If you’re travelling as a couple, family or group I would recommend doing a private trip as opposed to a group experience. Our driver was very professional and it gave us the flexibility to change the itinerary including a later start one morning and frequent stops to see local markets, take pictures of the amazing scenery or enjoy some retail therapy.
Don’t stick to international hotels as there are some great India hotel chains and heritage hotels which offer really wonderful hospitality and service, great food and modern facilities. But be careful and take advice from a good travel agent as what you see in a picture isn’t always what you get – always ask for a picture of the bathroom!
Do your research some hotels are very remote, which is fine if that’s what you want but you may feel isolated, and it makes popping out for a bit of retail therapy a bit more tricky. Travel times in India tend to be longer than the UK for the same distance.
Get involved. If you stay in hotels such as the CGH Earth or Xandari there are some great experiences to try, from saree dressing to paper making and village walks, and most activities are free of charge. Staff are friendly and want to share their culture and history. Just ask at reception and they will be pleased to come up with some ideas.
Many of the hotels do not offer TV as a conscious effort to get their guests to engage with what the hotel has to offer and the local surroundings. We went cold turkey for 6 days and I can honestly say we didn’t miss it. Wi-Fi is normally available in good hotels (except on houseboats) so if you do envisage issues either check the hotels first or take some downloaded entertainment with you.
Essential items such as mosquito repellent, suntan lotion and hand sanitiser are available but you may have difficulties finding the brands you like. I also recommend taking a torch particularly if you’re staying in a homestay or in secluded accommodation.
The dress code in India tends to be casual smart and is conservative. Lightweight linen or cotton trousers and tops are ideal for comfort and convenience, and a scarf is also handy for covering up especially if you plan to visit temples. If you start your trip in Cochin there will be opportunities to purchase some great value items
Make sure you have a good pair of trainers or sturdy footwear. The roads can be uneven and there are some great walks and treks to take part in.
Take a phone and buy an Indian sim card, as using your UK network can get expensive (my calls were around £1.49 per minute). If you are on a private trip it’s always handy to get in touch with the driver if you decide to change your plans. And of course, a smartphone is ideal taking for photos along the way.
Take some of your favourite music with you. There will be some heart-warming moments like on a houseboat as the sun sets, when having some of your favourite tracks will really add to the atmosphere.
Take tips from the staff on what to eat. The food is amazing and as meat eaters we were surprised how much we enjoyed the vegetarian dishes. I can honestly say I have never seen my rather picky husband eat so much.
Only drink bottled water where the seal has not been broken. Some of the environmentally friendly 4 and 5 star hotels we stayed in offered filtered water in glass bottles which we drank and had no problems.
If you enjoy an alcoholic drink, make sure you have a bottle of duty-free with you. Many of the hotels do not have licences: not because they are anti drink, it’s just licences can be difficult to obtain. There are ‘booze’ shops available but they are rather scarce and a male domain so check with your driver.
Go with the flow. We experienced amazing attentive service in India with people who genuinely wanted to please. Plates may be cleared away a bit too quickly or your morning tea may take a bit of a while to arrive, but it’s just the way it is.
If you’re paying for anything by credit card always opt for the local currency. We managed to get an exchange rate of 94 rupees to the pound.
Always barter. I took our driver’s advice of going for an average of 35% off the price and managed to buy three pashminas for £40 which were originally £25 each.
Have some low value notes to hand for tips. Indians don’t tend to expect tips but it is becoming more commonplace and they are always appreciated. Some of the hotels do discourage giving tips to individuals and have a tips box at reception so they can be distributed fairly.
If you’re staying in a beautiful location wake up early – listen to the birds, watch the fishermen going about their work and just enjoy the stillness
Go with an open mind and a willingness to learn. South India offers some amazing temples with history dating back to the 7th century. Kerala is also leading the way in eco-tourism and there will be lots of opportunities to learn about sustainability initiatives and organic farming. We also enjoyed the plantation walks and cooking demonstrations where we learnt more about food production and turning wonderful natural ingredients into gorgeous meals.
The centre piece of any trip to Kerala is a trip on a private houseboat along the backwaters. We felt like royalty as we left our hotel for the overnight trip with our own private driver, chef and assistant. As we gracefully cruised along the backwaters we had the tranquillity and time to appreciate the beauty of this special place.
Learn to fall in love again. Go with an open heart and share in the warmth and friendship which is on offer from the Indian people. We enjoyed some real heart-warming moments with the local hotel staff and people which was the highlight of our trip.