Mumbai is fascinating. Noisy, chaotic, and crowded, yet so inviting, exciting, and diverse. Immersing yourself in this ambiguous climate is a tremendous idea for a memorable journey. However, it may also put your patience to a harsh test. As adventurous as you are, it’s better to be well prepared for the possible nuisances awaiting a foreign traveller. But worry not, here are 10 tips that will help you get around the problems and pitfalls of the bustling Indian megacity:
Don't book accommodation with poor reviews
Do trust the previous guests. There is a reason why the accommodation you’re looking at has been rated 3.3 out of 10. Lack of hot water, dirty bed sheets, terrible state of the bathroom, and so on. Don’t put yourself through this. You’ll fare better if you spend a bit more for a place with good reviews, after all, it is your comfort and health that are at stake.
Watch out for hidden taxes while booking your accommodation
Keep your eyes peeled for details, when browsing services like Booking.com. Many accommodation providers in India lure potential guests into booking their rooms by deliberately excluding taxes from the price offered online. The information on the exclusion is added at the bottom of the booking page and typed with a tiny font size that will most likely escape your attention. Always look out for this information, or be prepared for a nasty surprise at check-in. The actual price can run as high as 120% of what you expected.
Remember to pack a pair of ear plugs
According to researchers, Mumbai is the noisiest city in the world. The noise pollution can be more troublesome for a tourist than the air pollution, causing headaches and adding to the overall tiredness after hours of sightseeing. It’s hard to protect yourself from noise in the daytime — all your senses are necessary to navigate through the dense traffic — but, thankfully, you can make up for it at night. Remember, however, that a city as enormous as Mumbai never sleeps: if your window happens to face the street, you’ll be exposed to traffic noise from dusk to dawn. But don’t worry: a simple pair of ear plugs will sort this one out for you.
If possible, use pre-paid taxis
Many experienced travellers to India advise the beginners to avoid regular taxis one finds in the streets — especially if you’re travelling alone. There are many reasons for this: you might be intentionally brought to a different hotel than the one you asked for (because the driver has some kind of a shady agreement with them), you can be taken along a longer route, you could be asked to pay some extra money you did not expect, and, while not so common, you could be assaulted. This does not necessarily need to happen, but by booking a pre-paid taxi, you significantly limit these dangers. How does it work? You pay for the drive at the reception of your hotel or at a designated desk at the airport. Then, you receive a paper confirmation with the name and address of the destination, ID of the car, and the amount paid. The drivers are members of larger companies, therefore, they can be tracked should something unexpected happen. Pre-paid taxis are slightly more expensive than the regular ones, but totally worth it for peace of mind.
Another alternative is using OLA Cabs, a company with a great reputation throughout the whole of India. In order to book a car, you need to download a special app onto your smartphone and add some initial credit to your OLA account (which will be used for paying for the drive). The limitations for foreigners are, however, that they usually don’t have mobile internet on their smartphones and so won’t be able to access the app if there’s no Wi-Fi around. Also, some foreign credit and debit cards won’t work with the application. But it’s nonetheless worth trying; if you manage to set things up, you will enjoy quick and reliable service, with good value for money.
If catching a taxi on the street, always make sure the meter is working
If you decide to use a regular taxi, always keep your eyes on the taximeter. Unsettling as it is, some drivers might try to put your attention to sleep, avoid turning the taximeter on, and ask afterwards for a dizzying amount of money, the accuracy of which you won’t be even able to check. In order to avoid this, ensure the meter works. It should start with the initial amount of 22 to 25 INR (0.35 to 0.40 USD).
If the taximeter was working, and the driver asks you for more money anyway, refuse
It happened to me once. The amount displayed on the screen was clear: 285 INR (4.30 USD). The driver, however, insisted on 350 INR (5.30 USD). Why? For the luggage, he answered. I pointed out there was no information about such extra charge. He changed his stance, then: for my health was his second answer. The argument took us several minutes and involved a couple of different reasons on the driver’s part (‘luggage’, ‘health’, ‘pocket money’, ‘just because’). Eventually, I just took my suitcase and went away, leaving him with 300 INR (4.50 USD) and ignoring the pleas for more. Sadly, stories like these happen often. Travellers from foreign countries who have little knowledge of local prices are likely to fall victim to similar tricks. That’s why, whenever the taximeter displays a sum but you are nonetheless asked for more, you are allowed to stick to the initial deal and refuse to pay the unexpected (and unjustified) extra.
If you plan to use public transport, always check the route of the bus online
Surprisingly, the information boards at the bus stops in Mumbai are NOT bilingual. That’s why it is best to spare a couple of minutes for online research beforehand. The easiest tool is Google Maps. The timings and routes are up to date, and it also takes traffic into account. It’s good to do it while still having access to your hotel’s Wi-Fi, since using your mobile internet abroad can be dauntingly expensive.
Once on the bus, pay (usually up to 20 INR / 0.30 USD) directly to the conductor; every vehicle has a person who’s in charge of the tickets. He’ll be eager to help you: tell him the name of your destination or write it down on a piece of paper, and then he will tell you when to leave the bus.
While it takes some preparatory effort, trying out the public transport in Mumbai is a worthwhile experience. Not only is it the most economic way to move around, but it also allows you to see parts of the city you wouldn’t come across otherwise, and colourful, busy markets and narrow streets look dazzling from the bus window.
Memorise Hindi numerals
The front numbers of the buses are also NOT bilingual. There is only a small Arabic number on the side, towards the bottom of the vehicle, which is rather useless when you’re in a rush and need to swiftly jump aboard. Hence, take time to learn Hindi numerals from 1 to 10. Some of them are quite similar to our familiar Arabic digits anyway, and memorising the rest will take you just ten minutes.
If someone offers to be your guide, ask for the price first
While sightseeing ancient temples or historical monuments, you will most probably be approached by a sympathetic, helpful-looking person who will want to show you around the place. As kind as it may seem, it is rarely a free service. Therefore, if you genuinely feel like having a guided tour, you can go for it – but always establish the price first. And, as with taxis, if in the end you are asked for more than what was agreed in the beginning, you are fully allowed to refuse.
Do not give money to the beggars
This might be the most heartbreaking point of all ten. If you’re travelling to Mumbai, it is more than certain that you will sooner or later encounter extreme poverty that involves homeless children, severely disabled people, and hapless elderly persons. However, you need to remember that begging is a part of a structured crime industry. By giving a coin to a little boy, you are not alleviating his misery; the money will go to his relentless patrons, and he will return to the very same spot tomorrow, and the day after, in order to beg for more. As hard as it is to say ‘No’ and go your way, it is the most constructive solution to the problem that a tourist can reach for.
Stay safe and have a tremendous time!
As unnerving as it might have seemed, we made it to the end of the list! Bearing these cues in mind, you’ll be able to enjoy Mumbai at its finest – and trust me, there’s a lot of terrific stuff to do. The taste of exotic fruits, the colours of the bazaar, the gentle breeze stroking the surface of the sea – let the beauty of India enchant you. Stay smart, but keep your heart opened to all the adventures awaiting you just behind the corner!
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.