India is wonderful, and for the most part, I had a fantastic time. But there are some things to keep in mind if you plan on visiting, and the following are some of my tips and warnings:
Be Very Careful About What You Eat
I’d avoid street food and also be sure to get your shots (typhoid and hepatitis). Also, make sure everything you eat is cooked—even from the fancy hotels. This means avoiding fruits and veggies throughout the trip. While you may be absolutely fine, why risk it? There are so many horror stories about food poisoning in India, and this is a country you don’t want to get sick in. I followed all these precautions and yet still felt like someone had lit a bonfire inside of my stomach (a.k.a “Delhi Belly”), so just be sure to take extreme caution.
And Don’t Forget About the Water
Only drink sealed, bottled water and be sure to check the seal carefully, as some vendors will actually glue the cap back on to trick people into thinking that the bottle is sealed, and you’re actually drinking bottled tap water. And if you like your water cold when you’re at restaurants, be sure to ask for it chilled (avoid ice). We realized that people in India actually prefer room temperature water, so this is the standard—yet when it’s 115 degrees, room temperature water just tastes like someone had been sitting on it for the past two days. Not very refreshing.
Toilet Paper is Almost Nonexistent
If you plan on using public toilets anywhere in India, be sure to bring your own toilet paper. And just like in other Asian countries, you should also be prepared for public toilets to basically consist of holes in the ground, and nothing more. (Note for women: this thing really saves the day)
Hire a Driver or Take the Train
Unless you’re traveling with someone who is used to this type of madness, do not rent a car yourself like we almost did. If you’re only doing the Golden Triangle, the trains will likely do just fine. But if you’re going to other cities or you just want the comfort and convenience of a car, I’d hire a driver. We went with Driver India Private Tours and I highly recommend them. Also, bear in mind that traditional passenger vehicles in India tend to be really small, so unless you’re a midget traveling solo and without luggage, be sure to spring for the SUV.
Don’t Go in May Unless You Plan on Visiting Ranthambhore
There’s really no reason to subject yourself to the extreme heat (although it’s quite pleasant in the mornings and late evenings) unless you’re visiting Ranthambhore and hoping for a tiger sighting.
Bring a Printed Ticket For Your Departure Out of Delhi
Guess what? You’re not even allowed in the departure section of the Delhi Airport without a physical airline ticket. We always receive our boarding passes when we check in, but apparently, you can’t even step foot inside without them. We had to walk to a special area where they held the passenger manifests before we were allowed in the airport, which was super fun to do at 3AM.
In India, you’ll see some things that are very difficult to witness—like babies on the street that are literally starving to death. Seeing the way so many people live in this country will make you very grateful for what we all have back at home, but regardless, it’s still heart wrenching to witness. I urge that anyone who visits India to try and do something to help out. Even something small can go a long way for someone. One recommendation I have for donations is the Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, which has a location in Agra.
Don’t Let Your Guard Down
You should always exercise caution anywhere in the world, whether it be a third world country or your normally safe hometown. But in India, I felt I had to be more on guard than in most places. While you’ll come across a lot of people who mean you no harm, there are plenty who are looking to take advantage of tourists. If a vendor offers you something to drink, politely decline, as you don’t know for sure what it’s in it. Women, dress modestly—cover your shoulders and knees.
I don’t recommend India as a destination for novice travelers—whether you’re a woman, traveling alone, or even traveling as a group or family. It can be a safe, enjoyable experience, but can also be overwhelming and maybe even scary for those traveling abroad for the first time.
My Overall Opinion of India
I know this post might appear like I’m portraying India in a negative way. I am not necessarily trying to do that. There were a lot of things I didn’t enjoy about this country and it certainly wasn’t my favorite trip (not even close, honestly) but I did have a great time overall, and I would return. Although it won’t be for a long time, I’d love to visit the other parts of India that I missed this time around, including Udaipur, Mumbai, and Goa.
In the famous words of our driver, Pintu, “This is India. Anything is possible.”