Thinking of backpacking in India? You should — India is a must for any traveler. It is a huge country with great food, culture, and history. Here are some India backpacking tips for you.
After my third visit to India, I feel like I’ve qualified to give a few practical tips for backpacking India.
My first visit was a three-day stop over in Chennai, and the second was a trip in a bubble through Kerala by bus.
My third trip was a two-month trip experiencing the north and south, the good, the bad, and the ugly. India was awesome, yet I left with bitter feelings thanks to battling Delhi Belly for the last week.
That’ll lead us into the first of 10 travel tips for India.
Join India Backpacking Groups on Facebook
You can get the best recommendations in India from Facebook groups.
These two groups — India Travel Tips and Backpacking India — are active and most (good) questions get replies from people who have first-hand experience. Browse them from time to time and you’ll pick up lots of tips to keep in mind.
Download Maps.Me (and Other Handy Travel Apps)
It’s great to have a SIM card, but this isn’t a fool-proof solution. Reception can be hit and miss everywhere, making Maps.me and their offline maps a handy tool when you just can’t figure out the maze of Delhi’s backstreets.
Also consider the Moovit App. Depending on whether your city is covered, it provides info on how to go somewhere, complete with what bus or train to take, or what route to walk.
Consider Booking Trains Well in Advance
It’s crazy how popular train travel is in India for locals. Booking long distance trains in India isn’t as easy as it should be given the online booking system.
For foreigners, you can book some trains at the last minute thanks to the Foreign Tourist Quota. However, this isn’t a guarantee which may leave you stranded in a city or having to take a bus.
If you have some trains you know you’ll be catching beforehand, you can book them up to 60 days in advance on the IRCTC website. If all else fails, you can ask your hotel receptionist to book it for you, they will just add 100 rupees or so to the total cost.
Don’t Rule Out Sleeper Class
You’ll hear different opinions on this one. Some say you should never take sleeper class while others saying it’s by far the best experience. I’m in the latter group of people.
The unreserved class is the class where you have people sitting everywhere (called the General Compartment). They’ll be on the floor and on the baggage compartment above the seats (yes, they can make themselves fit in there).
Even as a backpacker, I wouldn’t recommend that. By choosing the sleeper class (2AC) you get a ticket for your own bed so there’s no fear of sharing with anyone. It’s airconditioned, too, and with long distances, meals are included.
There is not much in the way of privacy, but everyone tends to sleep early (there was no drinking from my experience) and wake up at sunrise. This is the middle class option for locals, and is a lot cheaper than choosing second class. It’s also easier to interact with people in sleeper class.
Get A SIM Card
I didn’t have a SIM card in my phone for six months before arriving in India. Throughout my trip I was glad to have a SIM card here for several reasons:
- Wifi isn’t reliable
- SIM cards with data are affordable (Airtel with 1GB a day good for 24 days cost only 250 rupees or US$4.)
- You never know where you might end up in India
- To connect to some Indian services (like Wifi) you need a working SIM
I went with a Vodafone SIM and spent about 45 minutes in the store getting all the paperwork completed. For less than 600 Indian Rupees I had two months of unlimited data.
Download Uber & Ola
India, your chaos is fun, but sometimes you can be too much. There are times where you don’t want to walk home, yet you can’t find a tuk tuk or taxi driver who is giving you a fair price. Thankfully with a SIM card you can order an Uber or Ola in most major cities.
It’s worth downloading both apps as Uber isn’t available in all the places that Ola is. Overall, I also found Ola slightly cheaper.
Expect to Suffer Delhi Belly at Some Point
I’ve been travelling for over five years now, and thought I had an iron stomach (being vegan helps). But India got me in the last week (as well as my friend who had just arrived in India a few days earlier). We aren’t sure what got us, but it certainly wasn’t fun.
If you talk to people having been to India, many will have their own methods of curing your agony. I’m not going to give tips on how to treat Delhi Belly other than take it easy (I was guilty of not doing this) to give yourself the best chance of a quick recovery.
Have an Idea of How Much You are Expected to Pay
There were at least eight occasions on my trip where I had to clarify how much I was supposed to be paying at restaurants and convenience stores. Sometimes I think they were trying to take advantage, and other times I think they just made up prices.
At restaurants, keep in mind the prices when you order. At convenience stores, the price should be on most of the products which give you an idea what you should be paying.
Have a Flight Out of the Country in Mind Before Getting to the Airport
If you’re on a longer trip in India, you probably have no idea where you’ll be in the country when it’s time to leave.
But sometimes that’s not enough when it’s time to check in for your flight at the airport. The person behind the counter may need you to buy a ticket out of the country.
Do yourself a favor and know where the cheapest tickets out of the country are from and the airlines so you can book one if need be.
Don’t Wait Until You Have No Cash Before Withdrawing
Dealing with ATMs in India can be a ripe pain in the butt. Sometimes:
- They won’t accept your card.
- You hear of people not receiving money from the ATM.
- They’ve all ran out of money.
- The only one working ATM has a queue a dozen people deep.
If you’re getting low on cash, think about getting cash out before you spend that last 50 rupees on a masala dosa. If you see a machine you know that works, you can save a lot of future stress and time.
It’s also a good idea to get a non-rounded off amount. Rather than withdrawing 10,000 rupees, for example, withdraw 9,500 or if possible 9,900. Breaking 2,000 rupee notes isn’t the easiest for most places you’ll go to.
These are general India backpacking tips you can use whether you’re a solo traveler or traveling to India with friends. I’m not going to tell you where to and not to go, as everyone has different interests and purposes. Hopefully a couple of these tips will help make your trip a little bit smoother! Feel free to share this article with friends!
Jub Bryant, the blogger behind Tiki Touring Kiwi, is the token kiwi in most groups of travelers he finds himself in. Since leaving New Zealand in 2011, he has been living and traveling around Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia with a couple of brief visits to the motherland. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat.