India is a vast, diverse country with a rich culture and history.
As a foreign tourist, traveling in India can be an incredibly rewarding yet overwhelming experience.
With the right preparation and knowledge, your trip will be safe, enjoyable, and unforgettable.
This comprehensive guide provides everything you need to know to travel smart in India in 2023.
Table of Contents
Before You Go: Health, Visas, and Planning
Taking care of logistics before your trip is crucial for a smooth journey in India. Here’s what you need to do:
Get Vaccinated and Get Travel Insurance
Please get vaccinated at least 6 months in advance. Visit your local health center and inquire about recommended vaccinations for travel to India. Some vaccines require multiple doses over weeks or months to become fully effective.
You should get vaccinated for:
- Hepatitis A and B
- Japanese Encephalitis
- MMR (if needed)
Also get appropriate travel insurance. Medical care in India can be very affordable, but costs add up quickly if hospitalization or surgery is needed. Having insurance provides peace of mind.
Apply for an Indian Tourist Visa
Don’t wait until the last minute.
Apply for your visa through the Indian consulate in your home country well in advance.
Typically a 6-month tourist visa is issued.
Make sure you have your visa confirmation before booking flights. Every traveler must have a valid visa to enter India.
Create a Smart India Itinerary
Deciding where to go in India can be overwhelming. With limited time, you want to pick destinations wisely. Here are some tips:
- Start in South India for an easier transition. Cities like Bangalore, Chennai, and Kochi are great entry points.
- Include a mix of major sights and off-the-beaten-path places. The Taj Mahal is amazing but also very crowded.
- Check weather and climate. Places like Ladakh are inaccessible during winter.
- Don’t overschedule. Traveling between cities in India takes time. Trying to see too much will leave you exhausted.
- End with a relaxing beach stay in Goa, Kerala, or Pondicherry.
Leave room for spontaneity too. You may discover new places you want to explore once you arrive.
Arriving in India: Culture Shock and Adjustment
The sights, sounds, and smells of India can be intense for first-time visitors.
It takes time to adjust to the “sensory overload.” Try to take it slowly when you first arrive. Here are some tips:
Expect Major Culture Shock
India has a unique energy that may seem totally foreign.
Be mentally prepared that basic things will be done differently than what you’re used to.
Simple tasks like getting money from an ATM or using a toilet require adaptation.
Give yourself time to observe and learn. With an open mindset, you’ll start to appreciate the Indian way.
Combat Jet Lag
Drink lots of fluids, avoid heavy meals, and try to get exposure to sunlight.
Adjust to the local schedule as soon as you can rather than sticking to home time zone.
Take short naps if extremely fatigued. Melatonin supplements can also help reset your circadian rhythms.
Get a Local SIM Card
Having internet access and the ability to call/text is extremely useful in India.
At the airport, get a prepaid SIM card with data plan – Airtel and Jio are reliable providers.
This will help you research, get directions, call your hotel/cab, and stay connected.
Explore One Neighborhood at First
In big crowded cities like Delhi, tackle culture shock by staying local.
Spend your first few days exploring just one area, like Paharganj or Connaught Place in Delhi.
This way you can get oriented and build confidence before dealing with intense crowds.
Safety is also increased by sticking to your neighborhood initially.
Getting Around India: Transportation Tips
India’s public transportation is comprehensive and convenient for tourists.
Here are the best options for navigating between cities and within cities:
For long distances, travel by train. It’s scenic and a quintessential Indian experience.
The railway network connects almost everywhere you’ll want to go.
- 3AC Class – A comfortable, affordable option with air conditioning and bunk beds
- 2AC Class – More expensive with just 2 bunks per compartment. More privacy.
- 1AC Class – Most luxurious class with private cabins.
- Use IRCTC website to book directly.
- Purchase tickets 120+ days in advance. Tickets sell out fast.
- Print etickets before travel date.
- Arrive early and expect crowds at stations.
For limited time, consider flying between cities. It’s fast, affordable and India has great domestic connections.
Buses are an option for shorter trips where trains are not available.
- Use overnight buses to save on hotel costs.
- Check safety reviews before booking less known operators.
- Rideshare apps like Ola or Uber are also offer intercity rides.
For getting around within cities, use:
- Metro – Cities like Delhi and Bangalore have excellent metro systems. Clean, efficient, safe.
- Uber/Ola – Easiest option. Pre-paid so no money exchange needed.
- Auto-rickshaws – Must negotiate fare before riding. Good for short distances.
- Public Buses – Super cheap but difficult for non-Hindi speakers.
- Bicycles – Available for rent in many cities. Great for sightseeing.
- Never take unmarked, unauthorized taxis which approach you. Use official prepaid booths at stations.
- Confirm the taxi license plate and driver name/photo before entering any car.
- Use rideshare apps at night. They provide safety via GPS tracking.
- On trains, keep valuables on you at all times. Lock luggage with your own padlock.
Where to Stay: Accommodation Tips
With a range of options, you can find great places to stay in India at any budget.
Follow these tips for picking safe, comfortable accommodations:
Reliable hotel chains with secure online booking include:
- OYO Rooms – Budget hotels with standardized amenities.
- Treebo Hotels – Mid-range boutique hotels. Modern decor.
- Taj Hotels – Luxury 5-star hotels from a renowned group.
- ITC Hotels – 5-star hotels focused on stylish Indian designs.
- Hyatt – Global chain with hotels across India. Ideal for points redemption.
Homestays and B&Bs
For a local experience, consider homestays or B&Bs.
These are family-run accommodations inside a home. Benefits include:
- Local home-cooked breakfasts
- Opportunities to interact with welcoming hosts
- Authentic cultural immersion
Hostels provide dorm-style or private rooms on a budget.
They’re better for solo travelers who want to be social. Top hostel chains:
Check ratings and location reviews. Female travelers should consider all-female dorms.
- Never compromise safety for cost. Avoid offers that seem too cheap.
- Check for 24/7 front desks, room locks, WiFi encryption, fire safety.
- Read reviews on multiple sites to identify red flags or risks.
- Book airport pickups/drop-offs if arriving at night.
How Much Does India Cost? Budget and Money Tips
India offers remarkable value. You can travel quite comfortably on a mid-range budget. Here’s a rough daily per-person estimate:
|Hotel or hostel dorm bed||Rs. 700-1500|
|Meals (basic restaurants)||Rs. 800|
|Public transit||Rs. 200|
|Sightseeing entrance fees||Rs. 300|
|Total||Rs. 2200-3000 ($30-40 USD)|
You can travel for less by staying in hostels, eating street food, and using cheaper transit.
Luxury hotels and activities will increase costs.
Follow these tips for accessing cash, paying for things, and tracking expenses:
- Inform your bank you’re traveling to enable international withdrawals.
- Withdraw cash only from private ATMs like HDFC or ICICI. Avoid Euronet ATMs which charge high fees.
- Keep emergency $100 USD cash in reserve. Exchange into rupees if banks/ATMs malfunction.
- Enable international transactions on your credit card. Visa and Mastercard have best acceptance.
- Install payment apps like PayTM or Google Pay. Scan QR codes to pay digitally.
- Use a prepaid forex card for easy exchange. SBI and ICICI have good forex cards.
- Track all expenses in a mobile app like Trail Wallet or Expense Manager. Set budgets for each expense category.
What to Wear: Packing Tips and Dress Code
Packing appropriately is key for comfort. Here are some clothing tips:
- Cotton and linen breathe well in India’s heat.
- Avoid silks or polyester which get hot.
- Light cardigans and shawls are useful for cooling indoor AC.
- Light trousers or jeans
- Breathable shirts and t-shirts
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Modest tops with elbow or longer sleeves
- Loose pants, capris, or ankle-length skirts
- Cotton scarves to cover chest/shoulders
- Flip-flops for removal at temples
Try wearing Indian ethnic clothes. They’re cool and look great in photos:
- Kurta pajama with Waistcoat or Nehru jacket
- Salwar kameez (tunic & pants)
- Anarkali suits
- Lehenga or ghagra choli
Buy locally or order online before your trip.
Staying Healthy: Food, Water, and Hygiene
With some precautions, you can steer clear of tummy troubles in India:
- Drink only bottled, packaged, or filtered water.
- Avoid ice and fresh juices with untreated water.
- Carry a reusable water bottle and use water purifying tablets if unsure of cleanliness.
- Eat only freshly cooked, piping hot food. Avoid room-temperature dishes.
- Choose busy restaurants with high turnover of customers.
- Politely decline raw salads/fruits that may be washed in tap water.
- Street food is fine if cooked on the spot. Avoid stored items.
- Alert your hotel of any food allergies or restrictions so they can accommodate.
- Carry hand sanitizer and use frequently, especially before eating.
- Opt for western sit-down toilets when possible. Carry toilet paper/tissue.
- Use sanitizing wipes on airplane and train surfaces.
- Only drink beverages served directly to you in glasses or sealed bottles. Avoid juice stands.
Exploring India’s Culture Respectfully
India’s customs may be unfamiliar. By following some etiquette tips, you can avoid offending locals:
- Dress modestly when visiting temples and religious sites. Never wear shoes inside.
- Save affectionate behavior for private settings, not in public.
- Use your right hand for eating or accepting gifts since the left is considered unclean.
- Avoid pointing your feet at people. Feet are considered the lowest part of the body.
- Ask locals for permission before photographing them, especially women.
- Try using basic Hindi phrases. Just saying “namaste” shows you’re making an effort.
- Bargaining is expected at bazaars and markets. Stay polite during negotiations.
- Remain patient and calm in chaotic situations. Don’t raise your voice.
Is India Safe for Foreign Tourists?
The daily headlines can paint a scary picture of India.
However, by using common sense safety practices, your trip will likely be trouble-free. Some tips:
- Only stay in trusted hotels with security. Don’t randomly pick small lodges.
- Avoid walking alone at night. Use rideshares with female driver option if possible.
- Don’t display expensive jewelry or gadgets which could attract thieves.
- Research safe neighborhoods and avoid deserted areas. Stay alert for scams.
- Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual passport.
- Obtain Indian SIM card so you can call emergency contacts if needed.
- Enable location sharing on WhatsApp so someone knows where you are.
- Know the emergency helpline numbers – Police (100), Fire (101), Ambulance (102).
India is an incredible destination with something for everyone, whether you seek spirituality, history, adventure, cuisine or culture. By being prepared and respectful, you’ll gain insight most tourists don’t experience. Follow these tips and have an epic journey creating memories to last a lifetime!