Image: The Taj Mahal – photo by Chelsea
India is one of the most popular destinations for backpackers, adventure seekers and people seeking spiritual enlightenment. Due to it’s vast size, rich history, copious transportation options, and cheap cost of travel, India attracts masses of tourists each year, all seeking something unique and different. No matter what your purpose of travel is in India, pack light so you can fit it all on your back, keeping yourself mobile enough to cram onto trains.
While packing strategically is important, India has an endless amount of markets where you can buy clothes more fitting to their weather and climate. Leave room to buy a few pants and shirts. Also, formal wear isn’t necessary. If you get invited to a wedding, ask the person who invited you to help you purchase a sari. Pack things that dry quickly, because you’ll be hand-washing and line-drying your clothes: there are no washers and dryers in India.
2-3 pairs of Leggings – These go perfectly under long, Indian-style shirts. They’re also modest enough to cover your knees and keep you cooler than jeans.
2 bras – Having more than one is nice if one gets overly sweaty and needs washed.
5-7 pairs of underwear – Make sure they’re comfortable and easy to air-dry.
Jeans – 1 or 2 pairs will be sufficient, depending on the time of year and the weather.
1 large scarf – Make sure it covers your head well. This is a necessity if you plan to visit temples. It also helps protect your head from the heat.
1 jacket – The Himalayas can get chilly at night, even in summer.
5 shirts – Though India is hot, pack shirts that cover your shoulders and cleavage, especially if you’re traveling through non-touristy destinations. India is a modest country and you don’t want that kind of attention.
1 skirt or dress – For making an impression.
>>Avoid these India packing mistakes.
1 pair flip flops – To protect your feet against grimy shower floors.
1 pair tennis shoes, Chacos or Tevas – Something comfortable and cool you can wear for hours on end that can handle all kinds of terrain and a day’s worth of walking. I think I wore my Chacos the entire time.
1 pair flats or dressy sandals – If you see yourself going out at night, take a cute pair.
Bar of Soap – Put it in a plastic container and you won’t have to worry about a liquid mess.
Toothbrush and toothpaste – With something to cover the head of your toothbrush.
Deodorant – India’s options are limited here.
Razor – And shaving cream if you’re not comfortable with soap as a lather.
Diva Cup – Tampon variety is hard to come across, and the last thing you want to do is deal with pads.
Medicines – Take an emergency stash of things to treat stomach ache, diarrhea, constipation, colds, and headaches. Take sleeping or motion sickness pills if you’re the kind of person that needs them on bumpy bus rides. Buying things from the chemist shops is often a guessing game you don’t want to play.
Editor’s note: We highly recommend visiting a travel doctor before a trip to India to get an update on medications that might fare useful while there.
Towel – To dry yourself off after a shower. Take a plastic bag to carry it in if it doesn’t have time to dry.
Birth Control – Just in case.
Protection from the Elements:
Sunscreen – Pack a small bottle, but this can be purchased in India much cheaper than in the west.
Bug repellent – Mosquitoes are no joke. Protect yourself. Malaria is a real thing in India. (If you’re super paranoid, talk to your doctor about Malaria pills before you go.)
Socks – I learned the hard way to always wear socks while traveling. Mosquitoes like to hang out underneath bus seats.
Shades – Protect your eyes from the harsh Indian sun.
1 water-proof jacket – A thin one will suffice.
Camera – Take as many pictures as possible, especially at the Taj Mahal.
MP3 Player or iPod – To zone out on long bus/train rides.
Chargers & Adapters – Make sure your valuable electronics always have juice, and take an adapter if your home plugs won’t work in India.
E-reader – Traveling between cities in India takes a long time. You’ll want something to entertain yourself.
If you’re strictly backpacking through India, I wouldn’t recommend taking your laptop. My friend had one stolen, and wi-fi cafes are few and far between, even in big cities. However, there are plenty of internet cafes where you can use the internet for less than $1/hour.
Visa – India is not a country where you can get a visa upon landing in the country. Get it ahead of time.
Clothes line – Use this to dry your clothes no matter what hostel you’re in.
Earplugs – India is a noisy place. If you’re a light sleeper, these are a must.
Eye mask – If you’re tired, stay in your room and sleep. India is exhausting.
Your game face – Like it or not, as a foreigner, people will try to charge you three times as much for everything. Bargaining is an art and is expected in India, but it’s not easy. Don’t be afraid to walk away pretending to look for someone else with a better offer. Stand your ground and the price will come down.
>>Are you a solo female traveler? Read what it’s like to travel alone in India as a woman.
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About the author: Chelsea Baldwin is a professional freelance writer who is constantly looking forward to her next plane trip to a new, exotic land. Although she’s been to a handful of countries, she’s never traveled for pure tourism. Instead, she’s traveled for work, internship opportunities, or volunteer community development work. Connect with her via her travel blog, Twitter, or her website, CarolinaFreelanceWriter.com.