Thursday, March 5, 2015

India Travel Journal Part 3: Travel Tips

If you missed parts 1 and 2 of this series of posts, you can check them out here and here. For this post, I've gathered some travel tips.  If you ever find yourself preparing for a trip to India, here's some advice:
  • Pack toilet paper and carry it with you everywhere. While western hotels, airports, and fancy restaurants might supply a roll, they are the exception, not the norm. If you'll miss it, bring it. Might as well pack some hand sanitizer and put it in a zip lock with the TP while you're at it. If you're a germaphobe, you might go so far as to throw a travel-size bottle of lysol in that bag for good measure. 
  • Bring breathable scarves/pashminas or purchase one upon landing. I got this advice from my dear friend and yoga teacher, Wendy, when I asked her what to pack and it was such a great tip! Sometimes, you don't want to breathe in or smell the air around you and wearing one helped me make little adjustments to my appearance and comfort throughout the day.
  • Be prepared for all kinds of weather and bring practical shoes that are easy on/easy off.
    • Sun screen
    • bug spray
    • sneakers and/or strappy and supportive sandals that you don't mind exposing to "the elements"
    • a poncho (I really wish I had packed this, but it wasn't the rainy season when I was caught in 2 days of torrential downpours)
  • It's a conservative place. Sun dresses and tank tops and shorts might draw unwanted attention.
  • Realize that your plans and schedules are all tentative and be flexible.
  • Don't lose your boarding pass! 
  • Don't lose your cell phone! Or your other cell phone! (more on this in the post about Kerala.)
  • Pack some neutral tasting food that you can eat on the go. Granola bars, trail mix, etc. 
  • Don't drink the water. Get your drinks without ice. Be careful when it comes to fresh produce.
  • Drink lots of chai masala.
  • Eat all the dosas you can. I promise to post more about food once I get my pictures uploaded!
  • Go with a strong idea of what you might want to bring home as a souvenir and seek out a reputable seller (lonely planet and trip advisor were helpful on this front). Don't let your drivers/guides (even the good ones) derail your plans by dropping you off at a "demonstration." I was taken to see special jewels, handcrafted marble tables with jeweled inlays, rugs, pashminas, spices, you name it. And I thought I was being pretty firm. Apparently not firm enough. Just say no! 
  • Prepare your immune system
    • I had to go to the travel clinic to get a typhoid fever vaccine and malaria meds.
    • I amped up my vitamin routine a few weeks before travel and packed one of those crazy huge pill cases full of my supplements and malaria meds so I didn't have to pack a bunch of bottles. This helped me keep with my regimen, which is a challenge at home, let alone on the road! 
    • I also doubled my probiotic dosage a few weeks prior to departure to help me ward off bugs. I didn't get the slightest touch of "delhi belly" and give partial credit to all those friendly microbes. 
  • Don't miss Delhi. I'll tell you all about it in another post, but of all the places I went and things I saw, Delhi was my favorite. I was in awe of so much of what I saw and I covered a lot of ground in a single day. That said, I felt less safe here than I did in other cities. Keep your personal belongings very close. 
  • If you can afford to, spring for a driver. He'll take you where you need to go, wait for you, and be a great resource. Just know what you want to see/do and try to discuss your optimal route if possible. It will be relatively inexpensive and you might find it a worthwhile use of your money if it means you can cover more ground, feel safe, and have peace of mind.
  • Ignore panhandlers. THIS WILL BE HARD! They are so persistent and your heart aches for them. You will see their awful living conditions up close because they survive on the street. Mothers with babies on their hips will ask you for money to feed their children. Children will try to sell you all sorts of trinkets and the look in their eyes will break you down. But as soon as you engage with them, they won't let you go. They will walk with you to wherever you are going, even if you completely ignore them. I made the decision at the beginning of my trip to pick specific occasions/reasons to be generous/charitable and made selective donations and tipped generously. But I tagged along with a fellow American for a half a day (we met on a bike tour of Mumbai) and he didn't ignore the locals who approached him. He wasn't able to shake them once they clung on and it was so uncomfortable. 
  • Talk to people. The drivers and other people I met along my journey often asked me about my family. The first question was always if I was married and then they wanted to know all about my husband and if it was an arranged marriage or a love marriage. This served as a great reminder that Americans are not the center of the universe! India is the largest democracy in the world and so many of their customs are foreign to us so it stands to reason that your customs are just as foreign to them.
OK, I think that sums up most of my tips. I'll have a posts on Kerala, Delhi, and Agra live soon! And then at least a post or two on Natural Products Expo West, where I am now!