07 May Lessons for (and from) India – Part 1
I’ve done a fair amount of traveling and India is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. There are plenty of resources available with great travel advice, so I won’t try to make a comprehensive list. Some of this is common sense and much of it applies to traveling in general. That said, I wanted to share my thoughts on how to make the most of your time here – or anywhere.
India is a massive, amazing, stimulating place. Much of what I read before coming was spot on: it’s a place of sensory overload (colors, smells, sounds); a land of contradictions; shocking scenes of poverty; and what, to an outsider, might seem like pure chaos. To enjoy it to the fullest, I’d suggest three things:
1. Embrace the culture
2. Be patient, stay calm
3. Expect totally different social interactions
This post covers my suggestions for how to embrace the culture. Come back soon for part two!
Lesson 1: Embrace the culture
This one definitely applies wherever you go – I’m a firm believer in embracing the local culture when you travel. A few simple steps will earn you respect, improve your social interactions, and help you have the best possible experience. And remember, you have the rest of your life to live in your home country, so immerse yourself and enjoy the ride when you’re here.
Certain things may seem awkward or even uncivilised – for example, eating is usually done with your right hand rather than a fork or spoon. Whatever it is, try it! It’s not as hard as it sounds, you experience your food in a different way, and the locals will appreciate your effort. And there’s no point in trying to convert people to our way of cutlery – you can buy forks here. People just choose not to.
This should go without saying, but be sure to learn a few words of the local language (here, it’s Tamil). People love when foreigners try to speak the language, especially because it’s so easy to get by on English these days. Simple phrases like good morning, good evening and thank you will go a long way. I’ve also found that saying “I’m finished” in Tamil is the only way to stop someone from piling more food on my plate!
This is personal preference but I’d recommend wearing some local clothes if you plan to spend more than a few weeks here. If you’re here for a short visit, of course it doesn’t make sense to invest in a whole new wardrobe, but pick up an outfit or two. Clothes are inexpensive, and again, you earn respect by making the effort. Someone recently told me that I’m the only westerner she’s met in 25 years who learned to drape her own saree – so I’ve scored huge points with people for this.
Remember that you can learn a lot from other cultures. Don’t just go home with physical souvenirs – learn how to do mehndi (henna) or cook your favorite dish. India has a long history of natural medicine and natural beauty techniques (I have major hair envy here), so ask questions and you can pick up some great tricks that are effective and inexpensive. Try salt on insect bites, neem for breakouts, and coconut oil and hibiscus hair masks.
I strongly believe that the best way to enjoy your time traveling is to be open-minded and embrace the culture. With this attitude, you’ll befriend locals, learn a ton, and have a richer experience.
Next time, I’ll share my second set of tips around how to be patient in a new and very different place.