Planning a trip to India can be a bit overwhelming, to say the least. You’ve booked your flight and now you’ve probably started making a list of all the things you need to figure out before your trip actually begins. This post is packed full of India travel tips for first timer’s to help you prepare for your trip and to give you an idea of what to expect during your visit.
While there are many beautiful things to see and do in India, the country can also be a bit of a culture shock for many. I’ve included all of the things that I wish I knew before arriving to hopefully make your transition a little bit smoother.
Take this knowledge with you so that when these situations arise you’ll already know what to expect. Therefore you can focus on enjoying the places you are visiting and appreciate all the history, culture and beauty!
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How to Get Around India
India has many different modes of transportation. How you choose to get around depends entirely on your budget, length of time in the country and personal preference. These are some of the main methods that you can use to get around India.
There are many domestic airlines available in India. The main benefit of flying within the country is to save time since India is so large. During our month long stay we took 2 domestic flights. We used IndiGo Air each time and found them to be very good.
The flight costs were all inexpensive and I’ll list those prices below to give you an idea. They also offer free checked bags weighing up to 20kg which was a huge bonus.
Very Important: Just make sure that if you are booking with an international credit card that you have that credit card with you to show them when you check in. It is very important.
When you enter the airport you will have to security scan you luggage that you are checking and they will zip tie it shut. Make sure you don’t need to take anything out before you put it through that scanner.
2. Private car
Many visitors choose to book a private driver for the duration of their travels through India. While this makes things super easy and convenient, it also will cost quite a bit more overall. I would however recommend doing this if you are nervous about transportation in India, you are not a very seasoned traveler, you have a strict schedule to keep or you honestly just don’t want to deal with the hassle of the bus and/or train.
I would not recommend using a private driver if you are on a budget.
One of our UBER drivers was also a private driver for hire and he told us that you basically pay a fee per kilometer driven. So if you are traveling far those fees could really rack up.
The train is a great way to get around the country and there are many options available. Unfortunately we didn’t take a train during our time in India because the buses seemed easier and the trains tend to book up quicker.
You can use the Ixigo app to look up train schedules and book your tickets online.
We took the bus so many times in India and always booked through Red Bus. I downloaded the app to my phone so that I was able to easily research bus departure times, locations and cost. The app is very user friendly but I was never able to actually book a ticket through the app as I couldn’t get the credit card to go through.
However, I was able to book when I went directly through their website. Your hotel or hostel will also be able to book a bus ticket for you and then you can just pay them cash.
The buses are actually quite easy once you get the hang of it and know what to expect. Once you choose your ticket you will receive the pick up location. Now, this isn’t always accurate but if you go to the location then most likely the bus will be somewhere in that general area.
Your UBER driver or tuk tuk driver should be able to ask around and someone will point you in the right direction.
Be sure to confirm multiple times with the bus driver that this is in fact the correct bus. Most of the time the buses will be running late. They could arrive anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours late. Just know that this is normal and don’t panic that you’ve missed your bus.
The employees at the bus station will also not know when the bus will arrive or where it is and they never seemed to have any contact information for the drivers or buses. We realized that this is normal and eventually the bus does show up.
Once you are on the bus you will have an assigned seat or sleeper cabin. If you are taking an overnight bus then you will have the option of a top or bottom sleeper bunk.
They will also have double and single bed options. Do not book a double bed option if you are traveling solo because there is a chance that you might be sharing your bed with a stranger.
During the bus journey the driver will make a few stops to use the restroom and purchase snacks. On the overnight trips this seemed to happen about every 3 hours. It is important that you bring your own toilet paper, baby wipes and hand sanitizer as there definitely won’t be any available and the bathrooms are disgusting.
Once your bus arrives at your final destination prepare to be bombarded by tuk tuk drivers. They will literally stand in the doorway making it impossible for you to get out. Many times an UBER will be available and will be significantly cheaper so I recommend using that instead and being firm with your “no.”
In India the easiest and cheapest way to get around the city is by using either UBER or the local version called OLA. It is best to set up the UBER app prior to your arrival as they will need confirmation via a text through your mobile number.
You will also need to add the cash option to your UBER because most of the drivers will not accept credit card. They do however have an app here called PAYTM which can be used for taxis, UBER, street food and more but we didn’t set that up.
The UBER and OLA drivers will also conveniently NEVER have change so try to have smaller bills on you. This will be the same with the taxi and tuk tuk drivers as well.
When you book an UBER it is not uncommon for the driver to message or call you and ask where you are going. This happened to us so many times and on quite a few occasions the driver will cancel the trip. Luckily, UBER will set you up with a new driver so you’ll be fine.
Also, if you are using an UBER to get somewhere at a certain time then make sure to get a driver with plenty of time. We usually had to wait at least 10 minutes for a driver to arrive and that’s if they don’t cancel on you!
6. Tuk Tuk
Using a tuk tuk is surprisingly one of the more expensive methods of transportation in India. They don’t use a meter and will honestly just make up any price they want. That being said, you can 100% haggle with them to get the price down.
Whenever we would use a tuk tuk we would first go on UBER to see what the price should typically be and then haggle down to that price or somewhere around there.
We also realized that if a tuk tuk driver wouldn’t budge on their price then there would be one just a few feet away that would. So if you can’t get the price you want just walk away and find someone else who will.
Also, be sure to have small bills on you or exact change if possible. Always agree on a price and repeat it about 3 times BEFORE stepping into the tuk tuk. If you reach your destination and the driver tries to tell you a higher price (which happened to us) make sure you have exact change and only give what you agreed upon. Even if they get mad or upset. Give them the agreed upon money and quickly exit the tuk tuk.
At the airport the best taxi to get is the government approved ones called Meru. There will be a small stand as soon as you exit the airport. They will print out a ticket for the driver and a give you a price based on the distance you want to go.
Make sure you repeat the price multiple times and confirm it, with the driver as well. During our second trip with Meru we confirmed the price with the company and when the driver dropped us off he told us a price of 200 INR more than it should be. Luckily we had the exact change and only gave that. The driver got upset but we just told him he needs to take it up with the company. Do NOT let them get away with charging you more that the agreed upon price.
Scamming in India
Let me start off by saying that we never once felt like we were going to be pickpocketed or robbed in India. In general we felt safe. However, we didn’t stay out late at night nor did we go to any parties, clubs or bars so I can’t speak for those situations.
Where you will get scammed is by tuk tuks, taxis, people selling stuff on the streets, tour guides, etc. As I’ve mentioned before the tuk tuk and taxi drivers will one hundred percent tell you a ridiculously high price. Haggle and confirm the agreed on price before you get into the car.
In my experience it is best to have the EXACT amount of money that you agreed upon because more likely than not, the driver will say they don’t have any change.
If you’re going to buy something from a street vendor make sure its a reasonable price. Another thing to be aware of is shops selling fake items.
There are stores claiming to sell silk rugs or pashmina scarves, but are you really sure?
It’s best to check with your hotel to find out where the legitimate shops are before dropping your cash on a souvenir.
When it comes to tour guides, make sure that if you do hire one at the entrance of a monument that they are a government approved guide. You will be asked by so many people as you enter if you want a tour guide and the prices aren’t cheap. We also found that many people would come up to us and start rattling off facts about the place so it’s best to be stern with your no if you do not want a guide.
Prices for Foreign Tourists
The prices for foreign tourists will always be monumentally higher than for the locals. This is something that really annoyed me at first but I eventually got over it. Additionally, be aware that the entrance fees listed online could also be different once you arrive so don’t get upset if you have to pay more.
There will be a price board located at every entrance to a monument and you can guarantee that a fee will be scratched out and replaced with a new, higher amount. It’s just the way it is and if you want to see the sights you’ll have to fork over the cash.
And that’s another thing, many of the entrances will have two different fee options. A smaller amount if you pay with a card and larger if you pay with cash. But here’s the kicker: the credit card machines NEVER work. So be sure to carry cash on you, preferably the exact amount as coincidentally enough they also won’t have change.
You’re probably seeing a trend at this point: NO ONE EVER HAS CHANGE! And the ATM machines will always give you large notes so try to go in a shop and buy some water or snacks to break up your bills.
Now you’re probably asking yourself, ‘is all this hassle really worth it?’ The answer is yes! The historical sights and monuments are incredible and should not be missed!
Haggling in India
I know, I know, it seems super shitty to bargain over something that may already be cheap in your western mind. But trust me, this is what you do in India. It’s almost like a game that you just have to jump in and play. Rule of thumb is to drop the price to about a third and then meet somewhere around half of what the original price was.
There are times when you will see signs in shops that say fixed price and while it’s okay to ask for a discount, don’t expect them to give one. Unless you buy multiple items and then they might give you a few rupees off.
Now, when it comes to transportation in India make sure to haggle and agree on a price before you step into the car/tuk tuk. This does not apply to UBER or OLA, as there will be a set price through the phone app which is always cheaper than a taxi or tuk tuk anyways.
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Phone Service Options
There is no doubt that you’ll want to have a phone plan with internet while traveling around India. In fact, it’s an absolute necessity. There is a lack of wifi in most places, including your hotel. The biggest struggle we had during our time in India was connecting to the internet.
There are 2 options for internet and cell service in India, getting a local SIM card or renting a phone called Trabug.
1. SIM Cards
There are two main cell providers here in India, Vodaphone and Airtel. If you choose Airtel they may be slightly cheaper than Vodaphone but the SIM takes 12-24 hours to activate. We choose to use Vodaphone and the SIM was activated before we left the store. It cost 495 INR (~7.25 USD) for unlimited calls and text, 1.5 GB data daily and is good for 28 days.
This is essentially a rent a phone in India. It takes the hassle out of trying to find a phone store and purchasing a SIM because the phone can be delivered right to your hotel. The phones are immediately activated and have all the apps installed that you will typically use. After each use the phones are wiped clean and ready for the next user.
We chose not to use Trabug because of the duration of our stay in India. It costs $5.99 a day for 2.5 GB of data plus calls and texts. For us, it would have ended up costing way too much but if you are only in India for a short duration it may be worth it. They also charge a $9.99 fee for drop off and return unless your bill is over $50 then the fee is waived. You can find more information about Trabug here.
Photography in India
One of the highlights of your trip to India will be photographing all of the beauty within the country. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before you arrive at a monument and find that you can’t bring in certain gear with you!
The use of a tripod is restricted in most monuments in India and it will clearly be stated at the entrance.
There were only a select number of places where tripods were allowed inside and that was mostly in Jaipur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur. Some of these places were the Amer Fort wall, the Tattoo Cafe for shots of Hawa Mahal, Bada Bagh in Jaisalmer, the cable car in Udaipur and inside the Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel.
Oh course you can use a tripod anywhere within the cities that are outside of the monuments, however, this would mean you would have to leave your expensive camera out in the open. We didn’t want to take the risk so we didn’t set it up unless there weren’t many people around.
Any time we couldn’t use our tripod and we wanted to get shots together, we placed out camera on top of our bag and used our remote shutter to try and get the shot. For these photos I ended up having to do quite a bit of editing to adjust the angles.
Drones are allowed in the country but are only allowed to fly in certain areas. The best way to check is online. Also, if we tried to fly in a restricted area our drone wouldn’t even take off and the app would say that we were in a No Fly Zone.
When traveling with a drone, you must either take only the wings off or place the entire drone (without batteries) in your checked luggage.
The batteries absolutely need to be in your carry on luggage. Also, if you have a power bank or portable charger that also needs to be in your carry on.
Toilets (or Lack There of) in India
My #1 bathroom tip for India is: Bring your own toilet paper, tissues or baby wipes and hand sanitizer. I also bring a small spray can of Lysol just in case, I mean you never really know when you might need it.
There are many different types of toilets that you’ll find in India. Sometimes there aren’t any, unless you’re a man. The most common type of toilet is the hole in the ground or as I like to call it, the squatty potty. These are usually not very clean and can be quite off-putting. However, you’ll just have to get over it because if you wait to find a decent bathroom you could be waiting a very long time.
The bus stop bathrooms were by far the worst but you don’t really have much of a choice.
There are now a few places that will have western style toilets but they most likely won’t have any toilet paper. So again, bring your own roll.
Also keep in mind that you may hav to pay to use a public toilet sometimes so its best to carry around some small coins just in case.
Visas: Applying for an India eVisa
An eVisa to India is required for most international travelers. Unless you belong to a SAARC Country you will most likely need to apply online for the eVisa. Luckily, it is a fairly easy process. I applied through ivisa.com which is slightly more expensive due to processing fees but is completely stress free.
I tried to do it through the government site first and it was a bit complicated and extensive. The asked a lot of question including where you have traveled within the last 10 years. When I added in all my destination it said I had too many. So between that and the other multiple pages of questions I decided to pay the extra money and use ivisa.com instead!
For either application you will need to upload a picture of your passport and a passport sized photo for your application. I took a photo of myself against a white wall and then sized it in lightroom, which was the easier option.
Be sure to apply about 7-10 days prior to your arrival in India as the processing time could take a few days!
First and foremost check with your local heath care professional about which vaccinations are required for India. Besides your routine vaccines it is recommended to get Hepatitis A and Typhoid. You will also need proof of a Yellow Fever vaccine only if you’ve come from a country where Yellow Fever is present.
Medications that are recommended are anti-malarial as malaria is common in India (especially during monsoon season).
Dengue Fever is also present in India, however there is no vaccination nor treatment so it is best to use insect repellent with DEET. I got Dengue Fever last year in the Maldives and let me tell you that it is horrible and you do not want to get it. I know some of you may be against using DEET or other chemicals but I can guarantee you’ll be more unhappy if you contract Dengue.
It is also recommended to get the Rabies vaccination. We did not and if you are like us then just be very careful around some of the stray dogs.
Medications to Pack
India is a large country and in many of the main cities you will be able to easily find a medical center should you need one. However, I recommend packing a few frequently used medications from home. I will always bring some kind of cold and sinus medication just in case I get sick.
I personally pack Ciproflaxin (a prescription anti-biotic used for stomach issues), Zofran (a prescription anti-nausea), over the counter tylenol, excedrin for headaches, anti-diarrheals and stool softeners. I also suffer from migraines so I make sure to bring my prescription for that as well.
In addition to medications I always pack a few extra bandaids, an antibiotic ointment, lozenges for a sore throat or cough (you will need with the pollution in India) and insect repellent.
The Currency in India & Using ATM’s
In India they use the Indian Rupee (INR). One rupee is equal to $.014 USD and if you’re like me you’ll want to have an app on your phone that will easily do the conversions for you.
I use the app xe currency and they allow you to download different countries currency so you can access it offline. This definitely comes in handy when traveling around so you don’t have to try to do the math in your head.
The ATM’s in India can be a bit frustrating. There are usually many to choose from but there’s a good chance that they won’t have any money in them or just won’t work at all.
Additionally, there are many ATM’s where your card will get rejected but don’t panic immediately and think that it’s something wrong with your card. Try again at another machine with a different bank and hopefully it will work.
Also, be sure that the machine you are using is in a safe area with lots of lighting and only use it during the day. Like any machine, be sure to check it thoroughly to make sure that it doesn’t appear to be tampered with.
What to Eat and Drink
This is probably one of the most important India travel tips for first timers that is included in this post!
There is a good chance that at some point during your time in India you will get what they refer to as Delhi Belly. While this is definitely a fear for some travelers it should not deter you from trying the local cuisine. There are so many delicious dishes in India that you should absolutely venture out and try something new.
We noticed that the best local restaurants were the ones that were packed with people. It’s a good rule of thumb to go there because you know the food will be incredible and the restaurant will be hygienic. The local places ended up being our absolute favorite and we had some of our best meals there. Plus the locals are extremely nice to they will be happy to help you select something from the menu.
If you are visiting India during the monsoon season it is recommended to avoid eating the street food.
When it comes to drinking the water it is advised to only drink bottled water. This was definitely hard for us as we are constantly trying to reduce our plastic usage. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much of a choice. We also used the bottled water to brush our teeth but that may be a bit extreme. You decide what your comfort level is once you arrive.
Additionally, if you order blended fruit drinks be sure that they are using bottled or filtered water. The same goes for ice cubes.
What to Wear in India
Due to the culture, it is important to dress conservatively while traveling around India. Typically I would wear a short sleeve or sleeveless top with a long skirt or pants. If I wore a dress with thin straps I would always wear a top over it while moving around. There are times, like at the Tattoo Cafe in front of the Hawa Mahal where it is okay to reveal your shoulders or a little more skin if not too many people are around. But in general, it is wise to keep your upper thighs and shoulders covered.
During our travel days I would typically wear pants with tennis shoes as the ground can be dirty and dusty and you’ll want to be covered up. If you travel to India during the summer months you will want to wear loose, cotton clothing or athletic wear that will keep you dry and cool.
I would also advise to avoid wearing any bright, neon colors that might draw extra attention to you as it’s best to try and blend in as much as possible.
Other Things to Pack For India
In addition to clothing you’ll want to make sure you pack a few other essentials. These items will include a travel adapter so that you are able to easily recharge all your devices. A small packable towel as there will be many AirBnB’s or hostels where you may need to bring your own or they will charge an additional fee.
We also love using packing cubes and stuff sacks for our clothes. It makes it so much easier to unpack and located exactly what you need without taking apart your whole suitcase. Another thing that may come in handy is a flashlight and extra batteries. This has been beneficial more times than we thought and we are so happy that we packed one!
Have you been to India? Let me know in the comments if you have anything to add or if you have any questions! I’d love to help!
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