I’ve been answering a lot of questions from potential travelers to India. Some of the questions are things I never even think to post on this website. I’m going to address the basics of travel to India now with some reader e-mails I have received, so perhaps you’ve even been redirected here in a reply from me about FAQ India & India travel tips.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE getting emails from my readers, but found that I was answering the same questions very often, which was a failure on my part. It means I didn’t have enough information on Hippie in Heels.
Most of the time when friends travel for the first time and get nervous, I just tell them it’s a bit of culture shock.
THEN there’s India for the first time. Culture shock times 10. It’s gonna blow your mind. You’re going to have moments when you freak out and cry and other times where you’re just happy and making friends with locals. Every day SOMETHING will shock you. But you’re going to LOVE it, and I have never met anyone who has regretted coming to India.
Why Can I Answer These Questions?
- I’ve traveled India extensively! Whether it’s budget travel or luxury travel, I’ve experienced it all. And, yes, that’s including the grosser aspects.
- I’m an expat in Goa and have been for quite some time. I actually just wrote a whole, comprehensive guide to Goa that’ll make Lonely Planet outdated! You can purchase the e-book here.
Frequently Asked Questions About Travel to India
Here are all the questions I’m asked about travel to India! This is a long post, but do tell me if I missed anything!
Do I need a visa to travel India?
UPDATE: There is now a 60-day visa on arrival for select countries. iVisa charges an admin fee, but does all the work for you and allows you to submit it way ahead of time, which the government one doesn’t allow. It’s your buffer so you don’t deal directly with the government site and they assure your documents are all sorted. You can easily get a quote here for it.
Here is my guide for a Step by Step Indian Visa application for Americans if you are staying longer than 60 days and another guide for UK citizens applying for their Indian visas.
You can get your visa expedited by going into the office. You must mail them your passport- this can be scary for people the first time they get a visa but is completely normal. Use FedEx and do immediate delivery, which is quick and can be tracked.
Make sure that your passport has at least six months left before expiration. Your visa will last six months from the time it is made, NOT the time you enter the country (this is the case as of when I got mine in 2012. I cannot find information if this has changed). Plan accordingly! You’ll need to apply for a multiple-entry tourist visa.
What airline should I fly with to India?
It’s less about what airline and more about which airline is the cheapest at the time. I use Kiwi to search and book. They combine low-cost carriers so you can fly a big airline to India and a low cost from Delhi/Mumbai onward. (Check Kiwi prices here)
This is dependent upon which country you are coming from. From the U.S. I always find great deals with United Airlines/ British Airlines, and I’ve since signed up for Star Alliance to gain points with them. When looking at last minute bookings for return flights, it seems Air France offers a great deal. Round trip from Ohio to Bombay I pay no more than $1,400 if I book a month in advance.
Do I need travel insurance or are hospitals cheap?
You DO need insurance. For something like a broken arm, you will be out 3,000 USD. It’s as low as $200 for 5 months in India. I got sick in India multiple times and having insurance is a good way to feel safe and secure when they say you need extra testing done.
Do Indians speak any English or is it impossible to talk to them?
Many people speak English especially in big cities and tourist towns. Some may speak English only a little, but it is one of their national languages along with Hindi. You can’t bank on that though in very very rural areas that have never seen a tourist. It won’t make much difference as you most likely won’t be in very rural areas since they are unsafe (I’m talking TRULY rural, like
It won’t make much difference as you most likely won’t be in very rural areas since they are unsafe (I’m talking TRULY rural, like the middle of nowhere Bihar). In the touristy places, the drivers and such will at least know enough to get you around.
If you want to make friends with the locals, bring perfume samples for the women! They LOVE them! I am taking loads back when I get to the US to stock up.
What resources do you use while traveling in India, including books and websites?
I use Kiwi for booking all my flights international and domestic.
In general for hotels, I stick to Agoda these days as I’ve gotten some good deals but honestly, it’s always changing.
In Goa, I highly recommend Airbnb for a villa instead of an expensive hotel. Sign up now and get $35 credit toward your first booking. The credit doesn’t expire.
For specific search results, I like reading blogs more than travel guides. Travel guides make everything sound amazing and wonderful when it’s not always the case.
I download Lonely Planet to my tablet AND took the printed book. I use it less for restaurants and where to sleep, but so I know which temples and such to see and like to read the history of a place before I go. Absolutely buy the book and research ahead of time.
Of course, if you’re going to be in Goa a while, I recommend my e-book.
Also! I have a Facebook group exclusively for travel to India! Join here and ask away!
What port should I fly into?
This is dependent upon your chosen itinerary in India, but most likely you’ll enter through Delhi or Mumbai. Budget airlines in India are incredible, so even when I’m flying round trip Goa to USA, I still only book Mumbai to USA and back. I book my domestic flight in India separately.
In Delhi, Mumbai, and other major airports, there are both domestic and international. You will take a free shuttle between to the two to get to your connecting flight. When leaving India, make sure you are very clear to your drive which airport to go to.
You MUST have a ticket, whether printed or on your phone to enter most airports in India. The line is longer to get in the airport that to get your bags checked often times. You will need to run your to-be-checked bags through a security check as soon as you enter the airport before you line up for your boarding pass. They won’t tell you to do this, but you must or they won’t check your bags.
Keep in mind; if you fly into Mumbai in the evening, the last domestic flight to Goa is at 10. If you miss that you will have to wait until the earliest flight at 6 am. It’s a bitch. I usually get in around eleven which is not quite enough time to get to a hotel, shower, sleep, and come back.
If you take an airport taxi, choose a government approved one. Not all prepaid taxis are the same.
Fields of Munnar
How much will I spend? I’m going for six months.
UPDATE: Full India budget breakdown here based on 20 USD per day.
I think you would be safe to say 1,000 USD a month if you are traveling like a bum backpacker which is what I did a couple years ago on my first trip. I never chose the higher priced option, always stayed in the cheapest guesthouse (usually anywhere from 4-10 USD and luckily could split that with a friend for one month). I feel like each year the prices go up and I don’t know if you’ll get these same prices.
Because I live here and am not hopping around, I can stay in nicer places. This amount also only counts if you travel by LOCAL bus and LOWEST class train, if you don’t shop a lot, if you get only one massage a week, and eat the cheaper menu options (which is usually Indian fare at about 3 USD per meal). I also didn’t do tours other than the camel safari in Rajasthan. With this budget you would be able to afford cabs; rickshaw only for you- or better yet, walking.
Read: How to haggle in India
If you plan to take 3rd class A/C or 2nd class A/C, stay in mid-range guesthouses, shop quite a bit for souvenirs, take one flight, and eat western food, that price is easily going to jump to 1,500-2,000 USD per month.
You can’t think “just because it’s India, everywhere is cheap”. Today (in India) Ben and I spent 120 USD at the grocery store and 14 USD at a coffee shop. If you want a true vacation and want to live it up, you can quickly accidentally spend as much in Mumbai as you would in London.
Where should I go and what route should I take?
I explained the itinerary I took in India, but that’s not for everyone. You have to decide if you’re here to party, to live in the city and club life, or if you want the “spiritual” route. I chose the so-called spiritual one, although skipped hotspots like Auroville hippie commune and French Pondicherry.
For more suggested Itineraries:
- 2-month Indian backpacking itinerary
- 1-month India itinerary
- Itinerary with video
- 10 day Kerala itinerary
- Karnataka 9 places to visit
I don’t want to go to touristy places. I want a unique experience. What do you recommend?
In the nicest way possible, I recommend you let go of that worry or concern. India is off the beaten path. It is unbelievably unique and intense. I’m all about finding new places, but I’ve been in India almost 4 years all together and am very comfortable with that. Initially, I don’t recommend you trying random places on a map.
You can go all day in a “touristy” place and not see another westerner. They aren’t that touristy! I’m all about trying rural places, but I’ve been here a while, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone their first trip to India.
Again, try Airbnb instead of hotels if you want to be in with the locals and not in the backpacking scene. It’s not always more expensive especially here where a hostel is a novelty at 700 rs and you can get a room in a house for 500 rs or less. Here’s that code again: Sign up now and get $25 credit toward your first booking.
Fore more reading, these are my 5 favorite cities in India!
What are the best budget airlines in India?
In general, I search on Kiwi for all my flights since it includes budget airlines and doesn’t rely on code sharing.
My guide to budget airlines in India could prove helpful if you want to know what airlines are ranked higher than others. They are pretty much all the same, though.
I’m nervous I’ll get sick from the food or get malaria! What medicine should I bring and which vaccinations should I get before departure?
It’s okay to be nervous of the food, but I feel like the food actually made me feel healthy (although I gained loads of weight!) and I didn’t get sick from it. Here are 15 tips for not getting sick in India on street food. Anytime I have gotten sick, it’s imported European food. Indian food never makes me sick. Of course be careful with street drinks with ice. Other than that, chai and street food is okay. If you’re really nervous, just know that worst case you can eat rice, bread, and steamed veggies if you’re on a budget. If you’re not on a budget, you don’t have to eat Indian food at all if you don’t want to.
Feel free to drink juices from restaurants, and eat raw fruits and veggies. Just make sure they are washed! You can ask politely and you won’t offend anyone. Even Indians will want to make sure their lettuce is washed before they chow down on a salad.
Because I’m a nurse, I get so many health questions which I am okay with. I must say though, this is all my opinion and it differs greatly from what many doctors will tell you. I don’t take malaria medication, there is no prevention for Dengue which kicked my ass, and I didn’t get extra vaccines. Here are the vaccinations I already had, and this is what I pack in my first-aid kit, which is super tiny.
You say you are a hippie and I hear India, especially Goa, has great drugs… So, can you tell me how much they are and where to get them?
No, no, no, no! Sorry, guys. There are drugs like everywhere else in the world but you need to be very careful and know that even though people bribe police, you can’t bank on that and you could end up in prison. Like any country, they are illegal. I did write about bhang lassi in Jaisalmer, as it’s a culturally accepted drug, but that’s all I have to say on the matter.
Ok, is it true- do I have to eat with one hand and wipe with another? What IS the toilet situation?
Well, you got it right. First off, you will eat with your hands sometimes. If there is silverware on the table, use it. If not, finger food! Why bother with forks or chopsticks! Totally unnecessary. Use your right hand. Your clean hand.
Ok, on to the toilets: You will see western (normal) toilets or squat ones. No matter which it isn’t that hard to figure out and you won’t think much of it until you get sick to your stomach and wish you had somewhere to sit!
Toilet paper access…. you’ll have it some places which is great but you can’t always flush it- you need to throw it in the trash. You can bring wipes with you to keep in your purse, which is what I do in places like Mumbai, or rural areas, but definitely on trains and buses for late night stops. When you have neither option, there will be one of two things, a water hose to spray off, or a bucket and tap. The sprayer is genius and actually incredibly clean like having a shower. It’s what I use at home. The water bucket is the worst. You will fill it and use your left hand to splash water on yourself. It’s hard sometimes to get used to. Always wash up after!
What are the hostels like? I am afraid my things will get stolen while I’m out. How much will one night cost? Will there be showers?
Hostels are new and novelty in India, meaning they are expensive for what you’re getting. I only recommend them if you are worried about being alone. Usually, a shared dorm and bathroom goes around 400 Rs to 700 Rs.
Most likely you’ll stay in “guest houses”. If you have only traveled in Europe, this will seem strange at first. If you’re familiar with SE Asia, it’s quite similar, although half the price. You’ll have a room to yourself with a huge padlock and an attached bath. The places I stayed were always listed as “budget” options. I paid no more than 500 rupees (10 dollars) a night, and that was rare. Usually 200-300 rupees for a non-A/C room. I only had a shower a few times, but actually, a bucket shower is going to be easier especially since you may not have hot water. Once you get used to bucket showers, it won’t seem like a nuisance at all.
At beach locations, there are many stories of huts getting robbed while you are out. You may want to take your own padlock, make sure the windows lock (if there are any), or as the front desk to lock up anything valuable.
In Rajasthan, you’ll be lucky enough to stay in Haveli’s, which is just beautiful with amazing courtyards. Make sure to pick one out. It’ll still cost the same!
More hostels are starting to pop up in the bigger cities and I’ve heard good things about Stop Hostels and Zostels, while personally have stayed at Vedanta Hostels which were clean and full of travelers, like these ones below.
I want a “life-changing”, soul searching experience. I want to find myself and hear India is the place for that. Eat, Pray, Love!
Great to hear. Make sure you stay true to yourself. Check out an ashram in Rishikesh. Do Vipasanna at a quiet location for ten days of meditation. Do early morning yoga every day every city you stop in. Sunrise hikes. Sunset yoga. Take a class to learn reiki, yoga, massage in the mountains, or art in the desert. Find love in Goa! Go to Auroville and live in a true hippie commune. Spend time exploring the Western Ghats.
Here are 5 spiritual events in India you could plan to partake in.
But most of all, realize that the trip as a whole is what makes it life changing. Have fun with it! India will change you even if you don’t want it to. You could go there and not have one single plan, but you’ll eat too much, pray at hundreds of temples, and probably love too!
I want to take a week long yoga retreat in India or do a yoga reacher training course – where should I do it?
The top places for this are Rishikesh, Goa, and Dharamshala but you’ll find courses everywhere like Mysore and Kerala too. There are two reputable sites for this that compare review from yogis.
Use bookyogaretreats.com for retreats and bookyogateachertraining.com for YTT. Filter by the top recommended then compare reviews to see what sounds like the best class for you. Don’t book something without reading reviews. India does have scams. I recommend this site because so many readers use it to book their classes and all say it is the best resource they know.
What is the Indian Head wobble?
The more I turn Indian, the more I wobble! It means yes, no, maybe so, or maybe not. It’s so funny and you’ll probably start doing it before you even understand it. You’ll catch on to gestures before you do words. Eventually, you’ll be able to tell the subtle differences or wobble for what the person is saying, and even if they have a little bit of attitude!
Is it safe to travel alone as a girl?
I started Hippie in Heels as a way to share my tips on how to travel safely as a girl and just overall to tell girls to stop even making that an issue. It doesn’t matter what sex you are- you can travel safely in India! As I write this I am on a plane alone to Chennai, and only because the trains were booked. Read these 14 tips for solo female travel in India and check out why backpacking India is an incredible option for a unique gap-year.
Make sure you dress appropriately. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts.
I answered an e-mail for a reader asking how to get rid of those butterflies before a solo trip, check it out if you’re a little nervous to travel alone.
Most recently I wrote this article The Truth About Traveling Alone after hearing a lot of feedback from readers who traveled India alone after feeling overwhelmed. Please give it a read.
I’ve also written specifically about traveling alone in Goa as a girl.
Travel agents I’ve talked to don’t have much information on India and say they can’t book my trip. Can I get a travel agent in India to sort everything for me?
Before going to India:
Travel agents in the US can book things for you (hotel, flights) but I don’t recommend this. If you want help planning or to do a tour, I 100% recommend going on a tour with G Adventures so everything is cohesive. I know many people who travel India with them including some amazing readers who emailed me feedback and I am so happy that they do such a great job here!
While in India not on a tour, traveling solo:
Unless you are Indian, speak Hindi, and are a great negotiator, then no, you shouldn’t use an Indian travel agent to book your trip. You can and should use them to book individual legs of your journey, like a train ride from point a to point b.
I know it can be stressful to wing it, but it’s no exaggeration to say that you will pay 10 times more money AT LEAST for a driver to take you around India and 5 times more money for them to book your hotels, train tickets, bus tickets, etc.
It also leaves you no freedom at all to change course and stuck with a driver that does this route for a living and will try to take you in every textile shop on the road to make a commission.
Don’t worry about getting places in India. They have a way of getting things done here. “Anything is possible” people always tell us, and it’s true. You can book a day in advance by bus to go just about anywhere in India. You’ll have freedom and it’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper. Give it a whirl and don’t give in to the offers for travel agent bookings. They are going to rip you off. Everything is negotiable in India including hotels and taxis. Not only will they not negotiate, but they will make a higher rate so they can take a cut and the hotel still gets paid more than they typically would.
What should I pack for a six-month trip? I’m going to be on the beach and in the mountains so I have no idea how to fit it all!
You have come to the right place. I’m a pro at packing. I have lists galore on Hippie in Heels about packing, but the one that you should start with is my ultimate packing list for backpacking India. From there, you will see more links to other packing tips.
And so many ask me, “Should I even bother bringing a bikini?” Yes! Of course, you can.
Will be computer blow up if I plug it in? I’m afraid the electricity will break my gadgets. Should I take something to protect them?
Refer to my post on what to pack (question above). I talk about the tech gadgets I travel with in India. I use a universal adapter to plug in my US based products and have had no issues, although as the Globetrotter Girls recently found out, computers can get altitude sickness, so keep that in mind while in the mountains about 10,000 feet.
I’m worried about train and bus travel. I’m afraid it isn’t going to be safe. Don’t they crash a lot too?
When it comes to the safety of person and personal belongings, you don’t need to worry as long as you follow a few safety rules & pack a chain for the trains. I actually find bus travel safer in India in regards to theft than in SE Asia and many big cities in Europe, like Barcelona. They might scam a little because they get greedy, but they are not thieves for the most part. I know I’m generalizing but I am grown to trust so much more in India than when I first arrived.
They will put your bag under the bus or on top, but always keep valuables on you. On trains, beware of people getting on and off at night as it’s not regulated in the lowest class. How to book and choose classes of trains and how to choose between local and tourist buses takes some getting used to, but after a few weeks you’ll have it down.
Trains and buses can crash. Obviously, take a look at your driver and see if he’s drunk. This is more an issue with rickshaw drivers than bus drivers. The mountains can be a little crazy in the winter and sometimes buses won’t run. Yes, they crash. It’s in the news a decent amount. But like a plane ride, it’s a risk you take. I actually worked with a nurse who crashed on a major highway and has back problems to this day because of it.
Are there ATM’s in India and do they accept foreign cards? How much should I withdrawal?
You’ll be able to find an ATM most places. I can almost guarantee you won’t end up in a place with no access to cash unless the ATM is empty- fresh outta dolla bills. I take out 200 USD at a time. 10,000 rs is usually the max on ATM withdrawal.
When should I go? I want to see all the different regions like the mountains, desert, and beach but have only 2-4 months in which to do so.
India is very seasonal with the monsoon in the south and the snowy road closures up north. Luckily these happen at opposite times so you can plan your trip better. I went to India and started my itinerary in October went to the mountains off-season which wasn’t ideal, but made for an interesting experience.
You should try to go at a reasonable time to make the best of your trip, but if you make a mistake or go somewhere “off-season”, it’s all going to be okay. There are perks to traveling off-season. I have outlined the seasons in India elsewhere on Hippie in Heels.
you won’t see green like this in Goa unless you come off-season
I’m going to travel alone. Will I make friends easily? I’m worried I won’t meet many other backpackers here.
Making friends in India as a backpacker is not like Europe. I want to be open about that because you can’t come alone with the expectation you will find someone to travel with. Here are some tips for meeting friends in India, a post I wrote because I get this question a lot.
In India there aren’t hostels like Europe, there are guesthouses, which you will have a room and bathroom to yourself. You can meet people in the market or at a restaurant, which is why lonely planet guides are nice to tell you where the tourists (aka your new best friends) are. My first 4 weeks in India I met some cool people, but never shared a room, never took a bus with anyone, or shared anything with anyone. I was completely alone. I never met anyone on the same path as me.
You must be prepared for solo travel. After a month, I needed a friend. It was fine and dandy, but I was starting to get bored at night. I met Chloe on Couchsurfing message board- a girl looking for a travel buddy in Himachal Pradesh. We messaged a little and met up in Delhi. I traveled with her for the next month which was so fun, plus saves a ton of money.
Here is a post on where to meet people traveling in Goa, specifically.
surfing lessons in Varkala
When you see someone that looks friendly, it might be the only backpacker you see for a couple days. You need to approach them! You won’t make friends being an introvert. If someone doesn’t seem interested in chilling with you, remember you are in a place that people come specifically to “find themselves” and all that, so they may need peace and quiet.
I hear such bad stories about the toilets and traffic. I’m afraid it won’t be relaxing enough or what I’m looking for. Should I go to Europe instead?
India can make even the most saint-like patient person, CRACK…. Lose their mind… go bonkers. It’s just a chaotic, crowded place. I’m sure you‘ve read it before: the smells, the sights, the cows in the road, the beggars, the traffic and honking, the scams, dirt, and pollution.
Whatever you are expecting, times it by 10. It’s like nowhere else on earth and love it or hate it, you’re going to have to suck it up and get by.
Every time you want to scream (which you will), there will be another day where you feel like the luckiest person on earth and you start to cry for no reason other than the feeling of being blessed.
You live in Goa, I was wondering if you can give me the insider tips that you’d give your friends.
Happy you asked! I’ve written an entire post dedicated to that- the Ultimate Guide to Goa as well as a Guide to the Goa Monsoons, Top 5 Tips for Goa, and 3 most FAQ about GOA. You can also search Goa in my search bar to the right for all Goa posts on food and nightlife.
What is the internet connection like and should I get a phone or will there be internet cafe’s to get on Skype?
The Internet is great in India whether 3G of Wi-Fi options. Most hotels offer it, although some only have connection near the main desk. Make sure you ask if you need to pay extra. One time I was told after, “I saw you use the internet on your phone many times, please pay for that [insert obscene amount]” even though when I asked for the password nothing was said.
Restaurants will have Wi-Fi and give you the password on their request. They change them daily so no one steals! I used my iPhone and connected to Wi-Fi often, but also had a crappy Nokia I got in Bombay for 1,200 rupees and bought a SIM Card for. SIM’s are convenient, cheap, and easy. I recommend them to everyone coming to India. If you don’t have a phone that can take a SIM card, then I recommend Trabug.
I don’t want to travel on a budget- I want to live it up in the most luxe places on offer!
Go for it! If you want to live it up in Mumbai or Delhi it’s going to cost you twice that of Goa. The Leela’s, Taj, and Intercontinental’s are incredible 5-star hotels all over India. I’m also dying to stay in an Oberoi. There are world famous restaurants and chefs all over, not only cooking Indian but Thai, Japanese, Italian, Fusion- you name it.
You’ll try the best Indian wines and drink bottles of champs all night at fancy clubs, where you pay extra for VIP seating. You can hire nice cars to avoid buses or fly everywhere. There are even luxury trains. The beach resorts fill up with people like Brad and Angelina, and Kate Middleton and Prince William on the regular. Rich Indian women own 11% of the world’s gold, so you better bet they dress to impress! Have fun with it.
PHEW! That was a lot of questions. A few last minutes bits of advice:
Here are 100 travel tips for India you HAVE to read.
Indian time is not on time. The person you met most likely will be late.
There are plenty of places that do laundry on the cheap, usually right there at your guesthouse.
Do NOT fall for the 20 most common scams.
Pudin Hara will cure your belly problems. Just ask the chemist.
Only got one week? That’s a little odd, but I think you should then do the Golden Triangle: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur.
Keep in mind some temples, it’s NOT ok to take in your leather purse.
Men are peeing everywhere, all the time. Ew. The streets in some cities just reek of urine or a little cow poo. It’ll be okay though and these negatives are small compared to wonderful India.
Get Henna done by a girl and give her a nice tip because they charge so very little. Consider doing henna on your nails!
Embrace the bindi. It’s a beautiful accessory. Any night I go out, I wear one.
Everyone will want a photo with you. It’s fine not don’t take them with each boy individually. Tell them one group photo only. Set a limit or you’ve just given up the next hour of your day while the line grows.
Massages are different. They massage really close to your special bits haha. That is normal! They won’t exit while you undress either.
Not sure about coming to India? Here are 10 reasons you need to come to India now.
Rickshaw negotiations can be intense whether you are white or Indian. Try not to let it get you down but also stand your ground. Don’t pay outrageous prices, or they’ll never stop doing it.
Cows can and will head butt you and throw you down if you get in their way!
- 10 Tips for First Time to India
- 10 Mistakes People Always Make in India
- 5 Little tips for Girls Coming to India
- 100 tips for traveling India
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