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Tips for Traveling in India

I’ve visited India often enough now for work at MIT, and I expect to continue to help colleagues prepare for trips to the country that I thought it might be best to post this list of practical tips on my website.

(Last updated 2/21/16)

  • Drinking Water:
    • Always drink bottled or purified water. If you’re especially concerned stick with bottled water, I’ve been fine with purified water. Be careful about ice, make sure it comes from a purified source. I usually use bottled water to brush my teeth, even in the upscale hotels.
    • I use every opportunity I get to make sure I have a bottle of water with me. Whether this be coming off the plane, from the airport before getting in a taxi, when leaving the hotel, etc.
  • Electricity and Plugs:
    • India uses 220V and 50Hz alternating current, most modern electronics have power supplies capable of using either 110V or 220V, which covers most use cases you’re likely to run into.
    • I’ve found a mixture of U.S., European and British plugs in India. It’s best if you bring at least one U.S. 2-prong to European 2-prong adapter.
    • Just like a light switch, you need to turn on each wall outlet. They’re on when you can see an orange colored mark on the top of the switch and/or the top of the switch is rotated out toward you.
    • Brownouts and blackouts / power failures are common. I don’t have a UK surge protector, but probably should get one.
    • Have a miniflashlight or headlamp. These can be quite useful when a power outage occurs at night in your hotel. Yes you could use your mobile phone, but then you’re running down that battery too. If you use a headlamp, it keeps your hands free. *Shrug*
  • Hotels:
    • When you check in the front desk will make copies of your passport including your visa page.
    • In-room power (lighting and wall outlets) is controlled by a switch at the entrance to your hotel room. You need to place a card of the approximate size of a room key to activate the power. I usually travel with old room keys, or a business card or two will work in a pinch. I do this just so I don’t forget my room key *and* when I want to leave something charging when I go out for a few hours. (I’m good and turn off the lights so this is a push from an environmental standpoint.)
    • Sometimes rooms have a plug-in bug repellant doohickey. Sometimes I unplug these as I’ve had an allergic reaction to them in the past, though the downside is a greater potential for mosquitos and other bugs in the room.
    • Bathrooms, like in Europe, have their light switches *outside* the bathroom. And showers can be just as complicated as everywhere else in the world!
  • Uber:
    • Uber if it exists in the city you’re in is a godsend, if you enter in an exact destination that’s where they’ll take you cutting down on communications challenges! There are other competing car services also, but Americans (and Europeans) are more likely to have Uber already installed on your phone.
    • I use Uber from my regular U.S. mobile phone, Uber is tied to your phone number and it wants to be used from the phone with the corresponding SIM. You could put in a different (local) SIM, but then you’d have to change the phone number on your Uber account.
    • Most of the time Uber will come right to where you drop the pin, though sometimes you’ll have to look around more for the car than you would in the U.S. About 2/3 of the time I needed to contact the driver to tell him I was ready for pickup and to sometimes confirm the location.
    • As with the U.S. everything’s included in the Uber fee, no need to tip.
  • Maps:
    • They’re great for us, they’re not necessarily useful when communicating with locals. *Shrug*
  • Money:
    • I always get some local currency before leaving the airport. Just enough to pay a taxi ride or grab a bottle of water is sufficient.
    • Usually I’ll go to a Cash Machine (aka ATM) to convert a larger quantity. Though these days I change U.S. Dollars to Rupees in the hotels. The rates have been pretty good recently (this trip I paid Rs. 63 when the exchange rate is Rs. 67 / 1 USD).
    • It’s better to have smaller denominations. Sometimes people don’t have, or pretend they don’t have change for Rs. 500 and 1000 notes. So make sure you have a mix of 100’s and a few 50’s, 20’s or 10’s.
    • There are also Rs. 1, 2, 5, 10, 25 and 50 coins. I usually don’t have very many of these unless I buy from a street vendor or food shop.
    • Merchants will sometimes turn their noses up at well worn bills, like the Rs. 10 and 20 bills. Your mileage may vary.
  • Credit Cards:
    • You can use credit cards in hotels, as well as fancier restaurants and shops. Otherwise I expect to use cash with taxis.
    • Due to the brilliance of the merchant associations in the U.S., your new fangle credit card with a chip still requires you to sign for a purchase *even if you have a PIN assigned to the card*. Seriously this is just dum. <- Yes, I did that on purpose.
    • I let my credit card and ATM card companies know when I’m traveling outside the U.S. They’ll still flag and suspend your card if they think they detect suspicious activity, but this might help prevent that. Credit Cards:
  • Tipping:
    • Tipping isn’t really commonplace in India. I rarely see the locals do it. As an American I do feel compelled to do it sometimes. But keep in mind Rs. 100 is on the order of a $1.50. Though now I usually tip more on the order of Rs. 10 or 20 on the advice of local colleagues. But at the end of the day a buck fifty is not going to break the bank.
  • Toilets:
    • There are  a mix of western and squat-style toilets. Most have trashcan intended for toilet paper (if any is provided) and also a hose, nozzle and small plastic container for washing/rinsing. To be honest I still don’t think I’m using the squat-style toilets right.
    • Oh yeah, always carry your own toilet paper. Even guys. And remember to use the trashcans if provided.
    • For the over achievers among you, take a look at this Six Toilets in India and How to Use Them.
  • Showers:
    • In the TMI category, I usually take two showers a day. On particularly hot and humid days, it’s three or more. I’m happy when it’s only two…
    • If you’re staying in a guest house, you might have to turn on a switch to heat the water so you get hot water. And/or the water is heated naturally on the roof, and once it’s gone it’s gone. Though this isn’t usually bad on hot days. *Shrug*
  • Travel Clinic and Medicine:
    • Visit a travel clinic or your doctor before visiting India. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date.
    • See the State Department’s page on India for up to date details.I usually get a malaria prophylaxis and also a strong anti-diahrreal from the MIT Travel Clinic.
    • Take enough of your regular medicine with you. (duh) I also usually have Tylenol, Advil, melatonin, and day and night cold and flu (Robitussin equivalents).
    • It’s important to note that Tylenol and Acetaminophen are not common names in India, you want to ask for Paracetamol at pharmacies.
  • Mobile Voice and Data Services:
    • I usually put a limited international voice and data plan on my U.S. mobile phone so I’m sure to have some connectivity. I watch my usage very carefully. For a week the 120MB AT&T plan is just about sufficient for me; for two weeks I get the 300MB AT&T plan. Your mileage and costs may vary.
    • Getting a local SIM is also difficult as a visitor (you need to have a local address and it’s a pain to do). I know there are services where you can rent a SIM from your home country, but I’ve never tried them.
    • Your mobile will need to be unlocked to use another SIM. You’ll need to use this in advance especially if you use AT&T.
By |2016-12-22T20:59:06+00:00February 21st, 2016|Professional, Tuesday Tips|Comments Off on Tips for Traveling in India