India is a favorite destination among travelers for its varied and interesting culture, natural beauty and of course food. Planning a trip to India for the first time can feel daunting, but it’s not really that bad once you do a little bit of research!
After 10 years of living in India and more than 15 years of traveling to the country, I share the biggest mistakes tourists make when planning a trip to India. Read on to find out all you need to know when planning a trip to India.
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10 Mistakes to Avoid When Planning a Trip to India
Mistake #1: Trying to Do Too Much
India is a massive country with a large variety of places to see and things to do. To top it off, things move slowly here. The biggest mistake visitors make in planning a trip to India is trying to do too much in one visit. Unless you have several months to explore the country, don’t try to see the entire country in one visit. Choose one part of India for your holiday and enjoy.
For many, this means arriving in Delhi and doing some variation of the Golden Triangle which includes seeing the Taj Mahal and Jaipur in Rajasthan. For return visitors, a visit to the south in Kerala is often a good bet.
If you are looking for the hippy vibe, plan a trip to the mountains in Himachal Pradesh to get your yoga zen on or to the beaches of Goa for some lazy beach time.
Mistake #2: Not Preparing for the Spicy Food
While it is possible to get food that is not spicy in India, for those who are not used to spice, even the non-spicy foods might taste spicy! In order to prepare for the spicy food, start upping your spice at home, trying different types of Indian food and flavours to get your body used to it. You can always ask for dishes to be less spicy. Or you can find foods that aren’t spicy in general and order these items more often.
Some ideas of foods to try:
- Try out yellow dal or dal tadka with steamed rice (mix with raita/yogurt to reduce spice further)
- Puri bread with coconut chutney
- Steamed fish or prawn dishes
- Look for “dry” dishes such as paneer tikka or chicken tikka
- Try dishes made with cream sauces such as malai kofta
- Stay away from Vindaloos as those will always be super spicy
- Look for fried rice or curd rice for non-spicy meals
- Try South Indian food like dosa, idli and puri
Note: Visitors to India often worry about getting Delhi belly due to eating street food. Your body will go through an adjustment period when eating Indian food. Loose stools is common, however if you have stomach cramping or vomiting, then you will know you have gotten Delhi belly or eaten bad food. Otherwise it is just your body adjusting, so don’t worry!
Mistake #3: Being Scared to Use Local Transport
India is filled with amazing transportation options. Use them! From cycle rickshaws in some cities to the massive rail network crisscrossing the country, there is a multitude of great, cheap transport options.
Unfortunately the way to get around differs by each city as do the payment methods. Some towns like Mumbai have very well regulated taxi meter systems that almost all taxis follow. In other places like Rajasthan, you will be expected to bargain for each and every ride.
To get an idea of how much a ride should cost, check on the Uber app or if you have the local equivalent Meru. If you don’t want to use these apps, you can use them as a guide for prices. But know that often they are cheaper than you can get by bargaining alone.
We highly recommend you try out some of the options like auto rickshaws and local trains while exploring India. While booking train travel in India is cumbersome online in advance, you can do it through the Indian Railways website. It definitely takes patience and advance planning to book online, so come prepared for frustration!
Also note that internal flights can often be cheap if booked well in advance which is a great way to get between far destinations in a short amount of time.
Mistake #4: Being Afraid to Ask for What You Want
One of the best things about travel in India is the amazing customer service from eating to getting things made. After a decade of living in India it was one of the things I loved most and something most visitors don’t know about.
If you need special food prepared for a child or yourself, feel free to ask. It doesn’t need to be on the menu, just ask. The worst case is they say they can’t do it! We often order grilled chicken or fish with no spices for my son even when it is not mentioned on the menu.
This ask and you shall receive policy also comes in handy when getting clothes made, shopping and so many other aspects of life in India. Just ask and you will be surprised how often you can get what you want! As I tell my son, if you don’t ask, you don’t know. The worst that can happen is you hear no.
Mistake #5: Riding Elephants
Please please please do not ride the elephants in India. While it is still popular and culturally accepted, the tide is turning and we as informed travelers have to help reinforce this idea. In general you will still see elephant rides at popular tourist attractions like the Red Fort in Jaipur where tour guide push this activity. These elephants are not treated well and it is SO bad for them to have the large wooden platforms strapped to their tender spines. Take a jeep or auto up to the entrance instead.
If you want to get up close and personal with elephants who used to be ridden, check out the sanctuary Elephantastic in Jaipur. Here you can wash an elephant, feed one and even take one for a walk. After spending a bit of time with these magnificent creatures in a safe, loving environment you will see why it’s not good to ride them.
Mistake #6: Not Taking Local Tours
One of the best ways to get to know a destination or country is by taking local tours. I am always a huge fan of taking local tours in each destination I visit as it allows you to get more in-depth knowledge as well as get off the beaten path a bit. India is filled with amazing, localized tours that are perfect for tourists looking to get more out of their visit. In Delhi, enjoy a food tour with Delhi Food Walks, in Mumbai we recommend a slum tour with Reality Tours. In Rajasthan, look for a village tour to see local artisans hard at work or try your hand at traditional crafts at Studio Bagru. Or consider a camel trek into the desert.
If you feel nervous of going to India on your own, check out Intrepid Travel’s various tours of India which cover all the top tourist spots.
Mistake #7: Drinking the Water
To insure you stay healthy in India, do not drink the water in any location. After living in India for a decade I was able to drink the house filtered water at restaurants in big cities without problems, but for new visitors I recommend not drinking any water that is not either filtered in your own filtration system (I highly recommend the Grayl water filter which we have used extensively in India) or opened directly in front of you in a bottle.
Also, remember not to eat fruit or veggies that haven’t been peeled or washed thoroughly with safe clean water. Again, another great reason for the Grayl water filter. Filter your water and wash your fruits and veggies with it.
RELATED POST: Get a local SIM card for your phone when you are India to make booking hotels and local communication easier
Mistake #8: Not Using Porters
One of the greatest things about India is the abundance of people working in the service industry. Here you can get help with anything and everything you want. Use the local help. It not only helps reduce your stress levels, but also helps contribute to the local economy.
Typically visitors feel nervous to use porters at the train stations or get the help of bag carriers at airports for fear of being ripped off. For those on a strict budget I get the hesitation, but the convenience it adds to your life and the little help in income for locals goes a long way. Ask other locals how much it should cost to carry your bags for you and bargain accordingly.
Mistake #9: Not Bargaining
Many visitors are afraid to bargain. But let me tell you, you will not survive a trip to India financially if you don’t bargain! It is expected at most local stalls and street vendors. Even in some shops with price tags, it is acceptable to ask for a discount if you are purchasing a large number of things. This is not quite true for chain stores like FabIndia, but definitely at local shops where you are making a large purchase.
In India bargaining is expected and as such almost every price you will be given as a tourist with be quite inflated. Typically I suggest cutting the price given to you in half and starting there. It is also important to decide what price you would like to pay. I tend to use this as my benchmark to help control the bargaining.
Note that India is still a cash country with many shops still not accepting credit cards. This is changing daily, but be prepared with plenty of cash on hand always.
RELATED POST: Make sure to inform your credit card and banks of your trip PRIOR to your departure
Mistake #10: Dressing Inappropriately
India is a conservative country and as such you should attempt to adhere to the local standards of dress. This means on a trip to India, women should cover shoulders, cleavage or knees. For men, the same is true with shoulders and knees – skip the tanks and shorts unless you are at the beach. Find out more about what to pack when visiting India.
Yes, in metropolitan areas you will see locals not adhering to this, but as a foreigner it is suggested to always dress conservatively to one keep yourself modest with local standards but also to not draw too much attention to yourself. (Is it safe to travel in India as a female traveler?)
India packs a big punch and as such is a fascinating country offering visitors amazing cities, culture and food around every corner. Come with an open mind, ready for adventure and you will have an amazing visit. Prepare to have a bit of culture shock even if you are well traveled.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
India is an amazing country for travelers, but accidents do happen, therefore you should make sure to have international insurance in place before you go. This is the one non-negotiable item I make sure to book for any trip abroad. For me personally, I have a year long plan with Allianz. However, they also have 1 trip plans in a wide range of affordable options including coverage for both travel hiccups and medical emergencies. Check out their plans and rates here.
For a bit more of a comprehensive insurance with higher allowances for things like dental, repatriation of remains, etc, I also recommend World Nomads. World Nomads does tend to be a bit more expensive, but their coverage is much more comprehensive. Check their rates here. And as always, read the fine print to know exactly what is and is not covered!
My choice in insurance often is dependent on the location I am traveling too (the political stability, chance for great misfortune, etc) or if I am taking a tour that requires specific coverage.
I have used both companies myself as they are both known for being responsive to claims and are reputable.
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