India is a developing country with conservative dress standards. Therefore it's important that you take time to consider what to bring to India. Here are some suggestions for your packing list. If you'll be visiting India during the monsoon season, check out this special monsoon season packing list for India as well.
Read more about nine essential items to include on your India packing list.
The type of luggage best suited for travel to India really depends on your itinerary. If you only plan to visit major cities and don't intend to do much walking, a suitcase is fine. However, roads and pavements are often dirty and in poor condition. Also keep in mind that the lanes in some cities, such as Jodhpur and Varanasi, are so narrow that vehicles can't fit down them. Therefore, if you intend to travel a lot on foot and go off the beaten path, a backpack is better. For sightseeing during the day, it's a good idea to carry a daypack, or other sturdy bag that can't be easily opened or accessed by pickpockets. Make sure it's big enough to fit in all your essentials, including water.
Visitors often prefer to shop for clothes in India, as they like to adopt a more local way of dressing and clothes can be purchased very cheaply. Major cities such as Mumbai and Delhi are fast becoming very westernized though and you'll see people wearing jeans, t-shirts, and even short skirts. In smaller cities and villages, people still dress conservatively.
In general, the most important rule for both ladies and men is to keep your legs and shoulders covered. However, it's okay for women to show shoulders and for men to wear shorts in large cities and beach locations such as Goa. In nightclubs, western dress standards of jeans and a top (or dress) for girls, and jeans and a t-shirt or shirt for guys, apply.
For ladies, bring long skirts, long dresses, long pants, and jeans. Wearing an Indian top such as a kurta over jeans is an easy, fuss-free combination for travel. Unless you're heading to Goa or plan on hitting the clubs, leave items such as strapless tops, spaghetti strap tops, and crop tops behind. Yes, you will see Indian women's bellies on display when they're dressed in saris but that's traditional attire. It's very different. Avoid wearing tight tops and wear a scarf or shawl to cover your breasts.
For men, short-sleeved shirts are more respectful than t-shirts, although t-shirts are fine.
Does it really matter what you wear in India? If you don't follow conservative dress standards, it's likely that no one will say anything. It comes down to how much you want to be respected though. Indian men are much more likely to harass and photograph women who are not appropriately covered up, as they perceive them to be of loose or immoral character.
Footwear is another thing that can be bought very cheaply in India. Markets abound with shoes in all different colors and designs. You get what you pay for though, so make sure you bring a sturdy and comfortable pair of walking shoes, sneakers or sandals. If you intend to go out in the evenings, bring a pair of dress shoes as well. The rest you can easily get along the way.
Should you wear open or closed-toed shoes? It largely depends on personal preference. Some people favor closed-toed shoes because they don't want to expose their feet to unsanitary conditions. However, if the weather will be hot, your feet may get uncomfortable and sweaty. In addition, you will be required to remove your footwear often in India. Wearing shoes without laces will reduce the hassle.
Credit cards are widely accepted in major cities and tourist attractions in India. ATM machines can also be found in most places, including in small towns and airports. You can simply withdraw rupees from an ATM in the airport terminal when you arrive. However, when using ATMs, be aware that many do charge service fees additional to any fees charged by your bank. Tickets at many tourist sites can be paid for in US dollars if you have the exact change, so do carry some US currency with you in small denominations.
Medicines for specific ailments, with similar active ingredients to what are found overseas, are available in India. The problem is figuring out the brand names and making the pharmacist understand what you're after. Therefore, you should bring an adequate supply of whatever medicines you usually need. Common items such as Vitamin C and acetaminophen (a standard pain killer) are not difficult to purchase from a pharmacy. However, problems may still be encountered as, for example, acetaminophen is known as paracetamol in India. Therefore it also helps if you describe your symptoms, such as headache or stomach ache, to the pharmacist. Indian pharmacies will supply antibiotics and many other drugs without a prescription. This is no longer the case for sleeping tablets or sedatives though. Pharmacists in some areas, such as south India, are also becoming stricter about the types of drugs they'll issue without a prescription. Hence, it's a good idea to bring your prescriptions with you.
Personal Care Items
Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers, razors, deodorant, condoms, and sanitary napkins and pads are all readily available in India. You'll have to search to get roll-on antiperspirant and tampons outside major cities, but they can be found. The tampons don't usually come with applicators through. Bring mosquito repellent with you, as western brands tend to be stronger and more effective than the Indian ones. It's also a good idea to pack sunscreen and your favorite hair products. The range of gels and hair sprays is limited, and hair wax is virtually non-existent, outside major cities.
Other Useful Items
Anti-bacterial and wet wipes are extremely useful for many situations. A torch or flashlight, sunglasses, hat, padlock and chain (to secure your luggage on trains), toilet paper, earplugs, and sleeping bag liner also come in handy. If you wish to use any electronic devices from the United States, you may need a voltage converter and plug adapter. People coming from countries with 230V currency, such as Australia and the UK, only require a plug adapter for their appliances. In addition, it's highly recommended that you bring a couple of books. You'll find yourself waiting around a lot in India (the concept of time and punctuality is much different to the west) and reading material is invaluable. Many guesthouses also have a collection of books and will allow swapping. A good India guidebook can be helpful too.