India is an exotic and captivating destination that will both delight and surprise travelers. With deep religious, cultural and historic roots, chaotic cities, amazing architecture and arguably some of the best food in the world, there are endless reasons why India should be at the top of every traveler’s bucket list.
That being said, many travelers experience some level of culture shock, especially if it’s a first-time visit – and even more so if you’re traveling alone. After traveling India extensively, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help ease the transition for any first-time traveler to this majestic country.
1. Do Your Research
India is huge. From the frozen summits of the Himalayas to the sandy beaches of Goa, India encompasses a wide range of cultures, landscapes, and people. Before traveling to India, it’s essential you spend time researching your destinations. You should outline what kind of vacation you want to have, where you want to go and how you will travel between destinations. We recommend booking accommodations, guides, transportation and activities in advance. That will alleviate stress when you’re in India and give you more time to relax and take in your experience.
2. Focus On One Area
India is a vast, colorful and addictive country, but you should set realistic expectations on how much you can see on your first trip. It’s impossible to see all of India in one visit, so we recommend picking one area and exploring it in depth (for first time travelers to India, the province of Rajasthan is a good introduction). This will not only allow you to truly experience the culture of that region, but it will cut down on time wasted on long distance travel.
If you are exploring several areas, we recommend looking into domestic flight options. There are lots of cheap flights available within India, and flying is more reliable and less chaotic than long distance train journeys.
3. Be Prepared
There are more than 1.3 billion people that call India home. You should prepare yourself for the crowds, noise, traffic, and pollution that come with a population of that size. In many regions, there is no centralized garbage disposal system so it is not uncommon to see piles of garbage burning on the street. Poverty is also rampant in India (the average person survives on $2 USD a day). Although these things should not deter you from visiting India, you should be aware that they are part of the experience.
Traveling India is significantly cheaper than many other destinations. We recommend using some of these savings to splurge on things like accommodations and private guides and transfers. Four and five-star hotels in India are less than half the price of most hotels in Europe and North America and they will be an oasis when you need a break from India’s chaotic streets. Private transfers and guides are also cheap in India. Skip the hassle of taking the train or joining a group tour and splurge for a private experience.
5. Join a Food Tour
Food stands out as one of the highlights of our travels in India. However, travelers to India should always be cautious about where and what they eat to avoid the dreaded Delhi Belly. Be careful of street vendors and try to eat at restaurants where locals are dining. In order to maximize your culinary experience, we recommend joining a food tour. Food tour operators have typically vetted the area for the best, and most reliable, street vendors and restaurants. They won’t take you anywhere that could turn into a bad review.
6. Go Vegetarian
Most Indians are vegetarians (upwards of 80%), which means not only do they have some of the best vegetarians dishes in the world, but they also don’t have the same capabilities for packaging and storing meat. We recommend eating vegetarian the moment you step off the plane. This will cut down on the possibility of Delhi Belly and other illnesses. Plus the vegetarian dishes in India are so good you won’t even miss the meat! You might be rolling your eyes at this, but we mean it sincerely. The best food in India is without a doubt vegetarian.
7. Pack Light and Buy Clothes There
India is hot, with temperatures rising to the high 40’s (or 100 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer. Indian culture also requires modest dress from both men and women. Instead of wasting your time and money trying to shop for clothes at home, pack light and buy a few Indian outfits when you get there.
8. Ladies, Always Bring a Scarf
Indians are known to stare. This isn’t considered rude in Indian culture, so don’t be offended. It can be more intimidating for female travelers, especially those traveling solo, so if it gets to be too much use a scarf to cover your head and blend in with the crowd.
9. Embrace the Culture
Indian culture is very different from Western culture and if you want a truly authentic Indian experience, we suggest you not only respect the differences but embrace them. Take this opportunity to wear Indian style clothing, eat with your hands, drink chai and learn about Hinduism. Don’t go to India just to see it. Experience it.
10. Don’t Believe Everything You Read
When we first started researching India, we were overwhelmed by the amount of information that was available. There were times when the ‘tips’ we read increased our apprehension about traveling to India more than they alleviated it. Much of what we read and fretted about turned out to be completely blown out of proportion. Like we said above, it’s important to research your destinations and be prepared, but don’t let the media or bloggers stress you out.