses and trains, and not because they are forced to do so, but because the ticket is 15% cheaper this way. Also, don’t be surprised if you see 7-8 people in a car or rickshaw. It is also very common for people to jump in and out of buses or trains while they are still moving.
 

You will need to use mostly cash

It is better to carry cash because rickshaw drivers, street vendors, and most services accept cash only. On the other hand malls, large supermarkets, and hotels accept all types of cards. There are ATMs available, especially in big cities and tourist areas, but generally, they are scarce to be found. 

Be on your guard when exchanging money

Be aware that many places that exchange money, such as the money exchange offices at the airport, are likely to rip you off. In fact, it is better to get your money from the ATM as they are the safest and they will have the best possible exchange rates. 

Count your change very carefully

This is a tip that applies almost anywhere in the world. Whenever you are buying items or paying for something, make sure that you check your change and count it carefully. It happens very often that someone will make a “mistake” and give you back the wrong amount of change. 

Tipping and taxes

Prices displayed in restaurant menus or hotels don’t include the government tax and VAT. Depending on the state, this is around 7% and alcohol tax can be as high as 20%. Tipping in India is mandatory, and expect everyone to ask for one. 

Cover yourself and dress conservatively

Although the temperature may be warm in India, walking around in a mini skirt or a low cut top is not acceptable. It is a conservative destination and you will draw a lot of unwanted attention to yourself when you dress in a revealing way. Also, if you are visiting a religious site such as a temple, it is disrespectful to dress in this way. Bring along lightweight long pants, shirts that cover your shoulders, and a shawl or sarong to cover your cleavage. 

Wandering cows

You will see a lot of cows wandering freely everywhere, even in major cities. Cows are considered holy in India, so try to get used to them. After a cow is not giving milk anymore, Indians won’t kill them. They are set free and left to wander on the streets. People will feed them because it is considered good karma. 

Understand that personal space isn’t the same as what you are used to

In a country with 1.25 billion people, personal space is not guaranteed. When you are using public transport or walk through the streets, you might find yourself squished and crowded much more than you are used to in your home country. It feels weird at first, but just take a deep breath and go with it. 

Watch out for pickpockets

Overcrowding in tourist spots and popular attractions is common in India. This makes markets, temples, and crowded streets popular places for thieves and pickpocketing. You might want to use safety pockets or locks on your bags and avoid putting money and important documents in your pockets. 
 

Scams 

There are a few types of scams that show up again and again, so if you can be aware of them you will be much less likely to be fooled by them. For example, a common scam is when the taxi driver will pretend not to have heard of your hotel, even if it is a very popular one. Or, they will insist that your hotel has closed down or has moved location. They will do this so that they can suggest another hotel instead, which will give them a commission for bringing in business. You can avoid this by knowing the address of your hotel in advance and having the phone number so that you can call and confirm the location. Read our post about the most common scams in India here

Get a SIM Card 

Being able to use your phone while traveling around India will make things so much easier. You will be able to look up directions on Google Maps, read TripAdvisor reviews before visiting a restaurant, check out travel websites on the go. When you arrive, getting a SIM card with data should be your top priority! 

Don’t expect things to happen on time 

Remember that things happen on “Indian Time”. Trains won’t necessarily leave when they are scheduled, Indian friends might not arrive when they said they would and things can take a lot longer than expected. It’s important to keep this in mind and to allow extra time for delays so that you don’t get stressed out. Take a good book to read while you wait and just sit tight, the things you are waiting for will happen eventually. 

Learn how to haggle

Haggling is a natural part of shopping in India, but it will feel a little bit strange and intimidating at first if you are from a culture where haggling is not the norm. The important thing to remember is that it is not a battle, it is a friendly negotiation. 

The vendor will probably quote a price that is quite high and he is expecting you to give a counter-offer that is lower. Then, you can go back and forth and reach a price that works for both of you. The price is always negotiable and if you don’t haggle, you will end up paying over the odds for nearly everything you purchase. Plus, word will quickly spread to all of the vendors that you are an easy target and everyone will try to charge you more. 

Consider going vegetarian during your trip

Most Indians are vegetarian and the vegetarian food available in India is diverse, healthy, fresh, and delicious. Many travelers choose to eat vegetarian during their visit because it reduces the risk of getting sick from badly prepared meat. 

Bring traveler’s diarrhea tablets

Unfortunately, one of the common experiences that many travelers to India encounter is the dreaded “Delhi Belly”. No matter how careful you may be, your body will not be used to the array of different bacteria that is in the water and food in India. This is why it is good to have traveler’s diarrhea medication with you. If you wait until you are already feeling ill, you will not want to be far away from a toilet and searching in the streets for a pharmacy. A good medication to take is called Loperamide, as it will slow down the movement of your gut, therefore, reducing your symptoms. If you continue to have stomach issues for more than three or four days, see a doctor as you may need an antibiotic. 

Inspect bottled water before purchasing

Unfortunately, some shopkeepers will refill their bottles of water with tap water and then put the lid back on and sell them again. In order to avoid getting ill, make sure that you inspect the water before purchasing. Most types of water bottles will have a plastic seal and if it is broken you can avoid buying it. 

Carry hand sanitizer and toilet paper 

It is a good idea to carry these around with you, as they are rarely found in public washrooms. 

Don’t try to cover too much ground 

One of the most important tips we can give you for traveling in India is to only include a few stops on your itinerary and spend more time in each one rather than trying to cover too much on your trip. Sometimes just walking around in a busy Indian city can be an onslaught to the senses, so you need to budget time in your itinerary for resting and recovering. If you are trying to do too much in too little time, you will suffer from burnout and fatigue. Instead, take your time and explore fewer destinations in more depth. You will have a more enjoyable trip and have more opportunities to connect with the local people.

Go for it! 

The truth is that traveling in India will be much more challenging than traveling in other countries. You might find yourself overwhelmed and exhausted at times, so it is important to take care of yourself and be prepared for this. However, the experience of going to India is absolutely worth it! You will see some incredibly beautiful sights, meet some unforgettable people and get to know a fascinating ancient culture. So just go for it and start planning your trip! 
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