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
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Travel Insurance. I use World Nomads which is what Lonely Planet recommends
- 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).
- 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.
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