India’s first visit was unforgettable. My first Delhi auto ride was a rollercoaster. Cars, trucks, bicycles, motorbikes, and even bullock carts were coming at me from all directions. Lanes and road laws were ignored. Wrong-way drivers. It was incomprehensible.

I was feeling “sensory overload” in India, as I had heard. It was exhilarating and terrifying. A preview. In 2005, I spent six months travelling the subcontinent and was often overwhelmed by the crowds, exotic rituals, confusing bureaucracy, mind-boggling complexity, and culture shock.

These things combined make India a challenging — though very exciting and rewarding destination. This first-time travel advice may help smooth out some of the more unsettling bumps.

1. Slow down

Navigating India takes time and skill. Travel here is slow. Don’t see everything—wrong. That’s It’s exhausting to travel in India, thus the goal should be to experience it.

Choose one region for two weeks in India. For a month, visit Rajasthan and Kerala. Sitting still won’t miss anything. If you’re in India, you’ll experience India.

2. Change your mindset

Enjoy India. “India hits you like a wave,” says The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Resisting knocks you down. You’ll be fine if you dive in.”

Expect the unexpected. Believe that things happen as they should, not as planned. This mindset can bring amazing experiences.

3. Trust carefully

While openness is desirable, scepticism is useful in India. Travel and hospitality scammers abound. They prey on first-timers.

Before haggling with auto-rickshaw drivers and market merchants, ask locals and travellers about rates. Drivers and strangers at airports, train stations, and tourist destinations who say your hotel burned down or your train was cancelled are lying.

Creative ways to make money off you can catch you off guard. The vendor showed me an Apple-made iPhone case when I was shopping for one. A closer check found four spelling errors in one brief text carved within the casing.

4. Travel safely

India is a scary travel destination, especially for women. As a female solo traveller in India for many years, I’ve felt uncomfortable but never threatened. Tourist crimes are rare, although harassment, staring, pickpocketing, and ripoffs are common.

Anecdotes of women being assaulted, particularly in crowded areas, exist. Use common sense and safeguards in India.

Please see my top advice for women travelling in India for further safety travel tips:

  • For local calls and communication, buy a local SIM card.
  • Make sure your destination has good infrastructure, accommodation, and other travellers.
  • Travel solely in daylight to avoid arriving late.
  • Avoid sharing your whereabouts on social media. Be vigilant and watch your handbag and luggage. Tourist Helpline: 1-800-111363.

5. Take a small-group tour

To ease into India, choose a small group or personalised tour. India for Beginners helps women travel securely in India. We provide a few small group excursions, but we specialise in custom trips and high-touch services like greeting travellers at the airport and assigning a 24/7 tour manager. India holds your hand!

6. Take the train

Train travel in India is a must-do. You require basic training and class knowledge. I suggest 2AC (second class with air conditioning) or CC (coach class) before sleeping or general class (chair car). Or 1AC (first class air-conditioned) or EC (executive chair car).

Book a Shatabdi or Rajdhani train—greatest. Remember that overnight trains don’t clean the restrooms, so book accordingly.

7. Eat the food

First-time visitors should try everything, even street food, in India, one of the world’s top gastronomic destinations. Masala chai, sweet lassi, biryani, pakoras, dosas, gulab jamun, and kheer are popular Indian dishes.

In India, you never know if a food item is polluted. A street stall or five-star restaurant. Following these guidelines can lower your risk of illness:

  • Bottled or filtered water only.
  • Check sauces and ice for undistilled water.
  • Avoid salad and raw food unless you can peel it (such as an orange or banana).
  • Freshly cooked food only.
  • Find crowded stalls and restaurants.

8. Buy a local SIM

India runs on WhatsApp, OTP verification, and texts. You need a local number. Get a local SIM at the airport. Still, India demands OTP authentication, and becoming registered with Indian Railways to buy train tickets online is practically difficult with a foreign credit card.

9. Remember your location

India is traditional but changing fast. Learn about its traditions and manners and be cautious. Wear a modest dress in India, except in Goa. For climate and culture, dress long, loose, and flowing. Be courteous to all religions, especially. In India, overfriendliness can be misinterpreted. Be cordial, but avoid over-friendliness with strangers, especially hospitality workers.

10. Seasonally

India values weather and season. In May and June, it’s hot everywhere, July to August is monsoon season, and December to February in north India is quite cold. Research India’s greatest seasonal destinations.

When it’s freezing in north India, visit Kerala or Goa’s beaches. Ladakh, a high desert plateau, is eerie in summer. Fall festivals include Durga Puja in Kolkata, Diwali in Jaipur, and the Pushkar Camel Fair.

11. Morning attractions

In India, mornings are quiet for destinations. Touristy or popular places are best visited early because Indians don’t start early (also the coolest time of day). Stay overnight in Agra and head to the Taj Mahal at sunrise to avoid the foreigner-dominated line. Hours later, Indian tourists will arrive.

Shopping is exempt. Restaurants and stores open at 10 or 11 am. Urban Indians finish late. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are late.

12. Go rural

First-time Indian travellers plan their trips around cities. They depart Delhi or Mumbai for Jaipur, Udaipur, Rishikesh, and Cochin. Visit jungles, deserts, and mountains. India has more than 50 tiger reserves, biodiversity hotspots like the Western Ghats and Sundarbans, the world’s 20th largest desert (the Thar Desert), and the highest mountain range (the Himalayas).

Trekking, tiger safaris, national parks, Rajasthan dunes, and Brahmaputra River cruises are all options.

Remember rural areas. Villages house most Indians. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand villages are worth exploring.

India is hard to travel to. It’s no vacation destination. It’s an experience—often life-changing. Research India, read books, watch movies, learn about the cultures and destinations, and prepare for country-changing travel.

You may fall in love with it like The Beatles, Steve Jobs, and Elizabeth Gilbert. “Once you have felt the dust of India, you will never be rid of it,” wrote Rumer Godden.

In 2005, Mariellen Ward visited India for the first country and fell in love with travel, blogging, and India. She has lived in India for about seven years. Mariellen calls India her “soul culture” despite being Canadian. She encourages female travellers on her Breathedreamgo travel blog. Her custom tour firm, India for Beginners, helps ladies safely travel in India.

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