By Shivani Patel, Staff Writer

After much pleading and persuasion, my parents were able to convince me to get on two absurdly long flights to the motherland: India.

If you’re considering traveling to India (or any other foreign country, for that matter), here are a few tips to keep in mind to be a safe and happy tourist.

During her trip to India this winter, Shivani Patel visited the Taj Mahal. PHOTO BY SHIVANI PATEL/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Before you even leave the United States, it’s important to stop by your physician’s office and get vaccinated. They should also give you tablets for diarrhea and malaria. I’ll explain why these are so, so necessary further down.

Next, neck pillows are a godsend. Flights occasionally have small pillows, but they often feel like nothing and are better suited to help make your seat more comfortable. If you’re someone who tends to move around while sleeping, the neck pillow will allow your head to move wherever while keeping you in place.

Additionally, don’t pack anything that will get you in trouble with customs. Just take my advice on this. To double-check everything you pack is fine (for India), head to this website.

Here are a few things to think about after you’ve gone through customs and are ready to leave the airport. When my family travels, we usually have a native of India pick us up. This saves a lot of trouble because they usually know where to go. Do some research beforehand and see if you can plan for this. Also, if you make pit stops, be sure to take toilet paper with you! This may seem silly, but more times than not, I found myself using Charmin wipes or even Kleenex. Sports stores usually carry biodegradable toilet paper if you’re trying to be environmentally friendly.

Unless you’ve unlocked your phone for international use, it’ll be relatively unusable. That being said, if you want to use it, you’re going to need to charge it. Bear in mind that you can’t simply plug in your device into the outlets. You’ll need to buy a converter to be able to charge your electronics, which is easily available in an electronic store, such as RadioShack or Best Buy.

Liberally use bug spray! As for India specifically, mosquitoes weren’t as common in the northern part of the country as they were in the southern part. Trust me, I am the worst magnet for mosquito bites, so I’m always applying bug lotion or spray. If you’ve already been bitten, calamine lotion or products such as After Bite, are good to have on hand. Of course, with the likely chance of being bitten, make sure you take the prescribed malaria tablets daily. These will keep you safe rather than sorry!

When it comes to food, India is number one. There are so many flavors to assault the senses, to the point where it’s overwhelming. As with all things, exercise caution. Always drink bottled water, and do take care in making sure that the bottle is sealed. You never know if people just filled the bottle and closed it. If you can avoid it, try not to eat anything with dairy unless you can verify it has been boiled. Not doing so will almost certainly get you sick — hello diarrhea!

Lastly, when you’re traveling, be wary of people. Indian people are very colorful and vibrant, but do not be naïve. My brother’s wallet was stolen while walking on the streets. Mind you, he was carrying it in his back pocket. In addition, foreigners will almost certainly be charged double or triple the amount of the original asking price for goods, so have someone you trust there to help you bargain and not be cheated.

Hopefully I haven’t scared you into traveling abroad. It’s honestly an amazing experience, and exercising caution will ensure that it stays that way.