First India trip as a foreigner tourist? DON’T make these MISTAKES!
Updated: Mar 25
While preparing for your first India trip, you’ve probably figured out your visa, vaccinations and some places you want to visit. However for a first India trip, it’s super easy to make simple mistakes, which can completely ruin your trip. In order to prevent this, and make your first India trip the most amazing experience, here are some tips from 5 years travel and 3 years living in India.
1 Focus on North India
For your first India trip you’ve probably already stumbled across the term ‘Golden Triangle’. If not, it’s the most popular route for foreigner tourists where you land in Delhi. The two other stops are Agra (for the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur. However South India, in my opinion, is a much better start for any foreigner tourist’s first India trip. Landing in Kochi, or Bangalore for instance, is way less hectic and a lot better organized than Delhi. Also South India is more laid back and way less touristy than the North. I’d recommend any foreigner tourist to ease yourself into India on your first India trip by starting in the South.
Photo by: @Sinnegram
2 Using too many words
In particular Native English speakers have the issue of using over complicated sentences, because they feel it’s more polite. For many Indians, for who Hindi is their main language, this is extremely confusing. For example: “Can I please have a cup of black tea” is much more confusing than “ black tea for me”. A simple sentence, and less words, prevents a lot of miscommunication.
3 Entitled foreigner tourist
When you’re a foreigner tourist, you're in the first place a guest to the country you’re visiting. Yes there are a lot of countries in the world where locals might take arrogance or degrading behaviour for granted, in order to make an income. But India is not that country. Indians will gladly leave your money on the table if you’re being disrespectful or arrogant. Behave like a guest, be respectful. This will get you much more privilege in India than any kind of money you’re spending.
4 Mom mode
Especially women and girls need to learn how to clearly communicate NO. Just like with tip 2, if you don’t want something, India is not the country to be overly polite or beat around the bush. Somebody wants to take your picture and you’re not comfortable? NO (don’t smile, be serious)! Somebody wants to take you to shops where you don’t want to go? NO (walk away)! If somebody keeps persisting I activate what I call ‘mom mode’. It’s the same strict voice and body language you’d give a whining kid when they’re crossing a line. In particular Indian men respond well to this, because if you simulate a strict mom it kind of reminds them of their own mom (that's my theory because it works like magic). 9 out of 10 times this will prevent you from getting dragged into things you don’t want to get dragged into. For the last very stubborn case I’d recommend ‘psycho mode’. Basically simulate a crazy person and even the most persistent people will back off.
5 Good samaritan role
Especially on your first india trip you'll see things you’ve never seen in your life. This doesn’t just go for good things. You'll also see heartbreaking things, because a huge population in India still lives in very basic circumstances. What I always say to my friends and family when they visit is that you’re not helping anybody with your pity. In fact it’s sometimes even extremely degrading. People who have less material things than you could have more mental peace and a rich family life. To judge people purely on their material wealth, and feel pity for them because “they’re poor”, is not ok. As India has a family and community oriented culture, it’s very hard as a foreigner to come up with solutions that fit into this culture. So really don’t even think you can ‘fix India’. Your solutions are probably coming out of a completely different cultural context, and would many times do more harm than good.
The best you can do is spend your tourist money to contribute to the economy. Don’t worry if a rickshaw driver rips you off for 100 rupees. For you it’s $1.50. For him it might mean feeding his kids. Try to have the best time possible. When you come home you can tell your friends how amazing it was so they might come to India too. This way the economy can grow through tourism, and the perceptions about India can change.
6 No sim card
Data is extremely cheap in India. On top of that many things these days are done online. For a lot of services, like wifi, you’ll need an OTP number (confirmation number). Really, a first India trip without a sim card is not just irresponsible, but also completely shutting you off from many experiences. The easiest way for foreign tourists to get an Indian sim card is directly at the airport where you enter the country. The counters there have experience with foreign tourists, and you’ll get your sim in no time. DON’T listen to your Indian friends who say “it’s easy at the local shops”. For them it is, because they’re Indian. As a foreign tourist it’s a much more complicated procedure. To get a sim at the airport you’ll need two Indian sized passport pictures (US size, but Google the latest requirements please!). The staff at the counter will take care of the rest.
On your first India trip you may be tempted to plan destinations, and travel back to back, to get the most out of your trip here. Trust me when I say: you’re setting yourself up for exhaustion and disaster. India is a country which has its own pace. Sometimes trains or flights get delayed. Sometimes things go faster than expected, so you’ll have trouble keeping up. It’s completely unpredictable and India doesn’t care about your itinerary. Trust me, I’ve made this mistake plenty of times. To enjoy fully, leave at least 1 or 2 days between destinations. If something goes wrong, you’ll have enough time to fix it. Also on your first India trip you’ll see and experience things like never before. So that time in between is also necessary to process all the new impressions, and not get exhausted. Take it easy and take enough rest, to have the best time on your first India trip.
8 Use the apps
India runs on apps these days. This is also why you need an Indian sim card. Otherwise you can’t use Uber to get around, or order food from Swiggy. You can book hotel rooms, flights and busses through the many Indian booking platforms like Make My Trip, OYO rooms, Ixigo or Wego. But only if you have an Indian phone number. Also IRTCT, the Indian train platform, has an app. So you can handle that from your mobile as well. Make your life easier and get on board with the apps.
9 Don’t dress like a hobo
Somehow “dress conservatively” for most foreign tourists, who come to India on their first India trip, means dressing like a hobo. All the while, Indians themselves put a lot of effort and emphasis (and judgement) in looking presentable. Even the most humble rickshaw driver will have a clean and pressed shirt, if he can help it. So step up your dressing game. Shorts for men are just as unusual as they are for women in India. Loose trousers and a cotton t-shirt will make you look presentable. Ladies, yoga wear is absolutely unacceptable. A maxi dress with ¾ sleeves or a maxi skirt with a comfy t-shirt will not just make you look good, but also get you way cuter Instagram pictures.
10 Pay a little extra
Yes it may be tempting to book a 400 rupees room (about $5) to save some budget. But you get what you pay for. Especially in the large cities good hotel rooms start somewhere from 1500 rupees. In smaller towns about 800 up to 1000 rupees will get you a clean, but mostly safe room. Most accidents with tourists in Indian hotels happen when they go for the cheapest accommodation, but compromise their safety. This is unacceptable. Your safety should be the first priority. So pay a little extra to stay in a decent hotel.
I go more into details in the above mentioned videos if you need additional information. Feel free to share this blog with any foreign tourist preparing for their first India trip, or somebody else who needs to see this.
If you have any other tips to add, leave them in a comment below.