How to use your visa to travel and navigate public and private transport.
1. Print your visa. The other visa is not required.
It is easy to get a double-entry tourist visa for India through a website managed by the Indian government. There is some confusion when you get the email confirmation that your visa has been approved.
It turns out that you weren’t emailed with the document you need to print to enter India. At least 10 passengers boarded my flight to New Delhi. They were escorted to a Newark Liberty International Airport side office to get the correct Electronic Travel Authorization form to enter India. The email they received confirming their visa was printed out. This is and is not what you require.
Although I had a printed copy of the correct document, I could not find it by accident. Once approved, return to the visa application website and click “visa Status.” After entering your information, click “Print status” at the bottom. The proper form will begin to download. The form should include your photo and a barcode. If it doesn’t have these, it is not the correct document.
2. Get your credit cards.
You should generally make it a habit of printing out all your itineraries, whether for hotels or flights. Remember to bring the credit card used to purchase the reservation. It’s a requirement for flights. You’ll see it in the fine print of some airlines. My credit card was not checked most of the time. However, it was checked on one occasion. Do not put yourself in awkward situations.
3. Keep in touch but don’t pay too much.
You should get a SIM card for India if you plan to stay longer than 30 days. For $60 per month, the AT&T Passport plan gives you one gigabyte of data. You can also purchase three gigabytes for $120. Expect to pay $50 for each additional gigabyte if you exceed the limit.
After landing in India, my first stop was the Airtel kiosk. I paid 999 rupees to get a local SIM card. This included all taxes and fees. It cost me just over $14. The card was good for 84 days and included 1.4 gigabytes of data, 100 SMS (or text messages) per day, and unlimited local and unlimited local calls. No matter how long you stay, this is an amazing deal and well worth it.
You might need a more flexible option if you are country-hopping. When I was flying to Sri Lanka, my Indian SIM card stopped working, a data-only travel SIM card proved very useful. The AIS card can store four gigabytes (or eight) of data daily and is valid in 18 countries. I can only speak for India and Sri Lanka.
4. Be mobile but have patience.
Ride-share apps are easy to use in India. They’re cheap and convenient, which is better than negotiating with drivers. However, you will need to be patient. The two ride-share apps I used in India were Uber and Ola Cabs. They worked fine, generally speaking. However, I had to cancel and reorder many times because drivers often didn’t turn up or were stuck in terrible traffic. Renting a car is easier if you live on a small side street.
Also, ensure that the credit card used to pay for your Uber rides does not charge foreign transaction fees. You may end up paying more if you have a credit line that is attached to your Uber account and it has a foreign transaction charge. Two cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Premier Card.
Using a tuk-tuk or an auto rickshaw is sometimes quicker and easier. Be prepared to negotiate in such cases. Be aware that tuk-tuks cannot take you anywhere. I could hail one to drop me off at Delhi’s airport, but he refused to take me to the terminal. I had to take another shuttle. He said that tuk-tuks were prohibited from dropping you at the terminal.
5. Change is possible
Exchange rates were acceptable in airports. One advantage to exchanging in person over an A.T.M. is that You can request small bills. It’s not a good idea to carry around a bunch of purple 2,000 rupee notes. Make changes whenever you can. This is especially true for fast food restaurants. Small bills will be required when you buy a cup of tea on the street or take a tuk-tuk ride. Do not expect your driver’s ability to change.
6. Keep active
India offers many opportunities to see movies, concerts, and events. The Book, my Show website is very useful and widely used nationwide. I booked a concert for Mumbai without any problems. When traveling to a new place, I tried to book directly with the company, but I also used larger aggregators like Klook and Viator for convenience.
You can also find local tour guides in any new city. There are many opportunities to find tour guides on the ground in a new city.
7. Keep safe
While traveling in India, I experienced no safety concerns. I didn’t display money conspicuously, didn’t wander around too late at night, and used common sense. However, I know it might be different for women traveling alone. A lot has been written about this topic, including this National Geographic piece from Neha Dara and this piece by Candace Rardon. You can read personal accounts of women who traveled to India or speak with friends who have, and then make your own assessment. It should be an adventure. However, it shouldn’t make anyone feel unsafe.
8. Let’s make an agreement.
Haggling is an art form. While some people don’t enjoy haggling (I don’t either), it’s well worth it, especially if it involves shopping. Decide what you think the shirt or handbag is worth. You should set a limit on the price you are willing to pay. If you are visibly foreign, the first price a seller will offer you will be high. You might be asked to return half or even more of the original price, depending on the situation. The seller will dismiss your reply and will then return with a slightly lower price.
It’s then a matter of how much you want to pay for the item. Do not try to get the lowest price that a vendor will accept — if the final 100 rupees is less than two dollars, you could lose the sale. Keep in mind that you are still likely to get a great deal. That money is more important to them than to you.
9. Which is better: to eat or not eat?
Street food is something I love unabashedly. Street food is my favorite because of its unique flavors and affordability. Street food is not without risks. Some street dumplings caused major stomach problems when I went to China earlier in the year. In India, luck was better — that’s how it is. You’ll get sick if you eat too much street food. It’s only a matter of time. The risk is worth it for me. There are ways to lower the chance of getting sick if you decide to try it.
First, don’t drink the water. Although it sounds obvious, this applies to all activities. Don’t drink tap water. I avoid purchasing drinks with ice from the street. While the fruit juice may be safe, the ice might not.
Fresh produce is something I won’t eat unless it can be easily peeled. I prefer street stalls with a lot of turnovers and hot food. There’s a higher chance that the food they serve is fresh if there are many of them. Things like the deliciously spiced, milky, and street-side tea stand kept at a rolling boil are safer than raw foods.