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10 Things Every Traveler Must Know Before Visiting India

Simple tips to help you navigate the country without feeling overwhelmed.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Things Every Traveler Must Know Before Visiting India

Taj Mahal on a sunny day with beautiful sky

Conducting plenty of research, obtaining a visa well in advance and packing conservative clothing are just a few steps you should take before your trip.(Getty Images)

Beautiful, chaotic, colorful, inspiring ... India is a place unlike any other, offering an incredible contrast of sights, smells, sounds and tastes. It's a country that will undoubtedly get under your skin – one way or another. But as enthralling as it can be, it also can cause culture shock and can leave even the most seasoned of travelers overwhelmed. To keep your trip enlightening, not exhausting, keep these tips in mind when traveling to India's vibrant cities, breathtaking coastlines and enchanting countryside locations.

Research, Research, Research

India houses a diverse range of bustling destinations and can't-miss attractions – from majestic temples to striking natural landmarks to superlative beaches and lively cities. Instead of trying to see it all on one trip, pick one part of the country to focus on and get immersed in it. For a taste of classic India, head to the Golden Triangle, which touches three of the country's most famous destinations: Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Or, spend time in India's southern states to explore stunning beaches along Goa's coast or visit Mumbai's vibrant city center. Alternatively, you can head to India's northern and central regions for some of the country's most fascinating religious relics and sites, like the marble temples of Rajasthan or the carved edifices of Khajuraho.  

Be Mindful of What You Eat

"Delhi belly" isn't just a myth, but a real ailment many visitors leave with after indulging in too many curries and street-side snacks. Although there's a high chance you'll experience some gastrointestinal discomfort while you visit, you can avoid serious illness (or spending your vacation holed up in your hotel) by staying mindful of everything you eat. Avoid most street food carts (as they often don't follow strict health codes), eat only peeled fruits and vegetables and try to eat food that's been only boiled or fried. And when it comes to water, don't drink from the tap and skip the ice.

Stay in a Reputable Hotel

This is especially true for first-timers, particularly those without extensive international travel under their belt. There's no denying India's great cities can be dangerous, so booking a stay in a hotel brand you know will take the stress out of visiting the bedazzling cities. The Grand Hyatt Mumbai and the Grand Hyatt Goa, for example, offer homey amenities, like elegant fine dining establishments, spacious rooms and an English-speaking staff.

Bring Your Camera

India is a street photographer's dream for a reason. There's so much to see and capture at any given moment. Your camera will showcase moments, experiences and encounters that you're too busy to notice, like a little boy picking up fruit at a street stall or an elderly woman looking up from a massive pile of saris. Plus, you'll leave with impressive photos to share stories of your incredible adventures when you return back home.

Enter With an Open Mind

Nothing can prepare you for the traffic of Mumbai or Delhi, where you'll dodge and weave past tuk tuks and minibuses or when you reach a stoplight and children approach your car, banging on the car windows for food and money. There's no way to equip yourself for everything you're going to see, feel or hear during your time, so brace yourself for the unexpected by traveling  with an open mind and taking everything as it comes.

Bring Cash

Although some areas accept credit cards, the primary currency across India is cash – especially once you reach the more rural parts of India. To avoid extra hassles, bring plenty of cash for cabs and tuks tuks, for restaurants and markets and especially for shopping. Many of the city bazaars (bustling shopping centers) are a shopper's paradise, so don't skip picking up those Sri Lanka cinnamon sticks or that homespun elephant scarf due to a lack of funds.

Explore Outside the Cities

Home to more than a billion residents, India can certainly be described as crowded and bustling. However, the densest populations can be found in the big cities, offering some refuge for weary travelers in the countryside. Instead of spending your entire trip in a city, spend just a few days taking in urban areas before recharging your batteries along the backwaters of Kerala or getting lost in the expansive, rolling desert hills of Zanskar, where the only other people you'll see are farmers and nomads.

Get a Visa

Obtaining a visa is a must. In fact, India requires U.S. citizens to have a visa before entering the country and most embassies require at least one month's notice to prepare one. However, if you're in a bind, you can apply for one online for a heftier fee. Just keep in mind that you'll have to wait in a different line once reaching the Indian airport if you come in with a e-visa. Prices vary, but usually stay around $60 to $70 for a short-term visa.

Dress Conservatively

India's culture, like many other Southeast Asian countries, is conservative-leaning, so plan ahead when you're packing your bags. Bring scarves and long pants for covering arms and legs when visiting religious sites, and opt for regular t-shirts in lieu of V-necks. Also, it's common to remove shoes when you enter someone's home or a temple, so bring socks if you'd prefer not to go barefoot.

Stay Cognizant of Your Surroundings

This rule of thumb applies to almost every city you visit, but is especially important when traveling abroad. Because of high poverty levels and the overcrowding in some of India's biggest cities, pickpocketing is a frequent occurrence. Avoid being a victim of theft by carrying small bags with a hearty zipper that can wrap around your shoulder, and don't put money, cell phones or keys in your pockets. If you have to walk late at night, walk with a companion, whether it's a guide, a friend or a family member. And always, stay calm. It's easy to get caught up in the chaos of it all, so let yourself have some moments of reflection before reacting.

Corrected on Nov. 14, 2016: A previous version of this story misstated whether travelers should drink the local tap water in India.

Tags: travel, India

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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