India is a diverse country with mountains, deserts, jungles, the beach, and busy cities. Packing for India can feel like a daunting task, but as long as you have these 10 travel essential for India in your luggage or backpack, you’ll be just fine.
After traveling India and living there for six years, I have been on trips to such a wide variety of places and traveled both in sleeper class trains on a budget and on a more mid-range budget. I put a lot of thought into this list after so many people who had already read my complete packing list for India had emailed me asking what else they could bring because they felt unprepared.
This list is more about gadgets than it is clothing. If you’re interested in what clothing to wear, here is a list for what men should pack as well as a list for what women should pack (and another post with the dos and donts of how women should dress.
10 Travel Essentials For India
1. Mummy Sleeping Bag Liner
I use my sleeping bag liner constantly in India. Sleeper buses and sleeper class trains (overnight, lower class) do not have blankets and they are not clean by any means. Getting into a light, clean, cocoon makes it so much easier to sleep AND it means you can bring your purse inside with you and hold onto it while you sleep. That’s what I do! I actually would get into mine when I stayed in guesthouses that had just a basic sheet because it felt cozier in my sleeping bag liner. This balls up tiny and takes up basically no space. I kept mine in a side pocket of my backpack.
If you are doing any camping or trekking, you’ll definitely want a sleeping bag too. I take a sleeping bag on all backpacking adventures in India (in addition to the sleeping bag liner) and use carabiners to attach it to the outside bottom of my backpack. These days, I usually travel in the 2nd or 3rd calls AC trains or sleeper buses that can get quite cold. Although they give you blankets, they aren’t clean and I need a clean space to sleep so cuddle up in my sleeping bag. This one is very lightweight and squishes up the size of a football.
2. Bike Chain
Bike chains are so key! I use this 4-foot chain. I don’t know that they are that popular for backpackers, but I used it on every train and bus ride that I was sleeping on – I would just chain my backpack to the train/bus and leave it there. I could then keep my purse/daypack with me in the sleeping bag and zip it up so that I was snug and safe, not worrying about my backpack being stolen during one of the many stops on the train.
3. Good Earplugs / Sleeping Mask
India can be quite loud, as you’ve probably read. Not only are trains and buses noisy (there is a habit here or playing YouTube videos and music from cell phones out loud, without headphones), but guesthouses often have sounds of horns, dogs fighting, people yelling the item they are selling loudly in Hindi… it can be hard to sleep. These take up no space and you’ll use them every night. Don’t leave them behind and don’t just get any earplugs. Some DO work better than others, like these earplugs. I also prefer the Slip silk sleeping mask because it’s better for your skin (plus, so comfortable).
4. Comfortable Shoes
Of course, you’ll want a great pair of shoes to wear for every day walking. Everyone’s feet are different so think about what you wear in real life. Do you wear Converse every day? Toms? Are you a Birkenstock person? Don’t go crazy trying to buy a “travel” shoe. Personally, I like to wear Chacos and Tevas as travel sandals when I’m doing intense sight-seeing but when I want to look cute, I wear leather sandals and like brands like Franco Sarto (so affordable, the Gia sandal is a favorite), and Reef flip-flops. For tennis shoes and boots, I also go for Teva or Keen.
5. Portable Charger & Power Surge Protector
Whoops, I snuck two into this one. But, they kind of go together. Often, your guesthouse will have just one plug in the room and bringing a power strip with surge protection is really a good idea because it will protect whatever you are charging in case a “power surge” comes through the electricity. Remember that India’s is like 2x more powerful than the USA – I would know, I got electrocuted one! Protect your computer, phone, and camera. You’ll also need a world adapter to plug anything into the Indian plugs!
Secondly, charge up this hardcore portable charger to keep with you while traveling. You’ll be using your phone a lot for Google Maps, Uber, checking out places to go on my blog posts (ha, ha) and you don’t want your phone to die when you’re out and don’t know your way back home. If you’re wondering how to stay connected, check out this post on how to get a SIM card in India.
6. Solar Powered Travel Alarm Clock
While on overnight trains and buses, there are several stops and you might need to set an alarm clock in case yours is at 4 AM, for example. While you can easily use your phone – you might find that your phone battery is about to die! Trains have chargers in 2AC but they are not always working and power surges can damage your phone so I try not to use them. Buses won’t have a charger unless you are on a VIP bus – they sometimes do. In these cases, I use a solar powered travel alarm clock and have used this one for almost 10 years without it going caput!
7. Travel Pillow
DO take your own pillow. You’ll need this not only on the long flight to India, but buses, trains, and even in hotels. Indian hotels have the HARDEST, thinnest pillows. They are often so bad that I use a sweatshirt instead! Bring this exact pillow: the Thermarest. It rolls up thin enough to be put into the side pocket of your backpack and then the down alternative fluffs back up into the softest pillow that is actually big enough to feel like a real pillow. While I love the TRTL pillow for flights and sleeping sitting up, for travel in India, this is the pillow you need.
8. Filtered Water Bottle
I’ve recently been using a filtered water bottle in Mexico where I live now and am excited to take it back to India when I go. It’s incredible! It really changes things to not have to go buy a bottle of water all the time and just be able to fill this up and trust that it will be safe to drink. The bottle isn’t expensive and neither is the water bottles in India – so it’s not about the money – but more the freedom of having water in the middle of the night when you need it and realizing that you’ve run out. If you haven’t traveled somewhere that has water you can’t drink from the tap, then you might not realize how strange it is to not have water in the middle of the night if you forgot to buy a bottle before bed. In addition, it’s much better for the environment!
9. Lightweight Day Pack
Men and women need a day pack! These little Osprey “daylite” ones are great. Wearing a purse strap across your shoulder (women) can be really uncomfortable over time and make your shoulders hurt. Backpacks give you some relief. You’ll want this for treks, long sightseeing days, when you know you’ll be shopping, and for overnight trips like camel safaris when you need to leave your main backpack behind. These are key and are also able to be your carry-on. I recommend keeping this empty and packed into your luggage so that when you leave India and have somehow acquired more things, you can use this as a carry-on.
I used my Petzl headlamp all the time and actually just love having it around even at home when I have to go out and search for the dogs or the power goes out! It’s so convenient. I love it for reading on sleeper buses or trains. In guesthouses, you’ll find that the power goes out often and this is key even for getting up to go to the bathroom. You won’t regret it!
I tried to keep the list short BUT if I could add a few more things, I would say this raincoat which is so lightweight but warm if you need it to be, Darn Tough wool socks if you’re going to be in North India in the winter, and a microfiber towel.
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