Image: The Taj Mahal – photo by Chelsea
The following is a guest packing list by Chelsea Baldwin. See all packing list posts here.
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 (check out #6 on this post!).
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.
2-in-1 Shampoo/Conditioner – Make sure it’s under 3.4 ounces (or 100ml) if it goes into your carry on. (Read about: solid shampoo and dry shampoo)
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.
>>Check out these toiletries for carry-on travel.
Razor – And shaving cream if you’re not comfortable with soap as a lather.
Brush/Comb and hair ties – To keep your hair from sticking to your hot, sweaty face and neck. (Maybe a headband or a Buff.)
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.
Birth Control – Just in case.
Towel – To dry yourself off after a shower. Take a plastic bag to carry it in if it doesn’t have time to dry.
Turkish Towels are bigger than travel towels, yet they still pack down small. They are light, absorbent, and versatile. You can also wear it as a scarf!
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.
For more tech gear packing help, read the following posts: tech gear packing list, extra electronics to pack with your gadgets, and should I pack all these electronics.
Book a Viator Tour Before You Go
Private Tour: 5-Night South India Tour of UNESCO Heritage Temples – $455.00*
Travel around the temples of South India! The journey starts from Chennai and gradually takes you to the holy places where Hindu religion developed it’s identity. Next, you will travel to Kanchipuram-Mahabalipuram, where you can visit the famous temples such as Kailashnatha and Ekambareswara, and become familiar with world famous UNESCO World Heritage sites. Last but not least, you will visit Tanjore, Madurai, Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari.
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.
Book a Viator Tour for Your Trip to India
All Inclusive Day Trip to Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Baby Taj from Delhi by Car ↗
Get an up-close look at the history and the landmarks of the Mughal Empire during this day trip from Delhi to Agra.
2-Day Private Jaipur City Sightseeing Tour with Three Forts ↗
See the most popular attractions in Jaipur without having to rush by booking this tour, which is spread over two days so you can take your time.
* * * * *
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.
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using them, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps to keep this site running – thank you!
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Awesome! Heading there in March, so this has been really helpful!
I brought 250 anti diarrhoeal tablets for 1 month. I was indeed being dramatic, but my mates had brought about 6 each and diarrhoea in India is unfortunately pretty inevitable. In all we probably used about 100 tablets. So yes bring a lot. You can buy then for bulk online pretty cheap.
Yes! From all the stories I’ve heard, this is a MUST 🙂
And please carry a pepper spray, a swiss knife or something to protect yourself, epecially while you are traveling through North India. Even though it is largely a safe country, few incidences of crime against women have been reported recently.
Camille Frame says
Great list, Brooke!
I traveled to India last year, and one of the most helpful tips my Indian friend gave me was to pack toilet paper! India does not have toilet paper readily available in restrooms.
Also, bring wet ones and hand sanitizer.
Enjoy India, it is one of the most transformational places to visit!
Great travels, Camille
Great list and website! I lived and travelled in India and for me it was all about light, loose, comfortable and modest clothes. Shalwar kameez are ideal which you can buy when you get there. Helps you blend in, plus clothes are so cheap there. I would personally avoid jeans as they could become very uncomfortable in the heat, plus you want things that dry quickly after washing them. Not to mention they are heavy in your backpack.
A sarong is so useful: to cover up for temples, wear on beaches and use as a scarf.
I also invested in something called a ‘Shewee’ which you can use to wee like a man. Especially useful for impromptu wees in the middle of nowhere or toilets you do not want to even squat in!!
I really liked having the antibacterial lotion from Bath and Body Works, and I got the travel coleman toilet paper and reused the holder and hold rolled TP once the initial stash ran out. Also, depending on the time of year, the heat can be INSANE. I bought high quality leather gladiator sandals (BORN brand) and they were very comfy for walking and kept my feet cool… however the less buckles the better (you will be removing them a lot for temples, etc). I packed a maxi dress that could be dressed up or casual, lots of jewelry to compensate for lack of variety in clothing (this will be readily available and cheap in India tho)… and an absolute MUST if traveling on a budget is a sleeping sheet. Bed bugs etc are a sure thing :S ….oh and a good leave-in hair conditioner makes life easier. Water pressure is sometimes terrible or even non existent.
Excellent feedback, Tiffany! The whole bedbug thing scares me horribly… eep! But I always pack a sleep sheet 🙂
I’m traveling to India in a couple months and was wondering if anyone has any advice about bringing a DSLR camera…? I’m concerned about bringing it because it is big and bulky (we’re backpacking), and I’m worried about it getting stolen. On the other hand, I bought the thing so I could take great pictures of my travels! Any advice appreciated!
Hi Molly — This one is a hard one to give advice for and I think it comes down to what you’re comfortable with. I know plenty of people who have traveled India with their DSLR and came back with some glorious pictures. I’ve traveled in places like Central America and Central Asia with mine, and yes, it did make me feel awkward at times, but it also never got stolen. I think you have to have an extra bit of awareness, and be ready for the possibility that you might not come home with it. If for you, the high quality pictures are super important then you should bring it. Otherwise, there are plenty of high quality point and shoot cameras and compact DSLRs that can do the job 🙂 Try getting a camera bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag… or get this: http://amzn.to/2d0SFgH
Bookmarking this for my trip in March… great list!
Couple of questions for you Brooke:
Did you find the dirt an issue for travelling with open foot sandals? I’m most indecisive on my footwear…want to be comfortable, non-sweaty, but also keep my feet (somewhat) clean. I’m currently debating between Toms, Pumas or Chacos (or similar).
Also, I was planning to take leggings and buy some long tunics there, but then got to thinking that leggings would be too warm and I should buy indian loose pants? Was it not an issue? I’ll be doing the golden triangle from March 18-April1.
Hi Morgan, This post was written by a guest blogger, Chelsea, but I do have some experience with Chacos. When I traveled in Central America and Central Asia, I wore chacos, and YES, my feed did get dirty. I would rinse my feet off when getting back to my hostel or before getting into bed. You could always bring wet wipes and freshen up here and there when needed.
I think there are parts of India where it is hot no matter what and it wouldn’t matter what you wear! 😉 I’d send Chelsea a message to get her response as I have not been to India.
Leah S. says
It depends on the areas you will be walking through, but there is always a lot of garbage and other debris to be aware of, so sandals are not the best option. You want something that will be comfortable, cool, and can be rinsed if necessary.
Wearing modest clothing is important, so light tunics are definitely the best option. You can purchase these when you arrive along with traditional pants to keep cool. I wore lightweight linen pants which was also a great option for day to night.
This is an absolutely incredible list! I am traveling to India for four months this summer (actually leaving in just under 3 weeks) and really appreciate such a comprehensive list!
my opinion on the DSLR personally is that the photos you will get are worth the risk of having the camera stolen, etc. As far as the.concerns with cleanliness…. If cleanliness is a big concern, you prob want to skip India alltogether. Regardless of your footwear, you will feel filthy until you leave (at least if traveling on a budget)
…the good thing about sandals is that, besides keeping you cool, you can hose them off. literally you will be walking through trash as well as human and animal feces every day. Its unavoidable.
I travel to India often as my in laws live there. I also highly recommend the little tissue packs for toilet paper. I also carry little spray bottles of hand sanitizer to spray my hands and to take care of any possible foot scraps ( walking through temples bare foot ).
I also take probiotics and grapefruit seed oil caps. These are extras to pack but they were recommended to me by a pharmacist who frequents India. I am careful about what I consume there, but I really think these supplements have helped me not get sick. Thanks for this list! I have to start packing soon for a trip to India in a few weeks and I will use this list to help me along!
I will be traveling to India in a month or so. What kind of probiotics should I carry with me and what does grapefruit seed oil caps do?
Thanks so much!
i took a daily probiotic called culturelle! you can get it at walgreens, CVS, and some super targets have it! it was so incredibly good for me and also for many of the other people i traveled with. i started taking it a week before i left on my trip so if my body could start working with it here first and then continued to take it once a day in india. i highly recommend it, or at least taking a probiotic! enjoy your trip!!!
A couple notes, from someone who just found this site – and who lives in India full-time:
*Washers and dryers do, in fact, exist in India. You can get laundry service periodically, but hand-washing is a good plan nonetheless.
*If you’re slim, you can find ready-made clothes. Bustier women (DD+) will struggle, as will curvy women, to find readymades – if you have time, get a salwar suit made because it will be worth every penny. Shopping for bras and underwear will take place in public, usually in stalls run by men, and on the side of the road.
*Add a Steri-Pen; while you can find bottled water everywhere, if you’re an off-the-beaten-track explorer, or you want to eat in some of the “local” places, you’ll only get a metal pitcher with water in. The steri-pen is great.
I Stayed in India for 8 months, this list is almost to a key what i had packed. However, i cannot stress enough how important it is to bring your own toilet paper AND take a probiotic! there is a daily pill called culturelle, it’s super helpful in preventing you from becoming sick in India (which is VERY likely). If you took your clothes and nothing else but TP and a probiotic you’ll be a happy camper!
If you going india, have a think about the region(s) you visiting and the season, India is a vast country and you do get variations in temperature depending on when and where you visting. As for essentials, I would recommend, toilet paper, antibacterial hand santizer gel, good antibacterial soap, medicines such as Imodium, and meds for tummy upsets, and standard stuff like paracetomol.
wtf.. we also carry DSLR camera here.. that too very easily.. u also get alll types of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and every lil crap u want if u stay in a decent hotel not those cheap ones..
How much is a decent hotel
E Pettus says
one of he best aspects of traveling to India is that you can, for a very small amount of money, have a couple of three piece outfits (salwar kameez)custom made by a tailor. you will spend less than you would on the items on the list, you will always beg pressed acceptably. Indians are much more positively disposed toward western women . the salwar Kameez and dupatta combination. the dupatta (scarf) can keep off the sun, protect you from staring crowds, and looks great!
insist on cotton, which will be cool and easy to wash- whe I go to India,
I only take one change of clothing. I always plan on leaving the clothes I wear there behind! but fall in love with everything, and, as I live in Santa Fe, I can wear them at home, too.
I have trekked this way in the Annapurna! traveled Rajasthan, the golden triangle, and south India this way. I been cooler and more comfortable than I would have believed possible? I also take a folding umbrella for use as a parasol (beige works best). your shoulders are shaded, and it’s much cooler than a hat.
I can assure you, as a person living in India, that dryers and washers do, in fact, exist in India. And are pretty darn common! You probably won’t find them in remote villages, but everywhere else, not a problem.
In fact, so enamoured are we by the western culture (not being sarcastic), that laundromat cafes have started popping up in the bigger towns.
Since I live in India and have cousins who visit, I think the following things are very important:
1. Always drink bottled water. Everywhere!!! The most common and trusted brands are: Bisleri, Aquafina (By Pepsi) and Kinley (by Coca Cola Company). Water is the source of most stomach related problems, even for Indians staying here.
2. Medicines for stomach related problems, alergy, nebulizer spray of dust is a problem, mosquito repellent – most of the hostel/ hotels have a machine version available in the room. If its not there you can either ask the manager to give you one or buy it on your own.
Tampons – You would not find these easily even in the big cities.
3. Sandals or Shoes? Depends on what you prefer and the season. Your feet will get dirty, no matter what. Though you will not be walking through trash or feces unless you visit slum areas. Sandals are most comfortable to walk in and you can usually wash them easily. Sneakers/ Sport Shoes will be good too though if travelling in North India in summers (May – August), the heat can make them stuffy and uncomfortable. During same time in South and West India it rains heavily and there too you will be walking around in wet shoes then.
4. You will get toilet papers and hand sanitizers very easily. You can pick them up either from a chemist shop or from one of the many supermarkets. Get a pack of Wet tissues too!
5. Google Maps!!! Especially for a female traveler. While traveling in a hired taxi, use the route mentioned in the map, keep checking and insist on following that route. Avoid any suggestions of shortcuts even if you are stuck in traffic. Being cautious is better.
Hope this helps and welcome to India 🙂
Lucy Ballot says
Got a report on India for school so this really helped me with my travel package I have to put together.Thanks
I just foung this site, and I thought I might clear up something. I live in India, and of course there is deodorant! You get them in all the shops, even tiny ones. They just might not be the brands you are used to. And there are washing machines, just not a lot of self-service laundries.
rochelle reigns says
Incredible rundown, Brooke!
I headed out to India a year ago, and a standout amongst the most supportive tips my Indian companion gave me was to pack bathroom tissue! India does not have bathroom tissue promptly accessible in restrooms.
Likewise, bring wet ones and hand sanitizer.
Appreciate India, it is a standout amongst the most transformational spots to visit!
Incredible ventures, Camille
The clothes you can buy in India, do they fit large women??
solo woman traveller says
What size are you referring to? In either case, you can have it tailor made to any size, provided you have 12-24 hrs.
solo woman traveller says
I live in India and have traveled overseas and fairly extensively within my country. I’ve had my share of stomach upsets as I have a very sensitive digestive system so I have a few tips for you that have helped me immensely and will surely help you avoid stomach upsets. Most budget places don’t cook western food and don’t cook it well, Enjoy local cuisine and try to eat local often. If you are worried, do request for less chilly & oil or opt for dishes that are less spicy. India is rich in fresh produce and all variety of fruits are easily available, cheapest fruit being banana across the length and breadth of the country! Eat whole fruits as often as you like. Drink fresh coconut water with a clean straw. Do not eat at small, run down, off beat places or at bed & breakfast places because they only cook for you from leftovers or food stored for long as this is not their core business. Don’t be taken by fancy menu cards. If you find 50-75% of menu is not available, then avoid eating there. Always eat at places that are busy, have a steady turnaround and where you see locals eating from because then the food is fresh & well cooked apart from being super cheap. I have made the mistake a few times & seen huge number of foreigners making that mistake all the time because my guess is they are looking for comfort food or food they are familiar with. I sincerely hope this helps!
Maria L says
I am going to India this December and I am wondering what to wear and pack. I will be in Delhi, Rishikesh, Agra and Jaipur. I want to travel light.
I am going to the exact places that you went , can I wear shorts ? ? I noticed you didn’t get a reply ?
Karen, Very few women in India wer shorts in public and then in only the cosmopolitan areas in cities. You will be better off wearing cotton salwaar kameez that you can get tailored to any size you want. This is froman Indian woman who lives permanently in India with a teenage daughter who has to be cautioned to wear shorts only in appropriate areas.
Two things I would add to that list (whilst I think about it):
Situation where these were invaluable was when arriving in India and hadn’t pre-booked accommodation, and I’d started getting into that psycho place of thinking everyone was about to rip-me-off as I’d been backpack travelling with my 7 year old for the last 9 months already. Anyhow, arrived at a low-budget hotel, for this read ‘5 storey building with each floor pretending to be a hotel’) and was shown our room.
It’ll do till the morning I thought, when less tired from the journey and I can search with a clearer head. The room was awful, and the bathroom even worse. (So the flip-flops are a must!).
Having a child with me, safety was always important. So on occasions I did need to leave him in a room alone, like when going to the loo etc. This hotel room had a big bonus to it – it had a door. But one little shove and it would give. Pack yourself a simple DOORSTOP! This increases the feeling of safety and can be invaluable keeping out ‘interested’ men whilst you are in the shower.
If the shower is far too gross to step into you may have to resort to washing in the sink. Pack yourself a universal BATH PLUG. This will ensure that any basin/bath can be filled, for self washing or handwashing small items.