As well as our, “what to bring” and “what to expect” posts, we’ve compiled a list of our top tips for travelling in India. Over the course of 3 months we learned a few lessons the hard way and picked up a few tips and tricks along the way. India is definitely a “learn by doing” country but the following might save you a bit of time and hassle. 😎
- Just Ask
This cannot be over emphasised! India will be strange and confusing at the best of times. You can plan ahead to your hearts content and still find yourself 10 minutes later, standing on a street corner swearing the bus stop was there on the map. It seems very simple, but just ask. The Locals are almost always super friendly and happy to help. They will also know a lot more than your google search is telling you. A quick question to passers by can save you hours of endlessly wandering around, looking for signs that don’t exist.
- Go With The Flow
Someone told us before our trip, that India is like a mirror. If you’re able to stay calm and chilled, India will reflect this back to you. We found this to be clinically accurate, right from day one. Things will go wrong, your plans will fall apart and nothing will ever be on time. Take a deep breath and things will work out, although probably at a totally different pace than you planned. India will test you (a lot) and getting frustrated gets you nowhere. Laugh it off, smile along with the crowd and go with the flow.
- 5ltr Water Bottles
No matter the season, India is hot! We arrived just as the season ended and spent most of our time in temperatures around 45°C. We found that our bodies seemed to adjust quite well over time but even in good days, we would drink at around five litres of water between us. If you stick to buying the chilled 1ltr/2ltr bottles from vendors, you’ll quickly notice you’ve sweated away a decent chuck of budget. If you’re only there for a short duration or have a larger budget then crack on but picking up 5ltr bottles can help free up some of those rupees for more fun things, like ice cream!! Sadly the larger bottles are almost always room temperature but they will save you around rs.11 per litre and usually cool down over night.
One of the first things you’ll notice in India is that cost is a relative concept. This is great for quickly developing your haggling skills but knowing the MRP (maximum retail price) for things is a good way to avoid over paying for things. Usually written on the side of bottles and packets, this is regulated price that vendors should not charge more than. If you’re staying in an area for a few days, often vendors will charge you a little less than the MRP for things like water to encourage you to come back. In some areas, especially the more tourist travelled routes (beaches), some shop owners will edit the MRP or insist that they have to charge more because it’s a tourist area. This is obviously nonsense and technically illegal. We made a point to always shop elsewhere in these situations. I guess it depends how desperate you are.
- 2 Weeks Before Indulging
When you think of India, a lot of the time you think of hot food and upset stomachs. A very wise friend of ours told us before our trip to go easy for the first couple of weeks, eat at nicer restaurants and avoid being too adventurous. After 2 weeks, you can ease yourself into some street food and try new things as you go. We’re still adamant that it’s the best strategy as we had three months without illness and we ate everything!
- Grapefruit Extract
If you do find your gut telling you that something isn’t quite right, add a few drops of grapefruit extract to your water bottles. Every little helps!
- Uber vs. Tuk tuks
We were a little naive when we first arrived in India and thought getting auto rickshaws would be the cheapest way to get around. This can be the case if you’re a local and live in a rural area but Uber is without doubt, the cheapest way to get from A to B in India. If you’re just looking for a quick drop off to the train station for rs.50, it can save you the bother of trying to haggle a fair price. We found that its almost impossible to agree a rickshaw price as low as Uber.
- Don’t Book (If you can)
The temptation to book accommodation in advance and avoid the hassle of walking around, with heavy bags in areas you don’t know, can be great at times. However, booking online will guarantee that you pay a little more than just shopping around in person. Booking in person, you can avoid extra charges for booking fees and taxes, as well as negotiating a lower rate and be able to see what you’re paying for before you hand over the cash. We were able to get big discounts by researching a place we liked and then turning up to agree a price in person. This is especially effective in the low season as most rooms will remain the same prices online.
- Pay less for more
On the few occasions that we dined in fancier restaurants, we found that for the most part, the food quality was either equal to or less than some of the smaller family run restaurants in the same area. In our experience, paying more doesn’t always mean getting more. Ask the locals where their favourite place to eat is, you can bet they’re eating the best and it won’t be at the 5 star hotel.
- Book train tickets before the train departs
This might sound like common sense but in India, some train journeys can last 3 days. This could mean if you buy a train ticket on a Sunday for the next day, you will only be able to buy a general class ticket as the train started its journey on the Saturday before. Once the train leaves its original station, you can only buy general class and then upgrade with the conductor when you board. When this happens, pray that he has a spare seat.
- Get an IRCTC Account
This is the governing body for the Indian railway. You will need an activated account in order to buy tickets online. It’s free to sign up but a nightmare to activate. Once you’ve registered on the IRCTC site, send them an email, asking them to activate your account without needing a mobile OTP, with your registration confirmation emails attached. Then send it again, then again, then a few more times. On average it takes over a month to get an account activated. Keep pestering, eventually you’ll get a response. It will be worth it!
- Download Cleartrip
This app is a tidy way to buy train tickets. You can use the IRCTC site but it’s a mess at the best of times. Use the cleartrip app to check times and availability. You will still need your IRCTC account activated in order to book with Cleartrip.
- Bring Hand Sanitiser & Toilet Roll
These are a little less essential after you’ve settled in but are key to preventing you getting ill at the start of your trip. There’s no denying, India is very different. The huge difference in culture comes with a new culture of bacteria that your body will soon be making friends with. Hand sanitizer will help your body adjust little easier and loo roll because…
- Bring Warm Clothing
Crazy right!? If you’re in the hills of Munnar or enjoying the coast, you’ll be enjoying 40 heat in the day and shivering at night. Something warm is also really useful if you’re in AC coaches on trains/buses.
- Learn Some Hindi
It’s actually really easy to pick up a few basic Hindi words and phrases. Please, thank you etc. Despite the fact that the Indian people are ridiculously talented when it comes to linguistics, everyone will appreciate you making the effort in their country. Don’t be that guy shouting English in a patronising tone.
- Get Married
Not literally, but if you’re travelling as a couple, it’s a lot easier to just say you are married. I guarantee you, people will be much friendlier. Yes it’s wrong that you have to pretend so that people don’t judge you but there are worse things going on in the country. It’s just a fact that some people will treat you differently if they think you are doing something that they feel is wrong. A lot of the time, even strangers would ask if we were together and after a month of weird responses and being uncomfortable, we got married and lived happily ever after. 😊
- Hand wash clothes
Do as the Romans do. Washing Machines are almost as rare as gender equality in India. Do as the locals do and get yourself some powder and soap. Most hostels and quest stay bathroms have a wash bucket for washing cloths. These double up as a bucket baths. Paying to have someone hand wash your pants is cheap but the washing powders are cheaper and it’s good exercise!
No matter where you go, people will want to take your photo and be in photos with you. This is because they want to show their friends all the different people they meet and you will look very different indeed. We had a few approaches to this but eventually decided to politely refuse all photos unless they seemed really sincere and wanted a conversation and not just a photo. You could easily spend months in India just posing for photos and maybe that’s your thing, but it’s also ok to say no.
Just a few bits that might help you on your way. Feel free to comment below with any questions you may have.