We spent a wonderful, hectic, hot, frustrating, fantastic, educational, awesome month and a half touring around the South West Coast of India. It was the first country on our Asia adventure and it was a memorable one! Before moving on to Malaysia, we thought we’d share some of what we learned in case it could be of help or interest to fellow travellers.
The number one rule to traveling in India is have toilet paper on you at all times! The first day you don’t bring it will be the day you need it for sure.
The second rule is always ask the price before agreeing to ANYTHING. Don’t mind if “how much?” is met with irritation (locals must get tired of this question), because the amount of times we paid two or three times the amount we felt fair for a cab or rickshaw because we hadn’t asked was even more tiring. You are not in a good place to bargain after services have already been rendered.
If it’s your first time in India, consider beginning with an easier city. Mumbai was an incredibly overwhelming first stop. Having an uncomfortable stay in one of the bigger cities can set a bad tone for your travels and sour you on a location. Start somewhere a little smaller and more touristy such as anywhere in Goa or Fort Kochi. There will be time to see the non tourist stuff later, once you’re settled, out of shock, and have a better grasp on what you’re getting into, then you can decide just how much of the “real” India you want to see. All that being said, if you feel like diving right into the deep end of an incredibly loud hectic culture shock, don’t let us stop you…
You will find the absolute only thing that runs on time in India is the train you’re running late for! Forget about previously held notions of time. Just know that things will take longer than anticipated, so don’t get frustrated, get good at waiting. Be open to conversation with other people waiting, bring a book for when conversation isn’t available, and don’t forget the snacks! And I would always suggest trying the weirdest ones you can find, isn’t that the real point of traveling?
Unless you’re on a tight timetable, try not to book your way out of a place before you get there. You never know if you’ll fall in love with a place or hear about some other awesome spot that you’ll regret not checking out.
Food, Supplies & Accomodation
- Try everything! There are so many delicious treats in store for you, have an open appetite…except street food (there are other places in Asia where this is awesome, but even Indians we know avoid the street food)
- Only drink bottled water, and open it yourself (rumour has it some places refill and reseal) – ice and salads or other uncooked and unpeeled vegetables and fruits can also be avoided, though places that use filtered water for ice, etc often display that prominently on their menus
- Don’t forget to keep up your TP supply
- Bring sunscreen with you (we found that sunscreen and toothpaste in stores were often long expired)
- If you can handle it, arriving at a destination then negotiating a rate for accommodation can lead to cheaper prices and cooler spots than you would otherwise find online
- Bring a lock – some of the places we stayed were locked by latches and we felt more comfortable using our own locks
- A silk sleeping bag liner or set of sheet can come in handy if you’re dubious about a hotel’s bedding
- Bring your own towel
- And if you’re in a hotel with a TV turn it on and check out the awesome music videos!
- Check online before departing to the station, we met people whose train was 10 hours late
- Unreserved seating is something to experience – but only on short distance trips, anything more than two or three hours and you should treat your bum to a higher class seat that is not just a barely covered plank of wood
- Stops are not called out, so figure out an approximate time and learn the name of the station before yours. Also, talk to people; we told as many people as we could which stop we were going to and everyone was more than happy to tell us when ours was coming up next
- Men will march up and down the aisles hawking samosas, chai, and coffee – try some!
- Be ready to move quickly! Especially at the smaller stops, the train barely comes to a stop before starting up again, so no lollygagging or you’ll miss your train or your stop!
- Sleepers seem best if you’re traveling in even numbers as the beds are quite small to share comfortably with a stranger
- Semi-sleeper was surprisingly comfortable and came with a blanket
- Negotiate price before getting in and be very clear on exactly where you want to go – often there’s a head nod of assurance that they know the place, rarely did we discover that was true
- Similar to taxis, just the added white knuckling that comes when they overtake someone on a winding one lane road on a cliff with no guard rail
- Listen: to locals and fellow travellers, they’re often way better than any guide book
- If you hear about a big festival, go, they are something to behold!
- Haggling is a way of life. It may be uncomfortable but it’s par for the course, try to not feel bad nor do the math and realize you’re arguing over pennies
- Go with your gut – if a place or person or piece of food seems off, don’t question, listen to yourself
- Enjoy yourself and relish every experience!