India; an exotic land filled with friendly faces, fragrant spices, temples, mosques, churches and a myriad of natural landscapes – from palm fringed beaches to rugged hills and arid expanses. Travelling in India is full of unique experiences and, although India is one country, the culture, languages and foods vary dramatically from state to state. It’s common to think of India as a whole – as one – but the first thing you should understand before travelling in this vibrant country is that it’s a melting pot of religions, cuisines and ethnicity.
It’s safe to say that no one person will experience a country full of such wonders in the same way as any other. Meaning you’re guaranteed unique experiences day in, day out. Around every corner lies the unexpected. And that’s why you’ll love it. But there are a few essential things you’ll need to know before you go. In this post I’ll cover visas, staying healthy, getting around, plus a few of my top tips you’ll find useful before you head off on your Indian adventure!
If you are a British Citizen, you’ll require a visa to visit India. But the good news is, it’s so easy as you can do all of this online. If you are going for a short time – 60 days or less – you can easily apply for an e-Visa online. You can check the cost and apply for the e-Visa in the visa section of the embassy website HERE.
If you are planning to travel to the country for longer, you’ll need to apply at the Visa Application Centre in London in person. The process is easy, and doesn’t take long. You just have to be sure to get to the centre when it opens to avoid long waits. Be sure to print out the forms and have them ready filled in before you get to the application centre. You can get a 90 day, 6 month or 1 year visa, but be sure to read all the small print as you may only actually allowed in the country for a specified amount of days at a time before leaving and returning. Check the cost and find instructions for application for a regular visa application HERE.
NOTE: check the date of expiry of your visa, usually the Indian government start the visa length from date of issue.
If you are not a British Citizen, you can check the embassy website here for a full price list and entitlements depending on your nationality and requirements: Indian Embassy Website.
You generally need ALL the vaccines for India. Check the CDC website for an up to date list of vaccines and never depart to go travelling in India without visiting your travel nurse first. Rabies is a must, and the course needs to be started up to 3 months before departure, so don’t leave this one until the last minute.
It is a common myth that you cannot get tampons in India at all, but you can. However in small towns and villages they are not available and the ones that ARE available are not of amazing quality. Be sure to bring some from your home country. If you are in India for an extended amount of time, you may just have to embrace the local tampon (it’s not too bad I promise).
The sun is strong in India. Bring SPF 30 as a minimum. If you’re planning to go surfing in India, a high factor water resistant sunscreen and zinc for your face is essential.
A good mosquito repellent
Mosquitos are rife, and since Malarial risks throughout india have been downsized by WHO, taking precautions using repellent and staying covered where possible is important. Dengue fever remains a risk, and the simple irritations of bug bites are enough to make you want to invest in a good repellent.
India is very DRY in most parts… I suffered from heat stroke TWICE, even though I was sure I was drinking enough water. Be sure to pack rehydration sachets for your trip as a precaution, but you’ll also find rehydration sachets in all local pharmacies (which are WHO approved).
Don’t drink tap water and ensure ice is made with filtered water. If you have to buy bottled water, ensure your mineral water bottle is sealed when you buy it. Filtered water is OK to drink and lots of restaurants and accommodations have drinking water available. So bring a water bottle like a Klean Kanteen to reduce your plastic consumption where possible.
Autorickshaws, as the locals call them, are available nearly everywhere you travel within the locality of a destination. Prices fluctuate throughout the country so where you can easily get a ride for one price in Kolkata, it’s impossible to go the same distance for the same price in a tourist centre like Goa.
Make sure you agree a price before you start a ride and always haggle if it seems expensive for the locality.
Local buses, sleeper buses, AC and non AC long distance buses. We sampled them all. And I can safely say none are really better than the other. But if you DO take the bus, make sure you don’t sit right at the back – in buses with little to no suspension the back seats are far less comfortable.
No experience travelling in India is complete without taking the train! See my guide to taking the train from Kochi to Goa which gives you a flavour of what you can expect. The train routes in India are vast and you can get a train easily to most intercity locations and everywhere in between. Check out the Passenger Information tab on the Indian Railways website for more information.
Yes, the phenomenen on Uber has made it to India! And the awesome news is you’re guaranteed a fair price that is usually cheaper than attempting to haggle with a local taxi. You don’t need to link it up to your credit card, you can easily pay cash. It’s much easier if you have a local sim card to access the service using 4G.
Accidents are prone, so be careful. And in a lot of areas around the country, wearing a helmet isn’t enforced by the police. Be sure to ask your rental company if they can provide a helmet. If you don’t feel comfortable riding a scooter, please don’t do it. The driving culture in India is unlike driving in the quaint little streets of England or even London. Try getting used to the way the Indians drive before you attempt to drive on the roads of India by taking autorickshaws and being a backseat driver in your head.
Going long distances sometimes is just worth getting a flight. Our favourite airline is Air India. We flew other Indian airlines but Air India stand out at the best and usually one of the cheapest. Not only do you get a meal on EVERY flight included in the price but when we travelled with our surfboards they didn’t charge us extra and really looked after them.
Top tips for travelling in India
Drink coconut water
As a quick source of re-hydration, nothing beats the trusty coconut. Luckily, they are plentiful in southern India. With the perfect balance of salts and sugars to re-hydrate your body, it’s a no-brainer to help fuel more adventuring.
The head wobble
An endeering custom of all Indian people, the head wobble might at first catch you out when you ask a question and interpret the head wobble as a ‘no’. It actually means lots of things – it can mean ‘ok’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’… you’ll get used to it and might even start it yourself like I did!
Bring a flannel
Because you’ll constantly need to mop up your own sweat.
Keep bacteria at bay, you’re likely to be touching all sorts of different surfaces from train toilets to messy greasy foods.
2 pairs of sandals
It might seem excessive, but you’ll thank me later. Take one pair for exploring and another pair for when that one is being washed. In most parts, the ground is dusty and in a city like Delhi you’ll get very dirty feet if you go out exploring for the day even in sandals and you’ll want to take them in the shower with you when you get back to your hotel or hostel.
And while we are on the subject of power banks, don’t put them in your checked baggage when travelling by air. Keep them in your carry-on.
Healthy and fresh juices and lassis (yoghurts based fruit juice) are plentiful, but generally sugar is added. Be sure to ask for no sugar if you don’t want it when you order any kind of fresh juice.
Power cuts and water shortages…
Are regular occurances. Be patient and accept that this is a way of life in India. Be aware that a power surge broke my phone (this is actually a thing), so be sure to bring a power bank and, rather than plug your phone into the power socket, instead use a power bank to charge your phone and just charge the power bank in the socket.
Invest in a mosquito coil and lighter when you arrive especially if you enjoy sitting outdoors at dusk or later. It’ll cost you less than £1 for both – it’s well worth the investment!
Buying a local sim card…
Is not difficult, but there is a process involved. You will need to take your Passport with you. Some places may refuse to sell you one (even with your passport), so shop around a bit if you’re having trouble. But most importantly be sure to carry your passport when you’re headed out in search.
Most autorickshaws actually have the price per km written behind the driver’s seat. Take a look at this if you can and you’ll have a fair idea whether you’re being ripped off or not. 25 rupees per km is a general guideline which is what we found written in a number of tuktuks in Goa, yet they will easily charge a tourist twice or three times the price.
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