Traveling in India: 3.5 Weeks in Review

If there’s anyone that should be able to handle the exotic foods, navigate the chaos, and ward off the men while traveling in India, it’s me. I pride myself on my stomach of steel, excellent sense of direction and independence, and unfaltering Beast Mode.

But I failed.

It was 3.5 weeks of various stomach issues, thwarted attempts at getting from A to B without a hitch, and being hassled around the clock by Indians who always wanted something from me (usually money or romance). It was absolutely exhausting having to endure it day after day.

It’s normal to feel uncomfortable in a new setting, but usually I adapt quickly and start to thrive. But I never quite felt comfortable in India. I did not adequately prepare myself, and my usual travel tactics did not work well in this country. They operate on a completely foreign set of rules here, most of which frustrated me to no end due to the lack of logic backing them.

traveling in india

My (Mis)Adventures in India

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Indian Food Is Too Much For Me

This came as a shock to me. I’d always cited Indian as my favorite cuisine back home, but what I was used to was the dulled down Americanized version of it. REAL Indian food is on a whole other level. Everything is very heavy and made with who knows how many different oils and creams. And every single Indian dish is extremely flavorful. Sometimes you just want some bland food, you know? When I wake up first thing in the morning, I’m just not ready to have my taste buds blown out. And if it’s not too spicy, it’ll be too sweet. In particular, Indian drinks are SO SWEET, especially their chai. I normally keep my daily sugar intake fairly low, so I didn’t enjoy the tea here either.

Like much else in India, the food was just too much for me. My body began rejecting it in the first week – I literally could not stomach any of it, and what I did manage to eat just came right out. My appetite vanished, and lack of eating soon led to my fainting episode in Jodhpur. From that point on, I sought the comfort of western foods, with the occasional Indian dish whenever I felt I could handle it.

traveling in india

India Is Loud And Dirty

You intuitively know this before you even get there. But you cannot grasp just how loud and dirty India is until you are there experiencing it for yourself.

First – everyone in India honks their horn while driving. Ad nauseum, and often without reason. Actually, for only ONE reason: to get people to MOVE. Logic will tell you that doing this is akin to the boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome, but in the Game of India there is no logic. They don’t care, they just keep honking. I will never again complain about cars needlessly honking in NYC – it is NOTHING compared to India. If you are prone to headaches, you’re in for a real treat.

Second – India SMELLS dirty. I expected to be overwhelmed by the smell of delicious food, but instead all I smelt was dirty. I’m talking literal dirt kicked up from the dusty roads that makes its way into your system. I had god knows what disgusting crap from the air stuck in my lungs that caused a lingering cough the entire time I was in India, and it didn’t clear up until I left the country.

And that’s not even mentioning other foul things I smelled throughout my journey. The smell of fire followed me everywhere I went, coming from people burning trash on the side of the road, or simply cooking or making tea over the fire. Normally it’s a nice smell (in extreme moderation), but having to smell smoke all the time? No thank you.

And let’s not forget about the ubiquitous urine stench. Men urinate all over the place in public like it’s no big deal. Unlike NYC, where the urinating culprits are mostly the homeless and drunks, in India you’ll see sober men dressed in plainclothes (or even work clothes!) taking a leak against a fence or building. Yet another Indian phenomenon I fail to comprehend.

traveling in india

Indian Men Are Relentless And Shameless

You are a walking target if you’re a white woman on your own in India. Like moths to a flame, Indian men flocked to me wherever I went (except in Rishikesh). I couldn’t go anywhere without being approached or shamelessly stared at. Thankfully most men are simply looking to chat, so they would walk alongside me for a bit and try to strike up conversation – they’d ask where am I from, what do I do, what’s my name, where’s my boyfriend, where am I going. After awhile of ignoring them, they would eventually go away. Once in awhile, on impulse, I would humor them and talk to them a bit, but more often than not they’d offer to come with me and show me to wherever I was headed, at which point I would exit the conversation and hurry away from them.

What’s more, I was hassled whenever I tried to do normal things like hail a tuk tuk or go shopping. I ended up avoiding any transactions whenever possible, opting to walk ridiculous amounts and get lost rather than go through the process of finding a driver to take me to my desired destination at a fair price. Many of them are out to rip you off or scam you. I hardly shopped because I didn’t have the patience to walk past stores and stalls, having the shopkeepers holler at me when I had no interest in the goods they were selling. I couldn’t even innocently look at something without having them immediately jump on me and try to sell their product.

Above all, I just wanted to be left alone. As an extreme introvert, I desperately need my downtime – I cannot function without it. India left me drained every single day, and I would count down the hours til I could escape all the Indian men, retreat to my hotel room, and be by myself to recharge.

independent travel

I Never Felt Like Myself In India

Independent travel is my style, and India seriously cramped it.

Here’s how it is: I’m a girl. I like being on my own. I’m happiest when I’m able to walk (or bike) around a place and explore it spontaneously.

But India wouldn’t stand for that. I couldn’t just show up to a city and book a train the second I felt like leaving – no, trains had to be booked at least a week in advance. I couldn’t be flexible with my travel plans at all and had to go against my rules and book a package from the travel office.

Even walking around most cities proved challenging. The roads are terrible, often torn up and lacking sidewalks, or even covered in trash. It was always an ordeal to get from A to B – throw in the usual hassle from Indian men and it’s a miracle I ever even left my hotel room.

In short, I felt like I couldn’t be my independent self in India.

traveling in india

The Love/Hate Relationship

In short, I don’t feel like I did a great job at traveling India. And, to be honest, there was much I did not enjoy about the time I spent there.

But here’s the thing: Traveling India is like an addictive game. I got my ass kicked in Round 1, but it’s left me determined to come back someday for Round 2 (focusing on South India!). I’m fairly certain I’ll be pulverized again, but now that I have a better idea of the rules of the game, I’m confident I can put up more of a fight next time.

I now know why everyone says they love AND hate India. All the horror stories are balanced out by all of the brilliant, beautiful things you’ll see in this country. It’s such a polarized place – a land of extremes. Though there was so much I didn’t like about India, I don’t regret traveling there. Everything in the name of adventure travel, eh?

traveling in india

So, India: love it or hate it?

Lindsay Buckley is the photographer and travel blogger behind Frugal Frolicker. She's a New Yorker currently based in Sydney, Australia, documenting outdoor travel experiences Down Under and beyond. Follow along with Lindsay's travel photography on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to sign up for the monthly Frugal Frolicker newsletter!

Where in the World is This?

  • Shannon Buckley

    i really enjoyed the summary aspect of this post! it makes me a little sad though; i was really hoping india would be one of the countries you enjoyed the most (mostly so that i could live even more vicariously though your posts since i’d love to see india someday :).

    • lindsaypunk

      Thank youuuuu! I KNOW – I did, too! But it was definitely a growing experience. I’d like to think I’m a better traveler from it?

  • This is my semi-regular reminder that I absolutely admire you, and that you’re my hero. I’m so glad that I met you for a day or two, because I love following your travels, seeing your fantastic pictures, and hearing all about your experiences — not to mention that I really enjoy your articulate and insightful thoughts about them! A lot of your conclusions from this section of your trip ring true with me. I would say that I’m obsessed with you and your awesome life, but I don’t want to creep you out after your desert-boy experience… Don’t ever stop! You’re an inspiration!

    • lindsaypunk

      Awww Stephanie, you are too awesome. Thank you for making my day! It makes me so happy that you appreciate my posts and travels :) PLEASE let me know when you take your next big trip, I hope we can meet again!

  • Somehow you haven’t managed to deter me from wanting to give India a go :D Wish I could have been there with you girl… at the very least I would have been a shoulder to cry on.

    • lindsaypunk

      Oh GOOD! I definitely didn’t mean to put anyone off from experiencing India – I still think it’s very worthwhile. Just as long as you’re aware of what you’re getting yourself info! Would have LOVED having you there with me! I’ll be right there with ya if you ever head to southern India :D

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  • Victor Lin

    Sounds a lot like a slightly more hectic version of traveling around China.

    Horns honking everywhere? Check.
    Cars never stopping for you? Check.
    Pollution? Check.
    People trying to hawk wares the moment you look at them? Check.
    Public urination? Check.
    Vendors always trying to screw you on price? Check.

    BUT the food in China is not as strong. I have no comment on Chinese men.

    • lindsaypunk

      Oh geez! I never had a burning desire to visit China – this definitely doesn’t help change my mind! I suspect that the men are much less forward there, which I suppose is *one* plus China has going for it.

      Good to hear from you! Hope you and Bunny are doing well these days :)

      • Victor Lin

        I backpacked for 4 months around China. Honestly, there was rarely a day when I didn’t want to just book the first plane ticket out of there. Between all the pollution, cigarette smoke, and the crazy Great Chinese Firewall making it impossible at times to efficiently run my business, I hit the wall many times. But I’m a stubborn and somewhat optimistic SOB so I kept at it, knowing that there was always so much more to see and explore.

        Yes, I find that the people (street vendors and salespeople excluded) tend to leave you alone. And I never felt that I was in any kind of physical danger (traffic excluded). The Chinese just aren’t a very violent people. They’d much rather just screw you monetarily.
        OMG I was just snuggling Bunny and giving her kisses and every time I lay her back down on the bed her arms go up and out like she’s going “hug me!!!” and I go “OMG teh cutes ><" and I pick her up and snuggle her again and it doesn't stop yay!

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  • Oh wow I love this post. And I love how you wrote it without giving too many fu**s if some people are offended by it, cuz let’s be honest, some people absolutely love India and won’t stand for anyone who slightly bashes it. India is the country I am MOST ambivalent to travel to—I know I should make it there, but basically everything you just described is why I’ve been hesitant for a while. And I DON’T have a stomach of steel, so would I really even be able to enjoy a place if I’m holed up in a bathroom the whole time?
    LOVE how you say it’s addicting though. Go back and kick its ass ;)

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  • It’s very encouraging that you ended up loving India after your first experience! I’d love to go back and try it again, knowing what I know now. I may have to experiment with the scarf tip – clearly the baggy pants didn’t work for me!

  • Are you saying that I don’t have a right to complain about the difficulties I faced traveling alone in India as a single white woman? That I should keep quiet about them rather than be honest about my experience on a public forum? If so, I vehemently disagree.

    Also note that I admitted that I didn’t do a good job of traveling in India, and that I do someday want to return and do a better job of it. I never intended to discourage anyone from visiting, just make them aware of some of the difficulties they may face there. As you said, I definitely wasn’t ready for India! But had I been more aware of the difficulties I outlined here, I think I would have been much better off.

  • If I ever return to India, it’ll definitely be to explore the south! :)