5 Survival Tips for Travelling India
India is exhilarating, captivating, heart breaking and frustrating. It’s a country where contrasting emotions can be invoked all in the space of a single day.
Here are some great tips and lessons that I’ve personally learnt and extracted from various people and sources along my journey through India. They will help you feel confident, safer and should increase your chances of having a great time while travelling this wonderful country.
1. Watch out for scams
There are countless tourist and traveller scams around the world and India is no different. Here are a few that I’ve encountered or been warned about.
Wrong stop – someone will come onto your bus or mode of transport and inform you that you have reached your destination. Conveniently they will be a taxi driver or auto rickshaw driver and then offer to take you to your accommodation or better yet the accommodation that pays them commission.
If you are unsure of your final destination then clarify it with the driver or someone onboard. Most Indian people are genuine and will be happy to help. Better yet, you can pinpoint your exact location from your mobile phone using Google maps or the offline GPS mapping app, maps.me.
If you are worried about racking up a pricey phone bill then download and install this great app. Make sure you download the map of the area your visiting on a wifi network before you embark on your journey.
This app is also useful when it comes to catching sneaky taxi drivers who decide to take long diversions instead of taking you direct to your destination as you can identify your location on a routed map.
Hold this – People will offer you all sorts of things in all sorts of locations. You will be offered flowers by a lake, incense at a temple, bangles on the beach, etc. Once you take one of these products you will most likely be charged a ridiculous price and unable to return it. Take my advice and don’t take anything from strangers unless you are willing to pay a high value for it.
Fake tourist information points / guides – Lots of people will walk up to you in the street and start talking to you. They will be very nice and most probably know of the particular area of the world that you come from. Exchange pleasantries with them if you wish but the moment they start trying to sell you something or suggest taking you to the government tourist information point simply decline and say that you’ve already sorted plans through your accommodation.
Hotel closure scam – Taxi or auto rickshaw drivers will claim that your accommodation is no longer a viable option. They might say that it is closed, full or even burnt to the ground. They will offer you an alternative and reap the rewards in the form of commission if you fall for this one. Just tell the driver you still want to go to your hotel regardless of the situation and if he still persists tell him to stop the vehicle and get out. Better yet, if it’s an auto rickshaw you can just jump out at the next red light.
Begging scams – There are lots of beggars in India. Some are genuine and some are not. Women with ill babies that have in fact been drugged for effect can be found in Mumbai, limping men will approach you with their hands out yet moments later will be waking fine and healthy looking children will guilt you for your change.
If you want to help the genuine people then making a donation to a worthwhile charity is a good option or buying food directly for someone ensures that no money is being passed up the chain in Mafia style operations.
Bottled water – You cannot drink water from the taps in India. You will be forced to buy bottled water which is sold in an abundance of places. Ensure that the ring of the bottle is not broken and that a plastic covering is over the cap and ring. Double check for any tampering as bottles are often reused and resold. Once you’ve finished your bottled water you can crush it to make sure it’s unusable.
Delhi airport auto-rickshaw / taxi scam – this was a scam that I hadn’t read of and was new to me. I had taken a auto-rickshaw from my hotel to Delhi airport. However, auto rickshaws are not allowed into the grounds of Delhi airport so you will be dropped off at the bus stop. You can take this bus into the airport.
When I approached the bus, the driver informed me that he wasn’t leaving anytime soon and that if I didn’t take a taxi from the rank beside the bus I would miss my check in time. Surprisingly the taxi driver offered me a ridiculous price saying that he had to pay car park and airport fees. I declined his offer and simply flagged a genuine taxi driver down about fifty metres down the road.
To side step this scam, I suggest just flagging a taxi down outside your accommodation or pre-booking one. Be warned, you will pay an inflated price if you book transport via your accommodation but as long as it’s reasonable for you then it’s not much of a problem.
2. Haggle, haggle, haggle
Like anywhere in the world, there will be a price for locals, a price for expats and a price for tourists. You’re going to pay more, so just face up to the fact and try to get the best deal you can.
Figure out what you are willing to pay for the product and always slash the sellers price by at least 50%. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal and visit at least three other businesses offering the same product to get a feel for prices and quality.
If you have an Indian friend in the area or back home you could always ask them for advice on what price to pay. You could also ask your guide or accommodation staff for advice. At the end of the day, if you feel you’re being ripped off, politely walk away and say no thank you.
3. Learn some basic Hindi
Whatever country you are in, learning some very basic words will always enhance your reception as a traveller with the locals.
Even if you get some words or phrases wrong, the fact that you are making an effort will increase your chances of a warm reception and hopefully lead to further conversation with said person. There are a number of different languages used in India but to keep things simple you can just start with some simple Hindi.
4. Stay safe
One of your main concerns when travelling any country should be safety. Stay up to speed with any current affairs by checking your government website regularly. For example, for the UK, you can check the official UK government website.
If you are a solo traveller ensure that you don’t walk around alone late at night and it might be a good idea to let your accommodation front desk know of your daily plans.
Make sure you cover up at all times unless you are in one of the more touristy areas such as Goa or Varkala, as western apparel such as bikinis and vests will attract the wrong sort of interest. You will also need to wear appropriate clothing when visiting any religious or national sight, this normally means no shorts, skirts or short sleeves tops / t-shirts. Be sure to check the exact requirement before you set off.
Try to keep family up to date of your whereabouts in the country and make sure you have a working mobile phone on you in case of an emergency. Pick up a cheap Indian SIM card relating to the area you are in and load of it up with some credit.
You should expect lots of stares and people asking for your photograph whether you are male or female but if it all gets a bit too much just decline their photo request politely and walk away.
5. Take Train Journeys
Train rides through India are truly mesmerising. You can sit back, relax and enjoy the glorious landscape from the comfort of your bed or chair. For those feeling brave, you can even hang out of the doors from adjoining carriages and feel the rush of the air against your face.
I can’t recommend the use of www.seat61.com for advice, tips and guidance for railway travel in any country. I have used this site numerous times with no problems so far.
To book your actual tickets you should use www.makemytrip.com and buy tickets as early as possible to avoid disappointment. You will be safe and pretty comfortable in second class AC for any overnight trips and AC chair for shorter journeys.
Give yourself ample time on your first few trips as some of the train stations can be quite overwhelming and confusing. If in doubt just head towards one of railway officers or their office as they are normally quite happy to help.
So there you have it, 5 Survival Tips for travelling India. Feel free to leave a comment on your individual experiences or share any other tips or advice you may have.