When planning a trip to a completely foreign location it can be difficult to figure out what to pack. First, you have to consider the weather and the activities you’ll participate in. Next, you need to determine if there are any extra items to pack outside your normal packing checklist. And lastly, you need to make sure it all fits in your suitcase!
Packing for India was extremely daunting for me because I was overwhelmed with all I had to consider: dressing conservatively in scorching heat, getting vaccinations and pills to protect from something as simple as water and mosquitos, figuring out bathroom etiquette, and worrying about the dreaded Delhi Belly.
After going through this exhausting exercise for my trip to India, I’ve made it easy for you and compiled a list of items outside the norm that I wouldn’t travel to India without.
1.) Light-Weight Fabric Clothing
The temperature in Delhi can climb over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, but even in spring and fall temperatures can be well over 80. Do yourself a favor and buy some light-weight pants and shirts made from cotton, linen, chiffon, or some other flowy fabric. (It’s an extra bonus if it can be washed in the sink and worn the next day.) Make sure the fit is loose, because tight fitting clothing (even if it is made of light-weight fabric) will make you feel warmer. You definitely don’t want to overheat!
2.) Darker Colored Clothing
In India, dirt will find you. Even if you’re not in the rural areas with all-dirt roads, there’s plenty of grime in the cities. While just being outside you’ll notice a coating of reddish sand/clay start to accumulate on your hands and face. It wouldn’t take long for a nice pair of white pants to look like khaki pants. I stuck with blues, browns, greens, blacks and grays for the most part and had no trouble with noticeable stains.
3.) Modest Attire
While we’re talking about clothing, I’ll go one step further. I know the temperature is hot, but women and men should cover their knees and shoulders unless at the beach. The locals dress modestly, and it’s always courteous to respect their values and do the same. If you do choose to wear shorts there really aren’t any serious repercussions, but you will definitely get some lingering stares and rude looks.
4.) Slip on Shoes
There are quite a few religious sites in India, and chances are you will be visiting a few of them. These sites require you to either deposit your shoes before entering, or they might give you booties to wear over your shoes. For instances where booties aren’t an option, a pair of shoes that you can easily slip on and off come in handy.
If visiting a temple it might be required for men and women to cover their head, shoulders, and knees. A scarf works perfectly for achieving instant modesty and can either be worn or easily packed in your day bag. I also found a scarf handy for blocking the sun from my eyes when trying to take a nap on the bus, or blocking the sand/smog/odors from my face, mouth and nose.
6.) Wet Wipes
Instant hand sanitizer is great at home, but I much preferred wet wipes in India. When my face and hands needed cleaned while on the road, before eating, or after using the bathroom, hand sanitizer just smears around all of the day’s dirt accumulation where wet wipes completely remove it. While on my daily excursions my hands constantly felt dirty, and the vast majority of bathrooms I visited didn’t have soap, so these gems were one of my favorite things I packed. Seriously – you’ll want to pack some of these in your day bag.
7.) Tissues/Travel Toilet Paper
Sorry to bring up bathrooms twice in a row, but it’s definitely a topic that needs covered. Fact: Toilet paper isn’t widely used in India. When visiting a public bathroom, you will notice a hose and a bucket that is used for cleaning up. I love experiencing the culture of new places, but using my hand and some water out of a rusty bucket was a little too much for me – so I was beyond excited that my wife packed tissues to use as toilet paper.
8.) Travelers Tummy Medicine
Even though I had no trouble in India with Delhi belly, I know plenty of people who have. We packed Imodium, Pepto Bismal tablets, and even got an antibiotic prescription from our local Health Department for battling extreme cases. My tips to avoid Delhi Belly are to drink bottled water (even when brushing teeth), avoid ice in drinks, only eat cooked foods (no fresh carrots or cucumbers they love to serve with Thalis), wash your hands before eating anything, and eat in clean restaurants.
9.) Money Belt
When traveling abroad I always wear a money belt. I carry my passport, an extra credit card, and extra cash in it just in case I misplace my wallet or I come across someone with sticky fingers. I only keep a day’s worth of cash in my pocket or wallet, so I’m really not out much if I lose it.
10.) Electric Plug Adapters
India uses electric plug outlets with either 2 or 3 round pins, so adapters are needed if you want to use your electronics from home. Most new electronics have built-in converters that change the frequency of the electricity to match your device, so all that’s needed is the simple (and cheaper) adapter and not the more expensive converter.
Definitely don’t forget sunscreen. India isn’t too far from the equator, and the sun can be extremely intense. I used 50 SPF and applied every couple of hours to avoid sunburn.
While sunglasses are probably on your normal packing list to protect your eyes from the sun, in India they can also be used as a great device for pretending you’re not paying attention to the swarm of people wanting to sell you knick-knacks and tourist souvenirs. It sounds mean, but these street vendors can be so persistent that you just have to ignore them sometimes.
13.) Bug spray
While I didn’t have trouble with mosquitos on my trip, some locations and times of the year are worse for mosquitos than others. If you’re really worried about contracting Malaria you can even get a prescription from your doctor or Health Department.
India is pretty noisy. I was amazed at how much honking there was in the street – it’s actually encouraged to honk when coming up behind a truck or passing another vehicle, and will all of the street traffic in India, it makes for a loud atmosphere. Even if staying a few floors up in a nice hotel, some of the street noise is still audible. Therefore, a pair of earplugs is great if you’re a light sleeper.
A Visa is required for entry into India. I’ve outlined in my E-Touritst Visa article how to easily obtain a tourist visa for US citizens. This process only takes a couple of weeks, it’s completely electronic, and you can do it all yourself!
I cannot recommend everything on this list enough. The knowledge I gained while researching what to bring to India as well as following through with my packing made my trip so much more enjoyable. I was well prepared for almost anything that came my way.
If you’re camping or visiting more remote parts of India, this list likely won’t serve you completely. However, if you’re only visiting big cities or traveling with a tour group you should be in good shape.
Remember, while visiting India, keep an open mind. Plenty of things will be different than you’re accustomed to, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Simply visiting this beautiful land of the maharajas is an adventure in itself, so prepare yourself for soaking in the wonderful culture and expecting the unexpected, and I know you’ll have an amazing trip!
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