India is an exotic destination! It is far beyond historical monuments, beaches and other tourist spots you are going to find out from a tour company or Tripadvisor. This country is a great teacher if you learn to accept and listen to its lessons. While staying in India, I met many travellers there and learned many key India travel tips to help new visitors to the country.
India Travel Tips
Some travellers came for couple of weeks while others stayed for a few years and they were still not sure how long they are going to be there. You hit the right note with India and start enjoying the country once you know important basics and your expectations are set correctly. Whether you travel to India for a short or long period of time, I put up a list of 10 things that I would share with anyone who asks me about India.
For more India travel tips check out Solo Travel to India by a local female
Don’t let the media feed your fear
In a digital era, it’s very hard to filter information. Media publishes content that provokes interest and some emotional reaction. The negative or controversial reaction makes content even more popular and discussed. This fact has made India famous for poverty, poor attitude towards women and rape cases. Though it’s important to be informed, be realistic and critical about the information you are reading. The published news often skip the brighter side of India about technological progress, improved women safety, big market opportunities to name a few. Most of the services you might require in India are now in the phone – either in apps or online. You just think of an issue and google will give exciting options of Indian startups ready to solve it.
Don't travel to India without your Lonely Planet India Guide
Be flexible about plans and expectations
Try to accept the cultural specifics in India without comparing with the reality or background you come from. There will be certain things that will happen and certain things that will not. You will discover that “Yes” doesn’t always mean Yes, and you will rarely hear a “No” from an Indian. To save you from frustrations about delays, cancellations and other random situations that will pop up, always try to have a “plan B”. Whatever changes will happen in your initial plan, they will build a new experience, which will open a different part of India for you.
Check out our travel tips for India Packing.
Plan in advance
If you are not coming with a tour company with a predefined plan, try to make most of arrangements for your trip at least 3 weeks before arrival. In India, intercity transport tickets disappear faster than falling stars. It’s a different system compared to European countries where you can buy a ticket and hop on the train the same day. In India, it’s advisable to book tickets at least 2 weeks in advance on regular days, and 1 month in advance during big holidays like Holi and Diwali. This rule also works for budget stay offers. Remember – several million people are looking for the same thing simultaneously with you, so try to be fast in booking great deals.
Read more India Travel Tips: Tips for Traveling by Train in India
Everyone does it and you should not be an exception. Pricing is generally higher for foreigners since there is a misconception among sellers in India that tourists are rich. I would advise asking an opinion from local people how much something should cost. If you are in the local markets evaluate the look of the seller. Don't bargain with artists or farmers. They already earn money hard way and they are very humble. Merchants with chick phones in their hands are the right target to master negotiation skills. You can use saved money from a purchase either for another Indian experience or for buying food for the poor. There are many people living on the streets in India. You might save minimum 4 dollars from one purchase, but this is enough to buy lunch for 3-4 homeless people in the city. In addition to the social cause, you will also improve your negotiating skills. India is a great teacher in this!
Need bargaining tips? Read – 10 Proven Travel Tips on How to Bargain Like a Pro
Get ready for lots of staring and questions
Many Indians give special attention to the foreigners. You might spot many of them looking at you steadily and some will even ask to take pictures with you. They don’t have an idea their behavior makes you feel uncomfortable.
Often, if you strike a conversation with some local people, they might ask many personal questions about you, that you may not feel comfortable sharing right away, e.g. social status, surname, relationships, faith, family and so on. They don’t mean to offend you, they are just interested to know you better.
I suppose this behaviour is closely connected to the personal space concept. In the west, people maintain large personal space around themselves to keep strangers at a distance. In India, all space standards collapse once you experience a queue or use public transport. Most Indians are used to share everything and adjust since childhood, especially those born and raised in joint families. Keep this in mind and be ready to expand a bit your privacy borders.
Try to build your journey around the festivals to get a better understanding of Indian culture. Visit Diwali – a festival of lights in autumn, Holi – a festival of colors in spring, Lohri – winter festival in Punjab, attend traditional wedding and other functions of your preference. Try to make Indian friends during your visit to understand the essence of different festivals. There will be many people around who will be happy to give you an “intro course” about the meaning of the festival in Indian culture.
Thinking of Traveling Solo? Read: My Trip to Himachal, A safe bet for Solo Female Travellers
Contrasts are everywhere
While in India, you will be part of situations with different elements that you haven’t imagined in the same context. You might be late because you were stuck on the road blocked by cows. You may see a posh car waiting on the crossroads along with an elephant and a bullock cart driven by a barefoot man. You will see people buying latest fashion clothes from luxury brands and people sleeping on the streets at a distance of 100 meters from the same fashion store. Social inequality is overwhelming and emotionally devastating. This is a part of India that you will come across very often.
Check out: 5 Things to do in India That We REALLY Liked
Follow your route and interests
India is diverse with many experiences in store for the travelers. I stayed in Delhi for almost 2 years and there are still many things I have on my list to experience there. I would advise not to follow the patterns, but choose your experience. India can offer you much more than Goa and Taj Mahal. No doubts these are amazing destinations, however, there are also exciting opportunities to visit tea plantations, learn how to print on clothes from the biggest textile companies, stay in a desert or join a yoga/meditation program in the mountains. Don’t run a marathon through all sightseeing points mentioned on the internet. Choose less – explore more. Feel and enjoy your journey!
Need more travel advice on India? Read the Top 5 Travel Scams of India
Don’t over pack
Try to take less clothes, because it’s almost impossible to skip shopping in India. There will be many things you would like to buy. Don’t pack all possible medicines unless you are going to live in a remote village. I would advise taking only those pills that specifically help you. Absolutely in every city or town you will find a great diversity of pharmacies: standard, ayurvedic & homeopathic. In addition to your packing list, the 2 things I would advise taking: high sun protection solution and charging adapter converts.
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Follow basic etiquette
Dress accordingly – India is quite conservative in dressing, especially for women. This country is not suitable for open shoulders or shorts unless you are on a beach or in South Mumbai. Try to wear clothes at least of knee length and keep your shoulders covered.
Think about vegetarians – If you are a vegetarian, you are going to love India. They have many varieties of tasty food options for you and it’s always marked with a green dot that makes shopping easier. In an opposite case, take into consideration that some people are not comfortable eating food in the same room with non-vegetarian products. This is related to stays in some AirBnb or Guest house type of spaces.
Respect elderly people – Indian culture teaches respect towards elderly people for their experience and knowledge. If you are invited to a traditional Indian function, no one will expect you touching feet to show respect as it’s accustomed in India. However, ignoring elders even if you are not acquainted might be perceived as a rude behavior sometimes. A formal “Namaste” greeting will do in most of the cases.
Pay attention to gender-specific spaces – In India there are certain places where only women are allowed and vice versa. It’s applicable for transport, some religious places, some queues, trial rooms, etc. Pay attention to this, because in some cases you can be punished: e.g. if you are a man staying in a women train car in Delhi metro you can be scolded and fined.
No public affection – India is a conservative country that has some reservations about showing emotions in public. It’s mostly about couples. Don’t mix it up with friendship. You will see girls hugging girls while greeting if they are close friends or guys hugging guys, but girls hugging guys is not allowed in many places. In some Indian states, you can be fined and even arrested for showing public affection towards the opposite gender. Try to keep your emotions with you.
Inform yourself about the temples – always take off your shoes before you enter any temple and dress conservatively. There are some temples that don’t allow non-Hindu, some are only for men, and others have specific rules for visitors. I would advise researching about a temple you plan to visit if it’s not a known tourist attraction.
Need more travel etiquette tips? Read: Travel Etiquette in the Middle East
I hope these India travel tips will be handy during your visit!!
What about you: Is India in your traveling plans? If you have already visited India, what other things would you advise for India travellers?
Enjoy this videos capturing in my opinion, the style of this video is authentic and reflects not only touristic part of India, but the atmosphere there.
Natalia believes in traveling with a purpose. She has been visiting different countries via exchange programs, jobs and conferences. The recent working and staying experience was in India for 2 years. She shares insider tips about living abroad and traveling comfortably on a budget to help others build a better experience.