Packing list for India

clothes in marketplace / bazaar of Pushkar, Rajasthan, India

clothes in the Pushkar marketplace, Rajasthan

Travel light and right

We all have small secret areas of expertise, and one of mine is packing for India. I am claiming this expertise based on three facts: 1) I have packed to go from my country (Canada) to India five times. 2) I did a LOT of research before I left on my first big, six-month trip to India — and brought a LOT of stuff I never used. 3) I have packed for about a 20-25 domestic trips within India in the many months (more than a year) I have spent in the country.

So, if you will accept my qualifications, you can confidently print this list before you go. Even in the few years I have been traveling to India I have noticed you can get more and more of the things we North Americans have come to depend on. But there’s still a few things you probably want to have in your backpack — yes, backpack — just in case.

  • A backpack. It doesn’t matter if you’re basically middle-aged and your motto is “mid-range” — unless you are going 5-star all the way, you will be happy you can carry everything you brought on your back. There are going to be times when the taxi can’t get closer than a 10-minute walk to the train station because of the crowds and you have to get out and hup it.
  • Very comfortable sturdy shoes. India just doesn’t have the money to spend lavishly on infrastructure. The roads and sidewalks are a jagged obstacle course, and there is often an open sewer spilling its gruesome contents across your path.
  • Flip-flops. For the beach, in the shower, around your hotel and in other predictable settings. Don’t go barefoot in India.
  • Small bottles of hand sanitizing gel and small kleenex packets. I don’t walk out the door without these in my bag. You will find out quickly why they’re both integral.
  • Deodorant, hair conditioner, tampons, sunscreen, Deet mosquito repellent, skin oil (eg almond) and condoms. I don’t know why, but I can never find these in India (not good enough quality versions, anyway).
  • A sheet sleeping bag. For the train and questionable hotels.
  • Good quality suitcase locks and cable. You will need to be able to use the cable to lock your bag to your train or bus seat.
  • To keep as healthy as possible on the road, take heat-resistant probiotics (one per day), either oil of oregano or GSE (grapefruit seed extract), rehydration salts, tea tree oil and homeopathic remedies for digestion and respiration issues (Indian cities are highly polluted).
  • Get professional advice regarding vaccinations, antiobiotics and anti-malarial medication.
  • Earplugs and music player, such as iPod. You will need them, take my word for it. Don’t forget your electrical adapter.
  • Digital camera. Ditto electrical adapter.
  • Headlamp or good-quality small flashlight (for reading on the train and power outages)
  • Resteasy bed bug spray
  • Quick dry towel. I found 101 uses for this. Also useful is a sarong or piece of cloth.
  • Money belt. I didn’t use it a lot, but I was glad I had it.
  • A daypack and/or a small-ish bag you can carry very safely. Here in Canada, MEC makes one that’s got a wide strap and  fits under your armpit and it’s perfect for crowded situations such as bazaars and railway stations and, well, just about every where in India is crowded!
  • Water bottle and small thermos. I have a great little thermos I call the “bullet.” I fill it up with tea on the road.
  • Mesh laundry bag.
  • Underwear. Ladies, I do not like the bras in India. I will always make sure I have a lot of comfortable cotton bras to choose from when I go. And let modesty be your guide.
  • Modest clothing. It is not really a good idea to wear scanty clothes in India. I know some people do it, but I personally think it is unsafe and disrespectful. When in Rome and all that. In fact, I recommend bringing very few items of clothing and making a beeline for Fabindia (the Gap of India). Indian clothes are inexpensive, colourful, comfortable and they suit the climate and the culture. Indians will appreciate your attempt to bridge cultures and show respect and they will be even more open towards you.

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28 Responses to Packing list for India

  1. sirensongs December 10, 2008 at 5:36 am #

    hi Mariellen, thanks for the link! good packing list!

  2. Ishrath April 24, 2009 at 2:15 am #

    Hi Lemon,
    I am quite impressed by your packing list. I am from India and have a lot of friends visiting from other places, therefore I understand how stressful it is for them when they dont find the stuff they want. I usually help them around the city for shopping for essentials 🙂
    Good Luck!

  3. Ratnakar Narale August 24, 2009 at 1:12 am #

    So good to hear from you, Mariellen. Congratulations! The Indian pictures are very nice. The writeups are to the point and language is sweet. Going around the site is a bit slow (at least on my PC), may be because larger hi-res .jpg files. Yoga and travel sections are turly good. Best wishes, to you and to Jennifer.
    Ratnakar Narale

  4. amanda January 14, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    I would add head-lamp, for ‘load shedding’ current shortages.
    And a pocket knife, almost always best used to eat mangoes.

  5. Mariellen January 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    Thanks Amanda,
    A headlamp should definitely be on the list — in fact, I always carry one. Also handy in overnight trains. Be careful with the pocket knife. If it’s in your carry-on luggage they will confiscate it.

  6. Ayngelina January 28, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    Is a headlamp that much better than a regular flashlight? I looked at the prices of some and was not convinced it was worth the price.

  7. Christina February 14, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks to this list I’m one step ahead of the many travelers I’ve come across who are wondering why the Indian mosquito repellent they just bought isn’t doing the trick. You are a savior 🙂

  8. B Jacque March 6, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    Just curious… how small of a backpack are you able to do for say… 3-4 weeks? I love the travelling lite but have never done just a backpack.

  9. Mariellen March 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    I am not a backpacking expert and very bad at traveling lite, to be honest — it’s an art form I would like to learn. But there some great resources on the internet — blogs and sites dedicated to backpacking.

  10. B Jacque March 30, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    No worries… I improvised. Found a great pack.

    Also saw the Caves earlier this week. Promise to post info once back at my computer in a couple of weeks.

  11. Tracy August 21, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    After spending two months in India I agree with your list. I also found the clothes at Anokhi to be of very high quality (though more expensive than at the markets). I’m still wearing a couple of the shirts I bought there at home (ditto for FabIndia)!

  12. Mary November 20, 2010 at 6:01 am #

    I adored incredible Southern India from Cochin (Kochi)to Kanyakamari where the three oceans meet (Bengal, Indian) in 2003 – I was so impressed with happy smiling people who seemed to be so poor!

  13. Lu January 12, 2011 at 3:38 am #

    Mariellen, this is a wonderful web site! Your book will be very helpful. I am traveling to India for the first time in 2 weeks. I’m going to Bangkok for a week first then to Delhi and Jaipur. I have two questions. First, what are the restrictions regarding luggage traveling in India. Second, how do you protect your belongings in a hotel while out for the day (such as a laptop)?

  14. Mariellen January 12, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    Hi Lu! Be very careful about what you put in your carry on luggage if traveling by plane. I have lost insect repellent, a portable cutlery set, a manicure set, all kinds of stuff. It’s okay if you put in in the luggage that goes in the hold, but not in the carry on

    In the hotel room, I put things in my suitcase, lock the suitcase, and then use the cable lock to lock the suitcase to a large piece of furniture. In one or two cases, I asked the hotel to keep my mini-laptop in the hotel safe. I know people who have lost things, but I never have.

    The most important thing you can carry with you in India is a positive and flexible attitude. Memorize this mantra: go with the flow.

    Have fun!

  15. kim December 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    which homeopathic remedies do you find useful for the respiratory issues that result from being around so much pollution; i know that i am generally sensitive to poor air quality and typically get a sore throat pretty quickly.

    and for the belly? i usually do probiotics when i travel but haven’t ever considered homeopathic remedies for that kind of trouble; again, what do you take with you?

  16. Natasha February 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    I’m loving your blog, I just got turned on to it by a friend. Thanks for this list, and all the other experiences and advice you’ve been writing about!
    I’m just gearing up for my next globe trot. I was curious about water purifiers, the last time I went to India I bought bottled water all the time, I’d like to go a little more eco-friendly. Do you travel with a purifier? recommendations for a good model?

  17. Mariellen February 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    Hi Natasha, I did buy a purifier once — the kind you attach to the top of a bottle. But I never used it, so I can’t really make a recommendation. I carry a stainless steel water bottle and I try and fill it up at places that have filtered water. I suspect this will become more common. Hotels and ashrams, as well as private homes and some restaurants have them. It’s so great that you are concerned.

  18. Mariellen February 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    Hi Kim, Sorry for the late reply. I’m not a homeopathic expert but I know there are some good remedies. it would be worthwhile to get a consultation with a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor.

  19. Amber May 23, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    I will be leaving to India in about 3 weeks and will be there for about a month! It’s my first time going and I am so excited! My question is how many bags do you usually pack? I also have the problem of usually over packing. 😛 I Am thinking of taking a backpack as a carry on and than a duffel bag size checked baggage. Do you think that is ok? Also, I’ve seen on other website that some travelers don’t recommend regular luggage, they say its best to use only backpacks and not rolling luggage. Have you found it difficult to travel with regular luggage in India?

  20. Mariellen May 24, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    Hi Amber, I am the wrong person to ask because I have a home base in India so I never worry about how much stuff I bring. But when I leave Delhi to travel around the country, I whittle it down considerably of course. I have almost stopped using a backpack in India because I don;t want to be identified as a backpacker; I don’t like the attention it brings. I use a small-ish rolling bag and a day-sized backpack. You do have to be able to carry (or roll) your luggage quite often, so dont; carry anything too heavy that you can’t handle. It is better to travel light, there’s no question.

  21. Ira Bartunek August 7, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    Grapefruit seed is rich in vitamins and minerals. I use it sometimes on my detox diet recipe because it is quite tasty too. ,:`,`

    Thanks again

  22. Jamila Goller November 4, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    Grapefruit seed is also rich in vitamin-B that is why i always take it regulary. –

  23. Rakshith Chengappa December 5, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    Loved your Blog! Keep up the good work!

    Love From,

  24. Anton Wanlass March 5, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    Sometimes referred to as GSE, the Grapefruit Seed Extract, is a highly concentrated blend of the pink pulp, orange skin, and seeds of the grapefruit. Already known as a healthy fruit to eat or juice to drink, the extract form is a more efficient way to consume the valuable nutrients the grapefruit has to offer. You’ll notice that the Grapefruit Seed Extract offers an immense variety of benefits for the human body.


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