Now that you have finally taken the plunge in booking your trip to India, here are some practical tips on preparing and packing. On another post, I will share the highlights of each region in India to help you decide where you should visit. India is a huge country with a vast landscape. There is so much to see, do, taste, hear and smell. In fact, a popular phrase to describe India is that it’s “a country which assaults all senses“. Each state in India is like it’s own country. Languages, traditions, religions, dialects and culture all vary and one could easily get lost in 1 state for weeks with endless experiences to explore. Overall, India is still a rather conservative culture so I’ve compiled a list of India Travel Tips to help you mentally and physically prepare and pack for your upcoming trip!

Preparing & Packing For Your Travel to India


 

Vaccinations for Traveling to India

Here are a list of Vaccinations I would recommend (which would also protect you for many other developing countries):

  • Hepatitis A & B
    • A liver disease that can be contracted through food or water in India. It is safe to have this vaccine regardless if you are traveling or not.
  • Tetanus
    • A routine vaccine recommended for adults traveling outside of the US. The shot will likely leave your arm sore for a few days but it is a vaccine that lasts 10 years.
  • Malaria
    • Malaria is a disease spread through mosquito bites. Symptoms usually appear within 7-30 days. Symptoms include high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. I have met a few people who have contracted Malaria in India and in parts of Africa and the struggle was real. I personally don’t take these pills as I don’t like the side effects.
      • Doxycycline is the most popular (and a more mild) anti-biotic pill which is to be taken daily. Your doctor may advise you to start taking them 3 days prior to departure and up to 4 weeks after.
        • Warning: There are possible side effects associated with taking this including upset stomach, fever and sensitivity to the sun. You can always stop taking this pill if it’s putting a damper on your trip.
  • Rabies (Optional)
    • There are quite a lot of stray dogs throughout India. Cows are sacred and typically more taken care of on the streets than dogs.
Holy Cow India

Holy Cow in Rishikesh, India

The CDC website provides a longer list of Vaccine Recommendations listed by countries. And of course, consult with your physician on what they recommend. Some shots last for 7-10 years so it wouldn’t hurt to get it. Ask your doctor to bill it for general purpose (NOT for TRAVEL which is a specialty/luxury). Otherwise your Health Insurance typically won’t cover it.

If you are in the LA area, I recommend going to:

Dr. Ronald Fishbach
Infectious Disease Specialist

9001 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 203
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 274-6671


Obtaining Your Indian Visa

In recent years, obtaining an Indian Visa has gotten a lot easier but I’d still recommend doing this at least 2-3 weeks in advance. They now have E-Visas where you apply online and print for around $60. Upon arrival, there is a specific arrival desk labeled “E-Visa on Arrival” in the major International airports.

If you think you may go to India more than once in the next 10 years, I recommend getting the 10 year Multiple-Entry Visa. It costs $150 which is a Visa pasted in one of your Passport pages.  The Multiple-Entry applications are much more of a strenuous application process but well worth it to save money and time for your next few trips to India.

Obtaining an Indian E-Visa

Start the process at the Indian Visa Application Website.

Advisory from the website: “Services of e-Visa involves complete online application for which no facilitation is required by any intermediary / agents etc. It is advised not to believe or fall in trap of any such unscrupulous elements who claim speedy/express grant of e-Visa and charge money for it.”

 


Packing for Your India Trip

Now that your trip is just days away, it’s time to pack! I suggest you pack light with the bare necessities. There are lots of wonderful as well as cheap shopping you can buy which you can bring home after to wear.

Female Traveller India

South Indian Women Traveling together to see the Taj Mahal.

First Aid Kit

I’d recommend taking this anywhere you go outside of the US. Pack a small bag of First Aid Kit in your luggage which includes:

  • Bandaids
  • Anti-biotics such as Z-pack in case you do get sick and are in a rural area without easy hospital access. The generic brand prescribed by your doctor usually costs no more than $5-10 so it’s worth having on hand.
  • Stomach meds such as Pepto Bismol & Alka Seltzer
  • Vitamin C just for extra immunity on the plane and while traveling
  • Advil or any pain-relief meds

South Indian Breakfast

Carry in Your Bag/Backpack at ALL TIMES:

  • Hand Sanitizer & Liquid Soap
    • Soap isn’t available everywhere you go. It is best to carry your own liquid soap and hand sanitizer.
  • Toilet Paper
    • Most places won’t have toilet paper (unless you’re at a nice hotel or restaurant), especially when you are on a long road trip (by train or car). Most people still use a small bucket of water & their left hand to clean after going, so toilet paper is not as handy.
  • Ear Plugs
    • Especially if you are taking overnight trains or busses, or even just riding in a rickshaw. There are over 1.2 billion people in India, sometimes you just want some peace and quiet.
  • Bug Spray/Insect Repellent such as Off! brand
    • Wear this all the time (and before you sleep), especially in climates & areas with more mosquitos & bugs
    • They also sell Bug-Repellent clothing if you plan to camp or spend a lot of time in the outdoors.
  • Bottled Water
    • Bottled water is so cheap that it is recommended to buy a liter (40 cents) each day and carry it with you at all times. You could save a little money this way too instead of purchasing every time in restaurants. Last time I went, I just drank filtered water but it depends on how much your tummy can handle.
  • Sunscreen
    • Most of India, most of the year is extremely hot. Always wear sunscreen to protect your skin.
  • Chargers & International Adapter

 

Money

  • Bring at least $300 to start with
  • Get a Charles Schwab Debit Card which has 0 ATM fees when you pull money out. I have found that you will get a better exchange rate through the ATM than exchanging foreign currency. For example on my last visit, the ATM gave me 65 rupees to $1 while most exchange places were giving me 60-62 rupees to $1.
  • Bring a Credit Card with 0 foreign transaction fees. That applies to most travel-related credit cards but still double check before going. Many places now accept credit cards, except smaller restaurants.
    • Call your bank & credit card companies prior to traveling to alert them of what countries you’ll be in.
  • If you want to be extra cautious, wear a money belt inside your pants.

Indian new rupees



Indian Culture & Customs

India, many parts of Asia and the Middle East are a lot more conservative than the west. You may see some of this changing in the wealthier, modern areas of Delhi and Mumbai, but many customs still remain. It is best to do your research before going to a specific city/country so that you don’t offend the people you are visiting.

Bobble head: If you have not been aware of the “Indian Bobblehead”, brace yourself so you are not totally confused. The head moves as the name suggests, like a bobblehead, tilting side to side. The gesture typically signifies that they acknowledge what you are saying. It could also mean a Yes, a Maybe, or a simply I don’t know. Sometimes the head just bobbles for no reason.

Staring: The staring from locals can feel intrusive and excessive at times. Especially when coming from a male directed to a female traveller. Sometimes, it could be 10 men standing there staring with their hands behind their back. It isn’t always sexual or perverted behavior (sometimes it is though), as there are females that stare too. They do so more of their curiosity of who you are, where you’ve come from but don’t know how to ask. Just as you have travelled there and are curious of them. In western cultures, we just don’t stare (at least not once they notice) and we turn away as soon as we are caught.

Caution: Attempting staring contests will likely lead you to defeat (unless you’re really bored and up for the challenge).

Hijras: Hijras are known as the ‘third gender’ in India. A few are actually Hermaphrodites or Eunuchs, born with both organs. Some are Transexuals who have chosen to go through actual sex changes while some are Transgenders who are men who choose to dress in female attire. They are shunned as outcasts in society but yet very much integrated into the culture for as long as Indian history has been recorded. Being highly marginalized with minimal job opportunities, they make their money by hustling people on trains, on the streets and even at weddings.

Hijras India

On trains, they’ll hop on, touch your head and harass you for money until you give them 10-20 rupees (20-30 cents). This is a sign of ‘cursing’ you (if you believe it). They will rarely get violent if you don’t give them money so if you don’t feel up to it, just hold your hand up and say NO sternly. That is what I did the last time I was approached by them on the Mumbai train. My thought was that I didn’t want to feed in to their aggressive behavior. I’d rather donate the money to an NGO that actually supports Human & Social Rights for Hijras or to a school helping children. You can typically spot Hijras off the bat by their makeup and outfit.

They have been known to crash weddings and children celebrations, imposing ‘curses’ on the celebration unless they are paid a lump sum of money.

“Many hijras live in well-defined and organised all-hijra communities, led by a guru. These communities have sustained themselves over generations by “adopting” boys who are in abject poverty, rejected by, or flee, their family of origin. Many work as sex workers for survival.”


India Travel Tips

Do’s

  1. Use only your right hand to eat and when handing people things. As mentioned above, the left hand is typically used to wipe after toilet use. While not everyone does that still, it is still customary to only use your right hand as a sign of respect.
  2. Similar to the Confucian tradition of Filial Piety, Indians has tremendous respect for the elders. While you should pay your respect to everyone you encounter, especially show respect to elders.
  3. Take off your shoes when entering someone’s home, temple and even many shops (unless they say otherwise)
    • On that note, don’t place your feet near any deities or on chairs/tables. The feet is considered most dirty while the head is most sacred/clean.
  4. Cover your shoulders and above your knees when visiting temples.
  5. Negotiate when shopping. They will typically mark up the price at minimum by 30-60%. Make a decision in your mind the moment you’re interested in buying something – how much you’re willing to pay. Then negotiate with them accordingly. Remember though it’s not worth haggling over 50 cents when it means a lot more to them than you.
  6. Carry with you an open mind. I have not been to a country with more contrasting views, dichotomy between the rich and the poor, perspectives, history, irony, hospitality and warmth than India. There is so much to learn and take in. The best way to experience it is with suspended judgment and an open heart.
Travel Rishikesh India

Friendly Woman selling fruits in Rishikesh, India. The papaya was so sweet and delicious!

Don’ts

  1. Do not reach out to give hugs or even handshakes to the opposite sex, unless they make the gesture first. This is taboo to older men as they tend to be more conservative, and you certainly don’t want to invite unwanted attention to men your age or younger.
  2. Avoid public displays of affection. This isn’t a liberal culture like France or the US where lovers/couples or even married people kiss and touch in public. You won’t get arrested for it (like in Dubai maybe) but just out of respect, don’t do it.
  3. Do not give money to beggars or street children.
    1. Many of them are controlled by pimps and gangsters and as vulnerable as the children look (and they certainly are), most of that money will likely go to the criminals who are exploiting them.
    2. Another problem with giving money to children is that it creates a habit of easy handouts to them, which discourages them to go to school.
    3. If you want to help, there are plenty of accredited non-profits you can donate to in India. Click on my Charities section for some organizations I highly trust and have worked with closely.
  4. Do not take photos of people (especially women) unless you ask and get their permission. It’s just a matter of respect but I see so many people doing it without asking.
  5. Don’t Ride Elephants or visit Animal Sanctuaries unless you do some serious research on it. Most of those animals have been abused by the people working there until terrible conditions to adhere to tourists. (This applies to Thailand, Sri Lanka and many other parts of the world)

solo female travel india


 

Clothing for Females Traveling to India

As mentioned before, India is a pretty conservative culture. It is better to dress more conservative to be on the safe side. If you are going out in Delhi, Goa, Rishikesh or Mumbai with a group, then it is more acceptable to dress in western dress attire. But still be prepared to be stared at. All of the things I list below can also be purchased in India for very cheap.

What to pack for females traveling to India

What to Pack

  • Scarf
    • Always have a scarf on you to cover your shoulder in case you are wearing a sleeveless shirt when entering temples and even people’s home.
  • Sarong
    • This can be used to cover up on the beach or as a mat to sit on while out
  • Kurtas
    • Can be purchased in India for $5-10 each. There are nicer ones that cost more at fashion stores like Fabindia in the malls. They are great souvenirs to bring back for friends!
  • Comfortable Sandals
    • Because you will likely be taking your shoes off a lot, it is best to wear easy to slip off sandals or shoes.
  • Cotton leggings
    • These are most comfortable and light to wear even on hot days. Also lighter to pack and easy to wear under Indian style clothing. Jeans are acceptable to wear but less common.
  • Light Rain Jacket or Poncho if it looks like it might rain
  • If you use Tampons, it is best to bring some as you won’t always find them in stores.

Female Travel in India


Booking Your Accommodation & Tours

I always recommend booking at least your first night stay and arrange for airport pickup from the place you are staying at. The general rule with any website you use to book, is best to pick establishments that have at minimum 10+ reviews all over 4/5 or 8/10 stars. The more reviews the better as I haven’t gone wrong that way when choosing.

  • For hostels, use Hostel World.
  • Hotels, I like Expedia or Hotels.com.
  • Airbnb has a great selection for homestays & guesthouses
  • Agoda is a good site for Hotels all over Asia
  • Skyscanner to browse flights. Then go to the website directly to see if they have the flight for the same price.

I rarely ever book a tour ahead of time because it will likely cost at least double what it would cost once you’re on the ground. Also if you book from home, you are likely paying a tour operator in your own country. I would rather help the local economy, especially a specific tour guide. Whichever place you decide to stay at, they will be able to help you arrange a local tour the next day, or ahead of time if you email them. I have stayed friends with many of my tour guides around the world and referred them to friends that have visited after me. They also serve as bodyguards and companions which makes it safer for solo female travelers!

India Travel Tips

If I have missed anything or you have any questions on India Travel Tips, feel free to leave a comment!

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