…or at least, here is what to expect!
- No money, Mo Problems – Don’t really expect too many places in India to accept cards (credit/debit, etc.). I’m sure there are exceptions in certain places, however, in the entirety of my 3 month stay, the only place I was able to use my card was at the ATM, to actually get cash out. Also, take it from me, take out as much as you possibly can per ATM visit, those pesky fees most definitely add up, my friends. Not only is the ATM charging you, but odds are your bank is charging you some type of international fee, as well. That being said, you can either find out if your bank will charge you OR you can invest in a travel card, of some sort, that’s accepted globally. There’s a couple ways to go about it, just be prepared to have to rely on cash (rupees), constantly.
- Attention, shopaholics! – There are two things to know about shopping: 1) ALWAYS wait as long as possible to do your shopping, whether it’s for you or your loved ones. The closer to the date you go back home, the better. I get that you might see something you absolutely need and can’t imagine going another day without, by all means, break the rules. (I know I have!) All I’m saying is just consider that you will be backpacking and carrying everything with you, until you go home. So it’s certainly something to keep in mind if your souvenirs aren’t exactly light in weight. 2) Haggle. Haggle, Then haggle some more. Do NOT settle for a price, just throw on that charming smile of yours and ask them to take 100 rupees off, maybe even more! (Within reason of course) Also, make friends with all the shop owners you meet (of all kinds!), you never know what kinds of discounts or freebies you could get. I once made nice with a man who sold me beautiful shoes…he stepped away for a second, and returned with a small, wooden carving of the Buddha and one of Ganesha, and gave it to us as a gift, which I will cherish, always.
- ONE last thing… – I have one more thing to add on about shopping in India, it isn’t really a tip, so much (although for some, it can be…let me explain), more like what to expect, specifically, for my fellow American travelers. So fun fact about me, I’m bilingual…I also speak Spanish. That being said…folks, what I’m getting ready to tell you is NOT meant to offend you, but rather inform you. I’m just reporting back. Unfortunately, when Indian shop vendors find out you’re American, they kinda use that info to their advantage and hike up the price. They wanna squeeze all they can out of us. So knowing that, we used this info to OUR advantage and the tables were turned…we decided to speak very little English in front of shop vendors, we spoke Spanish to each other, instead, and said we were from the other countries in our heritage, rather than say we were American. So you have 2 options, if you’re bilingual, use that to your advantage, otherwise…you can just be super duper nice and see if you can haggle the crap out of some prices! Get some practice haggling! It’s lots of fun!
- What are you lookin’ at? – Don’t like being stared at?! Well…you’ll kinda just have to suck it up for a bit and realize staring is just something that is socially acceptable in India. In their defense, staring in general usually indicates genuine interest or curiosity. Believe me, I don’t even like getting stared at here in the states, so in the beginning it took a little while to adjust and accept that that’s the norm there. (Ladies, a side note that might help just a tad if it really bothers you, keep in mind India is beautiful, yet modest. The more skin you show, the more you’ll probably be stared at.) After a short while, I considered the staring harmless and it didn’t bother me…and that was a surprise, even for me.
- A Different Kind of Porcelain Throne – Sit-down toilets in India, are actually kind of a luxury. Instead, there are squat toilets. Not to say you won’t ever encounter a sit-down toilet but just giving you the heads up so that you’ll be ready for anything! And please, don’t let the sound of that intimidate you, there are very clearly marked guides as to where you need to put your feet that will help guide you to aim for the porcelain, NEVER aim for the hole directly (Not to be too graphic but I really don’t think that’s a back splash you would ever want). This also took a little getting used to, but I’m a quick learner, luckily. And honestly, in the long-run, squatting while you go #2 is actually better for you and your digestive system. The squatting position doesn’t pinch your colon, as does sitting, and you excrete more waste.
- Yes, India is as hot as it looks. – India is just isn’t a place you want to be dehydrated. This I can tell you by experience, I’ve gotten severely dehydrated on more than one occasion…one of which I fainted. So this one is pretty self-explanatory, guys. Another tip: stock up on lots of hydration/electrolyte salts from your nearest pharmacy when you get there (I’m still searching for something similar in the U.S. but still no dice). This stuff is Gatorade x 10, it can be preventative, but the times I got severely dehydrated, it’s no exaggeration that these hydration salts brought me back to life. So, once we came across these, we NEVER traveled without them.
- Speaking of Hydration… – Since we’re on the topic of staying hydrated, please note, you’ll only be able to drink bottled water, and no ice when eating out at restaurants. With the exception of being in the mountains (Himalayas), where the water was clean enough, I usually brushed my teeth with bottled water, also. And to clarify i brushed my teeth with the tap water in the mountains, but I still felt questionable about drinking it, so I stuck with drinking bottled water the whole trip. Again, this topic as a whole is pretty self-explanatory.
- What’s bugging you? – Keep a bottle of tea tree oil handy, as well as plenty of mosquito repellent. The tea tree oil should be for your bedding/sheets; distribute a couple drops here and there on the sheets/pillows (literally only a couple, do not saturate. Not only could it possibly stain, it’s also very potent), and it will keep bed bugs and lice away. Another useful way to use the tea tree oil, drop a couple drops into your shampoo and conditioner, for another great, invigorating way to keep lice away. One more fun fact: I got lice on my trip. (And, yes….it was horrible. But hey, if that’s the worst thing that happened to me in India, then I’ll take it, gladly! There are people who always seem to get sick with a stomach bug or food poisoning when they travel, and i guess I’m one of the lucky ones.)
- Where’s the beef? – With maybe a few exceptions (I had one, being a lovely restaurant with incredible food, ‘The Octopus’, near Goa, owned by two very nice English chaps), you won’t find any beef or steak dishes…anywhere. The cow is considered one of the holiest animals in India. (Which is why they just roam freely, sometimes.) In addition to that, a good portion of the country is vegetarian, but that’s not as bad as you think it is. You need to eat your veggies, anyway!
- Be prepared – Being overly-prepared is never a bad thing, however, that does not mean over pack clothes. For me, that meant taking more than enough stuff for first-aid necessities. (Came in handy after a small motorized scooter incident!) And that also meant keeping in mind I was going to be there a long time, and that I should pack enough feminine products (the ones I wanted to use, as there is little to no selection in India) to last me for the trip. So fellas, no need to worry about that last one. Lastly, Pack anti-diarrheals, because you just never know!
- Ways to Get Around – Larger journeys will obviously require a small plane or a long train ride, but as far as getting around the vicinity you’re in, it helps if you know how to drive a motorized scooter or motorcycle/motor bike, even a bicycle could come in handy if you can get your hands on one and borrow it. Although there will be more than enough places a short walk away, being mobile just means you’ll be able to see and do more! (I didn’t see car rental places if there were any, and it wasn’t within the budget either way so didn’t really bother asking, but I’m sure there are places, it’s just a matter of asking!)
- Bonus: No Language Barrier – Don’t worry too much about there being a language barrier, because almost everyone speaks English. We only had a situation where communication was an issue about once or twice, and it wasn’t anything too detrimental.
Have you already been to India?? If you know a great tip and didn’t see it on here, enlighten me and share!