Trust me, when planning a trip to India, the general tips you can apply to any country are not enough. From the right packing list to make sure you are prepared to avoid getting sick to learn when is the best time to visit this huge and diverse country, here are some of my tips to enjoy your Indian holiday without surprises!
India Trip Planning: Top Tips For a Better Experience
Check Indian visa requirements
Every country has different requirements to obtain an Indian visa. From Italy with an Italian passport, I applied directly from their consulate by filling the form, showing the return ticket, paying their fee and bringing my passport-size photos. Call the Indian embassy or consulate in your country and double-check with them what documents you need to produce and the timings to issue your visa.
If you don’t feel confident doing this by yourself, there are agencies that will apply for you for a fee.
Travel the right time of year
Before buying your ticket, check out when is the best time to visit India. Being a huge country, it’s not the same season for every place and for every type of holiday. For example, if you want to visit Delhi, we found that the best time is around January/February for mild and fresh temperature, while August is their monsoon season and you will find daily showers and mosquitos.
Northern Indian states like Uttarakhand and Rajasthan are best visited in spring around April and May, while to visit Kerala with a more pleasant weather and less humidity, you might prefer autumn and winter months between September and March. To enjoy less crowded and Goa’s beaches, head there either in November or between February and May.
India is a pretty hot country, so unless you are going to climb Mount Everest in winter, you will likely need summer clothes. If you think you will feel uncomfortable with the local “staring” culture, I suggest you pack clothes that are light, breathable but long and pretty much covering. This is better also because the sun can be really aggressive, so wearing some extra protection is always a good idea.
Among the other things I suggest packing for India are a high-SPF sunscreen, a hat for extra sun protection, sunglasses (even if you are not Italian!), and comfortable shoes. India is an over-populated country and many of the attractions, especially local markets can get very crowded. You might want to also wear some safety clothes with hidden pockets and maybe a funny pack for your money and valuables.
Carry the right medicines
Especially if it’s your first trip to India (but also the second or the third), you are probably going to get food poisoning along the way. After some unpleasant experiences, I shared my tips to avoid getting sick in India, and one of them is to carry your trusted drugs for food poisoning and upset stomach so that you don’t need to rush off to look for a pharmacy, particularly if you get sick at night.
I use natural remedies such as zeolite and grapefruit seed extracts, but to be more sure, go to your doctor and see what they recommend for you specifically. There are also probiotics you could take to restore gut flora, some also lactose-free if you are intolerant. Your GP will be able to help and give you all sort of advice.
Plan your itinerary beforehand…
Whether you are only staying in a city or region or traveling across the country, planning your itinerary beforehand will save you time, energy and headache. So let’s say that you are going to explore Rajasthan. Very likely, your itinerary will include cities like Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Udaipur. If you are on a private guided India tour, which is a good idea especially if you are visiting more than one state, your tour leader will take care of all the logistics, but if you are traveling independently, try to sort out as much as you can before getting there, such as transport, accommodation and even single-day tours if you wish to explore deeper some destinations or landmarks such as Agra’s Taj Mahal and Red Fort.
Rajasthan and Goa are pretty touristy destinations, so if you are an experienced traveler, you are going to be fine. But states like Uttarakhand are much wilder, so prior planning is highly recommended.
…But embrace the unexpected
Planning ahead doesn’t mean that you should completely rule out the unexpected. India is a huge country with plenty of things to see and do. Along the way, you might get invited for dinner by a local family, or you might find a little hidden gem right behind the famous attraction. Even if you have a list of restaurants you would like to try, don’t forget to ask your hotel or the locals you meet to give you some tips to where they eat to have a more authentic culinary experience.
Pick higher-quality hotels
This really is my own opinion and my own experience. When planning my trips to India, I prefer booking at least 4-star hotels, unless it’s a trusted homestay or countryside resort that has been recommended by someone I personally know.
I found that when I booked less good accommodation, the cleanness wasn’t up to my standards, the amenities were just in line with the cheap rates, WiFi wasn’t really working properly and so on and so forth. Also, in India they have a water issue, meaning that tap water is not clean and disinfected enough, causing stomach issues to Westerners and weaker immune systems in general. Often, high-end hotels have their own filtering systems, making it much safer. Even though I still don’t recommend drinking it, it will be definitely safer when brushing your teeth and taking shower.
Learn about local food
Indian food is famous all over the world. In practically every country you will find some Indian restaurants, so if you are in India, you definitely don’t want to miss it. Plenty of spices, veggies and herbs make the dishes an explosion of colors and flavors. Curries, garam masala, biriyani, palak paneer, chicken tikka are only some of the treats you can order that you will totally love.
Recipes will change between southern and northern India, and so will the street food sold by street vendors in cities across the country. When it comes to street food, pay extra attention to the hygienic standards.
Dealing with money
The local currency is the Indian rupee and with your bank card you can simply withdraw money from any ATM. Usually when I travel I never exchange money in local agencies because they charge higher exchange rates plus commission. I always withdraw from the local ATMs and in India, too, you will be able to withdraw with both Visa and Mastercard.
You can also use your card in shops, stores and supermarkets as well as hotels if you haven’t paid their fee already online. In smaller local markets probably you’ll need to pay cash, this is why it’s always good to know where the nearest ATMs are.
Get a local SIM card
Your hotel will very likely have WiFi connection all throughout the property, but when you are out and about, you will definitely want to save some money on the international roaming and use a more affordable local SIM card. You can buy it right at the airport when you land, after you claim you luggage on your way to the exit, or anywhere in the city.
If you are on a guided trip, you might want to ask your tour leader to either have a SIM ready for you or to take you where you can get one.