Going to India- How to Prepare and What to Expect

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Taj Mahal. Photo taken during my visit in December 2015.

General

US outlets produce 110V of current, while India’s provides 230V. Many plugs for our equipment can handles this range of currents but verify to be certain. Laptops and phones are most likely to adaptable for this. It will specify a voltage range right on the cord’s adapter. If it works with 230V, then only a power adapter is necessary, which is just a little piece that turns your US/North American prongs to the Indian ones, leaving the voltage unchanged. If not, a power converter is necessary, which is bigger and down-converts the 230V to the 110V your equipment can handle. A power converter is always a safe bet as it never hurts to use one, plus buying one lets you use it around the world since they typically come equipped with multiple prong sets built-in. Using the wrong voltage on your devices can ruin them. Indian prongs are typically (but not always) the European two circular prong.

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Power Adapter (left) and Power Converter (right)

Carry a copy of your passport on you and leave your passport at the hotel, unless you actually need it for something specific. Note: Passports are many times required to change money at currency exchanges. Carrying a state I.D. (i.e. driver’s license) is good, especially when proof of age may be required.

Consider buying a money belt. I use one when I need to carry my passport and larger sums of cash. If you get pick-pocketed, or something slips out of your pockets, then at least these items will be safe. I also bring a spare credit card to leave in my hotel room as a backup in case my wallet disappears.

Most ATM’s accept US debit cards. Most card companies will charge a 2-3% foreign transaction fee (as many credit cards do as well), plus the ATM charges a fee itself. Always remember to discretely type in your PIN.

Always try to keep some smaller rupee notes with you. Auto rickshaws and places where you make small purchases may get frustrated if you present a large denomination at best or simply unable to change it at worst.

Only drink bottled water. Keep a large 1.5 liter bottle or two in your hotel room.

One US$1 is approximately 65 Indian Rupees at the current time (December 2017)

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10 and 100 Rupee Notes

 

Shopping

Most places (besides malls) require haggling for prices. For foreigners the price may be inflated significantly. If something feels clearly overpriced, offer half the price or less. Don’t feel like you’ll be insulting by offering something low (unless you actually are low-balling) since they were trying to rip you off anyways. Some lines that vendors say to you that should be taken lightly: “For you, I’ll give you a good price”, “Since you’re my first customer, I’ll give you a good price”, “Oh American! For you my friend, I’ll give this to you for cheap”, “Today’s a [insert random reason] sale!”, etc., etc.

Never feel pressured into anything. Taxi drivers, vendors, and beggars are notorious for using senses of urgency, guilt, pressure, and other tactics to try to get your business and/or money. Never feel like you have to give them anything or use their services.

 

Transportation

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Just enjoyed a (crazy) ride in an auto rickshaw. If you’ve never been on one, hold on tight!

Try to get auto-rickshaws metered as much as possible. The meters are at regulated rate which the locals also pay. Otherwise agreed upon prices may be inflated by the driver for foreigners.

In Indian airports, you are expected to walk with your boarding pass through the metal detector at the security check as it is typically stamped at that time. Don’t send it on the conveyor with your bags and metallic items. Carry-on bags and handbags sometimes need to be tagged by the airline at the check-in counter as well.

For inter-city journeys, consider taking the train. It’s a great way to experience the country for reasonably distanced trips.

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At the Jaipur Railway Station after a journey on the train.

From personal experience, I’ve been in a taxi that came up with several excuses to not taking me to my hostel. They’ll say that the address doesn’t exist, or that it’s wedding season and the streets are closed, or they’ll “ask for directions”, or they’ll take you to the Dept. of Tourism to figure things out. “The Dept. of Tourism” isn’t a government agency but rather a private travel company trying to sell overpriced tickets  that the driver receives a commission on. In this situation you tell them you don’t want anything and that you really just want to go to the hostel. You likely wouldn’t be in harm’s way but is really annoying and frustrating. If they totally refuse to take you, then ask to be taken to the nearest rail station to find a new taxi or an auto rickshaw. When they see you’re serious about just going home, they’ll probably eventually get you there like in my case.

Traffic drives on the left side of the road, be aware of this when looking both ways. Traffic is also crazy and caution must be used at all time when walking across roads.

Be cautious when exiting auto rickshaws or other vehicles. Never put any body part outside of a moving one.

When sightseeing in a new city, considering hiring an auto rickshaw for much of the day. It can save the hassle of dealing with swarms of drivers at every tourist spot in town. One thing to expect is they they’ll many times want to take you to a shop sometime during this. It’s okay to go, but the driver’s usually get commissions from this and therefore prices can be higher. If you decide to buy something, make sure to haggle as chances are that its price is inflated.

Men: If you take the local trains, be sure not to get into a women-only car, even if you are with a woman. Men are strictly not allowed in any capacity. There’s no such thing a men-only train car, so women can go which ever car they please. Not that local trains get crazy busy in place like Mumbai during peak hours so avoid this time if possible should you choose this mode of transportation.

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Local Train in Mumbai

 

Being in Indian Society

Don’t trust anyone right away that you don’t know, no matter how friendly they are.

Eating from food vendor carts on the street is risky and may lead to food poisoning since the vendors themselves have very poor sanitation and they food may be very old.

If someone random wants to take your picture or wants a picture with you, it’s almost always sincere so allow them to if you don’t mind it, but keep an eye on your pockets and valuables.

If you encounter monkeys, don’t attempt to touch them as they are wild animals. They are also into thievery, so keep an eye on your valuables as they may take them. Also don’t touch any other animals in the streets such as cattle, goats, stray dogs, etc.

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You may see monkeys like these I saw in Jaipur. They also hang around the Taj Mahal.

Follow Indian customs. For example, take off shoes when and where requested. Also it can be considered polite to accept tea or snacks when offered in someone’s home or place of business so no need to feel like you’re imposing.

In crowd situations, such in queues or entering trains, etc., some bumping and pushing is normal and you must become aggressive yourself. If you remain passive, you’ll be passed over time and time again. Ignore your personal bubble – it will be popped.

Never let anyone take your bags unless it’s a taxi driver or hotel staff, and if so, always stay within reach of it. There’s people even in the airports that may try to take your bags. Usually they just want to take it somewhere for you and expect a tip, but running away with it is always possible as well.

Be open minded. Things will be different. How much of how life works in India isn’t wrong while our way of back home isn’t necessary right either. It’s just different, so embrace it.

 

Final Thoughts

This list isn’t all inclusive and is based on my own experiences and what I remember. Others may feel differently on my suggestions and observations. You’ll have your own experience there but the goal of this is for me to prepare you best I can so there are less surprises once your feet hit the ground. Also see how to pack for this trip.

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Amber Fort in Jaipur.

India is an amazing place. This list may sound intimidating, but once you start getting a feel for the lay of the land, things getting easier and easier. Even though there’s much to be aware of when traveling in India, make sure to slow down and soak in the atmosphere, because it is truly fantastic! I love India and once you’re there, hopefully you will too! It is 100 percent the experience of a lifetime.