Getting ready to travel to India: the six steps I took in preparing my trip to India

For the past six years of my life, I’ve studied law. I am naturally a methodical and organised person which plans everything to each second of the day. I kind of took the same approach to planning my trip to India, especially because I was extremely uneducated about it – I had no idea what to expect and I was scared of traveling alone (especially at night).

Looking back, I realise there are multiple parts or steps to preparing for a trip to India if you’re doing it on your own (i.e. not using a tour group). Although you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want, I admittedly over-prepared for my trip, but all that work definitely helped make my trip a success.

I felt that I had to mentally, physically and legally prepare for the trip (and of course financially prepare).

  • Mentally I had to prepare for the culture shock, to know what to expect, avoid and what to do to make sure I was safe.
  • Physically I had to prepare things for my health, safety and comfort.
  • Legally I had to prepare for the visa and entry requirements.

The six steps I took are broken up into different categories below – you can click on any step if you’re interested in reading a particular section of this blog, or you can just scroll down to read the steps I took in chronological order.

WARNING: this is a long read if you read chronologically!

1.Visa
2.Itinerary
3.Mental-preparation
4.Accomodation
5.Transport
6.Physical-Preparation

Step One – Applying for the Visa
Before I booked anything, I had no idea you needed a visa to enter the country. I just assumed that India was like many other countries like Bali or Europe where you get a tourist visa on arrival. Luckily, I spoke to some people who had travelled to India and told me that I needed to get a visa. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have enquired and would have rocked up to India without a visa and been refused entry.

India has multiple kinds of visas you can apply for (there’s about 13 different types). I opted for the e-tourist visa because it was the cheapest (only AUD$60).

Visa Categories
The different visas India offers (Source: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/index.html)

I didn’t realise that you could only get the e-visa online and stupidly booked an appointment with the Indian Visa Application Center in Melbourne city. I went all the way to the city to find out that you can only get the one-year visa there, which was AUD$200. I didn’t want to pay $200 because I was only going for three weeks so I went home and started applying for the e-tourist visa online.

At first, when I searched for the e-visa, there were multiple websites available. I was confused and concerned. I knew that there were fake websites so I checked and cross-referenced the websites to see which one was the real one and concluded that it must be the one pictured below, but I did think that even the genuine site didn’t look 100% legitimate.

Indian Visa Online
The Official Indian Visa website homepage
(Source: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/index.html)

I still wasn’t 100% sure if the site was legitimate but my gut told me that it was the right one. I took a leap of faith and went with it.

The application process was a bit painful for me because I couldn’t use my Australian passport photo (India only accepts 2” x 2” photos) so I had to shoot through hoops to get a picture in the right dimensions (because I was having technical issues on my computer and phone). After countless selfies, an accidental MMS of my face to a random stranger and a quick visit to my ex’s house to use his software to edit the picture, I finally got a picture that seemed to have the correct dimensions. I paid the $60 online with my credit card and submitted my application.

I was expecting to wait three days for the outcome of my application but my visa was granted in less than 24 hours! Woo!

I’ve cut and pasted a screenshot below of the e-mail I got showing me my visa was approved so you can see what it looks like.

Indian e-visa approval granted email
My email from the Indian e-visa website granting my e-tourist visa.
(Source: Hotmail via the Mail App)

I then printed the form by:

  1. Going to the e-visa website
  2. Clicking on Visa Status (to click on)
  3. Entering my Application ID & Passport number
  4. Once the page loaded with the status of my visa showing as approved (below), I clicked on Print Status

Visa Status Enquiry
My e-visa status on the e-visa website.
(Source: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/StatusEnquiry)

The official visa approval loaded (below) – I saved it to my desktop and printed five copies.

Official Visa Approval Document
The official visa authorisation paper – my ticket to enter the country.
(Source: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/StatusEnquiry)

Step Two – Itinerary
Now that I completed the legal part…where was I to go?

Like I said before, India is a huge country with so many sites to see and places to visit.

I was lost and didn’t know where to start….Surbhi!!! (I figured there was no one better to ask than a local.)

We teed up a time to discuss my trip and she asked what I wanted to do and see.

I answered, “I just want to see lots of culture as well as the Taj Mahal of course” (something along those lines). Someone also put the idea in my head to hike the Himalayas which excited me so I also asked Surbhi to add the hike to my itinerary.

She suggested the following itinerary (including her wedding):

  • Delhi as a midpoint
  • Agra
  • Bhopal (for the wedding)
  • Jaipur
  • Jodhpur
  • Rohtang Pass Trek for the Himalayas

(All the places with the exception of Bhopal are north of India.)

I took Surbhi’s list of places and worked with it – I did my research and planning around her suggestions with the exception of the Rohtang Pass Trek. I also added in Rishikesh so I could embrace the city of Yoga.

For the three weeks I was going to be in India, my itinerary ended up looking like this:

  • Dehli
  • Agra
  • Bhopal
  • Jodhpur
  • Jaipur
  • Dehradun to hike the Himalayas via the Nag Tibba Trek
  • Rishikesh
  • Dehli to return home

Google Maps Itinerary
My itinerary. Map: Courtesy of Google Maps

The hike was one of the first things I booked. I opted to book a short two-day hike with India Hikes because (a) the company had good reviews (b) it was cheap, (c) the hike was easy to moderate level in difficulty and (d) the hike fit in my timeframe and itinerary.

Overall, I think they did a great job and were very professional. The only con was that the group was VERY large (there were about 24 of us). I would have preferred a smaller group for this hike.

India Hikes Home Page
Indiahikes website (Source: https://indiahikes.com)

India Hikes - Nag Tibba Trek Home Page
The trek I chose with India Hikes – it was for beginners and the right amount of time for the short trip I had (Source: https://indiahikes.com/nag-tibba)

Step three – Mental Preparation
For me, before I built the courage to book anything else, I had to decipher some of the mystery surrounding traveling in India because it was such an unknown place to me and I had a lot of concerns. At this stage, I probably even would have been too scared to get onto the plane if I didn’t put my mind at ease. So what did I do? I googled female solo travel in India and looked up Youtube videos of bloggers and interviews with females which were experienced in traveling in India by themselves.

The most helpful source I came across was GRRRL TRAVELLER  – the blogger Christine Ka’Aloa has a lot of realistic videos, writings and discussions on traveling India with a lot of useful tips. I’ve also heard that India Mike (www.indiamike.com) writes an excellent blog on India too. I also watched several general Youtube videos on India to see what it was like to drive or walk around India. Eventually, I built more confidence and became comfortable with the idea of going to India.

GRRRL TRAVELLER Home PageGrrrltraveler blog (Source: https://grrrltraveler.com)

Now that I was mentally prepared for the place, I had to figure out where I would stay.

But where to book? How could I know which places were genuinely good or bad? How could I tell whether the reviews were legitimate?

Step four – Accommodation
Since I was on a tight budget and scared of being alone, I decided hostels were the way to go. I knew hostels were extremely cheap and a place where you could meet tonnes of like-minded travellers that you wouldn’t ordinarily meet in hotels. But I had this fear of booking terrible accommodation and ending up hating it because I knew hostels weren’t normally as nice as hotels. I also vaguely knew that a lot of the budget accommodation in India had extremely low standards – I read some reviews where people would find cockroaches or other things crawling in their room, the floor or bed was dirty, or the staff couldn’t speak a word of English or were extremely unhelpful.

So what did this mean for me? It meant that booking the right accommodation was very important, especially because I am the type of person who is used to staying in hotels or nice Airbnb’s. The idea of sharing a room with others coupled with the copious number of dodgy hotels and hostels in India was a huge concern for me. I knew that this was something that could make or break my trip (first world problems I know).

Before I made my first booking, I heavily researched into the places which were worth staying at. I Googled and Youtubed the ‘best hostels in India’ and found a few sites or channels which provided a list with pictures of the ‘best hostels’ in certain areas. After watching these videos, I decided to run with certain names for my accommodation in Dehli, Jodhpur, Jaipur and Rishikesh. The lists gave me brand recognition of reputable hostels so that when it came to actually searching for hostels to book, I recognised the name and booked the place if I was happy with the reviews and pictures.

For my first stop in Dehli, I went on booking.com and checked the reviews and pictures of a number of hostels. Madpackers really stood out to me. I was satisfied that it was a decent hostel and before I knew it, I booked my first accommodation in Dehli and I am so glad I booked with them. Immediately after booking, I received a confirmation e-mail providing me with a long list of information about their location, and the cost and scams from the airport. They also offered an airport pickup service, which I decided to take because I didn’t want to be messing around trying to find a taxi at 11PM in Dehli by myself when I was unaware of how things worked there.

Madpackers Dehli. Photo sources: booking.com and priceline.com

I liked the ease of use and number of places which were available on booking.com so I used them to book all of my accommodation (via their website and mobile app).

Eventually, my accommodation for all the places in my itinerary was booked except for my last stop in Dehli, which I was ok with booking later.

Booking.com homepage
The booking.com website (Source: booking.com)

In this process, I discovered that the beauty of having a smart phone was that all the e-mail confirmations of my bookings automatically was uploaded onto my phone’s calendar. It had all the bookings I made and the details of the booking (i.e. address and telephone number), which became VERY handy each time I went to a new location.

Screenshots of my phone calendar with the booking details
(I have an Android if you’re interested)

PHEW – another part was completed! I was proud of myself but then quickly realised that only one part of the puzzle was completed and that I still needed to organise transport. This was like another riddle which had just smacked me in the face. How am I going to get from A to B safely??? Surbhi!!!!!

Step five – Transport
My travel options were plane, train, bus or driver (like anywhere else in the world). I was sceptical of using the bus by myself and it was too expensive or impractical to get a driver in most instances so I wanted to stick to using planes and trains.

I read that as a solo female traveller, you should never be alone on the streets at night and should avoid arriving at an airport, train station or bus stop late at night, which led to my determination to make sure all my arrivals and transits were during the day. I also read that if you get an overnight train on a lower class, you must watch your things because you are prone to theft.

For me, booking train tickets was no easy task (at least to start off with anyway). I watched and read that India’s trains are one of the most commonly used modes of transport and gets booked out fast so it’s advisable to book at least one month in advance. This came as a shock to me because in my previous travels, there was absolutely no need to book train tickets so far in advance. But I quickly accepted this because I was aware of India’s massive population.

Surbhi suggested to use makemytrip.com and cleartrip.com.

You can also book train tickets via Indian Railway’s official website, IRCTC.com

For all sites – you need to register your details with the site you are using as well as the IRCTC website but there’s a catch – when registering with IRCTC, you have to make an initial payment to them to successfully register with them. If you don’t do this, you can’t go any further and will not be able to book any train tickets through any website.

At first, I wanted to use Indian Railway but the mandatory pre-payment to be able register put me off using their services. I was concerned the IRCTC website wasn’t legitimate so I opted to use makemytrip.com or cleartrip.com.

makemytrip.com homepage
Makemytrip.com

cleartrip.com homepageCleartrip.com

In terms of user-friendliness, both websites or apps were extremely easy to use but they did not work for me at all! Every time I booked a train ticket, my payment would go through and I wouldn’t get any confirmation or ticket. This was extremely frustrating as I felt like I lost the money for booking the ticket and felt the need to book my tickets ASAP (I had just over a month left at this point and was fearful of the tickets selling out).

I quickly searched the website for the refund policy and e-mailed their customer service (eventually after 24 hours, I received an email saying that I would automatically get a refund within a certain amount of time if I paid but didn’t get the ticket). So this put my mind at ease (I did eventually get the refund). But there was still the puzzle of booking the trains I wanted to book!

Like I said, I was concerned about the legitimacy of the IRCTC website and was worried that I wouldn’t have been able to use the website (they previously had issues or did not accept international credit cards and designed the site only for locals). But after doing more research, I realised that the website was legitimate and I was able to make the payment with my international credit card. Not long after, I was able to book tickets directly with Indian Railway.

IRCTC HomepageIndian Railway Website (Source: https://www.irctc.co.in/eticketing/loginHome.jsf)

But then I stumbled upon my next hurdle – deciphering the train system.

There are about 7 different classes you can choose from so of course it’s going to be confusing especially when you’re booking it for the first time and IRCTC does not explain it on their website (I couldn’t find it anyway).

Which class should I book??? Surbhi!!!

My research and Surbhi told me to get second class or above because it was safer so this was what I opted for all my trips. But even the shorthand IRCTC uses is also confusing if you haven’t used it before. Luckily, cleartrip.com made a blog post about the different class systems (below). You can also Google the different classes to get a picture of what type of carriage you will be sitting in.

Class system 1Class system 2Class system 3
The different class systems on Indian Railway explained
(Source: https://blog.cleartrip.com/2008/10/01/indian-railways-fare-classes-explained/)

You will also notice that there are different berths. This was also like another language to me so I had to do more research to understand it but even after doing research I still didn’t get it! So what did I do? I winged it, just booked one and hoped for the best. Now since I’ve travelled in India, I understand what this means and looks like. It’s a pity I didn’t take photos but I will try my best to explain.

A berth essentially means how many ‘beds’ in one compartment. So if there are two berths, there are only two ‘beds’ in the one area. If you’re in a 6-berth compartment, you will be sharing the area with 5 other people.

You also get the option to choose the upper, window, side or lower berth. The best way I can explain this is to think of the top and lower berth as a bunk bed. If you choose the top berth, then you’re in the top bunk and vice versa. If you’re in a 6-berth compartment, it’s the same deal with more people.

I didn’t really get to experience sharing with lots of people but other travellers told me that if you are sharing a berth compartment, the upper berth is better and safer because you’re not in anyone’s way and harder to get to.

I’ve also drawn a basic diagram of the berth and seating system below (from my memory and experience).

IRCTC Berth Diagram

A simple diagram of India’s seating system. The berths are always ‘two storey’ like a bunk bed. If you choose the classes where only seats are offered, expect the arrangement to be chairs only – like a typical plane ride.

In total I booked three train rides with three different classes. I must say I’m glad I did because each class makes for a different experience. The classes I opted for were the ones pictured below (I didn’t take many pictures unfortunately because I didn’t want to draw unwanted attention to myself but I’ve shared the videos and photos I took while using the train below)

2AC Class – 2nd Class Air-Conditioned carriage

 

 

EC Class – Executive Class

 

CC Class – Chair Car Class

Unfortunately I didn’t show much of the train because it was too crowded and I didn’t want to draw unwanted attention.

Why did I book different classes?

I didn’t book different classes with the intention of having different train class experiences. Before I booked anything I was adamant that I would book 2AC for all my train rides because I read it was the best value for money and one of the safest. I mainly booked different classes due to the unavailability of 2AC. I ended up choosing the executive and chair car class because I had a strong desire to book for the better classes. At the time, I really wanted to book the female only carriages as well but these were always booked out by the time I went to book my ticket.

Looking back, I wish I booked in overnight sleeper classes and went on the lower classes just for the experience. I would have also saved a lot of cash and made my trip truly a budget trip.

Part of me feels like I wasn’t brave enough to just do it (due to my fear of travelling at night by myself and also in crowded trains where many men would be staring at me).

Now that I’ve travelled on the upper classes and feel more comfortable with traveling in India, I’ll be sure to try these when I return!

Step six – Physical preparation
Yay, we’ve finally reached the last part! (thank you for getting this far)

What does physical preparation mean? For me, this included bringing the right medication, immunization, travel insurance, clothing, packing list, registering with Smart Traveller, and also exercising for the hike.

Travel insurance for me was really easy because I automatically got it with my credit card. I just made sure that I read and printed my policy to take with me.

After everything else was done, I had to figure out what I needed to bring with me and to prepare for my health. So what did I do? Of course I Googled and Youtubed this too.

I will break this down into parts for simplicity.

Packing List – essentials

I highlight essentials because I realised very quickly that I brought too many things with me and overpacked (story of my life).

  • Passport
  • Print outs of insurance, visa, passport and plane/rail tickets (unless you can save an electronic version of your computer) but I needed at least ONE print out of my visa approval paper for immigration at the airport
  • Indian money (rupees)
  • Credit and/or debit card
  • Driver’s licence and international licence (if you want to hire a scooter)
  • A small luggage case or backpack (it’s much easier to get around as India doesn’t have many lifts you can use and sometimes the escalators don’t work either. Believe me I learnt this the hard way).
  • Basic CONSERVATIVE Clothes – don’t bring too much, it’s a hot country where you can buy local clothes for really cheap
  • Head scarf if you’re a female
  • Hat – optional but highly recommended, especially for guys (girls can use head scarfs)
  • Sunglasses
  • Bras as bras are not good in India
  • Useful shoes (I opted for stylish Crocs and hiking shoes for my hike) – the Crocs were light, waterproof, washable and comfortable for long walks
  • Towel
  • Electronic Adapter
  • Phone Charger and phone
  • Power Bank
  • Extra memory card for your phone or camera if you will be taking lots of pictures
  • Earplugs and headphones
  • Eye cover if staying in hostels
  • Small every-day bag to carry with you while you travel
  • Moneybag/bum-bag (optional but very helpful)
  • A bicycle lock for your luggage (to use on the trains)
  • Key and lock for lockers for your luggage if you are staying in hostels or intend on using any left-luggage service
  • Essential medical and toiletry list for India
    • Antiseptic cream
    • Hand sanitiser
    • Heat resistant probiotics
    • Sunscreen (50+)
    • Deodorant (although I didn’t find this helped how much I sweat there anyway)
    • Travel sized tissues – you can buy this in India
    • Mosquito repellent or mosquito band
    • Oral Rehydration Salts – see Health Protection below
    • Tampons and/or Condoms (if required)

Non-essentials

  • Bed bug spray
  • Bed bug sheet
  • Pillow case
  • Sleeping bag
  • Hair dryer
  • Toiletries such as shampoo and conditioner, body wash, etc. (all the things you can easily buy abroad)
  • Fake wedding ring
  • Fancy and skin-exposing clothes
  • Laptop

Health Protection

All I can say about this is go to your doctor and discuss your travel plans with them. They will advise you of everything you need. My research told me that I had to prepare for ‘Dehli Belly’ (food poisoning in India) and the hike provided me with a long list of medication I needed to bring but my doctor ultimately advised me the best.

The things you have to watch out for and prepare for the most are:

  • Food poisoning
  • Malaria
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Infections

By far, food poisoning is the most common for a tourist in India so it’s best to prepare a bunch of things to treat it before you go. Although you can get all the medication in India, it can be safer in some instances to bring it from your home country.

I got my shots for Typhoid and Hepatitis A&B but didn’t need to prepare for Malaria because up north in winter, there is no need. If you travel south, there is a much higher risk.

Preparing for Delhi Belly

It’s best to have the medication below just in case:

  • Immodium (to stop you going to the toilet if the poisoning is bad. This is handy for long train rides, plane rides, etc.)
  • Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) – this is absolutely essential for you to keep drinking when you have Delhi Belly as your body is continually losing fluids and essential minerals
  • Antibiotics

Safety

All I did for this was send friends and family my itinerary and copies of my passport and visa so they had my details and were aware of where I was. I also ensured I checked into Facebook regularly just to show people that I was alive 😊

I registered my travel plans with the Australian Government on the Smartraveller.gov.au website.

I was advised to buy some pepper spray (and someone told me to buy a knife lol) but I didn’t end up doing this and felt it was unnecessary.

Woo!! I was finally ready!!!

I had everything I needed and was confident to go to India.

My reflections of my preparation after traveling??

After traveling to India, I now I know that I didn’t need to plan my trip so much.

India is a place where you should plan as little as possible, because nothing goes to plan anyway and it gives you the flexibility to do things spontaneously. This definitely caused me to miss out on the opportunity to go on a desert tour with some awesome people I met along my journey and I am still kicking myself to this day.

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave any comments or ask any questions you have in the comments below!

 

4 thoughts on “Getting ready to travel to India: the six steps I took in preparing my trip to India

  1. Love it again. I usually plan as much as you did, but not this time. The bad thing was I ended up hiring the expensive driver, since it was too short noticed to plan the train tickets. Next time, only trains!
    And the violence thing, so overrated!
    Last: yes, I only brushed my teeth with tap water!
    Still miss my India friend! :*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aline my dear! I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who over-prepares hahaha. Yes your trip was probably more expensive than most but you didn’t have to stress about anything 🙂

      FYI for those who read this – not everyone is as lucky as Aline with tap water 😉

      Like

  2. Fucking hell Mei, talk about throwing yourself into the deep end.

    “I have always wanted to travel by myself ” and “How I prepared my trip to India” reads like the beginning of a horror story to me. My anxiety goes crazy just driving into Brizzy by myself, I’d go full Dorothy(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJ6VT7ciR1o) If India was my first solo voyage.

    But now that I’ve read that one of my biggest fears as a fully grown male adult has been put to shame by a 5 foot nothing Asian lady I need to ask you some serious questions

    Does dragging those two huge steel balls around everywhere ever get tiring? And how do you manage to conceal them with such a small frame?

    Also glad to hear you had a good time, hope everything’s coming up Millhouse for ya

    – Regards staff number 10530

    Like

    1. Hi James – long time no see/speak!

      Ask away! I understand traveling solo isn’t for everyone and it is a challenging thought.

      Lol I’m not sure what you mean by traveling with two huge steel balls means but I guess it’s a metaphor for being brave. If I’ve guessed right then my answer would be no ~ traveling alone has made me crave it more so all it’s done is give me more inspiration to keep doing it 🙂

      P.s. I am surprised you still remember your staff number!

      Like

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