11 Useful Tips for Your First Trip to India
Visiting India is on the bucket list of many travelers and for good reason. The country has an amazing history, some of the most beautiful architecture in the world and delicious food. However, with a population of over one billion people and severe economic conditions in many cities, some are wary about taking the trip. India is a complex country that sometimes gets an unfair reputation from the news and media. Yes, there are extremely poor living condition there and crime (who doesn't have crime?), but there is also a wealth of knowledge and a rich and vibrant culture that goes backs thousands of years. The best way to understand it is to visit for yourself and come to your own conclusion. Some love it, some hate it, but either way, they leave India with a different perspective on life. If you have never visited, it may be a bit of a culture shock the first time around, so here are a few tips that are sure to help you when you finally decide to make the journey to this beautiful country.
1. Hire a Driver - Until you get a lay of the land, it's best to use transportation provided by your hotel or hire a driver if you plan on hanging out in the city. Taxi drivers in India are notorious for overcharging foreigners. This includes the auto rickshaw drivers.
2. Be Prepared for Some of the craziest driving ever - A ride in a taxi in India is equivalent to a rip-roaring amusement park ride. Loads of traffic, no lines in the road, traffic lights and general driving rules don't seem to exist! India makes the traffic in cities like Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta look like child's play. You have been warned!
3. Only Drink Bottled Water - Unfortunately, India has some of the worst access to safe drinking water in the world. Stick to bottled water and avoid putting ice in your drinks. Enjoying a hot cup of tea or coffee is typically okay, as the boiled water kills the germs. Even if you're staying in a nice hotel, use bottled water to brush your teeth.
4. Be prepared for stares - America is internationally known as a melting pot, with people of all different nationalities at every corner. In India, most of the residents are of Indian descent, so seeing a white American man or a black woman is a bit of a culture shock. Don't be alarmed by the stares, they are just curious! Don't be surprised if many of the locals even stop and ask to take a selfie with you (it happened to me quite often).
5. Be Mindful of Giving Money To Child Beggars - Seeing a young child beg for money while walking the streets of India is heartbreaking. It's easy to want to empty your wallet when you see a kid in need, but beware. Many of the children are working for gangs to earn money as child beggars on the streets. Some gangs even go as far as abusing crippling as a method of gaining sympathy from tourists. That money is ultimately handed over to the ring leaders. Instead, keep leftovers from a large meal and give them to the children. It will be greatly appreciated!
6. Don't Eat with your Left Hand - In Eastern culture, the left hand is seen as unclean and it is completely unacceptable. While eating, only use your right hand and keep the left in your lap. Also, be prepared to eat with your hands. From bread to rice, the fingers are the main "silverware" that you will need while visiting. When receiving anything from a person, only accept with your right hand.
7. Try the Street Food! - I have heard so many people say they won't eat the street food in India because it will make them sick. That's the wrong idea to have. One of the best parts about visiting India is the food! If you use common sense about the cleanliness at certain street food stalls, you will be fine. On the first day, aim to eat milder foods to get your stomach accustomed to the different ingredients and spices. With each day, try spicier foods and be open to more options. Most hot foods and hot teas tend to be safe. When it comes to fruit and veggies, don't eat anything pre cut or that is sitting out in the open. Ask for a fresh cut. My two personal faves were pani puri and sugar cane juice to name a few (click here to read about more street foods you should try). Different bodies react to food differently, so be cautious, but have fun!
8. Haggle! - When visiting open markets and souks, fantastic haggling skills are needed. Indian shop owners are some of the best negotiators ever, so come with your A-game to get a great deal while shopping. If you see a shirt you want that is 1000 Rupees, immediately ask for 200 rupees and work your way up to a price you both agree on. After a bit of haggling, just walk away and say "too much." Nine times out of ten, they will call you back and accept your offer.
9. Keep cash - While American credit and debit cards are accepted in major cities, you will find that shop owners in rural areas and markets prefer cash. Many vendors do have card machines, but the signals can be slow and cards may not always work.
10. Take Your Shoes off Before Going to Temples - All throughout various cities in India, you will see a variety of temples. If you plan on walking up to the alter for prayer or simply to look, make sure to remove your shoes. Footwear has dirt and trekking it into the temple will make the floor dirty. Wearing shoes is also seen as bringing in unwanted energy. Respect the sanctity of the temples and keep them off!
11. Be Open and Have No Expectations! - India can be a bit of a culture shock, but if you keep an open mind and try new things, it will prove to be life changing experience.