Get India Ready Guide

Get India Ready Guide

The following nine page ‘Get India Ready Guide’ will answer most of your questions (that may or may not have occurred to you). It’ll help as you prepare for your trip to India.

It covers money exchange in India, getting a sim card and wifi in India, tipping in India, what to pack for India, dressing appropriately for India, quick train travel, car travel tips, avoiding giving offence in India and more.

Should you still have questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail us at thinkingindia@indiasomeday.com. You can also contact  any one of us that has been planning your trip to India.

Carrying money and money exchange in India

We usually recommend a combination of the following

Carrying a reasonable (but not too large amounts) in hard currency

USD, CAD, Pounds, Euros, AUD, SGD etc are very easily exchangeable. Banks, travel agency desks, and hotels often exchange foreign currency and give you cash in INR. This is especially true of big cities. Tourist towns will have a money exchanging option on every street. Hotels or travel agency desks will usually offer a better rate than banks.

Also, if you are shopping or paying hotel extras they often accept foreign currency (7 out of 10 instances).

At the airport only exchange a small amount of money, rates are the worst (100 USD/Euro, ideally not more).

Using your ATM/Debit Cards

ATMs are very easy to find now, even small towns have multiple ATMS. This is certainly a safer option, in fact most widely used.

Remember – Indian ATMs charge a fee of INR 100 – 150 (USD 3/ EUR 2 approx)) per transaction. In addition your home bank could charge you a fee.

The maximum amount Indian ATMs discharge is between INR 15000 – INR 25000 at a time (USD 300/450 – Euros 250/350). If possible, always carry a back-up card. Often our guests have been in a situation where one card would not work at any Indian ATM. It’s recommended to withdraw larger sums at one go.

Travelers Cheques

They seem to be waning in popularity. However, they can be exchanged fairly easily. Some hotels accept them. If not you can find a nearby bank or authorized agent.

Credit Cards

Credit cards (outside of big cities) find very limited acceptance. Upper-end hotels and restaurants will accept credit cards.

Sometimes (and often in Kerala) shops will allow you to swipe you credit card, pay a small fee and withdraw money. They make a fake purchase of for e.g. INR 5000, charge you a small fee and give you the cash.

Carry your credit cards, they can come in handy. But understand they will not be accepted widely.

Getting an Indian Cell Phone, and internet connectivity during your trip

Internet connectivity while traveling within India is fairly easy to find. You cannot take it for granted that smaller hotels/hostels might not have wifi. However, in general you will not be too far away from an internet or wifi source.

Purchasing a SIM card in India/buying an inexpensive handset

First, it is not absolutely necessary to have an Indian number while traveling. Having said that it is useful to have a phone and an Indian sim card.

You need the following to get a sim card (please carry before hand)

  • A passport sized photograph (ideally with 2 copies)
  • Copy of your passport
  • Copy of your visa (very imp)

Prepaid (pay as you go) sim cards are available everywhere. Typically each street would have a store that sells sim cards. You will not miss the ‘Vodafone/Cell phone recharge/Airtel’ boards. Just tell them that you want to purchase a new sim card

The hotel reception will always be able to point you in the direction of the closest store to get a sim card. If you first arrive in Delhi, you can purchase a sim card/and an inexpensive handset at the airport itself.

A sim card usually is free or costs under INR 100. Recharging it with credit worth INR 500 is sufficient. If you do not have a phone, basic phones can be purchased for about INR 2000 (USD 40, euros 30)

International iPhone or other smartphones

If you have a smart phone, and intend on carrying it to India, it comes in handy. Your smart phone can become your wi-fi device and you can send e-mails back home/and to us when you are in a wi-fi area. Some of our guests even subscribe to an international roaming data plan.

We’ve had a lot of guests that did not bother buying an Indian sim card, as long as they could send/receive emails from their phone. It honestly works like a charm. Even if you do not activate a data plan, you can use your smartphone as a wifi device.

Internet connectivity

Again, an iPad or an iTouch is very useful. Most destinations have plenty of wi-fi cafes (it is usally bait to bring customers in) and you can connect and send and receive e-mails.

Cyber cafes are easily available too. It would be safe to assume that you would be close to an internet connection virtually every other day.

To summarize

Having an Indian Sim card is useful, but you can circumvent it. In our experience, having an internet device, especially a smart phone with international roaming or an internet device like your smartphone to send and receive e-mails is most useful.

Tipping in India

We get asked a lot on how much to tip in India at different instances. This can be used as rough guide on how much you should be tipping in India and at which instances.

Tipping after meals at a restaurant

If eating a small meal, breakfast or snack with bill amounts less than INR 300, then a 10% tip is expected/appreciated. If you have small bills handy, you can tip in multiples of INR 10 notes.

On bill amounts ranging between INR 300 to INR 1000, you can tip around 7% to 10% of bill amount. For example an INR 100 tip on an INR 1000 bill is a very good tip, though you can also tip about INR 70 and that would be fine. On bill amounts above INR 1000, tip amount of 5 to 7% is sufficient.

Restaurants in Delhi and Mumbai often charge a ‘service charge’, not to be confused with ‘service tax’ (which is a government levied tax). When a ‘service charge’ is levied no tip is expected.

Tipping at hotels

Tipping at hotels in India is slightly confusing and annoying at times.

As a rule we encourage whenever possible i.e. you see a central tip box then tip cumulatively. Cumulative tip should be between 5 to 7% of the hotel tariff per night into number of days.

So if you are at a hotel that is INR 2000 a night and staying for 3 nights, then you should tip about INR 300-400 overall. When staying at expensive hotels reduce this to between 3 to 5% of tariff amount.

*Exclude restaurant tips from tips to hotels.

*If you do not find a central tip box you can ask if they have one, or tip one central person at the reception and indicate this is a tip for everyone

*If you are young – budget travelers who want to tip even lower for hotel rooms, that is usually okay.

Why tipping at hotels can be annoying

Not as a rule, but often bell boys will wait outside your room expecting a tip. If you ask for a small task from room service, the staff might wait outside the door expecting a tip. More so, when there is no central tip box.

We recommend avoiding tipping individually. This might mean telling a bell boy a polite thank you with a smile and walking away.  If in an uncomfortable situation, small notes of INR 10 to INR 30 are a good enough.

Tipping multiple day car hire drivers and airport transfers

In the case of Airport transfers you can choose not to tip, or tip about INR 50.

If you rent a car for a day to tour the city, depending on how happy you were with his service you can tip between INR100 – 250. Base this on if he gave you good local tips on places to eat, or monuments to visit. You can tip more if he did not take you tourist- trap shops.

If you take a taxi or a tuk-tuk (rickshaw) between point a to point b after deciding rate, a tip is not expected.

When you have a driver over multiple days, you should tip him between INR 150 – INR 350 per day. Again base this on how happy you were with his service and local knowledge.

If there are more than 4 passengers travelling, do tip higher (between INR 600 – INR 1000).

Tipping Guides

You should tip a guide between INR 100 to INR 300 per day depending on happy you were with their guided tour. This is sufficient for a personalized tour. If it is group tour, INR 20 – INR 30 is a fair tip.

Indian attitude towards tipping

India, culturally, does not have a strong tipping tradition. Yet in most tourist towns, tips are expected and you are frowned upon for not offering one.

We do recommend tipping at various instances as explained above, but tip higher only when you are very happy with the service.

We also encourage tips higher than the range specified if you feel an individual went out of his way to help you and you extremely satisfied.

What to pack for India

This is not a comprehensive check list. None the less, it contains some useful pointers that might come in handy while you pack.

Travel light, if possible carry a back pack. However, a suitcase will not be a problem.

  • Sunscreen/ Sun block is important, in the summers we get long days of sunshine with hardly any rain.

While you can buy an extra tube of sunscreen in India, at times it is hard to find and you do not have a lot of options.

  • Sunglasses, hats, caps, light cotton scarf for the summer
  • Think cotton and light colors. Pick your most comfortable cotton wear
  • For a two week trip you want to try and carry about 7-8 pairs of T-shirts, more so if you are going to visit Mumbai, Goa or Kerala. As it can be humid you tend to sweat a lot.
  • Laundry is very easy and get be done through your hotel. You can always buy cotton t-shirts or cotton kurtas in India.
  • Electronics, Ipods, Ipads can be useful; wi-fi connection is fairly easy to find. Remember to carry a converter for the charging point. Try and avoid carrying a laptop
  • Unless, you are heading to nightclubs in Delhi and Mumbai, you will not have too many opportunities to party. So avoid or carry only one pair of party clothes. Goa is very relaxed with what you wear to party.
  • Good to carry a couple of rolls of Toilet paper. Invariably hotels have toilet paper and can be purchased easily. Trains will not have toilet paper, or if you stop by at restaurants on the highway.
  • A light pullover for A/C coach train travel is recommended, as the air conditioning can be quite strong on Indian trains.
  • Basic toiletries, very easy to restock in India
  • Personally, I like to carry a small or thin towel when I am traveling. All hotels will give you towels. At less expensive hotels, towels can be old
  • Hand sanitizer is handy, India can be dusty
  • Small case of medicines, for an upset tummy, motion sickness, head ache.
  • If traveling between late November to late Feb. (Winter in India)
  • North India, in particular (Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, and Rajasthan) can get pretty cold in the winter. Mid December to Jan end being the coldest. Night time temperatures can drop to 8 to 12 Degrees C (50’s F). Indian hotels do not offer any heating.
  • Do carry some warm clothing if traveling during these months. Light gloves, something to cover your head and ears, a jacket/pullover
  • Day time temperatures would still be pleasant and the sun is always out towards the afternoon.
  • In South India, the hill stations of Munnar and Thekkady can get cold at night. (again 8 to 12 Degrees C (50’s F) at night)
If traveling between Mid June to Mid September (Monsoons in India)
  • Rainfall in Mumbai, Goa and Kerala can be quite heavy. Carrying an umbrella and rain coat is recommended.
  • Rainfall in the North of India is not as heavy. It is still good to carry both an umbrella and rain coat.
  • Clothes and floaters that can dry quickly are a must.
  • A mosquito net, good quality mosquito nets are hard to find in India

Appropriate Dressing for India

As a woman

  • In general try to stick to comfortable t-shirts and shorts that are about knee length. (or pants). You could wear shorter shorts (hot pants) if you are traveling in a group or with a guy. Strongly avoid the same if you are traveling alone or in smaller towns.
  • Tank tops are best avoided. Showing your legs is still alright, not your tummy. As far as possible avoid low neck t- shirts.
  • Sleeveless again not a strict no, apply same rule as short shorts.
  • Goa and the beaches of Kerala you can wear just about anything you would wear to a beach back at or closer to home.

As a guy

  • Nothing particularly to avoid, a guy can wear sleeves too. Longer shorts are advisable. Indians can get curious and start laughing or staring if they see men in very short shots. (Does not apply to Goa)

*Places of worship you usually need to be covered i.e. atleast short sleeve shirt and long pants. Usually they will give you a little robe to wear over your clothes. A small tip is expected.

However, this does not always apply. Temples are more relaxed than mosques.

Train Travel Tips

  • Air-conditioning on Indian Trains can be fairly strong. You’ll often feel cold. Before your train journey, try and keep a  scarf or light  pullover  handy. Some  guests  have  complained  of  a  catching  cold  because of air conditioning.
  • If you have an overnight train journey in 1 A/C, 2 A/C or 3 A/C, the train attendant will provide you with linen, blanket and pillow. These are usually very clean, after a fresh laundry.
  • Most Indian trains will offer food on board. However, a number of our guests complain about stomach upsets after eating the food on Indian trains. It’s best to try and pack some food, or have energy snacks to munch on. Indian trains have a pantry coach, but hygiene levels are low.
  • All coaches have a bathroom, Indian and Western. The bathrooms are basic. For all A/C legs the bathrooms are acceptably clean. (not wow!)
  • Avoid brushing your teeth/gargling with water on trains. Also, mineral water is easily available on trains. So not do not worry about stocking up.
  • When you first approach any railway station, you will find it a touch overwhelming. Boarding a train is actually easier than it appears. You want to match ‘train name and number’ to the platform and then find your coach and seat. Do not hesitate to ask someone if confused.
  • Indian trains have a reputation of running late. You can ask your hotel to check if the train is on time, or use this website http://www.trainenquiry.com/ (need to enter train name or number, found on ticket). You can also download an app named ‘IndRail’ on your smart phone.
  • For   further   reading   on   what   the     different     trains     classes     on     Indian     trains     are    like

http://www.indiasomeday.com/experience-of-riding-different-train-classes-in-india-and-food/

 

Multiple Day Car and Driver Hire Tips

  • You can use the car for all internal and the on the way sightseeing. Do not pay extra for the same.
  • You are not expected to pay for the drivers meals or accommodation
  • We always try and work with drivers that we trust; they are usually pleasant personalities and have good local knowledge. Our guests usually have a very enjoyable experience with the driver
  • A driver will invariably add local flavor to your trip. He knows places to stop to eat at or the best way to fit in sights in a schedule.
  • Important – Sometimes we have more trips than drivers we personally know. We rely on our trusted hotels to provide a driver in these instances. Usually for shorter car hires i.e. a to b, we might not always know the driver. For multiple day car hires we always know the driver.
  • We cannot promise you that a driver will not take you to a store where he gets a commission or try and ask you to use the services of a guide. This happens with our most trusted drivers too. It is just the genetic make-up of tourism in India. You can very easily steer away from it or say a polite no. They will not be forceful.
  • India Someday has planned and executed over 250 trips, for most of our guests the drivers have been a pleasant experience.
  • A tip calculated at INR 250 – 350 per day (depending on how happy you were with his services) is a good tip to give to the driver.

When India will Annoy you 

  • You will face constant aggression of ‘my friend, please buy this, look at that’ etc in India.  More so in the North.

Be on your guard and can always say a polite no.

  • Unless you are really sure about the reputation of a store, avoid buying things and asking the hotel to parcel and ship it back home. They will offer you this time and again. We’ve had a bunch of guests e-mail us that the package never arrived.
  • Always count your change, often I have seen at Monument entrances the officials will try and fleece tourists by returning less change. At all instances, count you change.
  • You will be asked this A LOT ‘Madam/Sir, please can we take a picture with you’. It is always innocuous, just curious Indians, perfectly safe,  but our guests say it does get annoying when you are asked to do it a 50 times across the span of your trip.
  • Needless to say, be very careful with the water you drink.
  • A lot of our guests, completely avoid non-veg food in India, thinking it is unsafe. We believe, in a visibly nice restaurant or homestays it is OK to eat meat. Chicken is a better option because it’s widely consumed and more likely to be fresh. But, again be your own judge.

What are Indians like?

  • Apart from the touts, Indians are nice and friendly people
  • They are helpful, they are curious, they are every smiling, and they like to talk.
  • If you spot a cute kid, it is OK to take a  picture usually they will not refuse. They will smile back. Show them the pictures on the camera. They will be happy and excited
  • It is also OK to take permission and photograph women in saris
  • Do not hesitate to engage in conversations with Indians you meet, once comfortable they love to talk. Often on a train you will make some Indian friends

Vaccinations for India

  • Different sources have different recommendations for our list of vaccinations for India. We unfortunately do not have a list of recommended vaccinations.
  • From interacting with our guests, some of our guests take all the recommended vaccinations, about 25-30% of our guests (and from western countries) take no or very minimal vaccinations.
  • It is good to know that Malaria risk is only high during the monsoon months (June to Sept)

Mosquitoes in India

  • If traveling during the monsoons, (June to Sept) mosquitoes can be a menace. We recommend carrying a mosquito net.
  • Some hotels provide a mosquito net, some do not. It is usually difficult to buy mosquito nets in India.
  • ‘Odomos’ is a very popular and effective mosquito repellant that can be purchased easily in India
  • Mosquito annoyance is much lower in non-monsoon months. Especially in the North.
  • In Kerala, in and around the backwaters, mosquitoes can always be an annoyance
  • A mosquito does not always mean malaria. If you’re bitten, don’t panic
  • Read this useful guide on mosquitoes
  • discussionhttp://www.yabyumresorts.com/blog/mosquitoes-discuss

 

Will India Someday be in touch with us during the trip?

  • We always love/try being actively in touch with our guests during the trip. You will probably receive phone calls or e-mails from us.
  • Contact us at any instance during the trip. Our contact details are mentioned on the top of each Hotel

Booking Vouchers (hard to miss)

  • When possible we love to meet our guests in Mumbai. It’s our home city and where our office is.
  • Even if all is going smooth and you are enjoying your time in India, we love to have quick updates from our guests. (hint – think of us when you are e-mailing family back home)

Finally

With India, one has to be patient. There are times it can be overwhelming, but in the end it all falls in place. As they say, ‘You love and hate India, in the end the love is far stronger’ Please do not hesitate to e-mail us if you have more questions. Have an exciting trip to India.