10 things nobody told me about traveling in India

We heard all kinds of tales and horror stories before traveling to India, but the country was still full of surprises upon our arrival! Here are 10 things nobody told me about traveling in India, from the unexpected to the uncomfortable.

 

From declarations of love to horror stories, people told us all kinds of things about India before we arrived.

Whether you love or hate India—no one ever seems to be in-between—there are some subtleties of travel in India that are useful to know before you arrive. A little preparation never hurt!

10 things nobody told me about traveling in India

1. You’ll never know if people are saying “yes” or “no”.

I’d heard about the famous Indian head wiggle, but had no idea how confusing it could be in practice. A wiggle can mean “yes”, but it can also mean “no”, “maybe”, “hello”, “I like you”, “okay”, “oh dear god why”, and many, many more things.

The key? When in doubt, wiggle it out. You’d be surprised how quickly Indians can figure out your awkwardly wiggly intentions, even when you don’t even know what they are.

 

Only men on the street in Bangalore, India - Lost With Purpose

Points if you can find a girl in this scene.

2. It’s a sausage fest.

The male/female ratio in India is super skewed thanks to a lot of female infanticide and a preference for male heirs. There are only 9.33 girls for every 10 boys, and it shows. The fact that many women are expected to spend most of their time at home exacerbates things. It’s not quite as bad as places like Afghanistan, but there’s still plenty of work to be done on the feminist front in India.

In the meantime, prepare to be surrounded by wolf packs of dudes wherever you go. Some are creepers, most are harmless, and in the end, you can’t help but feel pity for this off-kilter generation.

 

A crowded public bus in Kalpetta, India - Lost With Purpose

Transportation can get a bit crowded sometimes.

3. Traveling from place to place isn’t that hard.

There’s usually a million ways you can get from point A to B, from air-conditioned train to rickety public bus to a DIY road trip to puttering rickshaw. Plus, you’ll always end up finding someone on the street that either speaks English or is willing to help out a lost foreigner in need. Never fear!

 

A pitcher of filtered water in Varkala, India - Lost With Purpose

4. You can drink the water!

No, no, I don’t mean straight from the tap—that’d be suicidal for many a belly.

But you can drink the water found in pitchers on restaurant tables. Water purification systems are common in India (except in poor rural areas), and the majority of the water you see people drinking is purified. If other people in the restaurant are drinking from the pitcher, you might as well give it a go. Don’t forget to pack a reusable water bottle! 

 

A coffee supply store in Mysore, India - Lost With Purpose

And it smells so good.

5. There is coffee after all!

India is famous for its chai (tea); there are tea plantations galore, it is the standard introduction to Indian hospitality, and chai shops can be found on every street corner and train platform. It’s a tea lover’s dream, but what about those of us addicted to the hard caffeine?

Actually, southern India is all about coffee. It’s just as popular as tea—perhaps even more so—and a place to buy some ground coffee beans is never too far away in south India. Coffee lovers, rejoice! (I know I did.)

Read: My favorite off the beaten track destinations in India

 

Despite hearing all kinds of things about India beforehand, the country was still filled with surprises! Read on to learn 10 things nobody told me about travel in India that I wish they had!

 

6. Working wifi is rarer and more magical than unicorns.

Okay, okay, this might’ve reached my ears before I reached India. But, I naively optimistically reasoned, how can an I.T. powerhouse country have crap wifi?

… well, it does. Workable wifi is easy to find in I.T. hubs like Bangalore, but once you’re out of the (really) big cities you can kiss your workable wifi goodbye. If internet is one of your basic daily needs, you’ll need to shell out for a local sim card with data, or a nicer hostel with a half decent connection.

 

A restored haveli in Delhi, India - Lost With Purpose

This restored mansion/restaurant in Delhi was beautiful… until I saw that a small beer was $8.

7. Things can get expensive real fast.

I expected to roll into India and spend mere pennies a day. After all, it’s the cheapest country in the world to live in, and has been a haven for budget backpackers for decades.

Though dirt-cheap options can be found, it’s equally as easy to go over budget. Alcohol is more expensive in India than in many European countries, hostel beds can be outrageously priced (who came up with “boutique hostels” anyway?), and the rising middle class is pushing prices up in cities. There’s also a massive market catered to luxury travel in India, far more than one would expect if your only notion of India as a land of poverty and strife.

Let’s just say: pickpockets aren’t the only things your wallet should be afraid of.

 

The crowded shopping streets of T Nagar in Chennai, India - Lost With Purpose

A crowded shopping street in Chennai

8. English is everywhere.

There are approximately one bajillion languages spoken in India (447 living languages to be precise). Hindi is the most well known, but even Hindi doesn’t reach everywhere as a second language—the people of Tamil Nadu, for example, purposefully avoid speaking Hindi in favor of their native Tamil.

One language that you will see everywhere? English! It’s on the signs. It’s on the television. It’s in the books. Sometimes it’s thrown into the conversation so often you wonder why they don’t just speak English outright.

There’s still plenty of signage in the local languages, and most people still speak the local language(s) on the streets, but communication and navigation might be easier than you expect.

Read: Falling in love with India

 

A hotel that is not a hotel in Alleppey, India - Lost With Purpose

9. A hotel is not always a hotel

You’re tired, your backpack is too heavy, and it’s too damned hot. You just need to find a freaking hotel already so you can dump everything, stop sweating for a hot second, and have your third cold shower of the day. You spot a “HOTEL” sign and semi-gleefully dash towards it, only to find… it’s a restaurant. Huh?

If you’re looking for a hotel in India, you’re better off looking for “rooms”. Or “guesthouse”. Or “residency”. Or “lodge”. Or anything-not-labeled-hotel, really. Much of the time, “Hotel” simply means a kind of eatery, not a place to sleep. There are some rogue exceptions, of course. 

 

Indians have the best smiles - Lost With Purpose

Just look at those pearly whites.

10. Indians have the most brilliant smiles

Girls are warned against smiling too flippantly at men in India, and the result is a foreign fear of smiling too much in India. Though girls should indeed be wary of smiling at young men (they can get carried away sometimes), the limit ends there—smiles are one of the most fantastic parts of India!

From the old aunties to the young schoolboys, if you smile at an Indian, expect an absolutely brilliant smile in return. Do try this at home.

Tip: If you’re traveling to India for the first time, I highly recommend you pick up Hippie in Heels’ Guide to India. Rachel has lived in India for years, and her guide is the perfect companion for any first timer; reading it is like listening to a close friend talk about India.

 

Despite hearing all kinds of things about India beforehand, the country was still filled with surprises! Read on to learn 10 things nobody told me about travel in India that I wish they had!

 

Traveling to India soon? You can contact Travel Visa Pro for all your visa needs.

Yay transparency! There are affiliate links in this post. If you buy something using my links, I’ll make a smidge of change at no extra cost to you. Never fear, I’d never sell you something I wouldn’t use myself!

Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

32 thoughts on “10 things nobody told me about traveling in India

    تور کیش ارزان says:

    Indians have nice smiles, they never show them! Also, remember that wifi is offered in limited GB packages which means that once an establishment’s clients use up all those GBs, the internet gets really slow… So yes, you’d better get an Indian SIM card which is a piece of cake and pay for a data package because it might pay off (although not all places in India provide a stable 3G network)

    Sebastiaan says:

    Not sure where in India you’ve been, but we’ve seen plenty of smiles. The internet thing is a nuance, though. But yeah, we just used our phone as a hot-spot and it worked fine.

    HK says:

    I just got back from my first trip to India and I did it solo. I read so many horror stories about solo traveling there, but not one bad thing happened to me and I never got sick. I also followed all the advise out there by all these wonderful blogs and shared stories of other travelers. I also managed to never get sick, but I am also a vegan and ate at my hotels, maybe I played it a little too safe. I also volunteered at Wildlife SOS with retired circus and trekking elephants, hope other people will visit with them too and not ride them while visiting.

    Sebastiaan says:

    Hi Heather,

    That’s great to hear! Glad you had such a good time and that everything went well. Eating at hotels is very common in India. Especially in places where few foreign tourists go, our hotels were confused as to why we didn’t eat at in their restaurant. Apparently Indian tourists eat in their hotels often.

    Anyway, glad you had such a good experience!

    Cheers

    TourGuideInSriLanka says:

    This is a interesting article about India. We all know India these kind of things and in my opinion that the beauty of it. It’s not spoiled as tourist destination like some Asian countries. So we can enjoy the real Indian culture, people, foods etc.

    Pooja Thakur says:

    I am an Indian and I really loved reading this post. Many points you discussed here are absolutely true. I hope you had a wonderful stay in India.

    Sebastiaan says:

    That’s great to hear, thanks a lot!

    Anees says:

    The language spoken in the majority of India ( other than the south ) is NOT Hindi.
    In reality it is HINDUSTANI. It is spoken and understood widely. It contains word from Sanskrit, urdu, and even english.

    Hindi is merely a script to differentiate it from English and Urdu scripts

    Craig Wickham says:

    Thanks for a great post – I am on my second trip – this time with my wife and daughter with me and we are loving it. The energy of the place is amazing – as is the diversity of EVERYTHING. Food, architecture, transport options, dress, music and spirituality. Impressed by the tolerance, the infrastructure investment, the pride in maintaining heritage, and the very obvious importance of education and rising women’s rights focus. The local welcome and level of engagement gets greater the further you get from Western-focused tourism honeypots – strong contrast between Agra where Westerners are ever-present and Ahmedabad where we saw mainly Indian travellers exploring their own country. BTW we are also travelling off-season in Monsoon which I can highly recommend for low relative people densities at key locations.

    Noelle Wheeler says:

    Alex, I applaud you for your adventurous spirit and wish you well in your travels. I generally do not get involved with posts but wanted to add a few words of support/insight. We lived in Mumbai for 4 years… some of our friends 10 years or. more. Ah “Incredible India” It is close to our hearts and a connection we will always have as well. We travelled extensively while there covering most regions of the country. I highly encourage my friends to visit however there is a caveat I try and share. As magical and beautiful as it is… it is a very old culture with very diverse levels of poverty verses extreme wealth. Hence differing levels of connection to the western world, it’s cultural beliefs and education. I was shocked many a time by some misconceptions that exist (within the less educated class). I am concerned that by painting only the beauty there may be some danger to some unexperienced travelers. There are some Indian cultural norms that westerners are not too familiar with. It takes time to understand the undercurrent and dynamics. A few weeks or even a few months does not even begin to unveil the fabulous mysteries of India. We too found the Indian people to be nothing but kind to us. Society works as a unit there verses individuals in the states. There are fewer individual decisions taken as the outcome affects the entire group in most cases. Therefore the hospitality you have been shown is that you have been pulled into the fold. Regardless of how little people have they will share with you. I hope foreign travelers realize that many times people share more than they really have to give… it is amazing. So maybe bring something to share back? Truth be told, due to the years it took this magnificent culture to come to present day there is corruption and Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest”. Buyer beware… touristy areas can be overwhelming, hawkers have their science down to an art- it’s actually interesting to watch the art of the deal I hope your readers are aware that there are horrible incidents that happen to single women, so while in Rome… cover your shoulders, cleavage and legs. We were aghast when we moved back to the States at the casualness of sexuality… So if we noticed it, you can only imagine what the locals see with our dress or lack thereof. India is geographically immense, boasting different norms of behavior within the different areas. I will say the South Indians with their high literacy rate (almost 99% if I’m remembering correctly) and baba cool relax air are very different than our friends we met in Srinagar for example. North verses South- defending borders for centuries verses coast lands and coconuts… Maybe to general, sorry for that.
    So, yes it is a great destination, a great people but having many friends who worked in different Consulates and Embassies from many countries… Please take it with a grain of salt. Many foreigners end up in local jails or worse. I’ve lived the stories first hand as they unfolded. Please be smart while visiting this wonderfully crazy destination.

    Takeoffwithme says:

    Interesting take. Have seen many travel tips for India, but you have taken a different angle

    Vijay says:

    I bumped into this article while browsing your other article about Ukraine as I am planning to go there next month. I am glad you had a good time in India. Loved the way you reflected your experience here. 😉 “A hotel is not always a hotel” hahaha, LOL. 😀 My non Indian friends have a hard time figuring out the difference between a hotel and a restaurant in India. I also loved your blog on Ukraine. I am hooked on to your articles. Thanks and keep up the good work. Cheers. Saludos.

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