India had been on my travel bucket list for years. I have read countless books, travel reports and blogs about the country. This year I finally made it – I went to Bangalore and Mumbai. I did a lot of research before my first trip – in addition to my reading I talked to locals, Indian expats and female travellers. As you may have the same questions and to save you time and effort, I summed up everything you need to know for this exciting destination.*
India is an amazing country visit and it certainly did not disappoint me. A friend told me that India is the clash of extremes: the best and the worst. And it is very true. Before my trip, I thought the colours and scenic photographs were only some lucky snapshots. But India really is that way: it is extremely colourful – the buildings, the markets, the clothes. I even spotted the cliché: pastel coloured houses with colourful saris hanging outside to dry. You will spot cows, or even donkeys, on the busiest streets, markets really do take you to a wholly different culinary level and India’s rich history is omnipresent.
Nevertheless, you also need to be prepared to see India’s other side. I have travelled to many places but I have never seen a country of more extremes. Right next to a luxury condo, there will be a slum, dusty roads lead to shiny airports, pollution has become a big issue. You need to mentally prepared for this type of culture shock.
I recommend to talk to people with some kind of experience: Indians living abroad or travellers who have been to the country. In addition to my extensive reading list, it definitely helped me to get hands-on advice from experts.
A trip to India will not be a relaxing experience. It is an adventure. You will see, hear and smell so many things. It took me days to process this first trip. No matter which country you plan to visit, be open-minded and enjoy it. Do not make the mistake of comparing everything to your home country and only focus on the negative.
Narrow It Down
The Indian subcontinent is vast and diverse and unless you take a significant amount of time off for travelling, I advise you less is more. Pick one or two regions. As I mentioned above, travelling to India comes with an intense 360-degree-experience. To be able to enjoy your trip, you may want to spend more time in fewer places instead of rushing from one place to the next.
Before your trip, check the website of the Indian embassy in your country for the respective visa requirements. Many European countries and the United States qualify for e-tourist visas for which you can apply online. (The processing time is about three working days.) Please make sure to check if your desired arrival airport qualifies for e-visa entry. Print the email confirmation which you will receive if your visa is approved and present it at immigration.
What to Pack
Due to the countries size, it is challenging to give you one answer of what to pack. Furthermore, it also depends on the season. Do not underestimate how cold it can get in India in winter. I personally associated India only with heat but it can get quite chilly.
I opted for layers and mostly pants. I did a lot of research about safety for women in India before my trip (see below) and opted for t-shirt/tunic and trousers pretty much all the time. As the roads are quite dusty, I ended up wearing my sneakers most of the time but I also wore flats and sandals. On a side note: Shoes have to be taken off before entering temples.
I strongly advise you not to wear overly short or revealing clothes. You may think that a feminist should advise you to wear whatever you want. But this is about safety and also respect (you may want to visit sacred sights). Therefore, leave your crop tops and hot pants at home. Furthermore, I actually prefer thin linen or loosely fitting tops to protect myself against the heat and prevent sunburns. As Indians love their jewellery, I pimped my outfit up with loads of jewellery.
Regarding make-up, I opted for a light foundation as it was still quite hot during my trip. Indians love make up as much as they love their jewellery. Hence, you can go go bold.
This also depends on the region and industry you work in. In general, you can dress similarly as for business meetings in Europe or America – maybe more on the more conservative spectrum. Mumbai is very progressive and diverse and you will see any style you can imagine. As mentioned above, jewellery is a big thing in India and you can definitely experiment more than in Europe or America. Similarly, you can also be more courageous with your day make-up.
Medication and Vaccines
Wherever you travel, always make sure that your vaccines are up-to-date. Please check with your Ministry of Foreign Affairs which vaccines are recommended before travelling to India. Start this process early, as some vaccines require multiple shots during the span of some weeks.
You cannot drink the tap water in India. Hence, only drink bottled water. I personally was very careful about using tap water and I only used bottled water to brush my teeth.
India has some of the most amazing food in the world. You will definitely not leave India hungry. Be a bit adventurous (but I do not mean to be stupid or careless.) India is also a great country for vegetarians – I actually think it has some of the most diverse and delicious vegetarian food in the world. Even if you are a meat lover, the vegetarian cuisine in India will definitely make you eat way more vegetables than at home.
In India it is common to eat with your hands. You either take a piece of bread and pick up the other dishes or you use your hands as “spoons”. Just look around how people eat and imitate 🙂 In most of the restaurants, you will get cutlery as well.
Similar to what I wrote about Thailand and China, please be very careful about street food. I actually would recommend you to stay away from it if this is your first trip to India. Most of my local friends advised me not to eat at street stalls as I would probably not be able to handle it. Preparation and hygiene standards will be very different from stall to stall and it is a big risk which you do not necessarily want to take. One of the things I read about is that I should be prepared to get sick on my first trip to India. (I made sure to pack enough medication for diarrhoea and vomiting.) But I think my strategy of being smart about what to eat paid off.
One of my biggest concerns before my trip was safety issues for women. I read many reports about assaults and rapes of women and I have to admit that I was a bit scared.
I personally would not travel to India on my own. I would advise you to go with your partner, a group of friends/family or join a guided tour. (I can imagine the expression of your face now, but “guided tours” can be fully customised. It does not mean that you have to join a big bus tour which rushes from one major sight to the next.)
At night, I never wandered the streets on my own. I do know quite a few solo female travellers and they may give you different advice. I personally felt most comfortable with my strategy.
I still think if you are open-mined and approach people with smiles, your positive attitude will mostly be reciprocated. Nevertheless, you have to be smart and stay safe.
In general, be prepared that the concept of space may be very different from yours. India is famous for its population density and crowds on the streets.
Indian Standard Time
“Indian Standard Time” means many things will not happen on time – no matter if it is public transport or events. Furthermore, do not expect things to be finished on time either. Always factor in a buffer.
If you meet locals, it is very common to be late. Being Austrian (which means always on time or ten minutes early), I usually add half an hour which I probably need to wait. Needless to say, this is a very general point of view and it always depends on the person you meet.
Plugs in India are types C, D and M – the ones with two or three round holes. I recommend to bring a travel adaptor with you.
In general, female hygiene products are not a problem in the big cities. However, if you use tampons, I recommend to bring some with you as they may be a scarcity in some shops. Regardless of my travel destination, I always carry hand sanitizer and tissues in my bag.
Similar to what I recommended in my other guides, you should get a local SIM card. In an emergency, you do not want to depend on the good graces of Wi-fi.
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* India is a vast country with different cultures, food and customs. Hence, this article does not aim to achieve a one-size-fits-all answer, it is rather meant as a general guide.
All information as of the date of publishing/updating. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received.