1. Don’t forget your visa!
You’ll need a visa to enter India and most tourists opt for the double-entry, e-visa for 60 days of travel. India is pretty strict about their visas and their e-visa application process is a little more complicated than other countries. You can go through a third-party if you’re concerned about it, but make sure you don’t fall for any of the many scam websites claiming to handle Indian visas.
Otherwise, do the process yourself and save the service fee and stress of being scammed. That’s what I did! You can apply here for an ETA (electronic travel authorization) through the government website. You’ll need to upload a passport photo, a passport scan and fill out an entire application. The website programming is absolutely terrible, so if you have troubles with it that’s normal.
After you submit your application, you’ll get a confirmation email and then another email 24 hours – 1 week later stating approval with a PDF of your e-visa. The fee is $100 for Americans + 2.5% processing fee, but most other countries only pay $80. You can find the list of fees by country here.
Don’t forget to bring a print out of your e-visa with you to India. They’ll want to see it at the airport. And promise me you won’t overstay your visa. I met a traveler who ended up having to pay a fine and stay in India for an extra two weeks while waiting for government permission to leave. Just avoid all that and leave before your 60 days are up.
2. Don’t be afraid of street food and local restaurants.
This is a bit of a risk, but it’s the best way to try delicious Indian food and to save money. Street food is insanely cheap and literally a fraction the price of tourist places!!
If you have a strong stomach, it’s definitely worth it. I actually ate street food often and only came away being seriously sick twice my entire 7 weeks in India. It’s all really luck (or bad luck) of the draw when it comes to food poisoning.
3. Be alert for scams and be assertive.
As is common for most parts of Asia, there are plenty of scammers and touts looking to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. Be alert, come prepared with knowledge and be assertive and aggressive when needed. Don’t be afraid to say no, thank you and walk away when you know something’s not right. Take everything with a grain of salt and verify!
A random list of common scams in India:
- Being told your accommodation is closed. They just want you to stay at their own guesthouse or friend’s place.
- “Parking fees” at train stations for departing or arriving tuk tuks.
- Local attractions are closed. Honestly not sure the gain here but we heard this a lot even while standing in front of said attraction where people were entering.
- Getting a price quote for a tuk tuk at the start, only to find the price has changed dramatically upon arrival. Drivers may yell and cause a scene to bully you into paying the higher price. Bully back.
- Insane markups in general. I had a street food vendor quote me 200 rupees for a dish I knew was 50 from having had it before. Don’t be afraid to haggle for that fair price.
4. Prepare yourself for Indian bathrooms.
My list of India travel advice wouldn’t be complete without a thorough review of the local bathrooms – they are an experience.
- Squatty potties are very common and they are usually the cleaner option compared to the western style stalls.
- Indians don’t use toilet paper so there’s often none in the stalls. It’s customary to use a water hose or bucket to clean up.
- Carry a roll with you if it’s a necessity for you. Or embrace the hose if you so choose!
- Don’t flush the TP! Most places have signs reminding you, but the pipes aren’t made for flushing paper.
- The bathrooms often lack soap, so having hand sanitizer on hand at all times is a must.
- Sometimes you have to pay to use public bathrooms. Usually about 5-10 rupees.
5. The water isn’t safe to drink.
However, many hostels, guesthouses and temples have filtered water for drinking. If you choose to buy plastic, be sure to check that the seal isn’t broken. This is supposedly another scam that happens in India although I never encounted that once while traveling, so who really knows.
Save on plastic and bring a portable filter. I really regret not bringing a Life Straw or portable water filter with me on my trip to India. I would’ve saved money, plastic waste and time if I’d come prepared.
6. Local SIM cards are cheap, but a process to get.
You need to fill out an application, submit a passport photo, copy of passport and visa number. You’ll then need to wait 24 hours before it’s activated. Airtel is probably the most consistently reliable throughout the entire country.
I personally used Airtel and rarely had spotty WiFi even in the mountains. You can expect to pay a couple of hundred rupees for set up, plus about 250-300 rupees per month for 1 – 1.5 gb per day plus some call and text.
A couple of my friends I traveled with had their SIM cards through Vodafone and I nearly always had better service than they did. If it’s between the two, I’d choose Airtel over Vodefone.
7. Take public transportation.
India is a huge country, and it’s pretty well connected by state and private buses and trains and it’s usally very cheap. Setting up booking accounts and learning where to book tickets can be a little complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty convenient.
A brief overview of public transportation: there are private buses, state-run buses and trains. RedBus is a great starting point for most bus routes but not all will be there. Each state in India also has its own bus/transportation websites. Yatra is another website for checking out routes.
The Ixigo app and the IRTC website is your go-to for trains. Check out Hippie in Heels’ guide for setting up an account with the train booking system. The set up is a headache but it’s worth it. When booking the trains, there are various ‘classes’ or comfort levels of cabins to choose from all increasingly more expensive. The sleeper train without A/C is your cheapest option and the best way to travel India IMHO.
The Man In Seat61 is always a great travel resource for train travel so be sure to check out his take on India as well!
8. You don’t need to worry about booking transportation in advance.
This is mostly true. If you’re looking to take a train or bus on a popular route that only has one or two options a day, then you’ll probably want to book a couple of days in advance. If you’re trying to travel during an Indian holiday like Holi, Diwali etc, you’ll also want to book far in advance as many people travel home during the holidays! Otherwise there are usually available seats to grab the day before when booking on your travel apps.
The very local buses can be booked at departure. Just show up to the bus terminal and ask for the destination you need. You may have to ask many people for your destination before finding the right bus. It’s not uncommon for locals to tell you the wrong thing to scam you into paying for a private taxi. It’s a chaotic place with lots of buses so sometimes they honestly just don’t realize. You’ll buy your ticket on board after you’ve started moving.