Traveling around India is a fascinating experience, but also a challenging one. Many things that we normally take for granted or that are normally hassle-free activities can transform in incredibly complicated actions to perform. Even if I do think that this is, in part, the real charm of India, I would have appreciated a well-written guide on how to perform these kinds of practicalities.
[I will be updating this post while I travel! Stay tuned as I will be adding new Tips&Tricks. If you don’t find something, you can ask me and I will do my best to help you]
- Getting a prepaid SIM Card.
This is the easiest one. You need:
– Copy of passport (your details)+copy of the page of the passport with visa/stamp
– ID/Passport format photo
– Money to pay upfront
I personally chose Vodafone because it was the best in terms of reception and deal (got 2 months SIM with 4GB per day for 650Rs!!). You will be given the SIM and the SIM will activate the night at 21.00. Ask them to make the activation happen automatically. You can start seeing the signal coming and some SMS. If your SIM is not activating, you might have to dial a number that is on your SIM package or to switch your phone off and back on. In any case, it’s better if you buy the SIM in a place where you stay for 2 days, so if something goes wrong you can come back to the shop the next day and ask for help.
DON’T buy it at the airport! they will rip you off. Check with people around you first, what carrier they have and what is the best signal. In general, prepaid SIMs are CHEAP. If what they offer sounds expensive, it is probably a scam.
- Renting a Scooter & Driving
One of the nicest things about regions such as Goa and Kerala is that you can rent a scooter or a bike and drive relatively easily since traffic is not as tragic as in other parts of the country. However, there are some things to consider.
– Many places will ask you to leave your passport there. DO NOT. Your passport is more important than your money. Is the single thing you don’t wanna mess up with. Do not leave it to anyone. You can offer to leave a copy, a national ID if you have one, some money as a deposit. But DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PASSPORT. Keep searching and negotiating until you find a good option. Many times the solution is renting from the hotel you are staying at, friends of the family of the guesthouse you are staying at, friends of friends, etc. In other words: you need to convince the person that you are not gonna steal the scooter or destroy it and disappear.
– In theory, you should have an international driver license. If you don’t, you can get a fine. In theory, you should wear a helmet (I do) even if people don’t. If you get stopped, you can get a fine.
– don’t drink and drive, let alone get high and drive, transport drugs etc. It is illegal and they can put you IN JAIL for this kind of stuff. I mean, come on, it’s not worth it, right? Be smarter.
– You should honk A LOT. I am Italian, so for me, learning the Indian use of the horn was quite straightforward: your horn is your street language. You honk for telling people to move, that you are approaching, that you are taking over, to signal your presence from a blind spot before a curve… and so on. It is NOT optional, it is actually SAFE to use it, it’s just the way people get around here. Don’t be shy :-)!
– In India, you drive on the left side. No problem if you are a Brit, an Aussie, etc… a big problem if you aren’t. Make some mental notes before you drive. TAKE IT SLOW. SLOW. AND SLOW! Observe the traffic and find some reference points. I wear a red bracelet on my left wrist to remember to keep left, and it really helps me because I mess up with left and right on a daily basis.
- Shipping a Parcel
Now, this is some real fun. If you stay for a long time, you may want to ship some stuff home, especially if you are backpacking but want to buy things for your house like rugs, singing bowls, statues, clothes, gifts… whatever. You may think it’s easy, but it’s not. It’s easy only once you know how to :-P.
– Get a box. Ask shops, restaurants, your hotel, whatever. People receive parcels every day, you will easily find one. Make sure it’s in good conditions.
– Get strong tape + get some soft stuff to wrap your items around (I simply wrapped it around with clothes
– Put everything in the box and tape it like no tomorrow. DO NOT try to save tape. Tape it in all possible directions, do many rounds and fix all holes.
– Here the real jam starts: ask around and find a tailor/a clothes shop who is willing to prepare boxes for shipping. YES. YES, I DID WRITE TAILOR. Bare with me.
– Get the box to the tailor and say that you need to ship it. They will automatically know what to do, but in case you see doubt in their eyes, this is what you need: you need the box to be wrapped up with white cotton cloth and the cloth to be stitched and sewed all around the box tightly. Imagine you want to have a tight, sealed ‘sock’ around the box. YES. I swear this is what you want. If you don’t do this, they will refuse to take the box at the post office: you can take it there without this at your own risk.
– Write the receiver address big and clear and the sender address (you) on the smaller side. You are requested to put a local address as the sender (I put my yoga school’s address.
– prepare a photocopy of your passport
– take everything to the post office and fill in the customs form you will be given. You have to declare what’s inside and the value.
– You will be given a receipt with a tracking code you can use: please, make sure that you can read it properly, otherwise get a picture of the code and barcode on the sticker that they will put on the box!
– It will cost you around 300RS per kg to ship, and it gets cheaper after the first 10 kgs.
- Getting cash when your card doesn’t work with local ATM.
Some EU/US credit or debit cards may not work in India because they have a special protection feature which doesn’t allow you to withdraw money from an ATM that is not compliant with certain safety levels. Even this is obviously a good thing in theory, in practice, it’s a disaster because you are money-less in a country where 99% of times you need cash for anything you want to do. How to fix this problem quickly?
First of all, you should decide if you wanna call your bank home or try to see if you can manage this yourself (sometimes you can, through your home banking portal) and if you actually want to unlock this safety tool. But there is a way to get emergency cash: go to a local travel agency or a tourist office and tell them that you would like to get cash from them through a payment because ATM doesn’t let you withdrawal any. Many will be happy to let you do that and they charge you more or less the same money that the bank would (2% circa). What you are doing is basically a fake payment: you swipe your card a certain amount and they give it to you in cash. Count your money well and make sure you agree on the ‘fee’ that they are gonna charge you BEFORE you proceed.
Remember, this is an EMERGENCY plan, try to fix your banking issues properly before you keep on traveling: you never know what can happen and if you find someone who is willing to do this again later in your trip.
I hope this was useful and please let me know if you had different experiences or if you want to know something more etc!
Remember, be kind strangers 🙂