Traveling in India is a feat but can be a life-changing journey for some. Here are some of the things that make traveling in India difficult.
Language and cultural barrier
Obviously, the biggest barrier would be the language and cultural barrier that foreigners face when coming to India. Although English is an official language of India and many people speak it at least a little bit, everyday life is conducted in Hindi or another local language, of which there are many, in fact up to hundreds and thousands. So there will be times that communication will be a challenge outside of big cities, although there will always be someone who speaks English if the area has any tourists coming around.
There’s also the cultural shock of living with a lot less luxuries in India than some of us are used to. For example, having a laundry machine or toilet paper should not be taken for granted because many people in India need to handwash their clothes and prefer to use a bumgun to clean up after they go to the washroom. Also, you are expected to bargain for most things you buy, especially as a foreign tourist. Know that they will probably quote 3 times the normal price for you especially.
Lack of mobile and online payment options for foreigners
Nowadays Indians use their smartphones to pay for anything from chai to hotel rooms. Unfortunately, unless you have an Indian mobile number and bank account, this will be impossible to do for you as a foreigner. This means you have to carry cash everywhere oldschool style, and due to the prevalence of mobile payment, some shops do not have enough change to give back to you and might refuse your payment.
Not only that, but most Indian websites do not accept foreign credit cards, which means you cannot pay for and make online bookings for local buses or trains by using the popular sites and apps that Indians do to easily use such services. Usually, I asked an Indian friend to help me book a bus or train for me and I gave them cash instead.
Fake reviews and scams
Fake reviews are a problem everywhere, but in India especially, there seems to be a lot of paid fake reviews for better ratings for restaurants, hotels, buses, you name it. So take any reviews or ratings you see with a grain of salt, and if you see inconsistent reviews that are a weird of mix of either excellent or horrible, then you can probably guess that the perfect ratings are fake, especially if they all seem quite similar in content and style.
Different prices for foreigners
Although living in traveling in India is still considered quite cheap compared to other destinations, expect to pay a more expensive price, usually 3 times the price, as a foreigner, no matter where you’re from or what you do. You can bargain, but you will usually not succeed in lowering the price for too much because they expect automatically you to pay more for the same things.
Traveling in India comes with a precaution especially for solo travelers and more if you are a female traveler. While being generally careful and using your common sense when getting around will keep you out of trouble, do be more alert in touristy, crowded places, due to pickpockets, and please avoid areas that are known to be dangerous or shady. It’s better to not take too much chances as a foreign traveler wandering around in a country as big and diverse as India.
So here are the reasons that I think that traveling in India as a foreigner is a bit difficult. But despite these obstacles, it is so worth it as you get to understand the life and unique challenges that Indians face and you can experience the beautiful cultural traditions of this ancient country.
Traveling sustainably in India is not easy but manageable as with most places in the world these days. Single-use plastic waste is nearly impossible to avoid entirely and energy still comes mostly from fossil fuels. Having said that, India still has some environmental awareness happening in the urban areas, and infrastructure does exist in the countryside to cater to these eco-conscious clients. Some parts of the countrysides are fast disappearing though, as new developers rush in to build cottages and apartments for more economic development while in the process, nature continues to disappear in favor of buildings, roads, and bridges.
All hope is not lost however. Anywhere you go, you have the option to choose more sustainable ways of living, so first let’s cover the basics here, and then we can move on to the India specific ways to be a Eco Champion.
Always carry a sack, water bottle, and some cutlery (including straw).
I think this may be one of the most important ways to be sustainable while traveling, and a good habit to have even when you’re staying at your hometown. This will allow you to avoid plastic bags, water bottles, and single-use plastic cutlery and straws, which tends to happen a lot if you are traveling and eating outside. Still you cannot really avoid the plastic cups, plates, and other items usually found at touristy places, but at least you did what you could do to avoid it as much as possible.
Eat more natural and plant-based foods.
Choosing what and where to eat can have a a big impact in the long-run as it is something we do several times per day. If you choose to eat natural, plant-based foods, such as vegetarian meals, fruits, and water in the restaurants, as opposed to packaged foods such as chips, soda, and delivery food items on the regular, then you generate much less waste and energy, not to mention that it is much better for your health and your body will look and feel great.
Fortunately, India is a great place for vegetarian options and many shops sells good-quality food at affordable prices. Although it is tempting to order in from time to time, you can do so sparingly or choose restaurants that will use more sustainable form of packaging such as reusable containers or paper instead of plastic. Try to avoid plastic waste as much as possible, although I know that nowadays it is virtually impossible to do so 100%. Every action counts and forming a habit of sustainability will make it easier to make the right conscious choices in time.
Travel slow and by train or bus, not flight.
Plan to travel slow or go into depth with a few places, and not just zip around to see the most amount of tourist attractions in the shortest time possible. You can choose the general area you would like to visit in India, such as the jungly south, or the mountainous north, the well-populated center, or to more exotic locations in the west and northeast. Try to explore each region as much as possible before taking public transportation to the next destination. While bus and train rides in India are fun, they are not always available, and planes and taxis might be the only options to take. But with some careful planning and coordination with other travelers, you may be able to save money as well as CO2 emissions during your trip.
Choose eco-friendly places to stay.
When looking for places to stay, choose the establishments that have the keywords for sustainability, eco-friendly, etc. They should provide filtered water to cut down on plastic bottles, they might use renewable energy such as solar panels for some of their energy consumption, and they should have a good waste disposal system, such as recycling, or composting food waste, functional water treatment systems, etc.
Those were the ways that you can travel more sustainably in India, as well as anywhere else for that matter. Specifically in India, you could opt to go for a longer trip getting a 1-year visa or longer if possible, and avoid the very touristy regions such as Himachal Pradesh state near the Himalayas during the peak seasons or Goa during the winter months, which will be better for your wallet also. Explore less developed regions by going further than others and experience the real life in India whether it be city or village.
I have traveled to 41 countries so far in my life, I’m currently writing from my 41st country, India.
Whenever I had the chance to travel I did. I chose opportunities in different countries to study, work, or otherwise visit friends and family. I studied in China, and I worked in Kenya and Mexico. These experiences really impacted me deeply, enriched my life, and ultimately made me the person that I am today.
Now I can say that I am a bit tired of traveling actually, and I am more interested in growing myself and creating something rather than seeing new places. The journey has become much more internal rather than external.
But nevertheless, these experiences taught me so much about life and myself, so let me share with you the 5 things that I learned while traveling 41 countries.
- People are mostly the same everywhere.
I mean of course we look different, talk differently, wear different clothes, and eat different foods, and we have different habits and customs. That’s what makes travel interesting, to see vastly different landscapes and people which fascinate you.
But at the end of the day, we all want the same things and feel and react to the same things no matter where we are. Most people care about eating and sleeping well, their friends and family, their business, their community, and the usual things. It doesn’t matter if they live in France or China, or India, or anywhere else for that matter. People everywhere are quite simple actually, and we are more alike than we think.
2. We have become very homogeneous due to internet and travel
Due to the spread of smartphones, social media, and YouTube, as well as globalization and mass tourism, you can see similar cultural elements such as Western food, drinks, clothing, and architecture, which we rapidly adopted from the last century or so, almost anywhere you go.
You can see avocado toast, pasta, pizza, and coffee, in almost any tourist spot in the world you visit, you will see most people in t-shirts and jeans as opposed to traditional wear, and cities tend to have the familiar concrete roads, infrastructure, and buildings as its basic foundation. The media we consume has also become quite homogeneous due to YouTube and Netflix, which makes us more connected (which I think is great), but also makes all of us similar in thought and unoriginal.
While this may dampen the experience of a hardcore traveler, I think it forces us to appreciate the differences that do still exist in our cultures due to the long history and traditions from which we came from. For example, people may wear the same t-shirt and jeans attire everywhere, but the kind of styles and brands and accessories that people wear can be quite different according to different regions.
3. We are all plagued by similarly grave environmental problems
Anywhere I went, the roads and waterways were plagued with plastic waste and cities were suffering from polluted air, water, and land due to rapid economic development, to differing degrees of course. Each country deals with it in the best way that it can but it is an overwhelming problem that just cannot be effectively grasped while we still remain in our conventional economic development model.
4. People are generally kind to guests and strangers when given the chance.
I have been shown great kindness everywhere I go, from being given directions, to free food, or even just a nice smile and a hello from curious locals. People love to show their country’s culture to other people, and to share the most wonderful things about their communities. I am always very grateful and pleasantly surprised when I travel due to the generosity that the local people show without expecting anything in return.
5. You cannot run away from yourself.
This lesson I learned near the end of my travels, which is that no matter where I go, there is one thing that is always constant and that’s me. Traveling was a thrill-seeking hobby for years, and it allowed me to grow so much personally, by seeing gorgeous landscapes, and learning about the different ways people live and think around the world. But eventually the newness of traveling became old news, and it no longer gave the same thrill that it once did, and I could not help but face myself and all the issues that I have within.
When I was forced to face myself and found that there were things I was not accepting about myself and my life, this naturally caused me great suffering and I was forced to accept them and to do something about them if I wanted to become a better person and live a better life.
Only when I was willing to accept myself fully could I allow my natural self to emerge, in whatever form she wanted to present herself to me and the universe.
So here are the 5 big things that I learned while traveling. What about you? What are some lessons you learned while traveling?
Life has led me to Swasti Yoga Center in Pune, India.
It was my first time trying out Workaway. I messaged a handful of hosts and hoped that I could find a good host so I could have a nice volunteering experience somewhere in India.
When Dr. Vikas Choethe from the Swasti Yoga Center messaged me back and suggested a zoom call, I could feel that there was genuine interest in his side to host me and that was what really convinced me come to Pune.
Not to mention that I had been fostering a deep interest in yoga for the past few years, due to my health issues and long-term depression/ feeling of purposeless in life.
So I wanted to go deeper into the philosophy of yoga as well as taking better care of my mental health through meditation and my physical health through balanced stretching and strengthening of my muscles.
The first day I arrived to the Swasti Yoga Center, Dr. Vikas showed me to my room and introduced me to his sweet family of 7. Each of them were so helpful to me and made me feel very welcome to their home.
After I had some breakfast and took some rest, I went down to the Yoga Center to have a chat with Dr. Vikas. We discussed about the deeper meaning of yoga, which continues into life beyond the mat, and how it differs from religion and is more of a lifestyle which can be adopted by people from all over the world with guidelines rather than strict rules. He showed me the books he wrote on yoga for business ethics, yogic lessons from religious stories of India, and other books on yoga and food, yoga for kids, etc. We brainstormed on the many ways that I can contribute through my translations, story writing, art, and digital marketing activities in order to promote yoga and the Swasti Yoga Center to the world.
I became very excited to create art and stories during my stay here. My mind was full of ideas and I was feeling very inspired. I hoped that I would be able to bring some beauty into my surroundings through divine inspiration.
All my life I have dealt with loneliness. Ever since I was 10 years old and I had to move to the other side of the world from Korea to the United States, I felt so different from the rest. Even when I came back to Korea 5 years later, I was already too different from other Koreans. The experiences I had, the way that I understood and viewed things had changed too much from the rest of my peers. I became a perpetual alien with no real ties to any particular culture or ideology.
The older I grew, the less relatable my life became. I kept traveling, wandering, trying to find myself, each time absorbing a little bit of the cultures of the countries I lived in and visited – China, Kenya, Mexico, and many more.
I met many people in my life and most of them did not stay. Or rather, I never stayed long enough in one place for the connections to grow. I did meet many helpful and kind people who I was able to stay connected with over the years through school, work, or so-called fate. But still the loneliness was not resolved because these connections often were not deep enough to reach the soul-level of understanding and appreciation of one another.
It’s only when I met romantic partners that I could briefly dampen the feeling of loneliness for a short while. During these moments of euphoria I felt deeply understood and appreciated by another human being because their love for me allowed them to have the patience and acceptance that is otherwise impossible to expect from another person. And in return I also gave them love, understanding, and appreciation to the best of my abilities.
But alas, these euphoric moments did not last. There was a certain point in which our egos clashed and the conflict became too big to resolve and get over. We would keep having the same fights over and over on the same issue. Neither wanted to budge on their own perspective, each thinking they were in the right.
Usually when this happened, I was the one who wanted to call it quits. For me these blocks felt like an impossible wall to get over, and it was like I was banging my head over and over on hard concrete hoping that some day it would hurt less. For me, these blocks seemed to be created by their male ego not being able to see clearly, not wanting to admit where they’re wrong, and/or their desire to submit me into their way of doing/ thinking. For them, the problem was probably caused by my female ego wanting to change who they are and trying to submit them to my way of doing/ thinking.
But here’s the thing. I don’t think we can change people. People can only change when they want to, not for anyone else, but for themselves. And that’s why I often ended up leaving my partners. When we reach that point in which each person just cannot let go of their old ways of looking at things and they’d rather stick to the stories that they’ve told themselves for ages, that is when we have hit the limits of where our egos will allow for a shared universe for love to grow.
Sometimes there was simply a mismatch of what each person wanted out of the relationship. One person wanted something serious while the other was interested in something more casual. Sometimes the love just died a natural death having burned up all its passion for fuel. Otherwise life just led us in different directions. Either way things did not align for us and we had to go separate ways.
Today I realized that all these relationships that I had were not actually failures, but they simply were. A relationship does not have to last forever in order to have been a ‘successful’ one. There is actually no need to judge a relationship as good or bad, a success or failure, but simply to accept it for what it was. And to be thankful for these people that came into our lives to teach us something, to make us feel so intensely alive and to help us forget at least for a short while how truly alone we are in this big, wide universe. And in those moments when we find ourselves alone again, then at least we can write to our heart’s content so that we may share our thoughts with the world hoping that someone out there will empathize and perhaps we can feel just a little bit less alone.