15 Travel Bloggers Reveal the 21 Things They Wish They Had Known Before Traveling to India
India is one of the most fascinating, colourful and mind blowing destinations there is! Whilst, nothing can really prepare you for the assault on all your senses that is Incredible India, you can make your first time traveling in this amazing country that bit easier and learn from the tips, misadventures and hindsight from 15 bloggers who reveal what they wish they had known before traveling to India!
Tips for first timers: Things I wish I’d known before traveling to India
Learn to adapt to the craziness! The more you resist it, the harder it will be (learned from 10 years of living there!) – Karilyn Owen from www.nobackhome.com
Travel slowly. I found India to be wonderfully unpredictable. The seemingly straightforward (booking a hostel, taking the train, ordering a meal) was often very complicated in tourist areas. Go with a sense of humor or you’ll be constantly frustrated. If you want to give yourself the best chance to love India? Travel slowly, get out of the major cities, and really get to know a place rather than rushing from one city to the next. “You know what I.N.D.I.A. stands for, right? I’ll never do it again.” I heard the joke over and over again. It sure felt true after two months there, but you know what? I miss it like crazy! – Taylor Record www.oncewereyoungtravel.com
Forget the stereotypes. India is both modern and traditional, poor and rich, chaotic and serene. India is so diverse you simply can’t define it with the usual cliches and stereotypes – it is so much more than that! – Anna Phipps www.global-gallivanting.com
Pack light. Traveling in India can be hot work! After a week or two you will probably rethink your wardrobe and buy more loose. lightweight and comfortable clothes. – Mili Ani Left My Heart In
Embrace the diversity. India is a land of many people, many religions, many cultures. India cannot be defined by one culture. When you travel India, absorb everything around you. Notice that, not only is the snake charmer part of Indian culture, but so is the elite business man. India has a high contrast of modern and traditional, take it all in. – Crystal Kushwaha www.myhindiheart.com
Cover up. India is both a modern and a conservative country and so it’s best for women to cover up – tight or revealing clothing for women is usually not worn and may attract unwanted attention. Wear something loose and comfortable like baggy cotton (or another fabric that breathes) pants, tunics and tops and don’t bring expensive clothes because traveling through India is rough on clothes and they can easily get ruined. I wear Indian clothing like sleeveless kurtis (similar to a western tunic top) with salwars (baggy Indian pants.) I usually cover my shoulders with a dupatta (large scarf or shawl) on the street although some places, for example beach towns in Goa or Kerala, can be more tolerant. However, you will still be stared at no matter what you wear. It is just the way it is wherever a Westerner travels in India. As for being hassled or eve-teased, I have never encountered anything I could not handle in my 10 years of travel to India. I think it’s because of my attitude when I walk – if one looks unsure, a trouble maker will zone in on that…and I always wear sunglasses which helps. – Linda Sama Karl www.lindiasindia.net
Women – be careful with your body language. Because Western culture is so different than Indian culture, a simple smile, eye contact, and friendly conversation can be taken in the wrong context. Women making eye contact and smiling can be seen as flirtatious. Casual, friendly conversations could give people the impression that you are easy to take advantage of. The best solution is to minimize small talk and act confident. It’s sad to say that some people, no matter where you are in the world, know how to take advantage of tourists, and the key is to exude confidence. Pretend you know exactly what you are doing, even if you feel a little unsure. – Crystal Kushwaha www.myhindiheart.com
Be ‘culturally aware ‘and adapt the way to travel to suit India. India is a ancient, traditional and very different culture to the Western world. There’s no use trying to fight it, accept that things work differently here, embrace the differences and go with flow and you’ll enjoy India alot more. India is as rewarding as it is challenging but ultimately your attitude will affect how much you enjoy and get out of the trip. Come with an open mind and open heart and India will open up to you. Try your best to fit in with Indian culture both for your safety and sanity! – Anna Phipps www.global-gallivanting.com
Be aware of scams and touts. If you are lost and someone offers to take you to the ‘official government tourist office” to book a ticket, tour, hotel or for money exchange it often means that he will take you to a regular travel agent who has nothing to do with government but pays him a commission. Some travellers have been known to book whole tours that don’t even exisit with fake travel agents and lose alot of money so be careful. – Mili Ani Left My Heart In
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Open up to the local people and accept invitations. Stepping out of my comfy life in England and straight into the scary streets of Delhi was one of the most overwhelming days of my life. I found it hard to open up to the thousands of overbearing people I came into contact with in those first few days. It took me a while to stop thinking every rickshaw driver, shop keeper or friendly local asking me where I was heading wasn’t just trying to con me out of pocket, or every curious stare wasn’t the rapey kind. We do, of course, need to have our wits about us in India, but that shouldn’t negatively impact the interactions we have and the relationships we build during our time there, because it’s the wonderful people you let in that will end up making your trip memorable. So, the biggest thing I wish I’d known before I traveled to India, was to have more time for the locals. Yes, be aware of the common scams but don’t perceive every ‘hello friend…!’ as a danger. Stop and chat, accept their invitations, answer all of the questions they ask you, ask just as many back in order to learn more about their day to day life and culture. Once I finally learned to trust and to open up, I couldn’t believe the warmth and kindness that I was showered with! – Kim www.thewanderlist.net
Ignore the staring. People will stare at you – for a long time. In most cases it is just folk being curious but you will notice it happening and there’s not too much you can really do about it so don’t let it bother you – it’s not considered rude here. – Sarah www.fittravels.com
Avoid asking leading questions. If an Indian doesn’t know the answer to your question he will try not to disappoint you or lose face but will try to help you as much as he can so he will probably just answer “Yes” to your questions. Therefore, questions like “Is the main bazaar this way?” Or “Can I cross from here to reach the train station?” are not recommended as you might not get a useful answer and will just get lost and frustrated. Also, head nodding doesn’t mean “Yes” or “No” it can mean both and also, nothing! – Mili Ani Left My Heart In
Be prepared for anything! Basically, when heading to India be prepared for anything and everything, it is amazing but it has its challenges. I visited India for the first time last year and while I had a blast there were moments I was not prepared for. I remember the day I saw a 10-year-old child going to the bathroom (#2) in the middle of the street in mid-day like it was no big deal. At this point in the trip I was totally use to people peeing anywhere and everywhere, but #2 in the middle of the street really?!?! Expect the unexpected! In the end I’m glad I went to India, and I know it won’t be the last time I am there. It’s a huge country and I have so much more to explore. – Hannah Lukaszewicz www.GettingStamped.com
You’ll be treated like a celebrity In some parts of India, it’s very normal for foreigners and tourists to flow in and out. In other parts of India, it’s very unusual. Many people will be very curious and surprised to see a foreigner in India, and it’s likely they will stare at you like you are a celebrity. It’s harmless. For this reason, rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers may try to overcharge you. I call it the “celebrity fare”. To avoid this, ask rickshaw drivers to turn on the meter before travelling, and haggle with shopkeepers until you both settle on a lower price. In some cases, disagreeing and walking away could force them to lower their inflated prices. – Crystal Kushwaha www.myhindiheart.com
Be confident and assertive instead of being polite. One of the most important things when traveling in India, or anywhere else really, is to be confident. assertive and hold yourself well. Forget about being polite, it may be taken as a sign of weakness, be prepared to stand up for yourself and don’t be afraid to speak out. Make a scene if you feel like someone is hassling, cheating or ‘eve teasing’ you then if you shout and shame them, often someone will come to your aid. I also find it best to ignore people, especially salesmen or touts, saying a polite no thank you is still engaging with them and could be mistaken for a sign of interest. Most importantly don’t look an easy target, act confident even if you aren’t! – Anna Phipps www.global-gallivanting.com
Pre download google maps. We visited India last year and one of the things we wish we knew before going was Google Maps! Thanks to Aunty Google, you can pre download the map/area of the city you are visiting by zooming into it and it is saved for offline use. This is so important when taking a taxi or tuk tuk in the country (particularly the North). They almost always try to rip you off/take you to the wrong “market” where they stand to get commissions, so by using this app you can keep an eye on them. Also, book your train tickets as soon as you can even months in advance – they sell out quick! – Stefan and Sebastien nomadicboys.com
India is Enormous! Before traveling to India, I wish I had a better sense of the enormity that is India — both geographically and culturally. There are something like 20-plus official languagues, but over 1,000 mother tongues. Then, there are a number of religions with a prescense in India. As if that’s not enough, the north and the south are almost different countries to many Indians. Unfortunately, India was just a thing on a map before I went to study abroad in college for a film project — my first trip overseas. Now I know that whenever I return, I’ll have to better research the region I’m heading to and get my language skills in order. – Joe Baur www.joebaur.com
Research your destination. Many times you’ll feel overwhelmed with the size of cities and busy crowds but it will be ok in the end. Just make sure you have done a bit of research of where you are going in advance and book your accommodation for the first night. Do not be like me and show up in Mumbai after a long train journey without any idea of what the city is like or where you are going to sleep! – Inma Gregorio www.aworldtotravel.com
The food is amazing. The Indian food you have in India is different and SO much better than the Indian food you get in the UK. – Hannah Kacary www.thatadventurer.co.uk
Customer service can be a bit over the top. At a hotel in Jaisalmer my husband and I seemed to be the only guests. That didn’t stop three waiters hovering just a few feet from our table every morning for breakfast. It was a bit uncomfortable having them all watch us as we ate but I guess they were just eager to please. – Sarah www.fittravels.com
Check the weather!
India is a huge country with a climate that is more diverse and changeable than you might think. Visiting Rajasthan in June/July is a really dumb idea. Unless you enjoy extreme heat! – Sarah www.fittravels.com
The Himalayas have a different weather pattern to the rest of the country: we travelled India throughout February and March: the perfect time to visit and see the sights since it’s dry, and not too hot. Agra, Delhi, and the rest of Rajasthan is comfortable during this time, and Goa has perfect beach-bumming conditions. But we arrived in Himachal Pradesh further north to below freezing temperatures, flurries of snow and impassable trekking trails. And we were NOT prepared. If you’re wanting to get the most out of the Himalayas, don’t expect them to have the same weather patterns as the rest of India. – Kim www.thewanderlist.net
Confidence is key. Before I travelled to India, I had so many apprehensions and anxieties. India was a big unknown, I couldn’t really imagine it all. I had never done a solo trip to a far-flung destination for six months. It was something completely new for me.
I wish I had known that I didn’t need so much stuff — stuff like large medical kits, and portable mosquito nets, and numerous guide books and all kinds of other stuff I ended up never using.
I wish I had known how helpful and friendly most people in India are.
But mostly, I wish I had known that I had the street smarts, resilience, resourcefulness and confidence to be able to handle it. Most of my doubts were about me, and my ability to handle the challenges that travel alone in India might present.
In the end, my first trip was a magic carpet ride. It made me a traveller and an Indiaphile … and I’ve been back seven more times since then. – Mariellen Ward Breathedreamgo.com,