India travel tips: 27 things to know before visiting India

Rachel HannahJanuary 24, 2023

After having just come back from a month-long trip to India I have to admit, it is such a beautiful country in so many ways!

Beforehand, I knew visiting Asia for the first time would be a culture shock, let alone going to one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world and there were a lot of things I wish I had known before visiting India.

My trip was compromised of extreme highs and extreme lows so I wanted to share my India travel tips so you know what places are worth visiting, what things to bring with you, how to mentally prepare for everything you will encounter, and more!

So let’s dive into my India travel tips on the good, the bad, and the ugly when visiting India.

street in jaipur

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

27 Things to Know About India

1. You will probably need a visa

One of the first things to know about India before visiting is that most countries will require you to have a visa before you are allowed to enter the country.

I was able to do this process online but they do require a lot of information about you, your spouse (if applicable), and your parents so make sure to gather all of your documents and info before getting started to streamline the process.

To find out if India will require you to have a visa check out the official Government of India website.

2. The Taj Mahal is NOT overrated

girl smiling at taj mahal

Before seeing the Taj Mahal for myself I always wondered if it would be as impressive in person as it seems in pictures or if it was just something to check off of your bucket list.

I can confidently say that the Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building I have EVER seen! I got chills as I walked through the gate and got my first glimpse of it!

The history, detailed architecture, and white marble are beyond words!

If you are visiting India for the first time you just have to visit this Wonder of the World!

The best part is that the Taj Mahal is only 3 hours away from Delhi so it’s an easy day trip. After spending 2 days in Delhi the group I went with joined a Golden Triangle Tour similar to this one. Multiday tours are the most common way to see the Taj Mahal along with other famous sites in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Our tour lasted 5 days and included our own personal driver.

3. There is a language barrier

Now this might seem quite obvious as around 80% of the population are Hindus and by default speak Hindi as their first language.

It was no surprise to me that in rural areas, English speakers were non-existent but what threw me off was how little English people can speak inside the bigger and more educated cities.

According to this Lok Foundation study, only 12% of people in urban areas said they can speak English.

Besides nicer hotels and restaurants where most of the workers are fluent, I found it very hit-and-miss on which people could speak more than a few words of English.

Even our personal driver we had for the Golden Triangle Tour primarily spoke Hindi and we later found out that most of his passengers were American tourists.

I point this out because when if you are booking a tour it may say it comes with an English-speaking guide – what you don’t know is how fluent their English really is. To avoid struggling, I highly recommend downloading Google Translate on your phone before visiting India.

Of course, this will also be a necessity if you also plan on visiting the more rural parts of India.

I was very thankful to have my fiance’s parents in the car with us who know fluent Hindi – it made my life so much easier!

4. The traffic in Delhi can break the most patient person

india traffic

I consider myself a pretty patient and go-with-the-flow person but I reached my peak in Delhi.

One evening what should have been a 15-minute drive back to our hotel took an hour or more. But what was even more triggering was the constant horns and subtle breaking – being starving didn’t help either.

One of the best India travel tips I can suggest is to always have snacks with you and headphones to cancel out traffic noise.

5. There is no toilet paper in public bathrooms

Ya, that’s an annoying one – especially when you have already started doing your thing and it hits you that you’ve forgotten to bring tissues in with you.

Now I will say this statement isn’t 100% true, sometimes there is toilet paper in the stalls (usually in just a few but not all) or someone outside the bathroom who will hand you some but more often than not this isn’t the case.

One of my biggest India travel tips is to bring rolls of toilet paper with you if you have room in your luggage or stock up on napkins from restaurants. Or in the times when you find toilet paper in the stalls take extra with you once you leave and keep them in your bag or purse.

Another tip is to carry a reusable fast-drying towel like this one to dry your hands off so you don’t burn through all of your napkins.

6. Akshardham Temple is one of the largest Hindu Temple in the world

Akshardham Temple

Delhi’s Akshardham Temple is not only one of the largest Hindu temples in the world but it’s also one of the most beautiful!

The craftsmanship here is unreal!!! The temple is exclusively made with marble and pink sandstone from Rajasthan.

As a Christian, I didn’t visit for spiritual reasons but I was curious to see the distinct architecture and learn what Hindus actually believe.

Interestingly enough, the life and teachings of the founder, Sahajanand Swami (also known as Swaminarayan), are explained in brilliant elephant carvings that encompass the entirety of the main temple.

While it is free to enter the temple the security to go inside Akshardham is intricate. They don’t allow any type of electronics, food, or beverages, so if you are coming by car leave them behind.

If not, there is shockingly a very secure locker system you can use for a few rupees.

It’s right in Delhi so my advice is not to miss this place when visiting India! You can either go by yourself or book a small group tour like this one that includes transport and a guide who can better explain everything you are seeing inside and outside of the temple.

If you come in the evening you could opt to purchase tickets for the musical fountain light show in person or reserve this privately guided night tour that also includes tickets to the show for only $42 USD. It looked really cool but unfortunately, we came too early in the day for it.

7. Learn to haggle

one of the best india travel tips is to learn how to haggle

My fiance’s mom is a pro at haggling!

Besides restaurants and retail stores, you can and should haggle at shops, markets, and with roadside entertainers! Otherwise, you are sure to get ripped off because the prices are typically set at least double the price for foreign tourists.

One of my top travel tips for India is to haggle and this guide has lots of tips on how to do it successfully when visiting India.

8. The Khasi Hills are one of the most beautiful regions for nature and waterfalls

girl smiling at laitlum canyon

Laitlum Canyon was breathtaking!

The Khasi Hills in the northeast part of India in the state of Meghalaya is not widely visited because getting there isn’t easy to do BUT if you do your own research to plan a visit it will be so worth it!

During my month in India, I spent most of my time based out of Shillong in the East Khasi Hills – one of India’s hill stations. Shillong is in close proximity to breathtaking canyons, lush rainforests, hills, waterfalls, and a whole bunch of local culture and cuisine. It’s definitely an underrated region you will want to add to your list before visiting India!

9. Traveler’s diarrhea is common

All over Asia, traveler’s diarrhea is very common, the main reason this is so frequent is that sanitation in India isn’t the best and the food and water can be contaminated.

While locals have a tolerance for it outsiders don’t.

Unfortunately for me, I became another statistic. I am actually still batting prolonged aftereffects while I am writing this from my apartment.

One of the key travel tips for India is to bring supplements with you for prevention/treatment.

I wish I had known about traveler’s diarrhea before visiting India so I could have built up my gut with a probiotic. This one from Seed is what I normally use but I wasn’t strict on taking it in the months before I left.

What has helped me to recover from my symptoms are oil of oregano drops, Beekeeper Natural’s Immune Spray, and Sovereign Silver. All the links are for travel-size bottles. If you are going to get any of them I recommend the oil oregano the most! It is very powerful and fast-acting.

This guide is also another great resource to check out!

10. There is extreme poverty

indian home

A majority of people in India still live in extreme poverty (living on less than 145 rupees or $1.90 USD a day).

Besides the low percentage of well-off Indians, most people live on the streets or in simple homes and spend their days cooking, harvesting food, and selling goods and food at roadside stands.

The ah-ha moment for me was when I saw women washing their clothes in the river in Laitkyrhong. It hit me that this was their normal.

Seeing the poverty along the streets and among the cities for the first time brought me so many emotions, from shock to heartbreak to curiosity, but ultimately it was a humbling lesson.

I left with so much gratitude for the privilege of being an American. It really made me realize how easy my life is and that a lot of things aren’t worth complaining about!

While it wasn’t easy to see the cute little girl come up to our car window and beg for money in Jaipur I think there’s a lot that anyone visiting India can learn by seeing scenarios like this firsthand.

11. Masala chai is served EVERYWHERE

masala chai

I think my veins were flowing with chai by the time I left India!

One of my all-time favorite things about India is the infamous masala chai – there is truly nothing better than a clay cup filled with the perfectly hot, spiced, and milky liquid.

The best part is that masala chai can be found pretty much everywhere. From roadside stands to restaurants and cafes to being offered some when I got my nails or hair done, the chai will find its way to you!

I quickly forgot my affinity for coffee and became completely smitten with masala chai instead! This is definitely one thing to look forward to about visiting India!

12. The people are so friendly

inidan girls smiling in front of church

One of the best things to know about India is that the people are genuinely kindhearted. Most of them may not have much materially speaking, but what they do have is good character.

The Indian people I interacted with went above and beyond for me, and their hospitality really made me feel more comfortable when adjusting to their country.

13. 5 – star hotels are not what they are in the US or Europe

5 star hotel room in india

One of the things to know about India is that 5-star hotels might not meet initial expectations.

I’m not saying that the 5-star hotels are bad by any means! All the places we stayed at were beautiful, clean, comfortable, and had delicious food. Of course, some were better than others.

However, by American or European standards there are some minor flaws I came across, especially in the rooms such as poor wifi, rust in the bathroom, a broken faucet, furniture showing wear, etc, that you wouldn’t normally find at a 5-star hotel in more developed countries.

Plus, the overall awe factor of the room’s decor tended to be more simple.

Besides the wifi, none of the other things truly bothered me but if you are a high-standard traveler visiting India keep this in mind and read lots of reviews!

One of the nicest hotels I stayed at in India was actually a 3-star resort in Cherrapunji! It goes to show that the star rating doesn’t mean everything.

14. The head wobble

If you stay long enough in India you might start to pick on the quirky side-to-side head wobble that a lot of Indians use. For the longest time, I was trying to figure out what it meant because it was being used in all types of situations.

It could mean they’re saying yes, understanding what you are saying, or simply just reacting when you thank them. You kind of start to figure it out based on the context of the conversation.

It’s quite endearing and I even noticed that I was starting to do it too! It was definitely of the cool things I came across when visiting India.

15. The roads outside of big cities are rough

winding road in east inida

Many of India’s roads are windy and not very maintained so an hour’s car ride can be pretty taxing for some people.

For me, the 3-hour ride from Shillong to Cherrapunji was the worst! There were so many narrow roads, sharp twists and turns, and bumps.

So another one of my travel tips for India is to stock up on car sickness tablets now! You’ll be happy to have them on hand.

Also, ask your driver to go slower if you are struggling.

16. Hiring a driver is essential for touring big cities

No matter what places you plan on going to when visiting India hiring a driver is the best option! Not only is it the most convenient but it is also private, clean, and comfortable.

With your own driver, you will also have someone who knows the best way to access all of the tourist spots. Plus, you can communicate with them about any specific requests you have for food or sightseeing. They will also know which restaurants are more trustworthy for foreigners to eat at.

17. You will need to be assertive when crossing the road

indian teens on road

One of the interesting things to know about India is there are really no crosswalks – it’s a free-for-all, just like their traffic laws.

Now it may be intimidating when you need to cross a busy intersection but you have to be aggressive.

When there’s a little bit of an opening, start walking and all the other cars WILL stop for you even if it doesn’t seem like it. They are used to people doing this all day long.

If you’re hesitant at first watch how locals do it or follow behind others who are crossing the street.

18. The Double Decker Living Root Bridge needs to be on your India bucket list

double decker living root bridge meghalaya

If you love to hike then seeing Double Decker Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya needs to be on your radar! This was one of the best things I got to do while visiting India!

The Double Decker Living Root Bridge is a natural bridge formed from the roots of the rubber fig tree and guided across the river by the Khasi people where it could strengthen and anchor to the other side.

The Nongriat Trek – Living Root Bridge is definitely a challenging one. There are 3,500 stairs you will need to climb down to get there. It is 2 miles each way and typically takes 4 to 5 hours for the average person.

The good news is that the journey down is a scenic one! You will cross a stream and suspension bridge and also pass over a single root bridge before reaching the main attraction. There is also a waterfall with a swimming area and people who live in the valley selling food that you can enjoy while you are down there.

You can finish this hike in one day but if you want to enjoy all of the stops then you can also spend a night in the Nongriat Village.

19. You might need to take a “bucket bath”

If you are a backpacker or budget traveler this India travel tip is for you!

Because running water is not always reliable most homes and average hotels will not have an overhead showerhead. Instead, you’ll see a tap at the bottom, one large bucket, and a much smaller bucket with a handle.

The large bucket you will use to fill with a mix of hot and cold water and the small one you will use to rise off with.

I stayed in my fiance’s family house so I used this method while I was visiting India and after the first time, I got the hang of how to do it. It’s really not so bad and even a little fun because you get to dump water all over the bathroom!

Check out this guide on how to take a “bucket bath” for more details.

20. Most hotels in India are NOT heated

You might be thinking, why would I need heat in India? I traveled to India in December and it actually gets quite cold, even in Delhi!

I felt cold in all of our hotel rooms and at first, I tried turning the heat up. When the room never seemed to get warmed I just thought it was broken but then I caught on after this happened again.

My Finding’s Tip: I learned later on that in some hotels you can request a space heater from the front desk!

21. The street food is delicious!

indian food hut

One of the things to know about India is that the street food is so good and there are a billion options! The flavors and dishes however will vary drastically depending on what part of India you are in.

For example, in West Bengal, you’ll find a lot of spicy dishes like kosha mangsho (mutton curry) whereas in East India their dishes use a lot of dairy, rice, and vegetables and are less flavorful than the rest of India.

Do take caution and don’t just eat from anywhere or you might end up with traveler’s diarrhea as I mentioned in one of the other India travel tips above. I would recommend asking your guide for recommendations or if you are by yourself try and visit spots that look really popular.

22. Brace for air pollution

After blowing your nose for the night you might notice black on your tissues from all the dirt and dust that you breathed in during the day.

While that can’t be avoided you can bring some saline nasal spray to prevent a stuffy dry nose.

23. Noise, noise, and more noise!

crowds of people in india

It can’t be ignored, the noise in India can be deafening!

There will be masses of people everywhere you go in big cities and everyone seems to be having a conversation.

Most cities are overpopulated and have no traffic laws so you will hear the never-ending sounds of horns when getting around. Then add in police sirens and loud work trucks. It can be a lot, to say the least.

24. Meghalaya is one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in India

indian home with christmas lights

You might be shocked to learn that Christmas is celebrated in India being that the overwhelming religion is Hinduism. For the most part, it really isn’t but there are a few Indian states that are predominantly Christian, and when they celebrate it’s over the top!

The small town of Shillong in the state of Meghalaya is one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in India. When I was there during Christmastime I got to see the shops, churches, trees, and streets covered with glistening lights and decorations!

There was also the Winter Tales Festival going on which was super fun!

Shillong is also famous for its local musical talent and many of the nice restaurants had live Christmas-themed music going on.

25. People will approach you and try and sell you stuff

woman holding indian dessert

This traditional sweet (Soan Papdi) is one of the tasty things we bought from a street seller!

In all tourist areas, there will be people and even kids who will try and sell you stuff.

Try not to say anything or make eye contact with the sellers or beggars. Even saying no will encourage them to engage more desperately with you for a sale.

It can be really hard to ignore because they will use lines like “buy food for my baby” or tell you you’re pretty and how nice their bracelet will look on you.

If you aren’t wanting any of these trinkets the only way to get out of it is to ignore them. If there is something really want make sure you haggle as I mentioned above.

26. Having cash is important

indian rupees

Most taxis, shopkeepers, and small local restaurants will only accept rupees so always have at least 3000 rupees ($37 USD) on you at all times so you don’t get stuck.

27. Squat toilet

squat toilet

One of the things to know about India is that you will probably come across the squat toilet. It’s basically a bowl in the ground and you use it just like its name suggests… by squatting.

I mostly found these toilest to be in rural towns or natural areas like when I visited Laitlum Canyon and went hiking in Cherrapunji. Otherwise, if you are in a nicer city there will be normal toilets or both options to pick from.

Final Word on Travel Tips for India

Thanks for reading my blog! I hope this list of things to know about India has given you more insight into what this country is really like so you know how to prepare for your trip.

Your visit is likely to have its challenges but if I can give you one last tip for visiting India it’s to stay optimistic, there’s sure to be a high around the corner. I found this to be true more often than not!

If you want to read more about my India adventures I’ve listed a few guides below:

Things to do in Shillong

Slower-paced 2 days in Delhi itinerary

Where to stay in Shillong

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