Are you about to travel and looking for advice about the places you are going? I often ask people who’ve been to/lived in a country to tell me what I might expect when I arrive. For example, many people from all types of backgrounds gave me advice and perspective before my trip to India. Some of it was extremely helpful for me and some of it wasn’t at all. The following are real-life examples of advice I was given and how true it was for me personally:
You are going to be exposed to sensory overload with the smells, the sounds, the crowds, and the poverty.
TRUE: From the moment I got to India—well, that’s not true since I arrived at 3:30 AM, but at least from the moment I left my hotel the next day—I found myself in awe at the organized chaos that is India and its massive population. Mumbai, in particular, was such a dense city that I found something new to see/smell/interact with on every corner. In fact, Beijing (the city I came directly to after India) felt like a nice quiet village compared to most of my experience in India.
Make sure you buy a money belt, especially since you are taking the night trains in India!
FALSE, or at least INCONCLUSIVE: I took both night trains and night buses where I shared compartments with local Indians. I never used the money belt I bought in South Africa once. You just need to keep an eye on your things. Despite the fact that I was often in very crowded areas, all I had to do was pay attention to where my wallet and passport were and I never had a problem. I know some people swear by money belts, and I’m sure the first time I get pick-pocketed I will too, but I really have never felt like I needed one.
If you take the night trains, make sure you get the highest class you possibly can.
TRUE or FALSE, depending on your adventurous nature: I ended up getting the AC Sleeper 1st class on my night train (the best you can get) and got a great night sleep. Unfortunately, it kept me isolated from many what I’m sure were interesting Indians young and old. I checked AC 2nd class and felt like it would have been a very comfortable experience. Some of the other classes, however, seemed to be a little more “rugged.” Here is a great website to help you figure out what you might want from your own Indian rail experience! http://www.seat61.com/India.htm#routes
Make sure you don’t eat street food or you will get SICK!
FALSE: Just make sure you go to a place that’s busy and is cooking its food constantly. You are actually in more danger of food poisoning at a clean-looking restaurant that’s kitchen is sitting idle than at a fast-moving grill on the street. I ate street food and never had a problem!
Don’t drink the tap water or eat fruit that you haven’t peeled first.
TRUE: Now, I never got truly sick in India but I’ve heard too many stories to ignore this advice. Your body is just not used to many of the non-cooked food and water in India. Be safe and enjoy your trip.
It’s going to be HOT in India in May and June.
Painfully TRUE: I don’t think I’ve ever experienced heat like I did in India while I was there. Some places were at least a dry heat as opposed to a death trap of humidity (yeah, I’m talking about you, Ongole!) Needless to say, there are better times to come to India to avoid the heat. I’ve heard that October to March can be quite nice. If you must go in May and June, just put on sunscreen and drink LOTS of water.
Make sure you eat as much Indian food as possible while you are there.
More TRUE than anything else on this list!: Indian food was amazing. My friends say that I have an awful palate though, so take it with a grain of salt (pardon the pun).
More observations on India coming soon…
Zach Tobin is a second-year graduate student in Student Affairs Administration at MSU’s College of Education. Zach was born in Seattle, WA and has had the privilege to travel throughout the world including stints in Central America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Along with traveling, Zach’s interests include higher education policy and Eastern European history and politics. Zach served as a Programming Intern at the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS).