Lessons from India

Our planning for India was the most challenging of the major countries we visited. Part of us was really excited about India, the other part was nervous. First and most significantly, just a week before our arrival, the prime minister announced a demonetization plan that would remove 80% of India’s paper currency from circulation. In an effort to modernize payments and combat the enormous black market, citizens were required to bring their currency to a local bank and exchange it for new bills. Second, the US state department issued its first country specific terrorism warning in southern Asia. Third, a train derailment killed 250 people in the week prior to our arrival.  As a result, we shortened our India travels to just 3 weeks, less than our original outline. 

We want an Indian wedding

The colors.  The traditions.  The food.  The dancing.  It is the ultimate celebration. 

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A warm welcome

We wish we had spent more time in India. Everywhere we went, the people we met were incredibly warm and welcoming to us. We were constantly asked to take pictures (especially Annie) and tons of shy little kids came up to us to say hi. Whenever we needed directions, there was always someone willing to help. 

The head waggle is amazing

It means nothing and everything at the same time.  We love seeing it, but it always makes us second guess whatever we were thinking.  It can mean yes, no, maybe, I’m not sure… it’s a social gesture.

Most like Prime Minister Modi.  Some do not.

He won leadership by promising to combat corruption and modernize India’s infrastructure. The two biggest infrastructure challenges that we saw were: (1) electronic payment methods are scarce and (2) we heard terrible stories about the safety on trains. We avoided taking trains as a result. We did find some were frustrated with his leadership, because some changes are taking too long.


It is widely viewed as a positive step forward, despite short-term pain.  This view was reiterated throughout Delhi and by many at the wedding.  It’s evident that the poor have felt even more pain because the lack of liquidity has meant that people are less apt to spend their smaller bills.  We found that demonetization efforts were viewed more negatively in Kerala – in fact, the strikes in the region forced us to head to the airport about 12 hours earlier than we were planning.  Our taxi there was one of the few cars on the road and it was stopped by two men that came out into the road, demanding to know why our driver was on the road. 

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So many religions ARE celebrated here

Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Christianity, Buddhism. It is a wonder that India is a single country. It must be terribly difficult to govern, because people identify first with their local tribes, and second to the country as a whole.

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Interactions as a Woman

The vast majority of our interactions were very positive. There were two conversations that frustrated Annie. First, we were speaking with one older man about demonetization.  Adam was allowed to ask numerous questions, but Annie was cut off frequently and was once met with: “No. You wait and listen.” Second, a man that shook Adam’s hand, wouldn’t even look at Annie, or shake her hand, despite standing next to Adam and participating in the conversation and looking at him.


We found that whatever price was first quoted to us, we could generally get about 25% to 50% of that price.  Walking away was the most powerful tool we had. 

Aggressive sales tactics

While walking through the markets, we were thrown the whole gamut. We were cornered in the back of stores. One salesman even grabbed Annie’s arm as we were walking to leave.

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Cursing during Negotiations

We saw this on multiple occasions. During the negotiation process, women would pull the veil in front of their face to curse at Adam when he offered a lower price. When they would draw back the veil, they would resume the conversation as if nothing had happened.

Helmet Policy

Motorbikes are everywhere. In India, anyone driving a motorcycle, moped, or scooter is required to wear a helmet. HOWEVER, you don’t have to wear one if 1) you’re a woman; 2) you’re Sikh (because their head turbans wouldn’t fit under one); and 3) you’re in areas of India where they’re less strict.  You’re not supposed to drive with more than two people on a scooter, but this definitely isn’t followed or enforced in many areas.   The max number of people that we saw on a scooter was 6.   


Lots of people do not pay taxes.  This was highlighted as being particularly true in the villages.

Views on Trump

In India, most people we met were not particularly happy, because they worry that IT jobs may be taken away.

Halfway Time Zone

India has a weird time zone. The entire country is in the same zone, and it is half an hour out of sync of the zones directly to the east and west. We had no idea before we arrived. 

Travel Tips

  • You need to apply for an India e-tourist visa online within 1 month of when you plan to travel
  • Given the demonetization events, we were never able to take out rupees (we borrowed 3000 rupees from friends).  Any working ATMs had massive lines outside of them and would often times run out of money.  The best bet if you are going any time soon is to exchange currency at the airport (USD to rupees). Thankfully, USD is often accepted
  • Uber is a great way to get around.
  • It is a useful rule of thumb to assume that a vendor’s first offer is 4x what you should be paying. Obviously, there are plenty of exceptions, but we observed this multiple on average.