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A Step By Step Guide For An AMAZING Trip to India

By Daisy Li
Are you looking to create an itinerary for a trip to India? You are in the right place!

In this post, I will list out everything you should know before your trip to India. This will include the best time to visit, cities and towns you should visit, the best things to do, how to get around India, and what to eat. I hope that this guide will help you plan the perfect trip to India!

It may sound a bit daunting, but fear not! After living in the country for 5 months, I can assure you that with the right information, it is not difficult to plan a wonderful India trip. I tend to prefer the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of a self-organized trip, but you can opt for a tour to help ease the hassle. Or, you can take a few day trips during a self-guided tour. I will dive into all the options below! This step-by-step trip to India travel guide lists all the timeframes and checklists that will help keep you organized.

Ready? Let’s go to India!

plan-a-trip-to-india-gwalior-temple

 

How to Plan a Trip to India

India sits in South Asia and borders China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Bhutan. Due to its geological placement and historical significance, it is one of the most interesting countries I’ve visited. It is a melting pot of cultures and religion and is a great destination for those that’d like a bit of spice in their travels (paneer butter masala anyone?)

To start off, you have to decide when you’ll head to India. If you already have dates in mind, head towards the second section of the article, where I will dive into the things and activities you should plan and book. Otherwise, here is what you need to know before picking a time for your visit to India!

India Map

If you aren’t already familiar with the country, here’s a map of India to help you get acquainted. You can zoom into the map and get a sense of the points of interest we will be discussing later on. I hope it helps!

As home to the Taj Mahal, Agra is one of the most visited cities in India. Delhi, India’s capital; Mumbai, Bollywood’s home state; and Goa, the party city, are also some of the most popular destinations in India. There are tons more that I’ll elaborate on below!

When to go to India

India is huge. The best time to visit North India is from October to December, and from February to May. It can get a bit cold during the winter months, especially in the Himalayas.

The best time to visit South India is between October and March. The south is a bit warmer and can be absolutely perfect during the winter months.

Wherever you decide to go, definitely avoid the monsoon season between June and late September, when rainfalls can strike at any time of the day!

You should also plan your visit based on the things you’d like to do, such as Holi in March, the Pushkar Camel Fair in late November, and Ganesh Festival in late August. To be honest, there are plenty of festivities in India that are worth a visit!

Peak tourist season in India is usually between November to mid-February. However, other than a few major tourist attractions, I didn’t find the country to be crowded with tourists.

Booking Timeline

India is a country that offers plenty of options, so things don’t tend to get booked out completely. However, it is always advisable to book things ahead of time, especially during the peak tourist season.

The best time to book flights is 5-6 months before your trip to India so that you can grab the best flight deals. Book hotels 1-3 months in advance and activities a month before you head out.

5-6 months in advance of your trip to India:

Book international flights to India

Get travel insurance for India

Plan the itinerary for your trip to India

Look up visa needs and requirements

Plan accommodation

3–1 month in advance of your trip to India:

Plan your transportation in the country. Be it the bus, trains, or domestic flights

Book your accommodation

3 weeks in advance of your trip to India:

Apply for a visa

Book attractions and tours

Book bus and train tickets

Book airport transfers or other modes of transport to your hotel

Look up roaming needs if required

Have a copy of your bookings on your phone.

2 days in advance of your trip to India:

Pack your bags and double-check your bookings!

Gwalior Fort India

How to Get to India

Flights to India

There are several ways to travel to India. There are buses from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan (although, the journey can be quite hectic and you might have to hop on multiple buses). It is more likely that you will be flying into Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi or the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai.

It is quite cheap to fly into India from its neighboring countries, especially those in the Middle East and Asia.

Best Deals on Flights to India

You can find the best flight deals to India using Skyscanner or CheapOair. Skyscanner is one of my favorite sites for comparing affordable flights from multiple airlines.

You can sign up for Skyscanner’s price alerts, which will notify you when flights to India drop in price.

Check out flights to India here.

For business flights and first-class tickets, check out CheapOair.

Visas & Permits

All citizens except those from Nepal and Bhutan need a visa to visit India. Citizens of Cambodia, Finland, Japan, Laos, Luxembourg, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philipines, Singapore, and Vietnam can get a Tourist Visa on Arrival with a single entry that lasts up to 30 days.

Your passport must be valid for 6 months at the time of entering the country. Most nationals can apply for a visa online. The cost of the Indian Tourist Visa will wary between your country of origin, with US 76 for Canadian Passport holders and a whooping US 150 for US citizens (not including processing fees).

Use iVisa to check and apply for an Indian Tourist Visa as need. Or apply for an Indian visa online.

Before your trip to India, make sure that you have the required permits for special areas. A 10-day Protected Area Permit (PAP) costing US 30 is needed in addition to your visa for certain areas.

Money in India

The Indian Rupee is the local currency (US 1 = RS 75). Always have smaller notes on hand during your trip to India, such as the RS 100 or 200 notes. It’s much easier to buy things from smaller shops with these bills. For reference, you can buy a nice Kurti at one of the many markets for RS 350, a scarf for RS 100, and pants for RS 300. There are many money exchangers in cities, especially in popular bazaars. Since there is no standard exchange rate for these smaller exchange joints, do compare and contrast between a few and ask for the best rate!

Where to go in India & Travel Itineraries

One of the most difficult things when planning your trip to India will be what to visit. There is so much to see and more to do within this vast country! Some of the most popular destinations are:

Delhi, the capital of India that offers ample of historical significance.

Mumbai, where rests Bollywood

Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world.

Jaipur, India’s Pink City

Udaipur, India’s Venice

Goa, beaches, and parties

Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple

Varanasi, the spiritual Capital of India

Rishikesh, one of the most popular yoga/meditation towns

Jodhpur, India’s Blue City

Streets-of-Alwar-Rajasthan

There are a number of amazing destinations in India, but if this is your first trip to India and you only have two weeks or so, I’d recommend visiting the cities above first! Here are a few helpful guides:

The Best Things to do in Delhi

The Best Things to do in Jaipur

The Best Things to do in Gwalior

From Agra to Amritsar, 12 Incredible Trips from Delhi

How to visit Alwar, Rajasthan’s Hidden Jewel

Of course, if you have the chance to, head straight up the Himalayas! It’s an incredible experience that no one should miss. Here are some of my favorite destinations:

The Chopta Chandrashila Hike: Straight to Tungnath-the Tallest Shiva Temple in the World

Camping at the Pandukholi Ashram in the Himalayas

Recommended Tour Groups in India

Intrepid Travel

Intrepid Travel is a popular off-the-beaten-path small group tour organizer. They have more than two dozen 8-40 day trips that give you a glimpse into what India is all about. If you want to have a true adventure alongside other independent travelers, this might be for you. Take a look at their trips.

Contiki

Contiki offers popular small group tours that cater to those between 18 and 35. They have a 12-day all-inclusive tripto India that covers some of the major sites within the country and another 10-day adventure that dabbles partly in neighboring Nepal. Click here to learn more.

TourRadar

If you want to look at other options, TourRadar is a great platform that specializes in multi-day trips. They offer a number of trips to India from a variety of tour groups and may have something that will be more suited for you!

Accommodation in India

India can be a budget-friendly destination if you so wish. There are plenty of hostels, hotels, and guest houses that you can choose from, some of which can be as low as US 8!

Hostels are usually priced between US 8-25 depending on the location and season. In most cases, rooms priced above US 15 / night are private, unlike the shared dorms at a cheaper rate.

Mid-range hotels will average around US 30-60 / night. Many of these hotels will be quite luxurious when compared to similar-priced facilities in other countries. If you are traveling to a smaller city, it won’t be difficult to find resorts for as low as US 25 / night!

Finally, India has a wide range of gorgeous high-end hotels that will be upward of US 55. You can grab a night at the Marriot for US 59 or choose to lounge at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai (one of the best hotels in the country) for US 250. Of course, these prices are seasonal so you might like to book beforehand.

Best Accommodation Booking Sites

Expedia or Hotels.com are great options for booking accommodation in India. Both are perfect for looking up and reviewing hotels for your stay. I often compare the hotels on these two sites as prices may differ.

Click here to look up hotel prices in India.

Airbnb and Couchsurfing are also possible choices for those looking at alternatives! Although it may not be for everyone, my experience with Couchsurfing in India has been largely positive. As always, be careful and stay safe if you decide to go with the route!

How To Get Around India

Domestic transportation in India is really convenient. Be it buses, trains, or flights, there are a number of options that you can choose from. Here is a thorough guide!

Hitch Hiking in India

I know of several friends that hitch-hiked in India. Though I’ve never tried it, I hear it’s quite popular in the mountainous regions where buses are infrequent. Nonetheless, transportation is largely affordable in the country so I recommend opting for rickshaws and tuk-tuks even if you are on a budget.

Rickshaws & Tuk-tuks

Rickshaws and tuk-tuks are some of the most popular forms of transportation in India. Rickshaws are two or three-wheeled passenger rides pulled by cyclists. They are available for shorter distances and a trip will cost approximately RS 30. 

A tuk-tuk or auto-rickshaw is a motorized version of the cycle rickshaw. These drivers are usually willing to go longer distances. I used to take these between Hauz Khas (my workplace) and Malviya Nagar (where I lived), for RS 50. Depending on traffic, the journey would be between 10-15 minutes.

A few tips for rickshaws in India:

  1. Always negotiate the price beforehand. What I absolutely respect about rickshaw drivers is that they are quite fair with prices, especially if they see that you know what you are doing. There were very few times that drivers went back on the prices after arriving (they usually do so if there is heavy traffic). You can ask your hotel staff for an estimate before going on a trip.
  2. Tip the drivers! Take this in: US 1 is equivalent to RS 75. Very few of these workers are living on a proper wage and the amount of physical labor they undergo is unfathomable.
  3. Please respect everyone! The most popular way to address drivers is “Bhaiyya”, which means ‘brother’ in Hindi. Shukriyaa means thank you, although most India understands the English alternative!

Buses & Metros in India

India’s larger cities have great transportation! There are various bus lines that stretch into the numerous neighborhoods. Even if you can’t reach the exact destination, rickshaws or tuk-tuks are readily available. Likewise, 10 cities in India, including Jaipur, Mumbai, and Delhi have comprehensive Metro systems.

However, if this is your first trip to India, I’d recommend that you skip the buses for taxis or Metros. Tuk-tuks are also much easier to navigate than the country’s bus system.

The metro’s first passenger cart is women-only. You can spot the signs painted on the floor when lining up for the trains! Nonetheless, I suggest that you avoid the metro during rush hour as you may have trouble getting out (speaking from experience)!

Private Taxis

If time is limited, I suggest that you hire a private taxi. Although this isn’t as economic as public transportation, the price is still very affordable. Taxis can be hired at a day rate of around US 30, depending on the city.

Uber is available in India and offers a great alternative to private taxis. You can pay with both cards and cash.

Car Rental

Unless you are familiar with the roads of India, I won’t recommend renting a car. I’m not just speaking about the difficulties of navigating the rocky hills of the Himalayas, but also the bustling streets with rickshaws, tuk-tuks, and bikers. I’ve always found it incredible that drivers in India are able to traverse the chaotic ease with such ease and comfort.

Nonetheless, if you intend on renting a car, you can compare rates here.

Trains

India has a great rail system that is the fourth largest network in the world by size! They offer a number of different classes, from AC First Class all the way to unreserved seating (meaning that there may not be seats for the ride). Other than the price, some of the biggest differences between the various classes are the existence of AC and the comfort of the seats.

Taking a train is a great way to experience the countryside and shouldn’t be missed during your trip to India! You can purchase tickets at the rail station or online here.

Flights

Lastly, domestic flights are a great alternative to trains. They are affordable and offer the most simple way to travel long distances. Based on your schedule, you may want to hop on a flight and tackle a bigger number of destinations. I’ve seen tickets between Mumbai and Delhi for less than US 50!

Click here to check out flight prices!

Attractions & Tickets in India

Most of the attractions in India can be booked on-site. However, you should consider booking certain attractions beforehand during the tourist season.

Get Your Guide is a great platform to find local tours, activities, and guided visits. Its competitive pricing and honest review system make it really easy to book a tour during your trip to India. Some of the best ones in the country include the most Instagram-able places in Jaipur, a tour of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, and a full-day tour of the Elephant Caves in Mumbai.

the golden temple amritsar india

Travel Insurance for a Trip to India

One of the most important things to prepare before embarking on a trip to India is travel insurance.

I’ve always been someone that is prone to accidents. However, it was only after cracking my head in Paris that I was made aware of how important travel insurance really is. Long story short, I made it out alive and had a CAD 6000 bill paid for by my insurance (thankfully).

Be sure to grab travel insurance when you book your flight. Some insurance coverages will be extended to issues that arise during the planning of your trip to India.

I definitely recommend looking at options through your credit card first. Otherwise, World Nomads is a great option and you can get a free, non-obligated quote here.

Estimated Travel Cost for India

India is quite cheap to travel around. However, based on your chosen accommodation, the number of attractions you visit, and the cities you stop in, your budget will vary.

Here are a few estimated budgets for two people:

Absolute Backpacker: RS 500/day (Couchsurfing / camping, some hitchhiking, street food)

Budget Traveler: RS 1100 (hostels, buses, meals at small restaurants)

Mid-range Traveler: RS 3000 (hotels, rental car, good meals)

High-end Traveler: RS 4000+ (nice hotels, rental car, good meals)

India has many Bazaars

Each Rupee will get you far

You will not want to leave.

What is a rhyme

At the end of the day, everyone’s budget will differ based on what they do, where they go, and what they eat. This is especially the case if you’d like to include a few day trips and visit all the attractions! When planning your trip to India, figure out how much you are willing to allocate towards entrance fees and sights. There are so many that you’d have to pick and choose when traveling the country.

What to Eat in India

Oh my, Indian cuisine is incredibly diverse and delicious. No matter your diet, you will find dishes suited for your taste. The North and South have two distinct styles and depending on where you are, you may just have to have a taste of everything! Of course, there are countless dishes that populate the vast country. These are some of the things I must get when on a trip to India: 

North IndiaSouth India
Rogan JoshDosas
Chicken Dum BiryaniUttapams
Aloo SamosaKerala-style Beef
Chole BhaturePazhampori
Tandoori Chicken/Tikka MasalaVatha Kuzhambu
Parathe
Mutton Curry
Happy thoughts for your trip to India

One of my favorite snacks in India are momos, which is very popular in the Himalayan regions. You can often find momos on the street in Delhi. However, if you aren’t accustomed to street food, do give them a try at resturants! If you love spicy food, give Nepalese and Himalayan food a go as well.

What to Pack for your Trip to India

Depending on when and where you visit, packing is quite simple. For reference, during my second trip to India, I flew with a semi-full suitcase as I knew that I wanted to bring home goods from India’s insane markets.

If you are visiting North India during the Winter/Spring months, you will need a sturdy sweater. It can get quite cold in Delhi once December hits. If you plan to venture up the Himalayas, a good jacket is definitely recommended!

The South of India is warmer. However, you might want to bring a light jacket for nights in the winter.

If you decide to visit during Monsoon season between June and September (depending on the region), you should bring an umbrella, a raincoat, and everything needed during sudden downpours.

It is not uncommon to wear shorts and skirts in bigger cities, especially during the hotter months in Mumbai. However, I feel more comfortable wearing India’s traditional attire or fashioning a pair of slacks during my visits. Villages and smaller towns are a bit more conservative and I recommend you to dress with care. Having a scarf on hand is a great way to cover yourself from the dust!

Other Essential Items for a Trip to  India:

Hat and scarf/shawl

A pair of hiking shoes

Swimwear & sunscreen

A type G plug adaptor

Internet & Phone Coverage

It’s quite easy to access WiFi in India. Most mid-range restaurants in cities and hotels provide free WiFi. Some may prefer to get a pre-paid sim card for their trip to India. The cheapest and most widely used sim cards are Airtel and Vodafone. They can be purchased at a number of shops around the country, however, it can be quite a hassle as you will need to a bring picture, copy of your passport, and visa.

Another option is to get international roaming!

Other Things to Know for your Trip to India

Keep an open mind! India is a bustling country with plenty of diversity. Nonetheless, it wasn’t one of the easiest countries to adjust to and I experienced quite some culture shock when I first moved there. Once you get used to the buzzing streets and lively markets, you will find joy in wandering through the chaotic vibrancy!

If you have less than a week, I’d recommend focusing on one region. For example, the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Jaipur, Agra) is great for a short trip up North. If you complete these three cities and have a few days left, visit nearby Udaipur and Jodhpur as opposed to flying down to Mumbai. Likewise, if you are visiting South Delhi on a short trip, I’d recommend the North for the future! There really is so much to do and so much to see. Make sure to plan the itinerary for your trip to India beforehand as you might be overwhelmed with the choices at hand.

A trip to India isn’t complete without attending one of its festivities! Be it Holi or Independence Day, the level of energy throughout the country is unrivaled. Indian people are some of the most positive I’ve met, you will surely encounter a few curious conversationalist and onlookers.

Speaking of onlookers, women traveling in India may encounter men that stare. This has changed a lot between my two visits and I don’t notice it as much anymore during my last trip in 2019. But if you encounter this, don’t feel scared! The majority means no harm and are just curious about foreigners.

If you intend on eating street food, definitely, definitely ask for local recommendations! Without a doubt, each person’s immune system is different and your stomach may not be accustomed to the cleanliness of the food. However, I’ve never had problems when eating from places that are recommended by friends. I did, however, get Delhi belly when I took some juice from a place that didn’t look clean (If it doesn’t look clean, i.e flies, really dirty things, etc, it’s probably not clean).

Bring some Pepto-Bismol for times of need and make sure to get all the vaccines that you need!

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