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!

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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.

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

    Missy D says:

    Such a great post! I would have assumed the opposite of all those things (except maybe the wifi). I look forward to visiting India one of these days. 🙂

    Thanks a lot. You’ll have a great time when you do. Cheers!

    Sara khalifeh says:

    got to this website to see about ways to get into Iran as an american but! leaving to india in a week so this was a really great read!

    Glad you found it useful. Where in India will you be going?

    Lia Martos says:

    India is one of the places that catches my attention the most in the world! This post is amazing, I am really expecting a lot now when I get to go there!
    I’ve been around a bit too and am also telling the world about it. If you like, there are some tips about europe on a budget trips here: http://www.whenyoulive.com/category/travel/
    Thank you for this awesome post! Keep up the great job!

    I’ve been living in India for a couple of years now and must say that there are things in the article I really DISAGREE with. Some of the signs might be in English but definitely not all of them. Especially when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere.. Once you get to rural areas, you might have hard time finding people who do speak English. And even though the 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). Also, you might be told by the personnel that the wifi isn’t working (today) because it’s them who want to use it comfortably! And I would only drink water from a jug in a restaurant where I am sure that they have a water filter (and yes, you can refill your bottle for cheaper, too). Indians tend to lie a lot (I wrote an article about it http://sweetroadstories.com/india-essentials-2/ ) so if you really don’t want to spend your vacation in the bathroom, don’t drink water from the jugs in random dhabas. Just a friendly piece of advice. Oh and the wiggling – tilting one’s head to the side simply means yes. Even though the face expression shows nothing like that. Simple.

    – We never say everything is in English, just that there will be more English present than many would expect when visiting a foreign country. Yes, even in rural areas. We are currently in Arunachal Pradesh, and even here English is everywhere.

    – We don’t know where in India you live, but if you have trouble getting a smile out of an Indian, you’re doing something wrong, or maybe you just live in an extremely touristic city.

    – WiFi… what exactly are you saying that we didn’t?

    – Indians lie a lot? Seriously, where do you live? Sure, they try to rip you off in the super touristy areas. But once outside of these, you get invited for tea and people walk with you to the bus station and make sure you get on the right bus. Your example of lying isn’t lying, it’s being too proud to admit they don’t know the right directions… which you later claim. Why are you bringing it up here? This is not even distinctively Indian, it’s distinctively Asian.

    – We have been drinking water out of jugs for more than six months now, and are still healthy as can be. As long as the water doesn’t taste funky, it’s quite fine, in our experience.

    – There’s a difference between tilting ones head to the side (which indeed means yes), and wiggling ones head. There’s even a video going around explaining it perfectly. Maybe you should watch it, too.

    TL;DR not really sure what you’re trying to say here, except to direct people to your site by discounting everything we’ve said in a rather graceless fashion. We discourage website links in our comment section, so we’ve edited your comment to remove the link.

    Anupriya Basu says:

    Haha, this is funny! Things people say just to get people to their website!
    I love how you are defending India! I am an Indian and no matter how many problems India has, I love it to bits!
    Also, one point, I understand that we need more feminism but when I moved to America (where gender equality is more common) I noticed that things aren’t as equal between the genders! Girls are expected to pop-out tons of babies and abortion is almost banned. And, that particular thing ties most girls to home after marriage. In India, things are completely opposite, the government forces people to have less kids. And, when you speak to girls, they seem more ambitious in India!

    People do funny things on the internet 😉 We agree—India has (many) flaws, but it’s hard not to love it. Its eccentricities and charms far outweigh the flaws!

    You’re right, true gender equality is still a ways away in the US, though it’s a bit better off than India in our opinion! Curious as to where in the US you live(d)? In our experience, women aren’t really pushed to have large numbers of children, bar conservative religious communities.

    amyd says:

    Where in the US are women expected to “pop out” lots of babies? Neither I, my sister, nor my sister-in-law have children. I know many women who have only 2 or fewer. Most intelligent women are more thoughtful of the environment and the effect the population has on it to consider popping out lots of babies.

    Megan says:

    I only spent a couple of weeks in India but I found a lot of truth to these! I found English to be pretty ubiquitous and I never really had communication issues whilst there- even in some more obscure parts (okay, I was mostly in cities, but some very local places as I was there for a wedding). Now I am determined to get back to explore some of this coffee culture!

    Yep, English is everywhere! We’re in Arunachal Pradesh in the far northeast right now, and even here in the villages, we’ve regularly encountered people with excellent English skills. It’s hard to motivate to learn Hindi when English is so prevalent…

    Do go back and explore the south! It’s very different from the north, and, of course, coffee 😀

    Megan says:

    I definitely am keen to visit the south! One of these days… 😉

    Loved your post. Thought will lend my humble help in making you understand the Indian Nod, Check the below video and never in confusion ever again(or atleast I hope so):


    Sebastiaan says:

    We loved that clip. Thanks a lot for letting us know, super useful!

    Lyn says:

    My friend and I are going to India in 6 month. I can’t wait! Initially when I started reading Lonely Planet I wondered what I had signed up for. However the more I read the more fascinated I became.. I spoke to a girl married to an Indian who had some great advice. She said initially she was overwhelmed by the sight, sounds, smells and shear number of people. She said you just have to loosen up and relax into it. Everything runs on Indian time but once you accept that you can truly get over the hang ups and appreciate the ancient culture and chaos totally different from any other place on earth.

    Sebastiaan says:

    We’re sure you’ll have a great time. It is a bit overwhelming, especially if you’ve never been to Asia before, but you’ll get used to it soon enough. And, for us at least, the negative aspects were heavily outweighed by the positive!

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