India, as a teenager: 8 things I learned on my first big trip abroad

written by Erin Ott January 15, 2019

As a 17-year-old girl living in Nebraska, I had lots of choices to make in my last year of high school.

Decisions included college choices, career choices, and the one that only my sisters, my cousins and I have to make: where in the world do we want to travel to?

My Aunt Sherry has been asking us this question for as long as I can remember. For some reason, my answer was always India. And when would I ever get the chance to go there with a highly educated traveler? The decision was made, and time went by without me even thinking about the trip across the world or the possible dangers I could be facing.

At the retirement home where I work, there’d be the occasional “Oh Indiana is great” and I’d restate “No, INDIA” to the residents. Their shocked and frightened faces made me slowly doubt my decision about where I chose to travel to.

I had no idea how spicy the food would be, or what to expect

By the time it was time to go, a whirl of panic surrounded me. I thought to myself why would I go this crazy of a place when I have barely even been out of the country? Waking up the day before the trip brought anxiety about what was to come. I was uneasy the whole way there, which didn’t show because of my great skill of sleeping pretty much everywhere.

And then there was no turning back. I woke up the next morning in Delhi, ate some naan and cooked vegetables for breakfast, and started my two-week adventure. I had the time of my life.


The Jama Masjid mosque, in Delhi

I never thought that a place so out of my comfort zone would be so fantastic. But there are a lot of things on Intrepid’s Classic Rajasthan trip that made me learn about travel, Indian culture and even myself:

Jet lag sucks

I found this one out fast when I fell asleep at dinner the first day with our tour group. Being 12 hours off really messes your body up. All I wanted to do was sleep the first two days but slowly my body adjusted.

It’s nice to have someone who knows the language and culture

On the trip we had a local leader, Mohsin, who was from India. It made me feel a lot safer knowing someone who knew the language and culture. He was so approachable and made sure you felt comfortable and were having fun. A plus is that he  had a great personality and humor.

Rajasthan trip India

Trying street food with help from Mohsin


The horn is a useful part of the car that is used very differently than in America

Indian driving was probably the most frightening part of the trip for me. It felt like constant honking at people cutting you off, while cows walked right through it all. You greet the chaos with a little honk which I found out means something like “Hey I’m here – move” and no one seems to mind. I was shocked the first time I saw this, thinking the exchange of horns was going to end in a yelling road rage fight. It never did, and it seemed to work.

You bond with people experiencing the same shock as you are

I am so glad I got to travel with a group of 12 people from all around the world in India. It was so interesting forming relationships and also learning about their culture from their countries. You always had people to step back and say “Wow” with, and to ponder the things that were new to all of us.

Exploring Madhogarh Fort with new Intrepid friends


I’ll never win a staring contest against anyone in India who sees a foreigner

I never knew seeing a foreigner was so interesting for so many people in India. I would get long, unbroken stares from the locals who saw me, especially in small villages where I really stuck out as a bleach-blonde teenager.

There’s more cool architecture than just the Taj Mahal

India is known for the Taj Mahal which was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but people don’t know about all the other magnificent architecture there. We saw amazing forts, stayed in 500-year-old castles and saw huge stepwells. Those made me realise I made the right decision on picking India.

Never expect the food to taste bland

Rajasthan trip India

My niece enjoying the class

The food in India is a lot different than it is here. I am going to be honest and say I wasn’t the biggest fan of it. You couldn’t get anything that wasn’t all dolled up with spices. But there were some things that I loved, like chai (tea) and chicken tikka. The food there is way different than I usually eat but it was a good change for those two weeks.


How important tradition and family is in their culture

Throughout the trip we learned many facts about family life in India. On the last night we got to see everything put into action at a dinner at a local family’s house. They served us about seven different Indian dishes that were very delicious. There were three related families living in the same house and it was amazing to learn more about family dynamics and how family is everything to them.

Maybe I am biased because India was my first big trip out of the country, but I truly believe that it is the best first place to travel to. The number of things you will learn while about a whole different way of life is amazing.

Jaipur’s Amber Fort

There is never a dull moment. Even when you are walking down the block expect to see cows, dogs, pigs, women carrying massive bundles on their head, people yelling, shopkeepers, 10 people shoved into a rickshaw, street vendors and more. And there are so many fun activities to do in India including some of my favorites: henna, camel rides, seeing architecture, meeting locals, cooking classes, Bollywood movies and just learning how to travel.

If having fun meant being comfortable I do not think I would have found India as great as I did, but the most valuable things I learned by going to India is that sometimes you have to take the risk.

Take the plunge and visit for yourself. Browse Intrepid’s range of India trips.

(All images courtesy of Sherry Ott, Erin’s aunt. All photos taken on their Classic Rajasthan trip.)

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