Technically, travel blogging is my job and I’ve been to and written about over 30 countries, but it really seems like my job is giving people India travel tips. I wake up to emails about it, check my FB messages, IG messages, and tweets to answer questions, and throughout the day answer blog comment questions and more emails. I’m like an India travel guide-book! :)
I actually really love giving advice about it and since I’ve been traveling here over 3.5 years straight, it comes naturally and easy to me. I do answer the same questions repeatedly though which means I’m not making the information clear enough or easy enough to find.
I have an insane amount of articles on my website that offer similar advice to this and I”ll link through on things that I go more in-depth on another article. In this post I’m just going to touch on the basics for those who are still considering what traveling India entails.
If you’re headed to India, you can also check out my Guide to India which is a 100,000-word ebook with 6 years of travel knowledge – it will make sure you have the most epic trip. Read more about it here.
100 India Travel Tips
General Tips on India & When to Go
1 People DO speak English in many places. It is one of the languages that is taught in schools in India and if you’re going to be on the tourist trail, which most people are, you won’t have many issues with this.
2. You should get health insurance for India. When my dengue fever was at its worst and I was supposed to get a platelet transfusion, a doctor said I should fly home and do it there. Although health care isn’t a huge expense here, emergencies are and World Nomads Travel Insurance is very affordable and very well worth it.
3. India is seasonal in part due to the monsoons which are not always fun to travel in. The months that lead up to a monsoon are incredibly hot and are best to be avoided. Read here to see which months you can go where and which places to avoid.
4. Northern India, including Delhi, can get very cold in the winter (jackets, boots, gloves) so bring warm clothing if you are coming in December and January.
5. The mountains close up in the peak of winter because the roads are impossible to drive on. There are areas called “passes” that shut when the roads are too dangerous and this can leave you stuck somewhere or ruin a planned trip. Traveling to the Himalayas in November to February is best avoided.
6. You need a visa. For a stay one year or less, you can now do it online through the government website or you can use a third party, like iVisa, so you don’t have to do all the work. iVisacharges an admin fee, but allows you to submit well in advance unlike the government site & does all the hard work for you. I have four articles about getting a visa in India:
7. Getting to India is a pain in the but from the US and Canada! The UK is a lot easier and you can do charter flights from Manchester to Goa for super cheap. Flying from further west, you can get good deals flying with Turkish Air and Air France as well as Qatar. American and US also give okay rates but I am not a huge fan of them. I book on Momondo and Cheapoair. The least I’ve paid is $900 USD from Ohio to Mumbai and back, and the most on the same route is $1400.
8. The cheapest places to fly in and out of tend to be Delhi and Mumbai. Sometimes Calcutta, and if you are going to Goa you can do a charter flight from some places.
9. You can fly direct from the states without stopping in Europe. It’s about 17 hours from NYC to Mumbai and I totally prefer this as it takes out one more hassle of layovers.
10. On transport in India, do not take anti-anxiety pills or sleeping pills (unless you take them normally) to help you sleep as it sets you up as a target for theft. You should be careful not to take food and drink from strangers unless it’s a family. There are stories and even signs in the stations warning people that they could be drugged if accepting things from strangers.
11. While you can lock you bag under the bottom seat of a train (I use a
master lock chain), on a bus your bag will be put on top of the bus if it’s a local bus and on the stowed in the bottom if it’s a A/C Volvo bus. You should keep your carry-on, purse, and all important things with you at your seat.
12. What to take on the train and bus to sleep comfortably… on a sleeper bus you’ll need a sleeping bag. There is no A/C and there are little beds you lie in. They are dirty. On a Volvo A/C bus, you’ll have reclining seats and should take a blanket as it gets very cold. Bring a travel pillow as well. On trains, it depends on the class. The lower classes give you nothings so bring a sleeping bag and pillow, but on 2AC, 3AC, and first class you will have a clean sheet, a dirty blanket (haha), and a pillow.
13. If you are put in a seat or bed right next to a lot of men, you can ask the conductor to change seats so you can sit by a family. They will oblige. I’ve written an article with more safety tips here.
14. Booking trains and buses in India isn’t as hard as it seems online. As a foreigner cards are often blocked but you can set up an account with cleartrip and download their app which is easy to use and book trains. If you can’t get approved, you can book in the stations in India or at agent offices which are all over the place. PS consider Trabugwhich is an Indian phone reloaded with data and calling so you’ll all set up. They send the phone to your first hotel in India.
15. Download the “Indian train status” app which seems to be only for Android and is always up to date on the train timings. Trains are delayed a lot and there’s no point sitting at the station hours before your train.
16. Booking buses online can be done with Redbus or like the trains you can book in an agent office. I know it seems confusing and you may not be used to going into an office to make bookings but it’s common here. You have to find one which is busy and put trust that they give you a real ticket. Knock on wood, but in 3 years I’ve never been given a fake ticket. They make a commission so it doesn’t benefit them to give a fake ticket.
17. Need a train but it’s booked? This is a VERY common problem as you can imagine with 1.3 billion people in this county. You have a few options. One is tatkal which is a lottery system, another is the foreign tourist quote where they save seats in big cities for tourists, and there is the RAC (waitlist). There’s a lot of information so please check out this post for details.
18. If you have a short distance and take a local bus (which looks like school buses), you are not assigned a seat and will have to struggle for one. You might have to hold you luggage on your lap. You might have to stand for hours. It’s not the best option, but can be done and sometimes in remote areas is the only option. Here are tips on buses in India.
Where to Stay & How to book in India
19. You don’t need to over think this part of it. If you don’t want to book ahead you don’t have to. When I first backpacked here, I didn’t but I DID call ahead and make sure there was space where I wanted to go. I was pretty unorganized so I thought it would save me money. I stayed in 300 Rs. places and didn’t care if they were nice.
20. If you want a place that’s decent or great, you should book ahead. There are booking sites like cleartrip and makemytrip, but these days I’m all about booking on Agoda.
21. I use Tripadvisor to research (and now you can book through them actually) and I also like to look at i-escape to see carefully chosen boutique hotels to limit down my search. They usually pick 10 or less in each city or town that are amazing.
22. If you’re the type that likes to book ahead but you want to be more “carefree” on this trip… just keep in mind that India is stressful while traveling, so if you have anxiety, you will be better off booking ahead even if it’s not the best deal. When you just walk in to a guesthouse sometimes you can negotiate a little lower, but not having something set up might add to your stress levels. It is up to you! These days I always book ahead.
23. If you want to meet people and have a cheap room, you can now stay in hostels in India which wasn’t really an option 5 years ago. I wrote about some of the best hostels in India. They actually are not as cheap as you can get in guesthouses in India, but you will make friends so if you’re feeling lonely, check it out.
25. It’s not always peaches and cream… it can be really tough and a huge part of traveling India is being mentally prepared. You need to accept that things are going to go wrong sometimes and taxis or someone might scam you.
26. Do not travel India alone if you are second guessing it. I highly suggest you come with a friend if you have high anxiety. I can be quite anxious and I did okay in India but as I’ve said before, some of traveling here is just sheer luck.
27. Research which regions to go to. Places like Bihar or Manipur aren’t deemed safe now. There are more but you just need to check into each place and see if it’s okay. The places I’ve written about are all okay.
28. Make sure you have the correct permits for places that are restricted zones and because there are less travelers, consider joining a tour to stay the most safe.
29. Sadly, women shouldn’t go out at night alone in the cities. I hate that this is the case, and sometimes I break my own rule, but as I’m sure you’ve read bad things happen. Yes, there ARE a tiny very small percentage of men here who truly believe that women out late alone or women dressed against their idea of the norm, DESERVE to be raped or harassed. It’s tragic. The biggest example are the educated lawyers of the men who raped Jyoti Singh, one of which said he’d burn his own daughter in the town square for being out late. He followed up in the media later saying he meant it. It’s fucked up and although I LOVE India and promote India travel, I won’t ignore the craziness that happens here.
30. Dress according to the rules! I don’t.. ahh.. I know, I know.. but I live in Goa where the rules are nonexistent. You’d be surprised that even in rural NE India the young girls all wore skinny jeans. In Mumbai girls are in short dresses and shorts. You’re best to cover up though and I wrote tips here.
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.
31. Without sounding too extreme, my opinion is to not couchsurf in India unless it’s with an expat. I hate to say this because I LOVE Indian dudes that I’m friends with BUT I don’t suggest couchsurfing with Indian men. As someone who weekly has Indian dudes coming up to me at the beach saying “can I take a selfie with you” and is stared at by dudes constantly when I travel around India, I know there is an obsession with white skinned ladies, who are deemed “easier” and it’s a risk you shouldn’t take, in my opinion. There will be men on couchsurfing who are really interested in having a foreign girl stay at their house. It is not normal in India for a chick to be traveling alone, so a girl who would choose to stay with a man in exchange for a free room, might be thought of negatively. Indian women most likely wouldn’t choose to couchsurf with a man. Indian girls are an option to couchsurf with, although young Indian girls rarely live alone and you don’t know their family situation. Is their brother nice or mean? Is their dad accepting of foreigners? You can make your own decision. I have couchsurfed in India with foreigners and Indian men so this is not a judgement based on nothing.
32. Be kind but not overly friendly. You might find it strange that in the culture, it’s not common for a woman to smile and chat with a stranger who is male. I still smile and am kind, but if you are too nice it will put off the wrong idea.
33. Do not take photos with dudes when they ask! It’s weird and they’ve got to knock that off.. When families ask, I am okay with it, but a man on his own… hell no. The amount of phones I have thrown in the sand in Goa… because men come up and say “let me take one selfie with you” and are taking it while they are asking – I have no patience for this. I tell them “do it again and I”ll throw it in the sea”.
34. Only get really verbally angry if you need to. If a man touches you, YELL at him. People will back you up. 99.9% of people here are GOOD and will be just as outraged.
35. On the other hand, Indian women don’t usually curse and tend to be softer spoken, so if it’s a small issue and you go nuts you might upset people. To stay safe, try to stay calm even if you are being scammed or stared at. You can calmly say that you will get the police if you think are being scammed, and you can tell a man firmly to look away without cursing. Again, do as I say not as I do, because I curse at guys in English and Hindi when I can’t keep a lid on it.
36. Try to get transportation set up from your hotel at train stations and bus stops. Most will give it for free or a very fair cost.
37. If you tell a driver a hotel name and they say it’s not there anymore or burnt down, they are pulling your leg. They do get commissions and might use that as a reason to lie.
38. Don’t let the driver bring a friend… ever.
39. STAY OUT OF IT. See a child getting slapped? See a dog getting a rock thrown at it? Sadly, stay out of it. Again, not something I’m good at and I tend to get involved, which I nearly always regret. Indian women do slap their kids sometimes. It’s a different culture. Many people hate dogs here as dogs can be aggressive and bite. I love dogs and cry when I see these things.You can’t change a culture and a person who would harm a dog is an asshole, so imagine if some foreigner tries to correct them…. they will be furious. I’ve done this over and over because I can’t seem to stay out of things but I think finally I’ve learned to mind my own business!
40. Know a few words in Hindi!
Acha na-he- not good
Teek 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
How to Budget for India
41. India is cheap, but it isn’t free! You could spend 1,000 Rs a day or you could spend 10,000 Rs. You need to really think about your budget.
42. Try to think that you’ll need about $20 USD a day and use this piece I wrote to help you understand the full budget breakdown.
43. Save money by traveling slower. Transportation takes up the most of a budget, so it’s smart to pick fewer places and really enjoy them longer. Also, the longer you take a room, the more you can negotiate the price down.
44. Keep track of your spending so that you can make cut backs where you need to. For me, it’s always food! I always wanted naan and coke at lunch and that is a lot more expensive that roti and water after some time.
45. Avoid Goa in December and January. Peak season here is awful. Prices are SO high and it’s not really that enjoyable with so many people in a small area of the state.
Don’t forget about my Goa E-book! It’s the most comprehensive guide to Goa on the market. Click here to buy it.
46. Don’t take out more than 10,000 Rs from the ATM at a time. That’s about $160. If you bank with someone like Charles Schwab who doesn’t charge ATM fees you can save a lot of money and take out even less, like 5,000 Rs. at a time.
47. Travel with a buddy to split room costs in two! Curries are usually big enough for two as well, so you can cut your food cost in half as well.
What to Eat in India
48. As I wrote in my journal when I was here “today I had green goo for lunch and red goo for dinner”. Eventually I could figure out the differences of the curries but they all seem similar at first! Curries are a gravy-like dish made in hundreds of varieties. Order 1 to share as they are large usually.
49. Palak paneer is spinach and cottage cheese (although not the cottage cheese we have in America, cubes of cheese). It’s very tasty. This is a veggie favorite
50. Butter chicken is a meat eaters favorite in the North and is a dish you HAVE to try while here. Same goes for chicken tikka.
51. Typically families will have either roti and chapati (bread) or rice with their meal, but most tourists order both because while eating with your fingers some find it easier to pick up the rice and curry with the bread. You can really just go for it with your hands though and dive into the rice. It’s nice and you can get the perfect bite… not having things falling off a fork!
52. In the South, you’ll get healthier curries (less cream) and will notice they have more coconut milk. I made a list of common foods in the South here. You must have a masala dosa!
53. On the coast, you have to get “fish curry rice” or “prawn curry rice” as well as fried prawns and calamari.
54. It’s not only curries. You will want to try things from the tandoor. It’s an oven which naan is put on the inside walls of to make it so perfect. You can have skewers of chicken or veggies with marinades of your choice. Chicken tikka masala is a curry but chicken tikka kebab will be a screwer with the same taste. I like malai chicken tikka which is a cheese and cream tikka masala marinade. Cauliflower is nice in the tandoor as well.
55. Ask for less butter and cream if you don’t want to put on 10 pounds while you’re here.
56. Mostly in the North you can have seekh kebab which is a mutton (lamb) mince (okay, sometimes it’s goat) made into a kebab and it is SO good.
57. You won’t have a lot of beef, especially up North. In Delhi, Mumbai, Rajasthan, and other huge areas of the country you won’t find it on a single menu (even the 5 star hotels). If you do, it’s actually water buffalo. In Maharashtra, it’s illegal. In Goa there is beef and in Kerala there is beef.
58. Don’t be afraid of street food! Egg puffs and chili bhaji make me sooo happy! I made a list of tips so you don’t get sick eating from the street.
59. Unless you’re in a great restaurant in the city of a tourist area like Goa, don’t get “American” food. It’ll be Indianized and not tasty. Definitely don’t get Mexican food! If you really want something “Western” then go for a sizzler which will be meat and veggies on a hot plate.
60. If you want a bit of everything, get a thali. The plate will have a curry, rice, bread, pickle, and dal (chick pea thick soup, kind of). Depending on where you are, the thali will be totally different. For example, in Goa the fish thali is to die for!
61. To drink: salt or sweet lime soda, chai (tea that is milk tea & about 5 rs), and lassi! Lassis are yoghurt fruit drinks.
62. Know a few words in Hindi!
palak – spinach (could also be called saag)
jeera- cumin, you’ll often see jeera rice as an option
kofta- kofta will be a ball of veg usually, although it may confuse as in Middle Eastern food it’s meatball.
masala- this refers to a spice mixture which is often used or can mean a variety of veggies as in “masala omelette” which would be an omelette with chili, onion, and tomato.
papadum- you can’t get these everywhere but they are similar to a tortilla but made of lentils.
pakora- means deep fried.. if it’s pyaj pakora it’s onion, you could have gobi or anything really. It is (i think) the same as bhaji which is fried, as in “chili bhaji” a deep fried chili served with ketchup…mmm!
raita- yoghurt side, used as a condiment
Which Tourist Places to Visit in India
63. Try not to have huge expectations on seeing and doing everything you want. Transportation takes longer than you’ll guess and you might have to cut places off your itinerary. Try not to stress.
64. I really think Lonely Planet books do help plan travel and recommend the India one. You can use their itineraries or mine. You can also read up on the places you’re going ahead of time to decide where to go. I also write in detail about most tourist hotspots.
65. So, to dive into it, Rajasthan is the awesome desert state that I really love. Popular spots are Jaisalmer (camels), Pushkar (holy lake), Udaipur (floating palace), Jaipur(pink city), and Jodhpur (blue city).
66. Himachal Pradesh is the mountains and in that state people chill in Manali and go trekking. Usually Delhi is next from here, and people hit up Agra from there.
67. Rishikesh would be done while up North as well and is the place made famous by the Beatle’s. Goa is the hippy place, but this is a close second.
68. Kerala is “gods own country” and is stunning with rolling tea fields, perfect beaches, and Nature parks. Here is a 10 day Kerala itinerary.
69. You’ll want to do a safari somewhere but there are so many options, it will really depend on your itinerary. They are more expensive for foreigners than Indians, as are all government tourism sites (example: Taj Mahal). Not only India does this, but many developing countries in Asia.
70. If you want something different, I’m all about Karnataka and NE India. Karnataka is a hidden gem and NE India is a Tibetan influences Buddhist area in some places, and tribal in others. It’s SO cool.
71. Make an itinerary but give yourself wiggle room. I would keep 7 days on your 3 month trip free, or 3 weeks of a 6 month trip. If you’re here a couple of weeks, keep 3 days free. There will be places you want to stay longer. If you want someone to make it for you or do a group tour, the only company I recommend is G Adventures.
73. If you will be in NE India, the mountains, or another cold area of India, please check out this list which is for cold weather.
74. Some key takeaways for backpackers are that you should bring a travel pillow, very tiny sleeping bag, bike chain to tie your bag up on trains, and a headlamp which is great for treks, moving around in hostels in the dark, and on buses. All of my choices for these exact items are in the list at #72.
75. Don’t overpack. You will get lots of medicine here in India, except something like birth control which is only in big cities and Goa (from what I’ve found so far). Don’t bring more than one pair of jeans.
77. Bring a backpack that’s 65L or larger so you can shop. Also, if you want to take a rolling suitcase you can if you are going to be staying at nice hotels and traveling by car and place. They are difficult on trains, buses, and bumpy alleys that lead to guesthouses. My current backpack: REI Crestrail 65L Backpack. PS: tips on how to haggle when you shop.
78. Don’t pack like you are going to another world. You will still want cute clothes and practical things. I even take a mini bottle of OPI nail polish. You have to stay “you”!
Things to do In India
79. I made a bucket list for Indiawith things I’ve done that were awesome and things I want to do. I cross it off as I go and it really shows the awesome experiences you can have in India. Check that out for these tips.
80. Keep in mind it’s the experiences that matter, not just checking things off a list and the journey in India as a whole is a CRAZY experience.
81. You can volunteer here but it’s something I recommend you do a lot of research into. There are many MANY scams here and some are so bad that they take kids from parents (or parents sell them) so that they can have an “orphanage” that westerners will come and give money to and pay to volunteer at.
83. I’ve addressed that there is staring. It’s not only men but in some rural areas, women may stare. It can be unnerving when you are on a train trying to sleep and every time you peek out you see 10 eyes on you. Such is life.
84. It’s not a big “thank you” culture. Thank you’s are understood here so if you tip high, don’t expect a big thank you but instead just a nod.
85. There’s a lot of line jumping. I mean like someone will just walk up to the front of a line and push in — the shocking thing is, no one will say anything! It drives me bonkers. You have to be aggressive.
86. Which leads to this one.. people push, especially in lines but also on transportation. I will never forget riding the local train in Mumbai and beautiful women in sari’s elbowing me and shoving me. There are SO many people in the cities and they PUSH their way through everywhere even supermarkets. You don’t need to yell or even say anything, just make a disappointing clicking noise while you step back into your spot.
87. There’s a “me first” attitude that is very Indian. When driving, people honk and pass constantly even if they are going to continue the same speed ahead. The roads are insane. When getting off a plane, people in the windows seats are pushing out to the isle to push to the front to get off the plane first. It makes no sense, but absolutely happens in so many scenarios.
88. Indians don’t say no. Okay they do, but not often to tourists! If you ask a question, try not to make it yes or no, because when they don’t know the answer they often say “yes”. “Is the SIM card shop this way?” “Yes” even though they don’t know what you even asked. They don’t like to disappoint.
89. Rubbernecking. If you see an accident, you’ll see 100 people looking in to see what happened, only adding to the chaos. They love drama, watching fights, helping in fights, judging who’s wrong in fender benders and more. If there is an accident your driver may want to stop, you can say “NO, keep going.”
90. “India standard time” is a way of saying they are late a lot. If you need a ride at a certain time you need to be very clear with your driver.
91. I have seen lots of animal abuse, which I mentioned above. I am not sure why this is the case, and it’s not something I’ve seen outside India where I’ve traveled in many other parts of Asia. It’s heartbreaking. A driver once laughed when someone hit a dog. I just lose my mind over it but it doesn’t do any good. Be prepared. There are lots of strays and many are injured, as an animal lover it can be very difficult.
92. Lastly, there isn’t so much personal space. People stand right up against you in line or on buses, men and women. I have had people sit their babies on my lap while they get their bags down, without asking. Most people here share water and don’t put their lips to the bottle. I’ve had a women take my water bottle from between my feet on a bus and take a sip then put it back. Everyone shares and doesn’t say much about it.
How to Stay Healthy in India
93. First step is preparation and prevention. You should make sure you have vaccinations and required boosters. Here’s a list.
94. Bring your own birth control (pills, protection of other kinds) as you will have a hard time finding it here.
95. You will get Delhi belly at some point if you are here a long time. Don’t panic. If it’s been a few days, seek help. Don’t take Imodium as it’s better out than in.
96. If you have the shits, you should get a stool test done at a clinic. Do not just go to the chemist and take whatever random antibiotic he happens to have closest to him when you walk in. You destroy your immune system doing this over and over.
97. Do have travel insurance. I mentioned it above. When I had Dengue that wanted to do all kinds of scans on me that would have been really expensive. Always ask for a proper receipt. Always ask ahead of time what the costs are, as even hospitals will scam you especially small private ones. I use World Nomads Travel Insurance.
98. Mosquitos… they are the devil, no? You should wear spray when in areas that have them. You can take malaria tabs but I never have. There is no prevention to Dengue and no cure. It has to leave your system. Malaria has a cure and should be treated immediately. It’s not usually a big deal in India as the strain isn’t the same as in some places like areas of Africa.
99. Tylenol isn’t a thing everywhere.. even in UK they say paracetamol … remember to use the “science” name not the brand name when you ask the chemist for drugs.
100. During siestas in Goa, holidays, or in evenings, lots of chemists close up and you won’t have anywhere to go for meds. If you really need something you can go to the hospital and buy them from their pharmacy. You don’t need prescriptions in India unless it’s hard-core pain meds, anxiety meds, or other controlled substances. PS bringing your US prescription does not work half the time and some drugs are plain illegal here, like adderall so don’t bother trying.
WOW! That took forever. I hope it helps you! haha :)
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Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Hippie in Heels, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.