|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
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|
- 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|
- 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.
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)|
- 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.
- 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.
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!|
- 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|
See you soon!