India really is one of the most fascinating and rewarding destinations to travel in but it can also be the most challenging and frustrating, especially if it’s your first time traveling in India but once you get used to the country trust me it does get a lot easier.
Traveling in India is so much more than just a holiday. India is not just an exotic land of forts and palaces, shimmering saris, wondrous deities and fascinating temples, spicy food, chaotic cities, wandering cows and the Taj Mahal.
For many this is the epitome of transformative travel – it’s one of the last remaining places on earth that you can still get a real dose of culture shock, discover something new about yourself and about the world, find yourself or just marvel in the diversity of the landscapes, the vibrancy of the festivals, the fervour of the religion, the colour, the food, the people, the rich history and the fascinating culture.
Here are my top 10 tips to make your first time traveling in India easier:
#1 – Expect culture shock and adapt the way that you travel
For your first time in traveling India the culture shock can be a challenging assault on all the senses at first, prepare by learning as much as you can about the Indian culture before you go and be open minded and prepared to adapt the way that you travel to suit India.
India is a culture shock, there’s no use fighting it. Accept that things don’t happen the same way here as they do in your home country and embrace the differences. Leave your Western ideals and logic at the airport because they don’t apply here. Come with an open mind and open heart and India will open up to you. India is as rewarding as it is challenging but ultimately your attitude will effect how much you enjoy and get out of the trip.
Book a nice hotel and invest in an airport transfer and allow some time to adjust to get your trip off to a good start. I found my first trip life changing but also very challenging, I swung between loving and hating India but my second visit rewarded me and was much easier once I had adapted the way that I travel and understood the culture more.
#2 – Go slow and be patient
This is my main and biggest tip for your first time traveling in India – take your time, India is not a place to be rushed. Trying to cram in too much in and travelling too quickly will only result in being tired, stressed and frustrated and missing out on the surprises and local connections that make exploring India so incredible.
India is so diverse, everywhere is so different, even just a walk down the street can shock, surprise and awe and getting around, or getting anything done, always takes longer than you think. Be patient and get used to waiting around.
For your first time in traveling India, if you only have a short time focus on seeing one state or region in detail rather than trying to rush around the whole country in a few weeks. I did this on my first time in India – never again!
#3 – Be cautious about who you trust
I hate the amount of negative publicity regarding travel in India but admittedly you do need to be on your guard to avoid the scams and hassles, especially in the North and especially on your first time traveling in India.
The hassle is worst around airports, bus and train stations and popular tourist monuments but even though people will try their best to get you to part with your money in some way, they are usually not trying to hurt you and I have never felt physically threatened in India.
However, the majority of Indian people are some of the most open, friendly, wonderful and amazingly hospitable people I’ve ever met, after a while you will be able to tell who is genuine and who isn’t, always trust your gut instinct, just don’t be naive.
#4 – Go South first and avoid big cities
Many people arrive in India in Delhi and travel the Golden Triangle route first, while there are undoubtedly some of the most amazing things to be seen here the North of India is where you will find the most hassle. South India feels cleaner, less chaotic and I’ve always felt alot safer and less hassled in the South of India. I always suggest to my friends, especially solo female travellers, to start their trip somewhere like Goa or Kerala for their first time traveling in India and work their way up to the North and factor in some time out in the countryside.
#5 – Cover up and dress conservatively
There has been a lot of bad press recently regarding the safety of solo female travellers and women in India. While I agree that women need to be cautious in India, don’t be put off discovering one of the most amazing travel destinations there is. On your first time traveling in India it can be confusing figuring out what to wear. India is a conservative country so cover up to avoid unwanted attention which will make you feel uncomfortable and to respect the local culture. Even tight fitting Western tops and trousers may be too revealing but you can buy colourful, light weight Indian clothes to try to blend in a little and cover up without over heating.
#6 – Remember price is always negotiable
It can be hard to get used to but if you don’t learn how to haggle then you will constantly be paying over the odds for almost everything. Always, always settle of a price first before using a service, especially with auto rickshaws, to avoid nasty arguments later. The best thing to do is to find out the price beforehand and then ask the rickshaw driver if he will do it for that price and be firm to avoid being taken for a ride.
#7 – Be Assertive but don’t loose your cool.
Tours and scammers can often tell that it’s your first time in India and might try to take you for a ride. If this happens then sometimes being polite won’t get you anywhere. Don’t be afraid to be assertive, stand your ground and stand up for yourself if you feel you are being taken for a ride or made to feel uncomfortable. Don’t be so polite that you look weak but try to stay calm. It might seem rude but it’s often best just to ignore hassle from touts and try to retain an air of confidence.
At the same time, sometimes you have to accept that foreigners will always pay more so don’t sweat the small things, know when to give in to save your sanity. Just keep it in perspective, is worrying about a few dollars worth ruining your day and do you really need to haggle over an extra 50 cents when that could go toward feeding a whole family.
#8 – Look after your health
India is changing and modernising fast but it’s still a pretty dirty country and many travelers do get stomach upsets at some point, especially the first time traveling in India when you have not built up any resistance to the germs there. Make sure you get all your vaccinations before leaving, never drink the tap water and be really careful what you eat by avoiding uncooked foods like salads.
It’s also a good idea to carry soap or a hand santizer and toilet paper around as these are rarely found in public places or budget hotels and most Indians eat with their hands. Most Indians are vegetation and many travellers also choose to go veggie here as there is a huge choice and you are much less likely to get seriously sick from badly prepared veggies than meat.
See more India Travel Tips – How to Staying Healthy while traveling in India
#9 – Book trains in advance
India is huge and it takes alot of time and effort to travel the long distances. A huge network of trains and buses, and, increasingly so, domestic flights, can help you to reach almost everywhere in India. The Indian Railways network is excellent and great value for money but with such a huge population trains get booked up weeks in advance, I much prefer to travel by train rather than taking bumpy, chaotic night buses so I book my trains as far in advance as I can making for much smoother travels.
See more India Travel Tips – The Ultimate Guide to Booking Indian Train Tickets
#10 – Just Go!
Yes, your first time traveling in India will be more challenging than traveling in some other countries but it’s totally worth it. Prepare to have your mind blown! Some people describe a love hate relationship with India and while it’s not a walk in the park but don’t let the hassle put you off, you will learn to deal with it and be rewarded with the most amazing experience.
Use your common sense and know when to accept an invitation, when to argue your case or when to give in or walk away. Be cautious but don’t let fear and worry ruin your trip or stop you from experiencing things. Try to have a positive and open minded attitude and positive things will happen.
If your still unsure or if it’s your first time traveling in somewhere like this then it’s a good idea to join a group tour for the first week or so, especially if you are a solo female traveller, as you’ll be able to enjoy it more without any stress or hassle and then, once you are more acclimatized with India and feeling more confident, you could travel onwards independently, hopefully with some new friends that you made on the tour. Here’s my favourite group tours of India if you don’t want to go it alone.