First Timer’s Guide to India

I ventured to India for the very first time this past December. Not only did it completely exceed any and all expectations I had prior to going, it also quickly became one of my favorite destinations on earth!! I’m embarrassed to admit (now that I’ve been) that there were a few concerns I had that kept me from going for so long. Which is exactly why I feel this guide is so important to write.

On that note, this entry is written slightly different from previous city guides on TravelWriteDraw for the simple fact that I covered 4 cities in 8 days (Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra with a night in Karauli). I wouldn’t be able to do proper justice for any single one of these cities, so instead this guide will cover the most frequently asked questions I got while visiting India, as well as the key misconceptions I want to dispel.

Full disclosure, I went on this trip with a guided group and was never out walking on my own at any point on the tour. I think it’s important to note this since it completely shaped my experience and would likely be different for someone traveling on their own.

As with any international destination I visit, I first made sure to check-in with my NYC travel clinic before departing for Delhi. This is totally up to your discretion but they gave me a lot of helpful pointers on how to avoid any unwanted health related issues:

  1. Do pack your bug spray. Though malaria is rare, dengue (to my knowledge) is slightly more common and something you definitely want to avoid if possible.
  2. Pick-up several packs of Wet-Ones antibacterial wipes before you go. I ran through about 4 packs of these during my trip and they were an absolute life saver when we were out on city food tours or doing our overland journeys between cities.
  3. Take your Pepto-Bismol. Again this is something a doctor can better advise on but I took one each morning and never had a problem with my stomach.

Which brings me to my first misconception: I was told repeatedly by seasoned India travellers that getting “Delhi Belly” is not only unavoidable but also a rite of passage. I’m typically pretty sensitive in my normal everyday routine so nothing about this alleged, inevitable illness seemed appealing to me. But here comes the absolute fortunate reality of my trip: I DID NOT get sick! Not once!

I was very careful not to drink anything but sealed bottled water. That meant no ice cubes or tap water. I also only ate cooked or steamed vegetables in mainly vegetarian dishes. If you are careful to avoid raw, uncooked foods, as well as tap water, you should be just fine. Obviously I can only speak from my experience and cannot guarantee how your trip will go, but if you exercise caution, getting sick does not need to be apart of your trip souvenirs.

Prior to leaving I was also strongly advised to dress very conservatively. And by that I mean head-to-toe covered! I concluded that jeans and tunics would have to do and I would carry a scarf in the event I felt I needed to cover-up even more. Which brings me to my second misconception whereby I was informed “you will be harassed by local men”. Fortunately for me, this also turned out to be false.

Again, because I was with a group, my experience was likely different than if I were on my own. But I saw many non-local women throughout my trip who looked just like me, walking through Jaipur in tank tops and summer dresses with ease. At no point did I witness or experience any harassment. I’m not going to advise you to dress in any sort of overtly revealing clothing but I also don’t think covering every inch of your skin is entirely necessary.

Furthermore, India is an incredible cacophony of sights, smells, and sounds. This at times can be a bit disorienting and overwhelming for the faint of heart. While I mostly found myself in complete awe and wonder, there is no denying that you need to be alert when walking through the busy streets and markets.

Do yourself a favour and put your phone away while walking through the crowded areas. A cross-body zipper bag is perfect for this. Not only will you be able to take in more visually with your own eyes, you can also ensure you don’t walk into a motorbike zipping past you out of nowhere. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience.

And lastly, do pack comfortable walking shoes! Ideally these shoes should be closed toe because the roads can be a bit torn-up and sandy. I packed my white Superga sneakers (they are now a lovely shade of popcorn yellow post trip) and they were the perfect shoe to get me through the week. I would suggest, however, another color than white.

If there is anything I failed to cover here, or if you have any additional tips you feel should be added, please leave in the comments below. I want to close this article by saying that I’m by no means an expert on this topic and I’m speaking honestly from my first-hand experience.

My only hope is to encourage others (like myself) who were/are a bit hesitant to make the trip so that you don’t miss out on the journey of a lifetime. I know that this is just the beginning for me and my love affair with this country.

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