9 Survival Tips to Travel in India for the First time

Traveling in India can be extremely overwhelming for a first timer. Our bags and stuffs were tossed all over the place in the first 5 minutes of sitting in the back of a cab,  and we almost hit someone who crossed the street. “Chaotic” is how I would describe New Delhi in one word. I’m still in between love and hate relationship with India.

You have to be mentally prepared of what bounds to happen during your travel in India. Everything is wonderfully unpredictable.

You eyes will be fed with visual explosion of marvelous architecture, beautiful Indian women in their sarees, marigold– accompanied with unwanted smell. What you think won’t happen, will happen. So, I made the list to get you ready for your travel in India or at least make your travel in this country a little bit easier.

    1. Buy Sim card.. Immediately!
      Wifi is hard to find even in the public places. Internet will help you in the times of need. If you are flying to New Delhi, as soon as you passed by Custom, you will see Airtel booth where you can purchase a sim card for INR950 for 5GB of mobile data and 40 minutes talk-time. That would be perfect if you plan to stay a week or more in India. They will ask for your passport, your India visa and make you fill up some forms. Now, I wish I could tell you that once you insert your sim in your phone..Voila! Mobile data start working and you can start snapping your Instastory of your arrival in India. But no. the SIM will only be activated within 24 hours, after a confirmation call is made to your mobile phone to verify the details from your application. Complicated? Here’s the most important part.If you plan to travel around different locations in India like me (I went for the Golden triangle – New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur), then make sure to get roaming activated. Yes, you read it right. You need to activate roaming even if you are traveling within India. Otherwise, you have to buy separate SIM at every new place that you visit. I didn’t know about this, so I when I can’t use my mobile data as I reached Jaipur, I panicked. Because I have to book my train online. I called the customer service who doesn’t speak English at all. I had to ask help from my hostel receptionist to call the customer service so that they can provide the step by step on activating the roaming.

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    1. Traveling on the road can be CRAZY.
      At the country-side like Jaipur, you can find everything at the street side. Beggars, Barber parlor, cow, dogs, donkey, horse, camel.. literally everything. If there’s anything constant in the traffic of India is beeping horns and no rules. Me and my friend conclude that Indian driver uses horn as a form of communications with other cars. This explained why I can’t even close my eyes for 10 minutes during 6 hours trip from Jaipur to New Delhi, without hearing the horns roaring endlessly. I also think that every time you put an Indian behind the wheels, they would think they are shooting the Fast and Furious movie because that’s how they drive. It’s always fast, and they would brake at the last minute. Be prepared with ear plugs, travel insurance and use seat belt all the time and don’t ever think about driving a car in India. Hire a car and driver for your trip. They know the road better than you do.
    1. Buy bus and train ticket ahead of time.
      I can’t imply how important it is to book everything before you arrive in India. Don’t ever think you can buy the ticket in the station or bus terminal because you will be put on the waiting list and end up wasting your time waiting. There are no official ticket vendors in the bus terminal. When they say bus terminal, it’s really just a bus stop of people waiting for their bus. You won’t see buses parking on the terminal. The bus will just pick up the passengers and go. So make sure to pre-booked your ticket before going, have the bus driver number saved in your phone and show up at least 15 minutes before the schedule to avoid being left behind.You can book train through Cleartrip.com and Redbus or MakeMyTrip for the bus. Follow the tips on how to book your ticket online here. Buying tickets online can be a problem since all of them require Indian local number for one-time-password. So if you don’t have any friend from India that can help you with this then book with travel agencies from your country or find a good local travel agencies from India when you arrive there. There are quite a lot of travel agencies along Qutab road and Araskashan road where you can inquire about the price and schedule. In Delhi, most of the long distance bus start from Bikaner house and Dhaula Kuan while train will go from Old Delhi Railway station.

    1. Getting around without a headache.
      Metro is available in the big cities like New Delhi and Jaipur. Download you own metro map in English as they only provide Hindi version of the map. You can also ride rickshaw or “Auto” is how they called it there, for a short distance ride. Taxi is everywhere, some use meter but some give the price immediately. Make sure to bargain before you get in the cab. As for me, I stick with Uber as it’s safer. Olacab is widely used here and can be used as an alternative to Uber. If you are making your own itinerary and want to get to a lot of places in one day without hassle, then book a car and driver. Private car is very affordable here in India. A day trip means 8 hours coverage and for long distance travel, you can calculate the base fare by multiplying INR9 with the kilometer distance. I highly recommend Janu Private tour for your trip around Jaipur. Our driver, Rakesh was the nicest Indian driver I’ve ever met. Very punctual, courteous and helpful. It was the best 2 days of my travel in India. He took us to the places we want to go swiftly and even add some recommendation for our itinerary. No more headache of bargaining and getting scams.

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  1. Language.
    Contrary to popular beliefs that India is an English speaking country since they were part of British Colonial before, that’s actually not true. Hindi is widely spoken and only a few speak a really good English. If you don’t go with tours like me, then write down all the places and address you plan to go and few Hindi sentence to help communicate with the drivers and people on the road.
  1. Lime water a day keeps Delhi Belly away
    Who can resist the temptation of Indian food? It smells delicious and looks colorful. While most of the food is vegetarian (yay for me) but they still have chicken and mutton option on their menu. My friends keep on telling me to stay away from street foods and tap water to avoid getting diarrhea but I still got stomach upset anyway. It’s NOT because their food is dirty or the food preparation is unclean. Because Indian food is so rich in flavors, herbs, and spices that may trigger your stomach to react negatively if you are not used to it. Lime water can help to cleanse your stomach at end of the day. Drink a lot of it every after a meal or after dinner. Most of the restaurant won’t have this on the menu but you can ask for it and they will prepare it for you. Sometimes they will add salt, you can request to have it plain. Lassi, Indian yogurt is also good to drink in the morning. One big glass for INR50 will keep you full until lunch time and help you to get your business done in the bathroom. Other alternatives, like Oregano oil will work wonders for your stomach issues. Pack your own medicines too because it’s not easy to buy medicines over-the-counter without a prescription. Make sure you have your health insurance covered before your trip and pack up a lot of hand sanitizer.

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  1. Woman traveler..Dress properly and stay safe!
    A lot of numerous assaults on women in India that have been publicized didn’t stop me from exploring this beautiful yet exotic country and I’m glad I took everything with a grain of salt. India is a mix of traditional and modern country. Make sure to wear something conservative and not too provoking and always have a large shawl in case you need to get extra coverage. You will be stared no matter what you wear anyway so try not to put up a show with the way you dress. If you are a solo woman traveler, walk with confident, as if you know where you are going even if you are not sure where you are. Wear sunglasses to cover it, if you must.

    Keep in mind to be confident and assertive all the time.

    Be willing to argue if you do not agree or just leave. A casual and friendly conversation with a stranger could give the impression you are easy to take advantages of. I encountered a lot of scams and trouble from people on the road who suddenly approached me and give false information, even when I don’t ask for it because I look unsure and confused. Don’t believe on what they say. Trust your guts and instinct. Be persistent and brave. You will need a lot of that when dealing with these people. Thankfully, I also met nice and helpful strangers who helped me during my trip.

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  1. You’ll feel like a celebrity.
    Your face is an unusual sighting in India. You may be overcharged for a short ride with rickshaw or buying a small item from shops, if you don’t bargain. Check how far the place you want to go on the map before you get in the rickshaw and always haggle the price, unless you are in the mall. I always haggle for half the price. I know they won’t give me for that price but at least they know that I’m not willing to pay for the asking price.

    Expect to get ripped off once or twice. Everyone does

    Don’t let this ruin your whole perception of the country. Simply learn your mistakes and pass. The upside being a foreigner here is a lot of people would want to take a picture with you. I went with my friend but there were times when I’m sitting alone or walking alone, the locals would approached me and asking for photos. There was one time that it was not one, or two but eight Indian men taking turns on getting a photograph with me. I have to excuse myself and leave or they won’t stop. If you want to avoid this, keep yourself moving and busy in public places haha or simply, enjoy it..

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  1. Having Indian friend can be extremely helpful.
    One thing for sure, I won’t survive my India trip without help from my friend, Nena. She gave me recommendation of the places to go, what to do and what I shouldn’t do and share her local insight. India may deserved reputation for scam, tout and other hassles. I made a very little preparation for the trip and decided to be a happy-go-lucky traveler. Bad decision to be going to a country full of surprises like India. We went to Agra together with her friends and she always made sure I got everything covered. I also made a friend during my flights to Delhi and Jaipur. They share their advice and recommendation that helped me made few revision to my itinerary. Your travel will be a breeze with a local friend to guide you here in India.

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 Traveling in India can be an enriching experience everyone has to taste once in awhile. This short trip was a memorable one not only because of the beautiful scenery but the lessons I got along the way.
“If you can survive India, you can survive anywhere”

Think about this trip as the ultimate test you need to pass if you are a backpacker. Schedule some time outside of the chaos to relax and regain your sanity back. I know I did 😉 So don’t try to do too much in your itinerary. Remember that just surviving your first trip to India is already an accomplishment on its own.

Have fun exploring !!

Live to the fullest,
Greta

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