How to Survive Travel to India as a Beginner, What to Eat & Drink, Women-Specific Tips, Scams to Avoid & Everything Else You Need to Know
We’re Asher & Lyric.
We’ve traveled to India over 10 times during the past 10 years (that’s us pictured). It’s one of our favorite places on Earth – we absolutely love it!
Here’s the deal:
Many of our friends who visited India got terribly sick, ripped off and even scammed.
So we were compelled to create this website to help people prepare for the trip of a lifetime.
And most recently:
After 10 years of work, we have finally released Travel India Safely for FREE on YouTube. In this 13-episode online video course, we teach all our “secrets” to traveling India smarter and safer (and without getting sick or scammed!)… It’s based on our own decade of traveling India, tips from other expat experts living 15+ years in India, countless hours of research, and much more…
If you have any questions or concerns about your upcoming trip and want to be fully prepared then this is the course for you.
Click below to watch our free video sharing all our tips for eating Indian food safely.
1) Only eat freshly cooked food. This is the best way to avoid getting sick due to bacteria or a parasite. Cooking kills everything.
2) Don’t eat salads, juices or anything raw. Uncooked food will inevitably be washed with contaminated water which will make you go running for the toilet. If you’re a raw foodist, I recommend you change your diet while in India.
3) Eat exclusively from respectable restaurants that are busy. Also try the 4 and 5 star hotels if you want to be certain of amazingly delicious, safe food.
4) Never eat street food. Some people brag about how they ate Indian street food and didn’t get sick but it’s simply not worth it. I even had a friend who died from an E. Coli infection due to eating unsafe Indian street food!
5) Probiotics and charcoal are amazing.Probiotics boost the good bacteria in your stomach, improve digestion and increase natural immunity. They are a must before traveling to India and especially during your travels. Charcoal tablets on the other hand are an incredibly effective way of stopping diarrhea and preventing dysentery. It quickly absorbs the toxins or pathogens that are causing the problem. As always, be sure to get advice form your doctor.
6) Avoid too much spicy food, especially chilli’s. Some spices are good but in my experience chilli’s act as a laxative which is probably something you don’t want.
7) Consider becoming a vegetarian while you’re there. India has the lowest meat consumption rates in the world (see graph below). The meat I’ve seen looks very unsafe, often hanging in the warm, open air with flies buzzing around. In fact, due to Hindu religious reasons, the state of Maharashtra has banned beef altogether. If you can, I recommend being a vegetarian while in India to reduce the chances of getting serious food poisoning.
8) Don’t overeat. It will weaken your digestion and immunity which makes you an easy target for bacteria. To help with my digestion and overall health I also take Organic Amla Berry tablets and another immunity boosting, ayurvedic herb called Bio-Immune.
9) Use your hands – it’s fun! Your hands are often the cleanest utensil since you know where they’ve been and the joy of using your hands is well worth trying. Although, remember to use hand sanitizer!
10) Local’s restaurants offer all-you-can-eat meals for $1! Be wary of hygiene and only go to the best, busy restaurants you can find. Get advice from the locals.
11) Family home dining is a pleasure but take precautions. I’ve had the best food of my life at peoples homes. Again, it is important to be cautious and don’t drink tap water, only have cooked food. Also don’t eat too fast because they will keep piling the food on your plate and expect you to eat it and even force-feed you if you’re not careful! 🙂
Below is a bonus tip from one of my India travel mentors:
12)“Most restaurants overwhelm their dishes with burning hot spices and oil. If you don’t want it flaming hot, insist: No hot spicing. Garam Masala Nahin! You can also try ordering “Jain Vegetarian” food, which is less spicy and more refined. Unfortunately, that won’t help if the food has been prepared in advance with red hot chili powder. You may need to order some side dishes of plain rice and boiled veggies, to cool down your meal.”
13) Only drink bottled water. All the tap water in India is contaminated with pollutants and amoebas. By only drinking good bottled mineral water you will help avoid getting sick. The only brands I recommend are Bisleri, Kinley & Aquafina. Other brands are not trustworthy.
14) Stay well hydrated. India is typically hot and dry. Drink at least 2 liters (1/2 gallon) per day to stay healthy and strong.
15) If you’re trekking, bring a water filter. In rare cases where bottled water isn’t available such as while trekking, you’ll need a Katadyn Pocket Water Filter or at least a LifeStraw so that you can get safe water from flowing rivers. Boil it as well if possible and you can also use Iodine tablets to be extra safe.
16) Coconut water is amazing. Fresh coconuts are extremely good at hydrating you, boosting your electrolytes and making an upset stomach, happy. Although, don’t drink coconuts unless you’re satisfied with cleanliness of both the straw and knife that the vendor is using.
17) Chai is great in the early morning. Chai is good for digestion because it has ginger and cardamom added. It should be safe to drink as long as you see them boiling it and you’re certain the cup is clean. Price should be no more than 10 rupees.
18) Coca-Cola can be a godsend. There’s a popular folklore that Coke kills bacteria and aids a disturbed stomach. This may or may not be true but it sure is nice to have a cold Coke on a hot afternoon in India!
19) Electrolytes are a must. If you get dysentery, electrolytes are a must for staying hydrated. I recommend bringing one box from home because otherwise they can be low quality and taste a bit nasty if bought in India.
20) Avoid ice in drinks. Since the ice is most likely created from a poor quality water source I advise you to not have any drinks with ice in it. If the drink such as Coke has been chilled in the fridge, that is of course fine.
21) Don’t brush your teeth with tap water. As annoying as it may seem, I advise you to only brush your teeth with bottled water. This is because your gums can be a direct path to the blood stream and therefore easier for infection to get in.
22) Shower with care. Don’t open your mouth or eyes in the shower to help avoid the water getting in any unwanted orifice.
23) Bathe in holy rivers at your own risk. Taking a dip in the Ganges can be a magical experience but again, close your eyes and mouth and block your nose and ears to avoid getting too much water in the wrong hole.
Below is a bonus tip from a fellow India travel expert:
24) “Definitely don’t ever drink tap water and generally avoid ice cubes in whatever you do drink. Bottled water is not always what it says on the bottle. Try to buy from reliable places like grocery stores or hotels. Remember that water isn’t the only thing you need to stay hydrated. Bring electrolyte salts in some form and dilute them in water. A UV filter is also really handy when you’re in a pinch and thirsty but don’t trust the water. We bought a steriPEN. You swirl it around for 90 seconds and voila! According to the manufacturer, it destroys 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.”
25) Know that a “gift” can quickly turn into a sale. No matter what the “gift” is, be sure it is actually a gift before accepting it. Otherwise you can be quickly hit with a bill.
26) All shop keepers will try to rip you off. A simple way to minimize this is to only go to “fixed rate” shops, bring a local with you or you’ll need to quickly learn how to bargain like an Indian.
27) Don’t give money to beggars. This can attract an army of beggars after you and helps sustain their often drug-driven “profession”.
28) Be wary of all drivers especially auto rickshaw drivers. Drivers in India are renowned for their dishonesty and tricks to try to make more money from you. E.g they may take you to the wrong hotel or quote you a price that is five times the fair rate.
29) Learn to avoid fake “information offices”. The way to know is that everything looks dodgy, there are no computers (or not many), no proper desks and they tell you that all trains or hotels are fully booked out due to some “event”. This can be a front for the mafia so be careful and make sure it’s legit before following directions from them.
30) Children may want pens and beggars want milk. In both cases, they often have an arrangement with a shop to return the item for cash after you leave!
31) Trinket and gemstone scams. At any tourist location there are likely to be people touting trinkets and sometimes gemstones for sale. Unless you’re buying something as a souvenir don’t entertain their hype and always bargain them way down. The “gemstones” won’t have real value and can be a popular scam for unsuspecting tourists.
32) Watch out for people tampering with food or drink. Always check beverage bottle caps to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with and don’t accept food from strangers.
33) Be careful when exchanging money. ATM’s are the safest way to get cash because the machine won’t scam you. 🙂
34) Always count your change carefully! No matter who you are dealing with, always watch out for “miscalculations”. Use a calculator on your phone to help deter them from trying to scam you. This is especially important around large financial transactions.
35) Keep away from the mafia. If something is fishy then it probably is a scam or trap (sometimes organized by the mafia). Do your research and have your wits about you especially around train stations, popular tourist attractions (e.g Taj Mahal) and cheap hotels.
36) Get experience with true local pricing. To do this, you’ll need to know what the locals would pay for the same product or service and then you’ll know how low the shop keeper, driver or hotel etc is willing to go. An Indian friend (or stranger) or guide can help you with this.
37) SIM cards for your cell phone might not work. It can be surprisingly difficult to get a SIM card in India and usually involves quite a lot of paper work. If you don’t fill out the paperwork correctly there is a good chance that you got scammed with a defunct or used SIM card. To avoid this, I recommend getting your SIM from an official office of the carrier such as Airtel or Idea.
38) Do your research before arriving at a particular place. Look up your destination on the Internet, study maps, get advice from other travelers and read the latest Lonely Planet guide book. This will help you get insider knowledge before you arrive, making you more prepared to deal with the possible onslaught of scams that await you.
Below is another perspective from a fellow India travel expert:
39) “Don’t worry too much about getting “ripped off” by small business people, merchants, guides and auto drivers. These are poor people trying to make a living, and if you overpay by a few rupees, consider it tourist tax and show some compassion.”
– Mariellen Ward, award-winning India travel blogger at Breathedreamgo.
40) Bring temple “offerings”. Whenever you go to a Hindu temple, be sure to get some flowers before entering. You can then offer these at the main statue as a sign of respect or in prayer.
41) Always remove your shoes at the entrance. The safest place to leave them is at the shop where you buy flowers because they have a vested interest in making sure no one steals them. Otherwise there is always an off chance someone will fancy your shoes or sandals, especially if they look nice or expensive.
42) Wear ear plugs. The temples in India can be extremely chaotic and noisy with bells, people yelling, babies screaming and guards pushing you through the lines. Wearing ear plugs helps dampen the sound and make it easier for you to enjoy the inner spiritual power that seems to pervade all temples in India.
43) Find a quiet spot for meditation or simply an “eyes closed chill out session”. Find a quiet corner away from the chaos and just sit. Feel the vibrations and see what happens. I’ve had some of my best glimpses into “enlightenment” at the temples and this is a major reason for me to visit India. It can truly be life changing.
44) Be inward and don’t get overwhelmed by the chaos. As I’ve mentioned, I recommend to be as inward as possible when visiting temples. Just be simple and quiet within yourself and you’ll have the best possible experience.
45) Get “special darshan” arranged at the temple office. Darshan means “receiving blessings from the divine”. Often the lines are so long at temples that you can be standing in the hot sun for hours before seeing the statue and then you’re quickly pushed out. If you go to the temple office and pay for “VIP” entry then you can skip the line and spend more time in front of the statue. It’s well worth it and won’t cost more than a few $5 to $10.
46) Have small change ready for donations. Many people will want your money at temples and it can be a bit overwhelming. If you feel to give something then have a wad of 10 rupee notes ready so that you don’t hurt your budget too quickly. 🙂
47) Hire a temple guide who won’t rip you off (that much). For me, the temples of India are often the highlight of my trip. They are usually an ancient architectural marvel, but more importantly, a place of spiritual wonder. The etiquette can be hard to know without help from a local so I recommend you go to the “temple office” and see if there is a good English speaking guide available. Although, agree on the price upfront and watch out for the “up sells”.
48) Stay at a hotel near the temple if you’re digging the vibes. I find that a hotel right outside the temple can be amazing because you’ll be in that “spiritual aura” 24/7 while you’re there and so the experience will be deeper and more long lasting. It also means you may be able to leave your valuables and shoes etc in your room which can be very convenient.
Below is a bonus tip from my amazing wife:
49) “Authentic Indian temples gave me some of the most spiritual and heart opening experiences I’ve ever had. Yes, it’s probably going to be loud, and people might squish up against you, pushing your comfort zone a wee bit, but if you can just be easy with the whole experience, the spiritual power of the temples will be a highlight of your trip. Asher took me to the most amazing temples for our honeymoon and now I can’t wait to go back!”
50) Allow plenty of time to get to the airport. Things can often change at the last minute such as sudden traffic delays. Therefore, leave early and make sure you get multiple opinions of how long it takes to get to the airport.
51) Print or download your e-tickets or you WON’T get into the airport. The military guards at the entrance to the airport will not allow you to enter unless you have valid ID and itinerary.
52) Security screen your bags before going up to the check-in desk. If you don’t do this, you’ll be sent back and delay getting through security. Be sure to line up at the correct screening machine for your airline.
53) Make sure your bags don’t weigh too much! Domestic Indian flights have weight limits of 15kgs for checked bags and 7kgs for carry-on bags. All bags are strictly weighed and excess baggage fees are around $5 (300rs) per kilogram.
54) Get carry-on bag tags at check-in. Your bags will not be given the “stamp of approval” unless you have the tags attached to each carry-on item when going through security.
55) Security can be as annoying as heck! Remove absolutely all your electronic items including cameras and batteries. Know that women have their own line. Keep your boarding pass in hand so that the security guard can stamp it and watch out for people pushing in line.
56) Don’t trust the airport food. In my opinion, most airports have food that isn’t safe to eat because it’s been sitting for too long. Instead, bring your food or only buy packaged food that you feel is okay.
57) You’ll probably have to ride on a bus to your plane. Find your gate and wait for your flight to be called and then you’ll line up to catch a bus over to your plane.
58) Have your ticket ready for getting off the plane. If your flight continues on after your destination, you’ll need to show your boarding pass to get off the plane.
59) Hire a pre-paid taxi for getting to your hotel from the airport. Inside the airport there are always pre-paid taxi stands available which will give you a fair price from a reputable driver. If you don’t do this you’ll swamped by a group of untrustworthy drivers screaming for your attention and asking too much for their service.
Below is a bonus tip from an Indian travel blogger:
60)“Researching India as a solo travel destination can feel pretty darn scary. I’ve met many travelers who have formed their opinions of the country even before they arrive – and that’s half the battle lost. By all means, do and overdo your research, but when you set foot in India, make way for your own experiences. Embrace the colors, give the people a chance, be amazed by the little things, and if the chaos and inequality overwhelm you, so be it.”
61) You will need to carry cash. Credit cards are only accepted at larger businesses or hotels. Therefore you will always need to carry some cash so that you can pay for taxis, auto rickshaws, cheap hotels and your food etc. I keep all my large bills concealed under my clothing in my neck wallet.
62) Airports give poor currency exchange rates. Use an ATM instead or if that’s not possible only get a few thousand rupees exchanged at the airport because their rates are usually the worst in the whole country.
63) Use a Citibank ATM to withdraw more than 10,000rs at one time. As far as I know, all other ATMs across India will not let you withdraw more than $150 (10,000rs). With all the fees you may have in your home country this can be quite annoying and costly. Citibank allows you to withdraw whatever your daily maximum in your home country is e.g $500.
64) Get a fresh wad of 10 rupee notes. Go to the bank and get a crispy wad of 10 rupee notes because firstly, the 10rs notes are often disgustingly used and dirty. Secondly, it’s one of the smallest denominations of money in a note, so it will be handy for everyday purchases. Thirdly, it’s the perfect amount for tipping. Lastly, it also helps with bargaining so that you can have exact change.
65) Conceal your money & passport under clothing: I have had pickpockets and beggars put their hand in my pocket looking for money. Since I keep my valuables on my chest, concealed under my clothing in a neck wallet, I’ve never had anything stolen.
66) Use PayPal or Western Union to send money to India. If for some reason you need to send money to an Indian from your home country, I recommend PayPal and if that doesn’t work then try Western Union.
Below is a bonus tip from a fellow travel blogger:
67)“Carry cash on you under your clothes in a pouch. If you’re nervous, spread it around between wallet, passport, and luggage. In general, just don’t give people an incentive to steal. Don’t walk around with expensive things hanging out of pockets or purses. Don’t rely solely on the safe in the hotel room. It’s a good idea to have a TSA approved lock on luggage. Pay extra attention to your belongings in airports, train stations, markets, and major tourists sites. Keep digital copies of important items such as credit cards and ID etc. Otherwise, try not to stress too much.”
68) Learn to understand the famous “head wobble”. This subtle gesture conveys a lot of meaning depending on the context and degree to which the head is wobbled. It can take some time to learn but when mastered it’s actually a very natural and enjoyable form of human communication.
69) Know that “yes” can mean “I don’t understand”. Sometimes a driver or shopkeeper may want to please you or simply won’t understand what you’re saying and so they will say “yes”. My friend who’s been working in India for 10 years says that he doesn’t take “yes” for an answer!
70) Be open to understanding the many different accents. India has 17 main languages and a huge range of English accents. This can lead to some difficulty comprehending someone’s words but if you’re open you should do fine. Sometimes you may need to simply ask the person to repeat themselves or say “I don’t understand” to gain clarity.
71) Memorize a few key phrases. I recommend learning a few words of the local language because it shows you have an interest in the culture. It will almost always be very well received and help you quickly make friends with the locals.
72) Have plenty of patience. It can be very frustrating when for example, someone says “yes” to every question you ask. Try to find someone who speaks better English and calmly sort through the miscommunication that may be occurring.
73) Be amused by funny communication rather than angered. You’ll have a much more enjoyable trip if you see the humor in it rather than getting angered and annoyed. These people are doing their best with a second or third language and so give them some compassion.
Below is another tip from Mariellen, a fellow India travel blogger:
74) “India forces you to say yes, or no. Travel to India with an open, trusting, non-judgmental attitude … or not at all. India has an amazing way of mirroring back at you whatever attitude you’re carrying. Be cautious, but not fearful. “
– Mariellen Ward, award-winning India travel blogger at Breathedreamgo.
75) Indians drive on the left side of the road. Since the British influenced the first Indian cars they follow suit with driving on the left. Although, crazy driving often may lead to seeing cars, motorbikes and people on the wrong side of the road.
76) Ride a train at least once in your trip. Only travel in 2AC or first class and make sure you book your tickets early enough that they’re not sold out. Trains are the best way to travel long distances if you’re on a budget. Avoid the food they provide unless it’s been packaged.
77) Air travel is the most luxurious by far. If you can afford it, the most comfortable and obviously fastest way to get around is by plane. My favorite website for booking domestic Indian flights and trains is Cleartrip.com.
78) Buses can be good if the journey isn’t too long. They are super cheap and usually don’t have AC so they’re going to be hot. If the ride is more than a few hours I recommend you go via train instead because it’s much more comfortable.
79) Traveling via an AC taxi is nice for shorter journeys if you can afford it. The car provides comfort with the windows up and the cool AC air but the zig-zagging can get a bit much if the trip is more than a couple of hours. If you value your life I recommend that you demand a working seat belt before you get in the car. Be persistent and they should be able to hook you up.
80) Auto rickshaw journeys are memorable to say the least! Auto rickshaw’s are great for short rides but I recommend ear plugs, sun glasses and a bandana or dust mask to avoid to much bombardment on the senses. Also it’s best to not ride one for more than 20 to 30 minutes or you’ll be exhausted.
81) As mentioned, try to avoid long journeys by road. The roads in India are wildly dangerous and often uncomfortably bumpy. If there is an option to get a plane, train or bus then I would take it instead. Otherwise you might get car sick or just really tired from all the insanity of weaving between head on traffic.
Below is a bonus tip from Rachel who has one of the top travel blogs in the world:
82)“India can be overwhelming at first, but the slower you travel the easier things will be and the more you’ll come to understand the culture. Transportation on local buses and sleeper trains can add to stress levels if you change location every 2 days, so start slow and get to know each town you visit for at least a week before moving on to another. To love India, you have to accept even it’s flaws. Be open minded.”
Tips for better hotel experiences while traveling in India
83) It’s possible to stay at $2 “el cheapo” hotels. If you’re on a real tight budget and don’t mind about basic conditions: no pillow, no bed sheets, squat toilet and cold showers, then it’s totally possible to find a $2/night “hotel”. You may have to ask around but in every town outside of big cities you will be able find such accommodation. I recommend you be careful when staying at an Airbnb.
84) It’s also possible to stay at $500, 5 star palaces. If you’re wanting a luxury vacation then India also offers some of the best hotel experiences in the world.
85) Mid range hotels are a balanced blend of comfort and price. The hotels in the $40 to $70 range offer mostly Western standards e.g clean sheets, hot water and a normal toilet. For these kind of hotels and the 5 star palaces, I recommend doing research on TripAdvisor to get real opinions from other travelers.
86) Lock your room with an extra padlock if needed. If you’re staying in a cheap hotel it is wise to use an extra padlock to add security. I use a combination lock so that I can’t lose the key.
87) Wear flip flops in the shower. The bathroom floors may not be the cleanest place and so I recommend you use flip flops to keep you feet hygenic. This is especially true in low budget hotels that usually don’t get cleaned properly.
88) Remember, only brush your teeth with bottled water. It’s easy to forget, especially if you stay at a fancy hotel but the water everywhere in India is questionable and brushing your teeth is no exception.
89) Cheaper hotels don’t provide towels. The $2 hotels definitely won’t give you a towel and the mid range hotels will probably give you an old towel that you won’t want to use. For this reason I bring a light weight travel towel just in case.
90) Be aware of your hotels location. As with any kind of real estate, the location and proximity to the tourist attraction, temple or town can make a big difference with your experience. When I visit a temple town I like my hotel to be as close to the temple as possible.
91) Tip your staff appropriately. Whenever you get room service of any kind at a hotel I recommend you tip between 10 and 20 rupees. If you’re staying at a more fancy hotel you may want to tip between 30 and 50 rupees. This should will help you get better service and more alert staff.
92) Squat toilets are common at budget hotels. These toilets are fine once you get used to squatting but it’s good to be aware of if you’d prefer not to use them. All mid-range and above hotels have normal Western toilets.
93) Watch out for smoking DDT at mid to high end hotels!! Unfortunately many mid to high end ($50 to $90/ night) hotels have a “mosquito management” practice where they have a pot of burning DDT that they carry through the corridors on a daily basis. The fumes of course get into your room and it can be unbearable. If you’re sensitive to this like me, you may want to call ahead before booking a hotel to see what they do for “mosquito management”. This practice probably won’t happen at cheap or 5 star hotels.
Below is another tip from Doug, my friend and India travel expert:
94)“Sanitize the environment whenever you move into a new hotel room. A simple sanitary wipe will protect you from most germs left by several weeks of previous occupants. Especially remote controls and light switches and faucets collect germs. Also, the sheet on the hotel bed is rarely cleaned, so a light piece of silk between you and the mattress is helpful protection.”
95) Learn how to bargain like an Indian: I would say that Indian’s are the best negotiators or bargainers I have ever encountered. They are incredibly good at going for your emotions, very comfortable with numbers and know how to up sell until the cows come home. If you want good deals, this is an essential skill and in fact may help you with negotiation once you return to your home country.
96) Quickly learn how the bargaining process works. The main thing is start out real low and then immediately offer a little higher so that they know you want to bargain.
Here is a sample sequence:
I was in a clothing shop in a town called Bhopal.
When I asked how much a certain sweater was, the owner said, “2000rs” (US $40).
I instantly replied, “50rs”.
He laughs and says, “no way”.
I reply, “100rs”.
He says, “1000rs”.
I reply, “200rs”.
He says, “800rs”.
I reply, “300rs”.
He says, “700rs”.
At this point I say, “too much” and start to leave the shop.
He freaks out and says, “500rs sir! this is best price, I have wife and baby at home”.
While standing at the door of the shop I say “400rs is my best price” and start to move away.
He comes running and says “okay, deal” with a slight grin on his face.
97) Look for fixed rate shops if you don’t want to bargain. These shops have the prices already set and are generally fair.
98) Know that “maximum retail price” is not the price tag. Most items that are packaged will have MRP written on it. This is the maximum retail price but it is always possible to bargain that price down but you definitely shouldn’t pay more than that price.
99) Shop around and compare prices. Before making large purchases and if you have the energy you can get better deals by comparing prices. Usually certain shops (such as jewelry) are grouped together making it easier to shop around.
100) Ask help from some local friends. If you befriend a local, they will likely get great joy helping you bargain down to rock bottom prices. Although, you may have to be out of sight so the shop owner doesn’t know what’s going on.
101) Have fun with it. The main thing is to not take things too seriously (especially since your savings may only be few dollars) and enjoy the process. Otherwise it can quickly get very emotionally and physically draining.
Below is a bonus tip from a fellow blogger and author:
102)“The entrepreneurial abilities of Indians in general has amazed me for years. It seems that Indian culture produces an uncommon blend of innovative thinking, business-minded aggression, and comfort with numbers. And, no matter what price you pay — if the sales guy is smiling when you leave — guess who won…”
103) Piles of burning plastic are everywhere. As far as I can tell, there are no real waste management programs offered for household waste. Instead what happens is the plastic items are swept into a pile and then set on fire!
104) Smoke from cooking fires is bad. A lot of impoverished families use dried cow dung as a fuel for their cooking fires which can lead to excessive smoke.
105) Exhaust fumes are asphyxiating. The large cities have an absurdly large number of vehicles all releasing toxic exhaust fumes.
106) Wear a gas mask or at least a bandana. If you have sensitive lungs, I highly recommend you bring a quality gas mask to overcome the asphyxiating pollution problem. A bandana will work somewhat but won’t be able to stop the fine particles such as exhaust fumes and burning plastic pollution.
107) Avoid the big cities like the plague. According to the World Health Organization, New Delhi is now the world’s most polluted city and is 2.5x more polluted than Beijing and a whopping 15x more polluted than Washington D.C. (as shown below). Therefore, I highly recommend you avoid big cities when traveling in India and be aware of this problem which is country wide.
108)“Pollution is much higher in the big cities. So, minimize your time there and cushion excursions between cities with a country stay. While in the country, practice deep breathing 5-10 minutes a day to exercise your lungs, which will help them purify. Ozone levels rise with sunlight. So, plan outdoor activities during less “toxic” times of the day, such as early mornings or after sunset. Also, covering your mouth and nose with a scarf or bandana can minimize breathing in toxic particles.”
Peggy O’Neill is a motivational & diversity keynote speaker who loves traveling to India and Nepal..
I keep my money and credit cards in this pouch under my shirt so that I don’t have to have a wallet in my pocket. I have had beggars put their hand in my pocket and have found this small concealed passport pouch invaluable.
They’re an incredibly effective way of stopping diarrhea and preventing dysentery (Delhi Belly). It quickly absorbs the toxins or pathogens that are causing the problem and keeps you strong. As always, be sure to get advice from your doctor.
Okay, don’t get weirded out by this one. India is a place with limited toilets and when you do find a toilet they are often absolutely disgusting. For guys this is not a problem because we can stand at the side of the road to pee but for women that’s not possible. This little device enables women to stand and pee with no mess and no embarrassment. My wife uses it and says it’s great.
They boost the good bacteria in your stomach, improve digestion and increase natural immunity. They are a must before traveling to India, especially during your travels and afterwards when you get home. They’re also generally good for all round digestive health, even when you’re not planning a trip to India.
After trying countless different brands, I decided to take matters into my own hands. My company, Hero Travel Supply, sources and sells these quality power adapters that are individually tested in the USA.
Every order also comes with a corresponding free ebook which teaches you how to avoid frying your electronics in India. I wrote this comprehensive guide based on years of experience in dealing with the unpredictable, often surging power supply in India which can ruin your devices (I know because my $2000 Macbook got fried)!
Electrolytes save lives on a daily basis. When someone has dysentery they get very dehydrated and these will save you. Even if you don’t get sick it is important to stay well hydrated in the hot, dry weather of India and these satchels can easily be added to your bottled water for an extra boost of hydration.
I generally only drink bottled water while traveling in India but occasionally it’s not available. In that case I bust out my LifeStraw filter which removes all bacteria, amoebas and other pollutants in the water. It’s only $20 and it doesn’t weigh much so it’s totally worth having for emergencies.
World Nomads is the best travel insurance provider I’ve used because it’s designed by travelers for travelers and covers everything you’ll ever need. In India you need to expect the unexpected. This travel insurance plan gives me the peace of mind to go forth on the adventure while knowing I have support if I get into an emergency or have all my belongings stolen! (This unfortunately happened to a close friend. He had no insurance and so had to replace his belongings out of pocket).
I have written a 39 page ebook with all my best tips for India Travel which you can download for free. I was compelled to write this ebook to help people learn how to survive, thrive and have a more enjoyable trip to India.
I recommend Agoda for finding the best deals with the largest selection of hotels across India. You can also cross reference the hotels you find with reviews on TripAdvisor to see what other travelers are saying. Visit Agoda.com →
For tours of India:
I recommend Intrepid for joining an amazing tour of India. If it’s your first trip to India then I think this is the best way to start your journey and to learn the ropes with an expert Indian tour guide. Visit IntrepidTravel.com →
For flights to India:
I recommend Sky Scanner to find cheap flights to India. In my experience you should be about to get roundtrip flights from the US or Europe for $800 or less. And it’s even possible to get $450 roundtrip flights! Visit SkyScanner.com →
121)“For women pack hats, cotton scarves, clothing that’s loose, light, and covers shoulders and knees. For men a few loose, cotton or linen button downs or collared shirts are good. Or don’t bring much and find a Fabindia. They have wonderful, loose natural cottons. If you’re carrying a backpack and traveling overland a lot, it’s a good idea to carry an extra duffel to pack it in for transport, and maybe invest in a steel cable with a lock for local train stations. Also, for those staying in cheap hotels, we got a lot of use out of our Sea to Summit cotton liner. They’re typically for sleeping bags, but we just used them in the hotel rooms that didn’t have the cleanest of sheets.”
These tips were provided by my friend, Rohini Grace.
122) Speak up and just say, “no!” Usually, it’s not in our female nature to be aggressive or assertive, but when you show strength and confidence this tends to show people that you know what you are doing and you have less chance of being taken advantage of.
123) Dress appropriately and cover up. India is still a very conservative country. Despite the heat and perpetual sweating, make sure to always carry a shawl to cover your shoulders, wear knee length or longer pants along with tops long enough to cover your bottom. Tight fitting clothing will solicit unwanted attention and is considered disrespectful at sacred sites and temples.
124) Plan ahead, and know exactly where you’re going. I cannot emphasize this enough. Talk to your friends who have been there, consult tour guides or groups, read Lonely Planet and research your destinations on the Internet beforehand.
125) Avoid going out after dark. I don’t recommend heading out on your own after dark unless you have a buddy or group to explore with. You will notice there are not many local women out after the early evening.
126) Travel with a group. If it’s your first trip then definitely consider traveling to India with a group. My India tour company, Goddess Travels, specializes in tours designed for women and couples. Get a $100 OFF any of my tours when you mention “Asher Fergusson” HERE.
128) Seriously, put a ring on it. When locals find out you aren’t married, be prepared for a lot of (usually disapproving) feedback. I often wear a simple band around my finger just to keep unwanted questions and interest at bay. If you are already married then you’ve got it made. 🙂
129)“India will cut to the core of your soul and overwhelm your senses in a way like no other place on earth. It may not be the easiest country to navigate alone, but it will certainly be one of the most life transforming experiences you ever have. If you can keep your heart and mind open and have a good sense of humor, then this is a destination you won’t want to miss.”
Understanding the cultural differences between India & the Western world
Interesting facts about India
130) India has the second largest population in the world. According to the 2011 census it is now over 1.2 billion and growing incredibly fast. It is the 31st most densely populated nation with 991 people per square mile. Some sources say it’s the oldest continuous civilization on the planet.
131) India is the world’s largest democracy. It became independant of the British occupation in 1947 and is considered a “Federal parliamentary constitutional republic”.
132) There are over 17 languages. Sanskrit is the most ancient known language and is the mother of all the European languages. Luckily for us, English is spoken almost everywhere (making it the largest English speaking country in the world). The number of distinctly different languages highlights the fact that India is extremely culturally diverse and in many ways like a collection of countries rather than one country. Where ever you visit, it’s helpful to learn a few phrases of the local language.
133) The predominant religion is Hinduism at over 78%. Below is pie chart based off the 2011 census showing the spread of popular religions in India. Even though Christianity is only 2.5% there are over 30 million Christians in India!
134) India is home to the world’s largest religious pilgrimage site. Approximately 30,000 people visit Venkateshwar (The Vishnu Temple) in Tirupati everyday and there are 12,000 temple staff. What’s more is that annual donations exceed $100 million dollars!
135) The railway system is vast. One of the best ways to get around India (apart from flying) is on their trains. They were setup originally by the British in 1853. The Indian Railways employs about 1.5 million people making it one of the largest employers in the world. And, 18 million people per day travel on these trains.
136) Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and per capita income. According to the International Money Fund the Indian GDP is $2.3 trillion which is the 7th largest worldwide, whereas per capita income is $1,800 annually which is the 141st in the world.
137) 100’s of millions of Indians live on less than $2/ day. 27% of the Indian population live below the poverty line while at the same time India also has the 4th highest number of billionaires at 90.
138) Cricket is by far the most popular sport. For those who don’t know, it’s similar to baseball and in almost every field you pass in India you’ll see kids (and adults) playing the sport.
Good cultural differences
139) Guest is God. In India it is an honor to have a guest, doubly so if it’s a foreigner. This is because they have a beautiful proverb that says “Atithidevo Bhava (अतिथिदेवो भव)” which means “the guest is equivalent to God”. For this reason there’s a good chance you’ll be invited to someone’s home. In this case it is nice to send a gift to India to your host when you get home.
140) The people are so genuine & friendly. I have met some of the most kind hearted and generous people I’ve ever known during my travels to India. Even though these people didn’t have much money, they welcomed me into their homes and spoiled me with the most delicious food ever.
141) Spirituality and religion thrives. Upon every street corner is some statue or place of worship. The history and power of the land is so strong and sometimes over powering and it is the mecca for mass yoga and meditation.
142) Indian’s try to offer amazing service. India is known for being a “service oriented culture” and everyone works hard to please. India has a lot of people and time on it’s hands making it possible to hire someone to do practically anything. Sometimes the quality of the service may not be ideal but the effort is almost always there.
143) Exquisite color creates eye candy everywhere. Indian’s love color. Whether it’s the clothing, the food or the houses, everywhere you look, you will be overwhelmed by beautiful arrays of color.
144) The resourcefulness and ingenuity is mind blowing. While driving the streets you will find the most eye opening resourcefulness. From people carrying a bed frame or sheet of glass on the back of a motorcycle to a truck so over laden with goods that the driver can barely see out the front window. This no doubt stems from the poverty and need to survive.
145) India is a mostly peaceful nation. In fact, India has never invaded another country in at least 1000 years. Although India itself has been invaded countless times by other countries. Crime rate is lower than in the U.S and if you avoid big cities you will feel very safe.
146) Some of the best food in the world. It of course depends on your taste but the unbelievable diversity of flavors and textures, colors and presentation of the food can be a divine experience. Many dishes take hours upon hours to prepare and if you have a sweet tooth you won’t be disappointed.
Possibly uncomfortable cultural differences
Note: All of these cultural points below are from my experience as a Western observer. None of them are intended to offend anyone in any way. I have written them purely so that other Westerners are more prepared and to help reduce their possible culture shock.
147) Chaos is everywhere. Almost all road rules including red lights will be ignored. The streets are bustling with people, livestock and every kind of vehicle you can think of all tooting their horns. This can be quite a contrast from the quiet streets of the West. Furthermore, you may find it hard to locate your seat belt making it rather unsafe.
148) Personal space is rarely respected. Whether you’re looking at photos on your camera, lining up to catch a bus or just standing on the street there’s a high possibility someone (or group of people) will approach you or come a bit too close for comfort. With over a billion people in a relatively small space this isn’t surprising and it isn’t culturally rude.
149) The caste system still exists. It’s composed of “priests” (Brahmins), “warriors” (Kshatriyas), “merchants” (Vaishyas) & “workers” (Shudras). Unfortunately this division seems to cause discrimination between the castes and can get confusing without knowing the ins and outs.
150) Most animals get abused, except for cows. Be it a dog, cat, chicken (meant for consumption), an ox (drawing a cart), animal abuse in India can be shocking and seems to be everywhere. It is a conundrum as to why this happens especially since India is the birthplace of the concept of Ahimsa or “non-violence”. The one animal that is largely exempt from this abuse is the cow because it holds particular importance in the Hindu religion. Although, you often see cows eating trash which is different kind of abuse.
151) Almost everyone will try to get your money. Since hundreds of millions of Indians are living on less than $2/day the struggle for survival is a real issue. The main thing is to have your wits about yourself and be compassionate but I advice you do not ever give money to beggars.
152) Incessant staring. It doesn’t seem to be rude to stare in India. You will find it can be overwhelming at times but the main thing is to ignore it. Sometimes I pretend I’m a celebrity and then it’s more of a novelty than a problem.
153) Lying or bending the truth. It may be due to communication difficulties, but it seems that often Indians don’t have a problem with lying. Whether it’s a taxi driver or a shop owner – there’s a good chance they will bend the truth or lie if it helps them make a sale. I suggest you try to get informed beforehand and ask the right questions, ones that can’t be simply answered by “yes”.
154) Expect to see spitting. A lot of men use chewing tobacco (known as “paan”) which means there can be a lot of spitting on the street. Many women also don’t have a problem spitting when they need to.
155) Littering and trash are ubiquitous across India. It is yet to be understood that littering is a bad thing and so the streets act as open trash cans. The trash then piles up and the solution is normally to set it (mostly plastic) on fire. This is why I always bring a dust mask to help me breathe!
Cultural Do’s & Don’ts
Below I’ve listed some of the most important points to remember to avoid cultural awkwardness.
156) DO be patient & have a sense of humor. 158) DO have an open heart & mind. 160) DO make friends with the locals. 162) DO wear Indian clothes at special occasions. 164) DO remove your shoes at peoples homes. 166) DO wash your hands & use hand sanitizer. 168) DO only use your right hand while eating. 170) DO learn to understand the “head wobble”. 172) DO try to pay if at restaurants with Indians. 174) DO know that 1 min means 5 to 10 mins. 176) DO be prepared to have your photo taken. 178) DO bring a small gift if you stay at a home. 180) DO touch the feet of someone you respect.
157) DON’T wear shorts or skirts. 159) DON’T get angry in public. 161) DON’T give money to beggars or children. 163) DON’T smell flowers in a shop or a temple. 165) DON’T touch the opposite sex. 167) DON’T point your feet at a person. 169) DON’T give someone an expensive gift. 171) DON’T show frustration or anger in public. 173) DON’T be shy when asking a question. 175) DON’T drink alcohol in public. 177) DON’T take pictures in temples. 179) DON’T use your left hand to pass food. 181) DON’T shake hands unless they do first.
182)“It’s essential to respect the culture wherever you go in India, as a disrespectful attitude will leave the most delightful doors so firmly closed that you probably won’t even know they are there — which means that you will be missing the best that India has to offer. Respecting the culture includes dressing and behaving as much in accord with local standards as possible. It really makes a huge difference in how you are received.”
183) Have the experience of a lifetime. India will blow your mind. You’ll see some of the most crazy sights of your life. It’ll be a sensory overload (mostly in a good way). If you’re open you’ll meet some of the nicest people on Earth and your heart will expand. Every time I go to India which is now 7 times, my life improves for the better and my mind gets broadened from the experience.
184) The history is mind blowing. India is quite possibly the oldest civilization in the world. Many of the famous monuments are ancient yet so beautiful. You can just feel the history in the land.
185) Indulge in the best food you’ve ever had. I have had by far some of the best food ever while traveling in India. The exquisite flavors and care with preparation are to die for. 🙂
186) Enjoy the immense spiritual power. India is known for being the capital of yoga & meditation. It is from the many illustrious saints of that this knowledge comes from and is still very lively in many parts of the sub-continent. Some notable examples of saints include: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (my guru), Buddha, Amma, Krishna, Brahmananda Saraswait, Anandamayi ma, Raam, and Shankara.
187) Discover wonderful cultural diversity. There is an incredible mosaic of cultural differences that exist in peaceful unity in India. It’s a delightful experience to travel from far north India through central Maharashtra state down to the southern tip at Kanyakumari. The diversity of food, dress, customs, language and landscapes are limitless.
188) There are endless things to see. India is jam packed with sights and experiences that exist nowhere else. From the Himalayas around Uttar Kashi to the beaches of Kerala and from the Taj Mahal to the tiger reserve at Bandhavgarh you won’t be let down.
189) Celebrate India style with one of their many festivals. It seems like there is a major festival almost every month in India. Here are some of the most popular ones:
190) Diwali – Festival of lights. The biggest and most important holiday in the Hindu calendar. Watch out for loud fireworks, extra pollution and wild parties.
191) Holi – Festival of colors or festival of love. This one is where everyone throws colored powder on each other. Wear clothes you don’t mind ruining and enjoy the fun!
192) Durga Puja – Festival of Durga. The celebration of the victory of “good” over “evil”. It can be a great spiritual experience.
193) Onam – The harvest festival. Celebrated in the state of Kerala. Wear new clothes and admire the beautiful flower arrangements outside peoples homes.
194) Raksha Bandhan – Festival of love & protection between brothers and sisters. Tie a string around your sister or brothers wrist to show your love.
195) Maha Shivaratri – The great night of Lord Shiva. Celebrating the convergence or marriage of Shiva (silence) and Shakti (dynamism) which are two fundamental energies in the universe. It can be an incredibly powerful spiritual experience.
196) Christmas, Kerala style – Celebrating the birth of Jesus. In Kerala there are a lot of Christians and they have their own style of Christmas which can be quite fun to witness!
197) Relax and rejuvenate. India is an incredible place to be pampered, relax and just chill-out. The ancient Indian healthcare system known as Ayurveda offers amazing treatments including massage and other rejuvenation techniques. Find a health spa you like and you’ll unwind like never before.
198) Bargain until the cows come home. India naturally has amazing shopping opportunities not just because of the great prices but also because of the unique items that are available. There is good reason why the Dutch East India Trading Company made so many trips to India and this holds true to this day.
199) You’ll help their economy. Last but not least, going to India will help boost their economy of which tourism is a major part. Since there are so many people in India living below the poverty line it feels good to be able to help even if in a small way.
200)“If you are a first timer in India, never arrive on a short visit of one or two weeks and expect to assimilate the essence of the country. If you are looking to travel across India, give it at least a month. If you can’t devote so much time, stick to any one region of your choice to make the best of your visit instead of hopping around the country.”
India truly is a remarkable place, but in order to enjoy it fully, you must be prepared.
I believe my tips will give you all you need. And, my free ebook is a handy way to bring all these tips with you on your trip.
Here’s one last dose of inspiration, from the wise words of Mark Twain. Even though it was written in 1899, he captures the essence of India perfectly!
201)“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the moldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.” – Twain, Mark. Following The Equator; A Journey Around the World. Page 26. New York, 1899. Print.