Through my 200 blog posts on India, I have given these tips randomly. I thought it would be nice to have it all my tips for first time travel to India in one place for people who are just visiting my website.
First of all, if you are traveling to India- YAY! You’re going to love it and I’m sure you’re really pumped. Let’s get started.
Side note: be sure to download a copy of my India Guide ebook which will plan out your entire trip to make sure you have the best time in India (it’s 100,000 words from my 6 years traveling here organized by section like visa or itinerery options) these Popular FAQ for travel to India and the 10 mistakes first time travelers make in India.
Before You Go to India
- If you haven’t booked your tickets yet, I highly recommend Kiwi for finding the best, cheapest options. Depending on your budget, you can skip the trains altogether and fly to the cities you want to see with Kiw’s multi-city tool. Check here to for the costs.
- Please, make sure you don’t forget your visa! You DO need a visa in India, even as a traveler. I use iVisa for everything. You can see what you need to do here.
- Get travel insurance! While India is cheap, something as simple as a broken arm can cost you quite a bit. I highly recommend World Nomads.
- If you have an unlocked phone, you can get a SIM card. If not, use Trabug. They’ll deliver right to your hotel too!
- If you’re looking for tours to join, Gadventures does long term tours while I use Viator for day tours.
10 Tips for First Time Travel to India
1. Just drop all your expectations.
I don’t think you’ll be able to guess what India will be like as a foreigner. You’re either going to be let down, or if you’re like me it might exceed your expectations. Either way, it’s a waste of time because India is absolutely bonkers. Instead of daydreaming about what India will be like, spend more time looking up places you want to see so you can make the most of your time.
2. Take a good think about your budget.
India is cheap as a destination in comparison to well, almost anywhere. But cheap is not free. A room might be 5 dollars (at it’s lowest), your food may be two bucks (eating 3 meals a day= 6 bucks), and transport each day may be at least a dollar on average (some days you may spend more and some days none). So let’s just say with no shopping, entrance fees, or any extras you need at minimum 12 bucks a day. That comes to about 360 bucks on basics for one month.
Now you have all your train and bus fees to add, any flights, any snacks, shopping, and Wi-Fi. Plus, you probably aren’t going to find a room for the lowest of 5 bucks more than once or twice on your trip unless you’re with a friend. Go ahead and double that just in case 720 and you’ll be safe as a budget traveler. You’ll be sorely disappointed if each day you’re over budget and that’s something you don’t want to ruin your trip. Read my budget breakdown of India for more specifics.
For good deals there are Indian websites but to keep it simple, Agoda has equivalent or lower prices and is a more universal website (takes payment cards from anywhere). Your points from India travel then won’t go to waste.
While I usually pay around $1200 for a roundtrip flight, you can get it as low as $700. Use Kiwi to find the best deals; it’s my favorite.
I had this view in Pushkar for 500 rs per night
3. Feel free to “wing it” but do a little research, at least.
India is gorgeous everywhere and even if you don’t have a plan (I didn’t have much of one)- it’s good to know which areas interest you. In two years I haven’t seen even half of India’s main attractions so at least make a list of the places that interest you most. Here’s a backpacking bucket list of India that has all my dreams on it (some I completed). It can give you some ideas of the awesome opportunities of adventure in India so you can write it in your travel journal. Don’t over plan because you’ll be let down. Even in six months you just can’t see it all. Read more on traveling with no plans on my previous post. If you want an amazing trip but no planning and you want to go with a tour company, the only one I recommend is G Adventures.
this is a google doc I would add things to as I read
4. Indian people are so friendly but they are shy.
You absolutely can try to talk to them on trains and buses and most times they will be happy to do so- they’ll even let you take photos of them. They might stare sometimes, but it’s just curiosity and isn’t as rude in their culture. On the other hand, if you try to chat to an Indian businessman, you might be surprised to see that he spends half his time abroad and looks down on you, you silly backpacker!, and might not give you the time of day. Just because you’re in India doesn’t mean all the Indian people you meet are from some small village and haven’t seen a white face. Hell, most of my Indian girlfriends are far more cultured than I and have traveled more place- and speak more languages!
5. Know the basic words in Hindi
It will get the shop keepers to laugh a little. I’m surely not spelling these right because I only learn from hearing but here are some that will help:
Acha na-he- not good
Tike hay- right, yeah or say ha/ haji -yes
Bus- stop (for a rickshaw driver is handy. You can add yaha-here)
Kitna rupia- how much?
Krupiyah- please & shukriyah- thank you
Mutlub- meaning? Apka mutlub ho? (what do you mean?)
Ek bottle Pani dedo- give me 1 bottle water (krupiyah- please!) or if you want a hot shower ask, “garum pani?” when checking in, they’ll know what you mean. Want to know if the water is clean, ask “yay pani sof hay?”
1, 2, 3, 4, 5- ek, do, teen, cha, panch
6. Packing is KEY.
I won’t go into detail here because I’ve written so much on the matter. Here is the ultimate packing list for backpacking India as well as the do’s and don’ts for how to dress in India as a girl and examples of what I’ve worn. It’s important to pack well so you don’t have to buy as much on the road, you’ll be respected more, and you’ll feel more comfortable. It’s also important not to pack things you don’t need. India is not the wilderness- you don’t need a whistle and compass (yes, I totally brought these my first time to India… went a little nuts at REI). Here are my India travel essentials below:
7. Don’t panic if you get sick… and you will get sick.
It’s pretty much a guarantee at some point you’ll have a belly ache (Delhi-belly) but don’t panic and think “oh my god, I’ve some Indian parasite!” It’s just a bacterium your belly isn’t familiar with. Most times it’ll pass. Don’t pop antibiotics each time you’re sick, which is just what a chemist will tell you to do and DON’T take Imodium or other stoppers unless it’s absolutely necessary for a bus or train ride. Better out than in. As a nurse, I’m pretty stuck on passing on that tip. Read what I pack in my travel medical kit (which is not much) and what vaccinations you need for India.
Again, get travel Insurance! It is so important.
8. Don’t hop around too much.
Unlike Europe where you can go from London to Paris to Vienna all in a week… in India that will just wear you out to the max. To fully enjoy India you need to RELAX, and they do not make it easy on you considering what a chaotic country they are.
When you go from city to city you’ll have an annoying fight with a rick driver about cost, a sweaty dusty ride to the bus or train station, a long LOUD overnight ride with people watching you sleep, on a bus possibly a stop in the middle of the night to get a snack and use a horrible toilet, on a train you’re stuck with the squat one that is very dirty, then you have a fight with another rick driver to your hotel, where you’ll be told a price higher than agreed. Once you get to your room you’ll be beat!
So, try to at least stay in the city you land in about 3-4 days. Any less than that, and you’re just going to be burnt out and become one of those people that hate India by the end. Read up on tips for train and bus travel in India.
9. Don’t wait until the day of to book your train or bus to the next city.
The perfect way to travel for me is to arrive in, let’s say Delhi, and while I’m at the train station I book my ticket out of Delhi on to say Jaipur. Now I have my ticket and I know where to go in a few days. If you wait, seats sell out very fast. Most times there are buses but in smaller towns like Pushark, Manali, and other frequented by tourists the buses will fill up. It can delay your trip. Read up on how the trains in India operate so if you’re in a pickle you can try out the tourist quota for a seat saved just for your emergency!
Most often you’re going to arrive at night. Sometimes in the middle of the night. You can ask your hotel to pick you up and often times they will at a great discount. Cheap guesthouses know you have options and are usually open to picking you up. You should book ahead and be ready for late night transport. If you go the Airbnb route which is in some places in India, use this link to get $25 off your first booking (or you can use it anywhere in the world).
10. Come to India at the right time and visit each state at the right time.
This might be the most important tip, although last on this list. India is so seasonal. There are two monsoon seasons and they hit different areas at different times. The mountains in December in the NW are hard to travel and many passes are closed. You won’t get to Leh! Goa in May is desolate, bare, and has no parties.. and in June and July, it’s pouring rain with nothing even open! The Taj in peak season of December will be so packed and is the worst time to go. Read my Guide to India’s Seasons for specific information and plan accordingly. Overall, India’s season is October to March.
Once again: DO NOT FORGET YOUR VISA. You would be surprised how many people email me saying they showed up without one and got sent home.Click here for visas from any country, less than 60 days. If you’re coming longer than 60 days, click here if from the USA, and here if from UK (I have guides for those two countries).
PS: If you’re coming to India and will spend a week of more in Goa, check out my ebook the Insider’s Guide to Goa. After five years of living here, I’m sure this 170-page book is the most comprehensive guide to Goa on the market. Click here to buy it.
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It’s funny to read that a lot of Indian people are shy. I’m not sure why, but I wouldn’t have expected that. Ha, the staring thing is something that happens A LOT in Indonesia. Seriously, I’ll just be shopping at the grocery store or walking through the mall and all eyes are on me. It always makes me feel really awkward but I suppose you just get used to it after awhile. Like you said about India, it’s not that they’re being rude, I think they are just curious!
I’d love to come to Indonesia. The staring is something I’m so used to now, I forget about it.
Excellent tips! I especially like the drop all your expectations one. I think it’s really important when travelling to countries like India, where things can be unpredictable and disorganised, schedules don’t run on time and things happen “just because” etc, not to have too high expectations! You have to go with the flow I guess. It’s like that a bit in China too, which is why I think some people really suffer with culture shock or disappointment when they come here! But I imagine it’s even more so in India! I wonder how Indian people would feel going somewhere like Japan where everything is super organised, there are lots of rules and everything just..works??
I don’t know what to think of China. I really don’t know much about it so I think I would be pretty shocked if I came over that way. Maybe that should be my next visa run!
Yes to all of these! I think #1 was most important for me. Also, I would add “patience” and “add extra time.” Patience, because things just move at a different pace there. Sometimes, tomorrow really means tomorrow. Most of the time, it means next week:) Which I why I would also “add extra time” built into a trip, because I found that something I thought would take 1 day to do (book a train ticket, get from one city to another), sometimes took 3!
You’re right. Patience and extra time are always needed in India!
These are great tips! I love that you said to spend time planning an itinerary rather than imagining what India will be like. I know it will be nothing like I imagine, so I’m just trying to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable culture shock and sensory overload!
You’re going to love it!
hi Rachel, I love reading your blogs about indian travel. I am from mumbai and mostly I spent my time in Goa or travelling around India. For now I am travelling in Himachal Pradesh and from here will go to Uttarakhand and after that I ll plan according to my budget.
Let’s see… (andaman islands or back to goa)
I enjoy your indian travel blogs. It’s simple in understanding and friendly too. :-)
keep it up Rachel….
That’s so exciting! Thank you for reading my blog.
Great tips! I especially like #8 – we had a month and a half in India and my original itinerary is much different than what we actually did – it was just too much to be on the go – and it’s taxing (and trying) travelling there so for our sanity we took it slower!
My itinerary was much different too! Bound to happen I guess
Great tips! thanks a lot for sharing, I think this will be useful in the future :)
I love that! I took a sreenshot of the hindi basics (:
Thank you very much, my dear !!!
Your welcome, hope they are right lol! I haven’t had any of my Indian readers comment with corrections, yet…
good..just one thing..saaf is clean ,as in is the water clean..? sof may not be the right word..
yes saaf! sof is how i guessed to spell it which isn’t right, but i pronounce it like saaf.
Your tips are the best – gonna share this because I know how much you helped me before I came to India. I can’t wait to see more of India, spend more time going from place to place at a slow pace and enjoying the bonkers side and the lazy side, the food, the prices, the shopping, the people, the culture. Miss it.
ahhh thanks colleen!! I could tell u were going to come back here one day :)
This guide is great – I must share it with everyone, and it’s almost the same for anywhere in the subcontinent. Thank you!
Awesome top 10! I love that you added a bit on language as well.
Did not know the worst season for Taj Mahal was Dec, thankfully I’ll be shifting this trip out!
yep, it’s so crowded then!
These are fantastic tips Rachel! Especially the budget tip. I wish this article had been around 5 years ago when I traveled through India, it might have spared me a crying breakdown on an extreme hot day at a train station :)
hhaha that’s so funny! Well not having the tips means you really learned from experience only which is worth a lot
Hey Rachel! I really enjoyed reading your blog post especially the ones on India. I also read your “Love Hate Relationship with India”. I was amazed by the knowledge you have on India. Most of the foreigners are unaware of it. Great work, keep sharing…!
Thank you, that’s so nice!
Hi there! Great tips! do you know anything about the area where this yoga hotel (link below) is located? I am staying there with my sister in a few weeks and would love to know if you’ve discovered any secret spots!
Sorry I haven’t heard of this place :/
Hi there! Just wanted to drop a note of appreciation! Great tips, especially about being realistic about one’s expectations!
I also thought I would suggest some corrections of the Hindi words. ‘Four’ is ‘chaar’ and the translation of ‘what do you mean’ should probably be ‘Aapka matlab kya hain?’
This is a really useful post as we are off to India next – from September to December and we are a little apprehensive as we have no idea what to expect. Thanks for some great advice that we will definitely be taking on board.
Hope it helps you out, enjoy your trip.
India is not very rich country as it was in pre British era. Add to it a large population and lack of good education to a majority of public because of poverty. That is the reason things are little chaotic here. But there are good five star hotels, special tourist trains and certified travel guides which will make tourists’ visits comfortable.
Shyness, may be because they are lost when it comes to English language…so they prefer not to make a fool of themselves.
thanks for sharing :)
Hi Rachel ,
Hope u r doing fine . First I want to thank you to choose India , a place where to come to stay for a long time . I also want to appreciate your efforts and guidance which you give to people so that they can make their mind before entering to the country which has lost of languages and culture .
Hope to meet u soon in GOA . Great work done . Keep it up ! Cheers .
Sorry for typing error ( lots of mistakes )
I absolutely love having a quick dry towel and a headlamp. I’ve done a few long-term backpacking trips without them, but did my last one with them. Well worth the very small investment.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make the most difference
THIS: “To fully enjoy India you need to RELAX, and they do not make it easy on you” I totally agree re: the chaos and hard times of traveling city to city. Stay put for awhile and enjoy getting to know a place. Though I found short hops like from Chennai to Kochi by air, or Chennai to Bengaluru by the fast train (lots of biz travelers), are not bad to do. Probably because neither involves much time on the ground. Also don’t take it for granted that your driver from Delhi will know how to get to the Taj Mahal in Agra! And my husband speaks Tamil, no Hindi, so we were in the odd situation of me, an American, looking up Hindi words on an iPhone app to communicate with our driver! Who didn’t know how to read the road signs pointing to the Taj Mahal. That’s exactly what you mean regarding, they don’t make it easy on you! I found tons of variance between drivers, sometimes you get lucky and get someone with lots of value-add who tells you things like “don’t travel at this time, too much traffic, go at this time instead.”
Hey Deb, how interesting! and thanks for adding those tips here as well :)
Great post Rachel. We just arrived in India last week, in Goa now and loving the country so far. These are fantastic tips and we’ll definitely be utilizing these during the next 3 months. Cheers
awesome, have fun!!
My husband is from India and came to the U.S 3 years ago, thats how we met, but he is planning to go back in a couple months so me and his daughter could meet his family there. He keeps warning me about what could happen. And to be honest, the more he tells me about his home town (Gujarat) makes me not want to go at all. Especially with our 5 month old. He says right when you arrive in an Indian airport, the security guys notice you’re American and assume you have a lot of money, so they harass you right there and demand money. He said it smells like cow ass and it’s extremely hot. He did tell me that I will get sick the first couple days, like really sick, where I have to stay in bed. Its manditory for paramedics to come into the home and treat the illness when known that someone is new to India for the first time or even visiting since months or years.
Hi Stacy, wow it sounds like your hubby doesn’t like India much. There are smells, some areas are hot but others cold. Its -2 where I am now in NE India. As for people coming to house, I’ve been very sick and never heard of this. at the airport you simply say no and they will leave you alone. Since you will be with him you shouldn’t have issues
Thank you for your great and thorough advice on visiting India. I am apprehensive about some things, especially my sensitive stomach, but I’m used to preparing for it every trip. India sounds so fascinating, and it was good to hear your thoughts to get some perspective so I don’t expect too much or too little.
hi! these are fabulous tips! i leave next week and so far i’m winging it, haha! where did you stay exactly in pushkar??
Hey! I think I mention here: https://hippie-inheels.com/pushkar-travel-guide/ Enjoy your trip!
I’ve been wanting to visit India but I’m a little nervous. I’m excited to start reading your blog. IT may sound silly, but I’m even more excited that you’re a nurse! One of my issues is health stuff.
We’re heading to Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong this spring. Perhaps those adventures will shore up my confidence for India! =)
Thanks for reading!! I hope you guys have an awesome trip :) If you have health questions shoot me an email I feel like I don’t write about it as much as I should.
great to hear you moved to a new life and talk about your experiences. I am looking for a new journey and wonder if this is the destinaton for yoga or is it to obvious?
I’m not sure what you mean by obvious but India is a great place to come try yoga or do a retreat.
Hi I am Sandy and I’m an Indian from Kerala . Just wanted to correct the way you say some phrases in Hindi?
For “What do you mean” the correct way is “Aapka kya matlab ?”
For “How much” the right way is “Kitna hua ?”
People staring at you is because you’re an outsider , foreigner to be presice and people everywhere around the world would look at those outsiders just oit of curiousity of knowing how you dress or how you talk
Also as you are eager to tak pics with us Indians same is with us , we would also like to take pictures with you so we can show off to our colleagues
Great tips. I just got my ticket for India and feeling nervous but happy at the same time
That is SO exciting!!!
Lots of great tips on traveling India! Absolutely cant wait to visit this magnificent country! Thanks for the tips :) there are definately some I can take with me!:)
Adding to your 5th tip about knowing a little Hindi – If you are planning to travel anywhere to the southern part of India, Hindi is not going to be able to help you communicate with the locals since not everyone is fluent in Hindi (myself included). It is one of the common misconceptions about India that the whole country speaks Hindi. Just FYI. Safe travels.
Yes, this is true. Even living in Goa for 5 years, I chose to learn Hindi over Konkani though because it’s the most useful across the country for sure. Many people in the South are not fluent but at least speak a little while someone in the North won’t speak one word of Malayalam or konkani.
it was exceptionally helpful article these information budget tip thanks for sharing amazing tips. great content use this article good job
Thanks for sharing this useful information. And you are right on advice for visit india on right time for each state. Because Each state in india has different culture, heritage, language, food, and weather.
Always wanted to visit India! I just want to know one thing, since we mostly travel as a group of 4 can you tell me if it is convenient and safe to rent motorbikes to roam around the place, and a car to ease your travels to another city? Trains and busses can really drain you out – as you mentioned above.
Anyway, great blog!
I completely agree with you.
Glad that you are able to stay in India for such longer periods.
Great guide for first time visitor in India. Thanks for sharing.