Ahhh India! So colorful, dynamic, culturally diverse, spiritual, and mysterious… Traveling to India is a lifelong dream for many and the first-time experience is no doubt unforgettable. But, the same exact reasons that make India so fascinating can make it a daunting and overwhelming if you’re not prepared. So we’re here to give you our best travel tips for India that will make your trip smooth and as fun as possible.
1. Visa Requirements
To enter India you need to hold a valid passport, an Indian visa and a return ticket. Some of the requirements people often forget about is that your passport needs to be valid for 6 months after your India trip, and you have at least 2 empty pages in your passport. These are strictly enforced so don’t forget to check your passport.
For most nationalities, you can apply for an “Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA)” online, if you are planning to stay in India for less than 30 days. Check the official site of the Indian government for instructions on how to apply here.
2. How Safe Is India?
This is one of the questions we get asked the most – is India safe for travelers?
Travel in India is different than most other places you’ve been to. It can be uncomfortable, it can be shocking, it can be exhausting and draining. The first thing to note is that all of India is not the same. It is a huge country and each region and even each city can be vastly different from the one right next to it. You can have a very different experience in a small town vs. a big city.
We were a little more cautious about India compared to other places we have traveled to. But we can say with confidence overall India is a relatively safe place for tourists. The vast majority of tourists here never have a problem. But bad things can happen anywhere in the world. And like with any other country in the region, you have to be careful.
So when people ask us if India is safe or not, our answer is – just know how to travel in India and you’ll be safe.
Traveling In India As A Woman
No doubt traveling in India as a woman can be uncomfortable. You will get stared at, especially in areas where there are not a lot of tourists. People on the street might try to get your attention or talk to you, or even walk with you for a while. If you are traveling by yourself this can be unnerving.
But statistically speaking, India is not any more or less safe for women than other countries in the region. From my personal experience as a woman, I felt much more uneasy in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Turkey than in India.
The vast majority of people you will encounter in India are welcoming and friendly. So if you follow a few basic rules, you will be fine:
- Dress modestly. You will not see a lot of bare shoulders, cleavage or legs in India, so if you are showing some – expect to get attention. It’s best to wear long bottoms and to cover your shoulders with a scarf or Indian-style blouses to blend in better.
- Be confident. As Westerners, we’re brought up to be polite, smile and answer when someone talks to us. In India that’s not always the best approach. Walking down the streets, you will have many people approach you, sell you things or ask for money. If you don’t want to engage, it’s best to not make eye contact and ignore. Don’t worry about being polite. Ignoring is the best way to get rid of intrusive people. If you appear timid and unsure, you might invite even more unwanted attention.
- Know the culture. Men and women in India relate differently to each other than we do in Western cultures. You can’t expect to interact with men here the same way you would in your own country. A kind gesture or a smile can be interpreted as an invitation. Personal space and boundaries in India are not the same as they are in the West.
- Call out for help. This has never happened to us, but if you feel you are in any sort of danger, don’t be afraid to seek help by making some noise. Public shaming plays a big role in Indian culture and chances are, there are lot more good people around you than bad. You will quickly be surrounded by good samaritans who will shame whoever bothered you.
In our experience with Indians, the vast majority of people here are extremely honorable righteous people, good to their core. They will rush to help you out even if you didn’t ask for it, and will go out of their way doing so. But as with any society, there are some truly bad apples as well. It’s important to remember this and not become overly paranoid or you will not enjoy your trip and spend your time looking over your shoulder.
3. Don’t Try To Cover Too Much Territory
India is actually so big, traveling between cities can take hours and is exhausting. Just traveling between Jaipur and Jodhpur, two cities in Rajasthan, took us more than 7 hours in a car. The trip was grueling. It might sound tempting to plan visiting 3 different states in 3 weeks but in reality you will hate yourself for doing this later.
Instead, pick an area in India you find most relevant to your interests, and just travel there. Take it easy, get to know the culture, explore the cities with no rush. There is so much to take in, learn and explore even just in one city market, that you would not want to be in a rush to leave for the next place.
4. Transportation And Travel Within India
This could be another safety tip that applies to everyone – be smart about transportation. Using public transport in India is not inherently unsafe but you have to remain cautious. Bring chains and locks if you are traveling long distances by train or bus. Keep your bags close at all times.
Bookaway is a great site for booking trains, buses, ferries and other transportation methods between cities. You can see all options in one place with actual photos from the company you’d be booking with and compare prices.
Use your commons sense when picking up a rickshaw on the street – in most cases you’d be able to tell if a driver would make you feel uncomfortable just by taking one look at them before you get on. Agree on the price beforehand to avoid surprises later. Typically you should pay between 70-200 rupees for short rickshaw rides up to 15 minutes.
For short trips you can also use prepaid taxi apps like Uber or the local OLA. The prices on these apps are better than local taxis and you know what you pay before you commit. We even went a step further and used Uber almost exclusively even for longer trips between big cities to avoid public transport altogether. Again, this is not really necessary but it definitely made us feel more on the safe side.
5. Air Pollution
Due to the huge number of cars, motor bikes, and tuk tuks as well as weak environmental regulations, the air pollution is a huge problem in India right now. It gets worse in certain seasons when farmers burn their crops to clear lands. The problem is more serious in bigger cities like Mumbai and Delhi, but we mostly stayed in Jaipur and Jodhpur and still felt the effects.
Since we only traveled in India for about 3 weeks, we didn’t think the air quality would affect us that much, but boy were we wrong. The first couple weeks we didn’t feel much, but after that we both developed an aggressive cough. That progressed to flu-like symptoms, sore throat, feeling weak and tired, and of course, coughing all the time.
We highly recommend you keep an eye on the air pollution levels when you travel to India and be sure to wear a face mask.
6. Food – Don’t Get The “Delhi Belly”
No matter how careful you are, your body is probably not used to all the different bacteria that is in the food and water in India. You might end up with the dreaded “Delhi belly” that is all too common for first-time travelers here. It’s a good idea to bring common diarrhea medication with you just in case.
But there are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of getting sick:
- Don’t drink the tap water (obviously). But also avoid anything that could be prepared with tap water such as fresh fruit drinks, some street food as well as fresh salads that could have been washed with tap water. To be really on the safe side, stick to fully cooked food. And don’t drink anything with ice.
- Avoid the spicy options on the menu. In most restaurants you’ll have a choice between ordering the mild, medium or spicy version of a dish. Stick to the mild or better yet “not spicy” options unless you are eating at a high-end restaurant or hotel where they know how to cater to Western tastes.
- Don’t eat the street food. Some locals told us that even they avoid the street food as it could have been washed with tap water or prepared in unsanitary ways. Street food in India can be delicious but if you want to stay on the safe side, just skip it.
After spending 3 weeks in India, we are happy to report we were able to avoid getting sick from the food. It could very well be because we travel a lot and are often exposed to food from different parts of the world. But it is definitely possible to avoid the Delhi belly even as a first-time visitor if you watch what you eat.
7. Beware Of Scams
We were fortunate not to encounter any scams during our travel in India but they do happen. It’s good to be aware so you don’t get fooled.
A common travel scam is for your taxi driver to pretend they haven’t heard of your hotel. They could also say the hotel has closed or that it’s not in a safe area. Then they would take you to another hotel, where they would receive a commission for your booking or scam you with the price. Make sure you know your hotel’s address and have a way of contacting them.
Another way to get scammed is fake train ticket offices or sham “Government Transportation” offices. They would try to sell you fake train tickets. Or they’d claim all trains and busses are sold out so they can sell you fake transport passes at exorbitant prices. Be extra vigilant of such claims and make sure you have a local SIM card with internet. Double check companies online before you purchase tickets.
8. Learn How To Bargain But Don’t Bargain Too Much
It might seem odd and intimidating for you as a foreigner at first but haggling is part of the culture in India. Don’t try to haggle at restaurants or proper stores, but street markets are a fair game. Remember, it’s not an argument but a friendly negotiation. Do it with a smile 🙂
As a tourist, the first price you hear will almost always be higher than it should be. Give a lower counter-offer and then go back and forth with the seller until you reach an agreement. If you don’t like the price and decide to start walking away, chances are the vendor will not want to lose your business. They will usually cut the price a lot at that point.
But at the end of the day, remember street sellers don’t have a lot, so don’t try to bargain down too much. Accept that as a tourist you’ll always pay a little more and that’s ok.
9. Carry Hand Sanitizer and Toilet Paper
Public toilets can be a bit of a struggle in India. Remember that this is a country of 1.5 billion people and a very poor sewer system throughout. Public restrooms can be a little hard to come by. And even when you find them, they most likely don’t have any toilet paper or soap.
10. Understand The Indian Head Waggle
As you travel around India you’ll definitely notice the local head-waggle gesture. It’s different from nodding for yes and shaking your head for no. It’s more of an enthusiastic waggle of the head left and right, which can have a few different variations.
Don’t be confused! Typically this is a gesture of agreement or affirmation and it is meant to offer comfort.
11. Guest Is God
There is a philosophy in India known as Atithi Devo Bhava. It translates as Guest Is God. The way you are treated as a guest in India is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It’s not just about hospitality, it’s putting your guest’s needs before yours. In India, a host will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. They would give up their own bed or meal for you.
This extends not only to you as a guest at someone’s house, a hotel, a restaurant or a shop, but also as a tourist in India as a whole.
Most Indians have this value to the core. It is something very unique we have not encountered to this extent anywhere in the world and it will make your travel experience in India truly wonderful. You really feel like you are welcomed by the locals with open hearts.
The people here are part of reason why you’ll keep coming back to India :))
12. Work On Your Attitude
We really believe your attitude and the energy you emit can play a big role in your travel experience – in India or anywhere else in the world. You are more likely to be attacked if you look vulnerable. If you are really scared of traveling in India, alone or not, it’s probably not a good idea to go. If you are afraid, you may find yourself having scary experiences. Or if you come with an entitled attitude, you might have unpleasant interactions with the locals. That’s just how life seems to work from our experience. Not always, of course, but a big portion of the time.
While we were traveling in Jodhpur, we had a conversation with a local in the town. We mentioned to him that we had only pleasant and positive interactions with the locals so far so we didn’t feel unsafe in India at all. He said to us – “You have good karma, that’s why! Good karma attracts good people.”
We are not saying good karma will protect you in every situation, of course. But if you do your research, follow a few common sense rules and come with an open heart, you will never forget your trip to India.