Packing for India

Red Fort, Delhi

Packing for India

India is a big country and has a very diverse climate. Between North & South India in December, the temperature can vary by 30-40 degrees and I am not even considering the mountainous regions of North India. If you are planning on staying a while, this weather variance makes it a hard country to pack for. The good news, packing wise, it’s probably going to be hot at least on some leg of your Indian journey. You can buy all the warm stuff while on the road.

This list is by no mean inclusive and obvious things have been left off. It reflects years of travel experience and jaunts throughout India. If you want to add to the conversation, please comment below.

The Pack


55 L vs 35 L

If India is a couple week diversion from your RTW backpacking extravaganza, your big, sturdy pack is fine. If you are only going over for a couple weeks and it’s your sole destination. You can get away with a much smaller pack. A 55L bag or 35L bag (pictured) will both work in India for 6 weeks. Even a roller suitcase will work for a limited stay but hauling one of those up stairs in hotel or airports is a big deterrent for many.

There is a new 35L pack out there called Minaal. It was designed by some Aussie backpackers as a smarter, alternative to the big 50L+ bags we often see. It even has a slot for your laptop. But you sacrifice 20 or so liters with this bag so you have to be very smart about packing. Best feature, it’s compact design, it wears like a slightly larger school backpack.


India is a sweltering sauna most of the time, so clothing should reflect that weather. Unless you are going to India in December and January (and sticking to the North), you want to stay away from binding fabrics. If you are spending most of your time in the South (Kerala), heed this advice.

  • Non-constricting pants – This is anything that will allow air movement under the fabric. Again, this is because of the heat. Also, opt for pants with zippered pockets.
  • Loose, flowing tops (woman) – India is a modest country and they do not take too kindly to tight, western dress, especially for the ladies. Cover those shoulders and knees.
  • T-shirts – 2-3 basic tee’s. Darker colors keep better and show less dirt when washed and rewashed.
  • Shalwar Kameez tops (woman) – These are long traditional Indian tops that look like dresses. I would recommend having some made while you are over there.
  • Pair of plastic closed toe shoes – Crocs are great for this. They are washable and can even be shined for a 10 cents in Mumbai. Travelers should avoid canvas shoes or anything that can stain or pick up local nasties.
  • Cotton hoodie/jacket – A very simple jacket is important in case the temperature changes or you head to a hill station town like Munnar.
  • Buff – It’s a combo scarf, neck gaiter, hair band. It’s great for covering your face for pollution and placing over your eyes when you sleep and it can become a beanie. It’s versatile and good investment.
  • Big ass scarf – This is ideal for both men and women. Big, light-weight scarves are a ‘must have’ on any trip to any place. They become a dress/towel for the beach, head and shoulder coverings for modest or muslim countries, a turban and a sheet/blanket.

2014 India packing list


Gadgets are important when on the road and depending on your length and style of travel, can weigh down the bag. Go for things that get multi-uses and avoid things you won’t use everyday.

  • Smartphone – US smartphones can be used as your connection to home. They can pick up the local wifi, host skype calls, take photos, scour the web and play music.
  • Tablets – Another great option to taking photos, reading books, writing emails.
  • USB recharger – This is a great idea for long train/bus rides where you need to recharge your electronica. Something with 10k milliamps will be perfect and take little room in your bag.


All the other odds and ends one throws into a bag based on previous travel experiences.

  • Water purification system – This is not necessary but was helpful as buying bottles of water all the time got to be bothersome. A small water purifier is helpful for brushing your teeth in a pinch on a train.
  • Toiletry bag – This is a no-brainer but look for one with a hook. DO NOT BRING A LOT. India is the land of micro toiletries. You can buy single use shampoos/conditioners, small soaps and other toiletry needs at any of their little shops. Men can get super close shaves for less than a buck.
  • Guide book – Although, you should consider getting an e-version and putting it on your phone, tablet or kindle.
  • Money belt – Good idea for obvious reasons.
  • A pen – Sounds obvious but how many times have you not had one and needed one to fill out arrival declarations?
  • Sleep sack – This is a great idea if you are budget traveling through India. 3-4 star hotels, do not present the same grunge level. There are nice silk sleep sacks that are great for trains and hotels with questionable dirt levels.
  • First aid kit – India is known for upset tummies, so packing an assortment of preventative and recovery aids are important. Aspirin, imodium, acidophilus (pro-biotics), charcoal pills (soak up the bad stuff), Airborne (immune boosts for crowded flights) and bandaids are good to have handy. Most other things can be bought easily at a pharmacy.
  • Portable laundry bag – If you will be in India longer than 7 days, laundry is a necessary evil.  You can shower wash, sink wash or use a Scrubba. It’s a plastic sac with scrubber pads. Add dirty clothes, some detergent (single use pacs all over India) and water. Agitate and scrub for 3 minutes, and pour out the dirty water. Also great for storage of dirty clothes in between washings. Read How to Wash Clothes While Traveling.
  • Laundry clothes line – This is a great accidental discovery. A bungee cord with 2 hooks on each end. Dries your towel, clothes and creates a privacy wall in crowded room.
  • Packing cubes – Amazing inventions for keeping clothing organized. If you can pack it into the cube and stuff it into your bag, you know you have room. This eliminates the need for storing your stuff in loud, irritating plastic bags.
  • Baby wipes – You will not find toilet paper in most public bathrooms and some questionable hotels. These are great for emergencies and sprucing yourself up after a long, hot and sweaty day.
  • Eye mask and ear plugs – Anyone who has slept in a hostel knows why.
  • Copies of the passport and credit cards – This is a handy security measure, if traveling with a buddy, swap copies and hid them away.
  • $100 – Hiding some emergency money in the bottom of your shoe or other innocuous place is a smart idea. Sometimes ATMs are lost or don’t work and having a little money hidden will help you out of a jam.
packing for nepal

Minaal bag


Do Not Bring

  • Blue jeans – We love our blue jeans but find they are bad ideas in hot, sweaty climates. Clothes that stick to your legs suck.
  • Shorts or tank tops – This is more for woman. Once you pay attention to the constant glances from wearing this type of clothing, you reevaluate this wardrobe choice. Of course, some exceptions apply as in Goa. This is perhaps a more liberal state in India and beach orientated.
  • Hairdryer – You don’t need it, won’t use it and it takes up too much space.
  • Sleeping bag / air mattress – Always seem like a good idea and you never end up using them. Unless you are doing extreme India, don’t bring these.
  • Too much stuff – You will buy things in India (lots of things) clothing, nick-nacks, scarves. Don’t fall victim to overpacking and a 40 lb bag. Bring clothing to last you 3-4 days and wash in between.

BFW-Logo-8Of course this article wouldn’t be complete without a plug for our Big Fat World Tours to India & Nepal. We have 9 & 12 day tours for all budget ranges, Quick & Dirty is our budget option and Lush & Linger is our not-so budget 12 day option.



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