Our holidays to India are only weeks away and so planning should be underway – time to think of obtaining your visas and any medication or inoculations and don’t forget you will need comprehensive travel insurance. Don’t leave these three important ‘things to do’ until the last moment, or you might run out of time! Once you have these in place take 2 photocopies of all your essential travel documents – one to leave with friends or relatives at home, and a spare set to carry with you stored separately from the originals,
Do read my earlier blog on “What to pack when travelling abroad”
When I asked my doctor what injections we would need, he suggested that as we are all different, we should each contact the specialist nurse in our own local clinics who will be able to advise and procure the necessary inoculations. He did suggest taking some Imodium for the inevitable ‘Delhi Belly”.
Make sure that if you are on any prescription drugs that you get enough to take with you to cover you for the whole time you are away and it is advisable to take about 25% more than you need, in case of emergency, planes being delayed etc. Do make sure that you pack these in your hand luggage, just in case your suitcase should get lost or delayed. You can take medicines into India as long as you carry the prescription with you. Drugs are illegal in India, and there is a minimum sentence of 6 months for possession of small amounts deemed for personal consumption and a minimum 10 year sentence for possession of other amounts.
A small quantity of analgesic tablets, and anti diarrhoea tablets, a few ‘band aids’ for minor cuts; ‘corn plasters’ in case you should get any blisters, Obviously the hotel or local tour guide will handle anything more serious. Paracaetamol or similar pain killers are a useful standby and I will be taking a couple of tubes of effervescent Vitamin C tablets to add to my bottled water – makes it a little more palatable and also help keep any colds at bay. Also a small sewing kit for minor repairs is useful
If you have trouble sleeping hang onto the eye mask and earplugs that the airline will provide. If you have a good set of earphones do take them with you for the flight, but make sure that you have a universal ‘jack’ that will fit any airline as they do vary.
LUGGAGE AND EQUIPMENT
Luggage – don’t take too much and remember that you only have two hands with which to deal with all your items. I take a ‘pull along’ hand baggage, a small handbag or mini ruckssack and one reasonably solid suitcase which when fully packed usually weighs in under 23kgs and I find that the type that have four wheels are easy to push alongside you rather than those with only two wheels which you have to drag. No point in buying really expensive luggage – they only attracts thieves and they will get just as ‘trashed’ as any other suitcase by the airlines and luggage handlers. Tie, or tape, some brightly coloured indentification to your case so that you can easily spot it on the carosel or in the piles of luggage in the hotel foyer.
Aim to only half fill your suitcase as you are bound to want to buy something whilst you are away – clothes, souvenirs, pashmina etc., and if your suitcase is packed to the brim before you start, you will have nowhere to put anything else. Porterage will be included in your travel package for one suitcase each, but if you have more, then you will have to pay the extra porterage yourself on the additional luggage. Porterage happens everywhere in India – from the airport to the taxi or transfer vehicle; to the train station; into the hotel; onto the coach – wherever you are moving from one place to another might involve three or four transfers of luggage in just one day! Don’t think you will be able to do it all yourself – you won’t – as a group you will be ushered into the hotels, onto the coach, train etc and the luggage all gets handled elsewhere. Tipping I will come onto later as a separate item.
You are allowed fairly generous hand baggage on international flights
BA – Checked baggage – Economy – 1 suitcase -23kgs – and two items of hand baggage – an announcement made 1st August says BA is cutting the size of the second ‘personal’ bag to 40x30x15cm – – for full details go to –
Emirates allow 30 kilos for checked baggage and one piece of hand baggage.
Economy Class customers are permitted one piece of carry-on baggage, either a handbag or laptop bag, that may not exceed 22 x 15 x 8 inches (55 x 38 x 20cm) and must weigh no more than 15lb (7kg).
Note: For customers boarding in India, the size of carry-on baggage may not exceed 45.3 total inches or 115cm (length + width + height).
Pack a change of clothes in your carry on baggage, so that at least you have something clean to put on when you get to your destination, just in case your main suitcase is delayed or lost – it has happened to me twice. As mentioned before put any medications in as well, but remember that any tube or bottle must be presented in one plastic bag for security inspection at the airport. Ladies, this applies to makeup, nail polish, suntan lotion etc. – just last month my sister was flying back to France and lost half her makeup because it would not all fit into the airline allocated plastic bag. The airline will give you a toothbrush and mini toothpaste on board, so pack your larger tube of toothpaste, your deodorants, shaving cream etc. into your main baggage along with your insect repellant, suntan lotions etc. for you won’t need them on the flight – remember any aerosols also have to be packed in the main suitcase. Most importantly, any penknives, scissors or sharp instruments must not be carried in your hand baggage – I had a pair of tweezers confiscated in Vietnam! I asked why and was informed they were ‘too sharp”
If you are taking a laptop, ipad or tablet, or any other sort of computer equipment you will have to take it out of your hand baggage at the airport and present it separately at security, so make sure it / they are readily accessible. Do ensure that all your pieces of equipment are fully charged, for if (on request) they cannot be turned on at the airport they may be confiscated. That applies for your return flight as well. Plugs and cables should be kept (where possible) with the laptop, phone etc. that they belong to – again just in case your main suitcase goes missing.
Electricty in India is 230 volts, so those of you coming from Canada or USA, you will need to make sure any of your equipment will take that voltage rather than the 110v you have at home. Plug sockets tend to be 3 pin but they are round – so you will need at least one adaptor for charging anything electrical, and make sure you take it with you when you unplug your equipment before moving onto the next hotel.
Camera – take lenses, spare batteries, cards, USB memory sticks etc. as you will be taking lots of photos. I download my camera every day onto a separate hard drive, or USB stick so that I can keep my camera empty for the next lot of photographs. Good idea to save them online to your personal ‘icloud’, dropbox etc., in case your camera is stolen or you loose all your gear! Most of the hotels witll have wifi, even if it is only in the reception areas and if not, we can always end up in a “Macdonalds”! – they always offer free wifi.
Pack your reading glasses, ear phones(if you are taking them), book, kindle, etc. that you want for your flight into your hand baggage so that you can easily access them when you board the plane (I put them all into one plastic or cloth bag inside my hand baggage) – for there is nothing worse than having sat down having stowed your hand baggage overhead (and maybe not even above your own seat) than to find that you haven’t got your crossword puzzle, game, book etc. and then having to disturb everyone around you whilst you get your hand baggage down and root around for the items you require.
Handbags – I only carry two – a very small one for day or evening wear into which fits my passport, notebook and pen, phone and purse with local currency. The other is a small foldable rucksack for day trips – it is zipped, so hard for pickpockets to penetrate, and if I feel it is necessary, I wear it on my front, rather than my back. It is big enough to carry a local currency purse, a small bottle of water, raincoat or jumper, mini iPad, phone and head scarf. I always leave my passport in the hotel safe and just carry a photocopy of it with me at all times.
You’ll be arriving in India on the cusp of a seasonal change in the weather, between the very end of the Monsoon Season, and the beginning of Autumn. Indians consider that by November its winter, but it’s all relative and Europeans shouldn’t find it uncomfortably cold in the places you’ll be visiting. Nevertheless, ladies will be wise to pack a light sweater or woolen jumper and a pashmina type shawl (plenty to choose from when you get there) because it can get chilly in the evenings, which is especially noticeable if its been a warm day. Similarly, gentlemen should pack light sweater and also a light woolen scarf. It will roll up nicely and won’t take up much room in your suitcase.
In southern and central India it doesn’t usually get cold, so if that is where you will spend most time, think “hot and humid”. (I will discuss clothing more fully later) If visiting the North, its bracing, rather than cold, and it may be misty in the foothills or even raining later in the year, so a lightweight raincoat or anorak to keep off any showers is worth packing. I purchased an inexpensive nylon anorak with a hood from my local garden centre. I can roll it up tight into its own pocket and pack it in a corner of my suitcase. Don’t bother with a deluxe sailing or hillwalking jacket. Too expensive and too bulky. Personally I don’t to take a coat at all – just a long cardigan and the pack-a-mac – mainly for wearing on the airplane.
There are plenty of websites you can access for climate conditions– this is a particularly good one as you can search city by city http://www.weatherbase.com/weather/weather.php3?s=422950&cityname=Darjeeling-India
The basic rule: you are not allowed to take rupees in or out of India. That means that you will need to obtain some currency upon arrival, rather than sorting it out in advance. The safest way is to take a mixture of cards and cash.
There are various methods for obtaining the local currency
Debit Card – You can use your bank card in any ATM machine, but do advise your bank that you will be travelling in India or it may be declined.
Also check what your Bank charges for withdrawals, as some banks add a hefty fee each time you make a withdrawal. One risk is that your card might be cloned in an ATM machine so do check your bank statements for any unauthorized use.
Credit Cards – very useful for purchases, as it protects you against faulty goods, supplier going bust etc, but to obtain currency, you will definitely be charged a fee – up to 3%. Find a Credit Card that will not charge you a fee for overseas purchase transactions – I use a Post Office Credit Card when travelling for that very reason, but I always have my Amex card as a fall back as well as my Bank Debit Card.
Traveller’s Cheques – these are now considered ‘old fashioned’ and sometimes there are difficulties with cashing them, even some of the larger hotels won’t change them, and there may not even be a bank in the neighbourhood and if it is out of banking hours when you run out of money, then you will be out of luck!
PrePaid Travel Cards – these are becoming very popular, but be aware that Prepaid cards are not eligible for protection under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. These cards can be obtained either as a ‘Pay as you go” or with a monthly charge, however, do pay attention to the charges and the redemption fee for transferring back into sterling. Caxton’s global card offers a flat rate of £1.50, but others can be higher. With one of these cards there is no risk of thieves getting into your bank account and Prepaid cards offer the added benefit of locking in the initial exchange rate for the duration of use,
Caxtons http://www.caxtonfx.com – says you can use your card at over 35 million outlets and ATM’s worldwide where MasterCard is accepted.
The Indian ICICI Bank is offering a Rupee Travel Card and you don’t need an account with them in order to obtain one – just link your current bank account in order to transfer funds onto the ICICI UK travel card http://www.icicibank.co.uk/personal/travel_card.page
Centtrip www.centtrip.com offers a single prepaid MasterCard that can be used to pay in 14 currencies at the actual live currency rates, rather than incurring a bank’s conversion charges. Consumers pay one fixed annual fee of £10 and 0.5 per cent of the value of funds. Don’t know if the currency includes Rupees
Moneysupermarket.com – This site shows a whole range of prepaid multicurrency cards with all the charges and fees listed, so well worth researching to get the right travel card.
Cash – very easy to change into Rupees, as there are moneychangers everywhere, but under no circumstances change money in the street. Because of Britain’s cultural connections with India Sterling works well, although US$ work equally well. Take clean (ideally new) notes in £5, £10 and £20 denominations. You probably won’t need too much, because prices in India are low – so long as you avoid high-end places. You can change money very easily in all sizeable towns and cities, and it is worth shopping around a little for the best rate. In resorts and other tourist areas, many shops will also change money. Use the Hotel’s safe to keep your valuables under lock and key.
Try to keep exchange receipts (or ATM receipts) because you will need them if you seek to change rupees back to sterling at the end of your trip. But in practice it is much easier simply to change money little and often during your trip, so that by the end of it you are down to zero.
Always a question travellers ask! – Tipping is part of the tourism industry in India. Anyone offering you a service will expect a tip. These include your driver, guide, hotel porters etc. In a restaurant a 10% tip will be expected.
As we will be travelling as a group, it will be a lot easier for all conceerned for me to hold a “kitty” and work with the local agent on a daily basis what is required – that way you should have your hand in your pocket only on a few occasions where you personally want to give a tip for excellent service., or if you are off doing something on your own!
Before we get to India I will work out with indus Experience how much each of you should put into the “kitty” at the start of the trip, and if there is any left over at the end, decide how we distribute it.
An approximate currency conversion rate
£1 Sterling = 100 Rupees
1 $US = 70 Rupees.
1 Canadian $ = 50 Rupees
1 Aus $ = 50 Rupees
1 NZ $ = 43 Rupees
As a very general guideline, Indus offer the following suggestions about expected tipping amounts:
Local Guides: Rs.200 for half-day sightseeing & Rs.300 for full day sightseeing.
Drivers: Rs.200 for full day in a particular city. For longer trips over several days, Rs.200-300 per day. This should be given to the driver as a lump sum at the end of the trip.
Hotel Porter: Rs.20-50 per porter.
Railway Porters: Rs.20-30 per bag.
The above-mentioned amounts are simple guidelines for minimum expected tips but in case of excellent services rendered by any individual it is at your discretion to tip more. Similarly, in case of unexpected bad service, you need not tip at all.
When visiting temples and other religious places, a small offering is usually made. An enthusiastic priest might suggest you donate Rs100, but you will see that most worshippers give coins or small notes.
More about what clothing to take will be in the next blog