India can be a complex destination to any kind of traveller. It’s a place where your senses go absolutely crazy and where you can feel 10 different emotions at one given time. I learnt so much on my 6-week backpacking adventure around this crazy country – here are just a few of the things I wish I knew before I set food in India.Search for flights to India
Stay in hostels if you’re backpacking solo
If you’re travelling around India solo, make sure you surround yourself with other people when thinking about accommodation. One of the worst things I did was pre-book a cheap hotel for when I arrived in Delhi. Because I thought the hotels are cheaper than hostels they would be better quality and it would be important for me to have my own space. I was completely wrong. A popular choice of hostels is a chain called Zostel. You’ll find many other backpackers who you can do lots of great things with around the area you’re staying, so you can then go out to festivals and celebrations at nightime without feeling unsafe.
Everything will be done in ‘India-time’
Don’t plan to do anything quick in India. You see, there’s this thing called India-time which basically means nobody is in a rush and the task will be done when it is done. It was frustrating at first, but in the end, I found this quite refreshing. We live in a society that is always rushing around and constantly trying to keep to deadlines, so by the time I left India I felt a lot more relaxed.
If you have money to spare, always tip
A simple tip of 50 rupees can go a long way to a family in India. Don’t hold your money too close to your heart. Forget about haggling over 50 cents because remember, more than likely, the market holder you’re bargaining with will probably need that 50 cents more than you do.
Don’t be afraid to smile
Before I left on my travels I read a guidebook which told me whatever I do, don’t stare at men in the eye and never smile at them. I wish I never read that guidebook. Yes, in India this can mean a form of flirtation, but some men will take a simple eye contact as a come on – but that can be the case anywhere in the world.
India takes time to love and you don’t want to miss all the little hidden wonders in a city just because you’re on a strict time limit. Take the time and travel as slowly as you can. Train tickets in the busy season should be purchased beforehand to avoid disappointment so bear in mind when you’re booking that you should leave a decent amount of time before heading to the next city or town. The best thing to do is immerse yourself in the local life and sometimes that might take a couple more days. Don’t turn up to a city, see the local attraction and leave the same day.
Eat street food and from hole-in-the-wall restaurants
The best food to be had is usually on the little carts scattered on the side of the road. Make sure you try everything from mouth-watering paratha to juicy momos and sweet jalebis. There are loads of great dishes to try and the best ones are usually the ones that are not behind a fancy hotel facade. Plus, street food is super cheap so it’s a great choice for a backpacker. To find the best recommendations, get off the internet and go and ask the locals or your hostel’s receptionists. Another great idea is to book yourself on to a local food tour. After all, who doesn’t like to eat their way around a city?
Be prepared to be shocked by the difference in culture
“There’s a world and then there’s India”. If you’re not from Asia then be prepared for a huge shock in culture. India is a difficult country to adjust to just because of the amount of people, chaos and things going on around you. It can be really overwhelming and will take time for you to get comfortable. Just be prepared that you will probably never have a quiet moment during your travels and if you do it’s a rarity, so enjoy it!
Learn a few of the local words
Depending which area you travel to, make sure you learn the lingo so you can interact with the locals. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – learning a simple thank you and hello are enough to make a decent impression. Most of the time, if you really cannot understand each other then hand signals are the best way to go. If not, there’s bound to be at least one person within a 100-meter radius that knows a little English.
Hello – Namaste
Thank you – dhanyavaad
No – Nahin
Yes – haan
Goodbye – Alavida
Be confident in who you are
Don’t let fear mongering from the media scare you during your time travelling in India. When first arriving here I was shaking with fear because I had heard so many bad stories. Do your research by all means, but make your own opinions. Scammers can sense a nervous traveller from a mile away so the best thing you can do is walk with your shoulders high and trust your instincts.
Planning to visit Japan? Check out our “Things I wish I knew before visiting Japan” blog post.