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A Pre-departure Checklist for Travelling India

Updated: Jun 27

This is a travel guide for first-time travellers to incredible India, complete with a pre-departure checklist and advice on female clothing, local customs, and things to pack.



CONTENTS




FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE for India, do what I do and have a browse on Travel Supermarket - and choose a cheap policy with a high Defaqto rating.



 


My Experience in India


I have been to India 6 times so far and spent almost 2 years in the country altogether, so I'm pretty clued-up in all aspects of travelling there. India is one of those places that I will return to again and again - there's always something else drawing me back.


I am very lucky that one of my close friends is Indian, so I was shown the ropes by a local. While planning a trip to India can seem daunting at first, having a little local knowledge and the confidence that brings will take you a long way, and that is what my India articles are for.


Even though as a female traveller I have never felt unsafe whilst in India, I have landed myself in a few sticky spots during my time. As always with travel, you take the good with the bad.


Although this list will highlight some of the negative aspects of travelling to India, please don't let that put you off. India is an incredible place as long as you can take it all in your stride.



Mysore palace lit up at night
Mysore Palace, Karnataka

 


A Pre-departure Checklist for Travelling India

(Things to consider)



1. PLAN YOUR ROUTE


This is perhaps the most important point on this pre-departure checklist for travelling to India!


Seasonality is a big thing, and not only that but the country is HUGE. If you really want to get a feel for each place, it's better to go slow, choose a couple of destinations, and then plan a return trip for another portion of the country.


The monsoon moves up the country, starting in Kerala in the South around April. Before it breaks, it is stiflingly hot and sticky (it can get to 97% humidity), and not long after taking hold of Kerala, it reaches the shores of Goa by early May.


Most of the beach-side businesses shut down in Goa at this time, they may physically take the establishments apart or board them up, and go up to the North, where summer is just beginning.



A rough guide to Indian seasons:


South + Central: October to March (Lush), April to September (Extreme heatwaves followed by monsoon)


North: March to October (Summer), November to March (Snow)


It's best to check the news regularly and be aware of any local or national elections, or any conflict zones. Currently, it's not advised to visit Manipur in the Northeast, but this situation is ever-changing.



 


This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no cost to you. I only link to products I use and love.


2. GET A VISA


The visa application process has been simplified A LOT over the last few years. When I first applied in 2013, everything had to be done in person, with extremely complicated forms, different fees depending on your nationality, and length of stay seemingly dished out at random.


This has now all been restructured, and can now all be done online. You can choose between 1 1-month, 1-year or 5-year tourist visa(with multiple entries allowed and max. 90 or 180 days at a time.)


The current price for a 1-year tourist visa to India for UK citizens is $40 USD.


You can apply for your visa through the government website, which looks like this:



A screenshot of the Indian tourist visa portal
Indian Tourist Visa Application Form


THE VISA STARTS THE DAY IT IS GRANTED - NOT THE DAY YOU ENTER!


Results come within 72 hours so plan accordingly.


Be aware that you will have to upload a passport photo, but the dimensions are different to our UK version. Most photo booths offer the 'Indian-sized option' passport photos as well.


It may come in handy to take spares of these photos; pre-chopped, on your travels. Depending on where you visit, you may be asked for photos to get permits to cross particular land borders e.g. entering Sikkim.



 


3. PAPERWORK


Another thing I would recommend taking with you is a bunch of photocopies of your passport. It is a legal requirement for guesthouses to register any tourists staying with them with the government, and they need a copy of your passport to do so.


If you bring your own copies, it saves you from putting your passport into a stranger's hands to go and copy it for you. Some hotels will just snap a picture of it these days, so not completely necessary, but still handy.


Make sure you also have copies of the visa page in your passport (where applicable) and your airline tickets.


It is very important that you have a copy of your primary host/guesthouse’s address and telephone number on arrival in India. You need to write this on your entry card when you go through customs, and they will not let you through immigration unless it’s been filled out (believe me!)



 



4. COMMUNICATION

Make sure to purchase a SIM card at the airport before you leave (they are normally located just after you pass through customs before the airport exit), it’s about £3-£8 for a month's worth of credit and data.


*EDIT - As of 1st Jan 2024, purchasing a SIM card is way more strict, and all customers have to go through KYC procedures, meaning you have to have ID and proof of address in India (basically an Aadhar Card) - which means technically the only way foreigners can now get a SIM in India is to get an Indian friend to buy it for them. The enforcement of this new rule is sporadic, in some places, you may still get away with buying a SIM in an Airtel store, but in others, you won't. They don't make it easy, do they?!


You also have the option to purchase an eSim with the Airalo app. This way is more convenient, but it only provides data (not call time) and normally works out more expensive.


*EDIT - As of 08/01/2024 the Indian Gov. has banned the use of E-Sims until they change their system to require the customer to upload their passport systems. The Airalo app no longer works in India, neither does Holafly, I will keep this article updated as things change!



Chand Baori steps near Jodphur
Chand Baori, nr Jaipur

 


5. STAY HEALTHY



Food in India

This is a hot topic when people are researching for their pre-departure checklist for travelling to India! If you have a sensitive stomach, maybe give yourself a few days to acclimatise before you move on to trying street food.


I have always eaten food from small carts and have never been ill - but I know people who have had an upset stomach constantly. Most Hindus are vegetarian, so there are great options available if you want to avoid meat. You can get excellent fresh seafood in Karnataka, Goa and Kerala.



Healthcare in India

If you do need it, Indian chemists, doctors, and A&Es have a very high standard. I’ve been in a few scrapes and I’ve found the healthcare to be better than in the UK, as there are fewer wait times and it's quite affordable. (Please bear in mind this may not be the case in more rural areas).


For reference, an evening in A&E in Kerala with medication cost me £3. (I had a reaction to some seafood, but nothing serious.)



Vaccinations in India


I have had multiple travel vaccinations for onward destinations whilst in India. To give an example of what difference this makes; in Sydney Australia, I was quoted $180AUD for 3 rabies jabs (EACH). That's 540 DOLLARS. In India, the same 3 courses of rabies jabs cost me just 900rs. That's £9. If it's convenient or applicable to you, go for it! Your guesthouse owner should be able to help you arrange things like this.


The same goes for dentistry. Just saying!


A few things you should pick up from the pharmacy in India:


  • Odomos (the best mosquito repellent cream).

  • Tissues (most toilets don't provide these unless you're somewhere fancy)

  • Anti-bac hand gel.

  • Enerzal or another electrolyte - this is a rehydration powder you can mix with a bottle of water, replacing those vital body salts you've been sweating out all day.

  • A lot of people swear by traveller's diarrhoea tablets, but I've never had to use them.


A meditation class at Nirvana Yoga Shala in Mysore
Meditation Class in Mysore

 


6. SAFETY in India

I would avoid going out too late in the evening anywhere, to be honest, and if you do, make sure you're in a group of at least 3 people. Even in Goa (which is relatively safe and progressive), there have been issues. Besides, there is really no need. Quite often everything is closed by around 10 pm (apart from 24-hour pharmacies which there are plenty of).


I personally love the quiet of the early mornings in india, there are fewer people around and the temperature is more moderate. We visited the Taj Mahal when it opened at 5.30 am, and it was lovely and peaceful.



LADIES


For a complete guide on what it is like to travel in India as a female, check out my article: Is India Safe for Female Travellers?


But here are a few of the important bits:


In Indian culture, men do not touch women who aren't family members. So if a man 'brushes up against you' IT'S INTENTIONAL.


The best way to react is to make a fuss and draw attention to it! These types of leery blokes rely on the fact that we're too polite or shy to say anything. I'm not saying that everyone is a predator - but nobody should be touching you! Be firm.


People who have been around tourists tend to be much more chilled out, and socially in sync; but a lot of men, especially those from very rural areas, have not had much contact with women, and because we from the West wear shorts and strappy tops some of them basically assume we're 'up for it'. I repeat - nobody should be touching you.


For clothing, Goa and Kerala are much more liberal, so you can wear what you like within reason (swimming costumes, shorts, etc) and you won't get many stares.


A lot of the wealthier Indian women also wear these types of clothes, especially in the cities. Times are changing! If you're ever not sure, as a general guideline, 'Do As The Locals Do'.


In more rural areas and at sites of pilgrimage (where people from rural areas travel to) I really think it's best to cover up. In Hampi especially we received a lot of unwanted attention for wearing shorts. The visiting pilgrims from the villages had not come into contact with Westerners before, and may not have even ever seen a female leg... If you can handle the reaction, go for it, just be warned.


These days I mostly wear long skirts and cargo pants unless I am at the beach, and I do not give much thought to the top half, just T-shirts and vest tops.



Shopping for scarves in Jodphur boutiques
Scarf Shopping in Jodphur



 

Not sure what to pack for your Indian adventure? Check out my article:



 


Petty Crime in India


I've never known anyone to be mugged or pick-pocketed on my travels in India, I think the police would crack down pretty hard on crime against tourists. If you're in a crowded market just switch your backpack to your front side and be wary of pickpockets.


Nowadays in Mumbai and other cities, there are 'lady police' stationed in crowded areas and on trains. Even though there is a long way to go, they have certainly stepped up a lot in recent years to make women feel safer.



Begging in India


Everywhere apart from Kerala, Goa, and Sikkim you will most likely encounter begging. You have two choices: keep loose change in your pocket and give a small amount each time, or say no firmly. If you show any signs of wavering even a little you may be followed around. You can't resent people for this, they are doing what they have to do to survive.


A lot of people are destitute, and there are a lot of homeless children, please do not give money to children. The money you are giving out will not stay in their pockets, it will go back to the 'beggar master' who may have quite a profitable little business going.


You may see a lot of distressing things but please try not to get overwhelmed by it all. Accept that being surrounded by poverty is a part of your journey - and try to take in all the charm and character of the people and the place you are in at the same time.


If you need a little escape, then pop into a Starbucks or a Cafe Coffee Day. I hate chains and I would be the last person to recommend going to a place like this in India when there are so many other great options... However both of these places have security, wifi, and AC, so it can be nice to use them to have a little breather if the streets are getting a bit too much.



 


7. Accommodation in India


While some states are more expensive than others, you should always be able to secure a clean and safe double room for under £15 per night (Sometimes as little as £3).


In my experience the hosts have always tried to bend over backwards to help me, knowing the value of word of mouth and online reviews.


In Agra, we paid £1 per night for a shared room for four people, and while the place was a bit grubby and no mattresses were provided (this is quite common, believe it or not), the guesthouse owner waited up for us every evening to make sure we got home safe and seemed to genuinely care about us and our experience there. What a gem!


I normally always find great accommodation options in India on booking.com


Remember your guesthouse owner is your hero!


They will normally help you arrange onward buses and trains and all sorts. They may send a porter out to get things for you (tickets, beers etc) so try and tip the porter if you have the opportunity. These guys are on a low income and these little extras go a long way for them (I would normally give a tip of 20rs depending on the situation).



GPAY


This is a new addition to this pre-departure checklist for travelling India, as like the rest of the world, India is fast transforming into a cashless society.


This is a far cry from 10 years ago when I first visited and nobody took card payments apart from fancy hotels! Don't be surprised if your guesthouse owner asks for a deposit via Gpay - it's completely normal practice and helps their business from suffering from repeated no-shows.


Be sure to install Gpay whilst in your home country - it's impossible to do it afterwards because the app won't accept a bank account number and a phone number from two different countries. I've tried!



Hiking through the Tibetan peace flags in Yuksom in Sikkim
Tibetan Peace Flags in Yuksom, Sikkim

 

8. Getting Around in India



FLIGHTS


Quicker but most expensive, I would only use these for extreme distances where there are no other options. I always compare flight prices on Skyscanner and then book directly with the airline.



BUSES


Plentiful and can be cheaper than trains. An overnight Volvo sleeper with AC. will cost approx £5-£15. Your guesthouse manager should help you organise this... He/she will charge much less commission than travel agents.. watch out for those guys! Otherwise, you can book with 12goAsia - one of the only websites where you can book Indian transport with a foreign bank card (they will also charge a healthy commission for the privilege).



TRAINS


The cheapest option and by far the most exciting, but they are a bit more tricky to arrange. Try to take a train in India at least once! Even taking a city train is an adventure! *Cough Cough Virar Line in Mumbai*... I normally buy first class (ladies' carriage if that is an option) but it hasn't always been possible.


Taking a third-class carriage from Agra to Jaipur was one of the most memorable days of my life. FYI Interstate trains normally sell out well in advance, but luckily there is a tourist quota so that a small number of tickets can be purchased 24 hours before departure.


It's best to buy these directly from the train station (or ask your guesthouse owner). I’ve had some of the most chaotic experiences of my life on Indian trains - but these are the stories I continue to tell over and over. Memories you will certainly keep!!



(Train Agra to Jaipur)


 


10. Some extra tips for travel in India


A lot of people use the term 'culture shock' when they talk about India. While I do agree with this, there are a few things you can mentally prepare for ahead of time to make things easier when you get there:


  • Forget about personal space - it's gone!

  • Be prepared to answer invasive questions about your life from strangers.

  • Try to ignore the trash. Waste disposal is an issue, and if you focus on that all the time you'll miss out on everything else.

  • Don't take it personally if people try to badger you/scam you/charge huge prices, remember everyone is just trying to get by.

  • Be patient - nothing ever happens on time. Oh, and no one queues - so be assertive!


 


Travelling India is an absolute whirlwind so just try to embrace everything, take it all in your stride, and get to know the spirit of the people.


This pre-departure checklist for travelling to India should take you a long way when planning to visit India.


If you'd like to know more about travelling to India, find some inspiration from my article on Calcutta & The Sundarbans - or take a look at my itinerary for 10 days in Kerala!


Happy Travels!

xx



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Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

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