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So it’s your first time to India…

Traveling to India can be a daunting thought. Its portrayal in film, television and even photos can make you feel so foreign and so out of place. It is important to know that India can be an overwhelming experience - but in the best possible way.

With that being said, there are some ways to turn that overwhelming thought into a positive experience, and it is all about setting the right expectations ahead of time. I’ve traveled quite a bit, but never to anywhere quite like India (although, is there such a thing?). Here are a few of my ideas for how to appreciate and experience one of the world’s richest cultures for the first time.

 

Dress Appropriately

Dress is appropriate to Indians, so make sure you are playing by the rules when you are packing. For men, try to avoid wearing shorts (even though it is often quite hot in India!), because Indians associate shorts with people of lower castes, and they might not respect you as much. Nicer restaurants will require more formal attire as well, and won’t let you in without longer pants.

For women, the best advice is to dress conservatively. Shoulders and cleavage should be covered, and avoid wearing tight pants or short shorts. There is a reason why Indian women have longer dresses and wear Salwar Kameez, it’s because they are covering their legs! Loose pants and longer skirts will still allow you to feel cool in the heat, while avoiding feeling out of place.

 

Respect the Cultural Differences

There are more than a “few” cultural differences from the Western world, but that’s half the fun! It will take a few days to get used to how the driving and traffic work, and the lack of personal space, but afterwards you will feel much more comfortable with the differences.

 

Watch What You Eat (& Drink!)

This is on most lists of what to keep in mind when visiting India, and for good reason. I did get sick (at a top notch hotel, no less), but not from the food – from the water. Make sure to drink bottled water (even for brushing your teeth!!) and avoid foods that have been sitting out, fresh fruits and veggies, and try and pick clean restaurants. Overall, the food is incredibly flavorful and delicious, and so try as much as you can!

 

Travel with a Group

One of the best ways to travel to India is with a small group. You will have the guidance and expertise of an experienced tour leader and you will be well looked after. Being an experienced traveler, I still appreciated having a guide explain the history, stories and cultural norms to me. I felt I got a much better understanding of the country and the people that way. We also got to see and do so much more than what I would have been able to accomplish on my own.


Ask Questions

The best way to experience a country for the first time is to ask questions. Lots of them. To the local people, your guides, fellow travelers – it is the best way to learn and understand why things are the way they are. I also find that when you understand why things are the way they are, you become more understanding and accepting of the differences that exist between cultures.

Thinking of heading to India for the first time? Check out ElderTreks’ Classic India tour here.

 

- June 16, 2016
 

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