10 Common Travel Mistakes to Avoid in India

This list is short, but I could go on and on. If you’re planning a trip, take the time to search my site (there is a search bar, top right) and learn more about how to travel India.

The more you know ahead of time, the better your trip will go. I’m not saying book things and have an exact plan, but understand the place, be prepared for stares and mean men pushing past, or a guy peeing on the street literally in front of everyone. If you know it’s happening you can skip “shock” and go straight to laughter.

10 Travel Mistakes to Avoid in India

travel mistakes to avoid in India

1. Drinking bad water

Getting sick not only makes you feel like shit, but it delays your trip. It’s not just remembering not to drink tap water, but to make sure that the ice cubes you get are made from filtered or bottled water, the milkshake or mixed drink has bottled water, and that the veggies you eat haven’t been cleaned with tap water. When you buy bottled water make sure the lid hasn’t been cracked. I will drink filtered water and I think as your trip goes on, you’ll start to become more lax about it and see that it’s okay. I’ve never been tricked at a restaurant about the water and most that serve to westerners or are somewhat nice will know not to use tap water.

2. Paying too much in transport

I’ve told you all about the scams on tourists in India, but transportation is already the biggest part of your budget. If you pay the asking rate, you’re going to run out of money quickly. A rickshaw without a meter will offer you a rate of up to 10x the price (no exaggeration there). It’s the way things are in India. You should look up the distance before you go and ask how much per km. Then you can figure out a decent price. They won’t give you a local price, but paying double is oftentimes what they settle on. It’s best to find someone willing to use their meter and make sure they give you the daytime price in the day, not the midnight prices.

travel mistakes to avoid in India

 3. Not prepared for noise and crowds

Newsflash! India is noisy! There are a TON of people! Maybe you saw crowds at a concert or Times Square on New Years Eve, but it’s going to be crowds all day every day. You won’t have personal space, and on long bus rides, packed full of people, expect at least 5 of the young boys to be playing different sounds loud from their mobiles. What’s rude to us, is the norm over here.

 4. Not budgeting enough

I see a lot of posts that say you can do India on 10 USD a day. You could, and you’ll be miserable. Roughing it on a small budget in Europe is one thing, but roughing it in India can be too hard. I recommend 20 USD, although I did make it on 15. It’s better safe than sorry. Day by day prices are rising in India. Don’t get me started on Goa where a meal for two can be 60 USD easily at a decent restaurant. As much as you’ll think you’re being offered a very high rate because you’re a western backpacker, the truth is: Indians on vacation are paying a much higher rate than you. People know backpackers don’t have lots of cash to spend and are “cheap”. Indians on vacation have been saving up to splurge and their identical hotel room could be 4x the cost of your room. It’s the locals of the town you’re in who are getting better rates, because they are local, not because they are Indian. Full India budget breakdown here.

5. Going at the wrong time

If you end up in Goa in monsoon looking for a psychadelic party, you’re going to be devastated. If you try to go rafting in Rishikesh in Decemeber, prepare to freeze (if a company will even take you). Calcutta in monsoon? No thanks! Know the right times to travel to India and understand India’s changing seasons. October to March is a great time in most places, except the mountain ranges which see snow and have closed roads.

 6. Trying to see too much

I can not emphasize this enough: do not try to see all of India. First off all, what’s the point; if you’re bouncing around you aren’t experiencing anything. Second, India is going to be the most stressful place you’ve EVER traveled. Trying to travel fast will cause you to get worn out, sick, and start to “hate” India. Travel slow, take your time. If you need helped getting started, check out my India itinerary.

travel mistakes to avoid in India

 7. Not dressing appropriately

I was that girl in high school getting in trouble for holes in my jeans and tank tops showing too much shoulder, so who am I to tell you to cover up? In Goa we all (westerners, locals, Indians on vacation) wear want we want. If someone tells you to wear traditional clothes in Goa, they’ve lost their minds. But, in Delhi? Bombay? Small villages? I cover up more. I will never be the one in traditional Indian garb. I don’t have a single Indian friend that dresses in it unless it’s a cute wedding sari. In the big cities while club hopping, the local Indian girls will be in very tiny dresses just like at home. If you’re taking a cab with a group to a club and back home, wear what you want. If you’re going to be stopping for food and roaming the streets, cover up. Same goes for typical sightseeing. If you’re in a village trying to talk to locals in a little dress, don’t expect them to be stoked to see you, but you can wear a long skirt and crop top with a shawl. Make sure you understand the do’s and don’t’s for how to dress in India. Indians are more open-minded than people think, thanks to a long list of horrible Indian politicians making terrible statements about women in the news- but that’s the politicians views, not all Indians.

 8. Not asking for less spice!

Have no shame. Don’t eat it too spicy if you’re already having stomach problems or if you just don’t like it that hot. They don’t mind at all and actually find it really amusing that we can’t handle their hot hot food. Even locals will ask for less spice. It’s no big deal. If you try to play badass and say, Make it Spicy!, they will make it even spicier than they would for themselves and probably laugh at you struggle to eat it.

 9. Not keeping bags safe on transport

Nothing’s worse than being robbed on a trip abroad. Make sure to take a chain lock and place a tiny lock on the zipper of your bag, even in 2nd class A/C I locked my backpack up. I will admit now that I’ve lived here a while I’ve gotten a little lax and I’m not sure where my chain is- but I also travel with my boyfriend now sometimes and he’s more into flying than trains (I think 5 years in India will do that to you!). I keep all valuables in my train or bus sleeper with me not in my backpack. Here are my Indian train and bus tips.

 10. Not packing the right things / over packing

You do not need to go crazy preparing for you trip to India- it’s not outer space! Believe it or not, the chemists here can get you any meds you need, even birth control and sleeping pills. Forgot your contacts or broke your glasses? Even if you forget your prescription, the offices will do an eye test for free and they are fairly accurate. All the medical care I’ve gotten in India has been ok, minus the dude who ripped my toenail off. You don’t need piles of medicine. You don’t need huge baggy clothes that take up space. You do need more “cute” clothes than you think, and a pair of comfortable shoes. For exact details on what I pack check my ultimate packing for India list and my travel shop.

travel mistakes to avoid in India

India is not a big bad wolf. It’s exciting and more advanced then you think. Newly elected Modi just said in a speech, he wants to stop people peeing in the streets, build toilets, stop blaming women for rape.. etc. This is not your typical speech, especially on Indepence day (usually it’s let’s take over the world and win over Pakistan).

Things are looking up over here, but they are also getting more expensive. It’s time to come to India (and to invest in toilet companies supplying to India… sales are gonna rise, joke, joke).

PS Did you like these memes? They’re from my post about books to inspire your trip to India. Check it out.

Before coming to India do not forget these two very important things:

  1. Travel Insurance. I use World Nomads which is what Lonely Planet recommends
  2. a 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).
  3. While I don’t have a guide to all of India, I did write an e-book, 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 if you’re including Goa on your trip.

2017-08-17T14:42:45+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing to live on the beaches of Goa, India almost four years ago where she is now a travel writer. Her website gives advice on the 35+ countries she's been to but has become the go-to site for India travel, focusing on offbeat places & “glamorous travel”. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE magazine, Tripadvisor, and Thomas Cook. Her blog is one of the top 50 travel blogs in the world based on traffic. She also enjoys writing for BravoTV.

34 Comments

  1. Laura November 5, 2014 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    Love this, these are great tips for traveling in general, but definitely ones I will keep in mind for when I finally get over to India!

  2. Andrea Anastasiou November 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    Good tips. Speaking with locals here it’s nice to see there’s a lot of optimism in what Modi can achieve, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does during his term here.

    Yes, travelling in India is exhausting, but I’m pretty surprised at how once I got used to my initial shock of just how many people there are here that I’m now finding it a lot easier to deal with. I’m now wondering why I made such a big deal about it in the first place!

    • Rachel Jones November 9, 2014 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      That’s great to hear! I know some people don’t get over the shock and leave feeling sad about their trip so that’s awesome for you!

  3. Ashley November 5, 2014 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips! I’m currently trying to map out an itinerary for Northern India and I’m struggling with #6. There’s so much to see and do and I’m overwhelmed by the options!

  4. Renuka November 6, 2014 at 12:54 am - Reply

    Loved reading it! Thank you for understanding India so well and presenting it so nicely to the world! I agree spending too much on transport can be a waste. I do it too. And yes, you can never see everything, so planning to see less and absorbing more is a better idea! What you said about the dressing is also right.

  5. Jackie November 6, 2014 at 4:47 am - Reply

    Lots of great ideas. Agree with your clothing advice, and would add that black leggings as pants are only barely ok in the west (ok, I’m 47 so theres a generation gap thing happening here!! ) but pleeeeese don’t wear them as pants in India!! fAnother thing I would add to the list is “not doing any research before you come”. I sometimes meet people on my travels who don’t have a guidebook of any kind, nor have they done much web searching before coming. So they arrive in a town, not having a heads up on where to stay, or more importantly, what to explore in a certain area. Eg, met someone in Kochi who had no idea about the old part of town with all the spice warehouses and Jewish quarter, the chinese fishing nets along the shore, the old palace, etc, and just spent a night there before moving on, declaring it ‘fairly boring’!!!
    Re:transport, I find long trips on trains exhausting, these days there are so many cheap flights available, and especially if you can book a little ahead, they are really good value. Budget tip – Always have an extra fund so you can treat yourself to a meal or night in a nice place, or a long taxi ride when you just need a rest from the trains and buses, and of course shopping! For those women nervous about going alone to India, just take the plunge and book your flight!

    • Rachel Jones November 9, 2014 at 12:16 pm - Reply

      Great tips Jackie! & so true. In Goa yoga pants are okay, and recently on a trip to the jungle I wore them occasionally for adventure activities that my jeans wouldn’t do, but really they aren’t a great option better to get some baggy pj like bottoms. Too tight! Totally agree about the extra money too.

  6. Justine November 6, 2014 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Remembering not to drink the water can be so hard when traveling. I’ve always heard that the water in India is particularly bad. As a vegetarian, the hardest part for me is remembering not to eat raw veggies that might have been washed in unclean tap water. In Jakarta we have really unclean tap water (it is often brown out of the faucet) and even after 3 months I still sometimes forget not to brush my teeth, etc., with the water :( I’ve been really sick once since I moved here, so I suppose I’ve learned to be more careful!

    • Rachel Jones November 9, 2014 at 12:12 pm - Reply

      Yes, but you know I eat raw veg all the time on sandwiches and such at street food places and don’t usually have problems. I think in time your body adjusts to the water moreso, although I accidently made ice cubes with tap instead of bottles and about died lol I was SO freakin sick! But girl, brown out of the faucet!? That’s way worse than India, yuck!

  7. Glamourous Traveller November 6, 2014 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    Good tips as always, and am excited for that Shantaram quote, did you finish the book? =D

    • Rachel Jones November 9, 2014 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      Yes, it was so good!! totally recommend it. Although some nonsense philosophical stuff was too much.. the author seemed to just go ON and ON so that was slow reading

  8. Miguel November 6, 2014 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    I love reading your entries. Can’t help but keep coming back to your site every now and then.

    Will surely keep these tips in mind on my return to Chennai! :)

  9. Greer weaver November 7, 2014 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    Great blog and totally agree India is a wonderful experience, even as a family.

  10. Annie Edgecombe November 9, 2014 at 1:53 am - Reply

    Wonderful post! I love your blog. You answer more questions about traveling around India than months of reading travel books could have. Thank you!

  11. Jamie November 11, 2014 at 9:01 pm - Reply

    I really want to travel to India, but I just don’t think I could travel there with my girlfriend. She always wants to see the greatness in everybody and its hard to be that way in this type of country. I was just reading a Reddit AMA where he was traveling around India alone. He got on the train and some guys talked to him for a few hours and offered him some fruit. He ate the fruit to find out 20 minutes later it had been spiked with huge hits of LSD. Not only did he get robbed, he got put in prison for 4 days.

    Pretty messed up. I’ll adventure there one day and the horror stories don’t put me off significantly because it happens in every country.

    • Rachel Jones November 12, 2014 at 10:28 am - Reply

      That’s a horrible story, but I have heard ones similar. I think even the sweetest person who looks for the good can turn cynical; even I have- because too many “friends” screw you over wanting money. It’s a shame but I still try to look on the bright side because like you said it CAN happen anywhere and does.

  12. Tamara (Globe Guide) March 14, 2015 at 7:29 am - Reply

    Hey Rachel, just stumbled onto your site and love it! I’m hoping to head to India for the first time later this year, so will definitely be creeping on your site a lot :-)

  13. venus john August 2, 2015 at 5:31 am - Reply

    great tips..sensible and practical.and true…i especially the wordings on the pictures..’india is beyond statement,for anything you say,the opposite is also true..’

    and the one that says..’there are only 2 castes nowadays..’

  14. MARIA Robles August 4, 2015 at 2:30 am - Reply

    How u manage the bathroom problems when you are outing in India?

    • Rachel Jones August 4, 2015 at 8:44 am - Reply

      carry some tp with you in your purse :) some wet wipes maybe & hand sanitizer

  15. Chris April 13, 2016 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Love your blog! I’ve been in India for a little over 5 weeks now and it has been a great resource, giving me a lot of great ideas/places to check out. I can definitely understand the love/hate responses that India can elicit. I’ve had some incredible experiences (celebrated Holi in Mathura, seeing the sunrise over the Ganges, camel safari in Jaisalmer etc), while several lows (I had to visit the local hospital in Jodhpur to get an IV for my second bout of Delhi Belly). Keep up the great work!

    • Rachel Jones April 14, 2016 at 12:00 pm - Reply

      I love how an IV magically makes you feel so much better! Lots of people won’t give in and go to hospital, but as soon as I”m SUPER sick I’m there! I’m glad you had a good trip and the blog could help you plan.

  16. Afzal Zaheer October 1, 2016 at 11:43 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for sharing the local insights about India, as you have been living for 2 years now.
    Who else could have told better than you.
    Yeah, I agree with you that a traveller has to get prepared to face noise which may get shrill during the peak time.
    Secondly, roads leading historical places are quite jam packed, unless it is Sunday or any holiday.
    Thirdly, Bullock carts, horse carts, elephants, dogs, snake charmers can be seen.
    Manually operated rickshaws are another mode of transport
    Lastly, travellers do get mesmerised by the extent of warmth which people have. They may look with curious eyes, but when you need to ask certain address, then most of them will probably wish to drop you, so helpful indeed.
    Not forget to mention the rich aromatic flavor which travellers experience while passing through old part of cities and they are so mouth watering, that it is best to taste cuisines.

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