Traveling in India is good for the soul! Our team has travelled extensively and have put together these top tips, which we add to constantly each time we return from this beautiful continent.
In South India the sun always shines and the average daily temperature is around 30 degrees. We often travel in November, meaning we will miss the monsoon rain, so, dry weather is almost guaranteed. The temperature can drop unexpectedly at night so bring a standby fleece/jumper, scarf and some socks.
The food in South India is delicious. The most famous South Indian dish has to be the masala dosa. Delicious! There are veg and non veg selections at most places where we eat. As seasoned travellers, we will eat street food but only where we can see it being cooked and will encourage our guests to join us. It is the real India! However, there is no pressure at all. Let us assure you that we only eat our meals in places we have come to trust over our years of travel.
We will be able to pick up some interesting fruits and snacks to nibble as we travel, but many of our travellers recommend bringing a bag full of your favourite snacks with you for any hunger emergencies!
We advise that you drink only bottled water while in India, which is completely safe and widely available. We do advise you to check the seal on the bottle top when buying to ensure that it is intact. If you are not sure, ask for another bottle.
Many hotels in India now have filtered water in guest rooms, so please do bring a small reusable bottle with you to decant into.
As we are all now fully aware, plastic is a huge issue, not just in India, but worldwide. If you are keen to reduce your use of bottled water, please invest in a water purification bottle and we suggest testing it out before your travel to familiarise yourself with how it works.
Remember to drink 1-2 litres of water per day.
You will be most comfortable in loose cotton or linen clothes. Most women in India dress conservatively and cover their shoulders. The salwar kameez with leggings or baggy pants is the most common outfit worn by women and, in our opinion, the most comfortable! Inexpensive clothing is widely available in shops and markets throughout India, so it is easy to put together a capsule Indian wardrobe for your trip.
One more tip about clothing - restaurants and cars often have air conditioning, so we advise that you keep a shawl/fleece/jumper in your bag to pop on if needs be.
In India, it is the custom to remove your shoes before you go inside most building from homes to shops. Wearing lace-up shoes or buckled shoes can become very inconvenient as they take time to remove. We strongly advise travellers to wear slip on or flip-flop style shoes for ease. Just a word... if you are buying a new pair for your trip, please make sure they are broken in before you travel. Blisters are no fun and can be hard to keep clean - believe us, we know!
One other thing... if you feet are on the large size, please bear in mind that bigger size slip on's/flip flops are not readily available in India, so please buy at home. Fritha has a tale or two to tell about this!
Before you travel make sure you have printed out all the information about hotels and guest houses where you will be staying. Although we are keen to be as paperless as an organisation as possible, sometimes electronic devices with important information can fail, so having a paper copy will ensure you are covered for any tech failure.
The Indian currency is the Rupee and is a closed currency, which means that you will not be able to bring rupees into India with you or take out upon departure. We do not recommend exchanging money at the airport due to a poor exchange rate. Hotels can offer advice about better places to change your money.
You can also withdraw money from an ATM, which are commonplace throughout India. We do recommend advising your bank that you are travelling to India beforehand and bring some Sterling or US Dollars incase your bank cards aren't accepted. Again, Fritha and Margaret have many stories of bank cards not being accepted at ATM's until the bank have verification and will never travel to India now without plenty of Sterling or American Dollars.
You will need cash for personal shopping, tea/snacks on route and drinks in the evening. Some shops can take cards as payment, but there is no guarantee, so in these situations cash is King!
Over the years, we have devised a great system that speeds things up at tea/snack stops. We ask each traveller to take turns paying for the drinks/snacks - prices are minimal and it is actually good fun organising the 'rota'.
Another good system is to set up a drinks/snack 'kitty' on day one of the trip, with each person adding a set amount and one of the group taking charge of the important task of managing the funds!
Whilst in the major cities of India larger shops do accept bank cards as payment, but off the beaten track when visiting our Maker Groups for example you will actually need very little money, but do ensure that you always have cash with you.
The national language is Hindi however a large percentage of the Indian population speak very good English. India has many different local languages and dialects however the first Hindi word you need to learn is simply “Namaste” (Hello).
Some of our trips can take in 4 Indian states (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh) that all have very distinctive languages. We are fortunate that one member of the Secret Projects team can speak all of these languages, so we have an expert on hand to ask for some syntax tips! Indians absolutely love it when travellers make an effort to speak to them in their own language, so please do feel free to practise!
You must hold a current valid Passport to enter India along with a relevant visa. Your passport will need to have at least 6 months left until expiry to apply for any Indian visa.
Visas for India are easy to get and are not expensive. Most people opt for a e-tourist visa which can be applied for online. Depending on which country you are travelling from, some can be gained upon entry to India, however please check your particular visa requirements well in advance of your travel as each country has different requirements.
Top and important tip: Be careful to time the application of your visa with booking your flight. Most tourist visas expire after 6 months, so you need to ensure that your visa is valid throughout the entire length of your stay. Apply too early and you risk your visa expiring before or during your travels. If you have recently visited India and your visa gives 2nd entry entitlement and are planning to use your 2nd entry entitlement, please check the restrictions on 2nd entries very carefully. There is a lot of confusion about the validity and many tourists are refused entry into India because they have not properly understood the restrictions around this.
During our trips, we often travel around in a Tempo Traveller which is like a small mini bus that can carry 14 people. It is a great way to travel as it's small enough to hold conversations from front to back and plenty of windows to watch Indian life pass you by! Our luggage will be stored securely on the roof of the vehicle and is never left unattended.
As you may be able to imagine, the roads are busy, congested, full of pot-holes, and in India people use their horns a lot! If you are prone to car sicknesses, it's a good idea to bring something with you to ease any potential discomfort.
Our trips tend to begin in the tech capital of South India, Bengaluru in Karnataka state, so we ask our travellers to arrive at Kmpegowda International Airport. Please use this information when you are searching for flights or when speaking to your travel agent. We will organise your airport transfers.
It is essential that you provide us with the details of both your inward and outgoing flights, so we organise a pick up and drop off for you. If you would like to talk to us before you book your flights, please email Fritha: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s essential that you have adequate travel insurance when travelling to India. Please ensure that any insurance you take out covers emergency evacuations or change of travel plans in response to civil unrest.
Medication and Medical Conditions
If you need to take regular medication to treat medical conditions, please ensure that you take a sufficient quantity with additional supplies to cover you should homebound flights etc. be delayed, or other unusual circumstances. You must inform us prior to your trip of any medical conditions or allergies that you have. We will treat any medical information you tell us about in the strictest confidence.
To find out about vaccinations/inoculations required/advised for travel in India, please contact your Doctor or Travel Clinic and ensure you advise about which Indian states you will be travelling through. As non medics, we are unable to offer advice around this topic.
We always travel with a basic first aid kit and are familiar with procedures to follow in the event of emergencies.
We will ensure that there are opportunities to take comfort breaks when we travelling. Most places we visit will have western toilets but, in some places, you will need to squat! The bathroom floors are often wet because people typically clean themselves with water instead of toilet roll. We recommend you carry a pack of tissues and hand sanitiser with you when you're out and about. If you have never been to India before, you should be aware that the toilets can be a bit of a challenge initially!
You can bring your mobile phone with you and it should work within the network coverage areas. Please ensure that you have notified your provider in advance of your trip to set up international roaming. Please be aware that data roaming and downloading can be expensive when in India, so please check before travelling or you could end up with an expensive mobile bill when you get home. Most of the hotels that we stay in will have wi-fi but we cannot guarantee a constant connection.
India works on a 240 volt system and your standard 2 pin travel adaptor should work in most cases.
Most of the hotel and hospitality workers are not particularly highly paid and tipping has become a fairly standard practice, if happy with the service. When in restaurants, the normal tip is around 10% of the bill. If someone is carrying your bags to and from your room we would suggest that you need to pay no more than 50INR. However, the amount you decide to tip is of course entirely your choice.
There are often plenty of opportunities to shop in India and over the years we have come to know some great places where you can buy quality goods at reasonable prices. Our top tip here is to make sure you don't overfill your suitcase, so you have room to pack your Indian goodies to take home!
India is a place of wonderful adventure. You never quite know what is going to happen! We may encounter unforeseen issues that affect the itinerary, such as strikes or delays. If we are forced to change the itinerary for any reason we will notify you as soon as possible.
Meeting Children on Our Journey
When travelling with Secret Projects you will be meeting the most wonderful and lively children - sometimes the children of our Makers. We advise against giving the children small gifts (sweets, small amounts of money etc.) as this can give them the impression that all 'foreigners' will provide treats. Taking time to smile, chat and play with the children is by far the best gift to give them and makes a lasting impression on both you and the children. The children often ask for a 'selfie' and absolutely love it when you show them the picture! Giving sweets is really not to be encouraged, because the children don't have access to great dental care and they already eat a lot of sweets!
You may be approached by a child begging, again, please don't give them money, they will be in a gang controlled by a human trafficker. The best thing you can do is smile and talk to them and politely say no.
If you are planning further travel before or after your Secret Projects trip has ended, please let us know as we may be able to help and advise on your travel logistics.
Useful Things to Bring With You
Travel adaptor, packets of tissues, hand sanitiser, mosquito repellent, head torch (for the occasional power cut), loose cotton / linen clothing, shawl or similar to cover your shoulders or to keep warm, flip flops, shawl, snacks (especially if you're squeamish about street food), umbrella and of course your camera!
Photo: Jackie, meets children during a Secret Projects Customer Trip