Are you going to travel to India? Get ready with this ultimate guide and make your travel fun, cheap and easy.
To travel to India is an excellent idea. We spent three months traveling there and it was an impressive, chaotic and breath-taking experience. We traveled from the North to the South and covered almost 7000 kilometers.
We hiked in the Himalayas, rode camels through the Thar desert, spent endless hours in crowded trains and awaited their arrivals even longer. We visited shining palaces and massive forts, sweated our asses of in dirty towns, teased our taste buds with delicious food, were enchanted by the beauty of the local people and with each step we made, felt the huge cultural differences between India and the Western world. We were shocked, overwhelmed, surprised and impressed and we will never forget this trip!India is a unique country and it’s almost impossible to describe how it is to travel there. You have to go for yourself and witness it with your own eyes. We definitely recommend everyone to travel to India, you may hate it, you may love it, but the experience is so strong that you will never forget it! Be aware that a trip to this amazing country can potentially change your life 😉
We will always keep in our memories the colorful clothing of Indian women and wobbling heads meaning ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘I like it’ all in one. Smelly squatting toilets, chai four times a day, holy cows not giving a shit about anything, crazy tuk-tuk drivers listening to loud music, awful poverty and an amusing mix of religions.
How to travel to India
Before you go, check this list of important things that will make your trip safe, easy and cheap.
Everybody who wants to travel to India is required to have valid visa that can be arranged on Indian Mission within 3–6 days, for a stay of up to 6 months, or online for a stay shorter then 30 days.
Money, banking & ATM
Indian currency is the Indian rupee (INR), 1 USD = 68 INR, 1 EUR = 75 INR. The notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 2000.
ATMs are very common, especially in touristic areas. The maximum withdrawal amount is 10.000 INR and for each withdrawal, you have to pay a fee of 150-200 INR (depending on the bank).
Indian ATMs work on a different principle than you might be used to. When using an ATM, don’t leave your card in! Just insert your card and take it out. After that, you will be asked for your pin and finish the transaction. It took us a while to figure out this trick. We tried about 3 machines at the airport and felt very very desperate that our cards wouldn’t work at all. But then a kind stranger explained it 🙂
Another option to get cash is to go to a tour operator. A lot of them offer withdrawals with your card on 3% commission, so it’s very convenient for small amounts.
At the end of 2016, the Indian government banned to use notes of 500 and 1000 INR as they were often falsified. This ban caused quite a bit of chaos in the country. Everybody was allowed to withdraw only 2000 INR from any ATM, so people were queuing in front of the banks from dawn till dusk, sweating their butts of and hoping that there would still be some cash left for them. The old bills were replaced by 2000 INR bills, so when we wanted to buy water or something small it was nearly impossible, as the shops kept the small bills for themselves. It was quite a harsh situation. Fortunately we had brought some Euros and US-dollars with us and it really saved us! For this kind of situations it is always good to bring some cash of a stable currency while traveling to Asia.
India is one of those destinations where you can get by on any kind of budget as long as you are crafty enough to find your comfort zone. For us it was the cheapest trip we have ever been on, and we lived “almost like kings”. We recommend a budget of 15-20 EUR per day to provide you with a decent room, food in local and touristic restaurants, travel by 2nd class train, have one beer every now and then and to do activities once in a while. However if you plan to party or want more comfort, add 5 to 10 Eur extra.
India is as expensive as you make it. For example, we met some people living happily just on 5 EUR/day, eating in local places, sleeping on rooftops of guesthouses and no alcohol or other treats. Check the following lines and links to see general costs and prices in India:
- Meal at a street stall or local restaurant: 30-100 INR ( +- 1Eur).
- Meal from tourist restaurant: 300-500 INR (4 – 6 Eur).
- Double room in a hotel or guesthouse: 250 – 1000 INR (3 – 12 Eur).
- 12hr journey in a 2nd class train: 400 – 500 INR (5 – 6 Eur).
- Beer: 120 – 300 INR (2 – 4 Eur).
- For more information about living costs click here.
The variety of food in India is incredible, tasty and on top of that very cheap. The typical meal in India is called a thali (‘plate’ in Hindi), It consists of a big portion of rice, some chapatis (flatbread) and two or three little portions of vegetable-dishes (veg thali) or some vegetable dishes plus a meat dish (non veg). Apart from the Indian food, at touristic places you can often order Israeli, Italian and sometimes even Spanish food. The cow is obviously a holy animal here so you can basically forget about a steak, unless you travel to Kashmir (where the Muslim majority lives) or big cities (with Christian communities). Particularly in the North, most of the people eat a purely vegetarian diet in the form of a lot of curries and sauces. However the more South you travel, the more people eat meat. Fish and chicken are very often on the menus and sometimes even pork.For safety stomach reasons and to prevent Delhi belly we would recommend you to consider becoming a vegetarian while traveling in India. The hygiene is not what you are probably used to and by eating veggies you can reduce your chance of getting sick. Washing your hands before eating, not drinking any tap water and bringing a hand-sanitizer might be a good idea.
Our favorite dish in the South was ‘masala dosa’ and we ate a lot of ‘alu gobi’ in the North. India is a great place to try a lot of tasty dishes as each region has its own specialty.
We spent a lot of time in trains, our record was 26 hours, and our supplies (read: biscuits, chips, dry cakes) weren’t enough. Fortunately the beauty of the Indian trains is that on most of the stops a bunch of sellers get on board and start to walk through the train selling everything. Repeating their product over and over e.g. ‘chai, chai, chai! coffee, coffee! chai, chai!’. On the beginning we were a bit concerned to buy anything from them, but once you get hungry, … Around the second half of our trip, we put all our faith into the sellers and didn’t bring much food on the train anymore, only to get let down by the fact that the egg guy didn’t always appear. We ate nice boiled eggs with spices, some kind of crispy noodle salad wrapped in a newspaper (very good and very cheap), peanuts, fruits and sometimes even a proper menu from a train guy. We usually got what the locals ordered. However, we were very careful with buying water, as one day at the train-station we saw how a group of kids collecting empty bottles lying around the dirt and refilling them with tap water. Since then we always double checked the lid!
P.s. The food sellers only come to the 2nd class wagons.
There are plenty of possibilities for accommodation in India, from 5–star hotels to budget backpacker guesthouses and modest mud huts. Obviously we would have liked to experience full-on lavishness at some point but unfortunately our budget didn’t allow it. But we don’t complain either, as we slept in decent, sometimes beautiful rooms for a couple of euros in for instance Rajasthan, Shimla and Goa.
Our budget was quite low and we usually spent about 500 INR (7 Eur) for a room for two. In general the North is more expensive then the South and big cities and touristic places are obviously more pricey. For example in Darjeeling we paid 1000 INR for a room with hot water (double price around Diwali), but on the other side in Gokarna we paid 300 INR for a beach hut made of mud. In India nothing is impossible so you will definitely find some accommodation that suits to you and your budget!
Ashrams are a special type of sleeping-option in monasteries and temples for those who are seeking spirituality and ways to reset their minds. People here work for their bed and food and usually pay a small fee to the community.
Homestays are non-hotel accommodation for those who like to be treated with respect and care and want to feel at home, as Indian people live up to the term ‘atithi devo bhavo’ (‘guests are equal to God’). Find more information on homestays.
Hammock style, sleep under 9.999.999 stars for free, you just need to find two palm trees to hang up your new bed. We spent three nights sleeping in hammocks on Paradise-beach by Gokarna and we had the best time!
India has a good transportation network to make sure you can get everywhere you want. Point almost anywhere on the map and there will be a connection with train, bus, rickshaw, airplane or a random motorbike will take you there. The travel distances in India are quite long but you get used to spending easily 6-10 hours in transport when you’re on the move.
Travelling by train between Indian destinations is the most common and economical option. We basically traveled only by train and loved it. There are two classes of service, the first sitting-sleeping class with air condition is quite modern and clean and without a valid ticket you can’t get on board.
The second sitting-sleeping class is often very packed, the tickets are not always checked and sometimes you have to kind of fight for your seat. If you book a sleeper you will have always your bunk though! We traveled with the second class and it was a blast. Definitely a good way to meet and get to know local people. We had good laughs and have nice memories from the train-rides that we will never forget.
- You have a bed.
- Usually you travel at night.
- There is always something going on.
- You can talk to the locals.
- You can buy food and go to a toilet.
- Long-distance trains are usually delayed.
- Sometimes there are too many people (really too many!).
- The second class is not shiny.
- You could get robbed during the night.
- You have to book at least 3 days ahead.
Our tip: If you are an adventurer, definitely travel with the second class trains!
P.s. You can buy a ticket at the train station or, for a small fee, by tour operators (do not forget to bargain) or you can even book them online. We usually booked our tickets with a tour operator that was close-by to our guesthouse and it was fine. Maybe a bit more expensive, but still cheap. And saving us the time and money of going to the station, which can be quite far in some cases.
Flights and air-travel
The network of airports and airlines is very developed and make traveling in India very easy. The tickets are cheap, so for those who don’t have time to spend ages on ground transport or want to be more comfortable, it’s the best way to travel.
It feels like rikshaws or tuk-tuks must have been invented here, because they are basically everywhere. We used to get them for short distances, driving us from bus or train-stations to the area with guesthouses. It’s always important to set the price with the driver before you go and shop around to get the best price.
In the bigger cities there are prepaid tuk-tuk stations. It is like buying a bus ticket, you just say your destination to the person sitting behind the counter bar and pay him or her only 1 INR. You receive a receipt for the fair price and pay the actual money to your driver.
Bus connections in India are very good so especially on the frequented roads, there are usually a couple of connections per day. There are cheap government buses, that are not really in a good shape, or more comfortable private buses. Depending on the length and time of your trip you can choose from a normal seat to a sleeping bunk with blankets and even curtains.
Buses are generally more expensive than trains. In the mountains it is the most common or even only possible transport. Tickets can be purchased on bus-stations or at travel-agencies.
- Travel with 2nd class trains.
- Book your tickets online.
- Bargain everywhere (markets, travel agencies, hostels, tuk-tuks).
- When withdrawing money from ATM, take the maximum to avoid paying the bank fee every day.
- Travel slow.
- Pair up and travel as a couple.
- In the bigger cities, use prepaid tuk-tuks to get from A to B.
- Eat local food in local restaurants.
- Be vegetarian, eat thalis.
- Travel to the South, as it is cheaper than Northern India.
What to pack
When you travel to India don’t forget to arrange or bring the following things:
- Travel insurance is a must-have for traveling! It can save you a lot of money and even your life.
- Get vaccinated. We wouldn’t even consider to travel to India without vaccination agains for instance hepatitis. This place is not exactly the cleanest in the world! But diphtheria and yellow fever are common vaccines to get for this country too. Just check with you local specialists.
- Indian Lonely planet We have tried some other guides on the road but Lonely planet is the best helper so far.
- Sun glasses & sun cream South or North, the sun is very strong, so some protection is definitely needed.
- Lock Double secure your room or to lock your backpack in a train, a small padlock comes in handy and might help you to sleep at night.
- Rope 1m You can use it as a belt or to secure your backpack onto a motorbike. We used ours mostly in trains to secure our backpacks against thieves. And if you really worry about your belongings get a pacsafe.
- Hand sanitizer or wet wipes Clean your hands before food and reduce the risk of Delhi belly.
- Torch We bring LED-headlights on every trip and keep them in our small bags. So you can find the toilet in the night-train, read while everybody else is already asleep or walk through a dark street without feeling un-safe.
- Insect repellent There are many many bugs in India and being itchy is one of the worst feelings in the world if you ask us. Plus you don’t want to catch Malaria or Dengue! Don’t use chemicals but get a good biological insect repellent.
- Sarong One of the most important items that has multiple functions: protection agains sun, as a skirt or dress, to cover your shoulders or use it as a sheet, towel, picnic-blanket, etc.
- Sleeping sheet Some Indian guest houses do not provide clean bed sheets so it might come in handy to bring one. Can be used on night-trains too. They get dirty quite fast so don”t forget to wash it every now and then.
- Modest clothes Unless you are planning to stay in places packed with tourists, wear modest clothes and don”t go around in hotpants or without a shirt on. We know it’s warm, but you are a guest here so stick to the following rule: keep your knees and shoulders covered unless you are actually swimming.
- First-aid kit Like on any trip, bring a decent amount of: antiseptic wipes, painkillers, fever reducers, plasters, antihistamines, condoms, anti-diarrhoea medication, rehydration sachets, sunscreen and some tweezers and scissors.
- Kindle Especially for long train rides Kindle is our best friend. No more dragging around heavy books or reading stuff you don”t really like just because it was in the exchange bookcase.
- Flip flops You will not only wear them on the beach but while showering. In India they are dirt cheap so you can purchase them there if you didn’t bring any.
As we already mentioned before, India is an incredible place, but unfortunately it is one of the most targeted scam countries in the world too. However this fact shouldn’t keep you from going! There are scams all over the world, finding tourists wherever they go. When you travel to India be aware of the following scams.
Beggars in India are very resistant and sometimes can be quite aggressive. They might follow you for kilometers, pull your clothes, touch you and sometimes even search your pockets.
Tip: Be strong and let them know strictly that they won’t get anything from you. Push them a bit. Walk away.
Kids try to convince you to buy them pens for school or milk for their little brothers or sisters. But as soon as you buy them these items and turn away, they go back to the shopkeeper to return it for money.
Tip: It’s heartbreaking but you have to learn to say ‘No’.
People try to push you things (flowers, bracelets) into your hands but as soon as you accept it they ask for money.
Tip: Fold your hands and tell them ‘No, thanks.’
At religious places like at Varanasi, Rishikesh or Pushkar you might be approached be holy men with the apparent intentions to give you a blessing. If you don’t pay he will threaten to curse your whole family.
Tip: Arrange the fee before-hand or avoid these kind of holy men..
If you take a picture of an nicely decorated camel, elephant or dressed up holy man, expect that someone will approach you to charge you for it.
Tip: Arrange the fee beforehand. We used to give about 10 INR.
Someone will offer to give you a tour of a temple for free and then asks you for a ‘voluntary donation’ of 500 Rs – 1000 Rs per person.
Tip: Learn to say no from the start!
Many rickshaw drivers get a commission to bring you to some hotels and will come up with any kind of excuse to convince you to change your accommodation (like that the one you mention is full or closed).
Tip: Do not let them convince you and persist on the address!
Especially on the train and bus stations, always check the lid of the water you buy. Sometimes kids collect empty bottles to refill them with tap water and sell to a shopkeeper.
Tip: Always double check the lid.
We heard stories from travelers, especially in Delhi and Mumbai, that there is a big issue with fake train tickets and even tourist information points.
Tip: Trust your instincts, if the place where you get your ticket is dodgy and the staff is suspicious, walk away. Ask at your hotel or guest house where to buy a train or bus ticket.
- Be patient.
- Learn to bargain. Start with a ridiculously low price.
- Trust your instincts.
- Avoid arriving to a new place at night.
- Be careful while exchanging money.
- Get to know standard prices of items.
- Taxi and rickshaws drivers will always try to rip you off.
- Watch out for suspicious people.
- Get good travel insurance.
- Dress modestly.
Have you been to India? Please share your experience with us and inspire other travelers.