Travel in India, Our Favourite Country to Travel.
India is a fantastic country, I absolutely love it and can never get enough. Many feel the same but others never visit put off by perceived difficulties. Travel in India is challenging, fascinating and immensely rewarding. We’ve enjoyed 20 years of India travel, as couple travellers and as a family, we’ve taken package holidays to Goa, spent months exploring the country as independent travellers and, most recently, backpacked around India for a month with the children. India with children is quite an experience.
Welcome to our India travel blog home page, family travel or otherwise.
Welcome to my favourite country!
Travel in India With Children
My children were 8 and 10 when we visited India. We knew what to expect and we grown-ups thought we were expert enough at this part of the world and travelling with our kids, to get them around the country without traumatising them too much. The boys had briefly visited Mumbai and the Kerala backwaters already, both wanted to return and loved the people we met and their “happy moustaches”.
We did OK, but we had some tough times.
It was an amazing experience for the boys and it was a joy for us to share it with them but I have to be honest, I would not take much younger children to India. People do, and Indian children live there and survive just fine, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. Certainly not before the children are old enough to stop putting objects and fingers in their mouths.
If you’re just going on a short 2-3 week holiday, fine, no problem, or maybe taking some sort of guided tour with air conditioning and transport pre-arranged, but longer trips with constant moving around, no, it’s not for kids.
I have many reasons for saying that, the intense heat could be too much for them, the safety concerns on trains and buses, the restricted diet that inevitably causes weight loss and decreased immune function, tummy bugs and high fevers that little ones just can’t cope with and the constant crowds and sensory bombardment.
A lot depends on the child, I have one highly sensitive son, he struggled as times, particularly on packed trains, the other was absolutely fine and “got” my love for this country. He’s picked up the India bug, just like me.
I love India and even I find it hard some days, every visitor to India has times when they want to flee. But most always want to return.
I need to write a full post on India with kids, this is all I have for you right now.
Getting Around India
These days it’s easy to fly between cities, but most backpackers still use the excellent and remarkable train system.
The railways are complex in India and the booking system, along with the class system of the carriages, could cause the inexperienced a few headaches. We love travelling by train, it’s an experience in itself and one not to be missed, but you need to know the system.
We’d suggest, that if you have limited time to get around India and a set itinerary in mind, you book major train journeys well in advance, the trains fill up with India travellers at peak times. On our last trip we were totally unable to get on a train to the north, they were all full. Single travellers would be fine, but as a family of 4 needing sleeper berths all together, it proved impossible.
Buses can be fun, as can tuk tuks ( rickshaws). Look out for the different styles of motor rickshaw you’ll find across India, some are quite bizarre. You can get a taxi, the old Hindustan Ambassadors still exist, but are rarer nowadays and in some cities you’ll even find bicycle and foot rickshaws.
Take your pick, transport is cheap, but may not be outstandingly safe, the death toll on Indian roads is the highest in the world.
Get More Out of Your Trip, Read Before You Go.
Books on India for Adults.
Books on India for Kids.
There are many, but just to give you some inspiration, here are a few. There are some great movies and documentaries you could watch before your trip, too. Preparing kids for travel in India is a good idea, but more so with India, for them to make sense of the country as it unfolds before them.
Food in India
Food in India is sometimes superb, and sometimes terrible, it’s the same in every country.
Indian cuisine is one of my own world favourites, I prefer the light vegetarian dishes of the south, my husband ( the chef) enjoys the heavier, meatier dishes of the north. These northern dishes are the dishes you’ll be more familiar with from western Indian restaurants and one of the joys of travelling round India is observing how regional foods change.
In most towns with a tourist industry, you’ll find western food easily if that is what you need. Menus will list all the backpacker favourite, banana pancakes, toasted sandwiches, even pizza. I’m very cautious about ordering anything that hasn’t been cooked to a very high temperature in India. Occasionally, in small towns and on trains, you’ll be faced with a bewildering selection of foods you’ve probably never seen or heard of before. The good news is, it’s usually delicious. The other good news is, train platform shops sell biscuits, crisps and chocolate.
At times we struggled to find food for the children. They developed a taste for Indian dishes as the month wore on, but they ate a lot of omelettes and pancakes for the first few weeks. In a couple of places we couldn’t even get them that and they grudgingly had to put up with dosa, dahl and chutneys for breakfast ( my favourite!).
The turning point came in Colva, where a lovely guy from one of the beach shacks cooked them a “special” chicken massala for lunch. They never looked back after that.
Visas for India
India is one of the more difficult countries when it comes to visa applications although things are starting to improve.
In the past we’ve spent weeks ( on UK passports) procuring Indian visas, visiting the London Indian Visa Application Office, picking up the paper forms, filling them in, getting the exact right size photos at higher expense, submitting birth certificates and family history for the children, providing a letter of authorisation from my husband as he wasn’t travelling with us. Then on top of the hassle the visas cost a fortune. It was not fun!
The High Commission of India no longer handles Indian visa applications.
Now the Indian Government has introduced an e-visa on arrival system at most airports. It’s still not straightforward and only certain airports are involved in this system ( see link above). You do need to apply online and pay before arrival. This E-Tourist visa is valid for 30 days.
Obviously, the degree of visa hassle depends on which passport you hold, Australians have had the visa on arrival available to them for longer, Americans need to check US regulations. The system is incredibly complex.
Alternatively, various online Indian visa agencies exist to smooth the process ( this one for UK visas) of gaining your Indian visa. They can check your application for mistakes or omissions that could lead to you having to re-apply at your own expense.
What is the Best Time of Year to Travel in India
India is a huge country with corresponding climactic variations, so any time of year can be a good time to visit.
Some will tell you not to visit in the hot pre-monsoon period. We’d disagree, we’ve been in Rajasthan and Southern India and that time of year, yes, it was hot, but we still had a great time. Travelling off-peak will save you cash too.
I’ve never experienced India during the monsoon ( wet season), which starts in May in the south and then works its way north and east over the next 6 weeks, but it’s something I’d love to see. Chasing The Monsoon by Alexander Frater gave a fascination for this weather system, I’d love to experience it for myself and highly recommend the book. Diseases, including malaria, are more of a risk during the monsoon and flooding is a possibility, so maybe this is only for risk takers like me.
Electricity and Internet in India for Travellers
Powercuts seem to happen all the time in India, everywhere we’ve visited. When the power goes out, so does the internet ( often along with fans or air conditioning).
I can’t speak for the whole of India, but this has been our experience so far.
Sometimes generators kick in when the power goes out, sometimes not.
We found Indian internet connections to be slow and unreliable. Not good news for people like us. The best speeds we found were in Kerala, but every power cut ( often brought on by thunder storms) would knock it out.
Indian electricity sockets supply 250V 50Hz ac and have 3 round holes in a triangular configuration, or, sometimes, 2 round holes. In order to get a 2 pin adaptor into the 3 hole socket, we had to use a pencil in the top-most round hole ( the larger earth connector), this lifts the protectors to the bottom two pins.
It would be far easier to buy a dedicated Indian adaptor. This one, converts UK plugs to Indian sockets and has the tricky 3rd pin. I’m looking for US and Australian versions.
Vaccinations and Getting Sick in India
Mild bouts of traveller’s diarrhoea are inevitable in most countries and are nothing to worry about. Our experience with sickness in India is as follows, my husband was very sick in Varanassi and Calcutta on our first 3 month backpacking trip. He was in bed for several days with pain, diarrhoea and vomiting. We didn’t seek treatment, he got better and now thinks he may have had Dengue. On our last 1 month trip, my younger son and I both had something that gave us severe diarrhoea, pain and fever for a couple of days. My travel thermometer told me we had fevers of 103 °F plus. We didn’t seek treatment. And that’s all, nothing else.
The sickest my boys have ever been was in London with norovirus. You can get sick everywhere.
Travel vaccination and malaria advice varies. Before we left on our last trip my GP told me that malaria prophylaxis was now unnecessary in India ( excluding the far north east), so we didn’t give it a second thought. On our 3 month backpacking trip we took nothing for malaria. Yet years ago we were prescribed antimalarials for 3 weeks in Goa.
We have never had a rabies vaccination.
We have had most travel vaccinations, but not Japanese Encephilitis.
That’s just what we do. Do your own research and do whatever you are comfortable with, nothing will spoil your trip faster than worrying about health every day.
Can You Drink The Water in India?
No, not at all. We don’t even clean our teeth with it. It’s not just bacterial contamination you need to worry about, there are other pollutants, metals and chemicals too.
Years ago there were reports of bottled water being unsafe to drink in India because of unscrupulous producers. I heard stories of people re-using plastic water bottles and buying machines to re-seal them after filling them with tap water. I can’t find any recent information on this.
We drank bottled water everywhere, it was easy to get and always looked fine. Keep an eye on the caps, make sure they are properly sealed.
What To Wear in India?
In India, above all other countries, be mindful of what you wear. For me this means long trousers and a flowing long sleeved top. My husband and the boys fit right in with the Indian men depending on where we are. In the south my husband often wears a lungi ( a sarong of sorts) but this is terribly out of place in the north. Mostly they wear jeans and T shirts, the same as the locals. I wear jeans, constantly, I’ve spent years in the tropics and find them comfortable in the heat. You will probably prefer something a little more loose and airy in natural fabrics. I’m not a fashion expert, I’ll just stick with my jeans, Natalia has written a far more in-depth post on what to wear in India.
I’ll warn you that being properly dressed is no protection against being groped, they call it Eve Teasing, it will probably still happen. It even happens to me at my age.
That’s all I’ve got for you right now, I’m still working on this page. Please let me know, what do YOU need to know about travel in India?
Stick it in the comments. Thanks!
If you’d like to read more about travel in India, including blog posts on the destinations we have visited recently, just click through to our India category archive.