22 things to know before going to India - Lonely Planet

What to expect when traveling to India
The Truth After 5 Months Travelling India!

We are a couple from New Zealand who travelled across India for 5months.  In this post we reveal the truth about India so you can know exactly what to expect.

Before embarking on our 5months travel across India we were pretty nervous. We had read all the horror stories of India and got quite apprehensive about the trip…..our families were the main culprits and freaked us the heck out with kidney theft stories!

But what is India really like to Visit? Although India is a popular tourist destination, it can be a challenging place to visit. Factors such as weather, pollution and overcrowding can make it a difficult place for tourist to adjust to. 

India is an epic adventure, a travel destination that will grab you with both hands and captivate you.  An imperfect place that will challenge you and amaze you at the same time.

Let’s be real, India has its challenges. India at times shocked us (more about that further in the post) but overall we fell in love with incredible India and we were able to see all sides of this unique and endearing country…the good, the bad and the beautiful!

Like every country India comes with it’s pros and cons and it can be a very polarising place.  This travel destination is not for everyone, so if you don’t like rich history, vibrant and diverse culture, delicious food and stunning landscapes then there’s no point in reading further. If these things excite you and you want to hear more about what to REALLY expect from India,  then this article is for you.

  • What is India like for Safety?
  • Does India Feel Crowded?
  • What is the Pollution like in India?
  • What are the People of India Really Like?
  • What is India really like to Travel India as a female?
  • What is the Service Really like in India?
  • What is the Food like in India?
  • What is the Culture like in India?
  • What is the Poverty like in India?
  • What is Nature like in India?
  • What is the Transport like in India?
  • What is Accommodation like in India?
  • What is Internet like in India?
  • Is India Really that Cheap?

You can also check out our full playlist of India travel blogs to get more of an insight into what India is really like and what to expect when traveling to India:

What Is Life Like In India? What I Learned As An Expat Living In India

What is India like for Safety?

20 best places to visit in India on your next trip

new friends in India

You do need to have your wits about you while travelling in India, but it’s not as big and scary as you might think. During our 5 months of travelling we had no major safety incidents at all. In fact we felt most people in India were extremely kind and honest, more so than in other countries we have visited. 

Local people go out of their way to make sure you are safe and when it comes to money most locals are honest.  When we first arrived we didn’t know the currency very well and paid3000 instead of₹300 for a rickshaw, and guess what…..the man came back with the money!

In saying this, as a traveller you do need to exercise common travelling sense as bad things do happen everywhere and we want you to be safe on your Journey.  We wrote this full guide to avoiding travel scams to help fellow travellers avoid the dreaded travel scam!

Security for malls and major sights is very good in India. You will notice very tight security check posts with bag checks and metal detectors.  

Your main risk to safety in India is transport which can be especially dangerous in the Northern Himalayan regions.  We nearly got wiped out by two landslides in north India, we captured one of our near misses on camera, check it out in the Kasol video below…

Does India Feel Crowded?

Bharat Bandh: Commuters hit as most MTC buses go off the roads in Chennai-  The New Indian Express

Crowds overflowing outside train station in Madurai India

When you imagine India you might think of big cities and lots of people. This is most definitely true and you will feel the density of people in India, especially around festival times.  But we found this was all part of the adventure and we grew to love the hustle and bustle, it was exciting and vibrant.  

Due to high populations in India you will notice waiting in lines, any lines……to be a real struggle.  If your travelling in India you might need to leave your orderly line waiting habits at home and be ready to hold your ground.

However, you can easily escape the crowds in India and visit some beautiful and peaceful areas of the country.  One such place we loved was Laluri a picturesque village nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas with what we claim is the best homestay in India.

Overcrowded train india hi-res stock photography and images - Alamy

What is the Pollution like in India?

India's trash mountains are a fetid symbol of the country's plastic problem  | CNN

Trash in North East India

Pretty bad if we are honest.  We don’t want to put  you off from travelling to India, but we do need to be honest with you. The pollution in India was one thing we found difficult to stomach. Watching locals through rubbish bags into beautiful rivers was particularly heart wrenching.  

You may also notice toilet waste and any and all rubbish from the trains will land straight on the tracks….the cleaners literally sweep the rubbish out the train door and you will see train tracks while you pee!  

Pollution is usually at it’s worse in the larger cities of India.  Smells can sometimes be quite strong and some towns will have open sewers. Rats run rampant andpublic urination is definitely a thing. The air pollution wasn’t as bad as other countries we have travelled to, but the constant burning of plastics was definitely worrying.

There are places in India that will surprise you with there cleanliness, and peoples homes are generally very clean. But for the most part India has a pollution problem.  We urge you to be prepared for this before you arrive and still see the beauty of incredible India, it will be worth it we promise!

What are the People of India Really Like?

How to Make Friends After Retirement | Senior Living Tips

Reti making a new friend in India

Explore South India - Indian Panorama

Friendly locals in India

The people of India blew us away. If you want to know what India is really like, you will discover it’s true glory through the people. Kindness and friendliness was shown to us every day.  You will meet many lovely people along your journeys and you will probably be invited to a few weddings and make lifelong friends.  

​Shop owners will make sure you do not overpay and honesty is a theme in India. We really didn’t feel unsafe at all with the people of India, if anything the people made us feel more safe and protected. I was actually in tears (tears of joy) a couple of times in India when acts of unbelievable  kindness and selflessness were shown by locals.

Indian people are very proud of their country and they are fascinated about what foreigners think of their country. With this pride and a deep rooted culture that guest is god,  Indian people will often go above and beyond to show you how wonderful their country is. This is why it is so easy to make friends in India and meet locals willing to chat and help no strings attached.  

It is really helpful to know a few key phrases of the local language when traveling to India. It is also a delight for locals to hear that you have made an effort. We usually learn on youtube…..& remember there are over 380 languages in India, so research which languages are most common in each area you are planning to visit. 

Good phrases to know are (in order of importance)

  • Hello
  • Thank you 
  • How Much?
  • What is your Name?
  • My name is
  • Nice to meet you

One thing to be aware of as a foreigner is that you will get stared at A LOT in India. People in India generally stare out of curiosity, not rudeness, this is especially true in more offbeat places.

​The stares can be quite confronting at first but we got used to the staring over time. One trick we learnt is if you smile at them they will usually give you a great  big smile back, and your heart warms in that moment.

India begs youths to 'selfie responsibly' amid efforts to combat killer  trend | South China Morning Post

Selfies in India

You will be approached for friendly chats and will be asked for lots of selfies.  It’s quite a compliment at first but the constant selfie requests can get annoying after a few weeks.  

We got to know when someone was approaching for a selfie and to be honest sometimes we would bolt in the opposite direction….mainly because one selfie can lead to a line of people who also want their chance for a picture.

As a female I was usually wary of taking selfies with single males or groups of males………. unless Reti was also in the picture.  This is because some men will use the picture to claim they spent the night with you and brag to their mates!  But families, children and couples….how can you refuse a selfie! 

Like any country….in the touristic parts you will find scammers, you do learn quickly how to avoid them though and we have written our tips here.

What is India really like as a female?

Is India really a safe place for women?
Indian women live in fear of violence - The San Diego Union-Tribune

What to expect when traveling to India as a female is a hot topic. India has had a bad rap in the international media for its treatment of women and rape statistics. But what is India really like for a female traveller?  

As a female travelling with my partner I had little to no issues.  You seem to be respected a lot  travelling as a couple. I did notice a lot of people would talk to or direct their questions to Reti rather than me, which I didn’t mind as I am a little introverted anyway, but it was an observation.  All in all there was no issues for me travelling as a female with a male partner.

However, I did have two weeks in India without Reti and I must say things did feel a little different.  Some men were more willing to make rude comments when I was alone so I felt slightly more vulnerable.

​However I made sure to dress in covered clothes usually traditional kurta and I was stern in my manner if I needed to be.  I did not venture out alone after 8pm and would generally only go to well lit places where I saw other females and families.


Overall as a female traveller without a male partner I felt more vulnerable, but I also felt that locals were very helpful and wanting to protect me. One thing I will say is to make sure your hotel feels safe, family run establishments are best and try not to travel on public transport at night.

I had one night train experience on sleeper class, where the train route I had chosen was very empty and the only other passengers were groups of men….not ideal.  The train guards made a point to sit next to me the entire night to ensure I was safe. This was actually the only train ride I had ever had in India that felt like this and it happened to occur when I was without Reti!

If you do travel on public transport alone as a female at night, make sure the route is a popular one and also popular with families.  You can easily ask locals about this before you book.  The trains are generally very safe especially if you are on a popular route with a full train, families & women travel the train all the time.

The train stations can be a bit overwhelming but they are well lit and again there are usually many women and families around.  You might feel a bit more secure in AC class as it is more restricted than sleeper class.  On sleeper class many people jump on even if they don’t have a ticket, this doesn’t happen on AC class.

Make sure if you have nice Neighbors (couples or families) on the train,  to make the effort to have a chat and build a friendship with them. This will make you feel even safer and you might even make new friends.  I am not saying not to talk to single men, but just be careful not to give the wrong impression. (I always let men in any country know that I am married.)

We met many solo female travellers…Indian and foreign along our journeys who were travelling India and having an amazing time. Overall if you channel your inner confidence and have some street smarts, travelling alone in India as a female can be safe and enjoyable.

What is the Service like in India?

Younger Indian consumers now prefer cafes over quick-service restaurants

The service in India is either amazing or really bad, no sort of middle ground. The good news is it’s usually amazing and you learn to get over the bad ones. The good service in India comes from the heart and people will go above and beyond to show their hospitality.

One hotel owner invited us to his home for cake and tea, he gave us gifts and also invited us to his friends wedding. He even drove us around town trying to find a place that would exchange New Zealand Dollars.  

Other times you will get pretty unresponsive service and they may even seem like they don’t want your business, in these rare cases we would just move along to someone who did want our business.

There are not many places that accept eftpos or credit card in India.  This is  especially true for budget travellers, visiting more local places. So cash is king in India. But the catch 22 is most of the time shops, hotels and restaurants will have no change.

​We even experienced this no change issue at the Taj Mahal! So make sure you have small notes all the time, finding small notes will be your newest hobby in India!

One thing that really annoyed us, but that we soon got over was thatthe menu is not always the menu, many times the item you really wanted to order is ‘not available’.

Improving Service Delivery for India's Poorest: Waterlife India and GNRC  Private Hospitals

What is the Food like in India?

Indian Foods | Popular Indian Dishes for 2023 | Cozymeal

The food in India is incredible.  We still daydream about our food experiences in India and want to travel back just to eat! The food isn’t always super hot and there are always mild options available if spicy is not your thing.   But if you love spice like us, you wont be disappointed! 

The great thing about Indian cuisine is that it changes drastically from state to state, so you are always discovering amazing new foods. From Tibetan Thukpa in the north to Biryani in the south and everything in between.

An interesting fact about Indian food is that each state will have its own laws regarding food. In some places beer is illegal and other places it’s totally acceptable, some places beef is illegal and some it’s eaten regularly, some places even eating meat is illegal while others it’s totally accepted.

As for Indian street food, we are all afraid of ruining our travels by contracting the dreaded Delhi Belly!  But in all honesty street food is often times fresher than restaurant food.

Due to high turn-over at street food stalls…..food is usually prepared fresh daily. Unlike some restaurant foods that might sit in a fridge for a day too long! Plus street food is always super cheap and it’s where you will eat the best food of your life, we promise!! Check out our Indian Street Food video for proof:


What is the Culture like in India?

Apatani people - Wikipedia


Unique culture of the Apatani people in North East India

The culture in India is rich, colourful and diverse.  Life is lived for all to see out in the open and you will be mesmerised by how vibrant and passionate Indian culture is.

​You will see amazing and fascinating things every day and will be treated to cultural delights at every turn. Every place you visit will have its own unique culture and vibe which makes travelling across India so fascinating and…..ADDICTIVE!

Some tips for not offending people in regards to Indian culture:
Do eat with your hands, this is the custom across many parts of India. It does feel strange at first, but after a while, you might actually like eating with your hands …so at least give it a go, especially if you have a local to show you how.

Don’t wear shoes inside anyone’s home or in any temples. Even some shops require you to remove your shoes first. It’s very impolite to wear your shoes inside the home and very frowned upon to wear shoes inside a temple.

Don’t wear a miniskirt or tank top. This one mainly applies to the ladies. India is a conservative country and if you want to draw the least amount of attention to yourself, then it’s a good idea to dress with your shoulders, chest and legs covered. Also when swimming, it’s important to know when its ok to wear a bikini and when it’s not. Most women swim at the beach fully clothed, but if you are in a resort or in Goa a bikini might be ok.

Don’t show too much affection in public with your partner. It is not a usual thing to see a couple kissing in public or being overly affectionate, so respect local culture and save that for the bedroom. (This can sometimes even extend to shaking the hand of the opposite sex.)

Indian tribe where the woman must have 'nose plugs' fitted | Daily Mail  Online

What is the poverty like in India?

Yes there is lots of  people living in poverty in India,  this is more prevalent in the larger cities. Even if smaller villages are poor they seem to have better access to resources and cleanliness is improved therefore the poverty does not seem to hit as hard.  

​You will encounter many beggars, and its your personal choice how you respond.  But we found it’s not a good idea to give money to beggars, instead we would give some food to children and disabled who were begging.

Do be prepared to witness people living in extreme poverty and in harsh conditions, you might need to find personal ways to process this.

What is Nature like in India?


Bliss of India - Spiti Valley - Memorable India BlogMemorable India BlogSpiti Valley India

Nature might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of India. However India has some of the worlds most stunning scenery and natural environments. India is so huge and vast, you can find the most incredible beautiful nature in this country.

From jungle to the Himalayas to desert, India has it all! Some of the most incredible scenery we have ever seen has been in India, Spiti Valley & Kheerganga are a couple of natural wonders in India that ring a bell.

What is the Transport like in India?

Transport in India: Tips for Traveling Around Safely

Traffic in India is like organised chaos, you might need some time to adjust to the madness but eventually you will feel at ease and will learn to trust the drivers.

Whats seems like chaotic driving to foreigners works really well in India and helps avoid large traffic jams.  We found traffic in India seems to flow nicely most of the time.

One thing to note is that road conditions can be very bad in India especially in the northern Himalayan Regions where landslides are very common.

Public transport in india is very cheap but can be uncomfortable.  Travelling by train is by far the most comfortable budget friendly mode of transport. Here is a full guide to train travel in India that might be helpful to you.

What is Accommodation like in India?

10 Best Homestays In South India For A Soulful Retreat

The Best Homestay in India

When it comes to accommodation India has it all. Homestays, hostels, budget hotels and luxurious resorts.  Accommodation can be incredible value for money in  India. 

If you are smart when booking you can easily avoid the hotel horror stories and find great clean budget options.  It’s only when you get off beaten path in India that you may find it hard to find decent budget accommodation options.

Electric outlets in Indian hotel rooms can oftentimes be placed unusually high up the wall making it difficult for charging.  It’s a great idea to bring a multi box to India so you can charge multiple item at the same time with one adapter.

If your a budget traveller hot water and good hotel wifi are pretty much a bonus and you will need to bring your own toilet paper as this is also not guaranteed. For midrange and luxury accommodations you should have no issues with hot water and toilet paper.

We always check hotel reviews on booking.com before booking any accommodation and it has never failed us.  It’s a great source of reliable reviews and has helped us for the most part avoid hotel duds.  

We have also found great discounts on the site…….one from memory was 80% off……our room in Jaisalmer India where we got a lux AC room for $10!  You can research India accommodation prices and reviews here  >>link to booking.com

What is Internet like in India?

Wifi at hotels in India is shocking and we NEVER  relied on the hotel to have a good wifi connection. Mobile data is extremely cheap (30gb for 30days for $7) in India which is why we recommend getting an Indian sim card as soon as you arrive. 

Is India Really that Cheap?

Yes India is extremely cheap and can be traveled for as little as $20 per day. Check out our India travel budget post which tells you exactly what things cost in India.

So what is India really like to visit? In summary India is an incredible adventure.   A Travel destination with flaws and an beauty unseen anywhere else in the world.  If you think you can handle all that is India then go for it,  you wont regret it! 

We hope this post helped you to understand what India is really like to visit  and provided insight into what to expect when travelling India.  Be sure to leave us a comment if you have any more questions around what India is really like or if you have any India travel stories to share, we would love to hear from you……happy India travels Natives! 

Cheers, Native Travellers

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