My Guide to India
After months of writing, organizing, and going over thousands of reader questions, it’s finally ready! The first and last guide to India you’ll ever need from my 6+ years living and traveling here.
Some say you haven’t really traveled until you’ve been to India. It’s a shock to the senses and maybe the most unique country in the world with dozens of religions, hundreds of languages, and over a billion people.
As you move state to state, things change drastically (in a good way!).
One minute its camel rides in the desert with men in white with long mustaches, then you’re in a yak in the Himalayas eating Tibetan momos, later a tiger safari in the dense jungle, exploring rolling tea fields, meeting tribal people in rural villages, shopping and eating street food in the busiest cities in the world, and sipping coconuts on the beaches – India has SO much to do and see.
People tend to put India off. They are nervous or afraid to come here. When you overcome that fear you get the greatest reward, which is seeing the best of India.
Who am I?
On my very first trip to India, in 2012, I came here alone with my backpack and a camera. Back then, I didn’t even travel with a phone or internet.
I had traveled in Europe a lot, had been to Uganda, and was looking for a little bit of culture shock. I left my job as a nurse in Charlotte, NC after a year and thought “I need something to shake my life up!”. I wanted change – and for some reason, I felt called to India. I didn’t know any Indians, didn’t know a thing about the country and hadn’t even tried Indian food.
I flew into Mumbai, nervous, and stayed with a host on Couchsurfing. The next 3 months changed my life completely.
I did the most epic trail around India, made great friends, got intensely ill with Dengue fever, got scammed, cried happy tears (and angry ones), and with just two weeks left, I went to Goa. There, I met a drunk Brit, Ben, who has now been my boyfriend for nearly 6 years.
I knew before I left India, I’d be back. I was back here within 3 months and I’ve been here ever since. I live in Goa with Ben and our two dogs and cat, but I travel all around India from spending a month in rural Karnataka to exploring Arunachal Pradesh for two weeks.
I started my blog four years ago which has 1,000’s of posts on travel in India. Now, I earn more money blogging than I did as a nurse – so I don’t travel like a backpacker anymore (, I’m 28 years old, not 22). I prefer boutique hotels, cute havelis, and always splurge on experiences and adventures. I have seen so many sides of India as my travel style has changed.
It’s been over 6 years now that I’ve lived and traveled here. If you’d asked me what my twenties would look like as a nursing student in Ohio, I could never have predicted the kind of adventures I’d have in this beautiful paradise.
To name a few:
- Meeting India tribals: Dancing with the Soliga Tribe in the BR Hills, Eating with the Apatani Tribe deep in the barely traveled NE of India, and trying opium with Bishnoi tribals outside Jodhpur.
- Jeep rides through the epic Munnar tea fields
- Washing elephants (even a little baby one!) at a sanctuary in South India
- Riding a camel into the Thar desert and sleeping under the stars
- Staying in a real princess palace
- Going on leopard safaris through various National Parks in India – including seeing the last of the one-horned rhinos in the world
- Surfing along the coast of Goa and Kerala
- Taking art classes, Hindi classes, and learning yoga and meditation. I even became a Thai Yoga Masseuse!
- Sitting in front of the Dalai Lama while he taught me about how important a mother’s love is
Six years in, and I feel like India is a part of me and as much of a home as the USA. I’ve got many Indian friends here as well as expat friends who I know I’ll stay in touch with forever. I dream of one day having kids of my own and taking them all around India so they can have their own Jungle Book adventures!
Why did I write this guide?
I want to tell YOU how to travel India, just like I would tell my best friends. No bullshit. A guide that cuts out the riff-raff and just gets to the point, with every paragraph being an important gem of information.
Calling India home for half a decade and seeing firsthand how life and tourism here has changed since my first arrival, I can tell you most of the information about India that’s out there right now is no longer relevant. India is so much more modern than people give it credit for.
Most big travel sites are just recycling the same outdated information from each other. India has the best street food, coolest boutique hotels, and amazing nightlife – there’s so much here for the traveler that isn’t touched on in guidebooks. I wanted to make a guide that wasn’t only practical but was trendy, up to date, and basically tells you what the “cool kids” know about India.
I wrote this book because I know that it’s impossible to go through the 1000 blog posts I have on my site and you end up missing important information. If you come to India and follow a Lonely Planet, you will be missing SO much – that is just the basic backpacker hotspots and 5-star hotels. It lists the same 5 restaurants in each town for the last 10 years.
I have revisited the popular tourist’s spots in India first as a backpacker then as a blogger, investigator, photographer, and boutique-style traveler (trying all the food, shopping, hotels, and meeting with travel agents to learn everything I can). I know the places I’m talking about in the book inside and out. I also know the basic tips to traveling in India from A to Z in the back of my head.
If you see India from my point of view, you’ll fall in love with this country and likely make trips here over and over to see more!
What exactly is in this guide to India?
I’ve laid out everything I could think of in this guide, and I consulted with local friends for even more insider secrets. I then looked through thousands of emails to make sure I covered every common reader question that has been asked of me over the years. These are all the kinds of tips I’d overload my best friend with if they were coming here!
Each sub-chapter has an FAQ section where I share a handful of the most common questions; in the end, there are over 100 REAL reader Q&A’s answered. You can also expect accurate and up to date information.
After spending months writing this, I hired Sharell Cook, the best India travel writer I know, to edit the book. Not only did she make sure my spelling and grammar were on point, but she knows India insanely well and checked everything I wrote for accuracy and made sure I did not miss anything important.
This book is 100,000 words. That is longer than your average novel – but there isn’t anything that is unnecessary. These are 100,000 words you need to read about India. I promise you’ll have an epic trip with this book as your guide. Throughout the book are several handmade maps to help you understand the locations of all the top towns, activities, monuments, and itineraries.
Here’s exactly what to expect in this book:
- Chapter 1: An Introduction – More about why India is so great to travel and how I came to travel here and call it home
- Chapter 2: Before You Leave: A Journey Checklist – This chapter has multiple sub-chapters that cover tips for when to visit India, the weather changes and monsoon, dates of common festivals in India, how long to stay, flying to India and navigating the airport, e-visas and long-term visas with detailed step by step instructions, internet and WiFi, health insurance, avoiding Delhi belly, healthcare in India and vaccinations before you come, safety and cultural differences (demographics, politics, religion, languages, and more), solo female travel tips, bucket bath and the bathroom situation, packing for women and men, items to leave at home, documentation and paperwork to bring, as well as currency, tipping, and budget breakdowns as low as $20/day
- Chapter 3: Lodging in India – what lodging is like in India, popular hostel chains across the country, unique hotels, homestays, eco-resorts, treehouses, boutique hotels, and more, how to book, when to book ahead, and a $40 Airbnb discount code
- Chapter 4: Getting Around in India – train travel in India (which class to book, foreign tourist quota, tatkal, booking online), bus travel in India (booking online, sleeper buses vs. tourist buses), safety tips for transportation, flying domestically, best airlines and websites, luggage allowances, more tips on tours, taxis, Uber, metros, and rickshaws
- Chapter 5: Exploring Indian Food – ettiquette for eating in India, how to eat with your hands, types of restaurants, what to order in India by region
- Chapter 6: Best Itinerary for First Time Visitors – Breakdown of the top tourist towns, sample itineraries for both 10-days and 10-weeks which go into detail on transportation, lodging options for all budgets, where to eat, what to do, top attractions, and my special tips on each place, a section on more than a dozen places that didn’t make the cut but are amazing with the same detailed information on each of them.
- Chapter 7: Tour Company Itineraries – when a tour is better than going solo, the best company to book with, the best actual itineraries you can do with maps outlining their route
- Chapter 8: Adventure and Attractions – top forts, palaces, and monuments to see, top adventurous tours and experiences in India with links to book a tour if you want to arrange it ahead of time, the best yoga retreats and yoga teacher training programs in India – no FOMO here!
- Chapter 9: Meeting People in India – tips for making friends if you visit India as a solo traveler
- Chapter 10: Shop ‘Til You Drop – a guide to what to buy in each region of India, shopping and textile tours you can take, and how to negotiate in India
- Chapter 11: Volunteering in India – places you can volunteer that you can trust: volunteering with the community, healthcare, children, animals, workaway programs in exchange for a free lodging, as well as actually working and earning money in India
- Chapter 12: Kid-Friendly India – tips for traveling with kids in India from transportation to packing and how to deal with the extra attention from locals
- Bonus: Additional Resources – India maps, bonus tips on random things like waxing, drugs, and laundry, a summary of 100 top India tips, top books and movies about India to inspire your travel and get your pumped up, a list of all the resources and links to plan and book the trip summed up, and some of my favorite photos over the years in India with captions
- Double Bonus: Goa Ebook 50% off code Inside this book is a 50% off code for my Goa ebook which is a 170-page book with literally EVERYTHING you need to know about Goa. Read more about that book here.
Here are some of the common questions I answer:
- Is it safe to come to India alone?
- How much money do I need to save?
- What’s the best place to take a cheap yoga course?
- Where can I find the best shopping in India?
- Where can I celebrate Holi, the festival of colors?
- What vaccines do I need – will I get sick in India?
- Are there really no toilets and showers?
- My parents are worried about me going, what can I tell them?
- What’s the best tour to take if I don’t want to go alone?
- Which visa do I need to volunteer in India?
- Can I ship home the souvenirs I buy?
- What can I wear in the extreme heat and still be dressed appropriately?
- What should I pack if I want to visit the beaches, jungles, mountains, desert, and city?
The book comes in a PDF format, so you can view it from your PC, tablet, phone, Kindle– anything with a screen.
Gumroad is a 100% secure site, and I will not have any of your credit card or Paypal information. I’ve been using this website for my Goa Ebook for over a year and never had an issue with it.
Once you pay, Gumroad will send you an email with a download link. Once you’ve downloaded it to your computer, it’s yours!
For the UK and European citizens, there is VAT, which you’ll see when you check out. I believe there are no taxes for US and Indian citizens.
Bonus: I have also made sure to add an extra condensed version of the ebook (images will be blurry) to put on your phone while traveling. Instead of the 80M MB original, it’s only 4 MB. It’s just an added free bonus to the main version if you’re trying to save phone space.
What People Are Saying
“In addition to living in India for the past 12 years, and writing about India travel professionally for the past 10, I had the honor of editing this India guide. I’m honestly quite in awe of the amount of useful information it contains. Rachel has covered, in detail, everything that’s required when planning a trip to India — from how to get a visa and book trains, to where to go. What I particularly like about this guide, and what distinguishes it from many other guides, is its specific focus on solo travelers and first-time visitors to India. The destinations mentioned are the iconic ones that people always want to see, and they’re incorporated into handy itineraries. This is really helpful in deciding where to spend your time when it’s limited. There’s advice about what to expect, activities to do, and even how to meet other travelers. India is a vast and unfamiliar country, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and daunted. However, with this book, you won’t. Rachel shares all her knowledge, like a friend. It’s a must-have resource!”
— Sharell Cook, India Journey Expert for (formerly About.com India Journey)
“Rachel has over 900 posts and spent over six years in India, so she definitely qualifies as the ‘knows the territory’ angle. Men, know that this book is aimed at women (so expect to read advice on bras and birth control), but it holds plenty of advice no matter your gender. I really appreciate her casual, friendly tone, and she understands how intimidating India can be (even to a travel veteran like me!). She goes deep into food and drink safety, safety in general, and so on based on facts (“DON’T bring heels. You will NEVER wear them.”). The packing list is highly detailed and offers links to the exact products she uses herself. There’s a nice balance between recommending what to bring from abroad (when the local options aren’t as good) and what to buy once in India. From step-by-step directions for booking train travel to plenty of other great information, this is the easiest recommendation I’ve made all year.”
— Chris Backe, Journey Blogger and Book Reviewer and