My 5 best Indian travel tips for you
After years of travel in South Asia, I think it is safe to say I have learned a thing or two about getting the most out of my time and saving a little money here and there. Now I want to share my five best Indian travel tips that I feel you need to know most. I have to admit it was hard to decide on only five, but I dont want to drag this post out longer than it has to be.
With over half a decade of travelling in India, I have made more than enough mistakes to be able to tell you something useful, so read on, guys, as it is surely better to learn from someone else’s mistakes.
To travel in a country as intense as India can be very trying sometimes, but it is, without a doubt, the most magnificent place to travel in I have ever experienced. I have been to one-third of all the countries on the planet So That is a big statement, right? Well, I have started a blog on Indian travel after all and keep coming back. That alone, I feel, speaks volumes about the wonders that travel on the Indian subcontinent can provide.
I am an avid advocate for travel to this part of the world and for an excellent reason. No other country is as vibrant or colourful as India, and this post aims to help my readers avoid the most common pitfalls and get the most from their travel in this glorious country. So without further ado, let’s jump straight in and check out my top five Indian travel tips, shall we?
Tip number 1 – How to avoid the Dehli belly
Definitely number one on my list! While the food in India is undeniably delicious, travelling, your tastebuds poses its fair share of risks. You are quite likely to experience some problem with your belly within the first few weeks of your travel. This is due to poor food handling practices and the perfect environment for bacteria to breed.
Many backpackers think that if they just eat tourist food, they won’t get sick. Ironically, nearly all of the most severe food poisoning cases I have had was from tourist spots. The products to make that food are very expensive compared to local ingredients, so the owners tend to be very reluctant to throw them away.
No matter where you eat, have a look to see if it is busy as it is a good indicator of the likely hood of you getting sick or not. A busy restaurant means a fast turn over of ingredients, and in all probability, what you are eating will be fresh. It also shows trust from the clientele, and there is a much better chance that food will also be tasty.
Often, local Dhabas can seem grubby, but they tend to make only a few dishes, and they are also likely to be fresh every day. While on the road I have experienced many tourist places that look nice in the restaurant but, like a medieval rubbish dump in the kitchen.
Now I have established it is pretty much inevitable, you will come across some kind of problem with your digestive system while on the road. Let us take a look at what to do when it does. Many backpackers carry or purchase Loperamide. It is essential to understand it is a stopper and cures nothing whatsoever but, it can be beneficial on a travel day when you won’t have access to a toilet all the time.
If the problem does not get better, you can go to any pharmacist and get a course of antibiotics such as norfloxacin or ciprofloxacin. That’s right; you can purchase vital medicines right over the counter with no prescription. Just make sure they are in date and have not been stored for months on end in direct sunlight. If you still don’t get better, you will need to go to the hospital.
It is essential to stay well hydrated, and I have found the ORS salts you can also buy in any pharmacist does the trick pretty good. Another problem with keeping your belly happy is the slow introduction of spicy foods. I have found that not jumping straight into a local diet is the best way to get used to it. I often have a simple breakfast, such as porridge and a local dinner in the evening. As tasty as the food is, most of our bodies will take time to get used to diet change.
Tip number 2 – use the tourist quota.
The Indian railway is an awesome feat of engineering. Its tracks spread like a misshapen spiders web to all but the farthest reaches of the county. There are over 3000 train stations, and it can seem perplexing to the best of us to try and make sense of it all. To add to the confusion, there are several classes to choose from, so for the first time visitor, it can leave you feeling confused every time you go and book a ticket.
I have an article that explains everything you need to know about the different classes called riding the Indian railways. Please feel free to check it out when you have the time.
There are many ways to book yourself a seat on the train, but you will need to utilise a designated government outlet to gain access to the tourist quota. Queuing up at the train station will not be helpful, and tour agencies can only book what everyone else can but with a commission on top. If you choose to travel in general class carriages, you won’t be able to utilise this service either as you cant reserve these seats.
Please avoid using this class for long haul journeys as it is one big free for all, and conditions can get insanely cramped and uncomfortable. Well, unless you really need to save a few rupees, of course.
I think at this point I should explain what the tourist quota is. The Indian government sets aside a certain number of seats that is just for foreign tourists. Trains can get booked up months in advance, so it is often tough to get a seat on your chosen train on your selected day. By using the tourist quota, these seats seem to appear out of thin air magically. Tickets only cost a little more, and who cares anyway when it sure beats nothing, right?
So how do you get this incredible service then? Many train stations popular with tourists, such as Jaipur or Jodhpur, have unique windows in the booking halls that are there just for foreign tourists.
Some of the large cities like Mumbai or Delhi have whole offices, and these are the most useful way to get at it as you can sit down with someone. They will help you book your trains and suggest possible routes. My advice is to book several at a time in these offices as they dont happen often. When you turn up, make sure you have your passport handy as they will need a copy.
Of course, there is an online railway reservation service with access to the tourist quota, but most people just give up on this as an option as there is so much red tape to get through. My advice is to save yourself the headache and book in person.
Tip number 3 – Get used to bargaining in India.
My next three tips will all be geared towards stopping you losing money and avoiding being a victim of a scam. I have never felt threatened anywhere in India, even in Kashmir, where skirmishes are well reported. I have never heard of deliberate attacks on tourists in all my years of travel on the Indian subcontinent.
While India is a comparatively safe country with few incidences of violence towards tourists, there is a significant risk of being scammed. In fact, it is very likely, indeed. I would go as far to say if you were to make a long trip in India and no one tried to scam you once; I would gladly change my name to Patricia, just saying.
It will happen considerably more in the north of the country than in the south, and it is just a part of life. Scamming is not something that just happens to tourists; it happens to local people as well. Everyone seems to be an entrepreneur with a go-getter mentality, and for some people, that can mean if you can earn an extra buck, they will. When it comes to buying stuff, most things are negotiable. From getting a room to buying a new pair of trousers, all involve bargaining skills. This is not a skill many of us will have refined as it is not in our culture.
The differences in what consumers look for are massive and very evident from the start. If you walk into a shop in England and dont ask for help, you probably won’t get it. Someone might ask if you need help and if you say no, that’s about it. In India, it is all very different as local people want a different service. Someone will follow you around the shops pulling out everything, and foriners often find this overwhelming and often leave the shops fleeing for the hills. This is all part of the cultural differences, and bartering is all in good faith.
When you ask how much is something, you will be told a far too high price. If I am not sure how much something will be, I say a price that’s half what I was told as my starting offer. The vendor will always say that it is too low and you sort of meet in the middle. That is the best way to get a reasonable price for whatever it is you want to buy.
I have spent so many years travelling In India, and I know how much things should be, so I start by saying how much I am prepared to pay. This gives me an advantage from the start as no one expects you to do that.
Whatever it is you choose to do, I would advise you not to take the first price quoted to you as you are sure to be paying too much for it. If you are uncomfortable bargaining, you can go to the bigger branded shops such as Bata or Decathalon. Everything is price tagged in these places and non-negotiable, but the cost will be initially higher anyway.
Tip number 4 – Shop around for a place to stay.
In the UK, it is far cheaper to buy rooms online using a website like booking.com. This is not so in India. You will inevitably pay more, and it seems there is no law against owners using pictures of your chosen place from years before. I have seen a lot of sad faces of people booking online and not getting what they ordered.
It is far better to walk in as your business is not guaranteed, and I have found even if the room rates are set in stone on the wall, it is still negotiable. If there is more than one of you, it is a huge advantage if someone waits with the bags while the other visits many hotels.
That way, you can shop around without sweating with your bags, and the fact you dont have anything with you suggests you already have a room. No one wants to see perfectly good money walk out the door, so it gives you a winning edge when bargaining to start with.
Other bargaining chips include how long you will stay, how many of you are there, what services will you use, and the time of year you visit. If you are a couple who just want to spend a couple of nights, it will pay to turn up with no luggage. If you are a solo traveller and want to use this little trick, you could find a tourist cafe and buy a cup of coffee. Ask to leave your big bag there while you walk around and hunt for the best place to rest your head, problem solved!
You can read online what people say about a place, but I definitely do not recommend booking somewhere in advance. When you arrive somewhere with a large amount of backpacker traffic, you will probably be met with random people asking if you need a room.
These people will gladly lead you to their chosen hotel but take note that they work on commission, so the price you will be quoted will be more than if you walked in without one. Sometimes they will just follow you so they can claim they are responsible for you turning up. Some are very persistent and how you deal with that is up to you.
The last thing I will say is dont be fooled by a fancy reception area neither. This often does not reflect the rooms, so insist on seeing them before committing to anything, please.
Tip number 5 – download the Uber and Ola apps.
It is not just people on the street that approach you. It could be your taxi or rickshaw driver that is being paid a commission to get you in the front door. This can be exhausting on your soul when you have to deal with this uphill fight every time you want to get to your hotel. You can get around this by saying you want to go to a landmark close by. The initial cost of your journey will probably go up, but at least you won’t be greeted by a hard sell on the other side.
It is tough to know how to bargain when you don’t know how far it is anyway. Asking your driver to turn on their metre is often not helpful neither as you may be taken the scenic route all around the city. Some train stations and taxi stands have set fairs printed, and they can be a salvation.
There is one of those outside Varanasi Junction, and it can seem a godsend. The hustle outside the front of there gives me toothache as no one can be sensible with their prices. However, the initial cost is still higher than it should be anyway!
A way around all of this is to download the uber or ola apps for your smartphones. You will get a reasonable price with this, and these services are available in cities all across the subcontinent. Down load the Uber app before you turn up, and remember you will need an Indian sim card to use it. It is well worth investing in one if you are on a long trip as you will need to use your phone quite a bit and you want to be paying local rates.
This is the only country I know of where you have the option to pay for an Uber fare in cash. Bear in mind you cab cancelling on you happens a lot more In India than elsewhere.
Using these apps are useful for lone female travellers as well. Over the years, there have been many sexual crimes carried out by taxi and rickshaw drivers. Using the app greatly reduces any risk as all the drivers are registered. It is always best to avoid any unnecessary risks, and using these apps is a great way of doing that. Ola is the Indian equivalent of uber, and it is slightly cheaper. You can use either of these apps for rickshaws as well, although ola seems to have more of them, in my opinion.
In summary of my five best Indian travel tips.
Well, I hope you appreciated my tips, guys, and I have many more where they came from, but they are probably my best. I wanted to do my top ten favourites, but it has already been a very long post, and I always want to keep things digestible for you. If you want to find out more, my website is full of tips like these. Knock yourself out, guys, and If you would like to find out more about any of the topics I have covered here or anything else for that matter, then feel free to ask. Just leave your comments in the section provided.
There are a lot more scams that I could have spoken about, but It is only my top five travel tips after all. For more information on the many scams you are likely to encounter, check out my post and arm yourself with the knowledge to prevent yourself from falling victim to such traps. Well, that is definitely enough out of me for this post, and I look forward to seeing you in the next. So until the next time, my fellow intrepid traveller’s happy trails.
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