Here’s the What to Expect page
Q. Where do I find cable locks?
A. I generally use a cable lock like one from PacSafe. You might be able to find it in your local REI or travel/luggage store, but here’s a link to Amazon. REI also has a cable for $7 in the bike section. All you’d need is a lock and key and you’d be all set.
Q. Which airport should I fly into in Delhi?
A. Indira Gandhi Airport
Q. I plan to wear athletic shoes for much of the tour as I need good ankle support. I had a physical therapist custom make a pair of inserts for better balance and overall comfort. The inserts cost $200, not including the cost of the shoes. If we are required to remove our shoes before entering certain places, i.e., temples, etc., can I carry my shoes in a plastic bag? I like to keep them on or with me.
A. That should not be a problem. I had a woman on a previous tour with a similar issue – she had custom-made, very expensive medical shoes, that she didn’t want to leave at the doorstep of temples. I don’t recall it ever being an issue to carry them inside in a bag. A good backup to this problem, however, would be to leave them in the bus and wear, for a very short time, a pair of flip flops.
Q. As I read your book on women in India a couple of things caught my eye that I do not think applies to the India trip–necessity of a sleep bag? The sample list of the hotels looked to great to not be spotless. The danger of theft of items from the hotel room? and most important women not really expected to go to the bar in the hotel!Â Wow although I am not a drunk–I do enjoy evening cocktails or wine. I was planning to bring an ipad–for music-photos,journal, books, and money tracker all in one. Is this not safe from theft in the hotels? I understand there are different types of tourist facilities–I have stayed rustic but not student backpacker style.
A. Just to clarify, I don’t think I mention sleeping “bag” in the book but probably a sleepsack. Even that you won’t need for the quality of our hotels. That was definitely geared toward budget accommodations.
As for theft in rooms, I take precautions everywhere I go – India or elsewhere. Though I’ve never had anyone have something stolen from their room (nor have I), it’s better to be safe.
As for the bars, it will be fine in the hotel bars where we’ll be staying (that was definitely coming from a more budget/independent travel approach and I didn’t appropriately clarify that). Though in general, it’s not as common for women to frequent the bars…
As for the safety of your items… I wouldn’t stress over this. However, I would bring a little lock to lock the zippers of your luggage together to avoid any opportunistic thievery. It’s exactly what I do. And I do this in my hotel rooms in the US, too. I leave my laptop, ipod, etc. in my luggage with it locked up. But I’m overly cautious and so far it’s served me well 🙂
Q. Can I use my cell phone in India?
A. It depends. First, your cell phone must have GSM technology in order to tap into the local network. If you plan on bringing the phone that you use on a daily basis at home, CHECK WITH YOUR PROVIDER to determine what they will charge for both calls and texts – both outgoing and incoming – and for calls within India and for international calls. These calls can be exorbitant.
Consider carrying an old phone that is “unlocked” – one that you’re currently not using and doesn’t have a call plan attached to it. Remember that it has to have GSM technology in order to tap into the India network(s). When you arrive in India, you can purchase a SIM card for that phone and then be able to tap into the local network. Domestic and international calls will likely be far cheaper than using your own phone on your current plan. When you add the new SIM card, this phone will be assigned a phone number that you can then share with your family at home and they can call you directly (sometimes you’re not charged for incoming calls).
Upon arrival in India, you’ll need to find a mobile store, bring your passport and a couple of passport photos and fill out some paperwork in order to get a SIM card for your phone. It will still be far cheaper than trying to use your regular phone.
Here’s a blog post I wrote about cell phone usage abroad.
Q. Can I wear a baseball cap?
A. Hmmm – I would discourage a baseball cap. They aren’t common and, as if we won’t stick out already, you’ll REALLY look like a tourist. I was once told that I looked like I just got off the plane, even though I’d been there for nearly 3 weeks and was just wearing jeans and an Exofficio top. I didn’t have an Indian scarf on in other words. You’re likely to be treated better (by vendors and service providers) if you don’t look so much like a tourist.
Q. Can you comment on the necessity of packing the following?
A. Raincoat – might be good to bring a light jacket that you can wear on a cool evening. Doesn’t have to be rain jacket as I don’t think we’ll have much rain. It will be HOT!
Binoculars – Hmmmm, probably not necessary.
Laundry detergent – depends on your clothes. If you have quick drying clothes you might be able to wash them out at night. I usually use my shampoo.
Workout clothes/shoes – probably won’t have a lot of time for this.
Yoga mat – too bulky though you might be able to buy one there if you’re so inclined.
Q. Will hotels have fitness centers and/or safe walking routes, will the tour itself be strenuous enough I won’t want/need/be able to workout, will the mornings all be early and the afternoons full enough there won’t be room for anything else?
A. Hopefully there will be some time for this but I usually spend early mornings in my room doing a workout and sneaking in a walk before breakfast. I wouldn’t consider the tour itself to be strenuous.
Q. My Indian friend specifically warned me against Air India, but she is a little bit…paranoid in general. I was wondering if you had any experience with Air India. If I’m taking my life in my hands flying with them, then I’ll spring for a more expensive carrier. But if it’s just cramped with bad service, I can deal. Any advice?
A. I haven’t heard anything bad about Air India only that someone “heard” that it wasn’t a great airline. Most airlines are uncomfortable these days and I would just suggest booking with an airline that gives you a good price and one in which you can build your frequent flier miles.
Q. What will the weather be like and how should I pack for it?
A. As for weather, expect it to be warm – very warm in Rajasthan – like high 90’s. Pack for the heat but also a bit conservatively. A light cotton top that will cover your shoulders or a dress that will do the same and cover your knees either with pants, capris or a dress.
Q. Will the hotels provide shampoo and conditioner like they do in the US?
A. It’s hard to tell since even hotels in the US have cut way back. You can always purchase shampoo and conditioner once you arrive if you don’t want to travel with it.
Q. On the India visa application, it’s asking for a contact name and phone number. What should I put?
A. You can put The Park Hotel at Connaught Place. Phone: 91 11 23733737
Q.Â Can we bring stuff to give away to the children (good idea or no?) and if yes, what would you recommend?
A. Although I know it’s tempting, this isn’t a great idea as it encourages begging. You might consider bringing something like balloons where you can have some sort of interaction with the kids without actually giving them something.
Q. Do you know the name of the hotel the tour will be starting from yet?
A. I’m told that we will be staying at the Park Hotel in Delhi for the fall 2009 trip.
Q. Can you recommend what ground transportation I should use to get to the hotel from the airport (I am arriving late at night, so thought I could go straight to our departure hotel or stay at a hotel at the airport and then transfer the next day).
A. There are several ways to get from the airport to your hotel.
1) Some hotels will offer either a free or paid service and can have someone waiting for you upon your arrival. Inquire at your hotel whether there’s a cost and how much it is.
2) I can make arrangements for a driver to pick you up. Cost will be anywhere from $15 – $35 depending on the level of service. I generally pay about $15 but if there are several of you and you’d like a bigger/nicer car or SUV, it will be on the higher priced end.
3) Alternately, there is a stand inside the airport where you can pre-purchase a taxi ticket for a set fare. You then go outside to wait in line for the next available taxi. As long as you explain that you have a reservation at your hotel (whichever hotel that is), you shouldn’t have any hassle from the driver.
Q. How should I pay for the taxi fare if I’ve just arrived at the airport?
A. The driver will take US dollars, but you should also be able to find an ATM where you can get some rupees using your debit card. In any of the cases, just make sure that you’ve negotiated the fare up front and don’t pay any more than the fare (unless you’d like to provide a small tip).
Q. Am I responsible for my own visa?
A. For the fall 2009 tour, yes. But it’s easy to get one. You can simply apply through the Travisa Outsourcing website. You’ll want to do this ASAP so that if your visa gets held up, it won’t effect your trip.
Q. What sort of shots do I need for this trip?
A. You’ll definitely want to have your DPT updated and perhaps Hep A and B. Both Hep A and Be (I think) are a series of shots, so you’ll want to get the process started early in case it takes several months to finish the round. Other than these, I’d recommend you chat with a travel doctor about your specific needs/concerns.
Q. Do I need any special medications or a first aid kit?
A. If you are pre-disposed to anything (lactose intolerant or you have a sensitive stomach) you may want to bring something for these. Medicine is widely available throughout India so if you forget something it’s likely that we can pick it up at a pharmacy. However, you don’t want to get stuck with the runs in the middle of the night with nothing to take for it.
Q. What sort of hotels will we be staying in?
A. In order to make this tour both affordable and yet still comfortable, we’ll be staying in 3-star hotels. These will be above basic and, in some cases, will be really quite nice.
Q. How much money should I bring with me?
A. This is a tough question as everyone’s spending habits will be different and much of the tour is covered in the cost of the trip. Having said that, you’ll want to factor in the cost of souvenirs, drinks, extra food items and any additional things you might want to do during the trip. For a two-week trip in India, I might carry $500 cash, $400 in travelers checks and both my credit and debit card. I always come home with money, but I just like to be prepared.
Q. Do we tip our guides and drive?
A. Indeed, it’s common to provide a tip to the guides and driver. I’m anticipating that we will have a guide meet us at each of our destinations – someone who knows the area well. Plan to tip about $5-10/day for these guides. And then plan on tipping the driver about $3-5/day. US dollars or rupees will be fine.
Q. If I bring US dollars, do I need to be fussy about how new they are?
A. It’s a good idea to have newer/crisper bills rather than ones that are torn. Sometimes the shopkeepers won’t take these.
Q. Are short skirts (slightly above the knee) acceptable? How about calf-length skirts? Just pants?
A. It’s best not to wear above the skirt knees. In most areas, even though it could be warm, you’ll want to keep your knees and shoulders covered.
Q. Would you recommend taking a rain coat? Something more than one of those flimsy “emergency” ponchos?
A. The vast majority of the time, we should have nice weather but we might experience a rain shower or two. A light rain jacket isn’t a bad idea. I’ll have one myself that packs up small. Remember to dress in layers, too, so that when the sun’s out, it’ll be easy to layer down into lighter clothes.
Q. Should we bring our own toilet paper? Do they have the “squatty potties” of China fame?
A. No need to bring toilet paper as it will be available at all hotels and you can pick some up in stores. The toilets in the hotels will be western style as should most of the toilets in restaurants. However, we might find ourselves at a remote rest stop and the toilets will be of the squat variety. Be prepared for some potentially unpleasant experiences.Â Always carry your own TP as it’s not always provided.
Q. Can I bring my laptop?
A. Of course, we will have power at all of the hotels. Power outages do happen but not frequently. Personally, I don’t carry a laptop with me when I travel abroad because it’s just another thing for me to have to manage but it might be worth it for some people.
Q. What sort of power adapter do I need?
A. You can find a power adapter on Amazon or at any travel store.
Q. Are there hair dryers at the hotels?
A. Maybe. As mentioned above, there will be power at all hotels. Just remember that no one is going to be looking their finest, so if you don’t have to have the hair dryer, consider leaving it at home 🙂
Q. Will I need a swimsuit?
A. There may indeed be pools at some of our hotels so you might consider bringing one.
Q. Can I wear shorts?
A. It’s not recommended except in the very touristy areas of Delhi. You might see others wearing them elsewhere, but it’s probably not the best thing. Bring a pair if you like but to be safe, count on wearing light pants or longish skirts. Capris are fine.
Q. What should I wear to the temples?
A. Definitely dress conservatively and plan to leave your shoes at the door often. You might consider bringing a pair of those little socks and wearing those anytime you enter a public building where you have to remove your shoes.
Q. Do I need any dressy clothes?
Q. What kind of shoes should I bring?
A. No need to bring more than 2 pairs. Perhaps a pair of walking shoes and then a pair of sandals. I’m considering bringing just one pair of sandals and then wearing them with socks if it gets cool.
Q. I have been researching new luggage and took to heart your message of going LIGHT. I loved the look of your existing Victorinox pack (my Eagle Creek piece has a zip-on day pack that I have been using every day for the last five or six years). But Victorinox seems to have done a major re-design on their new E-Motion model that I’m not thrilled about. With the caveat to go light not matter what, I’m looking at carry-on wheeled options. Is it safe to assume we are going to be responsible for moving our luggage around every day, and also that we may be needing to pick it up more than wheel it, due to fairly uneven and unpaved terrain?
A. You’ll have very little interaction with your luggage other than moving it from the van to your room and sometimes there’s even staff to help with that. Generally there’s a sidewalk and you can roll it but sometimes it might be a dirt track. I’ll have a rolly bag myself and am not sure whether I’ll use one with a convertible backpack or not.
Victorinox indeed made a mistake on their latest bags. I’ve gone back to Eagle Creek and also have a Timbuk2 Checkpoint which doesn’t have a backpack but seems to be a great bag. Here’s a blog post about some carry-on bag options.
Q. Do you usually take your drivers license with you on trips where you aren’t planning on driving? Or just rely on your passport, or get an International Drivers License as another form of ID?
A. I usually bring it just to have it with me, like a security blanket but you definitely WON’T need it.
Q. Will you be sending an updated itinerary with our overnight accomodations so we can leave it with folks at home?
A. I will be able to get the hotel info just before we depart but it is subject to change.
Q. Are evacuation and trip insurance the same?
A. Evacuation and trip insurance are separate but sometimes a company will wrap it all together. TravelGuard provides a wide range of insurance products at competitive prices. Here’s a blog post I wrote about insurance.
Q. Will we have internet access?
A. Internet cafes abound and the hotels should have computers where we can access the internet as well. Please don’t rely on this, however, because it’s sometimes a crapshoot; computers don’t work and power outages do happen. Certainly you’ll be able to regularly check in with family but I’m just setting the expectation that it won’t be like home.
Q. What are the carry-on bag restrictions?
A. Every airline is different AND some enforce their policies while others don’t. Check your airline’s website and then hope that if your bag is over their weight limit, they won’t care.