I write this as I’m sat on a train that will take me to the airport, and off I’ll fly to India. I’d be lying if I said that preparing for this trip was a piece of cake. The opposite – anxiety was kicking in full swing. From travels near and far I have learned, though, that a good preparation for a trip can ease the stress and make the experience more pleasant. Especially, if you’re going somewhere like India.
I must mention that this will be my very first trip to India. In fact, I have not seen much of Asia either – I have only been to Singapore on a work trip, and I didn’t get to experience much more than the conference rooms, hotel restaurant and the hospital I ended up in after a heavy food poisoning.
I have read a lot of amazing travel stories about India and it has always seemed like a place I would love to go. But how do you prepare for a trip to a country you have never been to? Especially if you’re there on such an adventure as a yoga teacher training… Let me share my experience! I’m confident these steps helped me manage my pre-trip stress, and I hope you will find them useful too.
1. Talk To Other Travellers
Whether it’s people I know personally or someone like me writing a blog and sharing their experiences online, for me it always helps to get a lot of information from people who have actually been where I’m going. Travel guides and books are good, but I think real stories hold a way better value.
Just a quick search on Google and you will be able to find answers to most of your questions – what to take with, what and where to eat, what to be careful of, what not to do, what local customs you should be aware of, where to go, how to get there and etc.
Sometimes, the more you find out, the more questions arise. And that is absolutely normal. If it helps to keep your head clear, write them all down – this will help with the planning process. If you don’t know anyone personally, or can’t find the answers via Google, feel free to ask other travellers on their blogs. They’ll be more than happy to help you out.
Also, and this is what I kept reminding myself, if it is not an absolutely crucial question, it won’t hurt if you didn’t know all the answers. Leave some room for discovery for the actual trip.
You might ask what I learned from my research and chatting to other travellers? Read on!
2. Take Care Of VACCINES
I know people have mixed feelings and opinions when it comes to vaccines – if some travellers will never bother to do them, others will make sure they’re vaccinated against all the necessary viruses. I belong to the latter group and the reason is very simple – my health and my wellbeing on a trip will always be a priority.
If you decide to get vaccinated before your trip, you should plan this carefully. I started getting mine done four months in advance but still ended up in a big rush, just because I was moving countries in between.
Before you decide on the action plan, I suggest you consult a doctor, other travellers and do a research online on which vaccines you should get. The information and advice you get might differ, but I would suggest doing what feels best to give you a peace of mind. The factors to always keep in mind – which part (or parts) of India you are travelling to and what season will it be.
If you are curious to know, here is the list of vaccines I got when preparing for this trip:
- Hepatitis A and B (due to lower sanitation standards across India, this is number one recommended vaccine)
- Diphtheria & tetanus combined (re-vaccination, more than 10 years after the previous vaccine)
- Typhoid (recommended for everyone travelling to India)
3. Apply For Tourist E-Visa
I was happy to find out that you can apply for a tourist visa to India online. Since late 2014, Indian government introduced the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme, and from April 1, 2017, it now includes 161 countries. Not only that, the scope of the scheme was widened to include short duration medical trips, yoga courses and casual business trips.
You can apply for your E-Visa online, no more than 120 days and no less than 4 days ahead of your trip. Along with your travel information, you will need to upload a passport-style photo (as long as you follow the instructions, you can take one yourself) and the photo page of your passport with your personal details. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months.
When filling out the application form, you might be asked for contact details in India – in my case, I used the yoga school’s address and phone number.
Once you’re done, pay the 50 USD fee (online with a debit or credit card), and you will receive an application ID. If you struggle to make the payment from your laptop as I and many other people have, try from a different browser or your phone. The latter, surprisingly, was the only way I was able to pay.
The ETA was sent to my email within a day, but it can take up to three days for it to be processed. Print out the copy of your ETA and present it at the immigration counter as soon as you arrive in India. There you will get your E-Visa stamped in your passport.
4. Pack Light But Sufficiently
I don’t remember a time I packed without a list of some kind. Lately, I use (and re-use for other trips) a very detailed one where I plan out not only what I’m packing with, but what bag to put it in if I travel with more than my backpack, and what I will be wearing at the beginning of the trip. Therefore, I can’t miss an opportunity to suggest you make one too.
My number one rule of thumb is to start with the most important things – ones you will not go on the trip without. For me and for this specific trip, it was my yoga gear (loads of leggings and tops, my yoga mat and a notebook for the course material) and gadgets (laptop, camera, GoPro, phone, Kindle – I know, it’s a lot!).
Besides that, I also took toiletries, hair dryer, non-yoga clothes and my personal first-aid kit which contained painkillers, plasters, probiotics and diarrhoea pills. As for the toiletries like shower gel and shampoo, I only packed for the first couple of days (travel size bottles and containers) as I was planning to buy them locally. As my journey was very long (more than 24 hours), I had a deodorant and toothpaste in my carry on bag.
If you want to bring any liquids on the plane, remember to pack them in a plastic pouch and have them easily accessible for the security check. The latter goes for all your electronic devices as well and will save you time at the airport. Even though I know this process so well, even I sometimes struggle to locate all my gadgets and put them out in the trays.
Besides my small suitcase and carry-on backpack, I always take a hip pouch for all my valuables like passport, phone, and wallet for easy access. Mine would also fit a phone charger and Kindle or a snack if needed. After landing in India, I also kept my hand sanitizer gel in the pouch – very convenient.
One thing I am taking with me for the first time on a trip is a neck pillow. I’ve been on way too many flights struggling to stay asleep just because my head keeps bouncing up and down as soon as I drift off to the dreamland. I want to be well rested during this trip. Plus, it doesn’t take up any space in my bags as I am carrying it strapped to the outside of my backpack.
A few things I would recommend packing to India:
- Bug repellant
- Sunscreen (ones you can buy locally can be a whitening effect)
- Diarrhoea medicine
- Toilet roll (not a very common thing in toilets in India)
- Travel power adapter for your electronics
- Hand sanitizer
- Probiotics (to keep your gut healthy and happy)
- Headlamp (for when you experience power outage)
- Earplugs (especially if you go to the big cities)
5. Plan Your Trip
If you’re not a planner and only enjoy going with the flow, you can skip this step. However, there are certain things I would advise you to plan, especially when you travel to India.
First and foremost, you should know how you will be getting around in India. Things work differently around there, plus there are so many scams and scammers who will be after your money. Therefore I suggest you plan your whereabouts – do some research online, talk to people, and book tickets in advance if you can.
For me, getting around will be easy as I will be picked up and dropped off by school-arranged taxi, and all my activities in Rishikesh will be yoga course related more or less. However, I have done some planning on my side to have a few ideas where to go and what to do in those rare free moments from the training. I have even found a tattoo studio in hopes of getting new ink during my stay.
When it comes to planning, another important thing is finances. It helps if you know how much you will need to spend for transport, food and accommodation, plus allow for the unexpected.
For this trip, I have not exchanged any money, as my plan is to withdraw it at one of the ATMs at the airport and locally in Rishikesh. But that is due to me having all my money in a UK account and living in Switzerland – withdrawing and exchanging money would mean at least two exchanges (pounds to franks and then rupees) and various fees on top of it.
6. Get Travel Insurance
Last but definitely not the least – travel insurance. This is something I have always had for all my travels – near and far, no matter where I go and what is the aim of the trip. And I have always advised everyone else to get it.
The thing is, it doesn’t cost a lot! And I agree with what some people say – if you can’t afford to get travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. If anything were to happen, you might end up spending thousands and thousands. Would you be able to afford that?
Yes, the likelihood is not the highest, I agree, but is it worth the risk?
I have only once had a serious travel insurance case (the above-mentioned food poisoning in Singapore and the hospital bill which was fully covered) and I was happy for the expenses to come out of my insurer’s pockets, not mine. I have also seen family members get injured while skiing, and in both cases, we were happy to have the insurance.
This list might not be the most thorough list, however, this will be a good start.
However, if you have already been to India and have anything to add, please share in the comments section below.
Photos: title picture via Unsplash, all others – from personal archive.