How to Prepare to Travel to India for the First Time
I’m leaving for my first trip to India and in a lot of ways I feel like I am traveling for the first time. It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt the need to do extensive research on a location. I’ve been looking into what to pack, how hot it will be, what medicine to bring, if I need a Visa, the customs of the country, who the current leader is of India, if I need shots, if alcohol is allowed in India and if so will I find wine. And is it okay to have drinks with ice cubes?
I’m heading to Delhi for a few days and then to the Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart and then to Bhopal, Jhansi, Orchha, Khajuraho, and Jhansi.
Where is India and How Big is it?
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India is a South Asian country with diverse terrain – from Himalayan peaks to Indian Ocean coastline – and history reaching back 5 millennia. In the north, Mughal Empire landmarks include Delhi’s Red Fort complex and massive Jama Masjid mosque, plus Agra’s iconic Taj Mahal mausoleum. Pilgrims bathe in the Ganges in Varanasi, and Rishikesh is a yoga center and base for Himalayan trekking.
- India is 1.269 million mi²
- India Population: 1.339 billion (2017) and expected to be 1.354 billion in 2018
- India covers about 1/3 of the United States, but has more than three-times more population. (The U.S. 325 million vs 1.3 billion in India)
- India is about half the size of Europe with a population of 743 million, while India has a population of over 1.3 billion
- India is home to 17.74% of the world population, while The United States has 4.3% of the total world population.
- Oh, and if you are curios, Ram Nath Kovind is the current President of India and has been in office since July 25, 2017.
Where to Do Your Research
I spent a lot of time in the India Travel Tips Facebook Group. I asked a lot of questions and received some great advice and tips. Each time a new question would pop up for me, I’d post it in the group.
What You Need For Travel to India
While this might sound obvious, I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from travelers who didn’t have a valid Passport at the time of travel.
- The biggest oversight is knowing your Passport must have at least 6 months to expire to travel to India (and most international locations).
- The next is a traveler not realizing their passport might be expired at the time of travel.
- The third is knowing you must have two blank pages available in your passport. When you begin planning your trip to India, take a look at your passport expiration date and make sure you have two blank pages available.
You need a Visa to travel to India from the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia (as well as many other countries). You can find a full list of countries required to have a Visa for entry to India. Check the rules for your country, but U.S. citizens who want to travel to India for tourist purposes, and who plan to stay no longer than 60 days, may apply for a visa electronically. This is what I did. The system is fairly clunky and you’ll need to upload a photo and a copy of your Visa. The fee for my Visa was $75 and I received it within two days of applying. You can also use RushMyTravelVisa.com to apply for an India Visa. Their process is guaranteed in 24 hours. Both of these options will get you a visa quickly.
I asked several friends who have traveled to India what shots they got before traveling. I received answers from ‘no shots’ to ‘everything that was recommended’. I haven’t had travel shots in a long time, so I decided to head to a travel clinic to learn more about the most important shots I should get for travel to India. I visited Passport Health, which is the largest provider of travel medicine services in the United States. They provide travel consultations and travel vaccines.
When I arrived, they started the appointment with a consultation and provided with a 30+ page personalized binder of information about the different potential risks for sickness in India and detailed descriptions of the vaccine or medication options. The booklet also included general travel advice and information about India. I also learned about some medications to take to prevent stomach issues and diarrhea. My appointment was $65 plus the cost of the vaccines I chose to get.
I have to admit, I don’t usually pack much medicine when I travel. I normally travel with pro-biotic and autoimmune boosting supplements, which tends to be enough for me.
(Below are Amazon Links)
Dealing with Diarrhea (The Leading Health Issue for International Travel)
I do travel to Mexico quite often and when I visit, I usually also bring grapefruit seed extract GSE. If my stomach starts to feel funny I put a few drops in filtered water and drink. For my first trip to India I decided to take it a step further based on a suggestion from the Passport Health Clinic and take a preventative supplement called Travelan. It is a dietary supplement high in antibodies that help prevent diarrhea. I will simply take one pill before each meal.
They also told me about DiaResQ, which is a backup for my Travelan and if I do end up with diarrhea. It’s specifically made for travel and supposed to stop diarrhea with just two doses. I was told to take Imodium with the DiaResQ if I wasn’t able to stay in my hotel for it to kick in (for extra and immediate help). I bought Travelan and DiaResQ from Passport Health, but did a search when I got home and found them both on Amazon.
As a further precaution, you can also ask your doctor for a prescription for Azithromycin or Cipro to bring, which is for severe traveler’s diarrhea.
Additional Travel Medicine
Of course also bring medicines of your choice for sleep, pain, colds and a travel first aid kit.
I’m visiting in late October and was told to be ready for scorching sun during the day and pleasant to cooler nights. Visiting India requires protection from the sun year-round, so make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen. My favorite is Neutrogena Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 45.
Water Bottle (Purification Bottle)
Bad water is the #1 cause of dysentery, diarrhea and parasite infection in India and around the world, so be prepared when you visit India because the public water supply is not safe countrywide. I’m taking my Grayl water bottle with the international travel filter which removes pathogens (viruses, protozoa, bacteria) and filters particulates, heavy metals and chemicals. It’s simple to use; just fill the empty outer cup with water and then push the inner cup with filter down so water passes through as filtered clean water (think French press). The bottles are BPA-free plastic. You can buy the Grayl Water Filtration bottle on Amazon.
Related Aticle: 9 Safety Tips for Drinking Water in India
I bought the Ceptics USA to India Travel Adapter Plug from Amazon. I got a 3-pack for $9.99. If you aren’t traveling from the United States, make sure the plug look like this:
It’s important to dress appropriately, which for women means to cover your shoulders, cleavage, and legs. Most of the year is warm or hot. I’m visiting in late October and have been advised to wear lightweight clothes. A pair of flip flops or sandals and à pair of closed comfortable shoes are also a must. I’m bringing a pair of Mary Janes by Naturalizer and a pair of sandals by LifeStride.
When visiting temples, it is advised to wear pants or a skirt that covers the knee and bring something to cover your head such as a scarf. It’s also advised to wear shoes you can slip on and off.
Facemask or scarf?
I’ve been told the pollution can be quite bad. I had one person tell me to bring face-masks because of the pollution and other’s tell me I’ll look like an alien wandering around India wearing a face-mask. The majority of people have suggested to bring a scarf that I can place over my nose & mouth if needed (and especially when caught behind a bus in traffic).
T.P. and Sanitizer
This is a guess, but I think bringing tissues, hand wipes and a hand sanitizer is a must. I’m bringing Toilet Tissue To Go, hand wipes (I like Burt’s Bee’s Natural Wipes) and sanitzer spray (such as Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lavender Hand Sanitizer). I make my own hand sanitizer, but you can also find some good options on Amazon.
Related Aticle: Homemade Hand Sanitizer for Travel
Delhi, India Accommodations
My first stop in India is Delhi. My first searches were to find out if I should stay in Old Delhi or New Delhi. After learning I should stay in New Delhi, I began researching hotels and B&B’s. After extensive research, as there are a lot of hotels in New Delhi, I met Mariellen Ward; another travel blogger in the India Travel Tips Facebook group. Mariellen’s travel website, Breathe Dream Go, is dedicated to transformative travel with a focus on travel in India. Mariellen shared her favorite Home Stay location in Delhi; Prakash Kutir, where I will be staying during my time in Delhi. The remainder of my trip has been organized by the Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart.
General Rules for Eating and Drinking in India:
- Don’t drink tap water.
- Drink only bottled or filtered water.
- Always check to make sure top is still sealed on bottles of water
- Feel free to eat anything from Haldiram’s, Bikaner, Evergreen
- It’s safe to eat from clean street food stalls (look to see which stalls are popular with the locals and high turnover usually means fresher food).
- You can eat anything from Delhi Haat.
- Don’t eat fruit that you can’t peel.
- Don’t eat salads or cut fruits.
- Some say to not eat anything cold (cooked foods are safer).
- Don’t drink anything with ice cubes.
I’m so excited to visit India for the first time as well as experience my first homestay. If you have visited India and have additional tips or suggestions, please share in the comments below. I’ll be sharing my entire India experience when I return, so be on the lookout for more articles about my travel to India.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.