India - Delhi - 041 - Narrow streets of Old DelhiImage by mckaysavage via Flickr

1. Prepare well in advance of your trip. We are a huge and diverse country and the Four Zones- East, West, South and North - are all fairly different from each other. In fact, each of the States are very different from each other.

2. Decide on two things upfront- the duration of the trip and the budget you want to set for yourself. These will form the basis of all the planning.

3. If your trip duration is anything less than 10 days I would not suggest visiting more than one part of India. It will not give you an opportunity to really experience the place unless you want to do one of those run from here to there, listen to a guy talking really superficially about a place and then get into a bus to rush to the next place kind of trips.

4. Decide on where to go depending on the time you will be visiting as this governs what the best places would be to visit during that time.

5. Find an indian friend- We are spread across the globe and pretty much most people would have an indian colleague. Take their advice on places to do, things to see and maybe friends to hang out with in the cities you are visiting.

6. Think of interesting things to do in India that you can take back with you when you head back. This will make your trip really memorable. My picks would be doing a yoga course, or else doing a course on Indian food, culture or else learning a new sport - Scuba Diving, Golf are both quite nice sports to pick up in India. Doing something like this will let you make friends in the city you are visiting and give you a chance to socialize among the locals and learn about India like no other way.

7. Carry modest clothes. Being a foreigner in India means you will attract attention. It's best to dress modestly so you are not bugged by random beggars and roadside Romeos ;-) Trust me, you don't want to be romanced by these guys.

8. Try and visit with a romantic other or else a friend. Two is the best way to travel to India as you will find many situations where having a friend who can stand in line while you make enquiries or to hold the fort while you haggle is very useful.

9. Carry a cheap GSM cell phone. Prepaid service in India is dirt cheap and international SMS is supported no matter where you travel within the country. Get a prepaid SIM card the day you land and ensure you give it to your family back home. Save them the stress of not being able to contact you. Internet cafes btw are not so easily accessible and the speed can be a real drag.

10. Bring along a ton of passport photocopies and printed passport sized photographs. You tend to need them for a variety of purposes in India - e.g. getting your SIM card, signing an agreement with a Vacation rental landlord, using a cyber cafe etc.

11. Travel with limited clothes and budget for having to buy some indian outfits on your first night in the country.

12. Try and enter the country through a big city like Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore. Stay for a day there - these are all exciting places. Use the first day there to spend some time in a big shopping center - These are the names - Shopper's Stop, Pantaloon, Fabindia etc. where you can buy good quality indian clothes so that you can travel around comfortably.

13. Carry some of your fav. foods that will survive being on the road without airconditioning for many days :-)

And finally,
Relax.. Expect to learn new things and to experience one of the world's most vibrant, colorful and unique countries!!
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Tennis courts in Arad, IsraelImage via Wikipedia

So you've decided you want to take a real vacation and live in a homestay. Having lived frequently in homestays - here are some of my recommendations:-
  • Ensure you have communicated clearly with the owner how you are going to get to his place and that you have a detailed map (including important landmarks) as well as a local phone number etc. that you can call in case you get lost. It's advisable to print this out and carry it on your person as opposed to in your luggage or to be dependent on accessing it from your mailbox. Roaming may frequently not work and you don't want to be opening your bags or stranded in case your bags are lost.
  • Take some time to research the locality where the homestay is located and how to get to places around the same. This is where the owner can really help and I would suggest you also check out blogs as well as forums where you can interact with other travelers.
  • Carry your fav. toiletries even if the homestay owner says he will provide them. My experience is that the quality though better than the three star hotels in India may still not meet the needs of a true luxury traveler. I prefer to carry my own.
  • Research the weather before you go and carry appropriate clothes.
  • While most homestays will give you a fully functional kitchen, I prefer cooking light (mainly breakfast) and enjoying the nightlife outside at the most recommended restaurants. These can be shortlisted through or else for the major cities through Burrp and TimeOut magazine. A good breakfast can easily be rustled up with commonly available ingredients depending on where you are - my recommendation would be to visit a grocery on your first day and get bread, milk, tea bags or coffee, eggs, some veggies (for a salad) and maybe some pasta (or maggi!!) A heavy breakfast means you can snack for lunch and eat out in the evenings like a king.
  • Depending on the facilities and where you are going, take along your jogging shoes, tennis racquet or swimming trunks. You don't want to be living in a place with a nice swimming pool and then having to go buy a pair of trunks to use them for a day.
  • Plan your days and ensure that the maid and the home owner is on the same schedule as you. Most tourist destinations have times and it's always better to beat the crowd so you don't want to be stuck at home waiting for the maid to come. I usually find it's unnecessary to have the place cleaned everyday and so if it is inconvenient me and my wife will ask the maid to come only once in 2-3 days.
  • Ask around if the place is safe to walk to late at night. If you don't get a enthusiastic go-ahead always take a rickshaw or taxi to the door i.e. to the lobby in case it is a gated complex or else inside the gate if is a building. Some places may require you to wait at the gate while the watchman opens it for you late at night and so request the taxi driver to wait till he does so. It's usually safe but waiting in the dark and in a lonely place can be scary for anyone.
  • If the place you are staying in does not have broadband, then it is also helpful to locate a convenient cybercafe from where you can check your email and keep your family and friends posted about how your vacation is going.

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backyard swimming poolImage via Wikipedia

1. Proximity to public transportation.
2. 24/7 hot water
3. Comfortable bed rooms.
4. Depending on the weather and the location, airconditioning.
5. For longer working vacations, availability of broadband internet.
6. Gym/ Swimming Pool.
7. Showers!!
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Living roomImage via Wikipedia

Some quick reasons why everyone should stay in a homestay instead of a hotel:-
1. Visit some of the most beautiful places.
2. Live in more spacious quarters - a typical homestay will have a kitchen as well as a living room.
3. Meet interesting people - the owners of a homestay are usually smart people who can guide you to places to see and things to do that would be difficult to know if you were not a local.
4. Live for more extended periods in a place. There is nothing like a homestay to get a feel of a place and whether you would be comfortable living there for a longer time. e.g. If you were being asked to move to Pune, it would be smart to live there for a week or 10 days to experience the place beforehand.
5. Budget - Most homestays would cost less than half the price of comparable hotels.

So what are you waiting for?
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