12 Tips for India First Time Travelers

1. Indian Visa- An Indian Visa must be purchased in order to enter the country prior to arrival if you’re a citizen of the USA. There are several options offering different spans of time and amount of entries in/out of the country, so choose wisely. If you purchase an ETA Visa, when you arrive at the airport, you must go through the ETA Visa checkpoint and not your normal passport control desks where they will then proceed to scan your fingers and take a picture of you before allowing you into their country. Check out https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html for more information.

2. Flushable Wipes- Some places don’t have toilet paper so unless you want to use a bidet, I suggest taking flushable wipes.

3. Peeing on sidewalks- If you see guys peeing out in the streets, don’t worry- it’s normal in India. People are just taking care of their business. Don’t be surprised if you see guys squatting (number 2.)

4. Blond and Blue eyed- If you have blue eyes, blond hair, or just look like you’re from western civilization, you will get asked to take pictures. Locals will come up to you and ask if you could take a picture with them and/or their babies. Be prepared. You will be like a minor celebrity.

5. Dirty- A great percentage of people literally throw trash on the streets. India (especially New Delhi) doesn’t provide good cleaning services for their cities and well, people have to throw the trash somewhere. Keep in mind, India has 1 BILLION people living within its perimeter. The majority there view it as normal. I’d, however, suggest not contributing to the pollution and finding a trashcan be it in a restaurant, hotel, hostel, or store to properly dispose of any garbage. Be the solution not the problem.

6. Poor- The poverty level here is unlike anywhere else in the world. I’d never been to a country with such shockingly great amounts of disparity. People and kids will come up to you and ask for money all the time, and while one can’t provide money for everyone coming up to ask for it, I’d suggest either making them smile by giving them candy if you have some or even a high five. It’ll confuse them a bit by such unexpected response. One individual I met said she sat down and showed a few kids who came up to ask her for money English from a book she was caring; she was a teacher. Maybe showing value in a way that doesn’t equate money would be a way of turning this depressing situation into something uplifting. Leave a positive mark behind.

7. Delhi Belly- One of the things that scared me the most while traveling to India was the possibility of getting sick from eating food. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but many people experience what is commonly coined as “Delhi Belly” which is basically diarrhea and the loss of appetite for less than a week. While some street vendors properly cooked and fried food, I did notice that sometimes they'd end up wrapping it up in newspaper which people ate off of. That doesn’t seem very sanitary to me and thus, why one may get sick. I pretty much stuck to cooked/fried/grilled food, bagged food (like chips or cookies,) NO uncooked, raw vegetables or fruits that didn’t have a thick skin you’d peel, and bottled water (ALWAYS.) If you buy street food, follow the crowds as that is usually a great sign of good food. Make smart decisions and always make sure the food is freshly prepared.

8. Scammers- Be prepared to deal with scammers who are out to get your money. Remember, India’s poverty level is high and people try to survive whichever way they can; I assure you that you will come across a scammer (especially in New Delhi), so be careful, stay alert, and always STAY CALM. If someone does come up to you interested in providing a service, limit yourself to small talk as they may not be necessarily interested in genuinely helping you, but may be sizing you up. Another option is nicely yet assertively say, "No, Thank You," or just ignore and keep walking.

9. Women- Women traveling to India should be covered up and not expose too much skin as that could be very provoking for men. Keep in mind that the subway station (which is amazingly fabulous and quick in New Delhi) does provide a “Women only” section where you can ride to your destination safely. There have been several cases of rape in India so I would take special precautions. If I was a woman traveling alone, I’d make sure I have pepper spray with me at all times (just in case.) If you do encounter an embarrassing situation, be assertive and stand your ground.

10. Download “Maps.Me” App- This app will work offline (without Wifi) and will route you to your destination from your location guiding you every step of the way. The best thing is that it works all around the world and you can download the maps needed for each new location. This app helped me get to several destinations I wouldn’t have not known how to get to otherwise. Do yourself a favor and download it.

11. Sim Cards- Your passport must be presented and photocopied by the vendor prior to being handed over a purchased sim card.

12. Pay Cash- After making a big purchase in Jodhpur where I ended up using my only credit card for the first time while in India, a week later, I got notified by my credit card company that my card had been cloned and was physically being used elsewhere in the world. Pay cash everywhere you go. Withdraw money from ATM’s and you should be fine. 

ENJOY INDIA… While it can be daunting and take a while to adjust, it is a beautiful country which will teach you many valuable things in life. Go along for the adventurous, yet challenging ride and make the most out of it! Hope this blog helps. Safe travels!

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