Top 10 essential things to pack for India

Top 10 essential things you should pack for travel in India

For travel in India, these are 10 of my favourite and most useful items.

If you travel in India, you need to pack these

I HAVE travelled in India for about a year-and-a-half altogether over the last six or seven years, and I have learned a thing or two about what you need to pack. First time visitors to India in particular should pay close attention to this list, and should consult my Packing list for India too. There are other things I make sure I carry with me that are not pictured here (such as tea tree oil, a sheet sleeping bag, quick dry towel, stainless steel water bottle, travel clock and headlight), but for the sake of brevity and SEO, I picked these 10. To find out what they are and why they are necessary, read on.

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Clockwise list of top 10 essential items for travel in India:

top 10 essential things you need to pack for travel in India

1. Plastic bags that seal. Did you see my Facebook update about the hundreds of ants that got into my stash of granola bars a couple of days ago at Aurovalley Ashram? No? It was a mess! There are so many uses for good quality plastic bags, I bring about about 5 each in three sizes. They keep humidity and insects out of your snacks stash, toiletries and electronics. Throw a silica bag in with your electronics when you are travelling during the monsoon.

2. Crocs. I have just discovered Crocs. I held out because the traditional style is so darned ugly, but the company now makes dozens of stylin’ shoes, including these beauties that I am wearing — and loving — every day in India. Comfy, cool and waterproof. What more could you ask for?

3. Thermos cup. I call this “the bullet” as it is indestructible and completely water tight. Made by Mountain Equipment Coop in Canada, but I’m sure you can find other makers. Particularly useful for long train rides: just ask the chai-walla to fill ‘er up.

4. Steripen. The Steripen  is a new item and I am loving it. I bought the small travel size, which uses ultraviolet light to kill all bacteria and other bad things in water. Expensive, but well worth it as most travel illness is caused by waterborne squigglies.

5. Modest yet comfortable bra. Very hard to find in North America, never mind India. I searched around and stocked up on a few different styles before leaving. For the ladies, I HIGHLY recommend this! You have to wear a modest bra in India, that covers and protects you fully, believe me. The first time I travelled in India (for six months) I had a bra crisis. Not fun. Leave the lacy, frilly, see-through bras at home.

6. Laundry leaves. The little orange packet is full of little slips of paper soaked in laundry detergent. It takes up very little room, will not make a mess, but will really come in handy when you have to wash your unmentionables in the sink.

7. Earplugs. Have you ever seen a Bollywood movie? I love India, it’s full of life … but quiet it is not.

8. Cable locks. The cables are pictured here but not the locks (sorry, forgot to include them). Invest in some good quality suitcase locks and steel cable, for locking your pack or suitacases while travelling by train or bus; and to heavy furniture in hotel rooms. You will be glad you have them.

9. Insect repellant. I like Watkins, which is a cream. It doesn’t smell and though it does contain DEET (necessary), it doesn’t seem particularly toxic. There are night-time mosquitoes in India that can carry malaria; and day-time mosquitoes that can carry dengue fever. I also have a small travel size bottle of Watkins that I refill and always have in my purse … and don’t hesitate to use whenever I see even one mosquito, because unlike me, they never travel alone.

10. Sunscreen. I have very fair skin and I just don’t really trust Indian made sunscreen. I’m not sure the industry is as well regulated as it is in North America. I like Green Beaver because it’s natural and it works.

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44 Responses to Top 10 essential things to pack for India

  1. Shalu October 15, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Interesting list of things to bring to India. This steripen seems like an interesting thing to buy. It’s quite a useful thing to take with you on any holiday.
    Shalu recently posted..Purana Qila in DelhiMy Profile

    • Miro August 9, 2013 at 4:04 am #

      Steripen is the greatest. I got mine for hiking and it has been used for way more than that over the years. It is awesome on that it’s method is completely natural – UV like that in sunshine. The only thing for camping is if the water is muddy then the muddiness won’t go away and it also does block the UV doing it’s work so a coffee filter paper may be useful.

      And it does use batteries. Mine is the full size model so the batts last for ages but the smaller unit uses Aaa batt sand it may pay to have spares or a charger.

      Other than that Steripen is just awesome! Water in cafe looks suss, no problem, give it a dose of uv and presto it’s fine.

  2. Vinni October 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Other things you could carry are:

    1. Cotton balls along with a first aid kit
    2. Hand sanitizer
    3. Something for the stomach, since food here is mighty spicy!

    • Miro August 9, 2013 at 4:08 am #

      For spicy food you want cooling foods (Chinese medicine). Cucumber, yogurt… wait a minute, that’s a raita.

      You could also have a cool mint or peppermint tea or some milk.

      Take care.

  3. Scott October 15, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    On my last trip to India – six-months in Varanasi, during monsoon – I got a chance to put the Crocs up against the Teva (Newport 2 model) and found the Teva, IMHO, superior. The ambient humidity of monsoon not to mention the rain I walked in for months (and flooded streets) made the Crocs very slippery on my feet, while the Teva stayed put and made what can be tenuous walking anyway, much more secure.

  4. Krincess Carl October 16, 2012 at 6:08 am #

    Thank you for sharing the list. I also want to share about cotton balls. I’ve learned that it’s one thing you shouldn’t forget during travel.
    Krincess Carl recently posted..People’s Park TagaytayMy Profile

  5. Mariellen Ward October 17, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    Thanks for comments everyone.

    This is not a definitive list, I just picked top 10 — agree about hand sanitizer. But I haven’t really needed cotton balls. Small tissue packs, yes, they come in handy. But I buy them in India. This list is more about what you should buy in western countries, that you can’t really get here. It’s really for foreigners visiting from North America, Europe, Australia.

    Interesting consumer research about the shoes Scott! I have a pair of Teva that I find vey uncomfortable. I only use them for canoeing and camping in Canada. They’re not good for walking. Depends on the styles I guess.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..On the sixth day: IndiaMy Profile

  6. Shailesh October 19, 2012 at 12:50 am #

    Practical and useful post, we found some add on information which can pass on to our inbound customers, especially the Stripen. We shall be shortly publishing a blog post on experiences of a first timer on a road journey in India and your contribution would be highly appreciated.
    Shailesh recently posted..Explosive airfares is killing tourism growth prospectsMy Profile

  7. Satu October 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Earplugs are essential! I bring a few spares too.
    Satu recently posted..I’m going offline for a bit…My Profile

  8. Mariellen Ward October 20, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    Hello Shailesh, Yes, happy to contribute. Contact me by email.

    Agree Satu, even here at the ashram I sometimes need them! Dogs outside my door, loud festivals down the road etc. Earplugs are a must pack item.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Indian cinema shines at TIFFMy Profile

  9. ullas sharma October 20, 2012 at 1:31 am #

    I thought I would find one essential in your list – sense of humor. Don’t leave your sense of humor behind and get dour and edgy. Looking at the funny side of things helps enormously in India, and believe me there will be many occasions.
    ullas sharma recently posted..Obama-Romney Debates – Why Obama Has An EdgeMy Profile

  10. Mariellen Ward October 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Hi Ullas! This list is just about the “stuff,” but I have often written about the attitude you should take to travel in India. This post is one example:
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Indian cinema shines at TIFFMy Profile

  11. Desi Traveler October 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    very interesting list and comments.. I guess every body have some thing on priority.. as a vegetarian whenever I go to US I always carry some packed microwave food…. just in case I am unable to get veg food on the first day of arrival.. ..saved my hungry stomach many times but i guess this string is about travel to India so I will log off.. thanks…
    Desi Traveler recently posted..10 Things to do in ShilparamamMy Profile

  12. mister potato October 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    “…though it does contain DEET (necessary), it doesn’t seem particularly toxic.”

    How can something that contains DEET not be toxic? What do you think it is? It is a poison made for killing – of course it’s toxic. It melts plastic and nylon clothes. Imagine what it does to you once it gets inside your body.

    The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported 14 to 46 cases of potential DEET-associated seizures, including 4 deaths. The EPA states: “… it does appear that some cases are likely related to DEET toxicity,”

    DEET has been found to inhibit the activity of a central nervous system enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, in both insects and mammals. This enzyme is involved in the hydrolysis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, thus playing a role in the function of the neurons which control muscles. Because of this property, many insecticides are used to block acetylcholinesterase, which leads to an excessive accumulation of acetylcholine at the synaptic cleft, causing neuromuscular paralysis and death by asphyxiation.

    Please don’t use DEET. You are right about the earplugs though – the single most important thing to bring to India and almost impossible to find there. In an emergency chewed up pieces of paper can help.

  13. Neil Skywalker October 26, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    You forgot to mention the 200 rolls of toilet paper you definitely need in India. I lost 12 kilos in just a few weeks of traveling in India back in 2008
    Neil Skywalker recently posted..My latest interview: At TraveLinkSitesMy Profile

  14. Mariellen Ward October 26, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Thanks for the comments about DEET. I know it is not ideal, and what I meant by that comment was that it didn’t seem as toxic as it probably is. However, there is a serious outbreak of Dengue fever in India right now. A leading Bollywood director just died (Yash Chopra) of it. So, given the choice between using DEET and getting Dengue, I’ll take the DEET — until they come up with something better.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..One day at a yoga ashram in IndiaMy Profile

  15. Mariellen Ward October 26, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    Hi Neil, Yes, Delhi-belly is definitely one of the risks of travel in India. However, if you are careful about what you eat and drink, and have a good immune system, a positive attitude and the right medications / supplements, it’s not that bad. Also — I don’t use toilet paper. I have adapted to the Indian system and use water only. It is more environmentally friendly and also feels cleaner to me.
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..The Emirates interviewMy Profile

    • Rono April 11, 2013 at 1:41 am #

      Hi Mariellen,

      Great blog and i have to ask you this: you mentioned bras but not underwear. Why? When you wear Indian clothes, do you wear underwear? Also, how do you wipe after you pee without paper?

      • Mariellen Ward January 10, 2014 at 9:14 am #

        Underwear is easily obtainable in India, but not good bras. Check out How to us an Indian toiler (use the search tool in the sidebar). Indians splash with water and the ladies carry a small towel or hanky to dry. In hot, dry weather, you will dry in minutes anyway.
        Mariellen Ward recently posted..How I (finally) learned to travel light …My Profile

  16. Cynthia October 29, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    Hello, what are these laundry leaves? Are they better than the small detergent packs found in India? I tried to research them but found nothing?

    Thank you

    • Mariellen Ward January 10, 2014 at 9:15 am #

      I found those leaves at a travel store in Toronto, so I don’t know where else to suggest getting them. But those detergent packs do just as well.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..First time visitor to Canada, eh?My Profile

  17. Angshu November 8, 2012 at 2:25 am #

    I am from India… and I think the list is pretty odd if you know your plans (which, most of you must have) , otherwise carry all these and get immersed in the strangeness of the country and you will definitely learn something or the other about yourself. I liked the post on Top 5 myths about India. My advise to all : When you first come to this country, better to have an Indian friend who can keep you aware of the dos and donts.

  18. S.Sethu November 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    very good blog please visit india again

  19. Shubhajit Chakraborty November 23, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    Interesting things to stock on, especially bra. I like the thermos thing and also I would like to include money change while you roaming around India. If you are travelling in hilly areas, forests and plan to camp, a proper knife is always handy. carry some handy medicines and of course a water purifier like zeoline to clear water.

  20. Manish Kumar November 30, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    A quite useful post for people coming to India for the first time.
    Manish Kumar recently posted..चित्र पहेली 21 : क्या आप हिमालय प्रेमी हैं? तो फिर पहचानिए इस चोटी को !My Profile

  21. Chandan Sehgal January 25, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    Hey there would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m going to start my
    own blog soon but I’m having a hard time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.

    P.S Apologies for being off-topic but I had to
    Chandan Sehgal recently posted..Chandan SehgalMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward January 10, 2014 at 9:18 am #

      Sorry for delayed response! Was doing a lot of travelling. I use WordPress, and I can’t imagine why anyone would choose anything else!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Winter in Canada: What to do?My Profile

  22. Vernetta Oberoi April 30, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    Very interesting information.I’ve just returned from my 8 trip.I have just prepared a travel kit for someone going to Nepal and with India fresh in my mind it was easy. I’ve observed so many foreigners really struggling to get along just in Delhi.Youhave done a great job in covering many things which are important to know in order to get by.I would like to write a blog as well about practical tips to help get around, and especially to avoid getting sick.Indians going back home get sick after being abroad .So one has to be very smart about what to eat and what to avoid.I had a few experiences myself.India is amazing.I guess I would like to share whatever I’ve discovered so that others may have a great time as well. So much to learn.Thank you.

    • Mariellen Ward January 10, 2014 at 9:20 am #

      Thanks so much! I have another view of getting sick in India, which is to avoid it as much as possible, of course — but if you’re planning to be there for an extended period, getting Delhi-belly a few times will help get your system used to the different bugs. And then you can relax, and not have to be so vigilant! But always be vigilant about water and mosquitoes, that’s for sure.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Photo essay: Kerala is India’s soft landingMy Profile

  23. food storage kits May 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Start with a basic survival kit, then add those things that would make life more bearable
    for you. Then decide if you want to trust your life
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    food storage kits recently storage kitsMy Profile

  24. Sharon January 10, 2014 at 12:43 am #

    Hi Mariellen,
    Do you think that running/hiking shoes are necessary for parts of India ( we are thinking of going zip lining in Goa and not sure what the walk to the Elephant Caves is like)?
    In addition, I did not find anything on the laundry leaves…checked MEC.
    Your blog is an inspiration. thank you for your insight.

    • Mariellen Ward January 10, 2014 at 9:23 am #

      Zip-lining in Goa? Really? That sounds so unlikely to me! I’m just not sure that Goa is the place for zip-lining …. better really check into it.

      You take a boat to Elephanta, and when you are there, the walk is on a well-made path. There is no hiking involved.

      I travel with a pair of Mephisto All-Rounders, which are a very light-weight cross between running shoes and day-hikers. They were expensive but a great investment.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..How I (finally) learned to travel light …My Profile

  25. Chloe February 20, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Absolutely beautiful blog, filled with such valuable information! India is on my must-see list in the next few years, and i’ll definitely be returning to your blog for the must-know details!


    Chloe recently posted..The List: Boise, IdahoMy Profile

  26. Newhiphop August 15, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Wonderful blog you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any forums that covr the same topics talked about in this article?
    I’d really love too be a part of community where I can get feedback from other
    knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, pleease let me know. Cheers!
    Newhiphop recently posted..NewhiphopMy Profile

  27. Andre Vaillancourt August 21, 2014 at 12:04 am #

    Mini bungee cords… Unlocked smartphone… Rain poncho… I’m sure you had sunblock in there I must have missed it. Foldable hat.

  28. mera bharat mahan October 8, 2014 at 4:52 am #

    No need to bring anything to feel india like sun screens, shoes,insect repellant etc…
    1.2 billion peoples leaving without it. Enjoy india Jai HInd

  29. Hemanth October 9, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    I don’t think you have to bring all these to India , you are not going to Mars , going to a country with 1.3 billion inhabitants with most ladies wearing Bra .
    here is some alternatives

    1. Plastic bags that seal : try in stationery shops

    2. Crocs. – you can try durable PU footwear from ” BATA” showrooms

    3. Thermos cup: Try ” ATLASWARE” thermo bottles ( made in India )

    4. Steripen. :use bottles water always ( Bisleri , )

    5. Modest yet comfortable bra. : dont know

    6. Laundry leaves.: detergents available in ultra small pouches( only in India ) , from 10 gram onwards !.

    7. Earplug : all sport shops or medical shops ( pharmacy)

    8. Cable locks : bicycle repair shops , or “baggage or VIP Suitcase ” shops

    9. Insect repellant. : buy “ODOMOS” from any pharmacy …very cheap

    10. Sunscreen : Buy from pharmacy ” LAKME” brand

  30. [email protected] October 28, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    Nice post, from one’s experience.
    Here are the additional items(long lists) which one must carry..

  31. parul June 1, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    Nice post! Thanks for Sharing.
    parul recently posted..Top Summer Destinations to Check out in IndiaMy Profile

  32. BATS February 29, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    Totally agree with Hemanth…everything is available in India sometimes better and cheaper ! I fill my bags with great shopping when I visit india.

  33. Rajiv March 28, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

    Hi, I’m from the States and came upon your site while starting research for my upcoming trip (possibly early May) to India and Sri Lanka.

    Thanks for your suggestions, as I have started my own list from previous travel experiences and your list helped add more items to my list.

    It’s been a decade since I was last there on business and each time it hits me how things have changed and are changing rapidly in India. I had some questions for you esp. since you have been there longterm and would have the latest, updated info. which would definitely be beneficial and worthwhile.

    1. If I’m planning to be in South Asia for around 6 months, what’s the best way to get access to cash while I am in India traveling, besides the cash I bring with me.

    2. What are the ATM charges for withdrawing money?

    3. Should I fly into Colombo, Sri Lanka first and complete my visit there and then on to India?

    4. What are your suggestions on buying my airline tickets? Sites you recommend? I’ve used kayak and before? But it’s been hit or miss?

    5. Since I am planning a longer stay in India and have the luxury of being flexible, what are your thoughts on getting a one way ticket as the airlines have raised their price for changing dates on return flights and I don’t have a definite date of return? Ex: Dallas Ft. Worth (where I am presently living) to Colombo and then on to Calcutta?

    6. When you’re booking a place to stay in a city, let’s say, Delhi or Calcutta, do you use Hostel Booker or which sites? Any suggestions?

    7. What about the type of visa and visa requirements? I did get the details from the Indian consulate website in Houston, the nearest consulate to my place.

    FYI: I’m of Indian heritage but was not born or raised in India and do speak Hindi/Punjabi, although it’s rusty and need some brushing up.

  34. Mariellen Ward March 28, 2016 at 7:08 pm #

    Hi Rajiv,

    Thanks for your questions — there’s a lot to answer, and I would be happy to help. As you can imagine, I get a lot of requests, so I set myself up on this site called PLANSIFY. If you scroll up and look in the sidebar on each page, you will an ad that says:

    I can help plan your trip. Need advice? Plansify

    It’s not a free service, there is a fee, but this way I can take time to answer all of your questions fully. Cheers, Mariellen
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..Top 8 reasons to love The Imperial HotelMy Profile

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