“Oh you’re going to India? I would love to go to India but I’m too scared because [insert all manner of fears].” If I had a burrito for every time someone said a variation of that line to me when I told them I was going to India, I estimate I would have about 50 burritos (and some serious heartburn).
India seems to be one of those travel destinations that people want to go to, but don’t because they fixate on all the things that could go wrong. People, it’s time to park your excuses and clear your fears, because if you’re intrigued by India, you should most definitely experience it in real life.
Here are some straight-up answers to “India fears” people confessed to me. And unlike the ‘Jerry Springer Show’, these are actual, real confessions from real people.
1. “I’m scared of getting diarrhoea”
I have a friend that has an irrational fear of getting diarrhoea in public. Before you laugh, when I returned from India more people asked me about my bowel habits than what the Taj Mahal was like. So, either my friends are a bunch of weirdos obsessed with bodily functions or their curiosity reflects that of the general public.
While travelling with a group on Intrepid’s Golden Triangle trip, we ate local food – from small family-run eateries to fancier hotel restaurants and street food. None of us (to my knowledge) pooped ourselves in public, and I myself didn’t even need to break open a packet of GastroStop. One person in the group actually got constipated. I don’t know how that’s possible on a trip to India, but it happened. The fact that I even know that about someone I had known for less than 48 hours shows how quickly you bond with strangers on group trips. We all exercised the normal precautions of drinking bottled water, but pretty much ate everything else that came our way, and I came home with zero catastrophic diarrhoea incidents to report.
2. “I think India is too unhygienic for me”
In a country where cows, goats, camels, pigs, horses and dogs all share the road with trucks and cars and humans, it’s a good idea to leave comparisons to your home country at the door. Ok, I admit I was aghast at the sight of locals drinking holy water that thousands of pilgrims had just walked through barefoot, but mostly I stopped myself from comparing India to my own country.
While my brain was calculating exactly how many fungal infections were present in that water, I was missing enjoying the sensory, spiritual spectacle of being at a Sikh temple in Delhi. So, for a good time, simply turn off the part of your brain that would be shocked that anyone would drink that water, or eat on the side of the road where pigs and street dogs mingle….because you aren’t at home. The point of travel isn’t to relentlessly compare every little detail to what people at home would do and make a value judgement based upon your own code of cleanliness. Plus, science says that living an overly-sanitised, super clean, bleach-fuelled lifestyle actually does more harm than good.
3. “I’m a female and I don’t want to get harassed or hassled”
Recently, India has received a lot of media attention about violent crimes against women, and while India is definitely going through a major cultural shift in relation to the rights of females (like many other regions in the world, including my own country), I personally don’t believe that’s a reason not to visit, if you want to. No doubt, India is a challenging country to travel in as a solo female, but you’d be remiss to think that all Indian men harass women, or all Indian women are nothing more than victims. While in India I met lots of whip smart, empowered females. I also met lots of lovely, genuine men.
While you definitely have to be aware of your own personal safety (as when travelling anywhere, or just living on planet earth) travelling with a group and with a local leader is a good way to put yourself at ease. Oh, and when using the train, ride with the ladies in the women’s carriage. Always. And for further reading, Intrepid have a whole page dedicated to women’s safety tips in India.
4. “I don’t think I’ll like the food”
Plot twist: most Indian food isn’t that hot. Apart from crying real tears while breathing air thick with chilli dust at a wholesale spice market in Delhi, everything else I ate in India wasn’t even remotely hot.
When it comes to hot food, South East Asian cuisine can deliver a knockout blow. And I’ll never forget making the rookie error of trying to be hard core by eating a whole, deep fried chilli while in Sri Lanka. But in India, it’s easy to avoid hot curries by sticking with the dhal, korma, tikka and tandoori options. Stay away from phaal and vindaloo and you should be right. If in doubt, eat all of the chapati and naan. The garlic naan, cheese naan, plain naan, stuffed naan, butter naan. All of it was made for folk afraid of spices (I don’t understand you, but I respect your life choices).
5. “I’m afraid of using squat toilets”
I was on the road from Agra to Delhi. It was 45 degrees, there was a long queue to use the toilets, so I wasn’t waiting around for the western flush-style toilets to become available when I could be spending that time eating an ice cream by the side of the road. There’s no story here except that I used a squat toilet, lived, then ate an ice cream. Like with most things in life – it’s not a big deal, unless you make it a big deal. Apply that same philosophy to your whole trip, and you’ll have a good time. Think of it this way: you can waste time fussing, worrying, resisting and obsessing, or you can just go with it and use a toilet that billions of people around the world use with success every day.
The only thing to fear is fear itself, and maybe spiders. But not India. See for yourself on one of our small group adventures.