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Don't go to India!....

It's my third time, second travelling solo in India - I say solo, not alone, because in a country of 1.2 billion people it's not that often I am alone - My Dad worries every time. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but one of my nicknames is Chaos and they say like attracts like, so maybe that's what brings me back?

I’m sure this blog will be of some use to those planning a trip wanting to know the practical bits of getting around India and answer a few FAQs I get asked e.g. did you get the squits? What was it like travelling alone? Was the food good? Do you get lonely? I will also reminisce at times as this is my third trip to India – 2009 to explore and trek high mountains in the North, 2019 on a sabbatical from high school teaching to learn to teach yoga and meet the Dali Lama. And this time 2023 to be warm, learn to surf, learn more about yoga, massage and art.

I’m hoping to just relate my experiences and let you decide for yourself what suits you – you live in your body, you know your mind and comfort zone. If you don't, India will help you find out!

I’m sure you will think of question I haven’t answered so feel free to email/ message and pick my brains. Please read the info below first.

When I was a tour guide I would write an A4 sheet giving times of dinner and other practical information and would tell people on the first day of the trip “if you ask me a question that is answered in the sheet I will tell you to go look at the sheet” because, as much as I enjoy telling the 50th person in a day “dinner is at 6.30am, yes, you can wear thongs” – that one is for the Aussies – eventually my voice will shrivel and die and I won’t be able to tell you the best place to get Gelati in Florence, that the Vatican is closed on Tuesdays (DYOR) or my insider knowledge of sex shows in Amsterdam. Time is precious.

Previous Trips to India

2009 we flew into Calcutta, travelled up to Darjeeling, Sikkim then down to Puri, across to Kahjuro, Gujurat, Rajistan, flying out of Dehli.

2019 I flew to Dehradun, travelled down to Rishikesh, then Chennai, Pondicherry then across to Kerala and flew out of Goa

2023 I have flown into Goa, then down to Kerala and have a flight booked out of Goa in March. The places I intend to visit this time are Goa, Kerala, perhaps Coorg and Hampi… however, as previous trips (and life in general) shows these plans are very changeable! Because, as a wise woman on a bench in a small Welsh town by Bala told me “life’s not a straight line, isn’t it?” in a way that makes complete sense in a valleys accent.

Before the trip – you can choose to spend hours planning, reading and taking precise notes (in tiny writing to save weight in your bag) the 1245 pages of the lonely planet from cover to cover, you could also peruse its competitor ‘the rough guide’ compare and contrast the tops 5s and recommendations in each book of food accommodation, sights to behold, beaches, temples, shopping streets, itinerary’s and ‘don’t miss this…’ In 2009 this was my style, and I am always very grateful to each guide as their recommendations have been insightful and reassuring. These books to me are like little buoys bobbing about in a sea of uncertainty. However, I now restrain myself from this planning practice as I give myself FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and can end up rushing through a tick list rather than appreciating where I’m at. In the 2009 trip Steve experienced ‘templed out’ syndrome as I relentlessly dragged him around every temple in the book “but this might be the best one and we’ll never be back here again”.

It’s also handy to remember that recommendations are just someone’s opinion, new places pop up all of the time and its often for me the people and the mood I’m in that generates a love for a place. Your experience is your experience, and sometimes a guide can fuel a fantasy or expectation that doesn’t match the reality of what you find when you arrive.

In summary, what works for me is: plan to do activities you like, go to places that feature a bit of what you like e.g. hiking, water activities, partying, sight seeing, foodying.

Plan to do a few things out of your comfort zone, expect the unexpected, have a plan B and hope to learn something everywhere you go. What can you find or do in India that you wouldn’t get chance to experience at home?

How do you know if a trip like this is for you? Well, if you’re reading this then something in you is curious about travel. You will just decide one day to try it and see if you like it. One of my many sayings is, in the words of Jarvis Cocker “If you call your Dad you can stop it all” meaning I am aware I am a privileged, middle class white woman with family and friends that would help me if I got stuck or severely unhappy where I was and needed to go home.

Travel alone: my first solo trip was a winter round the world ticket to S. Africa, Australia, NZ, America in 2006. Later, they were during school holidays (2011 -13) when I was richer in cash but poorer in time, so I chose to be spoon-fed and took a couple of camping/trekking holidays to the Atlas mountains in Morocco and the Tour of Mont Blanc with KE and Insight. They were perfect, for me, just the right amount of organisation, time spent in each place.

I have always found… other people who are travelling, many who travel alone, happy people, sad people, seekers, finders, young and old. Things to do, transport, places to stay and eat, discarded books, clothes, other treasure, courses and information, especially in this age of internet.

What to take: travel guides can tell you all this. A couple of things that I keep bringing and a small first aid kit, pen knife, steripen (to reduce usage of water bottles) constipation medicine, emergency filling kit, a torch, contact lens stuff, money, passport, one book, phone, charging equipment including datapack. A few clothes, most of which I plan to leave. Towel, trainers & sandals. Basic toiletries. Inc insect spray.

What I’ve brought in the past and haven’t this time: things I would bring if I was North in colder temperatures -sleeping bag liner, more socks, gloves, layers. A big first aid kit the size of a mobile hospital, water sterilising tablets, mosquito net, clothes wash, a pharmacy of toiletries. Lots of clothes and undies. Christmas presents from home (thanks for the Santa outfit I carried around for 2 months Mum)

Things you can buy and find quite easily in India: toiletries; including brands you find at home and new exciting Indian brands. Confectionary, tea bags, books, SIM card, adaptors, chargers, dihorreah tablets. I can’t think of anything I’ve needed and not been able to borrow, beg or find. However, things like contact lenses and glasses that require a prescription and can be purchased here are just easier to bring from home. Also, as in 2019 I knew I had a dodgy filling so brought a small emergency kit with me just in case.

On this trip I’m not planning to do remote treks, if I was I would include a few more bits you would plan to take into the wilderness no matter where you call home.

I wish I’d packed: constipation treatments, on every trip I have experienced constipation, I’m currently drinking a horrible ayurvedic powder which is working, but I wished I had Epsom salts after the first week of clogging. UNO can’t believe I didn’t bring it!

Organise before you go: flights – this time approx. £850 return Heathrow to Goa, travel insurance (if you plan to do risky sports or trek at altitude check policy, (even for organised tours you will need insurance that covers you to be helicoptered off a mountain) volunteering placement if you are hoping to do one, although it’s easy to organise while travelling too. In 2019 I just searched online ‘volunteering India’ and took a lucky dip from the 10 suggested.

This time, because I have an interest in ayurveda, massage, yoga and yantra, and a mind to slow down a bit and stay in one place awhile I have sent a few enquiries in advance on workaway. Since arriving I have decided I would like to stay in an ashram for a while and experience a tradition of Yoga I have heard lots about but not tried – Sivananda, so I have messaged the ashram.

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