is a JourneyWoman who writes about India, yoga and transformational
travel on her blog, BreatheDreamGo.
She has traveled for more than a year altogether in India and recently
published her first book, Song of India. She also leads small group
tours to some of her favourite places in India. Mariellen writes...
These are my top tips for how
to not get sick in India, how to avoid bed bugs and how to protect
yourself from theft and other problems. Travel in India, and in
so many other places, definitely has its challenges. But that’s
no reason not to go. In fact, it often seems the greater the challenge,
the greater the reward! The three biggest fears a lot of people
have about traveling in a ‘developing’ nation seem to
be bed bugs, bacteria and bad guys. My own experience is that there’s
usually nothing to fear but fear itself. A positive attitude, a
healthy immune system, and liberal doses of resilience, resourcefulness,
caution and common sense are usually enough to get most travelers
through most situations. But here are some tips that I’ve
discovered for dealing with the Big Three fears of insect, microbe
and human kind.
To avoid bed
bugs in India, don’t stay at the Flea Bag Inn. In India,
it is a badge of honour among some travelers — i.e.
backpackers — to brag about how they only spent 150
rupees on their hovel, er, hotel. I don’t buy in to
this at all. I
have found that the backpacker’s ghettos are not only
dirty, they are not a very authentic travel experience. Paying
a bit more — such as 500 to 1,500 rupees a night —
can usually put you in a nice, clean guest house run by friendly,
local people. And, if you show some genuine interest, they
will probably be happy to help you experience the local culture.
a sheet sleeping bag. I use a cotton one, but they also come
in silk, which packs smaller and is warmer.
If you can get it, carry Rest Easy, a natural
product you can use to spray around your bed to chase the
bed bugs away. I carry it with me, but haven’t had to
use it so far — so I can’t vouch for its effectiveness.
It’s for sale in the USA, but not in Canada.
To avoid getting
sick in India, and in many other places, it’s really
the water you have to watch. Be very careful about the water
you drink, and also the water used in ice cubes, drinks and
some food preparations. You also have to remember to keep
your mouth closed in the shower and brush your teeth with
bottled water. In India, buy bottled water as a rule, and
make sure the seal is intact. Also carry a stainless steel
water bottle. Some places have reverse osmosis filters, and
you can fill up your bottle for free.
There are no
hard and fast rules about avoiding bacteria in food. You can
eat street food and feel fine; and then eat at a five-star
hotel and get sick (a lack of continuous power and spotty
refrigeration is often the culprit). Make sure the food is
fresh or freshly prepared, don’t eat raw foods (such
as salads) or fruit, unless you’ve peeled it or washed
it in a bacteria-killing solution.
probiotics and either GSE (grapefruit seed extract) or oil
of oregano, and take every day. There are homeopathic remedies
you can use too — consult a naturopathic or homeopathic
doctor before you go. The one thing I always carry with me
from those small medical kits are the oral hydration salts
pouches. If you get “Delhi-belly” you need to
keep hydrated. Otherwise, I follow my “when in Rome”
philosophy. In India, I eat lots of homemade curd (yogurt)
and if I get sick, I consult a local doctor. They know what
works for their particular brand of bugs.
I have never
had food poisoning, which is a different problem than “Delhi-belly”
(caused by ingesting bacteria or parasites). I’m not
sure how to avoid it or even treat it. It seems like it’s
just the luck of the draw.
To avoid theft
while traveling, keep your eyes open, be aware of the risks
and travel with a couple of cables and good quality suitcase
locks. I put everything valuable in my carry-on bag and lock
it up, using the cable, to a solid piece of furniture. Sometimes,
I will put my laptop, camera and/or passport in the hotel
safe. It’s unfortunate that in some hotels and resorts,
it is the staff who do the thieving. I am very sympathetic
— they are often very poor people who clean up after
a parade of people with iPhones, computers and high-end running
shoes — but I don’t want to lose anything, so
I am cautious.
I do the same thing while I’m traveling:
I lock my bag to the bus seat or train bunk.
As a woman who travels alone, I am of course
very cautious — even more cautious than at home. I
don’t let people I meet during the day know where I’m
staying, for example. In countries that are foreign to us,
the way men and women relate is usually foreign, too. You
have to be careful to make sure you’re not giving the
wrong signals. In India, I dress very modestly, and in Indian-style
clothes. I think this goes a long way towards being treated
with respect and deference. I’ve been approached by
sleazy men, but I shook them off pretty easily and I’m
happy to report that I’ve never had a real problem.
On the contrary, I’ve met a lot of very friendly, helpful
and genuinely nice people during my year of travel in India.
In some countries,
you do have to be aware of terrorist activity. And though
you cannot, of course, anticipate where or when an attack
will occur, it is wise to have a sense of the typical targets.
I have never been to Srinagar or Kashmir because of this threat,
and I also avoid places that are super popular with tourists.
Terrorists attacked two of the most popular tourist hangouts
in India — the Leopold Cafe in Mumbai and the German
Bakery in Pune.
I love the
Lonely Planet guide. It is a treasure trove of useful and
interesting information and I usually travel with it. However,
I have to say it: I sometimes use the Lonely Planet guide
to decide where NOT to go. This tip might not work for everyone:
if you’re in India to follow the well-trodden backpackers
trail and meet up with other foreigners along the way, you
need to know where they hang out. But I prefer to eat where
the locals eat, shop where the locals shop and get to know
the country and the culture.
close to one third of travellers... For travellers to far
flung places like India, some things never change. Baggage
gets lost, bugs bite, and 'poop' happens! By the latter, I
refer to the fact that around 30% of you off to warmer climes
will experience traveller’s diarrhea, more affectionately
known as Montezuma’s Revenge, Delhi Belly, Tourista
and much more. Read Delhi Belly and Me: A Guide to Travellers