Pulling the rip cord: We’re bailing early on India


(Thanks to life not going exactly as planned the posts from this trip are somewhat out of order right now. That’ll be fixed eventually; sorry if it gets confusing. – Seth)

We’re not supposed to be in Mumbai right now. We’re not even supposed to be at an airport. We’re supposed to be on a train from Udaipur to Jaipur, chalking up another experience and milestone on this trip. Instead we’re headed home, 50ish days after we started the trip and 10 days before we originally expected to.

Getting sick in Amritsar didn’t help, though we’re mostly recovered from that now. But that’s also not the reason we’re leaving, at least not all of it. When I started planning this trip and building out the trip I wanted to have this level of flexibility. I wanted to know that the itinerary could change. And that when we got done with traveling we could just go home. We did and we are.



When Marie Kondo visits your trip

With the stomach bug mostly in the rear view mirror we had a pair of cities left to visit on our original itinerary: Jaipur and Mumbai. Jaipur was the part of the trip I’ve been looking forward to the most. But after so long on the road I had to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to it nearly as much as I thought I would be. Or that I should be. In the Kondo parlance, I did not think that the next 10 days of travel would bring me joy. Linnea had similar notions. And if we’re not truly enjoying this trip then why are we here?

Turns out we’re not any more.

Sitting in our hotel room a couple days ago I looked to Linnea and said, “Why don’t we just go home?” We had no reasons not to do it and plenty of reasons to do it.

And it is not just because our travel luck here has been pretty crappy of late. A derailed train, delayed and canceled flights, trains removed from the schedule and unexpected overnights all suck. We played through those bits. Surprisingly well, I think, all things considered.

But in the bigger picture we’re just ready to be done for now. And to save a little of the passion for travel that we hold so that the spark can ignite again somewhere soon.

The mistake(s) we made

I don’t regret pushing the trip this long initially, though in retrospect there are a couple things I can see as potential indicators that it wasn’t going to run the full course.

First, our schedule lacked a true break anywhere. We talked about planning for that. We wanted to alternate “easy” and “hard” parts of the trip. We would need time to work while on the road, not just be tourists. And we did work along the way, but it wasn’t as expected. We didn’t truly have a base to set up and focus on that aspect of our lives.

We also failed to plan time for relaxing. “But you’re on a two month holiday; how much more relaxing does one need?” you might protest. And there’s some truth to that. But then there’s also the reality of travel. Moving to a new city every few days, rediscovering the local scene and learning what is ok or not in the area. And also we don’t generally spend our travels sitting on lounge chairs by the water. For two of the weeks we were trekking above 10,000 feet with temperatures dropping below freezing at night. This was not an especially relaxed itinerary.



Also, India is rarely a destination many speak of in the same breath as relaxation. Incredible, beautiful, powerful, emotional and more. But rarely relaxing.

I think we would have been marginally more successful if we chose one city as a new base of operations for a couple months and then took occasional trips from there to see other areas. That approach comes with a different set of problems and challenges, but I think it would’ve been closer to what we really wanted this time around.

Still, no regrets about what we did or how we did it. Just lessons learned. Seriously, it has been an amazing journey that we were fortunate to take together. We’re just shifting gears on the timing of when it ends.

Unwinding the bookings

As for the logistics of wrapping the trip a couple weeks early, things were surprisingly easy and nearly everything was refunded at or close to the initial deposits paid. A decent bit of that comes from the decision early on to use points for our return ticket from India. Sure, there may be fees associated with reward changes or cancellation, but compared to most cash tickets those fees are far more favorable. And in our case the elite status made cancelling the original tickets free.

It also turns out booking that a last minute trip out of India this winter back to the USA is pretty easy, in coach or business class, thanks to Cathay Pacific‘s troubles getting anyone to show up in Hong Kong. Or because United Airlines opened up last minute business class seats on its nonstop to Newark. Even SkyMiles had a couple (much less good) options, mostly on partners. Lacking sufficient points we could’ve made the last minute trip on cash tickets at a reasonable rate. Prices were under $600 for decent flight times on a couple carriers. It was nice to have options. Turns out we were spoilt for choice.

In the end we chose the United flight over Cathay Pacific for two reasons: Time and time. Both leave Mumbai stupid late at night but the United flight will allow us to get on board and then just sleep as much as we want. Eventually we’ll get to Newark and then deal with the short extra connection to Boston. On Cathay the first flight was a 5 hour redeye, followed by a twelve hour layover. While I love Hong Kong and running in to town to get some dim sum was mildly compelling the whole point of this is to get home so we chose the routing that came up 10 hours shorter overall and with better sleep timings. Even knowing that UA’s catering ex-BOM is not always very good.

We also had to purchase an extra flight from Udaipur to Mumbai to position for the reward trip. That was not horrible, coming in at roughly $150/person for decent timing. And that cost was somewhat offset by a partial refund on the Jaipur-Mumbai flight we were holding for travel just after New Years. Unlike in the US the “nonrefundable” tickets actually do give a portion of the fare as a proper refund, less the cancellation penalty.

On the lodging front we booked via AirBnB for both Jaipur and Mumbai. In both cases the refund policy gave us back the bulk of our payment as we hadn’t hit the cutoff deadline yet. We did lose out on one nonrefundable night in Abu Dhabi (Etihad Apartments was part of our initial return plan) but that was relatively cheap. And, somewhat ironically, that was booked after we got sick and I still thought we’d finish out the initial planned itinerary.

Train tickets were very cheap to begin with and refunded at roughly 65%. I am mildly amused that I started the planning for this trip with the idea of just riding trains across India with our next destination chosen by whim and what was nearby. Ultimately we completed zero of the train trips booked and only even started one of them.

I haven’t run the full math yet but I’m pretty sure that after exchanging for the cheaper award flights we come out net positive in cash outlay and definitely fewer points burned. I’d like to claim that was on purpose, but the reality is it mostly was a function of getting lucky. And being willing (or needing) to change last minute.

Tales from our South Asia Adventures

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

23 Comments

  1. @ Seth — Visiting India was your primary mistake. I won’t be returning there. The place is disgusting.

    1. I disagree with your assertion. We’re looking forward to returning in a few years to catch up on some of the things we skipped this time.

      1. Next time, try South India. It’s very close to being almost another country 🙂 Paradoxically another American friend of mine spent about 10 weeks traveling around your itinerary plus some stops in Madhya Pradesh and everything worked perfectly. Maybe he got all the good travel karma 🙂

        I’m curious as to whether you experienced any of the ongoing political unrest at the moment; it’s mostly focused in Uttar Pradesh so perhaps not. In any case, it’s probably better you’re leaving now.

        1. We did Kerala and Chennai on a prior trip. And we’ll be back to visit other cities eventually.

          As for the unrest, we did not see any of it in person. Mostly not being in the same cities, as you note.

        1. We visited Kerala (along with Chennai and Sri Lanka) a few years ago and loved it.

          The issue we faced at the end of this trip was too much time away from our regular routine, not that we were in India. India does make things a little harder, especially for an outsider, but that was a very small factor overall for us.

  2. Your report is the third one I have read in recent days from experienced travelers visiting India. None of them have pursuaded me to add India to my travel plans. Then again, India has never been on my high priority or medium-priority target list. It’s a big world out there and I am fine going to other corners of the planet that fit better with my travel style.

    1. That’s a shame. We really have enjoyed pretty much everything we’ve seen and done here and expect to return to catch up on the things we had to skip this time. Just too much time away from home at once.

  3. I first went to India on an around the world trip backpacking the summer after graduating from college. I traveled on a backpacker’s budget and did fine. (Youth is amazing) Last winter, much older, my husband and I spent almost two weeks in India on another around the world trip after our younger child started college. We traveled in the way the miles and points obsession makes possible, along with the money from being older. We flew into Delhi from Kuala Lumpur and spent the night inside the airport in a holiday inn before flying to Udaipur the next day. Even that overnight was exhausting, with numerous military check points to navigate before being able to check into the hotel. The air quality was 450 so I was glad we were not staying in Delhi.
    Arriving in Udaipur I confess I was surprised with no sidewalks basically anywhere. We ended up hiring a car and frequently a driver and separate guide almost everywhere we traveled.
    We didn’t get sick, part luck of course, and partly that we were fanatically careful, basically eating with great discretion at the hotels. During the day, we frequently had a prepackaged ice cream and nothing to drink so we wouldn’t have to search for a toilet.
    So many amazing sights, we visited Udaipur , Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. ( we got really lucky with Delhi in that it had rained immediately before we arrived and the air quality was ok. )
    We flew everywhere except the train from Agra to Delhi, and even though we had arranged for a car from the Marriott Meridian to pick its up at the train station, it was still really difficult finding the car and driver, and I don’t know how we would have without the kind help from a compassionate young Indian woman. I feel very conflicted about whether I will return. The filth in the countryside on a day trip outside of Udaipur was hard to bear. For people who only do the golden triangle, I guess it’s better. I also had no idea that rabies is the colossal problem that it is with perhaps tens of thousands of people a year dying from it, not that anyone would know the true figure. We felt sad and pessimistic for India when we left. I hope we are very wrong in that assessment. There’s so much to see there.

  4. India is hard for sure but travel burnout is a very real thing. I like the honesty and reasoning behind your blog post. I can’t wait to hear more on DLD podcast.

  5. No shame in admiting defeat. These trips really show who you really are. You have found you are no backpacker, and that’s fine.

    1. What is a “backpacker” in this context? We did use backpacks to carry our clothes but also stayed in 3* or better hotels, not hostels.

      1. Trains and hostels. Overnight buses and overnight at airports. Eating out at roadside.

        I don’t think that fried bread did it. Probably what you drank with it. But you should have been more careful.

        1. Although there are nomads out there I think many people miss home after a week or two away, especially if you are constantly changing hotels. I’m worse than many but eating out constantly gets to me. And I often start calculating how many more days before i am back home in my own bed with my own comforts. I’ve had some wonderful 10-14 day trips but home is home for me.

          India would never be on a list of places to visit but most have their favorites. Years ago I had a business trip to Naples and hated it. The traffic, pollution, etc. I avoided Italy for years but finally went to Milan, Lake Como, Bergamo and had a wonderful time. My preference is for clean, organized places. Chaos i find stressful.

          Anyhow 40+ days is a long time.

  6. Yeah, most of India is not viable for budget travel – too many risks. I always make sure to stay in 5 star hotels and always hire a luxury car/driver. And only eat well cooked meat in nice places and drink bottled water – no exceptions. And no AirBnbs.

  7. Couple things:

    1) Getting sick – any ‘seasoned’ traveler would know not to drink anything that isn’t out of a plastic bottle or eat anything that may be the result of unfiltered water i.e. ice cubes, lettuce/salad, food that isn’t cooked at high enough temperatures, etc. This is all fairly common sense for well-traveled folks. There are plenty of ‘safe’ authentic road-side experiences you can have with a 5 minute Google search pointing out specific vendors in any city.

    2) Travel – Travel delays/cancellation happen everywhere in the world. There are plenty of credit card insurance policies in place that cover these (which is something you must have obviously used given the content on this site). Not sure why this is being addressed as a systemic issue specific to India. Everyone is frustrated by travel issues, but the tone here sounds somewhat disgruntled and looking to place the blame and frustration in an illogical manner.

    3) “…rarely a destination many speak of in the same breath as relaxation. Incredible, beautiful, powerful, emotional and more. But rarely relaxing” – You verbatim said “We also failed to plan time for relaxing” and then said “And also we don’t generally spend our travels sitting on lounge chairs by the water. For two of the weeks we were trekking above 10,000 feet with temperatures dropping below freezing at night”.

    You then proceed to say the country is not relaxing as a result of your planning methodology and that a mysterious group of “many people” has said this. Mumbai, Udaipur, Jaipur, Amritsar all have incredible places to stay, dine, explore, and relax, for every budget. By traveling there on a USD budget and a depressed INR, even a 5-star experience would be a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S.

    1. 1) I’ve been sick while traveling in a few places. The worst was Philly, likely sourced by an airplane meal out of West Africa. India happens to be a couple of the incidents for me, too. That’s not why we chose to end the trip, though it was a contributing factor. When each meal is faced with trepidation it is harder for us to enjoy the overall experience. My wife got sick at a fancy resort in Vietnam, not from street food. There are lots of ways it can happen.

      2) Yes, the problems can happen anywhere. Yes, I have travel insurance and the means to cover the parts that the insurance won’t cover. Like when the India rail network closed a station that we were supposed to depart from for 3+ months just a week after we bought the ticket and didn’t notify us. Everywhere else in the world I’ve been there is a notification when the supplier kills the service contracted. We fixed it. I bought new tickets out of pocket as that’s not a covered incident under the insurance. But it is an extra part of the process that comes with being in India.

      As for it being systemic to India, the flight issues we had very much are endemic to Delhi airport in the winter. The smog/fog issues drop the operations significantly. And three of our trips passed through Delhi. Only one was unaffected. Even a flight further south felt the effects as the aircraft routed through Delhi that morning, picking up a delay.

      But the bigger issue was that we did have far more than a normal number of travel bits adversely affected on this trip. Not blaming Idia so much as pointing out it happened while we were in India and that the frequency of them contributed to our decision to be done.

      3) To relax we would’ve wanted/needed to leave the country. We needed a break from India to reset. And the ability to quickly reenter on a tourist visa is limited at best.

      We took great advantage of the favorable exchange rate, but just booking in to a 5* hotel doesn’t necessarily mean a relaxing experience. Definitely not for us. We visited Amritsar. Other than getting sick our last night there we truly loved the experience. But I wouldn’t call it relaxing. Ditto our last few days of the trip while we were in Udaipur.

      I don’t hold this against India in any way. We’ll be back to visit the country again. Just not for 50 days at a time.

  8. I’m not a lounge chair vacation person, either, and have accepted that I am happier if I give myself a “day off” every so often when traveling. Yes, I might pay a lot to travel and at some point I’ll want to watch stupid tv re-runs in my room (even bring my own downloaded shows). I call it vacation from the vacation.

    The getting sick thing – I don’t quite agree with the criticism. My Indian born colleagues and their families expect some sort of tummy trouble when traveling to India, even if they’re fanatically careful. I think people get worn down by the travel and busy schedules. Their travels are rarely relaxing because people are there to see family and friends, often spread out or in a harder to reach area.

    Nothing wrong with being ready to go home. Hope you have a good New Year!

  9. You make a good point about taking time just to relax. One of my favorite memories is of just sitting in the shade by the Marina Barrage and watching the world go by. Sometimes we try so hard to see everything and do everything when there can be so much pleasure in just being.

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