new destinations: India

This weekend, I embark on a two week trip to India with one of my favorite couples; yes, I am third-wheeling it but to my credit, it's not like I invited myself. I was asked to tag along. And actually, we've been joking that J is actually the third wheel to D and me. I haven't taken more than a week off in my entire 10 years of working so I'm extremely happy and excited to get a break, especially since this year began with loads of drama in my office.

India has always been pretty high up on my bucket list. Ever since I watched the movie Lagaan in high school, I've been fascinated by Bollywood and the fashion and the culture and of course, the food. Food has always been my top motivator when it comes to travel (and life in general) and I can't wait to get some authentic Indian cuisine. (I plan on being vegetarian abroad for a few reasons, but Indian food is so flavorful, I know I won't be missing out on anything at all.)
This is definitely one of the most exotic places I'll have ever visited; actually, I haven't really been anywhere particularly un-western. (Does Turkey count as exotic?) And this means there was much more preparatory work that had to be done prior to our departure.

One of my companions on this trip is my college roommate and India has been one of those places we've discussed endlessly as a destination we wanted to tackle together. So, when this opportunity arose, we had to pounce. We managed to find flights (via Turkish Airlines) for $682 per person, roundtrip, which is a deal we were v. pleased with. We also tried to figure out if it made sense to travel in a westerly direction or easterly direction but as it turns out, because India is basically on the opposite side of the world (as a US east coaster), it really made no difference.
We set ourselves up on Kayak and Skyscanner, kept our dates a bit flexible, and played with the airports a bit. We are flying into New Delhi and flying out of Mumbai and doing a bunch of other fun stuff in between.

To book our inter-India domestic flights, we used both Google and Kiwi to figure out possible destinations and potential routes; Kiwi is a new discovery for me and as it turns out, it's a really convenient website. We ended up booking various flights with Spicejet, IndiGo, and Jet Airways. In the end, we spent $495 per person to book five domestic flights; not bad at all.

As we were getting ready to book, I did a quick search on the CDC website to verify if there were any necessary vaccines. The information I'm sharing is obviously specific to America; everyone should always do research appropriate and specific to themselves. Anyway, they recommend that all of your routine vaccinations be up to date (which includes MMR, polio, chickenpox, tetanus, and flu) and then they also recommend hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines.

I met up with an infectious disease doctor to get information from a real life human and he agreed that I get the hepatitis A (which is a vaccine that requires a booster about six months after the initial dosage), typhoid, and malaria. The typhoid vaccine is actually a refrigerated oral vaccine with four doses taken at least a week prior (and it lasts 5 years). And there are several options for malaria prevention; I opted for the pill you take once a week starting two weeks prior to the trip and up to 6 weeks after the trip. In the end, did make me feel a little bit nauseated so I stopped taking them. Everywhere we are going is considered low risk for malaria, so I feel like I'll be okay. I plan on using loads of bug spray and wearing a citronella bracelet so I think I'll be fine, fingers crossed.

By the way, all of this travel medication was free through my health insurance.
The other medication my doctor provided me with was antibiotics to use in case of traveler's diarrhea, which is not the cutest topic of discussion, but certainly not something one wants to contend with whilst on holiday, right? (I was given 6 doses of Cipro.)

There are some other illnesses to worry about depending on where you're from and how long you plan on staying in India, but none of those really applied to me.

Also, I'm stocking up on sun cream because I'm pale af (thanks, winter) and am not tempted in the slightest to be miserably sunburnt.

All foreigners entering India must have a visa, which can be obtained online. It's a relatively painless process, though you do need to have a scan of your passport and a passport-style photo of your face (similar dimensions, in front of a clean background). The application is straightforward; it's exactly what you'd expect.

It takes 72 hours for approval (so you should do this at least 4 days in advance of departure, though, I'd do it at least a month ahead of time in case there's an issue with approval or if you accidentally make a mistake and have to reapply) and because everything is done electronically, it's super convenient. Upon approval, the visa is valid for six months and is for a maximum stay of 60 days.

You have to arrive through one of the approved airports where there are officials who can confirm visa approval; there are no airport restrictions for departing the country. And tourists are issued double entry visas, which (as I understand it) means you're allowed to leave and come back once within the 60 day period.

Make sure to print out your visa and bring a hardcopy with you.
It's obvious that India is a more conservative country so I wanted to make sure I knew all of the rules and customs so that I could pack my luggage accordingly. Going for two weeks in a carry on with the intention of doing loads of shopping whilst abroad means that luggage real estate is extra precious. I didn't want to waste any space on items of clothing I couldn't wear anyway.

What I've learned in all of my googling is basically, don't wear shorts above the knees (whether you're a man or a woman), no cleavage, avoid overly formfitting clothing, and ladies should bring a scarf to cover head and shoulders when entering holy sites.

And because it's hot during the day and chilly at night (at least in the north), layers are key. I've made a list of all of my light, airy clothing that can be layered up and before I leave, I'm going to try everything on to make sure it's comfortable and wearable.
I will report back on how I fare, with the clothing and overall. I'm so excited and anxious, but mostly excited; wish me luck!



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