india travel tips

I would like to share with you my personal 5 essential India travel tips for first timers. Simple facts that you need to know before you make your first trip to India. I would like to help you escape any fears or trepidation's you may have. India travel tips.

Why? Because your first trip to India can either go horribly wrong or you could have a magical time. You could get caught in a scam or suffer from tummy troubles. Or you could be pleasantly surprised by its majestic beauty and gentleness of the people. Be prepared with the following top 5 India travel tips for first timers.

First India travel tip – Avoid Visa Queues at Indian Airports

If you're required to have an Indian visa, there are two ways to get it:

  1. Apply for an e-visa online.
    The visa is approved but it will be stamped in your passport by Immigration at your arrival Indian airport.
  2. Apply for the visa at your local Indian consulate and have the visa immediately stamped into your passport.

I opted for option 2 and it turned out to be a time saving choice. When I arrived at Delhi airport at 10pm, there were about 150 travellers in queue at the e-visa immigration desks. For some reason only 2 desks were open! As I already had my visa physically in my passport, I was free to choose any other Immigration desk and basically walked straight through without queuing. Such a relief when you arrive late at night and all you want to do is get to your hotel ASAP.

If you're not located near to an Indian embassy, the above easy option wont be available to you. Therefore, your only option is to apply for an e-visa, or post your visa application and passport to the nearest Indian consulate. If you post, allow ample time for the consulate to be able to mail back your passport before your departure.

Be aware of websites that offer to get your visa for you for a small fee. I read many reviews where people were scammed. Basically no visa or person was waiting for them at the airport as promised. Also its hard to determine which websites are legit or scams. In any case, they can’t get you the visa any quicker or easier because you will still need to queue at the e-visa immigration desks upon arrival. Your safest bet is to organise the e-visa directly on India’s official immigration website here.

Tip #2 – Avoid airport taxi scams

My essential airport taxi tips are:

  • Avoid following random guys who say ‘follow me’. They will lead you astray.
  • Go straight to a Post Paid taxi desk outside the terminal building doors. I can recommend Meru Cabs at New Delhi airport.
  • Pre-paid taxi desks inside the terminal building used to be reliable but stories are starting to emerge that even they are starting to scam unsuspecting tourists. Below is a snippet of what my hostel emailed to me about the warning:
screenshot of an email warning about an airport scam alert india travel tips for first timers

Watch the below interview to hear about my airport taxi experience compared to Johnny’s. Two completely different stories and we both arrived on the same night.

Tip #3 – Avoid super friendly people that follow you in the streets

Pay attention to this India travel tip for first timers if you prefer independent or solo travel as opposed to pre-arranged escorted holidays. There are local people that have mastered the art of conversation and friendliness.

Because they are so friendly, you want to reciprocate the friendliness, after all that’s in our nature. They approach you asking if you need help with directions. Especially as tourists always look confused and check their maps. Then they engage in friendly chatter to find out where you’re from, how long you’ll stay in India and where you plan to travel in India.

After about 10 minutes starts the SELL routine on how they can organise day or multi day trips or private tours. That’s when you need to start your EXIT plan and decline nicely.

After travelling for 4 weeks in India, repeating my story a hundred times hoping this person will actually be different and really wants a conversation only, I finally figured out what to do. When a friendly Indian approached me and asked where I was from, I would instantly reply with “I’m already booked on a tour” even though I wasn’t. To my surprise, they would immediately walk away. Boom, I avoided a time waster.

If the response is a puzzled look instead, then you know they’re genuinely interested in chatting with you.

an indian guy relaxing and sitting in an outdoor temple

Don’t avoid all locals though. I met some lovely people and families. I got an insight into their way of life and got some great travel tips along the way.

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Tip #4 – Money changers vs ATMs

It was the first country I’ve been to where money changer booths don’t exist. In fact I only found two in New Delhi, located on the Main Bazaar road in Paharganj opposite New Delhi train station.

Everywhere else in the state of Rajasthan I found that you had to ask in bus/train ticket offices if they would change cash. They would make a phone call and let you know their rate. Obviously allowing a bit of profit for themselves.

shop front image of an indian tours and travel store

One time I changed money in a jewellery store.

What I found was most independent travellers were withdrawing cash from ATMs as required.

Tip #5 –Don’t trust online train reservations

I thought booking India train reservations online would make life easier but quite often it leaves you bewildered.

Online booking engines quite often showed trains as full. I made one train reservation in which the official Indian rail website said there were only 2 first class seats available. When we boarded the train, there was no one else but me and my friend in the first three carriages. The carriages were empty because I checked them all!

Later in Rishikesh, my friend tried to book a train back to Delhi through a travel agency and they said everything was full. So she took a taxi to the train station in the evening anyway and had no issues getting a ticket. Again, there was barely anyone sitting in First Class.

But then I met some other travellers who tried for one week to book an overnight train and were even told by the train station staff that the train was full. So they turned up for the train anyway however, it was indeed full. But they jumped on anyway and tried to sleep in an upright seat in third class.

So it’s obvious to me that the Indian railways don’t make all seats available online. Therefore, your second option is that it’s worth showing up at the train station before departure and purchase ticket directly there.

There is a drawback however. Showing up at the train station is a slow way of buying tickets due to long queues. The major train stations do tend to have a separate ticket office for international travellers to purchase tickets days in advance. But bring your lunch with you, the queues are looonnng.

The third option is turn up at the train station and jump on. Then pay the on-board conductors.

inside the fist class cabin of an indian train

First class - India style!

More India travel tips for first timers

You can find more tips on the dedicated India Travel Tips page of my website.

Now that you are aware of 5 simple India travel tips for first timers before your first trip to India, I wish you Happy Holidays in India. Do let us know if discovered other India tips for travellers to be aware of.

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About the author

Lisa is a travel gypsy by heart, having already been to over 70 countries and still counting. Founder of Travel Groove, to share travel tips, tricks and knowledge with other travellers.

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