101 Essential India Travel Tips

Here are some of our favourite tried and tested India travel tips to make your time in India even more enjoyablefrom how to avoid scams, how to travel around, what language to speak, and lots more!

This post may contain compensated links. Full info in our disclosure here. Featured image courtesy Flickr / Nomad Tales

101 Travel Tips for India

Preparing for travel to India – even 5 years of trips there later – is usually filled with a flurry of butterflies in my stomach.

No matter how many times I’ve checked off my packing list and reconfirmed my travel arrangements, there’s still the flutter of excitement and nervousness of heading back to India.

As a first time traveller to India (or even if it’s your tenth trip), the vibrance, culture shock and sheer volume of India can be overwhelming. No matter how many trips we take to India, we find it still takes us a few days on the ground to re-find our “India shoes”.

And we know we’re not the only ones. In our free Facebook Community, we are commonly asked about culture shock, what to expect on arrival in India, and so much more.

And so, to answer many of those questions – and many more – here are over 100 of our favourite, tried and tested tips for travel in India. Grab yourself a cup of tea, a cosy chair, and enjoy!

What to Expect when Travelling to India

India is quite unlike any other country in the world. Few countries are as sprawling, as varied, as densely populated, as chaotic and yet wonderfully organised all at the same time. There is, no simple answer to this question.

India will never be quite as you expected. Everyone has a point of view on India. Whether they’ve been there or not, whether they liked it or not. But until you’ve been, it’s hard to reference. And that’s part of the delight of travel to India… we think!

But do expect an assault on the senses. Assuming you’re travelling from North America, Europe, Australia, or other more sparsely populated corners of the world, the chaos of India can be a shock. From pungent smells – sometimes pleasant, sometimes not – to loud noises, crowded streets and spicy, tasty food India engages all your senses, and often all at once.

Don’t expect Personal Space. We’ve returned home from a trip to India several times and asked ourselves – where are all the people? India is home to 1.2 billion people: Suffice to say things get crowded. Better sharpen those elbows and get ready to join the scrum!

Despite this, there’s plenty of Peace and Quiet. Despite the lack of space, this is usually confined to the cities. Once out in India’s beautiful jungles, forests and fields, serene quiet reigns.

India is not a country. It’s a sub-continent. Look at India as a sub-continent, and its diversity and distances start to make sense. Not only is it home to diverse terrain – from Himalayan peaks to low lying backwaters, India is home to one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world. So forget about “doing India” in two weeks.

Just as we think we’ve figured something out, we’ll realise how wrong we were. The history, age and complexity of India make it complex, and it can sometimes be hard to work out what is really going on. And yet as travellers – we seek to understand.

Planning a trip to India

For some of the reasons already mentioned, planning a trip to India can take time, patience and lots of research. There are a huge range of potential India itineraries and places to visit, depending on your interests, time of year and personal tastes.

Planning a trip to India is very different. For many travellers, the amount of work that needs to go in to planning an independent trip to India is something of a shock. Turn-up-and-go travel is hard to pull off in India, given the large number of people, safety considerations, and the large distances between places. We recommend planning a rough itinerary and booking your first few nights accommodation in advance of any trip to India.

For First time travellers to India we recommend considering the option of taking a small group tour, or hiring a guide for part of your trip. Having a local guide can provide a completely different experience of India, and be a window into local culture, too.

Find more information on budget/mid-range small group tours with Intrepid Travel and G Adventures here, who we use and recommend.

Or, Find more information on luxury group tours with Insight Luxury Gold, here.

Where to Travel in India

If you prefer a more tailor-made approach to travel in India, we recommend working with a company such as Better Places Travel to create your own bespoke guided itinerary for India.

Stick to One Area of the Country. Given the size of India, travel takes time, especially the more sustainable overland option. If you have 2-3 weeks to spend in India, we recommend sticking with 1 region of the country or 1-2 states. It’s easy to combine Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Maharahashtra and Goa, or Delhi, Agra, Varanasi and Kolkata, but less easy to combine Kolkata with Kerala in a short space of time. Lingering longer in one area of the country will bring a more profound travel experience and help you get off the tourist path.

A Word about the Golden Triangle. Nine out of ten visitors who come to India for the first time, visit an area known as the Golden Triangle – that is the three cities of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. We understand that the Taj Mahal is well worth seeing, but know that the Golden Triangle is not the be-all and end-all of travel in India. These cities are some of the more polluted, more crowded and more full of scams targeting tourists in India. If you can, mix in the Golden Triangle with some more off-beat destinations in India, or leave the Golden Triangle until the end of your trip.

Book accommodation and trains well in advance. Whenever you can. Destinations like Goa get busy around Christmas and New Year, and popular destinations fill up around Holi and Divali. Trains are notoriously busy as over 25 million people travel around India by train every day. We recommend booking tickets 2+ months in advance if you can.

What to Pack for India

Here are some of the essentials we recommend packing for your trip to India.

Essential paperwork:

  • Your Passport! With 6 months validity.
  • Travel Insurance – a must! We use and recommend World Nomads. Get a quote here
  • Your (e)visa, required by most nationalities to visit India. Official website here

Travel Essentials:

Pack Light Weight, Comfortable Clothes. India’s climate is largely hot (although not everywhere) and so we recommend packing loose, lightweight cotton clothing. Conservative clothing is recommended, especially for women, who should cover legs, chest and shoulders (and everything in between) in most places. For more details, read our what to wear in India guide.

Best Luggage for India Travel

Don’t Pack too Much! We also recommend saving some space in your luggage, for all the souvenirs & local clothes you may want to buy!

Consider your Choice of Luggage. If you’ll be travelling much by public transport or travelling to rural areas, we suggest using a backpack. Whichever type of luggage you choose, we recommend packing light, as you’ll often have to pick up and carry your bag. Our favourite bags are:

Osprey Farpoint Backpack – Which is front / zip opening and has survived being lugged on and off many modes of transport! We have this one, the Farpoint 40, which comes in different sizes for men and women. Larger models are also available.

Samsonite Eco Spinner – if you prefer luggage with wheels, we love the Samsonite Eco Spinner range which is made from recycled PET plastic. Go for a small size / carry on to keep your load light. Check prices for the Samsonite Spark Eco Spinner Carry on here

Climate and Weather in India

The general perception is that India is HOT. Which is not entirely wrong, given that many parts of the country see most of the year within the 30 degrees celsius / 90 degrees Fahrenheit range, but is a risky simplification of India’s weather.

Delhi, Agra and parts of Rajasthan have just seen their coldest winter temperatures (of down to freezing) in nearly a hundred years. So you’d be a bit cold in your shorts!

Weather in Southern India

India is divided into 2-3 climatic regions. The south of India, spanning from Maharashtra and below sees warm and humid weather year round, with Nov-Feb seeing cooler temperatures, March – May hotter temperatures and even higher humidity, and June – October seeing tropical monsoon deluges. Only the hill stations are cooler.

Weather in Northern India

Summer is almost unbearably hot in Northern India, with temperatures soaring into the 50’s (Celsius) in parts of Rajasthan between March and May. Monsoon brings much needed respite from the heat between June – September, although in some parts of northern India it doesn’t rain very much.

Most visitors come to Central and Northern India between October and early March when the weather is at its coolest.

Northern and central India, including Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra, Uttar Pradesh is a dry climate that sees relatively cold winters (it can get down to 5 degrees or lower at night in Jaipur and Delhi in January) with warmer sunny days between November – February. These months can also be foggy, and Delhi surrounding cities often have air quality problems in winter, especially after Diwali each year (October/November.

Weather in the Mountains of India

Lastly, mountainous regions of India – the Himalayas and their foothills, along with hill stations in other parts of the country see cooler weather. Ladakh, in the Indian himalayas is inaccessible for much of the year, and the snow only thaws between May – September.

Himachal Pradesh and northern parts of Uttarakhand see cold, bitter winters, and pleasant, spring like summers between March – May before the arrival of the rains in June. Many Indians from Delhi and surrounding cities make a bee-line for Shimla and the other hill stations come April to escape the heat, so book ahead.

Where to Stay in India

India is home to a diverse range of accommodation and places to stay, from suites fit for a King (or Queen) to simple homstays and farmstays.

  • Havelis. A Haveli is a historic town-house or mansion in India, and there are many beautiful Havelis that have been lovely restored and transformed into boutique hotels in northern India. Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Delhi are famed for their often hidden havelis. Rooms can be small and modest, and not all are very luxurious, but havelis are a great place to stay for those seeking history on a modest scale.
  • Palace & Heritage Hotels. Throughout India, grand, former palaces have been transformed into hotels – from the romantic Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur to colonial tea estates in the hills. These are often the best places to stay for a unique experience, bespoke service and high-end accommodation.
  • Hotels. The world “hotel” is often just used to describe a restaurant in India, but the type you can stay at come in a variety of chain hotels under well-known western brands, to small, independently owned hotels. Expect to pay a premium for the international chains. Some Indian brands we recommend include Taj, Leela, and Lemon Tree. We always recommend reading reviews carefully before deciding where to book.
  • Homestays. In some places in India, such as Fort Kochi in Kerala, every second building seems to be a homestay. Homestay is sometimes meant in a literal sense – ie accommodation with a host family, but much of the time it’s also just a pseudonym for a budget hotel or Bed & Breakfast type setup.
  • Village & Farmstays. One of the best ways to see more of Indian culture and life is to leave the cities behind for a few days. There are many opportunities to stay in a village stay or a farm stay – these are often simple homestays meaning a room in a local family’s house, or nearby building. Some are very comfortable, whereas others will have more basic conditions / may not have running water. Ask ahead of time what arrangements will be.
  • Hostels. India’s cities and popular tourist locations are home to an expanding number of international style hostels, including those run by popular chain Zostel. Some “hostels” are more for local workers than for tourists, so we recommend checking reviews carefully before booking.
  • Airbnb’s. Airbnb has a growing supply in India, ranging from rooms in shared homes to beautiful villas in Goa.

We use and recommend searching for accommodation in India on Booking.com – who have options from budget homestays through to 5* luxury!

Travelling Around India

Once you’re in India, there are a range of different options for travelling around the country. Distances can be huge (it’s common for a train journey to be 12 hours, for instance), and when combined with the heat, we recommend travelling at a slower pace than you think you’ll need to break up the travel.

Here are some of the best ways to get around India:

Hiring a Car & Driver in India

If you’re going to be in one state or area of India for most of your trip, hiring a car and driver for your trip to India can be a comfortable and efficient option, giving you maximum flexibility with your schedule. We don’t recommend self-drive hire cars in India (you’ll understand why once you’re here).

Cars and drivers can be booked through travel agencies and planners: We recommend India Someday who plan tailor-made trips in India – use code SOUL TRAVEL for 5% off or 20% for solo travellers!

Travelling by Train in India

The best way to explore India… is from the rails. Train journeys in India can be long and sometimes delayed, but train travel is one of the best and most efficient ways to explore the country, with plenty of interesting conversations to be had with newly-made friends along the way.

We recommend booking with 12go.asia for as this avoids the need to spend many hours registering for an Indian Railways account and trying to master the Indian train booking system.

Over 25 million people travel on India’s railways every day – so it’s fair to say trains book up quickly. Book yours as soon as you can – bookings open 120 days before travel.

Powered by 12Go Asia system

In addition to the long-distance trains in India, there are often local trains which run short distances, or serve as commuter trains. For short distances on local trains, tickets don’t need to be booked before hand.

Flying within India

For longer distances or for when you’re short on time, India has an extensive (and booming) network of internal flights. Our preferred options are:

  • IndiGo – Budget option, good reputation for being on time & modern planes
  • Vistara – High end service (owned by Taj!), select routes only

Air India is loved for their great onboard food, but less so for their (lack of) punctuality, and the airline is currently in trouble. Spice Jet is another budget option but has some annoying features like not being able to check in online without an Indian credit card.

When flying within India, there are a few things to be aware of:

  • Baggage allowance is usually less than for international flights. Check carefully before packing! Many airlines have a max of 15kg per bag.
  • Allow plenty of time to check in at the airport, even if you already have a boarding pass, as lines can be long and slow moving.
  • During monsoon, flights can often be delayed / subject to cancellations

Travelling by Bus in India

There are a range of different buses that run in India: From city busses (usually always crowded, we don’t recommend for visitors) to Air Conditioned long distance sleeper buses.

For overnight journeys, we generally recommend taking the train instead as it’s more comfortable – you can move around, use the restroom, buy food, etc. However, when the trains are booked up or aren’t an option, taking a sleeper bus is another option.

The main advantage of buses is that they do not need to be booked far in advance like trains do, unless you’re travelling at peak times. You can also wait until you are in India and book buses spontaneously a day or two out, or even same-day.

Volvo Long Distance Buses

Volvo Buses are reckoned to be the best long distance buses in India, with good quality coaches with air conditioning, and are generally reliable. Volvo Buses can be booked on Redbus.in.

State Run Buses

For shorter distances, state run buses offer routes between cities and towns. Each state has its own bus division (for example KSRTC is the Kerala State Road Transportation Committee) and times can be found by googling the state name + RTC. Such buses are usually a lot more basic, are AC or non AC and may or may not run on time.

Taxis in India

There are various types of taxis and ride-hailing options in India, useful in cities, and also between cities with the launch of Uber Inter-City.

  • Pre-paid Taxis. These are regular taxis, but paid for in advance and are usually available at railway stations of larger cities and at airports. They can be helpful for avoiding the age old “my meter isn’t working” fiasco, but we DO NOT advise taking pre-paid taxis from Delhi airport due to the prevalence of scams.
  • (Regular) Taxis. Hail from the street and go – but make sure the driver is using his meter, OR that you have negotiated a price up front if he’s not using it. We don’t recommend using regular taxis at night in some cities for women (e.g. Delhi).
  • Uber & OLA. These are two of the most popular ride-hailing apps in India. Uber works just the same as at home, but you can select to pay cash to avoid foreign transaction fees to your card. OLA is the Indian version of Uber, and has the added advantage that you can use it to hail rickshaws (tuk-tuks).
  • Rickshaws. There are Auto Rickshaws (also known as Tuk-Tuks or just “auto”) and in some places, cycle-rickshaws. In touristy places, you’ll need to negotiate a price before getting in, in some towns the drivers are better and will use the auto meter.

Avoiding Scams in India

One of the less positive associations with travel in India is getting scammed. We’ve been fortunate on our trips to India to never encounter any serious scams, but we have heard a few stories, and it pays to be aware.

The vast majority of Indians we know and have met have gone out of their way to help us and make us feel welcome rather than anything else, but as can be expected in a country of over 1.2 billion people…. there is the odd bad apple.

Here are some common scams to watch out for:

  • Your hotel has burned down / is closed / is not good / has been demolished etc. The excuses can get elaborate, but in this case your driver is trying to divert you to another hotel that will pay him (more) commission.
  • “I know you”. Con Artists have been known to approach travellers at monuments claiming they know them from their hotel / somewhere else and to come with them for a better tour / drive etc. Needless to say they do not know you and their tours are not better, only more expensive.
  • Check your change and notes. Ticket counters and staff have been known to try to short change or give you old notes (useless).
  • Always agree a price before hiring someone’s services. “It’s free, no money” are not what is really meant 90% of the time in touristy places.
  • Avoid “Free” rickshaw tours. These involve you being taken on a shopping tour to any number of overpriced outlets where the driver will earn a commission.
  • Ignore people who come up to you at railway stations asking you to see your ticket or telling you that the booking office has moved. The (legit) ticket inspectors only ask to see tickets once you are actually on your train.
  • Gem and gold scams. Still alive, and still finding victims. Never agree to buy or transport gems (unless you are a gem expert and know what you’re doing).

Staying Healthy in India

One of the most frequently asked questions we get for travel to India is about how to stay healthy and avoid getting sick. To be clear, most travellers don’t get seriously sick in India, but many do experience an upset stomach (aka “Delhi belly”) on a trip to India.

That said, I was lucky enough to not feel even the slightest bit unwell on my first trip to India, and i’ve spoken to many travellers who have said the same thing!

Before you leave home for India, check with your doctor about what vaccinations and mediations you may need for travel to India. Having reliable, comprehensive travel insurance is also a must! We use World Nomads for our India travel insurance.

Get a quote with World Nomads for your trip to India now!

We also recommend the following for healthy travel in India:

  • Go easy on street food during your first couple of days in India (or go on a street food tour)
  • Eat in restaurants “hotels” that are busy, or buy food from stalls that have a fast turn over of fresh, hot food
  • Avoid ice except in top end hotels/restaurants.
  • Take your own water purifying equipment such as a Steripen or a Water Filter bottle like this one
  • Stick with hot food and chai and avoid salads and fruits that can’t be peeled.
  • Carry re-hydration salts with you, charcoal tablets, and remember to stay hydrated in the heat and out of the midday sun.

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