What is it like to be an Indian Flashpacker abroad?

No matter which country you go to, the first question asked by a friendly local is” Where are you from”. It is human nature to glance at other beings and judge based on appearance. We all have a “first impression” of someone we just met. After they realize we are Indian travellers, a few get excited – “Oh Bollywood”. 

Indian photographer visiting a Buddhis  monastery at Bhutan along with the monks wearing maroon robes

In Bhutan – where I used Indian Rupees for most transactions

Their first opinions may be based on their mental horizon and how other Indian travellers have behaved.

Here is our story – the boons and banes of being a part-time Indian flashpacker.

We adjust easily – the perk of living in a diverse country

Indian traveler in Hijab sitting on a bench at busy public plaza near Tehran Grand Bazar

The country we loved most – Iran

When we travel to various Indian states, it feels like a different country most time! Culture, customs, tradition, food, language, weather, geography – You got it all in one pot -“India.” So after experiencing more than 15 states, we now know at least the basics of multiple religions, traditions and languages. Including wiping butts with tissue paper and not washing, definitely, there are some shocks. But most of us are trained well to “Adjust a Bit.”

  • Putting on a hijab in Iran wasn’t difficult – I have done it in Delhi Jama Masjid & Golden temple. Plus, in many Indian cities, you see Non-Muslim women wearing a scarf on their heads to save themselves from heat & dust.
  • Removing my shoes to enter Ragab’s house in Bawiti, Egypt didn’t seem different.
  • Travelling in Tamil Nadu is no less than that of a foreign country. Most people reply to you in Tamil when you ask for help. So, asking for a bus route from Athens to Syntagma square at the airport didn’t seem weird. Waiting in longline to enter Hagia Sophia, and haggling with shopkeepers at Istanbul Grand Bazar looked like India’s local market affair.
  • Our taste buds have been subjected to a blast of flavours. So Thai food didn’t seem too spicy.
  • Brussels traffic may annoy many, but not those stuck in Bangalore silk board traffic.
  • After having travelled on the Local Mumbai train – there is nothing called “Crowded Place” for travellers who have travelled across India.

Visa gets rejected often

Copy of an e-mail stating Visa rejection for Indian travelers by Armenia

Dear Armenia, we won’t cheat on you; we have a job and a family in my homeland to go back to. We will go hiking around Tatev monastery and leave your beautiful country after a week. Please grant us Visa.

Why would a visa be rejected?

The toughest part for travellers with Indian citizenship is – the complexity of the Visa procedure and Visa rejection. We are eligible for less than 60 countries to get Visa On Arrival or E-Visa. A few eastern European countries say “Indians are eligible for E-Visa and VOA” and later bluntly rejected our Visa application because we are labelled as Economic immigrants. Even a meme says, ” Go East or West, you find an Indian trying to make a nest”.
There have been hundreds of Incidents where Indians got deported from these countries’ airports even after submitting all the required legit documents.

Which country is best for travel for Indians?

Bhutan security person checking Indian bikers crossing India-Bhutan Border

The two easiest border crossings for Indians- are Nepal & Bhutan. Ashrith crossed the Bhutan border with his voter ID.

I don’t deny that some Indian tourists misused Tourist visas and set up a business in Georgia, Armenia, and Canada. But ordinary tourists like us have to suffer because of others.

The Schengen Visa, and USA Visa, give wings to the Indian passport. We can apply for E-visa in most Eastern Europe and South American countries. But getting these Visas isn’t easy and needs lots of paperwork- around 40pages of documents must be submitted along with attending a personal interview at the embassy.

The Yoga and Herbal products – Always favour us.

Indian couple travel bloggers standing in front of Blue Mosque at Istanbul in Turkey

At Istanbul

Most foreigners recognise India with Yoga and Spirituality as Yoga originated here. Though we haven’t contributed anything to it, the word India-Yoga-Spirituality gets us extra admiration and respect.

Ayurveda and herbal products are the next things Indians are associated with. Our Istanbul BnB host, Ali’s wife, thought Indians use only plant-based cosmetics, not the usual Mac/Maybelline. While devouring her handmade hazelnut cake, my colourbar lipstick fell off the purse. She seemed unhappy to know that it is a regular cosmetic, not a herbal-based lip colour! These topics are one of the major conversation starters wherever we go.

An instant foreign trip is hardly doable

Two Indian women travelers in deep conversation

Mom & me discussing what to order in our favourite restaurant in Bangalore -Our international travel plan discussions look as intense as this.

Besides the lengthy Visa obtaining procedure, there are other hindrances to the “Let us leave for Australia tomorrow” type of travelling even if we have a break from work and enough money. Our Indian Rupees are exchangeable hardly anywhere. Getting instant USD/Euro isn’t like making instant noodles for us. If we don’t have an international DL, less than 15 countries let us rent a car for self-driving. International connectivity is good for a limited number of countries with direct flights.

So “Instant-travel” isn’t possible for mid-range Indian couple travellers like us

Indian festival holidays are a boon

Huge statue of Lord Shiva in meditating posture with sun setting in the background at Bijapur in India

Blessed at Bijapur

There is no government policy on “Paid Vacation” for Indians. But we have something called Earned leaves. Plus, when we work hard, finish our assignments quicker, and help others later, most companies keep it in mind when giving the employees vacation.

Why is India so special?

To top it, we have more than ten days of public holiday, and there are major festivals like Dasara in October, and Deepavali in November. So taking a vacation by clubbing earned leaves with these festivals/public holidays are a boon for us. Thus we can go on vacation at multiple times of the year- provided we have worked well enough during the regular days ( Well enough doesn’t mean slogging, ignoring social life)

Layovers can’t be turned into a Day Trip

Indian couple travellers with the silhouette of skyscrapers by the sea at Doha Harbour in Qatar

Indian ex-pats are the largest in numbers and makeup around 25% of the Qatar population. So the Doha layover could be turned into a day trip – Perhaps this is the only case.

As Indians, we can’t just go out and have a day in London because we had 36hrs of layovers at Heathrow airport like how stronger passport holders can do. We have to sit inside Paris airport for 48 hours unless we have a Schengen Visa. So our layovers can not become random “day outings”. We have to apply for Visa at least one to two months in advance. Plus we also pray to get our request approved unless it is Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand tourist Visa. God knows how much we must struggle if we decide to go to Libya or Eritrea!

FAQ1-Why aren’t you on a big group tour?

Indian flashpacker at crowded Dam square standing beside artist dressed as Jack sparrow at Amsterdam in the Netherlands

The best place in Amsterdam to people-watch Dam square- Yes we have paid both artists to click this.

Many Indians travel with an organised group tour for convenience. We are the second highest populated nation that loves to go on a vacation with family. So it is common to see Indian tourists in a big groups staying in a hotel. As a flashpacking couple on a mid-range budget, owners often seemed surprised when we entered a homestay or a hostel in foreign countries.

There are only a few backpackers/flashpackers from India compared to other countries. Hence, when we get off the public bus and walk to a homestay, many ask us, “Why didn’t your tour organiser pick you up” Some even have cross-checked our bookings, thinking why would two Indians book a room here. We aren’t the only independent traveller species from India, but rare.

Hardly any locals ask for a picture with us!

Indian woman traveler standing by the edge of a cliff with a dog beside her looking at blue Mediterranean ocean and the white city on the terraces at Santorini in Greece

The only fella who accompanied us in Santorini for a photo without invitation

We love it when locals approach us for a photo since it rarely happens with us. Out of 11 countries across 35 towns, only three times locals have asked for a photo- Once in Shiraz, Amman and Istanbul. All these places, it was teenage girls curious about us! The girls were sweet and nice while asking. So we loved the attention. I know how many of you get bugged for a picture by locals in India and other places. It is not so common for browns like us, you see.

FAQ2- Don’t you want to go to an Indian restaurant?

Thailand girl buying breakfast from a local food cart at Old Bangakok in Thailand

Trying typical Thai breakfast- boiled rice to make it like Porridge without meat. Wat Phra Nakon, Old Bangkok.

Since we have endless options in veg food and 40% of Indians are vegetarians, many Indians find it hard to manage in other countries. Especially fogey & Neophobic ones. Plus, many have religious reasons for consuming only a particular type of food.

Why Do Indian Travellers Go On Vacation Abroad And Only Eat Indian Food?

Apart from the religious fact that Hindus don’t eat beef and Muslims don’t eat pork, most Desi families are stuck to Indian food abroad! Somehow it is fed into our minds that Indian food is the only food – the rest is bland bread. And most Indian shackles themselves with the same old Indian food. It isn’t about foreign travel, some Indians prefer their state food only when they travel to other states.

Locals at tourist places must have observed this thoroughly. So When we ask our host, the taxi driver or boat captain, they suggest an Indian restaurant. If we ask about their favourite place, they seem surprised! “You don’t want Indian food? I never thought you were someone who wanted to try local food. Don’t you prefer to eat & mingle with your own people?” We always look for affordable, tasty authentic food joint – not an Indian food joint in a foreign land. Plus, we are “too many” in my nation. I will mingle with them in my own country. So it takes us extra few more minutes to get the information from locals about their favourite food joint.

“Indian tourist? -You must be Noisy and crafty.”

Note by Gstaad hotel of Switzerland to Indians

We have brought this on ourselves – Indian tourists surface among the top 10 worst travellers in the world. When they see our passports while checking in, we often receive extra warnings and wordings. 

When my brother lived in Finland for a few years, his heart broke when he saw a note in his hotel room at Lapland.” Dear Indians, if you like any of the items from our room-check with our staff at the reception. They will help you buy the same. Please, don’t take any items with you while checking out. Thanks for understanding.” 

Are Indians the World’s Worst Tourists?

It isn’t very pleasant when the hotel owner asks us to vacate the room 30 min before the specified check-out time because they feel it takes more time to clean rooms occupied by two Indians. Since only a few Indians opt for hostels, we prefer a private room in a hostel/homestay, so they don’t have a preconceived notion about us, hoping the previous Indian guests haven’t troubled them.

Indian couple travelers standing in front of mannikin pis at Brussels in Belgiun

This is how many foreign hosts react when they see Indian couple travellers. Pic abve “: Me, annoyed with pissing kid at Brussels

Are Indians respected outside India? 

While I admit Indian travellers are loud and demanding, there are responsible tourists like us. We clean the room before leaving. And won’t be loud and follow decent etiquette. We are always 5 minutes early for any booked walking tours.. In 2019, when we left the white desert our guide Mamdouh said, “I was always worried to be the guide for Indian tourists. I have had bad experiences with them. Usually, we cater to European and American travellers. Trust me; you are one of the loveliest guests I have ever been with.”

Traditional Indian attire amuses them.

Salwar Kameez is common among Pakistanis and Indians. Saree is exclusive to Indian & Sri Lankan women. My mom and aunts wear them regularly, and I wear them occasionally. But I have this craze for a photo-wearing saree in a foreign land. Whether it’s me wearing it for an hour or Mom wearing it for the whole day, the locals who see us are always excited and find it beautiful.

Indian couple traveler in traditional Indian attire standing on the terrace of Heritance Kandalama at Dambulla in Sri Lanka

At Heritance Kandalama, I wore a simple silk saree while celebrating our first anniversary. An elderly couple from Russia waited until we finished clicking photos, came to me and asked all about my attire.

The young girls at Firostefani who watched the sunset sitting next to us were excited to know about my Ilkal saree. While going to Chiang Mai town from a bus stand, the French family was delighted to see my mom in a saree and her nuptial chain.

Do non-Indians like Indian dresses?

In Cappadocia, an old lady I met on the bus asked me,” “Why do you pant? No big dress?” and she pointed at her hands, necks, and forehead. I was confused about what was she saying. She later takes her phone out and shows a clipping from a Hindi serial dubbed to Turkish where women were all dressed up. She pointed at her screen, signed super, and pointed at me, saying, not nice. I know now what foreigners love most about India – the colours.

Our skin tone puzzles their mind.

Couple travel bloggers from India sitting on the floor in front of huge statues of Ramesses at Abu Simbel in Egypt

Abu Simbel

I think both of our physical appearances confuse many people. If I apply makeup with bright lipstick, people ask me if I am Turkish or Pakistani. Whenever I was without makeup, people guessed my nationality correctly. But Ashrith, on the other hand, is a great puzzle to many. Ibrahim in Egypt told, he looks like an Egyptian. At Pamukkale BnB, the host thought Ashirth was Brazilian.

We were crossing The road near Coconut hill of Mirissa. A Jeep passing by stopped at Ashrith and asked him something in Sinhala! Ashrith looked confused so did the Jeep guys. They said,” You Sri Lanka, No?” “I am from India”, Ashrith replied. From their faces, we could see that they were shocked to know that Asrith is not a Sri Lankan. This “Guess my country” has always been a fun part of our travels.

You are a computer man! Awesome

Indian backpacker posing as Matt Damon in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

Will I get rescued like Matt Damon? The Martian spot in Wadi Rum

In India, if you say, a software Engineer, everyone understands that you are one among the billions. India is one of the leading nations in the IT-BPM industry. 8% of India’s GDP comes from this industry. If you tell a taxi driver about your IT job, he will say” my brother is also in Xyz company”. So Ashirth is one among 44lakh IT employees in India. But outside India, people get fascinated (of course not in Singapore, London, NY and other IT hubs).

What is it like to work as a computer engineer?

Ashrith loves his profession and it is his passion

Many whom we met in Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Iran got amused! They think he is doing a job that is above all! If he says software engineer, they seem to be puzzled. The moment he says, I am into Information and Technology of Computers, their exclamation goes looooong. “Ooooooh, woooooow, computer man” – Often, they call Ashrith “Computer man.”

We love them, and they love us back.

Which countries are Indian-friendly?

I don’t have an answer to this question for two reasons – We haven’t travelled the globe yet to decide the winner. Even after travelling, it is tough to generalize anything. But wherever we went, the love is reciprocal – You love and respect them, and they give back the same thing. As an Indian traveller, you can expect a few hours of delay in reciprocation, but you get it.

After we began travelling abroad we realized the world is better than what we had assumed. Earth is full of nicer people than we thought. We make the first move, open up, and start the conversation – but they are the ones who take it beyond – Beyond coffee, tea, and a meal to a lifelong friendship and wonderful memories.

Is it easy for Indian travellers?

Stereotyping and racism are common diseases worldwide – so we, the two brown-skinned Indian travellers are no exception to it. But we haven’t received any major backlash yet. In fact, in Indian places where foreign tourists often come, cafe/shop owners prioritise foreigners over locals. So we face racism in my own country. We broaden our horizons neatly by travelling. Travelling doesn’t mean seeing a place – It is an experience. Learning to behave responsibly and respect local cultures, handling fragile situations neatly without insulting others and getting insulted is the best take-away from travelling by ourselves. We learn most when we land in the land of the unknown. We are there to share our cultures and not preach.

Did? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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