8 Things you’ll need in india
I wrote these tips while we were in the trenches (a.k.a. on the trip), so this advice is pure. These are the things we couldn’t do without. Note: this is specific to a family trip (I had my parents, an aunt, a MIL, a family friend, a sister and Brother-in-law). If you want to backpack and rough it in your early 20s, I’ll write a different post about that (cause I did it in 2006 & 2007).
1. An Open Mind
- Ya, it’s cheesy, but you won’t know what this means until you get there. India is the ultimate juxtaposition of the extremes of humanity. Wealth and poverty. Beauty and trash. Ancient and modern. Fast and slow. Frenetic and calm. Lush and dry… I could go on and on. So be ready to get dirty and be ready to get uncomfortable (just wait until I get to the story of our flat tire at midnight in the middle of nowhere), but also be ready to know that you’re in the middle of a perspective-changing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll be out of your element – rejoice in it.
2. The Usual
- Follow all the general advice you see online: don’t drink anything but bottled water, don’t eat raw vegetables, bring lots of wet wipes and toilet paper, leave your jewelry… Go to a travel clinic and get your malaria and diarrhea medication. Mentally prepare for possibly using a hole in the ground as a toilet (learn how to squat!).
3. A tour guide/driver you trust
- We used Thomas Cook to book the first week of our tour. I have to say that we really lucked out with the tour guide they booked. The guide/driver should be experienced, especially if you have no native Indians in your group. We had two hired people with us – an experienced driver who knew English, and an assistant, whose sole job it was to guard the van (and often us) at all times. Later in the trip with a different driver and no assistant, we caught him out of sight of the van and the doors unlocked… when you’re in a foreign country, you can lose trust fast. Peace of mind is priceless.
So, if you can, try to book our guide, Sanjay!
Sanjay Yadav – L.A.K. Tourist Taxi Service
Based in New Delhi, Sanjay is originally from the Jaipur area and very knowledgable of the city. One particular thing we appreciated was that while we were brought to conventional “tourist trap” type stores, he would step inside first and ask them to tone it down. The result was english-speaking store owners who treated us relatively fairly. He would warn us where and when to buy things so that we weren’t ripped off (too much… you can’t change that they know you’re foreigners). Also, he was extremely flexible – if we wanted to change the plan, he would know a different location or restaurant to fit the new plan. For example, we had planned on a trip to Pushkar, but he knew that the weekend we were traveling was a significant religious festival. If we had gone, the crowds would have been bordering on dangerous. We adjusted accordingly.
4. A MIL
- ok… so this isn’t always possible. But my amazing MIL was our life-saver. She spoke up when she thought we were being treated unfairly (just wait until my story at Fatepur Sikri). She haggled, grouping our purchases together and demanding a group discount. When we ended the trip, noone could express the magnitude of their gratitude for her guidance and positive spirit.
- But in more manageable terms – someone knowing even the most basic of Hindi will be an asset.
5. A Working ATM card
- Let your bank know you’re traveling! You’ll be making many cash withdrawals. And never get too low, there’s no guarantee any particular ATM will accept your card to withdraw money. I however had no issue with stores.
6. A Neck Pillow
- No joke. With jet lag, you’ll be sleeping in the tour van. You’ll need the sleep and down time, so upgrade to the memory foam!
7. Antibacterial Gel
- Besides the fact that the chance a bathroom will have soap is iffy, you’ll need to disinfect your hands often if you plan to eat like the locals do: with your hands. Though you are given many passes as a tourist, there’s one custom I suggest you follow: Don’t eat with your left hand. It’s an unspoken “truth” that you use your left hand to wipe, so only your right hand is appropriate for eating.
8. A Bargaining Backbone
- Bargaining/haggling is expected. It will feel very uncomfortable at first, but practice makes perfect. It is more important to know how much something is worth to you, than it is to know what it actually costs. Even after haggling and threatening to walk away, you still may end up paying more than a local would pay. Don’t beat yourself up – as long as you feel comfortable paying it, go for it. But also, don’t be afraid to say no. They’ll be pushier than you can imagine and follow you around the store. Don’t make eye contact with street vendors or children selling trinkets – they’ll become relentless if you even acknowledge them. A good trick in a larger group is to bargain for the whole group at once. See if you can get a discount for larger volume. If they’re not bringing the price down, grab something and ask for it to be thrown in for free. It’s worked for me!
Got these down? Great, let’s get started with where you’re going. First stop, New Delhi…