Backpacker travel tips – travel tips for India and advice for women travelling alone
There is so much to be said about backpacking in India. You could do with some backpacker travel tips if you’re going there, because it’s a huge country divided into areas with cultures as different as the Orkney Isles are from London. And the sort of stuff you might want to know will vary according to if you’re going for a two-week package holiday knees-up in Goa or a four-month ‘find yourself’ mission.
If you’ve never gone backpacking in India before – or South East Asia, or anywhere where it’s hot and you suspect the insects might be bigger than your thumb – here are some tips designed to whet your appetite for the remarkable journey ahead.
Rucksack. Don’t mess about with style. You’ll be lugging your house on your back, so make sure it’s lightweight and comfortable. Karrimor rucksacks will last you a couple of years (at least) without ripping. Blacks or Millets are great shops for buying your kit, but don’t be fooled into thinking you need everything they provide.
Knickers. Doesn’t matter if it’s three days or three months – take three pairs of knickers and socks. One to wear, one to dry, one as a comfort blanket. It’s not being dirty – any more is just silly.
Clothes. Take a fleece and hiking boots (you’re bound to head off into the mountains, even if you’re not orinally planning to. The plans of mice and mooks are bound to change, especially after you’ve started chatting to fellow travellers about cool things to do). Also take a pair of sandals. Take as little as you can – you’re only going to change your mind about what looks good once you hit India and buy all your clothes there anyway.
Dental floss. Not just for clean teeth – this is amazingly long, unbreakable string. If you’re dangling water/beer into a river to cool it, hanging up wet knickers and socks, or, er, flossing, this is an easy-to-pack and must-have item.
Half a towel. India’s a hot place all year round, and from may onwards you’ll be too humid to ever really be dry, anyway. Cut your towel in half and save space in your rucksack!
Malaria tablets. You may have heard travellers swear by organic methods of prevention of malaria and dengue fever but don’t take the mickey. If you get a bit of nausea from the tablets, so what? If you catch malaria it could stay with you for life. Don’t try to impress other travellers – just look out for number one, and that’s you.
Metre-length of chain and padlock. If you’re on long train journeys you can gently padlock your rucksack to yourself and use it as a pillow – no naught thief can get at your goodies then! Also, some hostel rooms don’t have locks. It’s rarely a problem, but it’s nice to know you’ll never be caught out.
Money. Take some traveller’s checques because if they’re nicked you can get the money back. Some areas in SE Asia have ATMS where you can use your standard bank card, but don’t rely on them. Dollars are always popular in the world. Before you travel, make sure you’ve got enough local money for a comfortable couple of days, then prefer for a visit to the bank once you get there. Always keep your money and passport on you in a travel purse that you belt round your waist. You’ll still look slimline and it’s easy to hide under your clothes.
Travel Guide. Rough Guide or Lonely Planet? Doesn’t matter. Either way, whichever one you pick will be your bible and your best friend. Long-term travellers get friends or parents to send them small sections of ‘the bible’ so they can carry less, but just take the whole book. It may weigh more but it will be worth its weight in gold.
2 prong plug – This is the standard for sockets in India.
Once you’re out there – cultural tips
Go shopping! (**India only**) Barter is alive and well in India. Unless your up-to-date bible tells you otherwise, start barter at a third of the asking price. If you agree on a price and they ask you for one rupee more, they’re insulting you. Walk out. Getting a good deal is best done early in the morning, as many vendors believe an early first sale will bring them good luck for the day and will be more likely to let you have your way. Don’t get too attached to anything you think you want. If you (literally) walk away from a sale, if you’re not sure about the price, chances are you’ll be called back and the ‘final’ price will drop magically. If anyone offers you anything with their left hand (your change, clothes, ice-cream) they’re insulting you. This is the hand that’s culturally used to clean one’s bottom, and offering to someone for any reason is very rude. Shout and kick up a fuss, so they don’t try it on the next poor traveller. Big towns like Delhi have storage centres where you can place belongings you don’t want to carry around in a deposit box/shelf for about 4 pence a day. This is brill! It means you can buy shitloads and leave it until you have to go back home, staggering under the weight of all your booty.
Water. Don’t dehydrate. You won’t need us to tell you – you’ll be drinking what initially seems like a crazy amount of water, just to acclimatize. Don’t take a chance on drinking any water unless it’s in a sealed bottle (there have been tales of old water bottles being filled with local water then resold). Don’t have ice lollies, or even water on the plane – you don’t know the purity of the water. You can take iodine tablets to purify local water, which works out cheaper but tastes nasty, or you can just bite the bullet and buy bottled water all the time. It’s not that expensive, so just do it!
Getting the poos. Everyone gets the poos in India. You’ll soon get used to typical traveller conversation turning with great delight to poo at some point – who’s had the worst poo story, who’s had the consistency, who nearly got dysentry. You can take antibiotics to speed up your recovery (Norfloxacin or Ciprofloxacin) if you really need to make a long bus journey but can’t trust your bottom. Even with the right antibiotics recovery will take around 24 hours, so you’d still be travelling with clenched cheeks the day after taking it. It’s basically so much better just to wait it out. Eat as much plain food as you can (rice, noodles, nan). Drink lots of water to keep hydrated and relax. That’s all you need to do, and then you’ll get over it, and have your own comedy India poo story to share!
Women travelling alone
You will meet so many travelling companions you’ll hardly believe it. You will actually have days when you want to beat them off with a shitty stick. So many people travel in India alone (they’re brave, they split up with their boyf/girlf a week ago, they couldn’t get anyone else to go… the reasons are endless). Everyone gets lonely and wants to share their experiences. Travellers will come up to you if you’re alone in a restaurant, and pretty soon you’ll start going over to strangers yourself, just for a chat. It’s the done thing.
(**India only**) Some people will suggest you wear a wedding ring and pretend you have a husband back at home. Don’t bother. No-one will believe you. They will never believe that a man would let his wife go to another country on her tod like that. Tell the truth, if asked, that you’re single – no one will mind. Then again, if some gentle saddo is asking you if you’re married because his mum wants him to get a wife, just tell him you are. There’s no point wasting your time and his.
Grace under pressure (**India only**)
India really is a different culture. You’ll start off a shy and retiring type (maybe) but after a few weeks you’ll be telling people off if they’re winding you up like nobobdy’s business. You’ll enjoy it, too. Remember: India’s full of novelty, and most locals are up for a laugh as well as your money. They’re fun, lovely people. But if you feel like anyone is trying to take the piss – ripping you off or being pushy – you’ll naturally learn how to push back, and no-one’s really offended!
Homesickness, travelling and depression
Let’s say you get to a point where you’re homesick, you have no idea what you’re doing, all your mates are 6,000 miles away and you feel like you’re about to crack. Don’t panic. You can always come home. But do remember that every day is different – it may just be that you need a change of scene. If you’ve been slumming it, check into a nice hotel and have a massage. If you’ve split up with your boyf, go and have a game of pool. If it’s too hot, go up North and go trekking. And don’t forget the old favourite: have a good moan to your loved ones on email and text. You’ll feel loads better, and once things feel in perspective, you’ll decide if you really want to go home, or just want one more peek over the temple wall before you go…