Landing in Mumbai was a wake up call.
With just under the same population as the whole of Australia, this city can be quite overwhelming.
Here are some handy survival tips:
- Carry your own toilet paper
We were often fortunate enough that the hostels would ration us a roll upon assessment of our ethnicity. Other than that, public toilets are a no-no if you don’t
have your own supplies…
- You cannot bring too much hand sanitiser.
Indian food is wonderful, and often it is eaten with the hands. It’s great to know that your hands are clean when you do this, plus, Mumbai calls for stray dog patting, visiting dirty bazaars, and shaking hands with many other people. Come fully stocked with hand sanitiser.
- Only drink bottled water.
This includes for tooth-brushing. Most travellers in India get sick at some point, and water can be quite risky if you’re not used to it. It’s also essential to check the seal on the bottled water you buy. Make sure you open it in front of them before you pay for it incase they’ve just recycled old bottles and used tap water.
- Accept that your body will respond differently.
Forget your normal bodily functions, curry and spice is no longer a one-off. It’s daily. And Indian cuisine uses a lot of spice that westerners are not used to. I’m talking spicy breakfasts (because their attempts at western breakfasts aren’t really worth it), spicy soda if you’re into that, spicy pasta and spicy snacks. Get ready for the spice, go gently on your body, and don’t be surprised if your routine is quite different.
- Take advantage of the Hyralyte your mum encouraged you to bring.
India is hot. It’s sunny, and if you’re on the move a lot, you probably won’t notice yourself start to get dehydrated. Electrolytes in tablet form are super easy to pop into your water for some extra hydration. It’s also really handy in case you do get sick and can’t stomach too much fluid.
- Bring your own pillowcase.
I swear by this as my one main travel tip. If you are going any place where the hygiene standard is less than home, it makes such a difference putting your face against something that smells neutral and that you know is clean. A pillowcase is tiny and light so it won’t destroy your weight allowance, and you can just throw it over the pillow.
- Get used to avoiding eye contact.
Locals will stare. Men will stare A LOT if you’re female. I spent the first several days trying to work out the rationale behind this since I stuck to the guidelines religiously and covered up ft. long, loose pants and a shawl. If you’re blonde like me, it’s best to keep your hair tied up when on the street, as i’ve found a wave of golden locks stands out like a sore thumb. It’s best to accept it’s going to happen, stay in a group, and don’t let the pointing, talking, photo-taking and occasionally curious giggling slow you down. Imagine you’re a celebrity for a few weeks and appreciate you’re something interesting.
- Get amongst it.
This was the quote of the trip as Mumbai is such a different culture, and if you’re not open to going with the flow, you’re going to get frustrated and struggle. Most Indians are vegetarian – roll with it. The driving is pure anarchy (no seatbelts, no indicators, no lanes etc.) – roll with it.
- Eat well.
Your appetite may completely vanish for a while due to the unfamiliar surroundings and often confronting hygiene of the city. It is, however, important to have enough sustenance for all the walking, and for the energy that is unknowingly expended in the hectic business of the city and the heat. We found that having one or two main meals during the afternoon and evening was best for keeping alert.
- Accept that you can’t fix everything.
It can be quite an overwhelming place to be in terms of poverty, pollution, and animal treatment. People will come up to you. If you give them something, there will be many more who will then plead you for something (yet Mumbai is home to the most expensive house in the world – worth $1 billion!). It’s better instead to have conversations as best you can about where you come from, and get to know the people and their fascinating culture.