Practical Travel Guide
All foreign nationals wanting to visit India require a visa. Many Indian embassies around the world work with designated visa agencies. Travelers should apply online via the Indian government visa website, and check out the website of the Indian embassy in the country where they wish to apply for more information.
Indian visas are granted on a case-by-case basis, so duration of a visas validity can vary. E-visas are valid for one month from the moment you arrive in India. Regular tourist visas are usually valid for three or six months, valid from the moment they are granted. In some cases, it’s possible to get a longer duration visa, and US citizens applying in the US usually get a 10-year multiple entry visa. For more on e-visas, see this guide on how to get a tourist visa for India from Hippie in Heels.
India is a destinations that fits any budget. From scrubby budget backpackers to high rolling business people, India offers something in every price range. We focus on the budget range. All prices below are for one person, unless otherwise stated.
India uses the Indian rupee (INR). The exchange rate at the time of writing was 70 INR to the euro and 67 INR to the dollar.
Food & drinks
- Water and soda: 10 – 40 INR
- Tea: 10 – 30 INR
- Breakfast and lunch: 40 – 100 INR
- Dinner: 50 – 150 INR
- Budget hotel: 400 – 800 INR
- Mid-range hotel: 800 – 2000 INR
- Historical sights: 0 – 500 INR
Fore more information, check out our budget report for South India.
Considering the sheer size of the country, getting around is pretty straightforward. Cities burst with rickshaws and taxis, while an elaborate bus and train network ensure you can get to your destination regardless of where it is.
Transportation in cities
Auto rickshaws, more commonly know as autos or tuk-tuk’s, are ubiquitous in India. They are an easy and fun way to get around, but getting the right price can be a hassle. In most places autos have set prices per kilometer, and are required by law to us a meter. In practice this is never enforced, and most drivers are reluctant to use their meter when driving foreigners. You’ll have to bargain.
Prices vary by state, so your best bet is to Google what the official rate is for each state you want to visit. When you know this, try to find out the distance you wish to travel, using Google Maps, for instance. This was you have a rough idea of what your trip should cost. Now comes the fun part.
To hail an auto just stick out your hand. An auto will appear within seconds. Tell the driver where you want to go, and if he’s interested he’ll tell you to get in. At this point you should tell him you want to use a meter. He will most likely snub you you. At that point, you should tell him the price you want to pay. He’ll probably act all suprised, and tell you its way too low. Just stick to your guns. If you’ve given a decent price, the driver will usually agree after some point. If not, try to hail another. Never get into an auto without agreeing on the price beforehand. In our experience, it’s much easier-and cheaper-to use a taxi hailing app like Uber or Ola.
Some trainstations have repaid auto stands.
Not nearly as ubiquitous as autos, but till very common in big cities. Taxis usually have meters, but not all drivers are willing to use these. Airports and train stations sometimes have pre-paid taxi stands. In our experience, it’s much easier and cheaper to use a taxi hailing app like Uber or Ola. Prices are usually lower than even for auto rickshaws. If you’re not using a taxi hailing app and the driver refuses to use a meter, use the same bargaining tactics as with rickshaws.
A good way to get around without leaving a carbon footprint. Most of them are sharks though, and will try to overcharge you to the extend that taking a taxi is cheaper. Short rides in cities like Delhi and Mumbai should be 1- rupees a head, but don’t be surprised if you end up having to pay 50. Bargain hard.
Some cities have reasonable pubic transport systems. Delhi’s and Mumbai’s metro are cheap and easy to use. Buses can be more tricky. Look online for common routes.
Transportation between cities
India’s vast bus network is reasonably well organized. Most state bus systems have websites with timetables, and some even allow you to book tickets online (not that this ever works, but that is besides the point). There are also plenty of private buses, from dingy lorries to super deluxe A/C sleeper buses.
State transport buses
For state transport buses, check online or ask your guesthouse what time the bus to your destination goes. Show up about half and hour before departure at the bus station, and inquirer about your destinations. In some states you can buy tickets at the bus station, in some states you’ll have to buy them in the bus. State transport buses are delightfully cheap.
Private buses and Volvo buses
For those wanting a bit more comfort, there’s a plethora of private bus operators. These range from shitty to super deluxe. Some State bus companies also run Volvo services, which are generally much more comfortable, but also much more expensive. For private company sleeper buses, ask a tour company or check out Redbus.
According to the Lonely Planter, the quintessential journey through India is a journey by train. India rail operates one of the largest rail networks in the work, and it does a decent job at it. Your biggest problem will probably be getting tickets. Tickets sell our notoriously fast, so if you wish to travel by train, do some planning in advance.
Most trains offer several classes: Sleeper 3 A/C, 2 A/C, 1 A/C, and for shorter distances there are several sitting options, too.
Sleeper class is delightfully cheap, but quite dirty and uncomfortable (although we swear by them). Each subsequent class offer more luxury and comfort, but at a price.
You can buy tickets online using the IRTCT website or app, but this can be extremely frustrating, especially because you can’t always pay with a foreign card. (We wrote an article here about how to get around this problem). To book train tickets online, check out this guide.
Entering and exiting
India shares land borders with Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar. Procedures differ per crossing, but, besides intense security checks on the India-Pakistan border, are relatively straight forward. You need a valid visa to cross into into over land.
India is a massive hodgepodge of cultures, and trying to describe it here would not do it justice. Below are some general pointers.
Tipping in India
In some places, especially more upscale restaurants and bars, a service charge will be included (on top of service and other taxes). In dhaba’s and local hol-in-the-walls service charge is almost never included. Tipping is appreciated, and in very touristic areas expected (even at crappy local places), but in general there is no need to tip unless you’re particularly happy with the service.
India has a very welcoming culture towards foreigners, especially outside the well beaten path (where you’re more likely to be seen as a walking ATM). Having said that, most people are incredibly kind, and are just curious to talk to you. Do keep your wits about you, especially as a girl. Being overly friendly towards Indian men can be seen as an advance. Girls are best advised to keep their distance, unless there are other women involved.
Although predominately Hindu, all major-and some not so major-religions can be found in India. Even though India is quickly Westernizing, especially in the big cities, remember that it is a conservative country at heart. Dress and behave accordingly.
Baksheesh can be roughly translated as bribe or tip. Chances are high you’ll be asked for baksheesh at one point or another. In some cases you should pay, in some you shouldn’t
When should I pay baksheesh?
In general, when someone in a (semi) official position goes out of their way to help you, you could be expected to pay baksheesh. A good example is a gatekeeper showing you around in places normally off limit, or opening up doors that are normally closed. Another example is when you take a photo with a (faux) sadhu in, say, Varanasi. Normally you shouldn’t pay more than 10-20 Rs.
There are also some gray areas. For instance when leaving your shoes when entering a temple. In most places it’s clear whether you have to pay or not. But in some cases it’s seemingly free, until someone shows up demanding money. In our experience, these guys are usually just bumming around trying to take your money, and we don’t give them anything unless is becomes clear we should, which usually doesn’t happen.
Another example is when someone gives you directions. Especially in tourist hotspots, people might ask money for this. We think this is nonsense, and you shouldn’t give in (it’s rewarding them for bad behavior). Others tend to disagree.
When shouldn’t I pay baksheesh?
Basically whenever it’s clearly intended as a bribe, you shouldn’t pay anything. Paying a bribe is illegal, and especially when you haven’t done anything wrong, you should never pay up. In case you have done something wrong, you might want to ask what the fine is to save yourself a lot of trouble. But in general, never pay a bribe.