In March this year I finally went to India. I’ve been wanting to go to India since as long as I can remember and was actually meant to go last October but had to postpone by trip due to a drama with my visa. So it felt like this trip was a really long time coming! Luckily, it was one hundred percent worth all the agro, but it was also an eye-opening experience and there are a few things I learnt along the way that would be useful for anyone to know who is planning a trip there.
Prepare for a lot of attention
It’s just a fact that if you’re travelling in India, you’re going to get a lot of attention. Most of the time it’s completely harmless – many Indian people just don’t see many Westerners, so they’re interested.
They might ask for photos, which is a bit strange at first, but something you get used to and I didn’t mind at all, as the requests usually came from women, young girls and families. You’ll definitely get more attention as a woman (especially as a solo female) and if you’re blonde, you may as well get used to feeling like a celebrity everywhere you go!
In many ways there’s not a lot you can do to avoid attention in India. As a Westerner you’re always going to stick out like a sore thumb, even in a lot of tourist-heavy areas like the Taj Mahal. We actually found the attention worse at big attractions because the majority of the tourists had come from other parts of India and there were very few Western tourists (maybe this is just a Covid hangover?)
If you don’t want to attract even more attention, make sure what you wear covers your shoulders and knees – especially as a woman. Obviously, it’s hot in India, but actually wearing loose fitting covered clothing is cooler than tight-fitting shorts and strappy tops, which is why the locals all dress this way. You don’t need to wear a sari (in fact you’d probably draw more attention if you did!), but loose trousers, long skirts and t-shirts will help you stay cool and not get as many stares.
Don’t be scared of Delhi belly
When I told people I was going to India a lot of people said to me, ‘oh I’d like to go but I’d be too scared I’d get ill’. Delhi belly it seems, has become synonymous with travelling India, to the point where everyone just assumes you’ll get it. I’d not given it that much consideration beforehand but everyone else’s comments had started to get to me by the time my trip actually came around and I was overly cautious about what I chose to eat for the first few days. I was particularly worried about the street food.
But here’s the thing… street food in India is amazing. In fact most of the food in India is pretty great, but you really can’t go without trying the street food. It’s not only tasty but incredibly cheap – we once paid the equivalent of 40p for a portion of curry! I quickly learned that it’s not something you need to be scared of. After I’d taken the leap and was fine, I went all in on the street food.
The real key is knowing where to eat. I was lucky that I was on a group trip where our guide had trialled and tested the street food stalls and restaurants. We always listened to his advice about where to go – and it worked, nobody got ill in two weeks. If you have a guide, it’s worth asking for their advice, and if not, do your research and always go to places recommended by other travellers.
Tipping is customary
As a Brit, we’re not used to tipping and it’s always quite confusing knowing what to give people (and remembering to do it!).
In terms of how much to tip, in a restaurant 10% is a good amount. For hotel porters, the person looking after your shoes when you go into temples, the person handing out toilet paper in the public bathroom, tuk tuk drivers etc., anything from 20 to 100 rupees is customary.
A big problem we found in India was getting any change to tip anyone. You’ll find that because of the way the currency is you rarely end up with anything smaller than a 100 rupee note, and even then, they’re not that common. The smallest notes I had most of the time were 500 rupees and if you try to get change by, for example, buying a 20 rupee bottle of water, nobody wants to accept a 500 rupee note – because they don’t have the change either! Basically, hoard your change for tips, or, if you have a local guide, ask them to pay the tips for you and then pay them. This is what our guide did and it made everything so much simpler for us.
It can be challenging – but it’s worth it
Yes, India isn’t the easiest place to travel. It’s noisy, dirty and chaotic. Personal space doesn’t exist and time is a completely different concept – expect your train to leave three hours late with no explanation and for nobody else to care! However, it’s also the most exciting, eye-opening experience. There is such a rich culture, fascinating history and the people are some of the kindest and most friendly I’ve met anywhere in the world.
People will tell you all sorts of things about India – that it’s unsafe, the food will make you ill, you’ll get robbed etc. -don’t let them put you off. All these things could happen anywhere in the world, and as long as you’re aware of your surroundings, take the precautions you usually would, and embrace everything that India has to offer, you’ll have an amazing experience.