I visited India for the first time in March 2020. It was absolutely one of my favorite travel experiences to date. Because of its sheer size, it’s impossible to see everything in just ten days. I chose to follow the Golden Triangle, one of the most popular tourist circuits in India, connecting Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. I also traveled to Udaipur, which is approximately a six-hour drive from Jaipur.
There’s a lot of information on the internet about how to prepare for a trip to India. In fact, it can be overwhelming. Here are my best tips and things you absolutely need to know before visiting India for the first time.
Tips for Visiting India for the First Time
Preparing For India
India is known for causing culture shock for many foreign travelers. It’s both beautiful and dirty, chaotic, and peaceful. It’s almost always loud, and there are strong smells. People will stare at you. Wild animals are roaming everywhere. In some places, you have to watch out for scammers and thieves. There’s a chance that when you return to your room at the end of the day, you’ll be mentally drained from overstimulation. I say all this not to scare you, but to prepare you. Its jarring juxtapositions is what makes India such a compelling destination.
If possible, I recommend watching a few Bollywood movies before you go. They tend to depict realistic situations and address some of the issues Indians experience. Having some of that background will make you more understanding of the things you may see. A couple of my favorite Bollywood movies include Slumdog Millionaire, Lagaan, Kahaani, Luka Chuppi, Diwali, Love Aaj Kal, and Swades.
There are twenty-three official languages in India, and thousands of dialects; however, more than 40% of Indians speak Hindi. Many people are surprised to learn that English is also widely spoken. When I traveled to India, there was a translator with us at all times. It was super helpful for negotiating better rates at shops; however, I don’t think I would have had much trouble getting around without him, especially in bigger cities.
Before you travel to India, I recommend getting a physical exam to make sure you’re in good health.
While you’re there, ask your physician if there are any immunizations they recommend that you get. Also, confirm that you’re up to date on all of your other shots. Everyone’s situation will be different, so I’m not going to recommend anything here.
I picked up malaria prevention from the pharmacy. However, after reading all of the side effects of the medication, which would be administered daily, I chose not to take it. I only had ten days to spend in India – I didn’t want to take any chances dealing with side effects the entire time. My physician told me that based on my itinerary, he felt that my risk of getting malaria was extremely low. So, he gave me the all-clear to nix it. As always, ask your physician for medical advice before you make that decision.
Lastly, it is important to mention that credit cards are widely accepted, and ATMs are available throughout major cities and tourist areas. I rarely carry cash at home, so I only took $200 (USD) to spend across ten days. Since I could use my credit card in most places, I only used it at small shops that were cash only. After paying exchange fees and shopping, I still had rupees left over at the end of my trip. However, it is illegal for non-Indians to take Indian rupees out of the country. I chose to give it away as a tip before I left.
Packing for India
I was mostly worried about what to pack for India. I read a bunch of blog posts and watched several YouTube videos that recommended TONS of items. You can do that – but I’m going to tell you what I actually used and recommend that you bring on your trip. I went with only a backpack and carry-on, so trust me when I say, these are the essentials.
First, India is a very conservative country when it comes to clothing. If you’re a woman, be sure to cover your shoulders, knees, and hide any cleavage. Some places will also require you to cover your hair, so be sure to bring a scarf! I wouldn’t feel comfortable pushing any boundaries. However, I have heard that in the summer, you may be able to get away with wearing tank tops and long shorts.
I traveled to India in early March, so the temperature during the day was in the 70s/low 80s. I primarily wore crew neck shirts, breathable pants, and long dresses (with sleeves). I’m glad I brought a jacket because it was surprisingly very cold at night and in the morning.
India is not a place where you’ll see people dressed up or in glamorous outfits (unless there’s a wedding, of course).
Keep it simple. I packed essentials that I could mix and match to create different outfits. I think it’s also a good idea to plan to buy some outfits there.
As far as shoes – I recommend bringing sandals and flip flops. You’ll want to wear shoes that can be easily cleaned or rinsed off, unlike sneakers. I brought one pair of platform sandals based on a blogger’s recommendation. However, it was a bit more challenging to navigate some of the roads in them. If you are doing a lot of walking, skip the platforms. I don’t think they kept my feet cleaner anyway.
Other things that you MUST bring to India:
LifeStraw water bottle:
Everyone knows that the water in India is not safe to drink. Bottled water is available almost everywhere you go; however, if you want to be extra safe like me, I recommend buying a LifeStraw water bottle. The 2-stage filter protects against parasites and bacteria. What impressed me most was that you could get water from a stream, river, or tap and filter it on the go. I never ran out of bottled water in India, but if I were ever in a bind and had to drink from the tap, I’d feel more comfortable with this product. If I had to recommend only one product, this would be it!
The new diet, dehydration from flying, a change in climate, stress, and even lack of sleep (jetlag) can cause Delhi Belly or Traveler’s Diarrhea. I never got sick in India, and I attribute it to my LifeStraw bottle and the fact that I only ate in upscale restaurants. I wasn’t taking any chances on street food. I’m also vegetarian, so I didn’t have to worry about eating bad meat. However, with this one, I think we’d all rather be safe than sorry.
Money Belt / Neck Wallet:
As with any country, there are pickpockets. The main difference in India is that the streets can be extremely crowded. Because so many people are touching you at once, you may not notice that you’ve been robbed. For that reason, you need to secure your money, identification, and bank cards. I brought a money belt; however, I wasn’t able to use it because 1) I mostly wore dresses, and 2) I felt odd lifting my shirt to get my money out. It’d probably be fine for guys. I brought a waterproof cell phone holder that I wore around my neck instead. Pro tip: if you’re going to India during Holi, a waterproof cell phone holder is also a must-have!
Your hotel will most likely provide a small roll of toilet paper; however, it’s a rare find in public restrooms. Additionally, you may find yourself crouching behind trees at some point. I can’t remember if I ever saw baby wipes for sale, so it’s best to bring your own. You can also use them to keep your hands clean throughout the day.
Thanks to coronavirus, I don’t think I even have to explain the importance of this one. Don’t leave home without it!
Universal Travel Adapter:
Be sure you’re able to charge your electronics while you’re abroad! Certain adapters are made for small electronics like cell phone chargers, while others can handle larger electronics such as blow dryers and straighteners. I fried one of my adapters when I tried to use it for my blow dryer. Lesson learned!
Where to Stay in India
Luxury accommodations are very affordable in India, so take advantage! Not only will you sleep more comfortably, but you’ll also have access to some of the best (and safest) food in the country. Almost all of my meals were in hotel restaurants. Additionally, you’ll have access to high-speed wifi, luxurious spas, and pools.
New Delhi: The LaLiT New Delhi
The LaLit New Delhi is one of the best five-star hotels in Delhi. Aside from its gorgeous rooms and suites, it has a variety of shops (including a pastry shop), three restaurants that offer various cuisines, a bar, and even a night club. It’s also the only hotel in New Delhi with an art gallery.
Agra: Courtyard Agra by Marriott
Courtyard Agra is another 5-star luxury hotel that provides an idyllic getaway near the famous Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. I spent most of my time in the hotel’s spa, where you will find services at incredible rates. I received a 90-minute massage, foot soak, scalp massage, and unlimited time in the sauna for less than $60 (USD)!
Jaipur: Holiday Inn Jaipur City
Holiday Inn Jaipur City is located near popular tourist attractions like Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, Amber Fort, Nahargarh Fort, City Palace, Jal Mahal, and Albert Hall. There’s also a mall right across the street that some of my friends walked to. I was blown away by the restaurants which offer both Indian and Rajasthani Royal cuisine as well as Chinese delicacies.
Udaipur: Aurika Udaipur
Aurika Udaipur is hands down the best hotel I’ve stayed at to date! Sitting appropriately on a hilltop, it is one of the best upscale resorts in Udaipur. The property spreads across 5 acres and is utterly breathtaking. Walking through its grand courtyards and terraced gardens, I felt as though I had been transported somewhere else. It was incredibly peaceful, so I chose to spend my time relaxing at the pool. It’s the only hotel I took photos of on this trip. Scroll down to see why.
India is an incredible country, and I look forward to visiting again soon. I hope these tips are helpful as you plan to visit India for the first time. If you’re interested in seeing more videos from my trip, check out my India Instagram highlight here or at @itsjazzyt. Let me know if you have any questions, and keep an eye out for a post on the most Instagrammable locations in India coming soon!