Life Lessons from Traveling in India

Life Lessons from Traveling in India

My first day in India was a complete culture shock. I was told I was “in for an education.” Only now do I understand what she meant.

Nestled within the historic forts, ancient temples, beautiful palaces and hectic cities; along the deserts, sandy beaches, palm fringed waterways and holy ghats and amongst the colour and spectacle India can be a transformative destination to travel in.

India is a country that challenges the traveller whilst being incredibly rewarding. It’s a difficult and confusing place to understand for the Western visitor, you need to leave western logic and sensibilities at the airport because they just don’t apply here. Trying to control your experience of India is an exhausting and fruitless task, you need to surrender to India.

In a way I came to India for the cliché “to find myself”. This has happened in a different way from what I had envisaged but I have learned a great deal about myself and my perception of the world, and what it means to be alive, has changed.


India  – my teacher

There is a saying that ‘India doesn’t teach you what you want to learn but it teaches you what you need to learn’ and I think it’s right!

India can teach you many things, it can teach you to be adaptable, patient and more open minded and to be tougher yet more compassionate. Tackling the challenges of traveling in India has increased my confidence and I am also learning to let go and not worry so much about things that are out of my control. I am learning to go with the flow and to have a little more faith in people and in the workings of the universe that things will turn out just right.

For me, perhaps the most important lesson India taught me is to realise and appreciate how lucky I am and resolve not to take what I have for granted from being born into a middle class Western society.

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai

Poverty and Privilege

The contrasts between rich and poor in India are startling. The amount of poverty I witnessed in India broke my heart a thousand times and I thought ‘ What right did I ever have to feel unhappy with my life when I had never been homeless, gone hungry or had to resort to begging on a filthy street or drinking water that would make me sick.’

Even if I shun my family, lose my job or fall ill there is still a wonderful safety net in the UK that will make sure I have healthcare, shelter, sanitation and food. These alone are things that maybe half of the people in India or in other developing countries do not have. Apparently two thirds of the population, over 806 million people, don’t have access to a toilet or sanitation! Over 99 million people don’t have access to safe, clean water and every year thousands of children here still die young from diarrheal diseases from dirty water, poor sanitation and diseases we have long forgotten in the west. (Facts taken from Wateraid)

Women’s rights are still behind what we enjoy in Western cultures, more females are aborted or killed leading to a skewed sex ratio and in this male dominated, deeply patriarchal society women face discrimination, prejudice, neglect and violence that has been highlighted by the recent high profile gang rape cases.

India may seen chaotic at first glance but there are strict, ingrained societal and religious norms that family, society and caste expect people to conform and adhere too.


The privilege of choice

As well as the multitude of opportunities I have, most of all I appreciate the choices I have, especially as a woman; I can chose who, if at all, I marry, I can chose how many children I have, what profession I want to do, where I go, what I wear and who I talk whilst feeling safe most of the time.

Of course things are changing, India is at the same time an ambitious country fast heading into the future,  but also maintaining a strong grasp on the rich traditions and cultures that make this country so unique, incredible and fascinating. But with over 1.25 billion people things take time to change and lifting millions of people out of poverty is no easy feat.

And, it’s not just India – poverty is a reality of life for the majority of the world’s population. The World Bank states that 2.44 billion people live on less than $2 a day, people who can only dream of having access to education, healthcare, sanitation, housing and equal rights that we take for granted.

In the west we are in the lucky richest 10% that own 90% of global wealth, I appreciate that now.

But I still love India

Despite the difficulties, the contradictions, the poverty, dirt and aggravation there is compelling beauty, amazing diversity, inspiring resourcefulness and spirit in India that makes me feel so alive and the western world dull in comparison.

India is the teacher and the traveler is the student. India will present you with paradigms and force you to ask yourself questions which will teach you more about yourself and the world. India can challenge all your notions of what you need to be happy and whats actually important.

So while I gained a greater appreciation of the privileges I have I also found myself wondering if the modern, western way of life is really the key to happiness?


Before I left the UK I was lost and drowning in feelings of inadequacy, failure and my own self pity. Our consumerist society manipulates us into only feeling successful by accumulating more and more material goods and draining the world’s resources.

By trying to keep up with ideals that I didn’t believe in I had the nagging feeling that life was passing me by and that my life was meant to amount to more than clock watching in an unsatisfying job just to pay the rent and bills and keep up appearances in a money obsessed, materialistic world. I thought there has to be more to life and happiness than this.

Now I know better than to compare myself to someone richer, prettier or more successful, I am grateful every day for how lucky I am but at the same time am inspired by the spirit of India.

Seeing the smiles on people’s faces who have so little makes me question if money and material goods are really the epitome of success and happiness.

In India people value family life, relationships, faith and nature more and in doing so seem more content and grateful with what they have. These people may lack in monetary wealth they but are rich in warmth, love and spirituality, which is more valuable?

I met people who had so little but were so generous. I will always be in awe of how hard people worked in shocking conditions and how resourceful and ambitious people were despite the most difficult circumstances.

The happy couple

The happy couple

Thank you India

India blew my mind and opened it wide, it allowed me to free myself from the societal norms, to allow me to reinvent myself and not allow my job or societies expectations to identify me.

Thank you India for showing me that there is another way to live, for allowing me to worry less and giving me faith that everything will work out and the universe will show me the way.

Thank you India, for making me realise how lucky I am, inspiring me to make the most of all these choices and opportunities I have, for opening my mind and giving me the courage to live life on my terms.

Thank you India! I can’t wait to see you again soon!

  • We should have what they have… (
  • Top 5 things learned in India (breathedreamgo)


  • Jacqui says:

    Yes, I think you will be back sometime…

  • Love this blog, I could have written most of it myself and especially this: “Thank you India, for making me realise how lucky I am, inspiring me to make the most of all these choices and opportunities I have, for opening my mind and giving me the courage to live life on my terms.” Totally know what you mean! Good luck on your travels.

    • Anna says:

      Thanks so much for your lovely comments, it means alot as I remember avidly reading your blog in preparation for my travels, I loved it and found it very useful.Thanks for reading!

  • vennilamaran says:

    Even as an Indian, I can completely empathize with a lot of what you said. I wrote a blog post about India’s inequalities after my trip to India earlier this year. Although I was born in the country, I was still so surprised and devastated by the unfortunate reality that seems to worsen with human greed.

    India’s culture and diversity has still remained strong though.

    Loved this post! I’m glad you had such an enlightening trip 🙂

    • Anna says:

      Thanks for your comment it’s great to hear from an Indian point of view. I checked out your blog too and enjoyed it and found the issues and examples you raised very interesting. Yes, while the poverty imbalances can be heartbreaking there is much a western visitor can learn from India. Certainly an enlightening trip and I look forward to returning as soon as I can!

  • John says:

    Another inspiring blog, which I am eternally greatful for, I need to see for myself the true nature of India, hope my African wife will join me in the venture

  • Pavan Meshram says:

    Beautiful read Anna. Its always fascinating for me to experience my country through the views of an outsider. You have described your journey through my colourful nation wonderfully. For a girl from the UK arriving into the land of billions, this one line perfectly sums up you adventure trip, ‘India is a country that challenges the traveller whilst being incredibly rewarding’.

  • Rajesh says:

    Excellent! But the figures are pretty old which you quoted are from 2001 census . People below poverty line are 300 million.and number of people without access to toilet is down to 45% . Ofcourse still too high but slowly making progress. Any way i live in germany and absolutely love your articles and i feel nostalgic abt India. I liked germany when i came but after three years now i feel how colourful and lively india is ! And i feel west as a bit of black and white in every aspect. Not to downsize west Definitely the standards and living conditions in west are no comparision But India has that charm even when slowly modernising it is taking its culture and Beliefs with it.

    • Anna Phipps says:

      Yes, I know, I could not find any more recent information and I did write this post almost 2 years ago now. I can see how quickly India is changing, modernising and improving but without losing the unique culture and charm that makes me love India so much! Thank you so much for your kind comments – I’m very happy that my writing can make you feel this way and I also feel a bit like that about the western world hence why I hardly spend any time there any more – I prefer Asia and I’m totally in love with Asia. —

    • Anna Phipps says:

      Sorry, I forgot to thank you for the updated information too!

  • Vio says:

    Beautifully said! 🙂

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