Travel hacks in India — the ones we have used

We travel quite frequently — I mean me, my daughter and my wife. And to top it, we often plan our trips pretty quickly (like we did in Oct 2016, when we planned a Rajasthan+Agra trip just 2 days in advance, or the Kashmir trip in Apr 2016, which we planned 1.5 weeks in advance, or an Ooty/Kodaikanal trip in 2008 which we planned after boarding the plane). Often friends ask us — what are the hacks or secrets do we apply for making quick plans. Have listed few here. Am sure you also have few more in your mind — would be great if you share them as well for other fellow travellers.

Evening walk along side Lake Pichola, Udaipur
  1. Start your vacation on Wednesday

Its not Tuesday. Its not Thursday. Your vacation should start on Wednesday. As this is the day, when you get maximum number of available tickets as well as cheaper tickets. No one (I mean not many) wants to start their vacation right at the middle of a week. So if you can manage your leave from work, check availability and price of tickets for the next Wednesday.

Input from another frequent traveller Soumillo Das: Flight tickets tend to be cheaper on Sundays also (people are trying to return back home)!

2. Flight ticket prices don’t always come cheaper, booked months in advance

We have checked it multiple times. If you think that you would get a cheaper rate for tickets booked months ahead, that may not be correct. Since we always plan just ahead of the travel date, we don’t have an option. Even if you are planning well ahead, and if the travel date doesn’t fall on any special occasion there, you can be rest assured that the flight ticket prices would come down, closer to travel date.

3. Book hotels online (through app)

I have heard this many times — that its better to book directly from hotels compared to online portals. It’s not correct (in most of the cases). The online portals buy hotel rooms in bulk. Thus they would like to sell off pending inventory at the lowest possible price — that flexibility is not available if booked directly through hotels as they would offer you rack rate.

Again if you plan your travel closer to the date, you may get damn good rates on online portals (with last 2 rooms remaining ticker). Even better rates come on the apps. Once you zero-in on 2–3 hotels, check their rate in the apps of the travel portals.

PS: Book the minimum configuration online and check the top-ups (like Lake side view/extra bed etc) once you reach the hotel reception. You would get a discounted rate (as much as half the price) when you are bargaining right at the hotel.

4. Check multiple portals (including Airbnb) for hotel booking

Airbnb is getting popular in India. Use the chat feature in Airbnb to talk to the the hotel / space owner. Most of the hotel / space owners on Airbnb offers discount if you ask in chat. But my experience has been that Airbnb is not always the cheapest option — same hotel/room can come at a cheaper rate on other portals (I prefer MMT, Oyo & Agoda). So — check out, before you pay.

PS: Some friends also referred booking.com — have not used it personally though.

5. “Pay at checkout” for hotels booked online

There are options for booking hotels where you pay only when you check-in/check-out from the hotel. That saves you in case there is a change in plan.

6. Keep the scanned/soft copies of your tickets and bookings on your Gmail

Keep all your tickets and hotel booking docs available on your gmail (or your preferred mail account). You may lose your baggage/purse, but this can still save you with just an Internet enabled device (provided you remember the password of your gmail — tricky I know)

7. Avail Uber/Ola, instead of local tour operators

If you are travelling within a city (metro/tier 2), in all likelihood, the online cab operators would be around. Try your luck as soon as you land in the airport/railway station. They tend to be cheapest option compared to local cabs / hotel arranged cabs.

Avoid hotel arranged cabs as much as possible, as they tend to be the costliest option (unless its complimentary, like airport drop/pick-up).

8. Online food booking during train journey

You can now book your dinner/lunch on your train journey, online. Through IRCTC, you can use your PNR number to select caterer and select your option from the online menu (available on few routes). They would deliver you right at your seat. We did that after boarding a train in afternoon and got the dinner served at 8PM (with loads of notification SMS and calls).

9. Walk around the hotel once you reach

Once you check-in, take a walk around the hotel (unless you are going for a forest reserve) on day 1. This would help you get a feeling about the space. It would also help you get a hang about the available local convenience modes and local food options.

9.1 Find a new hotel on Day 2

Earlier we used to book hotels for one night only, even if we planned to stay at a place for couple of days. We used to roam around on Day 1 to find a better hotel and would shift on Day 2. But we have stopped doing this now as we need to move with a kid.

10. Keep a battery backup/power bank available

Smartphones discharge the battery faster while in roaming mode with location and data on. Google maps/Google Trips are some of the basic apps that would keep you ticking while Wiki also helped us couple of times (yeah, we opened Wiki at Itimad-ud-Daulah, often considered as the draft Tajmahal).

PS: You can save Google map in offline mode. So do it around the area you are planning to roam around before boarding the flight/train.

11. Click Selfies

It may sound obvious now, but it also helps you claim your phone back in case you lose it (and somebody wants to return it too — rare I know).

12. Carry an Aux cable

If you plan to have a long road trip on cabs, the aux cable would come handy to listen to your favorite songs saved in your mobile.

13. Carry dry food for surviving atleast half a day

You should have enough supplies to survive on dry foods for a day (ok, atleast half a day), which becomes very critical in case your flight / train gets delayed or you get stuck in rain/snow/storm or whatever you can think of.

14. Create a must-carry item list

If you travel often, this would already be in your head. But if you build this must-carry item list, it would help you, as often you tend to miss out on small things which are critical. We, for example, always carry a torch, tissue paper, matchbox and scissors (not in hand luggage).

15. Find a friend before you reach

This is the best advice I can give you. Somehow try to find out a localite by virtue of your network. Every place has its story and nuances which can only be discovered if you know someone staying there for a while. There is a catch to this also — often we have seen that the local guys underestimate the tourism-quotient of places in their city. To cover that, use Google anyway. We had got immensely benefited by virtue of our Kashmiri friend and my colleague from Jaipur during respective trips (yes, you can check up if anyone in your office belongs to that area).

I also make it a point to discuss with someone who has recently visited that place as mostly the travellers like to share their story.

16. Travel light

This seems obvious but is ignored mostly. People love to carry their home with themselves. Backpack is the best option for travelling light. In case you are carrying other forms of baggages/suitcases, please check the weight of the empty suitcase/bag. Many fancy bags weigh a lot even without anything inside it. Backpacks score much higher on that quotient (and also on the flexibility part).

17. Check if the monuments / places of attractions are open on that day

Many monuments are closed on a particular day of the week (Taj Mahal on Friday, Akshardham temple on Monday and so on). Please check before reaching the place as this may otherwise jeopardise your travel plan completely.

PS: Suswan Mondal suggested to read up about the place from Tripadvisor, which we also try to do. Tripadvisor often suggests locations which are unknown otherwise. For example, we got to know from TA that there is a place at Agra called Mehtab Bag, on the other side of Yamuna, from where you can get a superb view of Tajmahal. We visited the place.

Tajmahal from Mehtab Bag, across Yamuna

18. Printout of phone numbers

Now-a-days you don’t tend to remember the phone numbers even of your near and dear ones as the numbers are saved in your smartphones. Please enlist the phone numbers of all the passengers in a sheet and keep a printout with each of the fellow travellers. Sounds very primitive, but would help in the worst possible situations. You can also note down the phone numbers of the hotels you are going to stay along with dates in the same paper.

PS: In case you have not noted the hotel phone numbers, collect the visiting card of the hotel from reception during checking in. This comes very handy when you get lost in a new city/place and you need to communicate in a different language to your cabbie/autowallah/tangawallah about your destination.

19. Newspapers

While the morning newspapers help you getting synched with the world otherwise (in case you don’t get your news from apps), it also helps in various other ways (mattress, table cleaner, garbage collection and so on). So don’t throw away your morning newspaper even after chewing it.

20. Medicines

Last but not the least — carry enough medicines for twice the duration of your vacation. Then split the medicines into two pouches, so that even if you misplace one bag, you are not running in short supply of medicines. Please meet your GP well in advance (in case you don’t have a ready list) to create a list of medicines. This is very very critical if you are having a kid or a senior citizen in your team.

That’s about it. I didn’t mention about checking weather, checking 500px for photo spots or the holiday calendar to gauge the rush as these are the basic stuff you must do for planning any vacation.

You got few more points to add? Pl add here — would be happy to know and share more with our friends.

Happy journey

Subhamoy & Suparna

Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir