India is a pretty large country and contains many different cultures, from Kerala in the south to the Himalayas in the North. In our five weeks in India, we didn’t cover everything. That would be impossible in such a short time. But we did cover a lot: Bangalore, Mumbai, Gujarat, Jaipur, and New Delhi. Plus, I’ve visited Kerala before, and I spent a lot of time hanging out with Indian artisans and fashion designers on our visit, so I got a pretty good sense of how to pack and dress for a long-ish visit to India so that you’re comfortable and stylish.
As always, this packing list is geared toward the 25-to-40-year-old woman who wants to pack light and be comfortable, but also wants to look nice for some dinners out and seeing friends or business contacts that you might have in the country. If you’re a backpacker, there are plenty of other packing lists out there for you. And also, as always, this list is a treasure trove of sustainable and ethical fashion.
Before we get into it, some general packing tips for India:
- Cotton! Indians love cotton, and you should, too if you’re paying a visit. It breathes, protects your skin from sunburn, and is a healthy and comfortable alternative to synthetics when you’re sweating it out. (Synthetics tend to hold on to odor, keep that in mind.) Linen also works, but of course it can wrinkle. Hemp is another native textile you could go for, but it’s not widely available yet in fashionable options. If you want to bring silk, make sure it’s washable!
- In fact, make sure everything can be thrown in the wash without being damaged.
- Long loose pants keep you physically and psychologically comfortable. You don’t want your thighs sticking to an autorickshaw seat, nor men leering at you. (They will look at you no matter what, but this will cut down those uncomfortable moments.)
- You don’t have to have sleeves or a high neck and covered back, but most Indian women’s fashion does. However, showing a little belly skin is perfectly acceptable. Imagine a cropped t-shirt — that’s what Indian women wear under their saree.
- Bring shoes that you can easily slip on and off, because you’ll be required to do so before entering temples, homes, some stores, and some restaurants. I also recommend you bring shoes that can be rinsed off under the tap at the end of the day without getting ruined. Many hotels and airbnbs have a foot level faucet for this very purpose.
- A light scarf comes in handy for visiting temples and also wrapping around yourself to fend off mosquitos.
- You can support artisan Indian-made fashion before you even arrive, by choosing organic cotton, handlooms, and blockprints. I’ve put in some of that in the packing list below.
- Here are some brands and stores where you can hardly go wrong in doing your pre-India shopping: A Peace Treaty, Toast, Mirth, Made Trade, Symbology, Accompany, Emerson Fry’s India collection, MATTER, Par en Par, Ikkivi.
Now that you have the general guidelines, here’s a more specific list so you’re prepared for every adventure in the golden triangle of India — New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra — plus Mumbai, Kerala, and Bangalore. This will keep you comfortably clothed for everything from spiritual experiences, beach time, High Tea, and more.
Your Traveling Outfit
I’m assuming you’re traveling from the U.S. or Europe, and you’ll be on the plane for many, many hours. But this outfit is also great for taking the overnight train.
- Ably white t-shirt – Has stain-resistant technology, which is crucial if you’re traveling.
- Soft cotton yoga leggings – I recommend these. They’re so versatile and comfy! And you can layer them under a long blouse or tie jacket if you want to dress even more modestly.
- Sports bra
- Comfortable undies in natural fabric
- Wool socks – I love merino wool because it wicks away moisture and odor.
- Sweatshirt – Something fairly fashionable but in cotton. This is just for the plane.
- Athletic sneakers – Get something casual that you don’t mind getting a little dirty. (So, no white fashion sneakers.)
- Bumbag – I got into the habit of strapping a hip bag across my chest when I travel, because it gives me quick and secure access to my passport, wallet, and tickets, without me having to take off my backpack.
- Passport and Passport case – Pockets in a case are super handy for storing your vaccination paperwork, extra visa photos, etc.
- Charging cord
- Mini wallet – There’s lots to choose from at O My Bag (which is ethically made in India).
- Sunglasses – here’s my shopping guide to the best eco sunglasses.
- Casual watch – You’ll be happier checking your wrist rather than pulling out your phone constantly. Here’s a list of sustainable watch brands.
- (Optional) Uniqlo ultralight down jacket – My recommendation if you’re leaving from a cold country, otherwise, you won’t need it. This stuffs down into a tiny size so you can shove it in the bottom of your suitcase for the duration of your visit.Visiting a palace in Jaipur. Miss Pom Pom scarf, linen top from Oh Seven Days, cotton pants from Ikkivi
Clothing and Accessories:
- 1 additional t-shirt – I like merino wool tees, because they’re sweat-wicking, if you hang them up at night, they will be completely odor free the next day. But if you prefer cotton, Alternative Apparel makes great tees, too.
- 2 simple cotton tank tops or sleeveless blouses – Try Sourcery, Whimsy & Row, Alternative Apparel, or Wool & Prince.
- 2 long-sleeved blouses in breathable fabric – this was great for visiting temples and is also nice to have if you are out at night and the mosquitos are trying to join you at dinner. Tradland has some great versions, Emerson Fry has some blockprinted ones, and Sourcery has some washable silk options.
- 2 pairs of long, loose, pants in lightweight fabric (a.k.a. pajama-style pants) – Many backpackers buy those cheap “elephant pants” you see everywhere, but I have a very strong feeling those are made in exploitative conditions. Instead, I suggest MATTER Prints, Par en Par, Ikkivi, Mirth, Sourcery, or Toast.
- 2 sleeved knee-length or longer lightweight dresses or rompers – You want something washable that you can wear out to a temple, out to dinner, or over your bathing suit at the beach. Par en Par does a great one, or check out Mirth, Emerson Fry, Symbology, All the Wild Roses, Ikkivi, or Accompany.
- 1 pair of jeans – I recommend bringing some that aren’t too tight or stretchy. Here’s my list of eco-friendly jean brands.
- 1 duster or lightweight jacket – I liked having a lightweight jacket to layer over a tank for modesty. Mine is from Par en Par, but there are more options at Symbology and Ziran.
- Workout tank and leggings – for yoga. Here’s my roundup of eco-friendly workout clothing.
- Cotton sarong – for drying your hair, wearing, and using as a beach towel in a pinch.
- Brimmed hat – This one rolls up so you can pack it instead of wearing it on the plane!
- Rain jacket with hood by Marmot – Folds up tiny. I’ve been so grateful for this multiple times.
- Pajamas – I chose this set because I could wear the t-shirt separately out in public, and the shorts to the beach.
- Skinny belt – This one from Nudie is the perfect size for me because the last hole lets me use it for my jeans, and the first hole lets me wrap it around my waist.
- Flat-pack day bag – You could do a leather backpack from Raven + Lily, which I personally prefer, or pack an attractive reusable canvas or cotton bag that you have lying around.
- Swimsuit – Here’s a list of sustainable swimwear brands.
- Cotton scarf – for tying back your hair or wrapping around your shoulders at a temple. I like Miss Pom Pom.
- 2 pairs of comfortable sandals – You could go with Birkenstocks, which are incredibly comfortable and well-made, but you might find them a bit too heavy and… German looking for India. Still, their thick sole that conforms to your feet means you’re less likely to get, erm, dirty feet. I also like Pons Avarcas for the same reason. Here’s my roundup of sustainable and ethical sandals.
- Underwear – Here’s my 5 rules for packing undies for travel.
- A hand fan
- Mpowered Luci light – I like this better than a flashlight because it’s lightweight, collapsible, will float on water, and is generally just like a pretty lantern, instead of the high beam of a flashlight that blinds anyone you accidentally train it on. It came in handy in Kerala when the electricity kept going out.
- Portable phone charging battery – These by Nimble are ethical and eco-friendly.
- PurSteam traveling iron/steamer – this thing is tiny, but crucial!
- Travel yoga mat – So you can get a good long stretch or workout in every morning, regardless of where you are. I fold mine up and pack it inside the suitcase.
- Universal sink plug – So you can wash your clothing in the sink. I used mine constantly.
- Travel dry line – I like this one because it comes with a stuff sack.
- Travel sewing kit – I used this several times.
- Reusable sealable bags – I got these on the recommendation from a digital nomad blog, and I’m so glad I did. We’ve been using various sizes already for things that come up, but they take up no room in my suitcase side interior pocket.
- Travel first aid kit – Get a basic one, then add in medications you’ll need, like malaria pills, ibuprofen, Imodium, etc.
- Plastic laundry bag – you could bring a real laundry bag, but many laundry places will take it and hand your stuff back to you in a sealed plastic bag. So just go with the flow on this one.
This waterproof and pickpocket-proof backpack is the best for travelers. If it’s monsooning, this will keep your stuff dry.
- Portable phone charging battery
- Lifestraw purifying water bottle – We used this throughout our five weeks in India and came away with zero (zero!) stomach maladies.
- Earbuds – I like Bowery’s by LSTN
- Earplugs – Get them on a string so you don’t lose them when they fall out
- Camera and lenses, extra battery, battery charger, extra memory cards – I love my compact but powerful Fuji x-t10, with a wide angle lens for landscape, architecture, and room shots; and a 50 mm lens for portraits and food.
- Camera battery charger
- Lens bag and camera bag
- Moleskine – for jotting down your deep thoughts
- Travel pen with carabiner
- Chico reusable bag with stuff sack
- Wide-mouth reusable coffee cup with sealable lid – Can be used for coffee or chai, or also as a to-go container in a pinch for soup, fruit, snacks, etc.
- Sunglasses – here’s my shopping guide to the best eco sunglasses
- SPF chapstick
- Mini tube of SPF cream – It’s so handy to have this in day bag all times in case you find yourself in full sun. Here are my favorites.
- Hand sanitizer – It’s common that there’s no soap available, or you’ll fall in love with a stray kitten that you want to pet!
- Bamboo travel utensil set – so you don’t have to use disposable one in areas that have terrible or non-existent waste disposal. Make sure it’s plastic or wood (not metal) so it doesn’t get confiscated by airport security.
- Reusable straw – Most drinks don’t need straws, but mojitos and coconuts do!
- Pack of tissues – this isn’t for your nose, so don’t think I’m advocating this over a reusable handkerchief. It’s for bathroom emergencies.
- Reusable handkerchief – Yup, this one is for your nose, or you can use it as a napkin.
- Portable pillow
- Keychain wet bag
- Eye mask
- Adaptor – you could order this, or just pick one up in the airport as soon as you land, which I think is the simpler solution.
- Basic toiletries – Micellar water and cotton round, moisturizing face oil, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant (see below) – When spending more than 24 hours on planes, you’ll be happy to have access to these.
- Argan oil – I can’t live without argan oil for making my hair shiny and smooth, plus sealing in moisture on my face after a shower.
- Coola Tinted SPF BB cream – This is my absolute favorite tinted SPF moisturizer. It’s not too thick and makes your face glow!
- 1 lip tint – Something subtle and beach-appropriate
- Micellar water – I love traveling with Micellar water because you don’t need to use water for it. I like Yes to Cucumbers, which you can find in the travel size in your local CVS or Walgreens.
- Reusable cotton rounds
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste – I have to admit, mine is plastic because I wanted a compact toothbrush with a protective cap.
- Deodorant – here’s my roundup of my favorites.
- Mesh shower bag – Having all my shower stuff in a separate bag is crucial to ensure I don’t leave things behind in the shower, because I see the empty shower bag when I’m packing and remember I need to fill it up.
- Shampoo and conditioner in travel size – I use conditioner for shaving, too. I refilled the mini bottles whenever I was in a hotel or place that keeps large bottles in the shower.
- Preserve razor made from recycled plastic
- Shower cap – I got one from Shhhowercap that wouldn’t be thrown away by the cleaning people the way small plastic ones are, but it came in over-the-top, wasteful packaging, so I don’t recommend it. But once I had it, I stuffed it in a little cotton bag.
- Sunscreen – Here’s my guide to non-toxic sunscreen.
- Dr. Bronner travel sized soap – Great for if the place you are staying doesn’t provide hand soap, or if you need to wash your clothes in the sink.
- Bugspray – My absolute favorite
- Menstrual cup – reusable, therefore you won’t have to go on a pilgrimage for tampons. Once you use it, you’ll never go back.
- Nail file – great for both filing and digging crud out from under your nails.
- Mini hairbrush
- Hair elastics
- Mini nail scissors