Q: I am considering a two-week trip to India in January with friends. Where do we exchange currency? We will be on a budget, but I'm envisioning public transport as crowded and uncomfortable. What are the most important things we should know?— F., Seattle
A: No worries about currency exchange. You can withdraw cash (Indian rupees) from your checking account at ATM machines in airports and in all the major cities and many smaller ones. Most hotels will exchange dollars for rupees at a fair rate, and dollars and travelers checks can also be exchanged at airport currency-exchange windows. Avoid trying to exchange currency inside a bank (other than using the ATM). It can be done, but there is lots of paperwork to fill out, and usually involves a long wait.
For long distances, train travel is fast, efficient and cheap. Book a first-class, air-conditioned sleeper car for the most comfortable ride. Food availability varies, so it's best to bring your own. Several discount airlines fly between the major cities for reasonable prices.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap, and any hotel or guesthouse can arrange for a car and driver to take you anywhere for the day and wait for you.
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Most people's chief concern about travel in India is the risk of getting sick. Check with your health-care provider about any immunizations you might need and what type of medicines to bring with you. Drink only bottled water that comes with a sealed cap, and avoid unpeeled fruits and raw vegetables.
The best advice someone gave me was to stick to a vegetarian diet. I traveled in India for three weeks, eating fish, but avoiding meat and chicken, and never got sick. Many Indians are vegetarians and every restaurant offers a "veg" option.