Packing list for India

As I meet more people and talk to them about my traveling around for so long, they usually ask me about what I’ve packed and how heavy my backpack must be.  Packing was a bit difficult because I was traveling in freezing Europe first for 5 weeks before coming to India but I think I did pretty well.  My bag is slightly lighter now that I don’t have some of the winter clothes and I’m getting better at this backpacking thing.  People laugh when I tell them that this is my first time traveling with a backpacking and the backpack isn’t even mine!  Thanks to Paula for letting me use hers for so long.  It’s still in good shape, by the way.

I’ve been taking good care of my health and haven’t had to touch my giant bag of medications and first aid things (with the exception of tiger balm which I use almost daily since I’m constantly getting bitten by mosquitoes).  Items in my backpack I am glad that I packed are:

bandanas: I used them as handkerchiefs, to cover my head after my oily head massages, put on the pillow if I think the pillow & pillowcase are not very clean, sometimes even as a face towel.

flashlight: Most definitely needed here in India where power goes out at least once a day.  Also came in handy for evening walks while I was at the Sivananda ashram.  In Paris, my friend Yuka gave me a little one you crank by hand.  I keep that one in a bag with me and my brother’s by my bed each night.

sleeping bag liner: I bought a silk sleeping bag liner a few weeks before I left New York, and I have been using it every night in India.  Here in Wyanad it’s given me an extra layer of coziness against the cold nights and in other places, I was guaranteed a clean cocoon to sleep in (not that cleanliness has been a problem anywhere so far).  The best ting is that you can fold it tight into a little roll and it doesn’t take up a lot of room.

fleece pullover: Traveling through mountains and wildlife sanctuaries, it’s really come in handy in the chilly mornings and at night.  In Wyanad where the temperature dipped below 50 a few nights ago, I even slept with it on.  I bought it the morning I left New York and I’m so glad I did.

electronic gadgets: I’ve been able to use the two prong European plugs everywhere so far in Southern India.  I have my laptop, a Kindle, and i-touch with me as well as a digital camera.  I use all of them everyday.  I don’t have a mobile phone, which I think could be useful but I’ve been happy to live without it for two months now.  If necessary, I will get a phone when I get to Chennai.  I read everyday on the Kindle- I finished reading Mansfield Park last night and was thinking of going through all of Jane Austen’s novels again but maybe I’ll read one of my brother’s sci-fi books next.  This Kindle previously belonged to my brother and it came with all the books he had downloaded.  I find it interesting how our preferences for reading materials differ so much but I’m having a good time reading “his” books.  This little device has also been a conversation starter and an ice breaker a few times along the way, as some people I’ve met have never seen an e-reader before. I have barely listened to any music on my i-touch; why listen to my own music when there is beautiful silence or birds chirping, or interrupt the Indian scenery passing me by with my own music?  Perhaps I’ll change my mind when I get to bigger cities and I can’t stand the traffic noise.  However, I’ve used my i-touch for communication when wi-fi is available (and for mapping in Europe), as my daily alarm clock, for currency and metric system conversion, and most importantly as my clock.  I left my wrist watch with my Mom back in the States so I’m traveling without one, and my i-touch as kept the time for me in every time zone.  I also packed a flash drive, which has come in very handy…  As for my laptop, I thought really long and hard about whether I should add 4lbs of additional weight to my load (close to 15% of the weight I’m carrying).  I have to thank Paula for carrying it for me at various times in Europe and to my brother for the gift of this wonderful Macbook Pro.  I love having it with me.

yoga pants: I’ve been in India for almost a month and I have to say that my “Be Present” yoga pants have been the best thing I packed for India.  I have three pairs of these cotton, lightweight, loose, down-to-my-ankles pants, and I wear them everyday.  The wrinkles come out quickly, they are easy to wash, fast to dry, and best of all they are modest and I feel so comfortable wearing them out in public in India.  My one pair of black Lululemon “groove” pants have been a staple as well; I wear them on all my travel days especially when I fly and they’ve been great for yoga as well as on chillier days and nights.  As for tops, I have three long sleeve cotton shirts and three short sleeve cotton T-shirts.  They are on constant rotation and I’ve needed nothing more.  I would like something Indian but I’m so bad at shopping so I’ll have to see if/when I actually buy something here.  Almost every woman I’ve met here has bought a pair of baggy Indian pants.  They are everywhere and cheap (~$10) but I can’t seem to do it myself.

Swiss army knife: For everything.  Mine doesn’t have scissors but that would be useful.  I’ve used the knives, the can opener, the corkscrew, and even the toothpick (to eat those delicious anchovy filled olives in Spain).

Keens and Havaianas: I have two pairs of shoes for India.  A pair of Keens and a pair of Havaina flip flops.  I wear them both everyday and I’m so glad I have them.

water bottle: I’ve been traveling with my SIGG water bottle and I’m happy that I don’t add to the plastic waste problem in this country.

sunglasses, sun block, and a hat: Indians don’t wear sunglasses or hats for that matter.  But I wear them a lot.  The sun is strong and bright, and they also shield me from everyone’s stares.  Sun block is a must.

money belt: I feel like such a dork for saying this but my “Rick Steves” money belt has been in constant use in India.

Indian rupees: Guidebooks tell you that you can’t bring Indian rupees into the country but I’m  really glad that I had some with me when I arrived.  I landed at 4AM and there were no ATM’s at the airport.  The only source of cash was from an exchange counter where the rate was just terrible.

ear plugs: I haven’t used them much but definitely came in handy a few times with some noisy neighbors staying up too late, etc.

Things you will need and can buy in India:

toilet paper: 50% of the times you won’t find any.  I always travel with a roll of toilet paper now.

laundry detergent: Because you’ll have to wash your clothes at some time during your trip unless you’re only here for a week and you’ve packed enough clothes.  You can get a big bag of powder detergent or you can even purchase a small one-time use packet of Tide.  You can always have laundry sent out but not anything with buttons on it. The ladies here wash your clothes by bashing them against a rock and they are dried on branches, plants, grass, or any other suitable surface.  Your clothes will come back clean but some buttons may be missing.

mosquito repellent: My roommate Jane from the Sivananda ashram told me about “Odomos” which is an Indian brand of mosquito repellent.  Works fine for me and it much cheaper (a bit over $1USD) and my expensive tube of 30% DEET mosquito cream from the States only lasted me a few weeks.  If you’re like me and you’re traveling for several months, you’ll need loads of this stuff.

shampoo and soap: I brought a bottle of shampoo/conditioner in one to India.  But you can easily buy the stuff here.  They even have single use shampoo packets but I think that’s just too much plastic waste…  

Things you may or may not need:

Most people travel with their own roll of plastic rope.  Jane, whom I met at Sivananda, was kind enough to give me some of hers.  You can and will use it to re-enforce or extend the corners of your mosquito net and stretch out between poles to make a clothes line to dry your laundry (which I did with the rope Jane gave me).

I didn’t bring a mosquito net but it’s been fine for me so far.  If I were to buy one, I’d look for one that has four corners rather than one that hangs from one point in the middle.  Mosquito nets with just one hanging point make me feel a bit trapped because they drape down close to my face.

I packed a lot of hand wipes and purell type of disinfectant gel, but I’ve used very little of it so far.  Since Indians eat with their hands, there are washing stations at every restaurant.  I probably needed to bring half of what I have.

I left my super absorbent towel in Allepey at Emerald Isle but it was very important while I was at the ashram since they didn’t give you any towels.  I will surely have to replace it soon, definitely before I head up to Rishikesh.  Most of the women travelers buy a large Indian print bed sheet and use it for cover up, to sit on at the beach, as their own bed sheets, etc.  A colorful shawl can also substitute for a sarong and many use it to cover their heads as well as shoulders, use it during yoga classes (cover your feet during savasana so mosquitoes don’t get to you), for meditation.

You can find contact lens solutions at most optical/lens stores in bigger cities but don’t expect them to be cheaper in India.  The bottle Bausch & Lomb I recently bought was 300 Rs which is roughly ~$7USD.  In Varkala I had a nice dinner for three for less than that amount so it’s expensive in comparison.  Of course I have extra contact lenses and also have daily wear contacts in case I get stuck somewhere and I run out of contact lens solution.

I bought water purification tablets but I’ve not used any so far.  I’ve had filtered water, ayurvedic water, drinking water, boiled cumin water, etc.  I think if you’re doing a tiger trail hike in Periyar for three days then it may be necessary but otherwise, just bring a water bottle.

I took trains in Europe on this trip but haven’t yet in India.  Everyone said to bring a lock and a cable so that you can secure your backpack onto the rack on the train.  I’m ready for it!

I’ve worn my bathing suit here a few times but since you wear something over it to go swimming, I’m not sure if you really need your bathing suit.  Of course if you’re going to Goa, Varkala, or Kovalam where there are a ton of foreigners you can get away with wearing just your bathing suit but that hasn’t been my personal choice.

Last but not least, a yoga mat.  I brought mine from the States and I’ve been traveling with it everywhere, but you can easily rent or buy one cheaply (about 500 Rs ~ $12 USD).

I think that’s all I have for now.  It’s amazing how little you need to have in your daily life.  Everything I need to live fits into a backpack that I can carry.  I used to think that I had nothing to wear when I had a closet full of clothes and spent time each day deciding my outfits.  With so little to choose from in my current wardrobe, I have no such dilemmas and waste of time.  I wear what is clean and works for the weather that day.  There is no one looking at my outfits to judge me, there is no need to look “cute,” no one cares (and I don’t either) if I’ve worn the same pants three days in a row, and I’m so grateful for what I have.  How simple and easy is that?

With barely a month here I’m already thinking of my next trip.  So I’ll keep track of other necessary items and unnecessary baggage as I travel farther and longer in India (and beyond)!

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7 Responses to Packing list for India

  1. george says:

    Gotcha!!!! The Swiss army knife…that is a no no…you therefore cannot go on planes without checking your bag….I have for the past 10 years or so gone hand baggage only..even got Sally into that mode! so when I go to Nepal or India I buy a new knife and at end of trip give it to a guide or driver…only check bag coming home from a trip so does not matter if lost for days.

    keep up the writings!

    • dreamgolive says:

      hi George! i wish i just had a carry-on. i met a guy today who is traveling for a year with a carry-on. i’ll do better the next time. the knife was a thoughtful gift from someone for this trip and i have full sized bottles of contact lens solution and shampoo/conditioner, etc so i knew i would be checking my bag. in my carry-on i take the necessities plus my electronic gadgets in case my checked in bag doesn’t make it. it’s annoying but i’m a bit stuck with it for now. i will eliminate as i move along and maybe i’ll end up with a carry-on only in the next few months! that’s a nice goal to have, i think. will post again soon! hope you and sally are well. by the way, i have met a number of people in the last few weeks who absolutely love sri lanka and now i’m wishing i had planned to go there… i’ll wait to get your suggestions first!

  2. asami says:

    Excellent list, Chris! You sound like you’re a pro at backpacking, not a newbie. I absolutely agree with all items you mentioned, though I don’t have an e-reader. I struck up a conversation with a girl who did, and wound up recruiting her for a homestay in the Mekong Delta, so it worked as a conversation starter for me too.

    I’ve slowly refined my list after years of backpacking, and I have a few suggestions for your list:
    – Flashlights are great, but a headlamp is even better (and smaller). You can go hands-free, even if you are clutching for dear life in a scary toilet, or trying to read a map/book in the dark. I like your hand-cranked flashlight though!
    – I never listen to my iPod while traveling, because headphones close me off from chance conversations with locals and other travelers. I will say that noise-canceling headphones are great for long flights, but it takes up space and is expensive to replace if lost/broken/stolen.
    – Digital watches (waterproof) with back light are convenient, and can be strapped onto any loop on clothing or bags when you don’t want it on your wrist. iPods are not waterproof and can attract thieves.
    – Multi-country adapter/surge suppressor in one – I tend to go to countries with unreliable electricity/surges, so I like to protect my essentials with this gadget. This is not a converter, as I learned from frying my electric toothbrush.
    – I try to get casualwear in Dri-Fit and other moisture-wicking tops that dry quickly, takes up little space, layers nicely, and go wrinkle-free in minutes while being very comfortable.
    – Combination lock – it doesn’t have to be heavy-duty, but a lock is a visual deterrent. You can lose keys, so a combination lock is better than a padlock.
    – Campsuds – a great all purpose liquid detergent, can be used for washing hands, face, body, hair, laundry, dishes. It’s made for camping, so you can use it in a river or lake and still be environmentally safe.
    – Ziplock bags – you mentioned toilet paper, and I always shove a flattened roll in a quart sized bag to protect it from the other contents in your daypack. When everything is shoved into one bag, it’s important to keep things separated, and I use Ziplock bags for this purpose. I too am concerned about adding to plastic waste, so I reuse them until they are useless, which is usually until the end.
    – Over-the-door hooks, caribiners, twist ties, scotch tape, hair elastic and safety pins come in handy when you least expect it!

    I bet you look cute as a button even though you say you don’t care. I didn’t bring any makeup with me during my month in Thailand/Cambodia, and wound up buying one lipstick for my salsa dancing outings, and had a blast looking at all the Thai options (bright tropical colors!).

    Chris, I so enjoy reading your blog almost daily, and look forward to hearing all your adventures!

    asami

  3. george says:

    just read your friends packing list…one last item I never travel without is duck tape..you would be surprised what it can be used for in emergencies!
    another tip and this is really for the mountains…at night ask the kitchen wallah to fill your water bottle with hot water…keeps the toes warm and you do not have to wait for the kettle to boil in the am!

  4. dreamgolive says:

    Thank you for the additional suggestions George & Asami! I’ll add them to my list. I do have zip lock bags to sort out my things in the backpack and have some extras just in case, and also have a combination lock. I will definitely get a headlamp for my next rugged trip- I’ve seen people here with it and it’s infinitely better for evening walks, etc. Asami, can you recommend a brand of universal surge protector? I looked for one before I left but really didn’t find one I liked. I do have a multi country converter (which may work as a surge protector as well?) but not a surge protector. I’m going to get a surge protector for India when I get to Bangalore. I’ve had no problems so far… I’m also noting the watch, campsuds, etc. and the moisture wicking stuff! all fab. ideas. THANK YOU! oh, and the duct tape and hot water bottles, yes! thank you George!

  5. asami says:

    My adapter/surge suppressor is by Tripshell, but Belkin also makes one with a USB charger which wasn’t on the market when I bought mine. I also really like having Pond’s wipes with me (I don’t like the smell of baby wipes, but they are cheaper). It is wasteful, but it’s super handy when you can’t wash your face, and also works like any other wipes. Lastly, a Sharpie pen is super convenient to have.

  6. Pingback: Day One in Merida « Dream! Go! Live!

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