So you’ve finally decided to visit the infamous incredible India! Or maybe you’re just daydreaming/ curious. Either way, you’re gonna want to know a few things about travel in India (especially if you’re not Indian!)
Luckily (for you), I endured 10 months of silly mistakes, really scary/crazy experiences, too many close calls, and a huge learning curve before I could provide you with the wealth of priceless knowledge you’re about to read. (I’m kidding…but not really).
Before you actually step foot in this magical country of snake charmers and elaborate palaces (#orientalism), here are some things you probably don’t know, but definitely should know before proceeding:
1. It isn’t easy to get access to a sim card and data for your phone in India as a foreigner.
India’s phone plans are SUPER cheap if you’re an Indian citizen, but it’s not the case for us foreign travellers. If you don’t have an ‘Adhar card’ (national ID), you don’t have a sim card.
If you desperately need a sim card, and can’t afford to pay for data for where you’re coming from, fear not! There is a solution. Many phone companies in India (Idea, Jio – these are the ones I’ve used) provide temporary sim cards for foreigners at a higher cost. You’ll need a passport with you to obtain one and it usually expires after a period of time.
If you have local friends, they might also be able to help you out. They usually are granted a limit of 3 sim cards spontaneously, and they might be able to let you borrow one of theirs for the time you spend there. However this should be a last resort, because this isn’t approved by the government and they could get in trouble for it. It’s likely most people will refuse to do this (fair enough), but it is an option in case all else fails.
2. Finding accommodation can be difficult sometimes.
While Airbnb’s and other homestay apps like OYO have locations all over India, not all of them are open to foreigners. This is especially relevant and common with hotels and homestays in local areas that aren’t too big online, but can also apply to big companies like Airbnb and OYO as well.
This is usually because they don’t want to be held accountable for you if anything happens to you or risk any problems with someone who doesn’t have Indian ID and can’t be dealt with or aided easily.
You can usually check online to see whether the place you’re interested in booking is open to international visitors, or give them a call.
Pro tip: if you don’t care too much about the luxury/ comfort aspect and just need a safe place to sleep for the night, you can usually find really cheap accommodations through hostels (I usually use hostelworld.com) which are usually open to anyone.
Bonus: you’ll meet other super cool travellers too!
3. Book your train tickets as early as possible.
Don’t make the fatal mistake I made of booking last minute and getting kicked off my train in a totally unfamiliar place in the middle of the night (don’t worry, it worked out!)
The railway system in India is complex and super confusing sometimes. Among the interwoven web of bribery, reservations, confirmations and just general luck, the system demands that you play it safe and just book as soon as possible. Tickets to other states usually take a few days/weeks to get confirmed and if you book late, don’t expect to get a seat; the trains are usually booked weeks before the actual departure date.
You can book through online apps, little booths at some malls, or at the train station itself but just do it sooner than later. You’ll regret it if you book late, and its better to be safe than sorry. Read more about the complexities of the Indian railway system here.
4. BARGAIN YOUR BUTT OFF
I cannot stress this enough. Don’t be hesitant. Don’t be scared. Bargaining is common in a lot of Indian states (especially in the north) and it pays off!
Bargaining saves you a ridiculous amount of money sometimes. For instance, I once bought a jacket that was quoted to me for 1200 rupees, and I brought it down to 800 rupees in literally a minute!
Shop keepers will most likely hike up the price once they see or realize you’re a foreigner, and it’s your time to shine and bargain back the extra money they quote you! Make sure you have knowledge on the local prices first, observe everyone around you to make sure that bargaining is acceptable where you are, and then go for it!
Even if you don’t save much, it’s still a fun experience and you’ll probably amuse the shopkeeper and make their day a little better.
Please don’t be a jerk while bargaining! Shoot your shot, but if it doesn’t work out, and you have the means to spend a little more, then just pay the amount. Check your privilege and remember that the few extra rupees you spend would be spent on like a candy bar or something back home, but might go a long way for the shop keeper.
That being said, if you’re a budget traveler and you’re really broke, try your best and just move on politely if it doesn’t work out. Convince yourself you didn’t need that beautiful embroidered bag anyways and move on after you cry a few tears (I feel your pain.)
5. If you’re a tourist, you’re gonna have to pay for it… literally.
It sucks but it kind of makes sense. If you’re not a local, the admission prices to visit attractions, parks, historical sites and other tourist locations is going to be hiked up for you. Locals usually pay a fraction of what a foreign tourist would pay. The more popular the attraction, the higher the price (hello Taj Mahal).
I believe this is a policy that has been implemented to encourage Indians to explore their own country (and if you’re Indian, you should! Your country is beautiful!) As well as take advantage of economically advantaged foreigners and tourists who can afford to pay more to visit such attractions. It makes sense, and I think it’s fair, but you can’t help but get a little bummed out when you pay 10x the amount of money the people around you are paying.
If you’re traveling on a tight budget, think about skipping the cliche tourist sites and go off and explore less traveled places on your own! Talk to locals to find out about hidden places; sometimes they can turn out to be gems and be way better than the crowded places filled with tourists! (Bonus: it’s probably free, and way less crowded.)
India is a massive country (why isn’t it a continent of it’s own yet??) And every state and region differs drastically. The points mentioned and advice offered above are merely general guidelines that I’ve found to be common in many places in India.
As with any trip, make sure to do your research thoroughly and be well prepared. You never know what will hit you, but at least you’ll be a little more prepared for it!
What kinds of things should foreigners be aware of when visiting your country? Comment below and let me know!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, or just want to say hi, feel free to comment, send me an email, or send me a message on Facebook or Instagram! I’d love to hear from you!
Happy travelling! 🙂
(Post-Corona of course!)
P.S If you’re a woman, and you’re considering solo travel in India, you might want to read this!