Asia, India, Travel

Traveling to India – What You Need to Know

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A shot I took of the Taj Mahal.

For many in the US (and other parts of the world), India is a place many only dream of traveling to.  It’s far, (seems) expensive, and takes a lot of preparation to go for your first time.

When I started planning out our trip, it took me a few months of research, shopping, and preparation.  Unfortunately, while going through this process, I didn’t see  a whole lot of the information I needed, in one place.  In the following series of blog posts, I will help to make your planning as easy as possible!  Note that this is MY experience with traveling from the US and with all experiences, they can vary slightly.

India Visitor Visa

In order to travel to India, you will need to apply for a Visa (can only be done one month out).  The price is $60 for one month.  There are no other shorter options, I checked.  Click here to begin the process.

U.S. Embassy/Travel Safety

Below are the following steps I took to make sure I was prepared for any unfortunate events, while overseas:

  1. Since we were traveling to Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra (which are all close enough to some of our more war-ridden borders), I decided to sign up for travel alerts with the State Department, as well as notify them I was traveling there.  The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), only takes a few minutes to complete and can be invaluable if something should happen.  Click here to begin.
  2. I also advise you to locate the nearest U.S. Embassy (Agra and Jaipur do not have one, only Delhi).  Make sure to not only jot down the address, email, and phone number of the Embassy, but also any emergency contact numbers for them.  I wrote it down, printed it out, and emailed it to myself.
  3. I made copies of my passport and health insurance cards and stored them in my travel wallet, in case something should happen to the originals.
  4. I gave a copy of the following to my main emergency contact:
    1. Passport
    2. Insurance card
    3. U.S. Embassy contact information
    4. All flight information
    5. Trip itinerary for when we were in Jaipur and Agra

Staying Connected

While cell plans are always an after thought and seem expensive, I’ve never regretted the money I’ve spent.  Here’s why:

  • Wi-Fi in India is very slow.  It isn’t made to stream videos, upload videos, or even really view pictures at a fast rate.  Unless you prefer to stay completely disconnected (I don’t), it makes sense to get an International data plan.  I’m with AT&T and they have some great packages.  I always opt for the 800MB one (at $120), which is perfect for two weeks.
  • You will always have to make at least one call.  International per-minute calling rates go down with an international data package.  For me, it was about $0.15 a minute and became invaluable a few times.
  • Email/text your emergency contact, once every few days.  Given the heightened level of threat, it will help him/her work with any officials, in case of an emergency.

Plugging In

Almost everyone treats power as an after thought when traveling.  The US has a much different standard for power (110 volts) then the rest of the world (commonly 220 volts), and requires different plugs, as well as a voltage converter.

The most common plug type in India (as well as Europe) is the two-prong.  Since I travel a lot overseas, I invested in the following:

  • Voltage converter – Get one with a power strip, and all the plugs you need, for a variety of countries!  Note that American hairdryers and any other large-power needs will NOT work on this.  The one by GeekPro is $30 and 100% worth it.
  • Hair dryer – I bought one at a market in Old Delhi for 500 rupees (about $8)
  • Hair straightener/flat iron – I bought a dual-voltage ceramic iron for about $60, here.  If you have crazy hair like me, this thing will be your best friend!

Other things to note:

  • Men, if you are staying in an upscale hotel, most bathrooms accommodate all types of plugs for shavers.  Otherwise, same rule applies to the voltage converter

Medical/Health

  • Depending on when you go, you may need vaccines.  Check here for the complete list.  Make sure all vaccines are administered at least one week in advance.  Note that late October, and into the winter, the mosquito count is extremely, so the malaria vaccination is not required.
  • Obtain a prescription for Ciprofloxaxin (Cipro) in case you need it.  This will treat any bacterial infections – especially those related to consuming water accidentally. Which, brings me to my next point…
  • DO NOT CONSUME TAP WATER.  What this means: Do not drink the water unless it’s in a SEALED bottle.  This also means no ice cubes, no fresh vegetables, no fruits that do not need to be peeled to eat; no opening your mouth in the shower, no rinsing your toothbrush, no rinsing your mouth; and if you want to go one step further, no washing your face with water.  Sealed bottle water can be found everywhere.  If you are concerned that you consumed some native water, that is what the Cipro will be good for.  If you are concerned you will not have access to bottled water, purchase the SteriPEN.  While a bit pricey, it’s completely worth it for peace of mind.
  • Breathing can be hard.  While we were there, the smog levels were at incredibly dangerous levels.  In my first 24 hours there, I ended up with a burning throat and congestion.  Here are some things to have at all times:
    • DayQuil and NyQuil – enough for two weeks
    • Vicks Vapo Rub
    • Many MANY travel packs of Kleenex
    • Throat lozenges
    • Bottled water – you will be constantly thirsty, so keep drinking!
  • There are some local remedies/advisements that help alleviate any respiratory issues:
    • Heavily increase your intake of kiwi, pineapple, oranges, and bananas – all peel fruits, so they are all okay to consume
    • Mouth rinse – gargle it to help alleviate throat
    • DO NOT consume refined oils or milk – they will produce more phlegm that will agitate your throat
  • For other issues you might face: Pack a travel size of rubbing alcohol, Q-Tips, cotton rounds, bandaids of all sizes (I went through a lot), Neosporin, chapstick, laxatives, and pain relievers.
  • Using the toilet.  Each country I’ve been to, seems to have a different toilet than the next.  In India, while they do have modern toilets, there are things you should know:
    • Do your best to stay out of public restrooms.  They are often unkempt and do not include toilet paper.  In the one situation (rest stop on the highway) I needed it, I had been carrying travel rolls of toilet paper, which can be found at Bed Bath and Beyond travel section.
    • That sprayer thing with the drain – many people in India do not use toilet paper but instead, use the sprayer to wash. I note this because many toilet floors are extremely wet.  My advice – wear close-toed shoes.
    • You might need to pay to use public toilets – make sure to always have Rupee coins on you (about 1-2 Rupees per visit).
    • In most public bathrooms, there will be squatting stalls, in addition to regular ones.  In more rural areas, I’ve heard there are sometimes just the squatting stalls only.

Currency

  • The Rupee is their currency.  Check here for latest conversion rate.  When I was in India, it fluctuated about 6 cents, from $0.68 to $0.62.
  • Cash is key.  Very few places, outside of name brand stores, resorts, and upscale restaurants, will take credit cards, nor do you want them to.  In my following posts, I’ll be sure to include the break down of costs and method of payment used.
  • Before you leave, make sure to put travel notices on your cards, even if you do not plan on using them!

Transportation

Flying

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Enjoying the 13-hour first leg of our trip!

We flew Qatar Airways, Economy class (about $876 roundtrip) (except for one leg of the trip).  I STRONGLY recommend them, as they are one of the best long-haul flight carriers I’ve been on. Here are some things to know about flying with them:

  •  I signed up for their rewards program.  One long-haul flight generates a ton of points that can be used towards another flight or an upgrade!
  • If you sign up for the program, there is a GREAT chance of at least one upgrade (we got Business class for one 3 1/2 hour segment and it was the best 3 1/2 hours I’ve had in the air!)
  • You can choose from a myriad of dietary restrictions.  I’m gluten-free and the meals were great! (Note, also bring snacks too!)
  • They hand out LOTS of water – make sure to drink it!
  • The planes are equipped with USB power outlets, personal remote controls, and great touch screens with hundreds of entertainment options
  • Their connection hub is in Doha, Qatar.  This is one of the best airports I’ve been in.  If you have a long layover, take advantage of your time there!

Airport Security From Dulles, to Doha, to Delhi, and back.

On the way to India, security was a breeze but on the way home, it racked up to about 5 hours of our time.  Below are the processes at each of the locations we were in – things I wish I had known:

Dulles to Doha

  • Check in with Qatar – bags cannot be over 70kg each.  You are allowed two checked bags and one carryon for the overhead compartment.  EACH BAG, including CARRYON, MUST have a bag tag – this is important.  (See India to Doha for more on this).  They will also ask for your passport and visa.
  • Go through security, and go to gate.

Doha to Delhi

  • Have your Visa and passport ready when going through security.
  • You will stick your bags on the conveyor belt but shoes do not come off (hats, belts, etc., do).
  • You can then head to your gate
  • When it’s time to board, you will go through a metal detector, will be checked in, and then will be asked to sit in a waiting room for your boarding zone to be called.
  • Once in Delhi, you will be directed to immigration.  Make sure to have your passport and visa handy.  Get in the FAR RIGHT LANES (the ones marked “eVisa) – it’s very confusing there.  Be prepared to answer questions about your stay – make sure to have the address of where you are initially staying, memorized.
  • Liquor is very cheap at duty-free, and not so cheap in India.  Stock up if you think you are going to need it however, note that they will try to charge you for additional items, so make sure to be watchful of that.
  • When you come out of customs and into the airport, it will be overwhelming and crowded.  My suggestion is to have a pre-coordinated driver waiting for you INSIDE.

Delhi to Doha 

  • Depending on where you are staying in Delhi, make sure to give yourself enough time to get there.  The Delhi airport is extremely busy at all hours and given the heightened security, it can take over an hour to get through the road checks before you reach the physical airport.
  • Give yourself three hours at the airport to get through all checks:
    • First check is to get in the door to even check in.  The military officer (wearing an AK-47) will check your passport and visa, as well as flight information before they will let you in.  Make sure your flight information is easily accessible!
    • Go to information and ask where your airline check-in stand is located.  They are not like the US and the location can change!
    • There will undoubtedly be a long line to get checked in – make sure all of your documents are handy, and that all bag tags are still secured.
    • Once you are checked in, you will get in another line to go through security.  Again, belts, etc. must come off but shoes stay on.  NOTE: They are VERY THOROUGH in their checks.
    • There are two lines for security – men’s and women’s.  Women’s are behind a curtained area, as each woman has to be wanded and searched.
    • Once they are okay with your stuff, they will stamp each bag tag, to denote that everything has been checked.
    • After your are done, you may proceed to the gate.
    • When it’s time to board, have your passport ready, as well as your Visa and boarding pass.

Doha to Dulles

  • Have your visa and passport ready.
  • When you de-plane, you will head back to security to go through your routine again (shoes on, everything else goes through).
  • When you are done, head to the gate.
  • When it’s time to check-in for boarding, you will go through another security process – the bags will go on another conveyor belt, and you will go through a metal detector.
    • Be prepared to unzip all carry ons and let them go through your stuff.  Be accommodating.  No joke, they thought my tweezers with the light on it was a spy camera, and they almost didn’t let the candles I got as a gift, on the plane.
    • Your bag tags will be stamped, acknowledging that they have been approved.  (This is why the tags are so important).
  • When you are done, you  will be asked to sit in a waiting room for your boarding zone to be called.
  • When you de-plane in Dulles, you will head straight to customs.  NOTE: You will NOT need to fill out an immigration form if you are a U.S. Citizen.  They have Express kiosks to do everything for you!  Once you have completed that, you will get in line to have your receipt and passport checked.
  • Pick up your bags at the international baggage claim area
  • Go through security again, by handing them the receipt, and then you’re free in the U.S.!

India Transport

Traffic is bad.  If you are thinking about renting a car, don’t.  Parking is at a premium, they drive on the right side (think U.K.), and natives are used to being in very close proximity with one another at varying speeds.  Ubers, drivers for hire, tour guides, and rickshaws (not recommended) are all available. The metro rail system is currently under construction in many of the hot spots, so that will also be an option, depending on when you go.

If you are traveling to other parts of India, other than Delhi, hire a driver or tour guide; or take the train.  Once at the train station, you might be limited to rickshaws (which if you’re traveling with a ton of luggage, will not be a great option).

Dress

India is a conservative place 99.9% of the time (Delhi nights are an exception).  Below are my go-to fashion staples when traveling there:

  • Kurtis or any longer tops that cover your butt and leggings or skinny jeans
  • Maxi skirts that are loose fitting (I shopped here for most of my items)
  • Maxi dresses that are loose fitting (I shopped here for most of my items) – note that if they have side slits, it’s probably a good idea to safety pin them to a reasonable length.
  • Light cardigan to wear, in case your tops/dresses are spaghetti strap or are too tight
  • Pashmina scarves – find ones in light-weight fabrics.  They are a beautiful alternative to cardigans.  I always carried one on me, in case I was heading into a mosque, where my head needed to be covered!
  • Crop tops are okay but nothing too tight-fitting or risqué-looking
  • Hat – especially if you’re going in the hot months
  • Loose-fitting pants (I shopped here for most of my items or you can go to Sudara for those.)
  • Loose-fitting cotton muscle tees – the only kind of tank top allowed!
  • Wedges, sandals, or athletic shoes – anything COMFORTABLE that can easily be removed.
  • If you head out to nicer places for dinner/drinks/dancing – shorter dresses/heels are okay but spaghetti straps/halter/strapless never are!

NOTE: You can never go wrong with traditional dress – especially if you are heading to an Indian party!

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What Else to Shop For

I’m a creature of comfort, and of portable things.  Check out some of the other items I bought to make my trip easier:

  • Portable battery-powered toothbrush by Panasonic ($20) – make sure to pack an extra pair of AAAs just in case
  • Deep conditioning treatment ($20) – the water in India is different to wash with – make sure to pack a conditioning treatment that will keep your hair from drying out.
  • Neutrogena makeup removing wipes ($8 per pack of 25) – these are a GOD SEND when you cannot wash your face with regular water.
  • TSA-approved lock with open alert indicator ($7) – This was for complete peace of mind
  • Memory foam neck pillow ($25) – It comes with ear plugs and an eye mask
  • Longer iPhone charging cables ($10 for a pack of two) – Since you will need a voltage adapter to plug in your phone, chances are, it will not be in a desirable location.  These 10 ft. cords are super handy and durable!
  • Travel wallet by Kate Spade ($228) – This was one of the most handiest (and stylish) items I could have bought!  It holds all documents, passports, money, cards, etc.
  • Large cross body bag  – I went onto The Real Real and bought a large Prada one with an adjustable strap.  You want something with a thick strap (thin straps can easily be cut), lightweight, and can hold not just the travel wallet, but everything else you need as well.  It’s worth the investment if you travel a lot.
  • Mophie external battery charger ($150) – These can charge more than one device at a time and are such life savers!
  • Travel book on India ($21) – By DK Eyewitness, this guide became invaluable!  It covers every part of India, history, food, words, etc.

It’s Crowded – Be Aware of Your Surroundings!

And by that, I mean there are almost 1.3 billion people living in a space the size of Texas (for reference there are $350 million living in all of the US). While every person (from every part of the caste system) and every animal, live in peaceful existence, there are some things you should be prepared for:

  • There is trash and rubble everywhere – it’s worse in poorer sections.  Closed-toed shoes are best to walk around in!
  • There are cows, goats, monkeys, and stray dogs everywhere.  DO NOT FEED or PET any of them.  They oftentimes carry a lot of diseases.
  • People have to make money any way they can.  This means:
    • They will come up to your car (in traffic and at tolls) and knock on the window until you say no and wave them off.
    • At tourist sites they will follow you and relentlessly, offer to be your tour guide, while then directing you to their area of hocking their wares.
    • They will come up to you on the street and ask for money to feed their children.  While it is tempting to help those in need, you MUST SAY NO!  I’ve heard stories of others who have given one person money and next thing you know, they are swarmed by a whole heck of a lot more.
    • Tour guides will often take you to factories so you can learn about a native craft, which then after, you are pressured into buying (the tour guide always gets a cut).
  • If you have blonde hair or any other stand-out feature (my boyfriend and his muscles are another example), they will ask to take a picture with you.  While it’s flattering, you must always say no for two reasons: 1.The pictures will then not stop (it happened to a friend of mine) or 2. They will do what they can to pick pocket you (happened to another friend).
  • Always carry your belongings in a cross body bag – men, throw your items into the bag as well.  Then, hold onto the purse in front of your body at all times.  This is especially important for over-crowded tourist areas
  • Expect to go through security everywhere – Often times, it’s in two separate lines – one for men and one for women, as there is usually a pat-down.  I never minded it, as  safety has always been my number one priority.

While I know this is such a long list, it’s so much better to be over-prepared than not prepared at all.  All of these preparations paid off big time for me and my other half.  It allowed us to fully enjoy ourselves and all of the adventures we went on (check the Travel section of my blog for my adventures)!

 

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2 thoughts on “Traveling to India – What You Need to Know”

  1. I am overwhelmed by the amount of useful detail that you have provided; something you could share with the rest of the world via a handy travel guide to India. A second career? thanks!

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