India has long been a top travel destination for those who wander, but what you think you know about Mumbai and the reality may surprise you.

You’re not going to have your own Eat, Pray, Love experience, because Mumbai is a massive metropolitan region, similar to any other major urban area around the world in many respects. Simply getting from one side of the city to the other can take the entire day, so your dream of hopping from the Queen’s necklace to a rural village in 30 minutes isn’t going to happen.

If you really want to prepare for your trip to Mumbai, take it from someone who’s lived there. Here are a few things to consider when packing, if you wish to prepare for the trip of a lifetime.

1. Learn basic Hindi

Hindi is the language most commonly spoken in Mumbai, and shouldn’t count on anyone to know English. Basic phrases in order to ask directions and be polite is key.

Bonus points if you learn the Hindi alphabet, since many stores “spell out” English words phonetically in Hindi.

2. Get a card with no foreign transaction fees

You don’t want to travel with a lot of cash in India, and many places (including some taxis) accept credit cards. Choose one with no foreign transaction fee such as Schwab Bank or certain Chase cards.

3. Choose the right volunteer opportunity

If you want a volunteer vacation, you can find options in abundance in Mumbai, but they’re not all created equally. Do your research, talk with others who have completed the program, and choose a project you’re passionate about.

Mumbai is a huge city, so make sure to find housing that’s close to where you’ll be volunteering.

4. Dress comfortably and conservatively

Showing legs and cleavage (for women, of course) is considered sexy in India. You can safely you’re your arms, shoulders, and even glimpses of midriff, but expect to receive occasional stares no matter how you dress.

You’ll be walking on uneven roads and paths, however, so ditch the heels and embrace cool, spacious linens.

5. Travel with pepper spray

You don’t want to get caught in a tough situation, and it’s best to keep a mini pepper spray canister with you at all times (even in the US, for that matter). To be extra cautious, only travel in groups, don’t drink with strangers, and don’t go out at night without a male companion.

Relatively speaking, Mumbai is progressive for India, but it’s still India, and there’s no reason to ask for trouble.


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