Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Vix Does India - Preparation & Planning (The Grown-Up Bit)

Hoo-bloody-ray! We've just got back from submitting our visa applications in Birmingham, an early start but another thing ticked off the to-do list.

Arambol beach, North Goa

I finally feel like our return to India is real and not a distant fantasy.

Patnem beach, South Goa

As promised I'm going to bore you share a few travel posts, kicking off with the preparation and planning.

1. Booking The Flight
  • We use Skyscanner, an ad-free site which trawls the net for a flight that matches our criteria. I sign up for daily email alerts and wait patiently until the flight drops to a price I like.
  • A direct flight to Goa from the UK takes around 10 hours but many destinations within India need a flight change. I've learnt from bitter experience to check how long the wait is between planes, what might at first seem like a bargain could involve a 10+ hour wait at the airport and we've probably spent the amount we've saved on a cheap flight in the bar to kill the time.

Planning our next move
2. The Tourist Visa
  • Visitors need a visa to enter India, in the UK they can be applied for either by post or in person. Luckily for us the Indian Visa office is a few miles down the road so we fill in & print off the application forms and submit our application ourselves, returning a few days later to pick them up. 
  • For years the cost for a six month visa was around £30 per person but this year it has increased to over £90. Just as well the pound is at its strongest ever against the rupee, our money will go loads further once we're there.
The Maharajah's Palace at Mysore
3. Insurance
  • We take out an annual multi-trip worldwide travel insurance policy for a couple. 
  • Insurance with the award-winning Holiday Safe cost us £66.60 for a year. 
  • We never automatically renew our policy. I always trawl the Internet first for the best deal.
  • Don't forget to mention any pre-existing medical conditions and to check the insurance policy covers the duration of your trip (some only allow a stay of 14 days per trip).
Car Street, Gokarna, Karnataka

4.Airport Parking
  • We usually fly from Manchester. It's not our nearest airport but the flights are much cheaper than Birmingham and it's only an extra 40 minute drive away. Normally friends drop us off but its a bit cheeky to ask for a lift in the early hours of New Year's Day. 
  • We use Holiday Extras, (another screen scraper) to find the best deal for secure airport parking with a coach drop-off to and from the terminal.
St George's Fort, Madras

5. Staying Healthy
  • Check with the National Travel Health website to see if malaria is prevalent in the area you're travelling to as many parts of India are malaria-free and therefore no drugs are needed.
  • We order our antimalarial drugs on line from TravelPharm as, even with postage, it works out cheaper than a well-known high street chemist. 
  • Check with the GP that all vaccinations are up to date and book any boosters well ahead of the travel date.
  • Our first aid kit consists of the basics - rehydration sachets, ibuprofen, plasters, antiseptic and antihistamine cream. It's no problem if we forget anything, most medicines are available from pharmacies throughout India, of equal quality and much cheaper than they are at home.
  • In all our years of visiting I've only been ill once. Stick to eating at busy places patronised by discerning locals rather than over-priced tourist joints, say no to ice and salads unless the management can guaranteed that they have been washed/made from purified water.
Dhaba wallah at work, Victoria Terminus, Bombay (you'll know it from the final dance sequence in Slumdog Millionaire)
6. Accommodation
  • Unless we're landing in the early hours we never bother pre-booking our accommodation. 
  • We take the latest edition of the Rough Guide with us but never follow it slavishly - often a guesthouse will grow lazy on its success and push the prices up after getting the cachet of guide book approval, so we'll try the place next door or over the road first. 
  • One of us will sit in a cafe with the luggage whilst the other goes off to hunt for a room (otherwise the proprietor may assume you're desperate and bump up the room rate). 
  • Always look at the room before agreeing to take it and if the price is too high say so, most places will come down on price in order to fill a room.
After a bit of good natured haggling a room in this pretty pink house cost us £1.50 a night

7. Cash
  • The Rupee can't be purchased outside India. Each time we go back to the UK we make sure we've enough rupees in reserve so that we can pay for a taxi and a bottle of water on our return.
  • Never exchange cash at the airport as the rates are very poor.
  • Cash is king in India, we take enough sterling to last us through first week and change it as and when needed (travel insurance policies only cover up to a certain amount of cash so do check and make sure you've not invalidating your policy by carrying too much).
  • Larger towns have a cashpoint facility and we withdraw a week's worth of money at a time. 
  • We live on around £20 a day between us (that's all our accommodation, travel, food and beer). Shopping costs more - but after 22 visits there's not much we need.

Bangle sellers in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu
8.Keeping in touch
  • We take an ancient, unlocked mobile phone and buy a local simcard when we arrive. 
  • We let a friend at home know our contact number in case of emergencies. 
  • Unless we need to reconfirm our flights home we don't go near the Internet the whole time we're away. Nothing pisses me off more than tourists with laptops/smart phones Skyping their mates and updating their Facebook status. Live for the moment and share the experiences when you're back home.
Om Beach, Karnataka

9. Safety and Security
  • We photocopy the information page & visa stamp in our passports and our insurance documents and squirrel them away from the rest of our belongings. 
  • Our travel bags are lockable but there's nothing of great value in them anyway. The mobile phone was from Lidl 10 years ago, the camera's an ancient point and shoot and the MP3 player is as old as the hills. 
  • We carry the minimum of cash when we're out and about and take the bare minimum to the beach (a book and something to sit on) so we can swim in the sea and not worry about our belongings.
  • I wouldn't walk down a beach on my own in the dark but generally India is pretty safe. 
  • Always carry a torch after dark, power cuts are common and pavements almost non-existent.

Chamundi Hill, Mysore - within seconds of taking this photo this calf charged at me and dented one of my bangles, cheeky bugger!
10. Before you go
  • If the house is going to be empty, invest in a timer to switch on your lights in random rooms, at differing times during your absence.
  • Keep a radio on, tuned to a conversational station. 
  • Ask a reliable neighbour (or friend) to make sure your post/free newspapers are pushed through the letterbox so the house doesn't look empty.
  • Check your house insurance is still valid if you are away for longer than 28 nights.

Kathakali dancer, Kerala

So that's it for the grown-up stuff. My packing post, featuring pretty frocks, suncream and sparkly earrings will follow shortly (once I've worked out what on earth I'm taking!)

See you soon!


  1. This is amazing, thank you Vix. I'm thinking of going away next year (hopefully with Tom) and this is really useful.

  2. Exciting times ahead for you both!

    It sounds like you have this travel malarkey sussed. The other half has learned from bitter experience not to drink the water (he forgot about ice cubes last time) and some the street vendors drinks too.

    Here's to the packing posts!

    P x

  3. Thank you so much for posting this, and I'm excited to read the next installment!! I'm going to India (for the first time ever) next month, and I love to hear/read advice from other travellers!

  4. I am so excited for you ! Loved reading the whole post and was deeply immersed in it , very interesting and great tips . Loved the bits of photos too. Can't wait to hear more !

  5. How exciting for you both, I bet you can't wait! x

  6. Really useful tips here. Looking forward to the next post.
    Wish I could wear bangles, but my wrists are so darned slim.

  7. You're not just a pretty face, are you?! That's an amazingly sensible, thoughtful, organised, thrifty and honest guide to enjoying fabulous trips to India, it should be seized upon by a travel magazine/website/national newspaper and published immediately (after a hefty fee has been negotiated, of course...)
    And don't you look like Russian royalty in your fur hat and gorgeous cape, the Boots of Glory make me swoon with envy every time I see them! Always a joy to share your holiday pics, they really capture the flavour of the places you've been to in a way that posed and orchestrated shots couldn't ever do.
    Not long now, the beaches are ready and waiting for you, love! xxxx

  8. Wow! You're so organised.
    I hope you guys have an amazing time. I can't wait to see lots of pictures.


  9. Great advice - can't wait to hear all about your escapades when you get back xxx

  10. Brilliant travel advice! I went off to India on my own when I was 18 and it really was the trip of a lifetime! Would love to go back especially to Goa it is breathtakingly beautiful. xxx

  11. Look who's organized but after 22 trips it's no wonder! I love that I have that hat too and got it on my trip. You rock the purple my dear and I know that finally you have a day to chill so do it. You have been so so busy.

    I'm going to have to print this post and refer to it when getting ready to travel, it's jam packed with really good info. I'll be around tomorrow if you are up for a chat.
    Love you girlxxxxooooooo

  12. You are so organised!
    Love your hat & the purple coat. You look great. xxx

  13. Brilliant advice ... I really do hope to gt to India one day soon and I'll know just where to turn for advice! M x

  14. Wonderful advice and organization tips, Vix - thanks for this. And it sounds like you truly love the place and feel at home there - that's a wonderful feeling when traveling. Hooray for no internet!! xox

  15. Sounds great and such good tips too, such as the torch ( have never thought to take one with me before ). Had a successful chazzing trip yesterday :-)

  16. I am sooooooooooo glad for you, dear Vix.In a way I feel the same about Málaga.
    My mother loved the place, and now when we found the house I realised that for the first time we belong.
    Love and sunshine.

  17. Sensible and organised that's you! People should take a leaf out of Vix' Travel Tips if they want to avoid aggravation overseas. I'm sure you brightened up the Indian embassy with your marvellous cossack look, not long now till you can get in that bikini.xx

  18. Great advice! My son is off to India in the new year, so I've just sent him the link to this post - lots of practical and sensible advice. Thanks Vix.
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  19. We have a saying in our house. Proper prior planning prevents p*ss-poor performance. You are a girl after my own heart. For something like this the planning (a) allows you to start the daydreaming and (b) takes away the stress. I loved this post. I love the nitty gritty. We want to go to India someday and to do it like you do, and with your sage and experienced advice, I actually feel we could. You are going to have the best time, oh, it's going to be fabulous. Looking forward to the other planning posts already. xxxxxxx

  20. What a great post! Factual- and not a whiff of boring- I LOVED the accompanying pics! Now I have your photos of your return to look forward to, as well. Bon Voyage, grown up and seasoned traveller!

  21. These are very good tips and advice! I am totally jealous that are you off somewhere exotic and aesthetically wonderful! I am going to save and definetly will go somewhere amazing!!

    Hayleythrills XOXO

  22. Crikey you are well organised, but I guess you have done this trip enough times and obviously a great plan. I always enjoy your packing to go away posts, they are amazing!

  23. Exciting to be planning another trip :)

    Loving the photos - I just know me and the shopping would get on fine - my arms twitched at the sight of the bangle sellers!!

  24. Wonderfully grown up and uber important information, darling! Pretty much exactly what we do when we're travelling-tedious, but worthwhile to have it all sorted out!
    O, you must be champing at the bit!! It's been a while, but O, the BLISS! Make the most of every relaxing second! I can't wait to hear ALL abut it when you get back!!!
    Love Helga xxxXXXxxx

  25. Heeeey. A pic of Vix in flats. Beautiful. Also beautiful in your Visa fetching outfit. You are so organized. I am impressed. And green with envy. I met my husband, Jon, in India. I think I've told you that before. We dream about going back some day...Meanwhile we shall live vicariously through you and your Jon. Wishing you shocking pink, masala dosa, chrysanthemums and safe travels.

  26. You are an old hand at this by now and obviously have all the pre-travel tasks down to a fine art. I'm never away for any longer than two weeks so I don't have to worry about some of the things you've mentioned, but this post is a great resource for anyone thinking of travelling to India.

    I'm excited for you! You just have to get through all this Christmas hullabaloo and then you get to relax on a beach, with cows!

  27. really wise advices, everything seems ol'good common sense, but sometimes we forget it!, I've enjoyed some travels with my cheap camera and cabin luggage, and this is the one and only occasion I would subscribe to the motto 'less is more'!
    And you look so fabulous in your burgundy cape and purple gloves, and love so much your hat and colorful outfit!, you're so gorgeous!

  28. stunning first picture, fab, fab outfit! this is the best travel guide, and great pics, the Maharajah's Palace is breathtaking and the pink house is fabulous, and at £1.50 a night! you must be super excited to go back, I'm excited for you! x x x

  29. aahh - india!
    beautiful photos! would like to know the power bill of the maharaja´s palace ;-)
    we were there around x-mas 2009, my first time. loved it.
    i have a tip for help with stomach bugs - sat-isabgol. its an indian brand. does wonders. we used it to prevent - once per day.

  30. You're so organised ... I think you need to become a travel consultant ... these are all great tips.
    I'm sure you're going to have a fabulous time ... I'm feeling the anticipation for you.

  31. Hi there!! Great tips and information, you're both going to have such a wonderful time, good for you!! xxx

  32. I'm getting excited about the trip and I'm not going anywhere!!! This is dome great info to file away

  33. Oh this is exciting! So interesting to hear about all the grown-up tasks required and so much good information there. And now I'm very keen to read about the frocks and earrings you'll be bringing.

  34. Qué lindo tu blog. Me encanta lo Vintage.

  35. Fab post . So useful and wise x

  36. Well that's one seriously helpful, informative and grown-up post Vix. You have all this wisdom at your fingertips after all these years of visiting your tropical paradise and we're very lucky to get the benefit of your experiences. They must have bumped up the visa price coz they thought you were a Bollywood movie star visiting their embassy. They should be paying for you to do India. You look frickin' amazing!!! xoxoxo

  37. You are a grown up! Looks like experience does pay off. You've made it seem so real, I feel like I'm the one about to go on vacation. sigh. At least I'll have the pictures to look at...

  38. Great point Vix and very grown up. Bet you both can't wait.

    X x

  39. I love reading your posts about India, you state everything so beautifully. I am tired of people saying things like "I had the worst experience, there were so many people and they ate with their hands!"

    Like seriously what did you expect when you travelled to the second most densely populated country. And yes we use our hands to eat. Get over it!.

    You know what I mean? Anyway the point is I love how non nasty you are about everything. Lots of love to you and on your travels x

  40. So much useful information! So many great tips! Now all I have to do is save $$$$

  41. I loved this post when I read it yesterday while I was walking home :D I'm so sharing it everywhere!!!
    I love your outfit in the first photo - Russian princess!

    Hugs x

  42. Adore your purple poncho & Russia-inspired hat ; gr8 informative post too(enjoy :-)!


  43. That's fantastic that your india trip is now planned, bet you can't wait to take that glamorous fur hat off and get back in the bikini! Thanks for the thoughtful travel advice dear Vix

  44. I always enjoy reading about people's travel plans Vix, and there's loads of useful advice here. Good to think about something other than Christmas too! Love seeing your photos, that Maharajah's palace all lit up is incredibly beautiful, as is the beach, it looks so laid back there. I'm looking forward to seeing what you pack. xx

  45. You must be getting excited! What about your puss cats? Do they go to a cattery? And your part time fluffy cat? xxx

  46. Hi Dear Vix,
    Thank you! It is so informative! How I long to go to India one day!


  47. You seem so well prepared. It sounds so relaxing and unplugged.

    I hope you have a fabulous trip!


  48. Great post Vix. I'm looking forward to your packing post. I am rubbish at packing and love watching a master at work (you!) I know it's been a while sinxe I've been over to visit your blog but it's good to be back! Em. X

  49. namaste ... amazing pictures ... aaaaaah! great post!

  50. What a fabulous travel piece - personal, informative and fun.
    I love the pic of you on the beach with the cow.

  51. Great post and some really great information and ideas! I hope that you both have the most wonderful time over there!

  52. You and Jon are well seasoned travellers! Thanks for passing on those tips. The one about leaving a radio on is great - we do that whenever we're staying away.

  53. Love to see you guys gearing up for another trip! We could totally write a similar guide to hanging out in SE Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). Live lean, support local businesses, let the sweat run down the backs of you knees.

  54. Very useful and comprehensive Vix! Love your outift and your hat especially! xx

  55. A really comprehensive list for planning a trip. Hoping I can make good use of it someday. Love the hat!

  56. Enjoy your holiday dear Vix! Wonderful bit about Skyscanner, will check that out. Have a brilliant time. xx/ma\Mdison

  57. Awesome post Vix, you really have it all covered. X

  58. I loved this post. I've promised myself some travel some day outside the States. Until then, my beloved NYC will have to do.

  59. A journey will be more worth when it's planned and documented with care and love!

  60. gosh! you look like a Russian princess going out to get your visa! for work i send people to Bangalore quite a bit, and most of these tips i give the same advice, though i will remember some of the others as they are pretty handy! Visa's for Aussies are $400 AUD! Can you believe it! But if work pays you back then they dont mind. and we always send them to the same very nice hotel, which no matter the amount of times we've stayed there, they always hassle the travelers for payment mid way even thought our contracts are for payment after stay. but we stay there for months at a time so theres lots of money we're holding onto. I cant wait to see you photos when you return!!!

  61. Dang that's a lot to do. I always thought you just get a passport, buy a plane ticket and go. I guess that goes to show you how much travelling I've done.


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