(Article by Anita Hendrieka first published on Cheapflights.co.za)

India can be a complex destination for any kind of traveller. It’s a place where your senses go absolutely crazy and where you can feel 10 different emotions at one given time…

I learnt so much on my six-week backpacking adventure around this crazy country – but there are some things I wish I had known before I set foot in India. Take a look at these tips, and if you’re tempted, head onto Cheapflights.co.za to search for flights…

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1.   Stay in hostels if you’re backpacking solo

If you’re travelling around India solo, make sure you surround yourself with other people when thinking about accommodation. One of the worst things I did was pre-book a cheap hotel for when I arrived in Delhi.

Thinking hotels would be better quality and I’d get some privacy too. I was so wrong. A popular choice of hostels is a chain called Zostel. You’ll meet loads of like-minded travellers and backpackers so you can do festivals or sightseeing activities with them.

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2.   Everything will be done in ‘India-time’

Don’t plan to do anything quickly in India. You see, there’s this thing called India-time which basically means nobody is in a rush and things will be done when they’re done. It was frustrating at first, but in the end, I found this quite refreshing.

We live in a society that is always rushing around and constantly trying to keep to deadlines, so by the time I left India I felt a lot more relaxed.

photo credit: @sjay24_

3.   If you have money to spare, always tip

A simple tip of 50 rupees can go a long way in India. Don’t hold your money too close to your heart. Forget about haggling over 50 cents because remember, more than likely, the market holder you’re bargaining with will probably need that 50 cents more than you do.

photo credit: @lee.monster

4.   Don’t be afraid to smile

Before I left on my travels I read a guidebook which told me whatever I do, don’t stare men in the eye and never smile at them. I kind of wish I’d never read that guidebook. While it’s always good to be cautious, generally speaking, a nice genuine smile will get you further and the locals will appreciate it too.

photo credit: @veer_vipul

5.   Travel slow

India takes time to love it and you don’t want to miss all the little-hidden wonders in this country just because you’re on a strict time limit. Take the time and travel as slowly as you can.

Train tickets during the busy season should be purchased beforehand to avoid disappointment, so bear in mind when you’re booking that you should leave a decent amount of time before heading to the next place. To get the real feel for the place I strongly advise against just turning up in a place, seeing the local attraction and then leaving on the same day.

photo credit: @d.r.o.n.z.e.r

6.   Eat street food and from hole-in-the-wall restaurants

The best food to be had is usually from the little carts scattered on the side of the roads. Make sure you try everything from mouth-watering paratha to juicy momos and sweet jalebis. There are loads of great dishes to try and the best ones are usually the ones not behind a fancy hotel facade. Plus, street food is super cheap so it’s a great choice for any backpacker.

photo credit: @shyneth121

7.   Be prepared to be shocked by the difference in culture

“There’s the world and then there’s India”. If you’re not from Asia, then be prepared for a huge culture shock. India is a difficult country to adjust to, purely because of the number of people, and the chaos, smells and things going on all around you.

It can be really overwhelming and it will take time for you to get comfortable. Just be prepared that you will probably never have a quiet moment during your travels and if you do it’s a rarity, so enjoy it!

photo credit: @teambrizi

8.   Learn a few of the local words

Depending on the area in which you’re travelling, make sure you learn the lingo so you can interact with the locals. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – learning a simple thank you and hello is enough to make a decent impression.

Most of the time, if you really can’t understand each other, then hand signals are the best way to go. If not, there’s bound to be at least one person within a 100-metre radius who knows a little English.

  • Hello – Namaste
  • Thank you – Dhanyavaad
  • No – Nahin
  • Yes – Haan
  • Goodbye – Alavida

photo credit: @palfalvireka

9.   Be confident in who you are

Don’t let fear mongering from the media scare you during your time travelling in India. When first arriving here I was shaking with fear because I had heard so many bad stories. Do your research by all means, but make your own opinions.

Scammers can sense a nervous traveller from a mile away so the best thing you can do is walk with your shoulders high and trust your instincts.

photo credit: @hirakjyoti.borah

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