01 Feb Preparing for Your Departure to India
I’ve broken down this ultimate guide to visiting India into 3 sections; Before You Arrive, Need to Know, and What to Anticipate.
Before You Arrive
- India is a very large country, and thus has many different types of landscapes. This makes it an ideal location for an adventure seeker with a thirst for variety, but is something that must be taken into consideration before planning your trip. The country offers you a stunning selection of snow capped mountains, hot dry desert, rich lush rainforests, bustling cities and relaxing beaches and back waters. Throughout these diverse landscapes come diverse weather patterns. Be sure to keep this is mind when planning your itinerary and packing for your trip. Typical peak season is anywhere during October to March.
- Length of stay
- Keeping the seasons in mind, your length of stay in the country can help to shape your route and itinerary to ensure that you are visiting places at the right times to avoid unpleasant weather. What worked for me and I would highly recommend is beginning in the south anytime in January or February and slowly working your way north to avoid the unbearable heat.
- India requires an E-Visa for Canadians which you can access here.
- India was my first solo back packing trip and I was ready to take some precautions. The main one I would recommend is Dukoral. This is a liquid vaccine that you ingest orally and protects against e.coli for a few months and cholera for two years.
- For the first destination in my travels I like to have a couple hundred dollars in local currency. In this day and age, access to ATMs can be the most simple part of your trip, but I like to be prepared for a seamless arrival and first day at the very least. Be sure to visit your local bank in advance. Most banks don’t carry Indian Rupees in house and will have to order them in for you.
- This is arguably the most important part before your departure to India. India can and absolutely WILL throw you a bunch of curve balls, but it’s nothing you won’t be able to handle if well prepared. I’ve included a table with the necessary items you’ll need to bring with you and I’ll break this down into details in a future post.
Need to Know
- This could be outdated, but when I was last in India, Google Maps Transit function was not sufficient for me to find my route. Many of the small villages will stump Google Maps as there is no direct route that exists to reach them. Enter Rome2Rio. This app was a LIFESAVER as you can plug in your departure and arrival point, no matter how remote, and Rome2Rio will offer a few options mixing all sorts of transport from hailing walking to hailing a cab, then grabbing a bus, train or plane, and then taking another taxi or rickshaw to your final stop. It also compares estimated costs of each method of travel which is not always completely accurate but saves you doing the research yourself.
- Trains and Buses were my main mode of transport in India as I hated the concept of flying over entire states and not allowing myself to discover what they had to offer. But India is BIG so be prepared for long rides if you plan to travel this way – which I highly recommend!! Booking a Second Class Sleeper means that you’ll have a bunk to sleep in for the duration of your ride. It also means that you have to plan ahead a bit. Something that I strayed away from during my trip. I typically hopped on the train the same day I decided to relocate. When trying to purchase a train ticket on the day of, likely your only option will be General Class. I personally loved experiencing India this way as these cars will be filled entirely with locals, some who have never seen a foreigner in their life. Both the verbal and non-verbal conversations I had on these long rides were equally fascinating and I feel like this is where I experienced true India. Try to get on the females only car if you can as they are typically less crowded and the women are lovely. Big tip for long train rides is to use your Google Maps Transit function to map the length of time between the station where you got on and the station where you’ll get off. Based on this time I would set an alarm about an hour beforehand to ensure I was alert and ready to hop off once we reached my stop. Sometimes it can be tricky to decipher when your stop is based on poor signage and lack of announcement, but if your stop is known for tourism, then you can bet that every person in your train car will rush to let you know that your stop is approaching. Another great tip if you’re planning to sleep on the train is to bike lock your bag to the bench – just in case!!
- For short distances aim to take a rickshaw over taxi. It will be significantly less expensive and they can often get you to your destination faster as they have more mobility to weave between vehicles. If I was ever taking a taxi or rickshaw for long distances, I would Google Map my destination and follow my location to ensure we were headed in the right direction – just in case of miscommunications and as an added precaution for a solo female traveler.
- Expect to stay mainly in guesthouses, where you will have your own room and ensuite and often a locking door. Hostels are pretty few and far between and basically non existent when you’re off the beaten path. But they are beginning to pop up here and there. I had a really great experience with Stops and Zostel hostels – they have a few locations in higher traffic destinations.
- Settling In
- Make sure to grab a local SIM card before card before you start making moves. Although I highly recommend taking the first few days or weeks offline to soak up your new surroundings, I do recommend having your own internet source when planning your next destination as wi-fi can be weak. I went with Idea, but there a few other providers to choose from. It seems that each provider has certain areas where they flourish and others where they are weak.
- Or lack there of. A few things that I do know is that you will strengthen your quads by squatting over most of the ‘toilets’ and you will have to use a bucket in lieu of toilet paper. The sooner you embrace it the better.
- Many people you’ll come across in smaller parts of India will have never seen somebody who looks differently from them. And even if they have before, you also have to remember that staring is not considered rude in Indian culture. So although this might feel uncomfortable at first, you’ll get used to it eventually. I always liked to ensure my shoulders and knees were covered when going out in public places with many locals – this helped reduce the attention by leaps and bounds.
- You need to know that bargaining is a regular part of life in India. It can be so exhausting at times, and other times it can be really playful and fun. If you’re in a very touristy area the rule of thumb is to offer ¼ of their first price and the two of you will bounce back and fourth until you’re both satisfied. Some days I bargain, some days I just check my Western privilege and pay the first price. You’ll find a rhythm for it.
- India Post
- If you’re anything like me and are completely enamoured by the highly pigmented fabrics, unique clothing designs, dreamy jewelry and timely decorations then you WILL over buy and eventually send stuff home. What I can recommend is to use India Post and wait until you’re in a bigger city as there is less of an opportunity for your package to get lost. Don’t forget to get a tracking number!
- India has the most amazing shopping and when you first arrive you’ll feel like you need to scoop everything up. But wait, because you’ll begin to notice that every destination offers similar goods, but it’s best to buy where it’s produced to ensure higher quality and lower cost. It will take time to figure this out, but I’ll write about it in a future post.
What to Anticipate
So there you have it. You now know everything I wish I did while preparing my trip to India. I hope that your time in India is everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more. I can’t imagine that India would ever fail to deliver. It is a truly special place and I would be thrilled to hear your experience.