Indian Travel Is Different and Why We Need To Start Discussing It!!

I have been thinking of writing this post for a long time but I never got around to writing it till now. It is something based on personal experiences and it definitely shapes me as a traveler. You must be wondering why I am saying that Indian travel is different when I just wrote a couple of months ago about how people around the world are same. I still stick to the statement. People around the world are same but the circumstances surrounding the way we travel makes Indian travel different.

In recent years, there have been some excellent discussions on the black travel movement and I love reading about the progress they have made. It is definitely not easy for them and I am in awe of how they still continue to travel breaking the norms.

But that said, Indian travel is also not easy and I felt the need to write about this. This may sound like a rant but unless we start writing about it, there is no way we can change it. It is not my idea to bash my fellow Indians either but sometimes they have to be told the truth. I know reality sucks but isn’t it time that we faced some of it? It is another long post. So kindly bear with me and give me your inputs.

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Tanzania

Having a weak Indian Passport

According to the Passport Index, the Indian passport currently ranks 74 in terms of the Global power of the passport. Just to give a perspective, Singapore has the strongest passport in the world while Afghanistan currently holds the status of the weakest passport in the world with a rank of 93. If you see in terms of individual ranks, then we rank at 159 while Afghanistan ranks at 199. We have a visa score of 51 which means that we can go to 24 countries without a visa and we can avail the visa on arrival facility in 27 countries. Also, having a valid US/UK/Singapore visa can give us an option of availing visa on arrival for a few more countries. Singapore nationals, on the other hand, can go to 124 countries without a visa and avail the visa on arrival facility in 35 countries.

So what does that mean? It basically means that we are royally screwed if we ever want to travel outside the country. Most Indians are terrified of applying for their first visa because the chances of getting rejected are comparatively higher in our case. When most of our compatriots in other countries are contemplating their gap year around the world just after college, we can only dream. The process of applying for a visa is often complicated and comes with a long list of required documentation. I just think about the number of trees I could have saved if I didn’t have to go through this process every single time. For e.g. I am not allowed to enter a country if I don’t have my return tickets booked or if I don’t have a certain amount of bank balance.

It definitely gets better once you have a number of stamps on your passport. But the documentation is still daunting and I wish I didn’t have to go through this process every single time. The visa application process comes with a lot of uncertainty and that is something I find hard to digest. It is so difficult to make spontaneous travel plans when we are traveling outside the country. And to add to the confusion, the rules are quite different if you are applying from another country other than India.

I do not have the privilege like my friends from other countries. I cannot just wake up one fine day and decide that I am going to book some last minute deals to a new country. Many of my travel blogger friends decided to head to Romania for the Experience Bucharest / Experience Romania events after TBEX Ireland and it was a last minute decision for many of them. But I couldn’t think of doing something remotely like that since I had to worry about my visa. Also with an Israeli stamp, I cannot even think of going to Iran or Saudi Arabia with my passport in the near future. I also don’t have the luxury of dual citizenship like most of my other travel blogger friends from around the world.

I could go on. But you get the gist. How can we change the situation? I don’t know. Most travelers to India complain about how difficult the process of applying for an Indian visa is for them. But I really hope that our government works to improve the strength of our passport. Should I be happy that we moved 3 measly points up in the recent update? After all, there are 1.2 billion of us and it is time we fixed this issue for our future generations.

 

Are Indians racially discriminated when traveling outside the country? But are we racists as well?

The answer to both the above questions, unfortunately, is an astounding yes. I wish I could tell you that I have never been racially discriminated against but that would be a lie. It has happened to me around the world and I know it will continue to happen as long as I live. My brown face routinely gets singled out at airports for an extra security check while others are not even asked to remove their coats. Am I being petty writing about it? But like I said before unless you write about it, how can we bring about a change to a problem that shouldn’t actually be a problem? Casual racism should not be taken for granted and no one should be given the ability to form prejudices about me on the basis of my skin color. You cannot assume that I can’t pay for a room in your fancy hotel or pay for my own food based on the color of my skin. I agree that my fellow Indians are partly to blame for that. But still, it is not acceptable and it is time we finally move from the era of white privilege and other forms of privilege.

Now let us come to the second part of the question. In a country where the ‘Fairness cream’ industry makes a killing, it is not a surprise that we are racists as well. And that is not only against foreign nationals. We are racists towards even people from our own country. I don’t understand the obsession of my country with race but I hope we soon outgrow it in the future. Else there is no hope for us. When we talk about race, we should also talk about trying to avoid all forms of cultural/ Social/ Economical racism as well.

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Vienna

Power of my currency

Another major factor that contributes to the way Indians travel is the strength of my currency. When I travel outside the country, I try my best not to do those money conversions in my head. It will only hurt more. As someone who works in India and is usually paid in Indian Rupees (1 USD = Approx 66Rs), we are not paid as much as people working in other parts of the world. The logic is that the standard of living is comparatively much lesser and hence it is fine. But when you use the same money in other developed nations around the world, it cannot buy you the same things there. So for most Indians traveling outside the country, it is a large slice of the pie of their savings. Yes, we can definitely travel to more economically backward countries too.

The Great ‘Indian Culture’

When we were growing up, it was very clear what we had to do. Get extremely good grades, get into a good college, do a professional course like Engineering or a Doctor or accounting and then get a good job. Once you get that job, work yourself to death paying all those bills. Then get married, have kids and take care of your parents as well. Repeat the cycle all over again. In India, no one ever goes against the wishes of their parents and it is against ‘Our culture’ to go against it. So in this whole cycle of life, there is no place where travel used to fit for most people. Gap years and long-term travel was something that was unheard of till a few years ago.

I have been lucky that way. I have unconventional parents who love traveling even more than I do. So I was allowed to choose what I wanted to do. I know most people don’t have this luxury of having understanding parents. My extended family is not that understanding as well and I keep getting asked questions on why I travel so much. But I am finally glad to see that more and more millennials are traveling.

The cultural mindsets that we have been conditioned to are entirely different from other travelers and that is why I wanted to talk about some of these topics in detail as well.

 

If you want to travel, you will find a way to travel. Whoever it is.

I am not talking about the people who can’t travel because they have a financial commitment to their family and the entire family is solely dependent on them. Also, there are people who can’t travel because of other reasons.

But I keep getting told of how I am so lucky to travel so much in life by my peers. None of them have the financial constraints I am talking about. But these are the same people who are willing to spend money on phones, cars, and other things. The same people then crib about their inability to travel because of lack of funds. I have made lots of sacrifices to be able to travel so much and don’t undermine my hard work by giving blatant excuses on how you cannot travel like me. If you want to travel, you will make sure that it is your reality.

I am not saying that traveling will solve your problems or even that you will fall in love with traveling one fine day. Some people just don’t find traveling interesting and they would prefer lying on the bed every weekend. That is perfectly fine. As long as you are happy doing what you want, do that. For me, traveling makes me extremely happy in spite of all the obstacles that come along with it.

Never be afraid to experiment when you are traveling

This is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to Indians traveling. They are reluctant to experiment. Some of the examples I have seen are:

  • People my age don’t like to stay in hostels or Airbnb’s. They only prefer hotels. I have stayed in numerous hostels by now and I love the vibe that comes with the hostel culture. I still don’t prefer a 10-bed dorm but for people like me, we have the option of choosing either a 4-bed dorm or a private room. It is a great place to meet people from around the world. Also, Airbnb’s are equally appealing to the traveler in me. Thankfully, I am seeing a gradual shift in perspective at least among the younger crowd.
  • Try not to survive only on Theplas or Kakkadas or Pulioderes you get from home. I am a vegetarian myself and I have found vegetarian food almost anywhere I went around the world. It is perfectly fine if you want to cook your own food to keep the costs down. But at least once in a while, don’t forget to taste some of the local cuisines too.
  • Once in a while, ditch the attractions and head over to the lesser known parts of a place you are visiting. Go for free walking tours in a new city. Find something local and unique to do there. Try speaking to the people there and realize how they are so similar to you. Don’t stick to your own groups and try to mingle with others.
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Strasbourg

Ditch the superiority complex

They may not travel in the same way as you but that doesn’t make you superior in any way. Learn to respect everyone’s job and their origin. It definitely helps you be a better traveler and person.

Be respectful of other people’s time and money

The ‘Indian standard time’ or the ‘Asian standard time’ has always been a running joke with most travelers. But this means that you have no respect for other people’s time. This is an annoying habit and I hope you will at least put in some effort to be on time from next time onwards.

Be respectful of other’s privacy

I know we Indians sometimes tend to have no boundaries. But that is the way we have been brought up. As I travel more, I am learning of things that we Indians do that are considered rude in other’s cultures. No, it is not polite if you ask a lady her age or a guy his salary in any other culture.

Your stupid actions will have consequences on your fellow Indians

When we were at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland a few weeks ago, we came upon this group of South Asians who were just being incredibly stupid. They were doing stunts at the edge of the cliffs and all of us were left too stunned after seeing their stupidity. Most people there assumed that we were with them and asked us to tell them to stop. The locals were clearly not amused. Thankfully none of them fell off the cliff. But just imagine if they had.

I have never been to Thailand yet but I keep horror stories of how drunk Indian men harass the women there. This is not done and it is definitely time we change this attitude.

Such stupid acts should never be encouraged especially when you are traveling outside the country. It affects other Indians too. I hope some sense prevails for at least some of my fellow countrymen.

Learn the tipping culture of the place you are going to visit

Most service industry people are surprised when I tip them because apparently, most Indians don’t. But that is what I have always been taught to do and I still follow that to this day.

Never undermine a place, person or culture

I know there are places we don’t like. I also have places that I don’t like. But I don’t blame it on that place and it is a personal preference. I am also willing to give a second chance to some of these places because the last time I went there, the time wasn’t right. But I keep hearing my fellow Indians talking ill of a place after staying there for a couple of days. How can you judge a place in a few days? I also don’t like comparing two places. I have done these mistakes in the past but I will never repeat them in the future.

I know that many of my countrymen are not tolerant of other cultures. I wish that could change as well in the future.

Also, a person’s sexual preference should never be put into focus when you are meeting people from other places. It is their personal preference and it is definitely not your place to say anything about it. I have many friends from the LGBT community these days but a few years ago, I was as clueless as most of my fellow Indians.

Being Responsible and Ethical travelers

I know taking a selfie with a drugged wildcat may seem cool. But as travelers, we need to be aware of what we are doing is ethical or not. It is a fine line and this is one of those mistakes I am going to try and never repeat again. Plastic is another threat to the environment and as responsible travelers, we must do our bit to reduce our carbon imprint so that future generations can enjoy the beauty of our planet. There are some amazing eco-friendly places in the World and hopefully one day I get to visit at least some of them.

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Scotland

Patriarchal Indian Society

The Indian society is still quite patriarchal. Girls are still told what to do, what to wear and how to behave. Traditionally, a woman was supposed to take care of the house and the kids. But these days more and more Indian women are working and traveling as well. They are slowly finding their voice but unfortunately for many women, traveling is still a far-fetched dream. Most women are told that they can start traveling once they get married.

Again, I have been quite lucky. I have always been encouraged to do what I want and when I starting traveling solo, my parents still supported me. They were not too happy about it initially but as long as I was happy, they were fine with it. The other day during my recent trip to Ireland, one of my friends remarked about how chilled out my parents were. She had to talk to her mom almost on a daily basis and I just had to send a couple of messages a day on WhatsApp to let them know I am alive. It was not always like this but over time, we have finally learned our balance. It is a good thing that my parents are also avid travelers.

But if you consider my extended family, then it is a different case. None of my mom’s sisters have ever traveled out of South India and they probably never will. And that is the case with most of the Indian women and hopefully, we can do something to change that for our future generations.

Why don’t you travel more in India?

I get asked this question a lot. “If you find traveling outside India so difficult, why don’t you travel inside India?: But this is a question by people who don’t know me well. I travel a lot within India too. My country is a gorgeous country and it has the natural diversity of at least 50 countries. From the gorgeous beaches of Andaman islands to the deserts of Rajasthan to the gorgeous snow-capped Himalayan mountains to the backwaters of Kerala to the wildlife sanctuaries in the North-East. We have a great deal of cultural diversity as well and every time I travel, I am amazed by the diversity of it. We speak hundreds of languages and we have people from all religions, all trying to coexist.

But we have to acknowledge the fact that traveling in India is chaotic. I guess most of us try to find the peace in the chaos. It is also very frustrating to see how most of us Indians do not respect this natural beauty or the cultural diversity. How very few of us care about the environment or how even the educated of us find it amusing to deface our monuments! We have a huge potential to increase our revenue from tourism and I feel that we are not doing enough to conserve the beauty and cultural diversity of our country.

Also, it is high time that we make our country safer for women. I have seen lots of discussions by foreigners on how India is unsafe for ladies. And there is nothing that I can do to dispute the fact. It is generally unsafe for women in most parts of the world but the amount of extra caution we have to take in India is ridiculous. Also, not all men are the same and most of the time it is the 10-20% who are giving the rest of their gender a bad name.

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Kumbakonam

Indian travel is different and we still travel

In spite of so many reasons of how Indian travel is not easy, there are many like me who have set to explore the world. So the next time, you see an Indian traveler in a foreign exotic place, give them a high five because you know it was not easy for them to be there.

Indian Travel | Visa for Indians | Racism faced by Indians | Solo Female Indian Travel | How Indians Travel | Indian Travel is Different

45 Comments

  1. Wonderful post!

    Over time, I have felt exactly the same things, in parts. The things you have talked about above. I am so glad you have written them.

    Hope things change, for good.


    Cheers,
    Rajiv

  2. What a fascinating read Soumya.

    I give credit to my Indian blogging buddies; many of my readers are from India. I met one friend who designed my old blog, when I visited Muhamma. I sensed the guy got a lot of grief and faced resistance from parents and his village in general, for doing the very non traditional thing of building a business online. In a culture with a heavy emphasis on community (do not bring attention to yourself) and tradition (online stuff is not a real job, etc), I give any Indian blogger credit who bucks the trend and steps away from the norm.

    Thanks for the neat share 🙂

    Ryan

  3. Very valid points, Sowmya. Thanks for taking the time to articulate the travails of being an Indian traveler. I do a face palm when I come across the situations you have described (it happens a lot). Happy traveling and great to see lots of young people coming forward to break these norms.

  4. Well-worded post. Kind of sums up how I feel when I travel abroad and hear stories of other indian travellers. Especially the part of the drunk Indians in Thailand, which you rightly pointed out. We as a country, need to drastically improve our travelling manners. Hope more read your post.

  5. I love your advice and totally agree with it although I think most of it applies to all nationalities travelling abroad. I often feel as if some people turn totally crazy when they are not in their own country, doing things they would not do at home.
    I easily understand how it can feel when you see your own people making crazy stuff. I’m exactly the same 🙂 I’m more tolerant of the mistakes of the local people than Westerners’ ones. Especially, I can’t bear to see all these girls wearing sexy clothes in Asia. Then they are the first ones to blame the locals.
    The worst behaviours I have encountered while travelling:
    – a French guy running and talking to me in French, without even saying hello to my Chinese friend (I was in China). I was so upset that my friend noticed a change in my behaviour. I was very cold with this guy. How could it be so rude with my Chinese friend? My friend even didn’t care about it 😀
    – a German couple with inappropriate clothes -mini-skirt for her – with a sexually oriented behaviour in front of Trimurti in Elephanta island. The Indian youths laughing at the scene had problems with the guardian who said nothing to the couple. On the return boat, they sat on the only comfortable bench and didn’t want an old Indian lady to sit with them!
    – I almost forget the island I’ll never visit again: Sri Lanka. I was so much hassled by guys that it ruins the souvenir of my trip. Okay, that was Asian people this time. It’s the only place where I couldn’t behave how I usually do, talking with people and learning about their culture without fearing problems.
    The only Indian habit that really makes me angry is time management. One of my friends in Bastar didn’t show up without any notice although we should spend the day together. He hardly understood it was a lack of respect for my time and promised to be on time the next time. Guess what? He did the same again!
    I didn’t notice these drunk guys in Thailand but I’ve seen a lot of old big, often drunk, Westerners with young Thai boyfriend/girlfriend. Yep, we are definitely more sensitive to the mistake of our own people.

    1. Hope your friend finally learns time management, Stephanie. Yes, it is quite annoying when people do stupid things outside the country.

  6. What a lovely post Soumya! I was also invited to Experience Bucharest more than once but always time & visa constraint stopped me. We are not as lucky as people from other countries. Sometimes I think the newer countries are doing so good compared to us. I guess we don’t have that intent to change.

    Yes, you said it right. We are also racist. And you gave an apt example for it.

  7. Nice article. The visa process and extra steps are daunting and had me change my plans so many times. For people who are self-employed but don’t run a large company, this becomes even more difficult when submitting papers. Now a days, I spend more time reading about how to migrate to another country and the steps to get their passport compared to planning for next trip.

    1. I don’t want another passport. I just want to make our Indian passport stronger. I would still consider Dual citizenship if that option was available.

  8. I enjoyed reading this. I could relate to so many points you mentioned. But as Stephanie mentioned perhaps we are more sensitive to the behaviour of our own people. I have heard Americans complain about other Americans and English complain about Germans and so on.

  9. This is such a great, practical, and much needed piece. I have recently started following travel bloggers but very few focus on the logistical and cultural side of traveling, especially from countries like ours. The section on passport and visa is right on point. Thanks for penning down this blog.

  10. A very interesting and informative article. I am writing a book about the Indian sub-continent, and it’s always great to get an insider view. Thanks.

  11. It’s a great article! Soumya, I have narrated my experience in a mail to you, but just for my fellow bloggers….you have touched the right chord, Soumya. I acknowledge, the change in habit does not come overnight…but we need to tell these folks…”think, – you guys; …just explore, experiment and you will not be disappointed”. Thank you so much for this honest & brave article.

    1. I wish our future generations do not have to go through these experiences in the future, Tab. Thank you so much for reading.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. Navigating travel spaces as a black American is sometimes challenging. I am thrilled that there are more groups highlighting that we enjoy world spaces as well. Further, I appreciate your perspective and experiences as another brown skinned traveler and specifically traveling as an Indian National.

    1. I know it is not easy for you, Reginia. Keep traveling and hopefully this will not be there for our future generations.

  13. You have put all Indian traveler woes in one post. I did not know there is a passport index – but am not surprised with our ratings. I hope it improves in my lifetime.

  14. So many points ring true in what you’ve written Soumya. I’ve actually written a similar piece recently for a magazine highlighting the difficulties Indian woman face if they want to travel and the flak they get from society. There’s a lot that has to change soon in India.

  15. Definitely agree about the beauty of travelling India! I went earlier this year and fell in love with it (after years of waiting to finally go!). I met lots of Indian friends there and totally feel for you about the family pressure and people not supporting your travel. Good for you for anybody who follows their dreams and does it anyway!

  16. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been doing a little research on this.

    And he in fact ordered me dinner simply because I stumbled upon it
    for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank
    YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to discuss this issue here on your web page.

  17. As a non-Indian, this was informative and fascinating for me. Thinking back, I have never met anyone from India during my travels! I meet people in the USA from India all the time, but they are living here, not visiting. I will definitely keep an eye open and be sure to give them a high 5 when I do meet an Indian traveler!

    1. Thank you, Lia. I keep getting told by other travellers that I am the first Indian they have met outside of India. Hopefully, this will change.

  18. Great post, Soumya. This was valuable to read. I’ve always had India bucketed in my “someday” column but this really helped me get a broader perspective. One of my hopes is that Indian travel bloggers gain top status among anglo bloggers. It will be so much more enriching for our world.

  19. Hi Soumya, it’s really happy to see ur way of looking the world, actually this is what one should see in a broad way. You know majority of Indians I hope.. Being a traveller I can really understand Ur concept. And also the same experiences I have also come across. But for me the real joy n happiest movement being Travel is meeting n interactivng with different people, culture, food, creativity, art etc..you know. I want to be always backpacker specially when I travel in India n abroad, I really enjoy my journey. In India many thinks to be change. Anyways now I am looking youngsters are realising n changing a bit. Hope it will go better n better in future. Anyways I’m very happy for Ur gr8 think. I’m always helpful being a part of Ur journey any time.let me know how can we build better I’m ready in Ur journey.
    Cheers 🙂
    -Khizer

  20. Hi Soumya, thank you for this entertaining read. However, apart from the visa bit, all the rest applies to other countries. And the fact that I am the second French saying this tells something 😏. Maybe your article does not apply to any other countries, but just to India and France, hahaha.
    Of course, I agree with the shame felt when meeting fellow travelers doing stupid things but I totally agree with the part on “how lucky you are to be traveling so much”, I keep getting it all the time. The only thing my friends, coworkers forget is that we have one car for the whole family and it is 20 years old, we do not wear fancy clothes or the latest smartphone… but we made a choice and are happy with it.
    If you stop by the South of France in your next trips, please let me know.
    Annie

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