I’ve never found a country so hard to describe as India is. I went through frequent periods of absolutely loving it mixed with periods of extreme frustration and stress. It’s also one of the few countries I wouldn’t recommend to someone who hasn’t had much travel experience. However, knowing the ins and outs will make your time there much easier. Read these tips for visiting India for the first time before you go!
This is my number one tip. If you don’t have patience, you won’t make it far. As the second most populated country in the world, India has a population of one billion people. Delhi alone has over 18 million people. That’s absolutely insane!
That said, traffic is absolutely awful in the cities. Lanes mean nothing, so what’s supposed to be four lanes of traffic becomes ten with every car trying to cram themselves in. It almost seemed like a game, with each car inching forward until they’re an inch away from each other to see who will finally let the other in.
Not only are there an insane amount of cars on the road, every single one will honk about every 10 seconds to let you know they’re there. You almost get used to the honking as a background noise when you’re there for awhile because it’s so constant.
It goes pretty late into the night, so I’d recommend bringing earplugs. There are also hundreds of stray dogs on the streets barking at each other all night long, so it can be hard to get proper sleep.
Take Out Money at the Airport
As of the published date of this post, there’s a huge problem with ATMs not having money. The government recently took out a ton of rupees due to counterfeit ones floating around, so there’s a severe lack of money right now. It took me two days to find money, which I needed for the markets and many small shops.
To save yourself the hassle, get money at the airport. There are several ATMs and a currency exchange there. You may lose some money with the exchange, but it’s worth it to have cash since many smaller stores don’t take cards. Most restaurants will, but not all depending on the city. Things are so cheap there it’s not worth it to get charged repeatedly on your card for an international fee each time, so cash is the way to go.
Know Your Destination
Taxis are an inexpensive way to get around India and I highly recommend them. That said, don’t expect them to have GPS or know where they’re going. Have not only the name but address and a screenshot of your hotel or destination in case the driver gets lost. It’ll save you both time and confusion.
Watch Yourself on the Streets
As in any big city, I don’t recommend letting your belongings out of sight or loosely hanging off you. Unlike other big cities, you also need to physically watch out that you don’t run into the chaos on the streets. This includes but is not limited to cars, bikes, tuk-tuks, dogs, cows, monkeys, elephants, and camels. One of my biggest shocks of the trip was seeing everything in the list within a one block radius.
Get Out of Delhi
While many people need to fly into Delhi if they’re flying internationally, make sure you visit other cities. If I had just stayed there, my experience in India would’ve been completely different. I’m sure there are parts of Delhi that are charming, but I found it overpopulated, stressful, and nauseating due to the constant smell of people burning their garbage on the streets. Go to Agra or Jaipur to see cities with different vibes.
Stay Away From Beggars
At the risk of sounding like a terrible person, you can’t give money to the beggars on the streets. Believe me, when I saw small children putting their hand out for money, it was tough. Once they started following me and literally jumping on me to grab everything I was holding, I changed my mind. The sad reality is many big cities have hundreds of children begging, but once you give one money or food, you’ll have dozens of them chasing you.
Never settle for the price a street vendor tells you in India. They’ve always marked it up, so I’d always offer half or less of their asking price. Many vendors are selling similar items on the same street, so if you decline their offer and walk away, they’re likely to say they’ll accept your offer.
Also, get used to bargaining for everything. Scarves, chai, and even onions aren’t off-limits. Unless you’re in a restaurant, most things are never a set price.
Have Travel Insurance
I’ve heard debates about whether or not you should get travel insurance when you travel, but India is not the place to choose not to have any. Many things can happen here, such as getting in an accident with how crazy the driving is, so don’t go there without insurance.
Prepare to Have Your Picture Taken
If you don’t look Indian (especially if you’re fair-skinned), you will be asked to pose for pictures at tourist attractions over and over. I can’t tell you how excited they get to take selfies with you. I even had an entire family of 10 take pictures with me, including one-on-one photos with each of the man’s children. Where these pictures end up, I don’t know, but it’s pretty entertaining.
Don’t Depend on Wi-fi
Almost every place I stayed at in India had wi-fi, but that doesn’t mean it worked well. In most places, once more than five other people get online, trying to surf the web is hopeless. I even found a few chain coffee shops to try to work in, but wi-fi wasn’t offered.
If you work online like me, make sure all your work is done before your trip. Sometimes it even gets shut off completely at night. There’s absolutely no guarantee that wifi will work, so don’t even try only to get stressed out about it.
Learn to Use a Squat Toilet
The first restaurant I went to in India shocked me when I opened the bathroom door to just see a hole in the ground. Squat toilets are everywhere in India, so you need to learn them quick or you’ll be holding it for a long time. I won’t go into the details of how to use one, but I think you can figure it out.
It’s also really rare for bathrooms to have toilet paper or water and soap. The combination of all these things is not good if you’re not prepared. I started taking the toilet paper from my room and bought hand sanitizer to throw in my backpack everywhere I went. This will make your squat toilet experience much easier to deal with.
Have you been to India before? What tips would you add?
Looking for more travel tips?
Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get travel tips, plus enter to win travel contests!