India – Travel Tips
1. Don’t Wear Tight or Revealing Clothing
Indians adopt a very conservative standard of dress, particularly in rural areas. Western dress standards, including jeans on women, are now prevalent in major cities.
However, to be decent, you should keep your legs covered. You’ll rarely see a well-dressed Indian man wearing shorts, or an Indian woman wearing a skirt above the ankles (although the beaches of Goa and college students are common exceptions!). Sure, you can do it, and most likely no one will say anything. But first impressions count! There’s a common perception in India that foreign women are promiscuous, and wearing inappropriate clothing perpetuates this. You will get more respect by dressing conservatively. Covering your legs and shoulders (and even your head) is especially important when visiting temples in India. Also, avoid wearing strapless tops anywhere. If you do wear a spaghetti strap top, wear a shawl or scarf over it to be modest.
2. Don’t Wear Your Shoes Inside
It’s good manners to take your shoes off before entering someone’s home, and it’s a prerequisite before entering a temple or mosque.
Indians will often wear shoes inside their homes, such as when going to the bathroom. However, these shoes are kept for domestic use and never worn outdoors. Shoes are sometimes also removed before entering a shop. If you see shoes at an entrance, it’s a good idea to take yours off as well.
3. Don’t Point Your Feet or Finger at People
Feet are considered to be unclean and therefore it’s important to avoid pointing your feet at people or touching people or objects (particularly books) with your feet or shoes.
If you accidentally do so, you should apologize straight away. Also, note that Indians will often touch their head or eyes as a show of apology. On the other hand, it’s a sign of respect to bend down and touch an elder person’s feet in India.
Pointing with your finger is also rude in India. If you need to point at something or someone, it’s better to do so with your whole hand or thumb.
4. Don’t Eat Food or Pass Objects With Your Left Hand
The left hand is considered to be unclean in India, as it’s used to perform matters associated with going to the bathroom. Therefore, you should avoid your left hand coming into contact with food or any objects that you pass to people.
5. Don’t Be Offended by Intrusive Questions
Indians are really inquisitive people and their culture is one where people do anything but mind their own business, often due to a lack of privacy in India and the habit of placing people in the social hierarchy. As a result, don’t be surprised or offended if someone asks you how much you earn for a living and a host of other intimate questions, all upon first meeting. What’s more, you should feel free to ask these type of questions in return. Rather than causing offense, the people you are conversing with will be pleased that you’ve taken such an interest in them!
6. Don’t Always Be Polite
The use of “please” and “thank you” are essential for good manners in western culture. However, in India, they can create unnecessary formality and, surprisingly, can even be insulting! While it’s fine to thank someone who has provided a service to you, such as a shop assistant or waiter, lavishing thanks on friends or family should be avoided. In India, people view doing things for those whom they are close to as implicit in the relationship. If you thank them, they may see it as a violation of intimacy and the creation of distance that shouldn’t exist.
Another thing to keep in mind is that being polite can be viewed as a sign of weakness in India, especially if someone is trying to scam or exploit you. A meek, “No, thank you”, is rarely enough to deter touts and street vendors. Instead, it’s necessary to be more stern and forceful.
7. Don’t Outright Decline an Invitation or Request
While it’s necessary to be assertive and say “no” in some situations in India, doing so to decline an invitation or request can be considered disrespectful. This is because it’s important to avoid making a person look or feel bad. This differs from the western view, where saying no is simply being upfront and not giving a false expectation of commitment. Instead of saying “no” or “I can’t” directly, adopt the Indian way of replying by giving evasive answers such as “I’ll try”, or “maybe”, or “it might be possible”, or “I’ll see what I can do”.
8. Don’t Expect People to Be Punctual
There is time, and there is “Indian Standard Time” or “Indian Stretchable Time”. In the west, it’s considered rude to be late, and anything more than 10 minutes requires a phone call. In India, the concept of time is flexible. People are unlikely to turn up when they say they will. 10 minutes can mean half an hour, half an hour can mean an hour, and an hour can mean indefinitely!
9. Don’t Expect People to Respect Your Personal Space
Overcrowding and scarcity of resources lead to a lot of pushing and shoving in India! If there is a line, people will certainly try and jump it. To prevent this from happening, those who are in the line will commonly stand so close to each other that they’re touching. It can feel unnerving at first, but it’s necessary to prevent people from cutting in.
10. Don’t Show Affection in Public
There’s a joke that it’s okay to “piss in public but not kiss in public” in India. Unfortunately, there is truth to it! While you may think nothing of holding your partner’s hand in public, or even hugging or kissing them, it’s not appropriate in India. Indian society is conservative, particularly the older generation. Such personal acts are associated with sex and can be considered obscene in public. “Moral policing” does occur. While it’s unlikely that, as a foreigner, you’ll be arrested it’s best to keep affectionate gestures private.
11. Don’t Overlook Your Body Language
Traditionally, women don’t touch men in India when meeting and greeting them. A handshake, which is a standard western gesture, can be misinterpreted as something more intimate in India if coming from a woman. The same goes for touching a man, even just briefly on the arm, while speaking to him. While many Indian businessmen are used to shaking hands with women these days, giving a “Namaste” with both palms together is often a better alternative.
Although tipping in India is not compulsory, doing so is a nice gesture. In some circumstances, a small tip is expected. The rules of etiquette for gratuity in India are a little muddled as a colonial past, tourism, and cultural influences clash.
It’s no surprise many travelers in India aren’t sure whether they should tip or not. A majority of countries in Asia don’t have a culture of tipping, although that may be slowly changing as Western influence spreads cultural mutation.
Tips in India are typically referred to as baksheesh. Think of giving baksheeshas a small act of appreciation for good service. You will be asked for baksheesh in India often but may refuse anytime.
Tips in India are often much smaller (up to 10 percent) than what is expected in the United States and other countries where employees depend on customer gratuity as an important part of their salaries.
How Much to Tip in India
As always, exact numbers are debatable and depend on the quality of service, but there are some loose guidelines.
Although seeing the poverty in India makes Westerners want to be overly generous and err on the side of giving too much, doing so causes cultural mutation over time. Expectations for gratuity shift as tourists get preferential treatment. Locals, who aren’t in the practice of tipping as much as tourists, find they can’t get decent service in their own countries. Staff would rather wait on the naive tourists.
- For meals: around 10 percent; 15 percent if someone really went out of their way.
- Hotel porters: 20 rupees per bag carried
- Taxi drivers: round up the fare to nearest multiple of Rs.10.
- Airport transfer drivers: 50 rupees for timely service
- Guides and personal drivers: between 100 – 300 rupees per day, depending on service.
- Barbers, spa staff, and anyone providing a direct, personalized service to you will appreciate a small tip at the end of a job well done. When in doubt, default to 5 percent, and go up to 10 percent for great service.
- The Traffic and Crowds
With well over a billion people calling the subcontinent home, India is the second-most populous country in the world. You’ll be keenly reminded of this factoid after you arrive, particularly in cities such as New Delhi where overcrowding is a problem.The overcrowding problem is especially prevalent on the streets; clogged traffic is the norm, and the soundtrack is usually a cacophony of horns honking. Overindulgence of the car horn isn’t as rude as you may think; it’s actually blown as a safety measure and even out of courtesy to hopefully prevent accidents.
- Dealing with Extra Attention
Western travelers often receive a rock-star amount of attention in India, usually friendly but sometimes in the form of staring.You’ll probably be asked to pose for photos with locals.Female travelers will inevitably be the target of lots of staring. Returning a man’s gaze could be misconstrued as flirting; instead, ignore them completely or wear sunglasses. Solo women may also want to turn down photo requests to eliminate the chance that photos are later used inappropriately for bragging rights.
- Dealing with Beggars in India
Despite lots of economic growth, the wealth divide and caste system are very prevalent: you’ll encounter beggars of all varieties — particularly in urban areas — throughout India.Unlike other parts of Asia, the beggars in India can be extremely persistent, sometimes even grabbing your arms and legs.Encountering the young children begging on the streets is heartbreaking, but you are contributing to the problem when you give money. Many children are kidnapped, mistreated, and exploited by “bosses” who force them to beg in organized gangs. If you give, the whole vicious circle continues to be profitable to those on top and will never end.
- India Travel Tips for Female Travelers
Female travelers often receive a lot of extra attention from local men in India. Sometimes boundaries are pushed beyond staring.Female travelers can reduce some of the unwanted attention by dressing more conservatively. Avoid tight-fitting clothing; consider wearing ankle-length skirts and covering the shoulders. The beautiful local shawls sold everywhere are an excellent investment and easy to carry.
- Petty Theft and Scams
Although armed or violent muggings aren’t too common, being vigilant makes a difference. Plan ahead so that you don’t have to walk alone at night, keep your valuables close at hand in busy places, and never leave your bag out of reach (e.g., in a chair at your table nearest the street). When using an ATM, be conscious about anyone who may be watching or could follow you.Pickpocketing is a problem on public transportation and in crowded urban spaces — pretty well throughout India.
With the exception of flying to the Galápagos Islands, internal flights are generally fairly cheap, rarely exceeding $125 for a one-way ticket. All mainland flights are under an hour and often provide you with incredible views over the Andes.
Flights to most destinations originate in Quito or Guayaquil only.
Cycling in the Andes is strenuous, not only because of hill climbs but because of the altitudes. Road rules are few, and there are not many bike lanes around the country. But, after major investments in infrastructure, the roads are in good shape in Ecuador, and many larger cities have signed ciclovias (bike paths), some of which are closed to vehicle traffic on Sundays, notably in Quito.
Bike shops are scarce outside of Quito, and those that do exist usually have a very limited selection of parts. Bring all important spare parts and tools from home. The country’s best mountain-bike tour operators are in Quito and Riobamba.
Buses are the primary means of transport for most Ecuadorians, guaranteed to go just about anywhere. They can be exciting, cramped, comfy, smelly, fun, scary, sociable and grueling, depending on your state of mind, where you’re going and who’s driving.
There have also been some tragic bus accidents in recent years. Most buses lack seat belts, but if you’re on one that has them, do use them.
Most major cities have a main terminal terrestre (bus terminal), although some towns have a host of private terminals – and you’ll have to go to the right one to catch the bus going where you need to go. Most stations are within walking distance or a short cab ride of the town’s center. Smaller towns are occasionally served by passing buses, in which case you have to walk from the highway into town, usually only a short walk since only the smallest towns lack terminals.
Car & Motorcycle
Driving a car or motorcycle in Ecuador presents its challenges, with potholes, blind turns, and insanely fast bus and truck drivers. The good news is that infrastructure has dramatically improved, with new roads and bridges, and better road signage, making road travel much smoother. Speed bumps (‘sleeping policemen’ to Ecuadorians) are sometimes painted, but often, invisible.
You are required to have a driver’s license from your home country and a passport whenever you’re driving. The international driver’s license can also come in handy when renting a car (though it’s not officially required).
Much to the delight of train enthusiasts, Ecuador’s rail system has finally been restored. Unfortunately, it’s not useful for travel, as the routes are used for day trips designed exclusively for tourists. The trains run along short routes, typically on weekends, sometimes with return service by bus. The most famous line is the dramatic descent from Alausí along La Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose), a spectacular section of train track that was one of the world’s greatest feats of railroad engineering. The second is the weekend train excursion between Quito and the Area Nacional de Recreación El Boliche, near Cotopaxi.