Traveling in India: Useful insight from the first month

Now that I’ve been in India for a month — mostly Mumbai — here’s a few things I’m learning:

Lonely Planet guidebooks are still very useful. Online reviews (TripAdvisor etc.) and message boards end up being a time-consuming rat hole (especially when internet is slow) with mixed results. LP guidebooks consistently deliver the info I need, instantly.

I forgot what slow/latent internet is like. 
And it’s even more painful now that most websites expect you to be on a fast connection. A test in patience…

There is a LOT of English spoken/written here. Most store signs are in English. For example, everything in the Vodafone store is 100% English. Surprising, and makes living here much easier.

Image from

Indian English≠ ‘Murican English.The big ‘ah-ha’ moment was when I figured out that I can say something 6 different ways, but people with limited english only know one way. When in a rickshaw, the driver probably won’t understand ‘turn around’ or ‘go back’ or ‘make a u-ey’, but almost all of them understand ‘u-turn’. Once I learn the one word, I have to burn into my brain *that* word, and use it exclusively. Figuring out the magic word to use in a situation is a recurring puzzle that I enjoy solving.

Switching SIM cards on a phone allows me to reuse my phone, which is great. But getting a SIM card in India is not simple. Sign-up requires a home address in India, which they personally visit after several days to make sure you live there. They also require a personal reference from a local person, with a photocopy of their ID and a bill with their address. This is all in the name of anti-terrorism, but makes it hard for travelers who don’t start off situated for a week or more.

Stray dogs in India are docile and well fed, even overweight. I’m guessing the latter is due to the loose policy on public defecation.

Dogs along the Carter Road Promenade.

The offline maps available in Google Maps are a great way to navigate a town even if mobile internet isn’t fast (which can be any time). I download them before I go to a new destination. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read this.

sandals/flip flops + dusty roads + yoga = dirty yoga mat. Wash feet before going to yoga.

Image from

Trains are cheap. I had heard they would be, and its true. A local Mumbai train is 15 cents; an 8 hour train to another city is less than $5. It’s the most consistent way to get around, if the train gets close to where you want to be. Especially useful for getting somewhere on time in traffic-clogged cities.

Change is a hot commodity. As in money change. 10, 50 and the elusive 20 rupee notes are hard to come by, as vendors don’t want to give change, yet expect buyers to have the exact amount. It’s one of the paradoxes of cash-based countries. Heather wrote about more about this in her post. Hold on to your small bills!

That’s it for now. These are practical tips for the most part, which is what I tend to write about. Philosophical and spiritual tips are a story for another day, preferably in person.