There are loads of backpacker’s packing checklists all over the web, but this one is specific to India. Probably unsurprisingly, you will have to take a different type of clothing and tools for your trip in somewhat-conservative India. Backpacking India alone is a unique experience and you can expect to be challenged in many ways. Being prepared with a useful backpack can make a huge difference.
The first thing you have to ask yourself is what part of India am I going to? There are 5 main regions:
- Jungle (Ghats, Forests)
When it comes to packing for the beach, if you are going to Goa or Kerala you’ll find this girly beach packing list helpful, but for Kerala you’ll need to add a few more conservative items as a solo female traveler.
In the big cities and rural areas you need to dress conservatively. It’s going to be scorching in Rajasthan with dry heat. If you plan to go to the mountains during winter for treks, you’ll need warm clothes too like a parka. With so many types of clothing necessary, it could get complicated trying to decide what you need. So here you go!
Before coming to India do not forget these three very important things:
- Travel Insurance. I use World Nomads which is what Lonely Planet recommends
- a VISA. You would be surprised how many people email me saying they showed up without one and got sent home. Click here to see what one you need and GET IT ahead of time.
- How you’ll stay in touch. You can buy a SIM card if you have an unlocked phone. You need to bring documents to do this in India like 2×2 images and passport/visa copies. If you’d rather have it set up ahead of time, Trabug is a travel phone that you can have shipped to your hotel in India. This phone has the internet and all kinds of India travel apps on it. It’s more expensive than a SIM, but SIM cards are sometimes a huge hassle for foreigners in India. You don’t want to be in India without access to the internet.
Backpacking through India Packing List
I went to the Himalayas in November for a month (I know, what was I thinking!?) and it was amazing but frigid. I went to all 5 of the different regions listed above and fit everything I needed in a 65L backpack. I take myREI Crestrail 65L Backpack for 3-6 months, I take my smaller REI Traverse 48L Backpack for 1-3 months.
Even if you go to India for less than three months, I think you need the larger bag if you’re planning to go to more than 3 of the 5 regions.
Packing Clothing for All Over India Trip
1 yoga pant long
1 yoga pant capri (use for layering)
Jeans. They were great with leggings under while in the mountains. The breezy Ali Baba pants are much too thin. I wear my black high waisted “Jamie” skinny jeans constantly now. They are from Topshop and they are the bomb! They are highwaisted so are really flattering and I’ll only buy “Jamie” jeans now in every color.
Gym shorts for sleeping (or working out if you’re into that kind of thing)
1 long cute fancy skirt
1 long cotton maxi skirt
2 cute crop tops
1 long sleeve thin sweater
1 long sleeve blouse/ cover up
1 long sleeve demin button up shirt
3 t-shirts. I love the V-necks from Urban Outfitters.
1 tank top to sleep in
7 pairs undies
1 comfy bra. I love these Sparkle & Fade Bralettes in scallop lace from Urban because they are SO comfortable and super cute. Also great for sleeping on trains to put money in)
1 real bra. These Kimchi Blue triangle bras are as real as it gets for me and take up so little space)
1 swimsuit. I am bikini obsessed. I love San Lorenzo, Agua Bendita, and Vitamin A, but for travel, I always take my L*space bikini because they are a little more full coverage then the Brazilian style I normally wear and they stay on for surfing or whatever adventure sports you try. I go for the Chloe Top & the Estelle Bottom.
1 rain coat. I take my Black North Face Venture jacket. With layers under and a scarf you’ll be warm enough in the mountains.
1 pair regular socks
1 pair microfiber sock liner from REI, 1 pair of Darn Tough wool socks. I’m not kidding that it’s cold. This brand of wool socks is incredible.
Clothing missing because you’ll buy it there:
Every day pants. Yes you’ll look like a tourist but unless you have a better idea or won’t be comfortable in them, buy the cheap 100-200 rupee Ali Baba pants– loose and conservative.
Buy a thin silk scarf in Rajasthan to cover your head. Buy a thick pashmina scarf as you head north to keep warm.
Buy breezy beach dresses and a sarong when you go south.
Buy mittens/gloves, yak-wool poncho or blanket, and a wool hat once you get north.
Buy a little coin purse and another little bag for the jewelry you buy along the way. These double as great souvenirs and you can trade pants with travelers as you go! Keep in mind cute western clothing is sold everywhere, but don’t buy it in Bombay, Delhi, or other big cities in the markets. Wait until you are in a tourist town- believe it or not, more options at a better price.
Packing for India: Shoes
1 pair sandals- I wore Chaco Sandals a year ago EVERY SINGLE DAY. Ranked awesomely for hiking and rafting, I have worn them all through Thailand as well. When white-water rafting they stay stuck to my feet. If I had to re-order, I would get single strap instead of double.
1 pair tennis shoes (optional)- I take cute Diesel ones, not big clunky ones. They go with dresses instead of looking like work out clothes. I actually didn’t take them to India but I’m adding them to this list because I know some people like to run, although I don’t know why as running is the worst.
1 pair boots- KEEN Hiking Boot options worked really well for me and I kept them shoved in the bottom of my bag, until eventually I tied them on the outside. I sadly don’t have any pictures that show the boot except a glimpse here :( they looked cute with jeans though!
If you’re wondering what footwear I would wear to match a nice dress, like the ones I bought in Goa, I go barefoot which is totally ok in India or towards the end, in Goa, I bought a cheap pair of flip flops that I threw away.
Bath & Beauty Packing List in India
Everything in this photo below you’ll need. I take travel size to save room although it doesn’t save money. The second photo is the make up I take which I’ll list below.
Here it is: Burberry Brit, NARS The Multiple in Orgasm, Sephora Bronzer in Aruba and brush, Bobbi Brown Shimmer Brick in Rose, Victoria Secret Concealer, Smashbox Be Legendary Lipstick in Pout, Laura Mercier Lip Glace, Clinique Almost Lipstick in Flirty Honey, Lash Power Mascara, and Clinique Moisture Surge(which is one thing I can’t live without!)
Tampons or DivaCup I didn’t love the DivaCup. You can buy OB brand in India, but if you want applicator you’ll have to pack them. It’s best to just get used to OB.
For contact wearers, take extra. Know your prescription. You can pick some up on the road very cheaply if need be.
Nail clippers & tweezers
Dove soap in a Ziploc bag, takes way less space than a plastic case
Razor. You can buy replacement Venus blades in all Indian shops.
Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray can’t be without it
OPI nail polish to take when you get manicures (I love the Opi Take Ten Mini Kit but just take one or two)
Packet of tissues for restrooms (you’ll keep buying more throughout the trip, or a roll of t.p.)
Hair ties & clipsSun Bum Face Stick my favorite! It also smells like bananas!
Extra Necessities I packed for India
REI Travel Sack Sleeping bag, compresses to size of football and can be strapped to bottom of bag. I kid you not, this is SO needed! I love REI.
Sleeping bag mummy liner (amazing/life-changing, but you could make your own with a sheet if on a tight budget). I use this on the trains.
Master Lock Chain for trains if you’re in lowest class
Loads of paperwork, photos, cards, passport & visaTherm-A-Rest travel pillow. I like that this one is compressible and fits in the side pocket of my backpack. This is the brand REI carries. I take it on planes with me as well.
Microfiber travel towel any microfiber towel will do fine
Journal and pen, which for me is so importantHeadlamp for trains/buses and early morning treks. Nerdy but necessary.
Dirty laundry bag (when you buy clothes in India you will get a silk bag instead of plastic so I used this and threw away the bag I brought)
Lonely Planet. If I go somewhere a short time, I don’t bother but if I’m there a long time with loose plans, I take one along.
My little travel medical kit
A small side strap everyday purse (I use a little leather Coach one)
Small packets laundry detergent (buy more as you go but I always hand-wash)
Do NOT forget Travel Insurance before your trip!
My go-to is always World Nomads who I’ve used on all my trips and who have an incredible reputation. They are also partners with Lonely Planet.
*I won’t list all that I take now because with blogging it is more. This is what I took when backpacking prior to blogging.
Canon PowerShot SX120 IS with a Lowepro camera caseand case with extra SD card and batteries
US to India AdapterFossil Leather Watch
Cheap Nokia for local Sim cardTravel Alarm Clock absolutely necessary on trains to get off. Solar powered and perfect when I hadn’t charged my phone up in days
What I packed that I never actually used
Pad lock. Unlike Europe, you won’t be locking your bag in train stations.
Bug spray (but, hey I got Dengue Fever…My bad.)
Compass/whistle (I got carried away at REI when they seemed worried about me I started buying everything they suggested.)
Tiny flashlight (used my headlamp or phone light)
Swiss army knife (it was cute and pink, but I only used it twice)
*My bonus tip*
DON’T bring a carry-on. In your small purse take what you need for the plane ride. As you travel and want to buy things, if you pack only this you’ll have room in your bag for a while. If you want something larger, like when I bought a wall hanging in Rajasthan, then buy a carry-on bag. They sell woven striped bags all over India for about Rs 100-200 and you’ll see that every other traveler has one! The bag will then serve as another souvenir; you can put all your goodies in it, and on trains keep it next to you while you sleep. Your backpack with mostly just clothing and toiletries can be chained on the floor below you on trains and buses or thrown on top of a bus with no worries of losing your new special mementos.
If you are going to be taking 2 day treks, you should bring a small day-pack backpack, in which case you will use that as a carry-on and disregard advice above. Don’t make this a “cute” bag, make it practical like the ones by Eagle Creek.
Ok, that was a lot! If you’re planning on coming to India, check my my travel resources page to see what I use for booking flights and hotels.
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