India is a fascinating country, known as much for it’s ancient religious and cultural traditions, as it is for it’s remarkable economic transformations. If you really want to experience India’s stark contrasts of jungle and mega-city, Hindu meditation and Bollywood glitz, plan to stick around a while. Here’s how.
Create an Itinerary
Before spending a year in India, there are a few things that you’ll need to do in order to ensure peace of mind while making the most of your adventure. You can, of course, opt to simply drift through your visit, but most who take that approach end up feeling as if they didn’t make the most of their time. That’s why we recommend doing some advance research in order to learn how much you can realistically accomplish within the course of your year in India. Then distill what you learned into an itinerary.
Not only will it be important for you to research the many and varied regions of this large and populous country (1.2 billion people!), but also the kinds of things you want to do there, besides being a tourist. Teaching English, volunteering, writing or even studying meditation– your primary motivating activity will help to make secondary choices for you.
Learn the Basics of the Language
Tourists visiting India for just a few days can get away with ignorance of the Indian languages, because English is the second official language, after Hindi. But a person planning to stay there for an extended period of time will almost certainly experience difficulties if they don’t understand at least some of the language. No, this is not about becoming a Hindi or Gujarati expert, but you’ll at least need to be able to ask for water or other basic needs in the local language. If you are one who struggles when it comes to learning new languages, you may want to try something like the Pimsleur Approach. With a tested and proven foreign-language learning method like the Pimsleur, you won’t go wrong. You can, of course, opt to go to India without knowledge of the basics of the local languages, but chances are that you’ll have a less fulfilling experience.
Learn About the Basics of Indian Culture
India is home to ancient cultures, with many traditions alive today. Exploring such deep connections is no doubt a motivating factor for your trip. More practically, however, a culture can also be understood simply as a way of living.
When we talk of learning the basics of the Indian culture, we’re not just talking about Indian religion, dance, music and other things that are traditionally viewed as components of Indian culture. We’re also talking about aspects of everyday living: how you’re expected to relate to people, what you’ll eat, what you’ll need to wear, and how you’ll be getting around. Thanks to the Internet, this sort of learning won’t be difficult.
While you can still travel to India without such knowledge, just a little bit of study will serve you well, especially in the first few days of your stay, and will lead to a deeper and more rewarding experience. Many travelers find that cultural research is an invaluable tool, not just in learning about what to expect, but where to go in the first place.
Understand the Indian Climate
It will be important to know what weather to expect during the various seasons, for the regions you intend to visit, especially in regard to temperatures and rainfall. The idea is to avoid surprises, like when, because of the heat during the Indian summer, some foreigners end up needing to sedate themselves in order to fall asleep. Most of India is very mild and drier in winter, making it an ideal time to visit the hottest areas, while the summer can provide perfect opportunities to venture to the mountains, when the heat and monsoon rains are prevalent.
Organize your Finances and Insurance
It doesn’t cost very much to survive in India, but you still will need a fair amount of ready money, particularly if you’ll be traveling around a lot. You’ll want to set up a means to withdraw money locally from your bank account back home. Better still, you can open a local Indian bank account and transfer to it some of the funds you’ll need.
You’ll also need to ensure that you’ll be able to handle any emergencies that may arise. Chances are that you’ll not enjoy your current health insurance benefits while abroad, so you may need to buy temporary coverage from one of the Indian companies that provide it. If you don’t trust Indian insurance, you can always purchase extra coverage from one of the American insurance companies whose coverage extends abroad. Don’t forget travel insurance, too. Insurance won’t help you avoid an emergency, but if one does arise, it can help you resolve it, and avoid a financial catastrophy.
Set Up a Communications System
Making arrangements to tend to your mail while gone will ensure that you aren’t totally cut off from your ongoing obligations at home. A simple system is one in which you forward your mail to a trusted neighbor or friend who then relays pertinent information to you via email or phone. Of course, you’ll also want a web-based email account for such purposes, and you may even consider purchasing an international calling card, or cheap cell phone with an international plan. In addition to email, many long term travelers enjoy blogging about their experiences, as a way to stay in touch with loved ones, and to create a personal record of the trip.
Leave Your Belongings in Order
With preparation, it’ll be easy for you to pick up from where you left off when you eventually return home. If you’re not planning to leave your belongings in your house or apartment, consider renting space in a secure self-storage facility. You can save a lot of money by renting out your place while abroad– or just moving out of an apartment altogether. Why pay for housing that you aren’t using? Either way, you’ll feel better with your important stuff in storage. Other small valuable items, such as jewelry may be best left behind with a relative or in a safety deposit box.
Make the Necessary Immigration Arrangements
While people visiting India for just a few days normally have no problem getting tourist visas, a person keen on staying in India for an entire year will require special immigration arrangements. The Indian government is generally hospitable to foreigners, so you shouldn’t face any major challenges in acquiring proper visa, but plan ahead. All Indian travel visas are processed through a third party provider called Travisa. No special vaccinations are required, unless you’re traveling through other countries that may require a yellow fever vaccination. Regardless, always check with the Centers for Disease Control to be aware of any health advice or warnings about the areas you intend to visit. No sense being bed-ridden and miserable for weeks, if one shot could have prevented a problem.
Register With Your Local Embassy
This is something you’ll want to do immediately upon arrival in India. Locate your country’s local embassy before going, and make sure that you’re registered with it. U.S. Department of State has a Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in which all American travelers should register, for important news, as well as support in the event of a problem.
Discovering new and enriching life experiences on the other side of the world need not be such a formidable undertaking, so long as you carefully and thoroughly plan ahead.