Traveling to India is a dream for many people, but a trip to India is not something that can happen on the spur of the moment. Not only is airfare expensive, but there are some important legal and health concerns to be addressed before you go. The weather and an abundance of festivals make October to February the best time of year to visit India, but whenever you choose to go, it’s bound to be a feast for the senses and an unforgettable journey.
While you plan the trip of a lifetime, keep the following points in mind.
In addition to your valid passport, you will need a tourist visa to enter India. An Indian Tourist Visa allows you to stay in India for up to six months. To get a visa, you’ll need to submit an Indian Tourist Visa application along with a valid passport with at least two blank pages, a recent photo, details of your itinerary and the required fee, which is currently $70. An independent agency processes visa applications for the Indian Embassy, and this can take up to six weeks, so plan ahead.
While arriving at your destination without a set itinerary or hotel reservation can add a sense of freedom and adventure to your trip, it can be very inconvenient – or even dangerous—when traveling to India. If you’re flying in to a major city like Delhi or Mumbai (which is likely), then book a hotel room for at least the night of your arrival. After a long flight through several time zones, chances are you’re just going to want a hot shower and a comfortable bed to crash in for the night. Even if you want to be spontaneous for the rest of your trip, having a place to land for your first night in India will get you off to a good start.
Another benefit of having first night accommodations booked in advance is safety. It’s easy to become disoriented in Indian cities, and after a day of traveling, you might not be as in tune with your surroundings as you should be. Getting lost is certainly a possibility, as is the likelihood that thieves or other criminals could target you.
Once you are outside of the cities, though, it’s generally not difficult to find accommodations as you need them. Carry an up-to-date guidebook, and check the calendar before you travel. For example, in the coastal city of Goa during the Christmas season, crowds of holiday vacationers make finding a room at any of Goa’s many hotels last minute nearly impossible.
Travel within India
The best way to see India is by train, and many visitors opt not to book advance reservations in order to avoid being tied down by an itinerary. However, in recent years, the Indian Railway has become a popular and inexpensive alternative to domestic flights, and seats are often sold out weeks or months in advance. If you plan to travel within India by train, check the schedule and reserve tickets ahead of time.
If you plan to fly between Indian cities instead, the rates are higher, but regular departures make it much easier to find a seat. The airlines usually offer discounts for bookings 14 to 21 days out. Compare your options before choosing your mode of transportation; air travel is faster, but the train gives you a chance to view the beautiful landscape of India.
Since India is still a developing nation, the chance of becoming ill there is greater than when you visit, say, Orlando. Talk with your doctor before heading to India to ensure that you have all the vaccinations and preventive medications you need. For example, malaria and dengue fever, both transmitted by mosquitoes, are common but preventable diseases. Take anti-malaria medication before your trip, and use strong bug repellent to prevent dengue fever.
Hepatitis A, spread by contaminated food, and hepatitis B, spread by contact with blood and bodily fluids, are also common but preventable with vaccines. Ask your doctor to update your shots if necessary. Consider a tetanus booster as well, since this type of bacteria is common in the soil of developing countries like India. Typhoid, a bacterial disease spread by contaminated food and water, is also preventable with a vaccine.
The most common ailments among travelers to India, though, are diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems, due mainly to the change in diet or contaminated food and water. Carry anti-diarrheal medications, drink bottled water only and eat freshly prepared food from reputable restaurants and vendors.
When packing for a trip to India, there are two schools of thought: pack everything you need since you may not be able to find certain things in Indian cities, or pack very little and buy what you need when you get there. Either approach works; it just depends on your personal preference.
When packing, check the weather and climate for your destination, and pack accordingly. Some parts of India are very hot and dry, while others are cold – and then there are the beaches. If you plan to travel around the country, pack lightly enough so that you can easily transport your belongings, preferably in a backpack, since the uneven streets make wheeled luggage impractical. Women should bring conservative clothing. Make sure to prepare for bugs and unreliable power – pack bug spray and flashlights, plus extra batteries.
Taking the time to plan ahead before you set off for an adventure in India will make your trip far more pleasant. Instead of miserable memories of illness and discomfort, you’ll create enchanting memories of tiger treks, tropical beaches and bustling cities.
This guest post article was written and provided by Erica Gustafson who is a freelance writer, avid traveler to India and online media consultant for Expedia. When visiting India she likes to stay at the Hotel Savera in Chennai.