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Travel Tips for India

India is going to rock your world, and I hope it will in a good way. Some love it; some hate it. And sometimes this reaction is purely determined by what one know before going to India. It’s not like any other region of the world, and to know a few tips on how to get by is certain to improve the quality of your trip.

Always be cautious of the water. Make sure you open the water bottle yourself (and before you do, make sure the top wasn’t fooled with and squeeze the bottle to make sure it doesn’t bust out the bottom). Never take ice cubes unless at a nice place that ensures they were made from purified water. This also means avoid eating salads, raw veggies that have been washed, and anything where water isn’t thoroughly boiled. Tell them to boil your tea water extra long. Bring Cipro in case you get diarrhea and Pepto Bismol tablets to pop before and after each meal (one each time). Your tongue will turn a little black because of the Pepto, but it works like a charm.

Bottom line: It’s pretty much inevitable that you will get a funny stomach and have bowel troubles in India, but these tips will help you fight off the worst of it.

Everyone pretty much makes the same food, so it helps to learn what some of those words mean on the menu. Aloo means potato. Gobi means cauliflower. You can look this up easily so you know what sort of foods and preparations you’d like to try. Assume it’s going to be mad hot…or rainy. Check the weather before you go or the almanac to see what it’s usually like at that time. Think about having a room with AC unless you’re up in the mountains. You will be very tired and jetlagged once you get there. Melatonin is a great thing to take with a little red wine on the plane to sleep well on the way. It’s a hormone that already exists in your body to make you sleepy, and this small pill just increases that amount for a good 5+ hours of sleep when you need it (and you’re not groggy later). Take a rickshaw (little yellow three-wheeled things) because it’s a great experience. Know exactly where you want to go (show an address), ask a local how much it should cost, hail a rickshaw, make sure he’s agreed on the price you want before you get in, don’t let him tell you sob stories to raise the price, act really calm and firm the whole time, and you’ll have no hassles! Get some chai (spiced tea with milk), which is almost always good to drink because they boil it a lot. When out in the city, wear crappy tennis shoes unless you don’t mind stepping in odd puddles, piles of garbage, or feces. You may want to throw them away when you leave. Clothes you’ll want to wear out in the city or in rural areas are those that cover your legs like long skirts or pants and not too showy on top. Indians stare. Bring a small roll of toilet paper wherever you go. And hand sanitizer/wipes. And water. Always use the bathroom in a nice hotel or nice restaurant when you have the chance. And when you don’t, learn to use a squat toilet. Bunch your bottoms at your knees, place your feet about two feet apart, collapse your knees, and aim as well as you can. Paper is a rare presence, so get comfortable using your left hand to wipe. Use the small bucket provided and fill it at the water faucet to your right. Use the water to wash yourself or your hand. Lovely. Your purse should be something that wraps around you and always sits under your hand or elbow (so it’s protected at all times). A zipper is a good idea. Don’t bring valuables with you. Leave your passport locked up in a safe. Money belts are a waste. Just keep your money in a tight front pocket or in your bra (when you’re out in public). Another option is basically hiring a rickshaw driver to take you around to the tourist sites. All you do is hail a rickshaw, tell him where you want to go for about how many hours, and figure out a price. Probably won’t cost more than $10. My Mastercard doesn’t work in India, regardless of what my bank says and allows, so I’d bring cash with you. Bigger bills are better for exchanging. Never accept ripped currency, and you can purchase a lot of street food with those little coins.

India has been the muse for thousands, or more likely millions, of stories on discovery, beauty, faith, awareness, and so on for miles. Don’t let the discomforts of India scare you from standing among those of us with India in our wakes. We’re all incredibly grateful to have been there, and with these tips on travel through India, you’ll be much more inclined to utter the words “I love India” with the rest of us.