After my numerous trips to Mother India and having spent more time exploring and traveling all around this country than I have spent in my very own New York City apartment, I am still as enamored as ever. India is so full of life, color, textures, and smells (yes, India is truly a country to experience with all your senses) that it is both intoxicating and exhausting. But let’s be honest, it’s also absolutely confusing, frustrating, and sometimes even scary. People always ask me for India travel advice and since a friend of mine recently arrived there for a two month volunteer program, I thought it would be the perfect time to share my best travel tips for India with you (sorry I haven’t already written one).
India is a challenging country to travel and this holds true despite the many times I’ve been there. It does get easier in some respects, but not most. The biggest travel lesson I’ve learned from India is to just relax and let things go with the flow. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but once you do, you start enjoying India all the more. Hopefully the following advice on traveling in India will come in handy – I sure wished I knew them before my first time to India!
Book train tickets in advance as much as possible. 18 million people ride the trains in India EACH DAY and naturally, train tickets sell out, especially during Indian holidays. There are a select number of “tourist” train tickets reserved for last minute purchase, but they often have long wait lists and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a seat. You can use the Indian railway’s website to book tickets, and if worse comes to worse, you can have an agent purchase last minute tickets for you for a hefty fee.
Carry Wet Wipes with you at all times. In case you haven’t heard, India can be dirty. Real dirty. Wet Wipes will come in handy at least half a dozen times a day.
Ask before you shoot. If you’re up close and want to get a photo of someone, ask. Always. It’s rude not to. A majority of Indians love having their photo taken and seeing themselves on your viewfinder, but a small percentage may not want a camera shoved in their face, especially if they’re just trying to go about their own business. I find that it’s usually elderly women who refrain from having their photos taken, in particular if a man is asking. Be respectful of their wishes. If they don’t want you to take their photo, you’ll find someone else who will. A simple gesture with your camera to indicate your intent will suffice when language can’t.
Embrace the chaos. There’s truly nothing that can prepare a first-time India traveler for the chaos that is daily life in India. Stop trying to make sense of it and definitely don’t get frustrated when you inevitably can’t. It’s crazy and confusing, but it’s India, and somehow it works so just go with the flow.
ALWAYS carry your hotel’s card with you. Almost as rare as a clean public toilet in India is a rickshaw driver who knows how to get you to your destination. Let me be clear: Your rickshaw driver will have NO idea where you want to go even though he’ll insist he knows. Unless you’re headed for a major landmark and/or are staying at some luxurious name brand hotel, make sure your hotel’s business card is with you at all times so that the driver can call the hotel and find out how to get you home.
Stay open-minded. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen tourists be rude to locals in India when they approach and start a conversation. While all the touts will get you down at some point, don’t let that stop you from being friendly with the locals. Not everyone is trying to sell you something or scam you out of your money. Most locals just want to talk to you and get to know you better. Spare a few minutes to chat and you’ll be rewarded with smiles and maybe even an invitation to tea or lunch.
Eat with your hands. Every local restaurant will have a place to wash hands so do like the locals and dig in with your (right) hand when you enjoy your next meal. There’s something inherently more delicious about food that’s eaten with your hands and the locals will get a kick out of it.
Make time for a festival. India is a country that loves festivals and with the many cities celebrating a variety of festivals at any time of the year, it’s not difficult to find one. Find out what festivals may be happening in the area and whatever you do, attend. In 2013, I had returned to Rajasthan for the Holi Festival (an AMAZING experience) when I heard of the Mewar Festival in Udaipur. Although I had already been to Udaipur on another trip and wasn’t planning on going back, I decided this festival was something I couldn’t miss, especially when I was thisclose to it that I rearranged some plans and made it in time to witness one of the most spectacular festivals in India.
I often describe my feelings for India as a love-hate relationship and I know that many other travelers feel the same. India is not the easiest place to travel, but you are rewarded in so many ways. Keep these travel tips in mind and embrace all that India has to offer; the good and the not-so-good. In the end, you’ll have amazing memories that will last a lifetime.
Do you have any more travel tips for India you’d like to share?