Ok, so I really should have got my butt in gear and done this sooner, after all, this is a blog I created to help all you lovely people with your own traveling escapades! However, better late than never I guess, and today is particularly special as it was exactly a year ago that I first had my senses bombarded by the loud, colourful, sticky sweet beautiful country that is India. So….. In celebration, I plan to help and encourage more of you guys to go and experience this fantastic sensory assault for yourselves!
Apologies in advance if people who read this think I’m ‘trying to teach grandma to suck eggs’ but I found there was so much to do and prepare for before going to India that it was sometimes easy to forget the simple things ( you guys may just be a lot brighter than me, it’s highly possible!), so I’ve tried to make a definitive guide to all the things to consider before you go…..
Now I know this isn’t the most riveting post I’ve ever written but for anyone planning on a big excursion, these are all the less glamorous things most bloggers miss out when reporting back from their travels, so hear me out!
Indian Tourist Visa…. Saddle up for a rodeo with Indian Administration!
Apparently, If you are planning a trip which lasts 1 month or less, applying for the E-tourist visa is a relatively simple process. If you plan to stay in the country longer than this, you will have to commit a significant amount of time to do battle with the Indian Embassy….
A few tips from someone who made almost every mistake in the book regarding this process:
- The VISA is the same price whether you go for 5 weeks like we did (a mere week too long to apply for the E-tourist VISA), or 6 months so consider this when planning your trip. I think when we went the E-tourist VISA was around £30 and our long-stay VISA was around £100 so there is a big price difference.
- To apply for the VISA you must fill in an online form, be prepared to fill this out multiple times as the website crashes…A LOT! This is not a job to be undertaken when you have a spare five minutes! https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/index.html – This is the official government visa website, there are a lot of scams out there so take care!
- For a long-stay VISA you have to visit the Indian Embassy, there are only a few of these in the country so ensure you have some spare time for a road trip across the UK to get your VISA sorted (not the thing you want to be doing in the middle of exams like I did!)
- Regardless of what it says on the VISA website (where it distinctly says to bring a passport photo) bring a VISA photo because that’s actually what they really want. Do not do what we did which was have to rush down into the centre of town to find the nearest boots to get the most unattractive, sweaty photo of ourselves to run back up the hill before our appointment slot was closed!
- The actual appointment takes about 10 minutes – they check out your form which you filled in online, which you must print out and bring and look at your passport and Bob’s your uncle they send it off and you should hear if the Indian Government will let you in the country within a month!
- Your VISA starts from the day of issue, not the day you arrive in the country so don’t be super organised and get it months in advance or there’s a risk it may have expired by the time you get there!
- Make sure your passport is well in date… If I remember correctly you have to have at least 6 months on it from your return date to get the Indian VISA.
If you aren’t a fan of needles, India may not be the place for you….
Let’s talk vaccines! If you are doing any charity work or spending a significant amount of time in the country, you will likely need even more vaccinations than the standard set. Be prepared to shell out a significant amount for this – it was one of the most expensive parts of our trip! However, the good thing about being a walking pincushion for a while is many of the vaccines will last you for subsequent trips so you may only have to fork out for them once!
Here’s a run-down of the vaccines I had and the ones I would recommend:
- Tetanus – free on the NHS (if you require a booster)
- Typhoid – free on the NHS
- Hep A – usually have to pay for but when combined with Hep B you can get it free on the NHS
- Hep B – free on the NHS
- Cholera – this is an oral vaccine to take at home given on the NHS, we just had to pay prescription fee
- Rabies – As we were working on a rabies vaccination program we thought this was an essential, however, if you don’t plan to spend time with any animals it’s quite an expensive vaccine you could probably do without. This is around £60 per vaccine and requires a loading dose of three separate shots.
- Japanese encephalitis – Now this was the most expensive of all the vaccines and unfortunately only last 2 years unlike some of the others which cover you for years and are a bit more of an investment, this vaccine was around £180 so was a bit of a bank-breaker for a two injection course. However, this disease carried by mosquitoes is fatal in 1 in 3 people who get it, as we spent our time in a lot of rural areas we thought it was best to cover our backs!
Other possible medications to consider:
- Malaria – we didn’t take these because the North of India is more arid and it is not technically classed as a Malaria risk area. These are also incredibly expensive and can have some nasty side effects so talk to your GP/ travel clinic, tell them the areas you intend to travel to and they’ll advise you if they think you need them.
Top Tips for vaccinations:
- Talk to your GP about what they advise you get and get as many free on the NHS as possible, they may not advertise it so do your research.
- If you book flights with a travel or tour company like STA or if you can prove you are a student or doing certain charity work you can get discounts on some of the non-NHS vaccines.
- Leave enough time before your trip – most of these vaccines are given in 2 or 3 doses and some have long periods between each dose – I think it was the hepatitis vaccine which had to be done over a period of 4-6 months.
- Always take a copy of the vaccines you’ve had with you so if you do end up needing medical attention the doctors can see what you’ve had.
- Be aware that some of the vaccines can make you feel horrid for a few days after – so prepare yourself, don’t get jabbed before anything important e.g. exams!
Number one priority…..MAKE SURE YOUR PHONE IS UNLOCKED!! It may seem like common sense but it’s easily forgotten when you get your phone from a phone company that it may be locked to a certain network so remember to check this before you go.
It can be quite a chore trying to get your hands on an Indian sim card – you need an Indian representative, passport, Indian address during your stay …. the list goes on. However when you’ve managed to jump through all these hoops to prove you’re not a terrorist, the Indian ‘pay as you go’ sims are incredibly cheap, you can get internet data (an essential for the social media fiends amongst us) and contacting home is incredibly inexpensive.
It can be quite a chore trying to get your hands on an Indian sim card – you need an Indian representative, passport, Indian address during your stay …. the list goes on. However when you’ve managed to jump through all these hoops to “prove you’re not a terrorist”, the Indian ‘pay as you go’ sims are incredibly cheap, you can get internet data and contacting home is incredibly inexpensive. Definitely a must if you’re going to be in the country a while (especially if your mother insists you give her a daily check in to ensure her you’re still alive like mine did!).
Some UK phone companies do tariffs for traveling abroad, but these are much more expensive than getting your hands on an Indian sim. Saying that, it is advised to have something set up temporarily until an Indian sim is available to you -we had to wait 5 days before we even had the opportunity to sort out a sim.
Make sure the insurance you’ve got is suitable for what you’re going to be doing. In our case, we had to look for veterinary insurance for working with animals and medical equipment as a lot of normal policies don’t cover this. Also be aware if you’re thinking of doing any extreme sports as these sometimes have to be added onto policies.
Always take copies of all insurance documents with you when you travel in case you need medical attention or anything gets lost or stolen. Also, I’d advise being incredibly anal like I was and print out a sister copy of all documents for my mother (or other trusted and easily contactable friend or family member) so she knew where I was at all times, how to contact me and had all the relevant insurance and medical information in case I needed help at my end (thankfully this ended up being a waste of paper, however, it’s better to be safe than sorry!)
Plastic Money is Always a Must!
I would advise anyone who is traveling to India, or elsewhere for that matter to get a revolute card. It’s like a debit card and can be topped up via an app on your phone. You can load it with currency from your own country and spend it in almost any foreign currency ( so great if you’re country hopping) at the best exchange rates. You are also able to draw out money on this card, so it’s a great way to have access to cash too. It is password and pin protected so is also quite a safe way to carry your traveling savings.
Packing to make a Girl Guide Proud!
Now I am a woman well known by friends and family to pack for EVERY eventuality, but when traveling in India for 5 weeks the thought of taking a mere 65-litre backpack practically gave me heart palpitations!
First the great debate…. backpack or suitcase? My advice to anyone with this dilemma would be to consider how much you’re going to be traveling around and what modes of transport you will be taking. If you are mainly flying or taxiing or staying mostly in one place, a suitcase is fine and at times I greatly envied the suitcase “strutters” as they pulled their wheely suitcase along with ease, while I was struggling to carry what was basically another human on my back. However, backpacks are great for the trains or walking in India as everywhere is so crowded and wild it’s good to keep your luggage close and portable and also a god-sent to have your hands free, so if you are doing a lot of traveling internally I’d go with a backpack.
First and foremost, my advice would be to leave as much room as possible for all the souvenirs you WILL be bringing back! I had the not so fun game of playing packing Tetris the day before flying home and had to sacrifice a lot of my own stuff to fit everything in! My advice would be to pack the bare minimum clothes and take disposable wash gear for this very reason.
A few things I found incredibly useful:
- head torch – power shortages happen a lot and always at the most inconvenient times – I was incredibly thankful for my light source when I was plunged into darkness mid-way through a shower….
- Something to fashion a washing line out of – sounds gross but we did all of our washing the old-fashioned way with a bucket of water and soap. Having somewhere to hang up clothes to dry was really useful and if you’re on the move a lot you are likely to have to do some washing at some point.
- surge protector – the electricity supply in India is not stable so surges of electricity can fry your technology, this little gadget stops that happening – really useful!
- clothes you are happy to discard at the end of your trip – it is very likely that in the dust and the grime, your everyday clothes will get ruined so apart from one or two nice outfits, make sure most of your clothes are expendable (helps make room from all the souvenirs you’ll most likely buy too!).
- COMFY sandals – we went with Clark’s “granny sandals” which looked amazingly attractive but god were they comfy!? If you were anything like us, you will walk miles in India so comfy footwear is a must!
- If you’re a lady, tampons – they have an abundance of sanitary pads but due to the culture, you will struggle to find tampons so if you’re likely to need them, pack them.
- All your itinerary printed plus copies of important documents – passport, travel insurance, VISA, vaccinations etc. Always useful if technology dies or you lose your real passport etc.
- First aid kit – just a small one with the essentials is always useful for tackling minor injuries. I’d also make sure you have a hefty supply of antidiarrhoeals – if Delhi belly strikes you don’t want it ruining your holiday!
- Suitable clothes; to respect Indan culture clothes should ideally be below the knee and cover the shoulders (though more progressive ladies do now wear strap tops). Ensure they are made out of loose, light, breathable material to tackle the heat. A big scarf to wrap around your head in some temples or use as a shawl to cover up is also an essential. Dressing respectfully also helps avoid avod unwanted attention.
To Plan or not to Plan… That is the Question?
In my experience India is a very “go with the flow” kind of country. We found that as long as we were guaranteed internet access we could more or less sort out our next move (travel, accommodation, activities) while in India a week or so in advance. However, what I would advise is that you pre-book everything down to the underwear you’re wearing for the first few days while you’re finding your feet (because trust me you will need it!) from the safety of your own home. It makes it much less stressful when you are exhausted from traveling, you’ve been hit by the Indian heat, your senses are being assaulted by India’s ambience and you’re trying in vain to get your bearings.
As with anywhere, it’s also advisable to plan any of the popular tourist destinations in advance. For us, this was the Taj Mahal (just the hotel, you can’t pre-book tickets to the Taj until you are in the country and they are used to accommodating for the masses anyway so we didn’t find getting in an issue) and the Ranthambore National Park tours and accommodation.
When pre-booking, bear in mind there are multiple westernised companies which offer you an extortionate price, so shop around a bit. Try to find an Indian company, these seem much less official ( we had several email conversations, all of them insisting on calling me ‘Sir’ which involved a lot of chitchat and over the web bartering but it all turned out fine in the end!). In the end, we managed to get 4 nights with transfers from the airport and onto our next destination, all meals included, 4 safaris in a private jeep and a walking tour up to Ranthambore fort for £200. We were well looked after, got an amazing experience and were fed like kings.
…Ok so not the most exciting post I’ve ever created, but hopefully a useful one! For those of you wanting to travel to India who are maybe not that well traveled, or for those of you lucky devils who are well versed in traveling I hope this has given you a few tips and things to think about when planning your trip…. I promise to make my next post a bit more exciting!