It can be overwhelming to plan an international trip to a far-off place like India.
When I was planning my trip to India and helping my family plan theirs, it was helpful to have a complete timeline of when we should start doing important things like: Booking our flights, getting our visa, and more.
Below you’ll see the checklist I use for myself and friends to plan our India trips…
Want a free travel checklist PDF for India? Click the link to check it out and see if it will help you pack and plan.
Things You Need:
- Visa: You can apply for most visas online if you’re staying up to 5 years in India.
- Travel insurance: Need to cancel your trip due to sickness? You’re covered. Need to fly home due to a death in the family? You’d get reimbursed. Need to be evacuated back to the US because something terrible happened? It would be handled.
- Flight tickets to India, as well as any domestic flights.
- Train tickets
- Vaccinations: You need to decide if you want them or not?
- Valid Passport: Make sure your passport has validity for more than 6 months after your trip.
- International Driver’s License: If you want to rent a scooter, you would want one of these to do so legally.
4-6 Months Before Departure
If you want to be prepared, you can start taking care of things at this stage so preparing for India can be as smooth as possible. If you’d prefer to procrastinate, it’s not necessary to start now.
How Long Are You Traveling For?
Can you get away from work for only two weeks? Or can you travel around India for 6 months?
It’s time to start figure out how long you can get away to explore beautiful India.
Where Are You Going?
India is huge and there’s a lot to see. Are you going to do the most popular tour like the Golden Triangle?
Or do you want to explore the little-known destinations like Khajuraho’s Erotic Temples? Pondicherry’s chill beach culture?
What do you like to do?
- Are you looking for beach parties and raves? Then Goa is for you.
- Are you looking for historical monuments you can only find in India? Then the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur is for you. Maybe add in a trip to Varanasi.
- Do you want to take a yoga training? Rishikesh is the yoga capital of the world.
- What about doing adventure sports in the Himalayas? Manali should be on your list.
- Do you want a romantic vacation with your partner? Then head to Kerala and do a houseboat tour on the Backwaters.
- Are you seeking enlightenment? Check out the shiva temples in South India like Madurai.
Once you know where you are going then you can start researching how you’ll get there and around:
- Book hotel rooms with free cancellation: Booking.com lets you cancel some hotel bookings and I’ve booked hotels 6 months ahead of time then been able to switch them last-minute without a penalty.
- Sign up for price alerts on flights from Skyscanner: You have time to buy your flight but you may see a great deal on a service like Skyscanner. Just plug in your flight details and once you get some estimates click Get Price Alerts. Then when the price changes you will get an email.
- Research train tickets on Indian Railways: You can book tickets as much as 120 days in advance, so you want to start looking at prices and availability. You still have time though, but this will give you an idea about a reasonable travel budget.
Start Your Paperwork
Visa: You can apply as much as 120 days before your trip for your visa. You don’t need to apply at this stage yet and I recommend you apply 1 month before you depart. If you don’t want the headaches, having to do this yourself, then get help from iVisa.
Make sure your passport is valid. Getting an Indian visa means your passport should NOT expire within 6 months of your trip. If it does, then you need to get a new passport and that can take 4-6 weeks for a US passport.
Research Your Insurance Needs
What type of coverage do you need?
At this stage, you want to have an idea of what travel insurance is and what you might need. You do NOT need to apply until you know where you are going, BUT the earlier you buy, then you can be covered for more things because you eliminate some pre-existing conditions. For instance, if you waited to buy, then broke your leg… you wouldn’t be covered for any treatment for that condition since it happened before you bought it.
World Nomads has been my travel insurance provider of choice for years. They’re great for travelers who want plenty of coverage for the important stuff like emergency medical and evacuation insurance. They also have good trip cancellation and interruption coverage which means if you have to cancel your trip you can get refunded for pre-paid expenses.
BUT they’re great because they cover a lot of adventurous activities like hiking, scuba diving and driving a scooter… which are NOT covered by most travel insurance policies.
You can also sign up in a few minutes on their site and they’re recommended by the Lonely Planet.
SafetyWing is my recent favorite travel insurance provider. I like that they also provide good coverage for important items like emergency medical and evacuation coverage. They will also cover you if you visit your home country, which most providers will NOT do. For instance, if I flew back to the US from India to visit family, I could get covered if the trip was less than 3 weeks.
The cost is also twice as inexpensive as World Nomads, AND I can pay each month instead of having to buy a 6-month policy in advance.
Their site is also very easy to navigate and understand, and you can check your price in a few minutes if you like their offer. [By clicking and purchasing through that link you also take a step towards supporting this website at no cost to yourself.]
To Vaccinate or Not?
India does NOT require any vaccinations for entry unless you have been to an area with Yellow Fever (like some countries in Africa).
You should be up to date on your routine vaccinations before going to India, such as measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, chickenpox, and your annual flu shot. But you need to decide if you want to get extra vaccinations before your trip.
The CDC recommends that MOST travelers get vaccinated for:
- Hepatitis A: You can contract this through contaminated food or water.
- Typhoid: You can contract this through contaminated food or water too. It’s especially found in rural areas and street food.
The CDC recommends that SOME travelers get vaccinated for:
- Hepatitis B
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Yellow Fever
IMPORTANT: Once you know where you are traveling to in India, then see your doctor and ask for recommendations on what would be best for your situation. You have time and could schedule this closer to 4 weeks before departure.
Research India: Read and Watch Movies
I couldn’t get enough books and novels about India. The novel Shantaram actually inspired my trip for the first time, as the main character lived in the Mumbai slums and worked as a doctor, then a gangster.
Here’s the ultimate list of books to read before traveling to India.
I’m also a film buff and have tracked over 2,000 films that I’ve watched. There are some great movies to inspire and educate you on Indian culture.
You can check out my 50 recommendations for India trip movies.
7-10 Weeks Before Departure
You should have progressed with your research, have a working draft of your itinerary and are ready to make some purchases.
Buy International Flights
CheapAir.com did an Airline Study looking at 917,000,00 airfares in +8,000 markets for the best time to buy airline tickets before an international flight and found that…
- In 2017, 70 days before your departure was the cheapest time to buy your tickets.
- In 2018, 54 days was the cheapest time to buy your tickets.
- For an average trip, the lowest price changed 62 times with an average drop or raise of $36.
- If you book 319 to 169 days in advance, you’ll pay $50 more than the lowest average prices. But you have more airfare options, and can choose seats and sit with your travel partners.
- If you book 121 to 21 days in advance, you can find the cheapest fares.
The best time to buy your flights is Tuesday around 3 pm EST. You’ll also want to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday if you can.
4-6 Weeks Before Departure
At this point, you should have a concrete itinerary and know where you’re going. It’s time to buy!
- Finalize itinerary
- Book hotel rooms
- Book train tickets
- Book domestic flights in India
- Book tours
- Apply for your visa
- Buy travel insurance
- Get an International Driver’s License
Buy Items For Your India Trip
Some items you want to bring with you on your India trip:
- Travel t-shirt
- Travel underwear
- Packable daypack
- Travel adaptor
- Charcoal tablets
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Anti-diarrhea pills
- Electrolyte tablets
- Melatonin tablets
- Great footwear
- Sleeping bag liner
- Mosquito net
- Women’s peeing kit
- Neck wallet
- Travel backpack
If you’ve prepared well, then you can be chilling at this time. But there are a few things to do:
- Bring extra cash: Bring a couple of hundred dollars in your local currency as a backup
- Research ATMs at the airport you are arriving in, so you can easily find them and withdraw cash for a good rate. The currency exchange kiosks in the airport have higher rates and often hidden fees.
- Put travel notices in your banks and credit cards
- Pack your bag.
Make 5 paper copies of your important documents:
- Hotel reservations
- Plane Tickets
- Drivers license
I use these to give to hotels. This is not necessary but some will ask and smaller places may not have a copier.
Make 2 digital copies of your documents. Put them on your phone and also online in Google Driver or Evernote. Then if you lose your phone, you can still access them.
You can use this free travel checklist PDF for India to plan. The important thing is to get started early and have fun as you plan. India has so many beautiful destinations and things to do, this could be an adventure you’ll never forget!