2015: the Year I Learned to Commute to India

In the past year and a half, I’ve made the trip between Newark and New Delhi three times and I have another trip coming up later this…

2015: the Year I Learned to Commute to India
Extremely Jet-lagged at the Taj in March 2015

In the past year and a half, I’ve made the trip between Newark and New Delhi three times and I have another trip coming up later this month. Although I’m by no means a world traveler (like my dad or my boss or others I work with who have been making the trek a few times a year for nearly a decade) I’ve adjusted. It is now actually something I look forward to a few times a year. India starts to grow on you and I’m really excited about my next trip. Not only to see my colleagues and team again but because I like visiting India. Here is what I’ve learned.

Forget you’ve been anywhere else in Asia

In (or near) Agra, March 2015

In the mid-1980s, I had the good fortune to live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for two years as a teenager. While in KL, I made a few short trips to Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. I also spent three weeks in China in the 2000s when we adopted my daughter and spent time in Beijing, Changsha, and Guangzho. So I’ve been around Asia. My time in New Delhi and Noida reminds me somewhat reminds me of previous Asia trips I forgot I’ve ever been there. New Delhi is different. India is different.

Get your Shots

My employer recommended Passport Health. I got all the shots they suggested, including rabies. “There are dogs in India,” they said. And I can confirm there are indeed packs of dogs and solo dogs, especially at night. These vaccinations are not cheap (I think I spent $2–3K) so hopefully you can expense them or get your insurance to reimburse you. I also got the little anti-diarrhea kit with antibiotics and I take it with me every time although I’ve yet to use it. I know people have gotten sick, and you need to be prepared. My first trip I took the anti-malarial/dengue meds, but I didn’t take them the last two trips and don’t plan to on my third.


Not wanting to complicate arrival or departure when I travel, I never check bags. Trips to India and Europe are no exception. I have an old 22" American Tourister roller that is on it’s last legs, but it is large enough for the leave on Friday/Saturday night and return on Saturday morning routine that many Delhi commuters do. I’m actually thinking of something smaller. On my first flight I didn’t yet have status so it was a bit tight at the rear of the 777, but if you board early you usually have room to stuff in overhead, even for a larger bag. Our office in Noida is pretty casual so I usually pack 2 pairs of jeans (I wear one) a sampling of collared short-sleeve shirts and T-shirts and undergarments enough to last me about 4–5 days. I have the hotel do laundry on Wednesday. Bringing Ghiradelhi chocolate as gifts has become a tradition and I pack 2 cases of Cliff Bars (tucked in the crevices of my luggage) for the flight — and to eat while when I wake up in the middle of the night or if I get hungry and there is no safe snack food around apart from the hotel minibar. So yeah, I’m snack heavy and also you collagues will typically ask you to pick up a few things not available online, so that, too has become a tradition

Getting to/from EWR

Since I live in Baltimore, Newark is my departure point for pretty much anywhere internationally, since Dulles is a nightmare to get to. My first trip to New Delhi, I connected through BWI and decided never again. Why not? First of all, you have to go through the shitty commuter terminal where you’ll have the high probability of getting a turboprop on your flight home.But more importantly I want to see me family soon and be home ASAP. So it is a no brainer, I take Amtrak. I live 15 minutes from Penn Station and got addicted to trains when I worked at Mandiant traveling to the NYC or Alexandria HQ. It is much less stressful to have a nice comfortable train seat and gradually adjust to leaving, or coming home. Even for the 9:55 flight I leave NLT than 1 from Penn Station and usually get into EWR around by 3.

D-Day and EWR

36 hours before the departure (usually a Saturday), I do my best to rest up and avoid any caffeine. I also start over-hydrating and generally refrain from alcohol, but I admit being tempted to have last Dogfish 90 Minute IPA 90 the train because Kingfisher is as good as it gets once you are in India. I spend time with my wife and kids, stay offline and try to relax. Out of tradition, my last meal in the US is at the Custom Burger. I don’t find it as terrible as the reviews and it is actually one of the cheaper places to eat in Terminal C. A burger, tater tots, and a milkshake that is my thing because I know I won’t be eating burgers (or milkshakes) in Delhi so I need to have one to last me. Load up on a Jamba Juice with a lot of Vitamin-C before the flight and stock up on Fiji water for the flight and then prepare to board. Remember you have to do do the visa check at the gate or they won’t let you board.

The Flight Out

I’ve upgraded to Economy Plus on my own dime a couple of times and I’m not sure it really made a difference and probably not worth paying $150 to do it. 13–14 hours on a 777 sucks, but it does get easier each time. On the day of travel I wear my most comfortable old jeans and a thin UnderArmour workout shirt. Before I board in Newark, I stow my Keens and put on a pair of sandals. Out of comfort, you really don’t want to wear shoes on the flight, but you don’t want to wear socks either because the toilets get pretty filthy by the end of the flight. My first departure from Newark was the worst, not sure if it was just my first (and I was nervous) or because it was a particularly bad flight. The flight attendants were barking and it was chaos. Mostly Indians at the rear of the 777 trying to jam their luggage in I had the misfortune to sit in front of a drunk guy that kept kicking my seat. The flight attendants cut him off and they almost threatened to turn the plane around about an hour out of Newark. But this sort of drama has only happened once. Up near the front of the plane with more frequent travelers seems to be more bearable.

You need something comfortable and compact while in a tight space. You want as much room (and the least amount of clutter) as possible. In terms of electronic gear I pack my Nexus 7, ChromeBook, work laptop, iPhone with enough power devices in tow. I mainly use my Nexus to read or listen to music but I occasionally watch movies. And I walk around and stretch a lot. A lot. So of course I get an aisle seat. I walk up and down. Hang out in the back of the plane or near the restrooms. If I can sleep I sleep to pass the time. I will need all the sleep I can get.

Jet Lag

Besides 3 trips to Noida, I’ve done three Europe trips so I’ve experienced lots of jet lag in 2015 and early 2016. I have not yet figure out how to beat it. In fact, I have gotten worse. During my last trip to Noida, I never adjusted to IST, where the previous two I was sort of normal-ish by day four. I hope I do better the next one, because my last one was terrible. On Thursday of my this I had to back to the hotel and crash due to a combination and heat. This is the worst. But somehow I manage to make it through based on adrenaline, water, and espresso.

Arriving in the Airport

If the flight over wasn’t chaos the arrival in the airport will be. Most of the time they don’t have the required immigration forms and you have to try to find them in the airport. My 2nd trip, my cell service didn’t work when I landed so I felt a bit naked without a smartphone and I didn’t bother trying to get the free wifi. Don’t bother changing money while inside customs, it is a pain — just use the ATM after you leave the secured area after the driver from the hotel picks you up. Sometimes I tip the drivers sometimes I don’t, just depends on if I have change. Sometimes I tip the company driver as well, especially if he was with me all week.

Staying in Noida

Radisson Blu in Sector 18

Many of the global companies have their offices in Noida, which is where I visit. I’ve stayed at the Holiday in on the Noida/Delhi border once and the Radisson Blu in Sector 18 twice. The latter is what I prefer as the restaurants in the hotel and the overall service is much better than the cheaper Holiday Inn adjacent Crowne Plaza, but there is nothing there except for the waste treatment plant across the street and I hear there is a liquor store as well. The location in downtown Noida is also better, and is walking distance from several malls and lots of nice restaurants by Noida standards.

Safety and Security

Early Morning in December 2014 looking out the gate of the Radisson Blu

On my last trip to Noida I was chatting with some Indians in EWR on their way to Bangalore. When I told them I worked in Noida they told me to careful and I wondered why nobody had told me about that before, but the truth be told in all the hotels and malls there are metal detectors on the way in and they often search you and I very seldom go out and about without one of my Indian colleagues (or the driver). Security at the airport is quite tight, but probably just as tight as Penn Station in Manhattan or Munich.

Eat and Drink

Chayoos in Sector 127 near the old SafeNet office

India has a bad reputation for getting sick. I still remember the customs line leaving for home on first trip in December 2014. I saw a woman throw up in front of me. I changed lines and ended chatting with a retired Australian Harrier pilot who told me some interesting stories about the first Gulf War and some near misses with gangs near the Pakistani border. I’m quite cautious but not as some. Here the rules i’ve used to stay healthy.

Amazing Veg Biryani at the Radisson in March 2015

Obviously, you only drink bottled water you are sure of the seal. My first few trips I avoided (what I though was) the lower quality green Bisleri they had in the office, but it was just fine. I generally go with the Pink Himalaya bottled water, but there is another brand with yellow cap and color that I’ve had at hotels. I brush my teeth with bottled water. I’ve had chai and tea from Chayoos or the cafeteria’s of western companies.

The Weather

I’ve made trips in December, March, and August. March was my favorite. The skies were relatively clear, there were occasional rains to clear things up and it wasn’t too hot or much of shock from Spring on the East Coast. August was tolerable if a bit hot.

Going Home

End of my first trip in December 2014

The best thing about traveling is going home. By noon on Friday I’m exhausted from meetings during the day and going out for dinner at night and I’m anxious to get home. I say my last emotional goodbyes, because I know it may be 4–6 months until the next time I visit my team again. The flight to Newark is at 1045 and I usually leave on a Friday so I try to leave Noida no later than 6PM as traffic to the airport is awful. Make sure you have a printed copy of you itinerary because they will not let you return. I’ve eaten food in the lounge in the airport on the way home and I’m told anything at the airport is safe, but I’m still cautious. My first trip I made the mistake of buying water after going through security. This is a mistake because you will have an additional layer of security that will force you to give up your bottled water. However there is a vending machine past security but you need to make sure you have change because it doesn’t take 50 or 100 rupee bills.

Arriving in Newark

I never though I’d say I like Newark but after spending a week outside your home country, even New Jersey is welcoming. Customs in Newark from India is always quick and goes through the gate with the automated terminals. There are no customs employees asking you to turn off your cell phones and everyone is sleepy and as you take the AirTran and see the Anheuser Busch plant on on side and the Manhattan skyline on the other you know you are home and in a few hours you will be back with your family again.