Set the mood and prepare your mind for India

Set the mood and prepare your mind for India

So you’re thinking of going to India ?  Help make it a firmer idea by setting the mood and prepare your mind – it will help consolidate your thoughts and make it a firm decision.  How do you set the mood and prepare your mind for India ?

Ever since I was in my early teens I had an unconscious love of India – all those Joss sticks I used to burn and the hippy fashion I followed. Later I had sari’s as curtains in a deep pink bedroom. India was top of my bucket list.

Here are my tips on how to set the mood and prepare your mind for India

INCENSE

Satya musk

You’re not going to be in India very long before the heady aroma of incense arouses your senses.  There are a huge array of incense sticks in the shops and online. Currently one of my favourites is Satya Musk – but I have a huge variety of incense sticks at home – I burn at least one a day.

Satya is an Indian brand – well kind of two brands actually as it was one company inherited by two brothers who couldn’t agree on how to run the business so they split into two companies. One is based in Mumbai and the other in Bengaluru. Some flavours are the same name but smell differently depending on which location you buy from. Mumbai’s are machine rolled while Bengaluru’s are still hand rolled. I like both generally but it is personal preference. The most famous scent is Nag Champa – apparently its what is burned in Amsterdam coffee shops – though I’ve never been to Amsterdam. If you do nothing else to prepare your mind for a trip to India – do this one. They are cheap and the aroma will linger in your home for days. Follow the link to Amazon to find my favourites and many many other scents.

 

FILMS

Lion

This is the true story of a man adopted in Australia looking for his real mum in Kolkata who he was separated from when he was five years old. Not only a good film but great scenes of Kolkata if you’re thinking of travelling there. Five times nominated for Bafta. Starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman you know it’s going to be a good watch.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Dev Patel, Judi Dench and a host of other well known actors make this a great watch for the amusing idiosyncrasies you may encounter in India – a good light hearted enjoyable film set in Jaipur. No I havn’t been there yet !

Slumdog Millionaire

Another Dev Patel film – actually the one that made him famous – is there anyone that hasn’t seen it ? Still worth another watch and concentrate on the background as it is set in Mumbai. When you fly into Mumbai you will fly over the slums as they are located right outside the airport parameter.

 

BOOKS

From guide books to fiction there are a huge array of books that will give you the facts and flavour of India. I suggest you read as many as you can. These are my favourites.

Lonely Planet – India

This book is top of the list for non-fiction and I don’t know many people who havn’t referred to this book before they travelled. It’s quite a hefty book 1200+ pages long. Mine has an array of coloured page markers though it. I found it indispensable – and if you only read one book before travelling then this one is the essential one. I consulted it before every trip. It’s divided into areas so you don’t have to read the whole book but I advise you read thoroughly the section that covers where you are thinking of heading. It gives info on many places to stay in each area according to your budget.

 

Shantaram 

Even disregarding the Indian connection this is my favourite book I’ve EVER read and I know I’m not alone in thinking this. Everyone I know that has read it has exactly the same opinion. It’s just a truly awsome read. It’s a semi-autobiographical story of an escaped heroin addict prison escapee who lands in Mumbai on a fake passport and ends up living in the slums. Just read it ! I read it before I went to India and again afterwards with fresh eyes.  I promise you won’t be disappointed if you do the same. It’s just so good I read it every few years.

GANESH & OTHER GODS

You’ll encounter gods a plenty in India , probably starting in your taxi above the dashboard from the airport. Or even the bus and in every cafe.

Ganesh, an Indian god,  banishes obstacles – let him help you banish any obstacles preventing you from travelling to India by hanging this beautiful wall hanging in your personal space – I have a Ganesh above my bed.

 

JEWELLERY

Wear some jewellery inspired by travels to Indian temples – these KARMASTRINGS are the nearest you’ll get without travelling there – https://www.ebay.co.uk/str/karmastrings or if you have DEPOP app then check out this shop KARMASTRINGS

Wear it to remind yourself daily to save for your trip.

 

Don’t forget to pack these top ten items for India

 

 

 

 

Techie gifts for travellers for 2018

Techie gifts for travellers for 2018

Thinking of a good Techie gifts for travellers for 2018 ? If a loved one is going away these gifts will make their travels easier, safer and more enjoyable. Just click on the photos to be redirected to Amazon where you can order exactly as you normally do – you should even be logged in as normal – and you can buy should you wish to. We earn a tiny commission if you do which helps to pay for the hosting of this website. Thanks in advance.

1) Travel scales

For before they go and as importantly for the return journey. Reasonably priced and light to carry. It’s always important not to go over the allotted luggage weight. Help them avoid offloading luggage or paying for excess weight. Instead they will get it spot on with these easy to use digital scales that weigh up to 50kg. No more guessing! And you know that they will want to bring home lots of lovely gifts for themselves and for you.

2) SanDisk iXpand Flash drive for iPhone or iPad

I really don’t know how i managed to live without this little device – it was truly a life saver. I take literally thousands of photos and videos and am always running out of room on my iPhone. I’m old school and don’t like my photos in the cloud!  This little flash drive plugs into an iPhone or iPad and photos can then be transferred onto it freeing up room for more to be taken. Much more than cloud allows anyway without paying for it. Remember the APP needs to be downloaded onto the phone before travels  commence to avoid roaming charges. Photos can be then easily be transfered to a laptop and/or phone on a later date. Also acts as a memory card should photos be liked to be kept in two places as a back up. There are different sizes – i have the 64 GB as I have a 64 GB phone.

 

3) Lightweight solar power charger for phones and tablets

Number 3 on my list of Techie gifts for travellers for 2018 is this solar charger –  particularly useful for backpackers or anyone going off the beaten track. It’s very light fold up design is a dream in India with all that sun ! Can charge 3 devices at  time. Electricity supply cannot always be guaranteed in India – I encountered many power cuts. Make sure they are never without power for their phones. Also great for home on camping trips.

4) Power bank

For those who may not want to rely on solar power – a portable rechareable power bank is essential. I took one with me on my last trip and it was indispensable. Used it virtually every day.  My phone is my camera – all those photos and videos soon used up the battery. I made the mistake of packing this in my suitcase – it has to be taken on as hand luggage. Fun and games searching for it in my suitcase at check in.

5) Spare chargers

Yep – chargers – it’s so easy to lose one a two pack is a good idea. These extra long 10 ft chargers for iPhone ( yes I guess you have worked out i love my iPhone) are super handy. At airports where there are facilities for phone charging  – phones can be plugged in but the phone still with the person even if a short distance away. Consequently  great for security reasons. Also in many hotels I have stayed in the plugs are not always near the the bed – I personally like to have my phone charging overnight and as close to me as possible when I sleep when I’m travelling.  Bargain. And they are great quality.

 

 

6) Apple Airpods

Number six in Techie gifts for travellers for 2018 is a little extravagant. The latest thing in earphones  – these blue tooth wireless earphones know when they are removed from the ear – how cool is that ? Great for plane journeys. Drown out sound for using with phone. Amazingly good sound.  Read the reviews – everyone loves them so a fabulous gift.

 

7) Portable speaker

Essential kit for travelling – a great gift for old and young – this lightweight portable bluetooth speaker – can be used with cable if preferred. There’s nothing like listening and sharing music with newly found friends abroad. Comes in a choice of colours.

8) Universal Earthed travel adapter with USB ports

Useful worldwide – this multitasker saves taking the plug section of the phone / tablet charger along.

9) Selfie Stick

Great for selfie photos and videos. Remember you will be looking at all these when your loved one comes home. They’ll look a lot nicer like this.

 

 

10) RFID blocking money belt

Help them stay safe on their travels with this RFID blocking money belt. Protects against theft from credit and debit cards on the move – even when out partying or in crowded urban environments. Thieves with hand held readers can steal money from contactless cards from nearby.  Not the best thing to happen to anyone at the best of times but would be particularly distressing away from home.

11) Skyroam 4G Mobile hotspot and power bank

Mobile 4G hotspot so never without wifi and also power bank combined. A very useful gadget for helping making sure your loved ones can stay in contact. Bright orange so easily found. Purchase unlimited day passes so you never pay for more than you need. Can be used for up to 5 devices. 16 hour battery life.

 

 

 

Indian e-tourist visa uploading PDF copy of passport

Indian e-tourist visa uploading PDF copy of passport – prepare before applying

It took over 3 & 1/2 hours to complete the appliction.  Uploading photo and copy of passport in pdf format – which had to be under 300kb – was time consuming. I’m in my 50’s so thought perhaps it was just me not being very tech savvy but have asked around and it’s not just me. In hindsight I could have completed in stages – and had the photo and passport pdf ready before i started filling in the form.  Hopefully the info below in this blog will help you.

 

Laptop or phone best ?

I filled in the form using my laptop – on my phone the text is tiny and large form which needed to be  moved around the screen to view) and used apps on my iphone to take passport photo in required square format and also take photo of passport and convert to required pdf size. See snapshots of the apps below.  I then sent both to myself via facebook messenger from my phone and opened messenger on laptop and downloaded the photos. There is very probably an easier way but i was mid form and had to work this out as i went along.

 

PDF photo

Obtaining a PDF copy of the my passport was not easy. Eventually I used the Free APP in the photo below.

It took several attempts – each time sending the photo to myself from my phone to my laptop  via facebook messenger and then saving in documents where i could then see how big the document was – the first was 876 kb , far too big and was rejected by the e-visa website . Several attempts later I managed to get it to the correct size by moving the camera further and further away from the passport ( the app will flash up a message to move the camera closer – ignore it , you will need to move it further away) and then crop the photo of any background stuff. Eventually you will get a pdf copy of the photo under 300kb which will be accepted by the e-visa website.

Snapshot of Adobe PDF converter APP

Passport storage advice

 

 

I was constantly showing my passport at the airports and it’s a lot easier to have it easily to hand rather than in a bag. I chose a RFID blocking passport holder for extra security and I strongly advise you do too.  The Radio Frequency Shielding Material  will block any attempts to steal passport data stored in the microchip in your passport and for extra security you can also store debit/credit cards in there for the same reason. Contactless credit and debit cards have RFID chips embedded in the card which can be read by fraudsters standing next to you with RFID readers. The last thing you want to have happen to you at any time but particularly when you are off on your travels.

 

For more visa application advise read my other blog   Filling in the Indian e-tourist visa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking and uploading the photo for Indian Visa

 

Take your photo (and pdf passport copy) before applying for the Indian Visa to save time and make life easier for yourself .

It took over 3 & 1/2 hours to complete the online Indian Visa application.  Taking and uploading the photo for the Indian Visa and copy of passport in pdf format was the most time consuming. In hindsight I could have completed in stages – and had both the photo and passport pdf ready before i started filling in the form. This was not advice given by the online visa website.  Follow the the info below in this blog to help you to take the passport photo in the required format prior to filling in the application form. For the PDF copy of your passport follow the link at the bottom of this blog post.

 

Taking and uploading the passport photo for Indian visa

Taking the square passport photo required for the Indian Visa application is easy and straight forward using the free app – pictured below – which will give you the option of taking a photo with dimensions specificaly for India. Do this with your phone and then send to your laptop – I did this by sending it to myself via Facebook messenger and then downloading it to my laptop.

It’s much easier to fill the form in on your laptop as it is really hard to see and navigate the huge form on your phone as it is a large form and not particularly phone friendly.

To use the APP  – you simply chose the country for which the passport photo is required for – in this case India – and then take a photograph of yourself . The App makes sure it is the correct size. Save the photo. And thats it.

Snapshot of Passport photo APP

 

Passport storage tip

I purchased an neck pouch passport holder – the one in the link above – as I was constantly showing my passport at the airports and it’s a lot easier to have it easily to hand rather than in a bag. I chose a RFID blocking passport holder for extra security and I strongly advise you do too.  The Radio Frequency Shielding Material  will block any attempts to steal passport data stored in the microchip in your passport and for extra security you can also store debit/credit cards in there for the same reason. Contactless credit and debit cards have RFID chips embedded in the card which can be read by fraudsters standing next to you with RFID readers. The last thing you want to have happen to you at any time but particularly when you are off on your travels.

Click here for advice for uploading the PDF copy of your passport

For great advice on choosing the very best backpack for your Indian travels click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My rucksack with detachable daypack review & how to choose rucksack tips

I love my rucksack with detachable daypack

For a whole variety of reasons. But mostly it’s because I only have two arms !  It’s so much easier when your travelling to carry all your luggage loaded over your back in one go than to have to cope with a rucksack and then in addition a separate day bag/handbag over one shoulder or hanging off your arm. The only nervousness I have over the rucksack with detachable daypack system is that I cant see it and worry people could access the daypack without me knowing in a crowded environment but this is easily solved with a little added security.  And in any case for valuable documents and money I wear a money belt and/or neckpouch.

It’s a Bergaus Jalan 65+15 Biofit backsystem. It’s light yet very durable.  The nicely padded biofit backsystem adjusts to fit so sits comfortably on the back/hips making it good to wear for long periods of time without straining the back.  I have found it easy to put on and fit – even when lifting it on from the ground. ( I used to have to put the previous rucksack to this one on a table to put it on or get someone to help me on with it ). The zip away harness and cargo cover ensure that the straps are always neatly packed away when in air transit. And it makes it look neat as well. One of my fears when travelling is that the zips on my luggage fail and the contents fall out all over the place – but this rucksack has been quite well thrown about and still is in perfect order. The outer fabric is still sound – no signs of stress or fabric pulling away from the seams/zips/straps. I would say the best thing I love about this rucksack is the fact that i can lay this on it’s side on a chair in my room when travelling and unzip it like a suitcase so that all the contents are accessible.  The colour remains good ( I’ve seen rucksacks that have faded or have faded patches – although i suspect this may be due to something inside having leaked at some point). The detachable daypack is a great size and I use this all the time at home. When travelling it zips off of the rucksack to carry-on the plane.

I’m teasing you by telling you all this because sadly you can’t buy it anymore. Well that’s the advantage of following the advice below and buying a good quality rucksack – it will last you years. Luckily I have researched thoroughly for you – here are similar ones. I’ll be buying my eldest son one of these in the near future so that he has one of his own instead of borrowing mine.

 

 

 

Points to look for when choosing your rucksack

Quality

I would say around the £100 mark should be the least you pay to get a good quality rucksack. If it’s good quality it will last many years and you will get your moneys worth. Mine has been lent out to family and friends and traveled to many continents and is still going strong. It’s over 5 years old but is still in excellent condition with many more years in it yet. I bought it for around £95 on offer. For the number of trips its been on it works out at less than £10 per trip which is a small price to pay to securely transport your luggage and valuables on holiday. Not to mention the number of uk trips it was used for.

Size

Rucksacks with detachable daypacks come in a variety of size combinations – measured in Litres.  80+15, 60+20, 65+15, 45+15, 60+10, 35+5, 60+15, 70+ 20 and so on. In case it isn’t obvious the larger number refers to to rucksack and the smaller number refers to the detachable daypack. Buy the right size rucksack for your needs – too small and you will be straining your rucksack to fit everything in and too big and you are carrying extra weight  – although better to be too big than too small. I find my 65 + 15 litre is enough for me. I’m a woman in her fifties and 5′ 3″ this is probably the largest I am comfortable carrying.

Opening

How your rucksack opens is another point to consider. If it opens at the top you will be forever unloading everything to access items further down the bottom.  If you unpack most of your gear when you get to where you’re staying and are not continuously delving into your rucksack then this might not be a problem for you but personally after using a rucksack that has side zip opening similar to a suitcase I wouldn’t go back to top opening. Also most top opening rucksacks have drawstrings rather than zip closure.  The advantage of a drawstring is that there is less to go wrong but I prefer rucksacks with zips as they can be secured with padlocks.

Grab handles

Some rucksacks have grab handles located on the sides making it easy to move around when on the ground. These come in surprisingly handy in my opinion.

Padding

Rucksacks with good padding are more comfortable to carry for long periods of time. This may seem obvious but not all rucksacks are the same so it’s wise to check.

Internal and external pockets

I personally find pockets useful though not essential. Great for non valuable items such as tissues and hand sanitiser and keeping odd bits like shells picked up along the way.

Lightweight

As a general rule the more you pay for your rucksack it will not only be better quality but it will weigh less as it will be manufactured using lighter higher spec materials.

Shoulder straps and dangly bits

Some rucksacks have a shoulder strap cover that hides the shoulder straps away making them safer and easier to navigate luggage handling / air transit. Rucksacks tend to have lots of straps which can be caught on conveyor belts and baggage transporters at airports. This can seriously damage your rucksack causing tears / rips  / seam damage or worse still if they get caught up it may stop your rucksack from being loaded onto the plane in time.  Also if your rucksack has lots of bits hanging off you may be asked by check-in to take it to a special baggage loading area – I cant remember what the correct terminology is for this but it doesn’t just load  onto the conveyor belt where it’s checked in. This isn’t a major problem , usually its very close by.  If a rucksack doesn’t have a cover then you can tuck everything in and tie any loose straps down / together, securing them as much as possible or better still buy a  protective rucksack Bag / Sac Cover that goes over your rucksack and keeps everything secure whilst in transit. If you plan on travelling to India during Monsoon season then get a waterproof cover. A cover is better value than getting your rucksack secured with clingfilm for air transit as it is re-usable and so a one off cost. Also if your rucksack needs to be checked by airport security they will just cut the clingfilm off and you will be back to square one.   Alternatively take some duck tape ( not a whole roll) with you and secure straps down with it – seems an odd idea but I have known people do it and apparently duck tape is an absolute life saver if your rucksack ever gets ripped or damaged or even worse the zip fails while you are on your travels. (Which it shouldn’t if you have followed the advice in this blog ! )

Interlocking zips

These are designed to slot together for easier and more secure padlocking –  so no gaps in the zipping for anyone to try and poke their fingers into your rucksack.

Expandable

Great if you have to make a bit more room for all those lovely bits you’ll be bringing back from India. Versatile

Durable

Your rucksack needs to be tough and sturdy enough to cope with being loaded to the full and thrown around by luggage handlers at airports. Anything really cheap is unlikey to be well constructed. This will result in you ‘double buying’ – ie having to buy a second rucksack after you’ve had to throw away the first one because it’s fallen to bits. Better to pay a little more and get something reliable and lasting.

Here are more suggestions for you

Accessories you might need to ensure your trip is a success.

Rain cover – also for keeping straps in check

If travelling during monsoon season then a waterproof backpack or waterproof cover will be a good choice.

Padlocks

A good quality padlock for each zip closure is recommended.  Use on airlines or if leaving in accommodation for any length of time or when travelling on trains or anywhere you might fall/need to sleep – coach trips etc. Good padlocks are more necessary with the rucksack/daypack combo as your daypack is slightly vulnerable in crowded places. Combination locks are better than those with a key as keys can get lost. Just don’t forget the code ! This 2 pack of 4 Dial Combination locks from Amazon below are the best I have used – very reliable and great value.

 

Dry Sacs

Keep any damp wet clothing or potentially leaky items such as toiletries separate from the rest of your luggage by storing inside dry sacs. If you’re saving money then plastic bags will do a similar job except you will have to knot them very securely to avoid any leakages and may need to untie and redo many times. Or replace. A dry sac in my opinion is good value and I usually use a few – for wet items, dirty laundry and dirty shoes. Keeping your rucksack dry will help protect and preserve it as prolonged damp can cause rotting and weaken seams.

 

Insects and Rucksack liners

You can also buy rucksack liners but if you are tidy and use Dry Sacs this shouldn’t be necessary if you are only worried about damp. However a liner might be a neccessity if you are worried about insects ie bed bugs / cockroaches from getting into your rucksack. Keep your rucksack closed as much as possible while you are travelling particularly at night when these insects are active and for the same reason I avoid unpacking and putting in drawers/cupboards or leaving clothes on beds as these are bedbugs favourite hideouts . You will find life easier if you have a zipped rucksack as you can move things about without having to unload onto a bed / floor / chair / chest of drawers.

Money belt

Best place to keep your money when you’re on the road

 

Other notes.

Brightly coloured scarf

As most rucksacks look very similar – make yours stand out by tying something bright on one of the handles. I have a small bright pink silk scarf. Of course it doesn’t have to be a scarf, anything bright and highly visible that you can easily identify as yours is good.

Rucksack with wheels

If you are unsure about a rucksack altogether, usually preferring a suitcase which less strenuous to maneuver and kinder on the back, then a wheeled rucksack is a good compromise though will be slightly heavier than a regular rucksack. There will be many areas in India, beach, uneven roads, trains and buses/coaches  where a wheeled suitcase would not be suitable and the ability to carry it  for a while then change back to wheeled luggage might be useful to you particularly if you have back problems or are just not very strong or are easily tired.  I don’t particularly find these as comfortable as normal rucksacks due to the extra mechanism. I find them a bit stiff and heavy and they don’t sit as well into your back/hips.

Overpacking

Don’t overpack your rucksack. You will strain and damage the zips and seams if you cram too much in.  You should not have to force anything or sit on your backpack to enable zipping up. Buying the correct size rucksack should help you to avoid this.

Cleaning

Wipe off any dirt or spills as soon as possible using a damp cloth and let dry thoroughly. Keeping your rucksack clean will prolong it’s life and help ensure it doesn’t fail you on your travels.

Storing

When you’ve got your rucksack back home – wipe clean – dry thoroughly – check zips and straps are sound – and then store in a dry place. It is essential to make sure it is 100% dry or you may end up with spots of black mould growing on it. Which is not good !

 

Read also my blog about how not to bring bugs home

Indian Rupees

Indian Rupees  ₹ , Rs or INR are the currency in India.

Unfortunately actual Indian Rupees cannot be taken out of India so you are unable to convert pounds to Indian rupee notes prior to travelling.  On arrival at the airport purchase approx £50 of rupees and exchange more later when you find a better rate . Larger hotels will exchange for you.  Visit a bank or currency changer for the best rates.

Larger outlets accept debit and credit cards. However it is likely you will need a fair amount of cash for stalls, smaller shops, food, cabs, buses, markets and tips. Try and keep hold of as much small change as possible as you will often need it. For example – a bus fare a few years ago was 30 rupees –  it’s a lot easier to have the correct fare.  Buses don’t like to hang about. Often it’s more of a slow down than a stop.   You might be ‘encouraged’ to make your way down the bus fairly quickly and be given your change later.

At the time of writing there are approximately 83 rupees to a £.  As a very rough guide to converting indian prices and notes to pounds while I am in India – as I am useless with foreign currency – I divide  Indian rupees by 100 so a Rs 500 note is approximately £5 and a Rs 2000 is approximately £20. (Actually £6 and £24 currently ). For small amounts of money this is a good enough indication – for larger figures I would use a conversion site on my phone.

Debit and credit card providers are best prewarned that you are travelling.

Indian Rupees – denominations

Coins  Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5 and 10 rupees.

Banknotes Banknote denominations  Rs 10, Rs 20, Rs 50, Rs 100 ( out soon ), Rs 500 and Rs 2000.

Coins now replace Rs 2 and Rs 5 notes.

New notes for 500 and 2000 Indian Rupees

New Indian Rupees with enhanced security features are being introduced. Rs 500 and Rs 1000 banknotes were withdrawn by the Indian government on 8 November 2016. Rs 500 were reissued with a new design and a new  Rs 2000 note was introduced.  Newly designed Rs 1000, Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes are due 2017. Old notes will not be valid currency so don’t get stuck with any – unless you collect old bank notes !

New 1 Rupee note 2017

After 22 years the 1 Rupee note is to be relaunched  sometime later in 2017

Prepaid travel cards for Indian Rupees

Buy Indian Rupees loaded onto a prepaid travel card via ICICI bank in the UK via   www.icicibank.co.uk . Cards are valid for 180 days from first use when it is activated in India.  Money remaining on the card after 180 days is transferred back to your bank account.

Keeping your Indian Rupees and bank cards safe

Lastly think about keeping your money and cards safe. And your passport.  A neck pouch is ideal for travelling.  I use an RFID blocking passport holder  – everything essential is round my neck close to me and accessible – with the added bonus of  RFID blocking for extra security.  Radio frequency shielding material blocks any attempts to steal your passport data or debit/credit card details.

 

 

 

Top tips for saving to travel

Goa beach view

So you’ve decided your going to travel somewhere.

Maybe it’s India.  Maybe you’ve booked it.  Maybe it’s still a dream.

Let’s face it the more money you have available the easier your trip will be and the more fun you’ll have.  So why not start saving now.

Buy a hot drink flask. 

Make fresh coffee at home and stop buying on the way to work. This will not only benefit your pocket but the environment also. Plastic coated paper coffee cups are not good for the environment – they do not recycle – and millions are used and disposed of every day .  Often in the recycling bin by mistake !

Do the same for cold drinks

Buy a metal cold drink bottle and take your own drink to work. Again a lot cheaper than buying at lunchtime. While it’s true plastic bottles can be recycled , often they are not and find there way into the ocean . And bottled drinks are far more expensive than bringing your own from home .

And carrying on in the same vein…

….make a packed lunch instead of buying.

Motivation

To continuously motivate yourself to save put photos of your intended destination up in areas you go to frequently   – in a diary , wallet , near kettle , bathroom mirror, laptop and phone.

Save

If you have online banking open a savings account and transfer small amounts regularly  . If you haven’t already booked – £1 a day or even £10 per week for a year covers return flights to India depending when and where you are travelling.

Have a declutter and sell

eBay is good for selling second hand goods.   You’d be surprised what you’ve got lurking around that people would buy.

Don’t go to the shops !

Have groceries delivered. Or if that’s not practical then only shop once a week for food – including any packed lunches – so you will not have to nip into the shops continuously and fall into the temptation of buying anything unnecessary. And stay off of websites where you might be tempted to spend.

Ask for money as xmas/birthday presents.

And put it away straight away in your holiday fund.

And then start planning

If you haven’t already booked start researching using skyscanner, to compare prices of flights to give yourself an indication of cost, and tripadvisor to look for accommodation. I’ve used them both for India.  If you’re looking for cheapest possible accommodation and you are flexible, I recommend booking in advance for three nights – it gives you time to settle in to an area and look around for somewhere cheaper once you are there. Many places will pay for a car or taxi from the airport if you book for a few days. There are a lot of smaller cheaper hotels / beach huts that are not to be found on the internet.

Start looking around at prices for luggage if you don’t have any and luggage accessories – luggage scales are fairly cheap and you will need them for travelling  – and a good padlock. Remember the cheapest suitcase or backpack isn’t necessarily the best value.

Don’t buy too many clothes for your holiday in India – they are cheaper there.

Check with your phone provider and debit / card providers re using abroad.

 

 

Volunteering at Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Are you considering volunteering in India?

I travelled to Kolkata in February 2017 with a friend and volunteered at Missionaries of Charity for just over a week. Volunteering was, for me, hard work but extremely rewarding and at times emotional. I often found myself very tearful.  The process of arranging to volunteer is fairly simple – there is no need to contact the Missionaries of Charity before you travel to India  – you literally just turn up in Kolkata and register. Language should not be a problem as many people in India speak English – most of the sisters at Mother Teresa speak English but some of the Indian helpers – mashis –  do not.  You do not have to be catholic to volunteer.

Pack for Mother teresa kolkata Calcutta
Missionaries of Charity Mother Teresa AJC Bose Road Kolkata

Registering for Mother Teresa

Registration for is 3.pm sharp at Mother Teresa / Shishu Bhavan 78 A.J.C. Bose Road, Kolkata, 700016 –  ground floor, on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays – just turn up with your passport and I recommend a notebook and a bottle of water .  It’s quite noisy as next to a main road. There is a group meeting where general advice is given including information about the different homes you can work in – after which is a one to one meeting with a sister to decide where you will volunteer. There are 6 different homes – for men / women / children / children with special needs/ & 2 for the dying & destitute. It is preferred that you remain where you first chose to work although some long term volunteers told me they had moved around. Two are at 78 AJC Bose Road – the rest are a very cheap bus ride away (bring change). I chose to work with children with special needs at Shishu Bhavan children’s home which was located at 78 AJC Bose Road.

What hours do you work ?

You will also decide whether to work AM shift 7.30-12 or PM shift 2-5.30 – you can do both but it is advised to just work one shift at first as it is very tiring, then review after a few days. Most days I worked only AM and it was indeed tiring. Even though it was technically winter when I was there it was still very hot – there were fans but no air-conditioning. There is a 15 minute break for black sweet tea and biscuits – where you quickly bond with the other lovely volunteers from around the world. You can work for just a day or for as long as you like.

Do you have to pay to volunteer at Mother Teresa ? 

You do not have to pay to volunteer here but you do have to arrange and pay for your own accommodation, living expenses and of course flights. Most volunteers tended to stay around the Sudder street / Park Road areas where there are many cheap hotels and hostels aimed at tourists as well as places to eat. Bring Imodium ! A good place to look is  Tripadvisor.

Also remember you will need a visa before travelling to India – for more info read my blog on visa’s. I strongly advise you visit your doctors for malaria advice and immunisations for India.

All volunteers meet daily at 54A AJC Bose Road either at 6 am if you want to attend mass first ( I didn’t – though on the first day we did hear the sisters singing from outside and it was adorable  ) or later at 7 am where you will meet up with the rest of the volunteers for chai, bananas and bread ( from the nearby Russian Bakery). This is for the morning shift – sorry I am not sure what time the afternoon shift meet here – I’m guessing about 1 pm. I did work one very long day it was a picnic in a park outside Kolkata – a bus trip.  Note the pm shift finishes at 5.30 and it is dark by then – you need to take this into consideration if you are a lone female needing to travel back to your accomodation. The picnic trip returned to AJC Bose Road about 7 in the  evening and it was a little scary flagging down a taxi on my own at that time. There is no volunteering on Thursdays.

What should I pack for kolkata & Mother Teresa 

You are asked to follow a dress code at Mother Teresas. Basically dress repectfully. Women – skirts/dresses which must be must be down to the knee – or trousers – nothing low cut – shirts must have sleeves but they can be short. I would recommend nothing too tight and also even if wearing  dresses to the knee I would advise you wear leggings underneath as you will be sitting on the floor, bending and lifting a lot. I purchased some long kurta tops from New Market in Kolkata , brought my own leggings and also bought some there. Kurta tops were between 250-600 rupees and leggings 300 rupees.

 

Pack for Mother teresa kolkata Calcutta
Kurta & leggings purchased from stall outside New Market

I think similar with men though I didn’t pay particular attention to this , being female ( we were all called ‘aunty’ by the sisters and mashis which was amusing)  and as there were no male staff or volunteers in our home I can’t look back and recall. But i vaguely remember the information given on the first day was T-shirt with sleeves or shirts – short sleeved were acceptable and long trousers or shorts to the knee .  My clothes were very stained by the end of each shift with yellow food marks and general stains from feeding and carrying children. The nappies are not like here in the UK they are just cloth strips tied on – nothing waterproof – so I was usually a little damp as well – but you get used to it. You do have to wear an apron – this does give a little protection but not much really – it isn’t waterproof. I have read that if you work both  AM and PM shifts that you need to change into fresh clothing for the PM shift.  You leave your shoes outside the room so slip on shoes are easier.  Most adults were barefoot inside the rooms but wearing socks is permitted. I would advise taking something to tie your hair up if long and not to wear dangly earrings or jewellery that can be pulled off. I also had two pairs of glasses accidently broken when pulled off by children – luckily I had packed spare cheap ones. For great general advice on what to pack when travelling to India, for applying for visa’s and general advice including money and immunisations/health refer to my other blogs.

Bring hand sanitiser

Many of the children and adults being cared for have compromised immune systems. If you are ill you are requested to stay away. It is advised to wash your hands frequently and to use a hand sanitizer. You may want to do this to protect yourself as well. The restroom facilities are a little more basic than at home. I purchased  good quality Purell hand sanitizers from Amazon – pack of 6 for £6.95  before i traveled – they are used in the NHS – they come with a neck lanyard – great as always to hand. The sanitizer slips conveniently behind the apron out of the way. I got through a couple of  bottles in just over a week . The Purell is stronger than the sanitizers you buy in the supermarket.

Pack for Mother teresa kolkata Calcutta
Purell hand sanitizer & lanyard

There was no air-conditioning in the room I worked at – there were lots of open windows and fans but it was hot and dusty ( and noisy being on the high road) – so it was imperative to take and drink lots of water. There was a communal locker type cupboard inside the room where volunteers can leave valuables which was quite safe but i would recommend you bring a fairly large bag that you can fit everything in including your water as it is easy to get them mixed up with everyone else’s.   You are asked to keep your mobile phones inside the locker and also not to take photographs – you can obtain permission to take some on your last day – but they are strictly as a personal momento and not for publishing on social media or anywhere else on the internet. Hence no photo’s of inside the home here on this blogpost. The home – which was basically one room – was about 60% cots and then some space with chairs tables and padded mats. It was sadly quite bare – I wish someone could paint some nice bright stimulating childrens pictures on the walls and ceilings – there’s an idea for someone !

Depending on where you are working you could be helping with feeding, helping with drinking, potty runs, nappy changing, laundry, physical therapy, dishwashing, helping men shave, cutting nails, helping in kitchen, brushing teeth, dressing, changing beds, cleaning, playing with children, talking with adults or just giving care and love and being there. We are reminded that only 10% of communication is verbal. On saturdays the whole of the room I worked in is scrubbed down – toys / windows / chairs etc with disinfectant – the volunteers were pretty much left to do this and was actually quite fun.

You are advised that some residents may touch your heart -(  and they do ! ) – but you are asked not to give gifts to individuals as it can cause jealousy as most have nothing- but you can give gifts to the sister in charge instead who will be in charge of them.

There are a lot of beggars around AJC Bose street – outside the Mother Teresa centres and in Kolkata generally – and the advice given by everyone is not to give money as most are professional beggars and probably do not get to keep the money. I found it extremely difficult as a mother to ignore women with babies in their arms desperately begging for food for their babies.  I did buy and give food to mothers who were not professional beggars – it doesn’t really take to long to tell the difference though I learnt the hard way by making the mistake of paying, in hindsight, far too much for a bag of rice for a woman with a baby begging . She told me to give the money to a man stood near the shop ( more of a stall ) on the road – I didn’t have change and apparently  he didn’t have change but he took my 500 rupee note (approx £5) and she told me to ‘follow him, follow him’ as he was going to get some change for me  – he walked off beckoning me to follow and I started following but he was way too fast for me and he very quickly disappeared into thin air ! I didn’t bother going back to see if the woman was still there.  It still kind of annoys me as there were many other women on the street with children I would have preferred to have given to but you live and learn.

I had researched quite a lot before travelling to Kolkata to volunteer – often coming across articles criticizing the facilities and care at the Mother Teresa homes.   I think the criticism is more directed at the destitute and the dying homes –  all I can say is that where I volunteered , despite being a little sparse, the children seemed happy , loved and taken care of and the sisters and mashis were all friendly and kind.   Mother Teresa herself is in a tomb at 54 A.J.C. Bose Road and you can go in and visit if you so wish. Kolkata itself has wealthy spots but there is an enormous amount of poverty – a shocking amount of homelessness including whole families living on pavements, under flyovers and in unfinished buildings. Many buildings are very run down. Surprisingly after a period of time it almost becomes normal. Despite this you can’t help falling in love with Kolkata and I would return in a heartbeat. I am a little biased though because I am in love with India.

Pack for Mother teresa kolkata Calcutta
Mother Teresa
Pack for Mother teresa kolkata Calcutta
Mother Teresa volunteers registration days & time
AJC Bose Road Kolkata India
Russian bakery
Builders on AJC Bose Road
Pack for Mother teresa kolkata Calcutta
Motherhouse sign

 

 

 

DOCUMENTATION FOR INDIA

When I am travelling I find it very useful to keep all my documentation in an clear plastic A4 Documentation wallet that stays in my hand luggage. This keeps them all together for easy reach – you may need to show some of them at the airport –  and most importantly keeps them dry ! Before I leave home I check in on-line and print off any boarding passes – it’s a good idea to try and do the same for the return journey either at an internet cafe or at the hotel if possible. I used the Emirites App for my last flight to check-in and receive the boarding passes but I printed them off as well which saves time at the airport and is a back up should your phone die for any reason or the worst happens and it is lost or stolen. Also printing out emails of your flight booking will avoid problems – you need to show this information to enter the airport / departures in India. Just do anything that makes life easier for yourself. I hadn’t printed mine off and had problems at Kolkata airport – I had intended to just show the email on my phone but I was unable to log into my e-mails for the duration of my last visit to India so was unable to locate and print off the flight booking email – it was pure luck i had whatsapped a snapshot copy of the flight tickets email to my son before i left that i was able to retrieve. you’re not allowed to enter the airport unless you can prove you are about to fly !


I also took a print out of my insurance document ( again the info was in my emails that i was unable to log into ) . Also it’s a good idea to take a photo and print it off of your passport and visa. With Emirites at Heathrow you will need a printed out copy of your boarding pass and also a print out of your Indian e-visa (if you opted for the electronic version ) – I hadnt realised this was neccessary and had to forward the email from the Indian visa dept to the lady at the Emirites desk so that she could print it out for me. Bit of a pain.

Medication documentation

If you are taking medication – either on a direct flight or via a stop over – it’s best to take a letter from your doctor and/or a copy of the prescription ( I take tranquilizers for flying and need an epipen for bee-stings & i photograph the prescriptions before i hand it over to the chemist and print copies off ).

Hotel documentation

Print off info for your hotel/accommodation including address photo & phone number if you know where you are staying – when hailing taxis sometimes the drivers don’t understand English very well and it’s useful to show them – was useful for me a few times in Kolkata.

Backup documentation

And as a back up it’s a good idea to let someone at home to have copies of all this info as well.

Filling in Indian e-tourist visa & uploading photo & passport pdf

  1. Filling in Indian e-tourist visa & uploading photo & passport pdf

Filling in Indian e-tourist visa & uploading photo & passport pdf advice.  Leaving it too late to apply for a normal visa I applied instead online for the new e-tourist visa.  I was disappointed that there is only an option for a one month visa for online applications whereas if you apply via www.vfsglobal.com you can get a 6 or 12 month multiple entry visa.

Prepare before applying !

It took over 3 & 1/2 hours to complete the appliction.  Uploading photo and copy of passport in pdf format – which had to be under 300kb – was time consuming. I’m in my 50’s so thought perhaps it was just me not being very tech savvy but have asked around and it’s not just me . In hindsight I could have completed in stages – and had the photo and passport pdf ready before i started filling in the form.  Hopefully the info below in this blog will help you.

How easy is it to fill in the form ?

The form is relatively straightforward to fill in.  Note where it asks for ‘referee in India’ I have filled in the name of hotel where i was first travelling to. I have filled in Indian visa application forms before and this is acceptable. If you are staying with someone you know that is obviously better. I have previously asked and if you are travelling around and not sure where you’ll be staying it is perfectly acceptable to just write that you are doing that.  Just enter roughly where you are heading first. However – when travelling to India it is actually quite a good idea to book ahead online somewhere to stay for the first couple of days at least.  This also makes filling in the ‘referee in India’ easier.  After you get your bearings look for alternative accommodation when you are there. Often other travellers will give you great advice.

Laptop or phone best ?

I filled in the form using my laptop – on my phone the text is tiny and large form which needed to be  moved around the screen to view) and used apps on my iphone to take passport photo in required square format and also take photo of passport and convert to required pdf size. See snapshots of the apps below.  Then I sent both to myself via facebook messenger from my phone and opened messenger on laptop and downloaded the photos. There is very probably an easier way but i was mid form and had to work this out as i went along.

Passport photo 

The square passport photo was reasonably easy and straight forward – just follow the instructions on the free app – pictured below.  – You will be given the option to take a photo with dimensions specific for India.

Filling in Indian e-tourist visa & uploading photo & passport pdf
Snapshot of Passport Photo APP

PDF photo

The PDF shot of the passport not so easy. I used the Free APP in the photo below. It took several attempts – each time sending the photo to myself from my phone to my laptop  via facebook messenger and then saving in documents where i could then see how big the document was.  The first was 876 kb , far too big and was rejected by the e-visa website . Several attempts later I managed to get it to the correct size by moving the camera further and further away from the passport ( the app will flash up a message to move the camera closer – ignore it , you will need to move it further away) and then crop the photo of any background stuff. Eventually you will get a pdf copy of the photo under 300kb.  This will then be accepted by the e-visa website.

Filling in Indian e-tourist visa & uploading photo & passport pdf
Snapshot of Adobe PDF converter APP

How much does e-tourist visa cost ?

My online visa cost me £49.37 and a 99p non-sterling transaction fee ( cost variable I guess due to currency conversion ). It arrived very quickly via email taking about a day and a half which was good news.  A friend received hers quicker than that.

Filling in Indian e-tourist visa & uploading photo & passport pdf sorted. Now read ‘Don’t forget to pack these top ten items for India’ – READ HERE

Remember to print copies off

I forgot to print the email and attachment off ( thinking I could just show the email )and had do do this at Heathrow as Emirites will not let you check-in without a hard copy – had to email it to them at the desk and they printed it off for me.

Passport storage tip

Now that you’ve solved the problem re Filling in Indian e-tourist visa & uploading photo & passport pdf why not purchase a neck pouch passport holder.  I have one similar to the one in the link above.  I was constantly showing my passport at the airports.  It’s a lot easier to have it easily to hand rather than in a bag. I chose a RFID blocking passport holder for extra security. I strongly advise you do too.  Radio Frequency Shielding Material blocks any attempts to steal passport data from the microchip in your passport.  For extra security you can also store debit/credit cards in there for the same reason. Contactless  cards have RFID chips embedded in them which can be read by fraudsters standing next to you with RFID readers. The last thing you want to have happen to you at any time but particularly when you are off on your travels.

And lastly !

On arrival in India you will have to head for e-tourist visa queue and have your biometrics taken. Be prepared for a long wait ! For more info read my blogpost Indian e-tourist e-visa biometrics problems

Why not check out this pack of two plugs if travelling from uk.  Confusingly some sockets have 2 holes and some 3 so this two pack has one of each – you’ll really not want to leave home without at least one pack – and FAR cheaper than buying at the airport.

TECHIE GIFTS FOR TRAVELLERS 2018 

For great advice on choosing your backpack click here