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.
1. Set your expectation right
This may be the most important thing that you have to take into consideration. If you will think that you will find a clean and perfectly organized country similar to Switzerland, for example, you are in for a treat.
Read a little about this amazing country and watch some documentaries before you go to India, at least to understand a little bite about it and to know what you can expect.
2. Be ready to embrace a unique experience
A trip to India can be full of unexpected experiences. Few countries in the world have such deep impression on travelers as India does. You should embrace the chaos because it can teach you many things. It is tough to travel in India, but memorable as well.
3. You will need a tourist visa
For visiting India, all foreigners are required to obtain a visa from their home countries. The best news is that residents of most of the countries can apply for e-visa which can be obtain in around 72 hours (double entry for a period of 6 month).
Also please make sure that your passport still has a minimum of 6 month valability from the moment you enter India.
4. 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 have accept all types of cards. And a personal tip, Revolut is great, in case you are not using it yet.
So make sure you have exchanged enough money beforehand (use banks, not exchange offices found at the street corners) to avoid extra hassles.
We had brought a small amount of dollars and it was quite difficult to find and withdraw money. Of course there are ATMs available, especially in big cities and touristic areas, but generally they are scarce to be found and they have fixed amount that can be withdrawn per each transaction (10000 INR + a commission of 200 INR)
5. Stay safe
Generally, the criminality level is moderate and India is relatively safe for tourists. The most common types of crime are theft and scamp. It is best to be careful. If an offer is too good to be true, it is probably a scam.
In other words: practice safe travel. Especially for you female travelers and first-timers, it is better to join a group or go with a knowledgeable friend. First you have to understand very well the country in order to know how to travel safely.
6. Prepare to see crazy things
Forget everything that you know or are used to and try to come with an open mind because the more you resist to craziness, the harder it will be.
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 seing 5 people on a motorcycle are just some of the sights.
Time passes differently in India, and one cool fact is that here there is no daylight savings time.
7. 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 right, just honk. Or maybe you want to sing 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 time you will get used to it, and you will consider it to be fun, but we do not recommend to hire a car in case this thought crossed your mind. It is better to hire a car and driver because it would be a safer choice.
8. India is not cheap as everyone sais
I got under the impression that India is cheap. Well, it isn’t. Especially for tourists. Prices in Malls, designer stores and most supermarkets are almost the same in Europe. On the other hand during SALE season prices are very good (also for big international brands). For example a meal in a decent restaurant is around 8 euros, a beer 2 euros, a Levi’s pair of jeans around 70 euros.
I am sure you can find really cheap things if you get street food, clothes from the bazaar. But it will be difficult for tourist to do this.
9. You should get vaccines
Before traveling to India it is advised to consult your doctor. Depending of your area of travel the doctor may recommend vaccinations like hepatitis, rabies, tetanus etc. Most vaccination are best taken before the trip.
10. There are different languages and very distinct cultures in India
India is huge and every part of it is different, from touristic beaches of Goa to architectural Agra. From the Himalayan Mountains to exotic Kerala.
Can you imagine that India has 22 official languages? Hindi and English are the most used ones.
The best news is that most indians speak english 🙂
11. Try to avoid street food
India is not a well known country for street food. Generally, food here is amazing but if you are not used to Asian food it is better to order it from normal restaurants where it can be cooked using bottled water and mild spices to suit your taste, otherwise it is better to avoid it.
Did you know that there are more vegans in India than anywhere in the world?
12. Water in India
Tap water is generally unsafe to drink in India. Most people have no issues but It is better not to risk. Stick to drinking bottled water.
13. Dress to respect their culture
In certain areas and places in India, especially in temples, you have to cover yourself up. It is a different culture with different values. Even if you are a foreigner, you have to respect the rules and code.
Always take your shoes off before you enter a place of worship in India. From time to time you are allowed to keep your socks or plastic covers, but make sure you check each temple in particular.
Keep in mind that Indians take their religion very, very seriously.
14. The public transportation is amazing
Doesn’t matter how much you traveled or how many things you saw in your life, transportation in India will amaze you.
Except for the metro, 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 or 2-3 on a motorbike.
It is also very common for people to jump in and out of buses or trains while they are still moving.
15. Beware of scammers
Scammers are not everywhere, however it is best to take precautions especially around tourist areas.
Some of the common scams are like:
- Taxi and rickshaw drivers may be pretending not to know where is your hotel is in order to take a longer route and charge you way more (it is better to negotiate the fare before you drive away)
- Importing Gemstones scam – you are being approached by a gem dealer, who convinces you to buy some gemstones for him, import them under your duty-free allowance.
- Unofficial road fees asked by police officers
- People selling train or attraction tickets or charging money for attractions with free entrance.
16. You will see a lot of wandering cows
Oh, yes! You will find 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 let to wander on the streets. People will feed them because it is considered a good Karma.
Of course, there are also other animals like goats, sheep, cats and dogs.
Avoid petting stray animals since they are not quite taking care of them and they can cary different diseases.
17. Heating and hot water in India
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.
Sometimes be ready to use the cold water after the small tanks get empty.
18. Tipping and taxes in India
Prices displayed in restaurant menus or hotels don’t include the governmental 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 (I was in the situation where the security officer guarding the ATM asked for a tip for opening the bank door for me). We usually tipped around 10% in restaurants and around 50-100 Rupies for taxi drivers.
19. Getting a local SIM card is way too complicated
Getting a local SIM card in India is a very painful process. First of all you need to fill in a very long form + bring two pictures. After that they check all your documents and give you an inactive SIM card. In order to be activated you need to provide a local contact in India who will be called in 1-2 days in order to validate your identity and then in another 2-3 days your card will be active.
20. One good news is that there is Uber
There is Uber in India and it is safe and practical. A 10 km trip will cost around 200-300 rupees depending on traffic. Although Uber is the safe choice, nothing compares to a mad rickshaw drive across the city.