Travel SOS: India for a first-timer

Lee Mylne is only too happy to share advice from her own experiences of her trips to India.

Travel SOS: India for a first-timer

Anne is about to embark on her first trip to India and wonders what to expect. Lee Mylne is only too happy to share advice from her own experiences.

Q. Anne
I have never been to India before and am keen to go to this exotic country, but I’m really nervous. I’ve never been to a developing country, and don’t know what to expect. Could you please help me out with the best areas to visit for a first timer, to help ease me into the country? Should I do a group tour, go it alone, or have a personal guide? I am also concerned about street safety and the safety of my health, since it’s a country with malaria and rabies. I also love Indian food, but am worried about getting sick. I know I’ll have to drink bottled water.

A. I’ve been to India three times, and while I love it and would go back any time, I understand your anxiety. On my first trip, I found it very confronting. I was young, and hadn’t travelled a lot in developing countries at that time. But the second time, it was different – perhaps India had changed a bit (or I had!) and I fell in love with it. It’s still confronting, but you’ve used the right word to describe it – yes, exotic, and very colourful.

street market in india

I would not advise you to go it alone, especially on your first trip. A group tour is a good option, but if you want a bit more freedom there is another great way of doing it in comfort and without the worry of dealing with everything alone. That is to do an ‘independent itinerary’ or ‘private group tour’ with a travel company. I’ve done this with Intrepid Travel, where the itinerary and hotel bookings are all organized for you, a driver/guide and car provided (usually the same one for the whole time) and local guides provided at each destination. And there is usually a bit of free time to explore a bit on your own, go shopping, or just rest up in the hotel.

For a first timer, of course, you must see the Taj Mahal at Agra. So I would suggest that you do what is called the Golden Triangle, which takes in India’s three most popular destinations (and there’s a good reason for that!). Start in Delhi for a few days, then explore Jaipur in beautiful Rajasthan and then to Agra for that marvelous monument to love, the Taj Mahal, before returning to Delhi. You don’t say how long you are planning to spend in India, but all this is easily done in a week – or you can spend longer in each place if you like! If you have longer, APT has a 17-day tour that includes the Golden Triangle as well as flying to Kolkata (Calcutta) for a seven-day cruise on the Lower Ganges, and ends with a couple of days in the holy city of Varanasi. Just writing this makes me want to go back!

indian woman with two young indian girls in traditional garb

You are right to be cautious about your health, but doing an organised tour of some kind should help ensure you stay out of trouble in that regard. Indian food is amazing, and your hotels will ensure you get a good taste of that (are you up for a spicy breakfast?).  You should also be sure to take some diarrhoea medication with you and some Gastrolyte or similar in case you are unlucky and do come down with it. But being careful about ice in drinks and only eating fruit if it’s peeled should limit your chances of getting sick. Make sure that your basic vaccinations are up to date (tetanus and diphtheria) and consult your doctor about whether you need other vaccinations, such as Hepatitis A and B, or typhoid, and about malaria medication (depending on where you decide to go in India). There is a rabies vaccination available (again, consult your doctor) but you should also try to avoid contact with the street dogs that roam at will, and with monkeys, if you encounter them. Best admired from a safe distance.

attractive indian ladies wearing saris copyright lee mylne

I really hope you enjoy your India sojourn, Anne. Go with an open mind, be ready to be flexible (things might not always go as exactly planned), and soak up all the colour and life that India offers. It will be an experience you never forget.

For more ideas about what to do on in India, check out

For detail on the tours I’ve mentioned, go to

Do you have a travel question for Lee? If so, email your Travel SOS to

Lee Mylne has managed to combine her two passions – travelling and writing – into a long and successful career as a travel journalist. Her work is published in newspapers, magazines, websites and travel apps in Australia and around the world.


    To make a comment, please register or login
    21st May 2016
    India is far from "developing Country", I recommend people read some books on Indian history.
    Going with a small group for a first trip is a good idea. I avoid the big cities as much as possible.
    Indian trips can be done in smaller areas - for example -from Chennai you can explore South India's east coast; Cochin to Trivandarum is fabulous; a tour around Rajhastan is a wonderful (it is like the India of story books, with elephants and desert palaces, and embroidered clothes!)- and you can easily include a side trip to Agra and the Taj Mahal; I love the mountains -Darjeeling area, or Ladakh and Spiti... I love India .
    go veg!
    21st May 2016
    Good advice for a first timer. When I go back to India, I will volunteer at a reputable elephant sanctuary. The lives led by elephants there is so sad. Please never, ever go on an elephant ride nor even pose with one for money as they are beaten into submission. They are not 'rescued' as you will be told but stolen at a young age, and you will be enabling this awful trade to continue. See World Animal Protection website.
    Happy traveller
    23rd May 2016
    I love India too, especially Rajahstan. The forts palaces and deserts are so majestic. One small tip for travelling in India, pack plenty of wet wipes and be vigilant with only using bottled water. I also packed several toothbrushes in case I accidentally put my toothbrush under tap water I would throw it away and use a new one . I have never been sick in India. I always took a course of good probiotics before I left and whilst there. Also got a travel kit from travel doctor but fortunately never had to use any of the medications. Travelling with a small group with a driver or guide is a good idea.

    Tags: travel sos, india,

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