You've heard it before, but yes -- India can be a challenging place to travel for the uninitiated. Fortunately, the reward is well worth the time it takes to adjust to such a vastly different place.
You can save yourself some additional stress by knowing what to expect and a few India travel essentials before you land.
- See more India travel tips for staying safe, healthy, and sane in such a different place!
The Head Wobble
The quirky head wobble is fun but tricky to master unless you're Indian. You'll encounter the all-purpose gesture all over India; it can mean 'yes' or 'OK', is used as a greeting, and can be used to acknowledge what you are saying. Don't be surprised if your question is answered with a head wobble! Try to take your question into context for the meaning.
- See more about how to say hello in Hindi.
Although Western toilets are found in many guesthouses and restaurants, you'll still encounter plenty of sometimes-grotesque squat toilets in public places.
Carrying toilet paper is a very good idea -- but never flush it! Instead, put TP and other items into the bin beside the toilet. You may want to carry hand sanitizer as well; soap is rarely provided in public toilets.
- See more about what to expect in Asian squat toilets.
Call it cliché, but yes: cows do wander freely throughout India, even in the streets of cities. Give them room and try not to be the stereotypical tourist who points, laughs, and takes obnoxious pictures of the harmless animals.
Money in India
You'll find Western-networked ATMs in all urban and tourist areas around India. Avoid using ATMs at night when you may be followed while carrying a large amount of cash.
When possible, horde your small change or enter odd amounts in the ATM to receive smaller denominations. Many places will have difficulty making change for 1000-rupee notes. Oddly, a majority of the 500-rupee notes are written on; unlike other places in Asia that reject damaged or written-on currency, you shouldn't have trouble spending them.
- See more about managing money in Asia.
Power in India
Despite British influence, power outlets in India are of the round, two and three-pronged types used in Europe rather than the square plugs found in the UK. Power is 230 volts at 50 Hz. Check the chargers and transformers for your electronic devices to ensure that they work in this range and won't produce fireworks.
The power can sometimes be unreliable with surprise outages and surges. Be cautious about leaving electronics on charge when you leave your room: power surges when generators are switched on can ruin sensitive devices like phones and laptops.
Don't be surprised if the wall in your room has more unlabeled switches than the Starship Enterprise: Having individual switches for controlling each light, outlet, and appliance is the norm in much of India.
- See more about the power in Asia.
Many hotels in India do not have central hot water; you'll need to switch on the small hot-water tank in your bathroom to warm the water at least 30 minutes before you shower. The switch may be in the bathroom, outside the door, or even outside your room.
If two people have to shower, cycle the unit and wait for a while between showers.
Tipping and Taxes
The prices displayed for items in shops should be inclusive of tax, however, that may not always be the case for restaurants and hotels. Hotel rooms above a cutoff price have additional government tax levied on them. Nicer restaurants may itemize additional charges for VAT (government tax), service, and alcoholic drinks -- all at different rates.
The service charge added in restaurants may go to pay the salary of the staff or even into the owner's pocket. If you want to ensure that your hard-working waiter is rewarded, you'll need to leave them a small tip in addition to what is already on the bill.
- See more about tipping in India.
Checking into Hotels
Not as tough as completing the Indian visa online application but still very bureaucratic, checking into hotels and guesthouses often requires a good 15 minutes of paperwork due to government regulations. You'll need to keep your passport handy, even if you have the number memorized, for your India visa number and issue/expiry dates.
- See more of what to expect from budget hotels in India.
Time in India
India has an interesting time difference: India Standard Time -- the massive country's only timezone -- is 5.5 hours ahead of GMT/UTC, making it 9.5 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time (New York City).
Water in India
Tap water is generally unsafe to drink in India, although some local residents will say otherwise. Even if the piped water is deemed safe by the government, the aged plumbing of each guesthouse or hotel must also be taken into account. Avoid taking home parasites along with your other souvenirs: stick to bottled water.
Check the seals on bottled water before paying; some bottles may be refilled with unsafe water and then resealed. Many cafes and tourist places will refill bottles for a small fee, a great way to avoid contributing to the rubbish problem. See more about responsible travel in Asia.