Tips for eating in India to avoid sickness:
1) Only eat freshly cooked food. This is the best way to avoid getting sick due to bacteria or a parasite. Cooking kills everything.
2) Don’t eat salads, juices or anything raw. Uncooked food will inevitably be washed with contaminated water which will make you go running for the toilet. If you’re a raw foodist, I recommend you change your diet while in India.
3) Eat exclusively from respectable restaurants that are busy. Also try the 4 and 5 star hotels if you want to be certain of amazingly delicious, safe food.
4) Never eat street food. Some people brag about how they ate Indian street food and didn’t get sick but it’s simply not worth it. I even had a friend who died from an E. Coli infection due to eating unsafe Indian street food!
5) Probiotics and charcoal are amazing. Probiotics boost the good bacteria in your stomach, improve digestion and increase natural immunity. They are a must before traveling to India and especially during your travels. Charcoal tablets on the other hand are an incredibly effective way of stopping diarrhea and preventing dysentery. It quickly absorbs the toxins or pathogens that are causing the problem. As always, be sure to get advice form your doctor.
6) Avoid too much spicy food, especially chilli’s. Some spices are good but in my experience chilli’s act as a laxative which is probably something you don’t want.
7) Consider becoming a vegetarian while you’re there. India has the lowest meat consumption rates in the world (see graph below). The meat I’ve seen looks very unsafe, often hanging in the warm, open air with flies buzzing around. In fact, due to Hindu religious reasons, the state of Maharashtra has banned beef altogether. If you can, I recommend being a vegetarian while in India to reduce the chances of getting serious food poisoning.
8) Don’t overeat. It will weaken your digestion and immunity which makes you an easy target for bacteria. To help with my digestion and overall health I also take Organic Amla Berry tablets and another immunity boosting, ayurvedic herb called Bio-Immune.
9) Use your hands – it’s fun! Your hands are often the cleanest utensil since you know where they’ve been and the joy of using your hands is well worth trying. Although, remember to use hand sanitizer!
10) Local’s restaurants offer all-you-can-eat meals for $1! Be wary of hygiene and only go to the best, busy restaurants you can find. Get advice from the locals.
11) Family home dining is a pleasure but take precautions. I’ve had the best food of my life at peoples homes. Again, it is important to be cautious and don’t drink tap water, only have cooked food. Also don’t eat too fast because they will keep piling the food on your plate and expect you to eat it and even force-feed you if you’re not careful!
How to deal with water while traveling in India:
13) Only drink bottled water. All the tap water in India is contaminated with pollutants and amoebas. By only drinking good bottled mineral water you will help avoid getting sick. The only brands I recommend are Bisleri, Kinley & Aquafina. Other brands are not trustworthy.
14) Stay well hydrated. India is typically hot and dry. Drink at least 2 liters (1/2 gallon) per day to stay healthy and strong.
15) If you’re trekking, bring a water filter. In rare cases where bottled water isn’t available such as while trekking, you’ll need a Katadyn Pocket Water Filter or at least a LifeStraw so that you can get safe water from flowing rivers. Boil it as well if possible and you can also use Iodine tablets to be extra safe.
16) Coconut water is amazing. Fresh coconuts are extremely good at hydrating you, boosting your electrolytes and making an upset stomach, happy. Although, don’t drink coconuts unless you’re satisfied with cleanliness of both the straw and knife that the vendor is using.
17) Chai is great in the early morning. Chai is good for digestion because it has ginger and cardamom added. It should be safe to drink as long as you see them boiling it and you’re certain the cup is clean. Price should be no more than 10 rupees.
18) Coca-Cola can be a godsend. There’s a popular folklore that Coke kills bacteria and aids a disturbed stomach. This may or may not be true but it sure is nice to have a cold Coke on a hot afternoon in India!
19) Electrolytes are a must. If you get dysentery, electrolytes are a must for staying hydrated. I recommend bringing one box from home because otherwise they can be low quality and taste a bit nasty if bought in India.
20) Avoid ice in drinks. Since the ice is most likely created from a poor quality water source I advise you to not have any drinks with ice in it. If the drink such as Coke has been chilled in the fridge, that is of course fine.
21) Don’t brush your teeth with tap water. As annoying as it may seem, I advise you to only brush your teeth with bottled water. This is because your gums can be a direct path to the blood stream and therefore easier for infection to get in.
22) Shower with care. Don’t open your mouth or eyes in the shower to help avoid the water getting in any unwanted orifice.
How to NOT get scammed or ripped off in India:
23) Bathe in holy rivers at your own risk. Taking a dip in the Ganges can be a magical experience but again, close your eyes and mouth and block your nose and ears to avoid getting too much water in the wrong hole.
25) Know that a “gift” can quickly turn into a sale. No matter what the “gift” is, be sure it is actually a gift before accepting it. Otherwise you can be quickly hit with a bill.
26) All shop keepers will try to rip you off. A simple way to minimize this is to only go to “fixed rate” shops, bring a local with you or you’ll need to quickly learn how to bargain like an Indian.
27) Don’t give money to beggars. This can attract an army of beggars after you and helps sustain their often drug-driven “profession”.
28) Be wary of all drivers especially auto rickshaw drivers. Drivers in India are renowned for their dishonesty and tricks to try to make more money from you. E.g they may take you to the wrong hotel or quote you a price that is five times the fair rate.
29) Learn to avoid fake “information offices”. The way to know is that everything looks dodgy, there are no computers (or not many), no proper desks and they tell you that all trains or hotels are fully booked out due to some “event”. This can be a front for the mafia so be careful and make sure it’s legit before following directions from them.
30) Children may want pens and beggars want milk. In both cases, they often have an arrangement with a shop to return the item for cash after you leave!
31) Trinket and gemstone scams. At any tourist location there are likely to be people touting trinkets and sometimes gemstones for sale. Unless you’re buying something as a souvenir don’t entertain their hype and always bargain them way down. The “gemstones” won’t have real value and can be a popular scam for unsuspecting tourists.
32) Watch out for people tampering with food or drink. Always check beverage bottle caps to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with and don’t accept food from strangers.
33) Be careful when exchanging money. ATM’s are the safest way to get cash because the machine won’t scam you.
34) Always count your change carefully! No matter who you are dealing with, always watch out for “miscalculations”. Use a calculator on your phone to help deter them from trying to scam you. This is especially important around large financial transactions.
35) Keep away from the mafia. If something is fishy then it probably is a scam or trap (sometimes organized by the mafia). Do your research and have your wits about you especially around train stations, popular tourist attractions (e.g Taj Mahal) and cheap hotels.
Also please note: I recently wrote an article explaining the 9 key reasons why you need to have good travel insurance for India.
36) Get experience with true local pricing. To do this, you’ll need to know what the locals would pay for the same product or service and then you’ll know how low the shop keeper, driver or hotel etc is willing to go. An Indian friend (or stranger) or guide can help you with this.
37) SIM cards for your cell phone might not work. It can be surprisingly difficult to get a SIM card in India and usually involves quite a lot of paper work. If you don’t fill out the paperwork correctly there is a good chance that you got scammed with a defunct or used SIM card. To avoid this, I recommend getting your SIM from an official office of the carrier such as Airtel or Idea.
38) Do your research before arriving at a particular place. Look up your destination on the Internet, study maps, get advice from other travelers and read the latest Lonely Planet guide book. This will help you get insider knowledge before you arrive, making you more prepared to deal with the possible onslaught of scams that await you.
Etiquette at Hindu temples:
40) Bring temple “offerings”. Whenever you go to a Hindu temple, be sure to get some flowers before entering. You can then offer these at the main statue as a sign of respect or in prayer.
41) Always remove your shoes at the entrance. The safest place to leave them is at the shop where you buy flowers because they have a vested interest in making sure no one steals them. Otherwise there is always an off chance someone will fancy your shoes or sandals, especially if they look nice or expensive.
42) Wear ear plugs. The temples in India can be extremely chaotic and noisy with bells, people yelling, babies screaming and guards pushing you through the lines. Wearing ear plugs helps dampen the sound and make it easier for you to enjoy the inner spiritual power that seems to pervade all temples in India.
43) Find a quiet spot for meditation or simply an “eyes closed chill out session”. Find a quiet corner away from the chaos and just sit. Feel the vibrations and see what happens. I’ve had some of my best glimpses into “enlightenment” at the temples and this is a major reason for me to visit India. It can truly be life changing.
44) Be inward and don’t get overwhelmed by the chaos. As I’ve mentioned, I recommend to be as inward as possible when visiting temples. Just be simple and quiet within yourself and you’ll have the best possible experience.
45) Get “special darshan” arranged at the temple office. Darshan means “receiving blessings from the divine”. Often the lines are so long at temples that you can be standing in the hot sun for hours before seeing the statue and then you’re quickly pushed out. If you go to the temple office and pay for “VIP” entry then you can skip the line and spend more time in front of the statue. It’s well worth it and won’t cost more than a few $5 to $10.
46) Have small change ready for donations. Many people will want your money at temples and it can be a bit overwhelming. If you feel to give something then have a wad of 10 rupee notes ready so that you don’t hurt your budget too quickly. 🙂
47) Hire a temple guide who won’t rip you off (that much). For me, the temples of India are often the highlight of my trip. They are usually an ancient architectural marvel, but more importantly, a place of spiritual wonder. The etiquette can be hard to know without help from a local so I recommend you go to the “temple office” and see if there is a good English speaking guide available. Although, agree on the price upfront and watch out for the “up sells”.
48) Stay at a hotel near the temple if you’re digging the vibes. I find that a hotel right outside the temple can be amazing because you’ll be in that “spiritual aura” 24/7 while you’re there and so the experience will be deeper and more long lasting. It also means you may be able to leave your valuables and shoes etc in your room which can be very convenient.
How To Navigate Indian Airports:
50) Allow plenty of time to get to the airport. Things can often change at the last minute such as sudden traffic delays. Therefore, leave early and make sure you get multiple opinions of how long it takes to get to the airport.
51) Print or download your e-tickets or you WON’T get into the airport. The military guards at the entrance to the airport will not allow you to enter unless you have valid ID and itinerary.
52) Security screen your bags before going up to the check-in desk. If you don’t do this, you’ll be sent back and delay getting through security. Be sure to line up at the correct screening machine for your airline.
53) Make sure your bags don’t weigh too much! Domestic Indian flights have weight limits of 15kgs for checked bags and 7kgs for carry-on bags. All bags are strictly weighed and excess baggage fees are around $5 (300rs) per kilogram.
54) Get carry-on bag tags at check-in. Your bags will not be given the “stamp of approval” unless you have the tags attached to each carry-on item when going through security.
55) Security can be as annoying as heck! Remove absolutely all your electronic items including cameras and batteries. Know that women have their own line. Keep your boarding pass in hand so that the security guard can stamp it and watch out for people pushing in line.
56) Don’t trust the airport food. In my opinion, most airports have food that isn’t safe to eat because it’s been sitting for too long. Instead, bring your food or only buy packaged food that you feel is okay.
57) You’ll probably have to ride on a bus to your plane. Find your gate and wait for your flight to be called and then you’ll line up to catch a bus over to your plane.
58) Have your ticket ready for getting off the plane. If your flight continues on after your destination, you’ll need to show your boarding pass to get off the plane.
59) Hire a pre-paid taxi for getting to your hotel from the airport. Inside the airport there are always pre-paid taxi stands available which will give you a fair price from a reputable driver. If you don’t do this you’ll swamped by a group of untrustworthy drivers screaming for your attention and asking too much for their service.
Handling money in India:
61) You will need to carry cash. Credit cards are only accepted at larger businesses or hotels. Therefore you will always need to carry some cash so that you can pay for taxis, auto rickshaws, cheap hotels and your food etc. I keep all my large bills concealed under my clothing in my neck wallet.
62) Airports give poor currency exchange rates. Use an ATM instead or if that’s not possible only get a few thousand rupees exchanged at the airport because their rates are usually the worst in the whole country.
63) Use a Citibank ATM to withdraw more than 10,000rs at one time. As far as I know, all other ATMs across India will not let you withdraw more than $150 (10,000rs). With all the fees you may have in your home country this can be quite annoying and costly. Citibank allows you to withdraw whatever your daily maximum in your home country is e.g $500.
64) Get a fresh wad of 10 rupee notes. Go to the bank and get a crispy wad of 10 rupee notes because firstly, the 10rs notes are often disgustingly used and dirty. Secondly, it’s one of the smallest denominations of money in a note, so it will be handy for everyday purchases. Thirdly, it’s the perfect amount for tipping. Lastly, it also helps with bargaining so that you can have exact change.
65) Conceal your money & passport under clothing: I have had pickpockets and beggars put their hand in my pocket looking for money. Since I keep my valuables on my chest, concealed under my clothing in a neck wallet, I’ve never had anything stolen.
66) Use PayPal or Western Union to send money to India. If for some reason you need to send money to an Indian from your home country, I recommend PayPal and if that doesn’t work then try Western Union.
68) Learn to understand the famous “head wobble”. This subtle gesture conveys a lot of meaning depending on the context and degree to which the head is wobbled. It can take some time to learn but when mastered it’s actually a very natural and enjoyable form of human communication.
Communication advice for tourists in India:
69) Know that “yes” can mean “I don’t understand”. Sometimes a driver or shopkeeper may want to please you or simply won’t understand what you’re saying and so they will say “yes”. My friend who’s been working in India for 10 years says that he doesn’t take “yes” for an answer!
70) Be open to understanding the many different accents. India has 17 main languages and a huge range of English accents. This can lead to some difficulty comprehending someone’s words but if you’re open you should do fine. Sometimes you may need to simply ask the person to repeat themselves or say “I don’t understand” to gain clarity.
71) Memorize a few key phrases. I recommend learning a few words of the local language because it shows you have an interest in the culture. It will almost always be very well received and help you quickly make friends with the locals.
72) Have plenty of patience. It can be very frustrating when for example, someone says “yes” to every question you ask. Try to find someone who speaks better English and calmly sort through the miscommunication that may be occurring.
73) Be amused by funny communication rather than angered. You’ll have a much more enjoyable trip if you see the humor in it rather than getting angered and annoyed. These people are doing their best with a second or third language and so give them some compassion.
Transportation throughout India:
75) Indians drive on the left side of the road. Since the British influenced the first Indian cars they follow suit with driving on the left. Although, crazy driving often may lead to seeing cars, motorbikes and people on the wrong side of the road.
76) Ride a train at least once in your trip. Only travel in 2AC or first class and make sure you book your tickets early enough that they’re not sold out. Trains are the best way to travel long distances if you’re on a budget. Avoid the food they provide unless it’s been packaged.
77) Air travel is the most luxurious by far. If you can afford it, the most comfortable and obviously fastest way to get around is by plane. My favorite website for booking domestic Indian flights and trains is Cleartrip.com.
78) Buses can be good if the journey isn’t too long. They are super cheap and usually don’t have AC so they’re going to be hot. If the ride is more than a few hours I recommend you go via train instead because it’s much more comfortable.
79) Traveling via an AC taxi is nice for shorter journeys if you can afford it. The car provides comfort with the windows up and the cool AC air but the zig-zagging can get a bit much if the trip is more than a couple of hours. If you value your life I recommend that you demand a working seat belt before you get in the car. Be persistent and they should be able to hook you up.
80) Auto rickshaw journeys are memorable to say the least! Auto rickshaw’s are great for short rides but I recommend ear plugs, sun glasses and a bandana or dust mask to avoid to much bombardment on the senses. Also it’s best to not ride one for more than 20 to 30 minutes or you’ll be exhausted.
81) As mentioned, try to avoid long journeys by road. The roads in India are wildly dangerous and often uncomfortably bumpy. If there is an option to get a plane, train or bus then I would take it instead. Otherwise you might get car sick or just really tired from all the insanity of weaving between head on traffic.