Planning a trip to India? Here are specific travel tips to make it easier to navigate. After spending over 8 months traveling through much of India, we wanted to share our insights with others who are planning on visiting. For our broader views of the country visit Impressions of India.
Hotels are very inexpensive compared to North America and are available for every price range. Comfortable budget hotels are roughly 1000 – 1500 INR in India and are usually comparable to a $120 room in Canada. However, remote areas and less touristy towns may have the same prices for much less comfortable rooms.
Here are a few important tips:
- Watch out for foreigner rates. Some hotels have one rate for Indians and another for foreigners. If you bargain hard, you may be able to get the cheaper price.
- Some hotels will not rent one room to an unmarried couple (unsure about same sex couples).
- Certain hotels do not rent to international travelers. Watch for the small print warnings when booking on-line.
- Cheaper hotels may not have towels, and many may not give you toilet paper until you ask.
- Bring a padlock as some hotels use padlocks instead of a regular door lock.
Touts, scammers and beggars
Everyone sees dollar signs (or rather Rupee signs) in their eyes when they see you. It’s very tiring to always have to argue for a reasonable price for everything from snacks to hotels to auto-rickshaws.
Use these tricks to help:
- Use Ola/Uber apps to know the market rate for auto-rickshaws (tuk tuks) and taxis.
- Don’t use an auto-rickshaw/taxi to find a hotel. As with anywhere, it will be for their benefit, not yours.
- Ask hotels for their local prices or use on-line booking companies.
- Beggars come in many varieties, from the poor family living on the streets to fake Sadhus (holy men) dressed up for photos to those simply taking advantage of a situation because you’re there. There are far too many to help, so you have to get a thick skin and continue to walk by.
- Reply to an auto-rickshaw driver when they say ‘Where are you going?’ by saying ‘I don’t know, do you know?” It stumps them.
- Reply to a begging Sadhu by saying ‘peace man’ or show a ✌️. They usually laugh.
- Reply to a tout with ‘We went on that tour this morning’ or ‘I just bought one’, or best is to just ignore them and keep walking.
- Ignore people who say they work for the temple or city and want to give you a free tour. It’s a scam and they will expect a ‘donation’.
Entry fees are on the rise
Costs recently increased at most tourist sites in India resulting in an unreasonable fee for foreigners. If it’s 50 INR for an Indian, it’s 600 to 1200 INR for a foreigner. That’s 10 to 20 times more expensive. Almost all government run sites are 600 – 1200 INR per exhibit.
Indians don’t like to line up. They’ll push and but in front of you before standing in line. Just tell them you were here first and they’ll move behind you.
SIM Cards 📱
Internet coverage varies with areas, but we found Airtel to be the most consistent throughout the country. If you’re just going to remote areas such as Ladakh, you may consider BSNL, the government service. It’s not as easy to get a SIM card in India as it is in other countries in Asia.
How to get a SIM card in India
- Go to an authorized shop selling SIM cards for the provider you want.
- Pre-paid SIM cards are available for 28 or 84 days. These can be reloaded, but will not be valid once your visa expires.
- Complete the foreigner paperwork at the shop.
- You must provide originals and copies of your passport and visa and a passport sized picture with the forms.
- Use your hotel for a local reference.
- The shop will submit the forms for you, but activation can take 3 to 5 days so it’s not great for a short vacation.
- After 3 – 5 days you can activate the phone via codes texted from the service provider.
- Note: You must be in the same calling area for this activation. For example, we purchased ours in Manali, Himachal Pradesh and then went to Punjab for a week. We weren’t able to activate our plan until we returned to Manali, not even to from another city in the state.
- Rates will change, but in 2019 we paid only 495 INR for 84 days with 2GB of data per day!
Avoiding Delhi Belly 🤢
Traveler’s diarrhea is common, so you need to be careful. Here are quick tips to avoid:
- Don’t drink tap water. Buy bottled water, use purifying drops, tablets, filters or UV rays to purify your water. This includes ice.
- If a restaurant or vendor is busy, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good or safe, it can also mean it’s cheap. Only eat at clean restaurants and vendors.
- Fresh fruits and veggies are dangerous if not cleaned properly. If buying yourself, remove the skin or clean it with boiled or purified water.
- Be on the look-out for pre-opened and re-filled water bottles. We only came across this once, but heard of it happening to others. Always check to make sure your bottle of any drink is sealed.
- Be cautious with dairy products like milk or ice cream that may be made from unpasteurized milk.
- Consider eating vegetarian during your stay as meat is not refrigerated and markets are open to all types of insects.
- Visit your travel doctor before leaving to get all the up-to-date shots and medicine.
- Regular hand washing and using sanitizers is very helpful to prevent viruses and bacteria for everything from flues to Delhi belly.
We never felt unsafe while in India, but there’s always a potential for petty theft, especially in the touristy areas. The best rule is never entice a would-be thief.
- Leave your expensive jewelry at home so you are not a target.
- Only carry the amount of cash you will need for the day in your wallet. Keep the rest in a money belt.
- There are starting to be more cashless options in India, such as PayTM, which would be safer than cash. So far, these are only available in larger centres.
- As with many places, never leave anything unattended, or out of your line of sight.
- Use your own padlocks on hotel doors when possible.
Dress 👚 👖
India is a very conservative, patriarchal society and visitors should abide by their customs. Part of being safe is not standing out or attracting unwanted attention. People will stare at you for being a foreigner, but usually it’s curiosity and not lust, but don’t give them the opportunity either.
What should women wear in India? Dress modestly, this means:
- Wear clothing that is loose fitting, especially on your legs.
- Wear long skirts, dresses or pants that go to the ankle. Indian men never see legs, so don’t let yours be the first.
- Instead of a long skirt, wear leggings under a loose knee-length tunic. Leggings/tights are not appropriate on their own.
- Sleeveless tops, but not spaghetti straps, are okay in most centres.
- Bathing suits of any kind are not advisable anywhere except on some beaches in Goa and at resort hotels.
- Take a scarf to cover up when needed.
- Temple/gurudwara/mosque attire is very modest:
- Hindu/Buddhist Temples- cover up from shoulder to ankle, remove your shoes
- Sikh gurudwaras – cover up from shoulder to ankle and cover your hair, remove your shoes
- Muslim mosques – cover arms, legs and hair, remove your shoes
What should men wear in India? Men should also dress conservatively:
- Wear loose fitting long shorts or pants
- Loose fitting shirts with sleeves.
- Temple/gurudwara/mosque attire is very modest:
- Hindu/Buddhist Temples- cover up from shoulder to ankle
- Sikh gurudwaras – cover from shoulder to ankle and cover your hair
- Muslim mosques – cover legs, arms (short sleeves may be allowed) and in some you will be require to wear a head covering
Toilet paper is not common at most public washrooms including restaurants. Carry a small amount in your day pack. It is also not uncommon to have your hotel try to avoid giving you toilet paper, or not giving you a replacement roll after a day or two.
Do not dispose of toilet paper in the toilet. Throw it in a waste basket instead.
Don’t expect 5 minutes to be 5 minutes. We found that most people do not operate on a time schedule or judge time as westerners do. When they say it will take in 5 minutes, reality is it will be anywhere from 5 min to 2 hours.
Check seasonal weather before deciding when and where to go. This sounds obvious, but weather can be very extreme and affects not only your site-seeing, but also the condition of roads getting to and from. Weather can range from monsoon floods to scorching heat to snow and ice. Know the best times to go to your planned regions.
It’s a large country and it takes a long time to get anywhere. If you only have a few weeks, don’t try to see too much of the country at once. Instead, choose a few sites that are close together or in neighboring states. 100 km will take 3 – 4 hours by bus or jeep. If you have a lot of time, then definitely explore the different regions of this amazing country.
It is very difficult to travel by train as a foreigner. To purchase a train ticket there are a few options:
- To book on-line you need an Indian bank account and a permanent address so it’s not easy for foreigners.
- Last-minute tickets are available at train stations or travel agents, but as this is a favourite mode of transportation of Indians, you’re often left with limited options and may have to wait a few days.
- A few stations in large centres (eg Kolkatta, Varanasi, Chennai) have International Tourist Bureaus to help travelers book their travel. There are only 11 of these offices so you would need to book most of your trips at once, but then you will not have flexibility to change your plans.
- To use this service:
- To find an office use http://www.indianrail.gov.in/enquiry
- Select your train numbers, class and dates for every trip
- Take this list when you go to an International Tourist Bureau.
- Warning – The latest scam is for someone to pretend that they work for the train station and tell you that Bureau has been relocated. They’ll send you to a travel agent who is pretending to be the Tourist Bureau.
- Choose 2A (2nd class AC, sleeper) or CC (seats for shorter trips) as they are the best choice for price and comfort.
- Avoid 3A and SL class cars. They are cheaper, but usually very crowded and uncomfortable are.
- Trains are rarely on time. Once we had to wait 6 hours for a train to arrive and our destination was only 4 hours away.
Sleeper Buses – There are many different types of buses in India. For long-haul routes sleeper buses are preferred. These come in many different conditions so do your research before buying a ticket. We found Redbus.in and Orangetravels.in were good on-line companies to book overnight buses.
In southern and eastern India the overnight buses were actually quite nice with clean sheets, pillows and a solid door and included a snack and water. In western India the buses were more run-down and didn’t have sheets, pillows or snacks, but the prices were about the same as in the east.
Choosing a overnight bus:
• Prices for overnight buses are reasonable at 800-1000 INR for a clean bus.
• Volvo buses will have the smoothest ride.
• A/C Sleeper (2+1) – Air conditioned with upper and lower bunks, one side of the bus has double beds for 2 people, the other side has a single bed for 1 person. Each bed is in its own compartment.
• A/C Semi Sleeper (2+2) – Air-conditioned bus with reclining seats, 2 seats on each side.
• A/C Seater / Sleeper (2+1) – Air-conditioned bus with beds on the top (double bed on one side, single bed on the other) and the bottom row has reclining seats usually 2 seats on each side.
• These may all come Non-A/C as well, so be careful. Read the reviews before booking.
Local buses – Other than hiring a car and driver, local buses are often the only way to get between smaller centres. Local buses are usually crowded, uncomfortable and slow, but they’re also a great way to see real life. Prices are very cheap, usually under 100 INR for a 2 hour ride. You usually can’t book ahead, and they only accept cash. Most use the city’s Bus Stop (Station).
Roads can be in very poor conditions in parts of India. Some areas are completely cut off during monsoon season or winter. Check local reports before traveling to remote area.
For the full story on our trips to India visit Destinations/India
Coming up next: Dragon’s Back Trail, Hong Kong
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To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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