Your Ultimate Trip to India: The Complete Guide

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There are a number of things you should do before you travel to India, but where to start with it all? This guide will help you get your trip planned and organized in no time at all, and hopefully take some of the stress out of your preparations.

Decide Where You Want to Visit

Deciding where to visit in India is probably the one thing that causes people the most headaches and indecision. India is so vast and varied, it really is difficult to decide where to go, especially if you've got time constraints -- which most people unfortunately do have!

Therefore, a guidebook can be invaluable in helping plan your trip to India. A good guide book will provide you with information about each area, as well recommendations about what to see and do. Most people fly into Delhi and explore Rajasthan, particularly the iconic Golden Triangle, and Varanasi. However, if you're a female who's traveling solo in India for the first time, you'll encounter fewer hassles in south India than the north. Tamil Nadu is an excellent place to start your trip.

Decide When to Go

While India is often regarded as a hot, tropical country, in fact the weather varies dramatically.

While the far south is being lashed by monsoon rain, the far north will be covered in snow. Hence, the climate will have significant bearing on when you'll want to travel to India. The tourist season in most parts of India extends from October until March -- this is when the weather is at its coolest.

However, you may want to wait for the weather to warm up if you're planning to head north to places such as Ladakh, Spiti, and Kashmir. April to September is the tourist season there.

Decide if You Want to Take a Tour

Travelers understandably often shun guided tours that visit standard destinations and attractions. The great thing is that experiential tourism is growing in India, and there are some insightful immersive tours that you can take to learn about India's culture. Why not get off the beaten track and go tribal or rural?

Decide if You'd Like Assistance in Planning Your Trip

India Someday is a reliable company that will put together a personalized itinerary, based on your requirements and interests. They will work within your time-frame and budget, and take care of all arrangements for transport and accommodations (ranging from luxury hotels to unique homestays).

The cost of the service is EUR 315 or $335 for up to two weeks, for two adults. There's a 20% discount for solo travelers. Check out their website for some great tour ideas as well.

Decide if You Want to Hire a Car and Driver

If you really want to travel independently and plan your own itinerary, a popular way of getting around India is to hire a car and driver. Self-drive rental cars are relatively uncommon, due to the poor condition of roads and the frequent disregard for road rules in India. Although having a driver may take a bit of getting used to, it's much safer and easier.

Arrange Trains and Flights

Many people prefer not to make advance reservations for transport in India as they don't like to be constrained by a fixed plan (especially because they may find they hate a place and want to leave, or love a place and want to stay longer).

However, the number of passengers on Indian Railways has increased a great deal. Some trains can fill up months in advance on popular routes during vacation times, making early bookings a must. There is a special quota for foreign tourists but it's not available on all trains. Advance reservations for flights aren't as necessary as for trains, although many airlines do offer discounts for 14 or 21 day advance ticket purchases.

Book Accommodations

While it can be possible to get great deals on hotels by walking in and negotiating the rate in many places, it's a good idea to book your accommodations in advance for major cities, particularly Delhi. International flights often arrive at night and it's easy to feel disorientated in an unfamiliar place. Plenty of people prey on unsuspecting tourists by taking them to inferior quality hotels where they get paid a commission for doing so. If you're visiting India for the first time, homestays are recommended as you'll be able to benefit from the host's local knowledge, eat home cooked food, and get personalized service. In other words, you'll be well looked after and have a soft landing! Nowadays, India has some fantastic world-class backpacker hostels all over the country too, which make it easier for travelers to meet other people.

Visit Your Doctor

As India is a developing nation, health is an important concern of travelers. You should visit your doctor well in advance of your trip to India to find out what precautions you need to take against certain illnesses. The medications and immunizations that are necessary will greatly depend on the regions you intend to visit (for example, some areas are malaria prone, while most have very little risk of infection) and time of year (during and straight after the monsoon is the riskiest time for health problems).

Get Your Visa

All visitors need a visa for India, except citizens of neighboring Nepal and Bhutan. Most people are eligible to get an electronic E-Visa for tourism, business and medical purposes. These visas are valid for 60 days, from the time of entry. Two entries are permitted on E-Tourist visas and E-Business visas, while three entries are permitted on E-Medical visas. The visas are non-extendable, and non-convertible to other types of visas. Visitors staying in India for less than 72 hours can obtain a Transit Visa. Otherwise, if you intend to stay in India for more than 60 days, a Tourist Visa is necessary. The Indian Embassy outsources the Indian visa application process to private processing agencies in many countries to make it more efficient.

Familiarize Yourself With India's Culture

If you're visiting India for the first time, you're probably feeling a bit apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. The risk of culture shock can be overcome to a certain extent by reading as much as you can about India, as well as watching documentaries and other programs on India. In order to to be as prepared as possible, you should also familiarize yourself with as much information as you can about scams, dangers, and annoyances.

Decide What to Pack

When packing for India, it's important to take into account the country's conservative dress standards. Some people prefer to take very little to India and instead buy what they need to over there. Others choose to bring as much as possible with them from home because the quality is better. Some of the things that you should give consideration to are the type of luggage (backpack or suitcase) to take, clothes, shoes, medicine, personal care items, money (ATMs are widely available in India and credit cards are commonly accepted in major cities), and other useful items such as plug adapters, flashlights, and padlocks.