A trip to India had been on top of my list for a really long time. Contradictory comments had me overthink it from time to time and wonder whether I was fully prepared. From what I heard, people either loved it or hated it. And even if they loved it, they thought it was their biggest travel challenge ever.
They weren’t wrong!
After months of dreaming and overthinking the idea, I finally took the plunge. Turns out it ended up happening just two months prior to our wedding (worse timing I know!). The stress doubled with everyone fearing that we would come back with sick bellies.
Well, we didn’t.
A trip to India is an education every traveller must take. A country so rich in culture and beauty and yet so chaotic will leave you with memories you won’t find elsewhere.
However I must say, I’ve never felt so overwhelmed in any of my travels as I felt on our trip to India and to be honest, at some point, I just wanted leave…
India pushed my limits to the furthest. It had me feel excited, agitated, stressed, confused and touched on so many occasions and while coming back home felt like a relief, in the end, I miraculously came to miss it rather too soon.
India is colourful, exotic, fascinating and absolutely different. Coming from Iran where we deal with our own share of chaos, I was expecting it to be a bit it easier on me. Turns out I was wrong.
It was like nowhere I had been.
I went fully prepared to India, both mentally and physically. I had researched for weeks, read all the blogs and packed all the right things and while India still had its surprises, I came back healthy, safe, fascinated and just a little exhausted.
Considering the conditions, I’m now grateful for all the time I took to plan the trip. It helped us make the best of our time, make wise decisions when needed and above all, controlled our limited budget.
But before we get into it, let’s watch a clip from our road trip through India:
40 things you should know before your trip to India[toc content=”.your-container” headers=”h3″]
Before you decide
#1 India is not for the faint-hearted
A trip to India will push your limits in so many ways. Things could easily go wrong, you’ll get ripped off, there’s a chance you’ll a get sick and so much more. If you’re not the kind of person to cope with unexpected events or ready to get out of your comfort zone, then India is just not for you. You’ll end up hating it. Period.
#2 Joining a tour might be a good idea
If you’re not too keen on doing research and figuring out everything yourself, or you’ve been always travelling with certain standards, then joining a tour to India could really save you the hassle. There’s something for everyone’s cup of tea and it’ll be a lot less of a challenge.
#3 Travelling on your own is not that big of a deal
When I was talking to former travellers about India, many thought joining a tour was a better option. Even the frequent travellers thought India would be too much to handle on our own and there was always the advantage of somehow ending up cheaper with a tour (that’s the case for Iran). Very few people suggested otherwise. But when we did go on our own, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Sure it takes the extra energy and time, but it wasn’t anything crazy. We did just fine and I don’t see why others can’t do it either.
#4 Don’t go if you’re a clean freak
Indian cities are full of trash. When there are cows, pigs, elephants living aside billions of people you can’t really expect less. There’s animal poop everywhere. Littering is a norm and hygiene levels are less than you’d expect. Even if you’re staying at luxury hotels and riding taxis, you still won’t be able to avoid the streets. That’s unless you’re skipping big cities and sticking to resorts in Goa of course.
But if that’s not the case, don’t go! You’ll have a hard time.
Planning your trip to India
#5 If you’re from one of the 163 eligible countries that can get an e-visa then you’ll need to apply through here.
#6 It’s bigger than you think
India is a massive country and some of its best places are spread around the map. Unless you’re spending well over 2 weeks, then sticking to one region is a good idea.
We could only take off 10 days and decided to go through the Golden Triangle for our first trip.
#7 Distance between cities takes longer than usual
Unless you’re hopping on a plane, then don’t be fooled by the kilometers and hours google gives you. A 300km distance in India will take a lot longer than back at home. Frequent train delays, horrid traffic, and poor road conditions will make everything move slower than usual.
#8 Go easy on the itinerary
India has way too much to see and everything is too good to be missed, but squeezing too much in each day will wear you out sooner than you think. Skip a few items from the list and spend quality time in others instead.
#9 Always have a plan B
Punctuality is not really something to rely on in India. Neither with transport nor with people. Your plans could easily go wrong in a blink of an eye and if like us you don’t have months to spend in India, then having a plan B could really save you time.
#10 The best time to travel could vary according to your itinerary
There’s no one single period that’s best to visit India. The country stretches too far on the map and has very different weather conditions in every region.
#11 Oct-March is best if you’re travelling in Rajasthan or taking the Golden triangle route
We took this route in February and the weather was absolutely delightful. You could be in summer clothes by day and perhaps add a thin layer in the evening.
#12 April to Sep are great for Ladakh and Kashmir
#13 Book train tickets in advance, especially for Holi or Diwali
If you’re travelling to India during high season or festivals, make sure you book your trains in advance. Some people recommended even 2 months in advance to get the best seats.
Choosing your accommodation in India
#14 Spending a few extra pennies on accommodation is not a bad idea
Coming back to a comfortable bed with clean sheets after a long sweaty day of sightseeing is such a reward in India. But to get that in India, you might have to opt for something a little more expensive than the cheap hostels. I assure you, it will be well worth it.
#15 Choose a quiet neighbourhood for God’s sake
Nothing bothered me like the sound of cars and rickshaws honking in the streets for no reason. It’s utter madness. If you’re staying in big cities, having a quiet room is crucial. I’ve heard many stories of people not having a good night sleep because of their hotel neighbourhood, and there’s nothing worse than that when you’re on a trip.
I made sure I checked that in the reviews when booking our accommodation and thankfully all went well.
#16 Finding hot water in budget accommodations might be tricky
During our 10 day trip to India, we stayed at 4 different accommodations and apart from one, there was always an issue with hot water. If you’re on a budget, then be prepared for a few cold showers.
#17 Here are the places we stayed in and my suggestions:
Delhi | Hotel Tara Palace We absolutely loved it here. It was super clean, had a great location and was run by some of the most helpful staff. The only problem was that hot water didn’t run in the evening and you’d have to request for it in advance. For 50€ a night, we couldn’t go wrong.
Agra | Aman homestay Hosted by a lovely family and relatively close to the Taj Mahal makes Aman homestay a great budget accommodation in Agra. They offered great breakfast and had a well-equipped kitchen for guests to use. They also had almost all the ingredients we needed, so we didn’t even have to go shopping. The rooms were tiny by decently clean. We paid 50$ per night for our room without breakfast.
Jaipur | Haveli Kalwara The family running this place was extremely nice and helpful. The rooms were massive and beautifully decored. We specifically loved the breakfast and the peaceful balconies but it seemed a little creepy at night when there was absolutely no one around. For 30$ a night for a double room, there wasn’t much to complain.
Delhi | City Empire hotel The breakfast here was awful and the rooms were tiny but I had the best shower here. Rooms were clean and the location was pretty good and central. This hotel set us back by 30$ per night and I believe you’ll find a lot better than this if you book in advance.
Things you might want to know
#18 It’s safer than you think
We were 3 girls and one boy on our trip to India so I can’t really speak for solo female travellers, but things didn’t seem as bad as I had imagined. I was extremely cautious with my belongings and even though I had an expensive camera around my neck, I never felt like I could be a target for robbery. During our trip there were many times that we had to squeeze our way through the crowds – there were times I was fully surrounded by men with little space between us – but I was never assaulted or touched in any way.
#19 There’s no such thing as personal space
Since we don’t really have much of personal space in Iran, I was not bothered with the situation in India but it’s good to know if you’re very strict about it.
#20 Don’t wear revealing clothes
India still has a very conservative culture and women are rarely seen showing too much skin. If you want to avoid unwanted attention, it’s best to respect the culture and dress modestly. Indian women tend to show their arms but you hardly ever see anyone showing their legs or wearing open chest tops.
#21 There will be lots of staring
If you’re white or have obvious features of a foreigner, be prepared for a lot of staring.
#22 You’ll see a lot of people peeing in public!
It can literally happen in the middle of the street. Apparently, it’s such a norm that many even prefer it to the public toilet. Our hired driver would stop to pee anywhere on the road even though there were toilets found along the way! I never came to ask why. In one incident, we even saw a woman washing herself with soap and a bottle of water in the middle of the pavement!
Read more: 17 TIPS TO AVOID GETTING SICK IN INDIA
#23 Getting a sim card can be a hassle!
First of all bring a photo and a copy of your passport and the real one. Then apparently each sim card only works in one state and you’d have to get a new one everytime you move. This is what we were told. When we arrived to Delhi there was no one selling sim cards so we left it for later. Then the days went by and we somehow felt like we were doing alright without it but we had a chat with Vodafone and they were claiming to give data sim cards for a very cheap price. Go check them out if you’re looking for one.
#24 The level of national tolerance will blow your mind
India is a nation of many religions, languages and cultures. It’s a rich melting pot of everything there could be. You could walk in one street and see numerous temples standing aside mosques, churches and synagogues and feel perfectly respected entering any of them.
We visited numerous temples in India belonging to different sect and while my Muslim features were obvious, I was always welcomed and treated with kindness. Personally, I have never felt this level of respect and comfort in a place of worship apart from my own in any country. Even the so-called free western world.
#25 Piss in the public but not kiss in the public
You know what they say! And it’s very much true. There’s not much public display of affection in India and you’d best avoid it if you don’t want eyes turning on you.
#26 Social inequality is overwhelming
Whether you’re staying at luxury hotels in upper town Delhi or right in the middle of Chandi Chowk, witnessing extreme poverty and homelessness is inevitable. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and there’s really not much you could do. Children could come begging for food or money wherever you are and you should be emotionally prepared.
#27 Get ready for some insane driving
#28 Practice your bargaining skills
Bargaining is a big deal in India and if you don’t have the skills, then you can expect to be ripped off on almost every occasion. It gets overwhelming at times but it could truly affect your expenses. You’re ought to bargain in all shops, hotels, rickshaws, and taxis. You’ll get the hang of it pretty soon but I learned to reduce the price to 1/3 and start from there. Believe it or not, I would still find out that I was ripped off even by paying 1/3 of the first price I was told. That’s how crazy it is!
The trick is to be firm and serious with your price and even pretend as though you’re going to leave the shop without buying. You’ll see that many vendors would then stop you and accept your price. Just insist as much as you can and if there was no chance, then decide whether it’s worth the money or not.
There’s also a chance that you won’t get any discounts in expensive-looking shops.
#29 Be aware of commisions
During your trip to India, there will be numerous occasions where people will want to take you to specific shops that claim to be either cheaper or have higher quality products. This happened to us many times. Either by vendors introducing their friends or even owners of our hostel. In most cases, it’s a scam and they just want to get their commission. There’s really no harm in having a look and they won’t force you to buy anything but if you’re not into it, then don’t waste your time.
#30 Learn to say NO!
On your trip to India, there will be numerous times that you will have to say no. People will be trying to force you into their shops, sell you random stuff on the street and even get you on their rickshaw. The moment you show any sign of doubt is when they’ll realize that you’re an easy target. This can get very overwhelming during your stay, so it’s important to be assertive, confident and stick to your word.
#31 Indians are the most photo-friendly nation
if you’re big on photography, then India is your ultimate heaven. Not just because you’ll find the coolest subjects but because almost everyone is ok to be in your frame.
#32 Attend an India wedding
Attending an Indian wedding could just be one of the most rewarded experiences of your trip. Weddings in India seem to happen a lot! I mean if we managed to see a few in our 10-day stay then it must say something right? Well, guess what? Apparently, everyone is welcome at an Indian wedding.
In our case, there was a wedding in front of our homestay in Agra. I had heard from former guests that it was ok to just walk in but I didn’t know how true it was. I was also quite intimidated. But then our hosts told us it was ok and so we went. Turns out, a few other people from our hostel had already arrived. The wedding we attended was quite small and from lower class but it was such an interesting experience. We even got our pictures taken by the photographer! Not sure what the couple will be thinking once they go through their photos though!
#33 Rickshaws are great to get around but Metro is better!
Rickshaws or tuk-tuks are practical and cheap. They were our main mean of transport in India but if you’re spending time in Delhi, then the Metro is the best option. It’s nice and fresh, cheap and connects most of the main attractions. Just keep an eye on the only female sections. 😉
#34 You’ll love India if you’re a vegetarian
India is a vegetarian’s dream. There’s even a vegetarian burger in Mcdonalds! There are tons of delicious vegetarian options everywhere and you’ll never have to go hungry or limit yourself to boring salads. On the other hand, finding red meat is a challenge. Especially in fast food restaurants.
#35 Beware of Delhi Belly
Delhi belly is a famous term for a traveller’s upset stomach and diarrhea caused by food poisoning. And it happens to many during their trip to India.
Before our trip, I was told by many that it was almost inevitable to get sick in India. It was also my biggest fear for the trip. But guess what?
I came back just as healthy without having to spend a big part of my trip in the toilet. I could have been just lucky but I assume avoiding tap water and any kind of street food really helped.
#36 You’ll have to pay for your shoes to not be stolen
When visiting certain places of worship on your trip to India, you’re required to take your shoes off. In this case, there’s always someone standing at the entrance collecting your shoes and expecting you to pay something as little as 10 Rupees. You could always leave your shoes there and just go like many Indian, but I personally think the extra penny is worth coming back to both pair of your shoes. 😉
#37 Hot water and lemon to wash your hands
We had this very interesting occasion when the waiter brought us a bowl of hot water and a slice of lemon after lunch. We were told to wash our hands with it which I found very unusual. I later understood that it’s a common practice in some Indian restaurants to bring you a small bowl of hot water and lemon along your bill. You’re supposed to squeeze the lemon in your hands and then wash your hands in the hot water. This is to give your hands a lovely small and also get rid of the grease from your food. 🙂 It doesn’t happen in all restaurants but if you encountered one, then embrace it.
#38 people will want to take pictures with you
It’s very common for Indian families to come up and ask for a selfie with you just because you’re a tourist. We took plenty of photos with Indians throughout the whole trip and I was personally ok with it.
#39 Entrance fees for tourists vs Indians
Entrance fees to all attractions are hugely different for tourists and locals. This is very common in developing countries and it happens in Iran as well. Don’t get too surprised.
#40 Get a henna Tatoo
Henna tatoos are becoming more and more popular in southern Iran but the girls in India are just way better when it comes to delicate designs. They even have their own portfolios where you can choose your desired patterns.
I hope at least some of these tips come of you use on your trip to India. If you have any more of them that you found useful during your trip then please let me know in the comments. And remember that India will be most likely be one of your top travel experiences ever and the key to making it happen as smoothly as possible is research, research, and research.