India Business Travel Advice to a Family Friend

I was recently asked by a family friend to provide some advice to his daughter-in-law who was going to India on business for the first time. Since I have been there four times over the past five years, he thought I would be able to impart anything that might make her trip a little easier. Here’s the email that I sent:

Hope you are doing well. I am sending on a few thoughts about travel in India that will hopefully help your daughter-in-law as she prepares for her trip.

Preparing for jet lag is really important since it is literally on the other side of the world from the US. Hopefully she is working with people who have been there before and will structure her meetings such that she has some time to acclimate to the time change. It can also be very hot, so drinking lots of liquids is a must.

I assume that she also is getting information on shots, etc. that she needs. My only comment there is that I never took malaria pills when I was just in an Indian city (in the countryside is a different matter), but that is a personal choice.If she has questions about any of that, let me know.

As far as food goes, I have been most successful in following a few simple rules. I have never had any issues with the food at the hotels, since they cater to Western travelers. Just like here, I’d avoid any buffet items that look like they had been sitting out for awhile or anything that contains milk or cream that is not being refrigerated. I know someone who had cream in their coffee that had been sitting out and got sick because of that. Otherwise, ordering anything off a menu should be fine. Much of the time at hotels I ate soup, chicken, or pizza and all of that was fine. The Indian food is really good but can be spicy if you are not used to it.

The biggest challenge I had was what to do when eating at the office or at a local restaurant with other business colleagues. We were always in India to see vendors (or potential vendors) and had to balance being polite with taking risks with food. There was a time when I sat next to a CEO and had to eat something that was suspect as it was his favorite dish, and I did get sick. But most of the time it can be avoided and if your daughter-in-law is with other colleagues, rather than clients or vendors, then she can probably be more honest. For me the best bet was to stay away from any meat, except perhaps well-cooked chicken, and also avoid any cream-based dishes, even if cooked. Depending on what part of India you are in, fish can be big and so can creamed spinach type of curries. Both of these can be an issue and I have seen colleagues get sick from eating them.

With the water, I absolutely used bottled water for everything, including brushing my teeth in the room. Some hotels claim that they have pure water, but I never took the chance. Most hotels provide you with free bottles in the room. In the office there will be water also. One think to remember is to always check to ensure that the seal is on the water bottle before drinking from it for the first time. Many bottles are re-used without being cleaned and re-sealed. This happens quite a lot there and I have saved myself from becoming sick numerous times. I have found this to be the case in offices and even in cars that were sent for us to be driven from the hotel to the meetings. I once tried to warn a colleague and he didn’t hear me and drank from the bottle. He got sick a short time later unfortunately. There are always cokes, tea and coffee; all are fine to drink.

If she does get sick, she should have some medicine already with her from the US (i.e. Imodium) and take that, as well as drink water to help speed things along. All of this said, I don’t want to paint a picture that India is really bad as far as the food and water goes. I have gotten sick and been fine other times. I have always found it to be a most interesting place and the people were really nice and friendly. I am envious of her trip and hope to go back there again someday.

Hope this has helped – if there is anything else she needs, feel free to have her contact me.

Thanks –

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