India! Exciting, dazzling and slightly overwhelming, but what to pack?
Your preferred style of travel, from basic to luxury, will definitely weed out the ‘essentials’ from the ‘nice-to-haves-but-can-be-left-at-home’ items. Hopefully the few dots points below will be of use regardless of your travel style.
- Whatever you take, pack light. India has a vast array of shopping options and if you find you are missing anything, you are guaranteed to be able to purchase it in some form or other.
- Backpacks: Are a good choice if you plan to travel by bus or train. Most train stations have great flights of crowded and steep stairs which are not generally compatible with wheeled suitcases. Porters are available to carry your bags for a small fee, but if you want to maximise independence, then backpacks are the go-to luggage.
- Satchels/Cross Body Bags: Are very convenient for both access and safety. On the very first day of our tour, a fellow traveller had her handbag unzipped as we travelled in a crowed train. It was a clear wake-up call for the rest of us. A satchel can be worn in front of your body and you can keep your hand firmly pressed on it, if need be. It also means you have quick access to your camera/phone, water bottle etc.
- Footwear: I would recommend packing a pair of solid and closed shoes such as sneakers or walking shoes. Sandals and thongs (flip flops) are also useful, but the closed footwear means that your feet are protected from all manner of dust, dirt, grime and manure.
- Warm Layers: Depending on the time of year you travel, and the geographic area, I strongly recommend packing a warm jacket or vest of some sort. I travelled in Rajasthan in November and December, and while the days were a perfect temperature, as soon as the sun went down, the temperature plummeted. I thought longingly of a Down puffer vest in my wardrobe at home. It would have been perfect, both light and compact.
- Cultural Aspects: On the whole, India is quite a conservative country, and I recommend you dress to match that. Wear shirts with sleeves of some sort and never show your shoulders. Long trousers are worn by men and women alike, however I felt quite comfortable in ¾ or long capri-style trousers/pants. The local people often accompanied their long trousers with a kurta pyjama – a long sleeve and long line top. Covering up is definitely the right thing to do and it protects you from the sun! Bonus!
- Choice of Clothes: While this may sound a bit daggy (and my friends will tell you I am the biggest dag ever), think about packing clothes, outfits and shoes that you are sick of and you plan to donate to charity in your home country. I packed eight separate shirt/trouser combinations into individual plastic bags, wore them for their allotted time and then left them behind in the hotel. It meant that I always had something fresh and different to wear, I didn’t have to worry about washing, the free space in my backpack gradually increased, and hopefully the clothes went to good homes. I would have given these clothes to goodwill/charity in Australia, so why not India?
Gifts: A friend had recommended that I take a handful of pens as gifts for children to use at school. Sure enough, when we visited rural villages, the children would pounce on us asking for pens. I simply collected all the odds and sods pens lying around our house and they went down a treat. Avoid taking new pens, I know this sounds a bit mean, as the parents take them off the children and sell them and it becomes a bit of a scam.
Medical Kit: Common sense says to take all the medication you need although hole-in-the-wall pharmacies are plentiful and incredibly cheap. My essentials included:
- Electrolyte tablets: For the hot and sweaty days.
- Travelan: A heavy duty probiotic to battle the tummy bugs.
- Immodium: Or equivalent to minimise the need for a four-minute-mile dash to the toilet.
- Vaccinations: I had a typhoid shot before I left Australia and swallowed malaria tablets every day, although most of my fellow travellers did neither.
- Hand Sanitiser: The small bottles are ideal as you can have them handy at all times in your pocket or satchel. Take multiple bottles and use it regularly!
- Washer: I wish I have packed a small quick-dry washer or face cloth. Many of the showers were no more than a trickle. A washer would have been handy to move that water trickle all over my body and scrub the grime off at the same time.
- Clothes Pegs and Line: If you are too private or can’t be bothered to send your ‘underthings’ out to be washed, then pack a piece of thin line and a few pegs and PRESTO! Instant laundry.
- Snacks: I realise this is probably overkill, but I did pack a big bundle of muesli bars and bags of nuts. Yes, food is tasty, cheap and readily available in India, but for the times when you can no longer face yet another curry or naan bread, or you simply do not want a large meal, then a light snack is perfect. At the end of my tour, most of us were only eating two meals a day, and just topped up on snacks.
Face Mask: Grab a couple of face masks from your local hardware store and toss them into your bag. Hopefully you won’t need them, but I found they were vital in the larger cities to minimise the dust and vehicle fumes.
- Ear Plugs: India is NOISEY! Buy the best ear plugs you can afford and have them handy. Perfect for riding through the heaving and chaotic traffic in a tuk tuk or sleeping through an Indian wedding right next door to your hotel room!
- Sense of Humour: India is everything you see on TV, the internet and in the newspapers. It is loud, busy, vibrant, beautiful, dazzling, breathtaking and chaotic. Pack your sense of humour and ‘go with the flow’, and you will enjoy your travels even more.
What are your packing essentials?
What: I traveled with Intrepid on their 22-day North India Revealed tour. Sign up to their newsletter and keep an eye out for deals and discounts. I nabbed a great deal at the end of June, saving around $300.
Where: Rajasthan, India.
When: I flew into Delhi in mid-November and out in early December.
Why: For the ultimate, and the best, culture shock!
How: We travelled ‘Basix’ level which meant lots of various travel options from tuk tuk to camel, staying in guest houses, small hotels and camping.
Who: Ten people in my tour group ranging from 18 years old to 58.
Related Posts: For more information about this tour and the itinerary, have a look at my post about written in the planning stage.
Related Blogs: For a local perspective on India and her people, check out Faces of India.
Read About It: Don’t forget your Lonely Planet Rajasthan, available from Book Depository