Before my recent 10-day trip to India there were a lot of questions to be asked. Why would you go there? Is it safe? Why are you taking that risk? – those were the questions my mum was asking. Which vaccinations should I get? How to avoid biting monkeys? What will I eat that is not too spicy? – that would be my best friend, who was going to join me. And finally, the questions roaming my mind: Which places should I see? How does transport work? How can I prove that India is safe to travel as a woman?
Directly related to that last question, but certainly also a sensible traveletty topic to occupy yourself with is: What should I wear? India is a conservative country, so modest clothing is advised. Yet, at the same time we were visiting Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand in July, when it is not only incredibly hot, but also humid due to the beginning of monsoon season. Humid heat and long sleeve tops are not the kind of combination I was looking forward to…
Clothes were not the only thing on my list; I also thought about shoes (duh), toiletries and other essentials which might be handy to have. Now, that I’m back from my trip I thought I’d round up my experiences and share my ultimate Travelettes packing list with you. Here is what I took for our trip to humid and hot India.
1) The luggage
When I travel to a hot country and know I will be moving a lot with my luggage, I swear by my 40L backpack from Deuter. It fits everything I need for up to three weeks, is easy to carry and not too bulky. Initially, I meant to even take my backpack as hand luggage with only an additional bag holding my laptop and camera, but it ended up being to heavy for the airline restrictions. From now on, I’ll make sure to check on these restrictions on this ultimate hand luggage cheat sheet I found on Expedia.
In addition to my checked backpack, I also took a spacious shoulder bag for longer journeys and my Bowhurst explorer backpack to always have my essentials with me when sightseeing. As always I’m also carrying several smaller pouches with me to store spare camera equipment, tissues and lip balm etc.
That’s my best friend’s Jack Wolfskin backpack, which seemed a little bulky to me, but is one of those handy front loaders.
Even though baking heat and covering up most of your body don’t seem to go along very well, this was of course what I had to go for when putting together my wardrobe. As a woman, covering your shoulders and knees is not only the appropriate and respectful thing to do, it will also make you stand out less from the crowd (although, you will still be stared at if you look slightly foreign). It is also the safer option, as any kind of skimpy clothing might send the wrong signals (unfortunately so…). While we did see several other white travellers showing their shoulders or legs, I myself would not have felt comfortable with it.
Here is a list of clothes I brought with me for ten days :
7 plain short-sleeved T-Shirts. In my experience it is better take a few spare ones and keep at least one clean t-shirt for the return flight (you can thank me later for this advice). I mainly went for plain, uni-color t-shirts so I could mix and match – as it counts for most trips, white is not the best color to travel with.
1 long-sleeved tunic. This was not really necessary, but just served as an additional top. You could wear it on a day you visit a temple or mosque for additional cover-up, or keep it for the plane when the A/C hits you.
1 thin cardigan to cover up. Although I love my purple cardigan from Kamah Yoga, I barely wore it, because I felt so comfortably with my t-shirts only. It added a nice splash of colour to my outfit though.
1 thin, but long-sleeved coat dress to cover up. I had bought this block print coat dress a few years back from the Swedish label Gudrun Sjoeden (which is a great label if you are into fair fashion and ethnical prints). I wore this a lot, mainly because it made me stand out less among the patterned dresses of local women.
2 loose trousers. Long loose trousers are my choice of bottoms when I travel to a hot country. Shorts are great on the beach, but in India they would be totally inappropriate. With long trousers you also need not worry about sunburn, or splatters of dirt on your skin. I took one pair with black and white print, and one plain beige-coloured (which turned out to stain very easily, so maybe a darker colour would be better).
1 printed maxi skirt. To not only wear trousers all the time, I also took my favorite maxi skirt with a wild yellow-pink pattern. Again, it matched several of my t-shirts.
1 long dress. I took a plain back dress (as recommended by The Travel Hack) and think it was the most useful item of clothing that I had throughout the entire trip. The only additional comment I’d have, is that a dress with short sleeves would have been even better (mine had thin straps), so I could have worn it without a cover up.
1 yoga-wear jump suit. As we were heading for Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world, I brought my yoga jumpsuit from Kamah Yoga. However, we ended up not doing yoga, because it was simply too hot and I was never a fan of Bikram style… The jumpsuit was still good for a change from my loose trousers. Jump suits generally not advisable on days of traveling though, as going to the toilet with a onesie is rather inconvenient. As mine is convertible to normal trousers, I wore it on the plane home – fresh and clean.
2 big scarfs. Scarfs are amazing in situations where you feel uncomfortable – you can cover your body with an additional layer, or even your face, so people don’t see that you are a foreigner immediately. Also, as A/Cs are everywhere, a scarf helps not to freeze.
1 waterproof jacket. Another item, we luckily did not need at all – the monsoon had not really arrived yet and we never got caught in a serious rainstorm. For peace of mind, I’d still take it again.
Underwear and socks. This is a no brainer, I know. There are a few tips around underwear and socks though, that I want to share: take quick-dry underwear, because cotton might not dry in the humid air; take more bras than you think, because a sweaty wet bra is among the most disgusting things to put on in the morning; bring socks to wear in temples if you don’t want to walk barefoot.
I ended up bringing way too many shoes – again because of the anticipated monsoon rain, which did not show. I brought my beloved Birkenstock flip-flops, which in the two years that I owned them have accompanied me halfway around the globe and still feel like new. They are just perfect for walking around for hours and are comfortable even if it rains. I also brought a pair of light sneakers (Vans), but only wore them on the plane and when sneaking into the abandoned Beatles ashram in Rishikesh. I never even unpacked my second pair of sneakers which I brought as a backup.
Make sure that you break in your sandals or flip flops properly before your trip. Your feet will swell in the heat, and new shoes could give you blisters!
As I mentioned above, I packed my backpack as I would do with hand luggage – completely along the line of airline restrictions on liquids. I used refillable bottles for sun lotion and moisturizer, and went completely without liquid shampoo, conditioner or shower gel. I simply bought all items in solid form from Lush – although I have to admit, that my conditioner and soap bar melted a little bit the first couple of days.
In terms of make-up – don’t even bother. I sweated so much, that everything would have just ran down my face anyways. If you can’t do without, go for waterproof make up!
One item, I wouldn’t want to miss is my pack is facial wipes, which double up as hand wash and wet toilet paper. Some regular toilet paper is a good call as well, as often there is none (in restaurants or toilets along the highway). Bringing a basic medical kit is only just common sense – it should contain (blister) plasters, wound cleansing spray, meds for diarrhoea, hand sanitizer and insect repellant.
5) Other useful items
As we were sweating away, queuing up for enter a particularly popular temple in Haridwar, I started longing for a folding fan, and wondered why not more market stalls offered them. This definitely goes onto my packing list for the next trip! Another effective way to cool down would have been a refreshing face spray.
Although I read beforehand, that withdrawing cash at an ATM with a foreign card should be no problem, I still took us an hour to find a working cash machine accepting our cards. And that was in Agra by the Taj Mahal… My advice would be to bring enough cash (USD, EUR, English GPB are easiest) to exchange your currency to Rupees, so you don’t have to worry about finding an ATM.
UPDATE: Some of you have added some advice in the comments – to make it easier, I’ll gather them here:
– Bring a headlamp because power outages can happen quite regularly (especially when it rains)…
– and also plastic flip flops for certain hostel/hotel showers.
– Don’t pack too much, but buy clothes cheaply at local markets – counts particularly for scarfs and kurtas (Indian everyday tunics).
One final remark, before I leave you researching flights and itineraries around India, is to pack really, really light and leave enough space for souvenirs. The markets here burst with cheap but beautiful clothes, jewellery and home decor, it would be a shame to arrive with a full backpack. Better come with a half empty one and shop ’till you drop!
Have you been to India before? Which items would you recommend to take there?
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