Since I’ve come back from India one of the most common questions I get asked by women is about what women should pack for a trip to India.

I was expecting to be asked how to avoid Delhi Belly, how to find nice accommodation, how safe it is to travel alone and what the overnight trains are really like but it seems that what to pack is somewhat of a dilemma for us ladies.

The majority of the country is hot and humid so you need clothes that will keep you cool, but it’s also a conservative country and it isn’t safe or appropriate for women to be wearing skimpy clothing. Argh, dilemma! So what on earth do you pack?

I may have mentioned it once or twice (OK, about a billion times) that I can’t stand those ‘traveller pants’. The ones that come in khaki colours and have eight pockets on each leg and removable bits so you can make them into shorts. I know that they’re practical and perfect for travelling but I just can’t bring myself to buy them. Thankfully, there are a few alternatives that can keep you looking stylish and feeling cool.

Here’s my packing list for India and some examples of the types of clothes I think are best for female travellers.

India

My packing list for India

3 x pairs of loose, thin trousers

The high street stores are still full of loose, printed trousers. Some of them have bold and bright patterns and some are completely plain. I had one bright pair, one navy blue pair and one black pair. I chose dark colours because the streets of India are often dusty and your clothes are nearly always filthy by lunch time. These trousers were all really thin, almost as thin as a sarong, and baggy too so they kept me cool.

Update: You’ll find more tailored, printed trousers in high street stores and these are perfect for India too.

Topshop have a great selection of loose and printed trousers. The different leg lengths are really handy if you’ve got shorter legs because you really don’t want your trousers trailing along the floor in India.

what women should wear in India

6 x plain t-shirts

I opted for 4 dark t-shirts and 2 white ones

These were just your standard t-shirts and jersey tops that you can buy from H&M or TopShop. I found in other Asian countries that your clothes get wrecked when you have them washed in your hotel so these t-shirts are almost disposable they’re so cheap.

I chose plain t-shirts because a standard black t-shirt will never look outdated. They also look really nice with printed trousers. I learned this the hard way when I was backpacking in Asia in 2009-2011. I packed all the latest fashions and left home feeling like I’d stepped out of a Vogue catalogue (OK, a Primark store). I thought I looked the bee’s knees in the latest trends but when I look back on those photos they look dated already.

Fashions change too quickly to ever look good a few years later so stick to plain clothes that don’t make too much of a statement. You’ll also be wearing the same clothes over and over again so don’t pack anything that stands out in your photos.

1x long black cotton dress

Every female traveller should have a long, black, cotton dress because they’re just so handy. A good quality dress that sits just above the ankle will travel with you all over the world and never look out of place.

This black maxi dress is from H&M and pretty much travels everywhere with me. They’re easy to pack, easy to wear, they’re comfy and they look sexy without showing any flesh.

what should you wear in India

2 x cover ups/shirts

You’ll need something to keep warm in the evenings and also to cover your shoulders when you’re out and about. Some kind of kimono/poncho style top or a loose shirt will work perfectly.

1 x pair of Havaiana flip flops + 1 x pair of Converse

All I took was one pair of Havi’s and a pair of Converse. I knew I wouldn’t be doing any serious trekking and I know I’m perfectly comfortable walking around in flip flops all day so why bother bulking up my bag with extra shoes? I actually didn’t wear my Converse but I think they’re worth having in case it rains.

It’s so worth investing in one pair of shoes that are suitable for evenings but a pair that you’re comfortable driving in, cycling in and walking long distances in.

I opt for skinny fit Havaianas in black with a gold tag. That gold tag somehow makes them seem a bit fancier.

1 x thin cardigan

It’s always nice to have a cardy for when you’re lucky enough to be in air conditioned spaces. I took a black cardigan so it matched all my outfits.

2 x large cotton scarves

A scarf will be your biggest lifesaver while you’re in India. You can use it to cover your arms, your chest, your head and your shoulders and there will be times when you’ll want to wrap your whole upper body in it to stop people staring.

I’ve put 2 scarves on the list because sometimes you’ll need to cover your head when you’re visiting religious sites. It’s also nice to have a spare one to use as a blanket or pillow during long journeys.

Small, over-the-shoulder bag

It’s best to have a small bag that goes over your shoulder that you can keep close to your body. Not only are bags like this easy to carry but it’s harder for pick-pockets to get into them.

Feel free to use a normal, small handbag – just because you’re travelling, it doesn’t mean you need to carry an ugly rucksack. If you prefer the ease of a backpack, take a look at my 50 stylish backpacks perfect for travelling.

Lots of accessories

All these plain, dark clothes get boring pretty quickly so I also packed heaps of jewelry and head scarves and picked some lovely things up along the way too.

what to wear in India

My tips for clothing in India

  • Unless you’re on the beach in Goa never show your cleavage or wear skirts and shorts above the knee
  • I found that showing shoulders and wearing mid-calf dresses was fine
  • Pack dark clothes – you will get dirty
  • Keep clothes as plain as possible so they don’t look dated when you look at your photos in years to come
  • Always carry a scarf or light cardigan to cover yourself up and in case it’s required in a religious building

 If you’ve travelled around India and have any other must-pack items to add to the list, let us know in the comments below.


What women should pack for India

My other blog posts from India:

My top tips for visiting the Taj Mahal – A must read if you plan to visit

What not to pack 10 unnecessary items every traveller thinks they need but I NEVER used

What to wear on a safari in India

How to survive sleeper trains in India

My experience taking an organised tour in India with Intrepid

Searching for tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

Highlights from India

A magical candle and flower ceremony in Varanasi

Laughing yoga in India – Definitely recommended for a giggle

Instagramming India – It’s an amazingly Instagrammable country!


Enjoyed this post? Subscribe to my mailing list for weekly updates.


67 Responses

    • TheTravelHack

      Thanks Suzanne, I’m glad it’s useful for you. I think the main trick is to keep it super simple.
      In Thailand you’ll see tourists wearing pretty much whatever they like but it’s always good to dress appropriately when you’re visiting historic or religious places.
      I felt that it was really important to dress appropriately in India because both the men and women will stare if you’re wearing a skirt above the knee or a top that shows any cleavage.

      Reply
      • Sanskriti

        please don’t generalize the people of this country…everyone will not stare at you for wearing revealing clothing-even if they do, they will do it for like a second…i am an indian and i wear revealing clothing and do not experience anything weird…maybe its dues to the differences in various parts of india…moreover, i got stared at in miami and new york wearing a crop top and shorts, so … u can never really generalise… :p

      • TheTravelHack

        This is true. I did see tourists wearing revealing clothing and they did get stared at more than others but, like you say, this would happen anywhere in the world.

  1. Angela

    I’m not planning on going to India any time soon, but I really like posts like this. Informative and fun.
    Also, yes to a black cotton dress. It’s basically all I wore for a year.

    Reply
  2. Jules

    This is a really useful post! Storing this in favourites for when I make it to India. Also borrowed a few of my sister’s salwar kameez from when she was backpacking around India. Should be useful for blending in a little more. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Beth

    Really helpful information! I’m hoping to go to India, and I definitely plan to bring most long skirts and scarfs.

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      How exciting! If you do go and would like any more advice, just let me know! I should also add mozzie repellant to the list. I got bitten to pieces.

      Reply
  4. lola

    great tips! my sister just moved to India and i think i just might go visit her. i can only imagine the beautiful, colorful things one could buy while over there to spruce up travel outfits!

    Reply
  5. maaret

    Great tips! I love your b&w pants. Where are they from? They are just perfect. I wish could find similar ones for my trip to India next month.

    Reply
  6. Karen

    Awesome!! thanks! Good to know about the scarves and length of skirts! I was in Thailand once and we had no idea skirts or showing any kind of leg was allowed (I think I was at the Grand Palace) Some friends had to go buy pants before being allowed in.

    Reply
  7. Tyanajones

    Hey, thanks for sharing brilliant information! I really appreciate with this post, Keep posting such kind of things always. Thanks again.

    Reply
  8. Annie

    I’m going to India in April and this guide was a huge help! You look super cute, comfortable and appropriate for the culture. I’m in the US, any recs where to get the kinda pants you recommend? I was thinking maybe a surf/beach store?

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      Hey Annie, it’s great to hear this was helpful for you. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with any US stores. Do you have H&M? H&M and Zara are some of my favourites. Maybe you could look online and see if you can get them delivered to the US.

      Reply
  9. Jessica

    The scarves are a MUST. Not only do you need them to enter certain buildings, they are also useful to shield you from the sun and block any unpleasant smells like smoke (most trash is disposed of by burning). I also found it extremely useful to shield myself from locals at times. Although engaging with everyone was a high point on my adventure, I found it exhausting. It was nice to cover my light skin and blonde hair so I could blend in.

    Reply
  10. Tips for Visiting the Taj Mahal - Lost in Travels

    […] Dress Appropriately. Thankfully we didn’t have any problem with this since it was fairly cold when we were there (not what I expected when visiting India!) But remember that you are in a very conservative country and should try to cover up as much as possible while visiting national and religious monuments. Granted, there is no enforced dress code at the Taj Mahal but out of respect I would recommend trying to cover your knees and cleavage if possible. Maxi skirts, long dresses and the popular loose thin trousers found in India are great choices. I also try to carry a scarf with me just in case I need to be even more covered up. If you want more ideas of what to wear in India check out this blog post. […]

    Reply
  11. Avnish

    Hey Monica, your review is really good source of information for Women tourists who are planning for their tour to India. Thanks.

    Reply
  12. Alexandra

    Hi, this has been the most help I’ve found! All the other pales don’t seem to say it how it is, thank you so much!!
    I go away to India in a few weeks for 8 weeks, so…. One last question, baggy trousers, vest tops and kimonos? Would that be ok?? T-shirts don’t look the best on me vest tops are much better! Thank you xx

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      If you’re wearing vest tops I’d definitely recommend taking a light scarf or shawl to cover your chest and shoulders. you won’t be allowed in to religious buildings without one and you may attract some unwanted attention – particularly if you have any cleavage on show!

      Reply
  13. Roxana Aedo

    Thank you so much for this post, I have been worrying quite bit in regards to what I will need to wear while I’m there. I am flying to India on the 31st of October. Just wondering if you by any chance know what they weather is like at that time of the year?

    Reply
  14. Alex

    hi, thanks for the great tips! Can you tell me where Yu got your black dress from please?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      No problem Alex. The dress is from H&M. I bought it years ago but it still travels with me everywhere. They have something very similar in stores every summer.

      Reply
  15. Irina

    Thanks for the great tips Monica! I wanted to add my two cents, for what it’s worth, to the discussion. As a women who lived in India for three months, here’s what worked for me:

    1. Dress appropriately.
    While Bollywood movies continue to push the boundaries in what’s appropriate and what’s not, India remains a mostly conservative country where women usually cover their arms, shoulders, and legs, even in the fierce Delhi summers. Shorts are virtually unheard of, even among men, and you’ll rarely see an Indian woman wearing a skirt above the ankles. Add the influx of millions of uneducated laborers from villages to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai in the past decade and you’ve got a nation rife with tensions between traditional views and the more progressive ones on the rise.

    That said, I suggest you leave the tight T-shirts and skinny jeans home and instead, opt for light, long-sleeved shirts and loose-fitting pants. Despite boasting over 6 million tourists annually, in India women travelers remain a curiosity more than a standard, and blond women draw the most stares. If you have blond hair, consider wearing a head scarf. And while we’re on the topic of clothing, I suggest. . .

    2. Wear local clothing.
    Something as simple as a long tunic over a pair of loose-fitting pants did the trick for me. I’d finally cracked and decided to purchase a Salvar Kameez after realizing how much I stuck out on the subway. Wearing local clothing helps you blend in and helps draw less attention to street solicitors and scammers who often try to single out tourists.

    I wrote about some more safety tips for women travelling in India. If you are interested, you can check them out at http://continentaldriftings.com/2014/11/04/5-tips-for-women-india/

    -Irina

    Reply
    • lilly

      I just got back from India, and I so agree with this. I tried to dress modestly, but I found that when I wore a regular pair of pants and a t-shirt or regular button down shirt, I got started at, a LOT. I realized that I never ever saw indian women dressing like that. I bought a couple of long knee length tunics and a scarf and work them over my long pants, and found I attracted a lot less attention. It’s really hard for westerners to imagine how differently women in India dress.

      Reply
    • rishi

      I am a delhiite and here both girls and boys wear according to weather conditions ..you can’t generalise the things as this is not any gulf or Muslim country.

      Reply
  16. Rachel

    Thank goodness I read this before I packed, as half the stuff I had planned to take would have ended up staying in my suitcase! Now have an assortment of scarves, no shorts, no tight fitting vests, and some loose fitting trousers, dresses and tops. Thanks for a great blog post.

    Reply
  17. Lizzie

    This is a really useful post, I’m travelling to India & SE Asia in a few weeks and still not entirely sure what clothes I’m taking!

    I have this cardigan (http://www.asos.com/ASOS/ASOS-Waterfall-Cardigan-In-Crochet/Prod/pgeproduct.aspx?iid=3722951&r=2) that I’m considering taking for covering my shoulders in India/temples etc but I’m not sure if it’ll be appropriate because it’s a bit holey! Any idea if it’ll be okay or should my shoulders be completely covered??

    Thanks 🙂

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      Nice cardigan! But I think you’re right, it might be too holey. You’d probably be fine but if you have something without holes I think it would be easier. If you did wear it and someone thought it was unsuitable, you’d be given a scarf to wear. Sometimes you have to rent them but they don’t cost a lot.
      I’d try to limit the amount of white clothes you pack too. All hotels and guest houses have a washing service but I usually found my white clothes came back grey.
      And don’t worry too much about packing for Asia. There are so many really cool markets where you’ll want to go shopping so try not to overpack so you have space for some goodies!

      Reply
  18. Meissoun

    My best tip for India is: Pack next to nothing. Then go shopping!
    It’s what I usually do – I wear nothing but Indian clothes when I am in India – and the Indians love me for it. This also ensures that I am always appropriately dressed.
    What’s important:
    Resist the call of the super-glittery polyester or elaborate silk dresses and stick to simple cotton clothes that you can wear all day long.
    Buy the right colors for your complexion – what looks good on Indian skin might not be flattering for you.
    Beware of colors bleeding when doing your laundry.
    A kameez (tunic) is NOT a dress by itself! Always wear it with pants.

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      This is such a good tip. I’d love to have the guts to turn up in a new destination with an empty suitcase. You could have so much fun at the markets. I bet it works out cheaper too – especially if you’re the type to buy new clothes before a holiday.

      Reply
  19. Lotte

    Good day! Very nice article to read and you looked awesome but still appropriate 😉 One question. Is that a leather bag you brought with you? As I don’t feel comfortable taking any kind of leather with me to India. What do you think about that?

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      Hi Lotte, it’s not real leather, but yes, it was leather looking. I didn’t have any problems or comments about it at all. I actually hadn’t thought that leather is inappropriate but that’s a good point.

      If anyone else has any experience about wearing leather products in India please do let us know.

      Reply
  20. Mariah

    Monica, this is perfect advice!
    I’m spending 6 weeks in India, 8 weeks in Nepal and making my way back to Australia through Asia so it will definitely help. I’ve heard SO MANY negative (attempting to be helpful) comments about this area of the world so I believe you’re advice will be a great help!! Thank you again 😉

    Reply
  21. Kymberly

    Hi Monica,

    I LOVE your travel blog. My hubby and I will be traveling to India at the end of the month. I’m really excited and looking forward to this trip. The Taj Mahal has always been on our bucket list, we can’t wait. I’m so glad you posted information on what to pack. As a westerner this was very valuable information to have…I would have packed alot of the wrong things lol. I wanted to ask you about eating the food in India. We are staying at 5 star hotels, but I wanted to know what your experience has been with the food.

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      Hi Kymberly,
      Thanks so much for your comment, you’re going to have an amazing time!

      I loved Indian food but it’s completely different to the Indian food we have over here in the UK. I’d suggest just trying as much as you can. If you’re in 5* hotels I’m pretty sure the staff will speak English so they’ll be able to help you choose. And don’t worry too much about Delhi Belly. You need to be cautious but most travellers will get a bit of an upset tum at some point – no matter how careful they are. Just make sure you have plenty of rehydration sachets!

      Reply
      • Michelle

        Just a quick question, I was reading some websites and of course were not recommended to drink their water, but how do you go about brushing your teeth. I feel like this is a silly question, but i had to ask. Also, do most restaurants have bottled waters? and would you recommend me to buy a water bottle with a filter in it? sorry for all the questions, but I just feel like I need to prepare myself!

      • TheTravelHack

        Hi Michelle. Not at all, these aren’t silly questions at all.
        When it comes to brushing my teeth, I just use tap water but be really careful not to swallow it. It isn’t dirty so it’s fine to brush your teeth. Some people are really careful and use bottled water to brush their teeth.
        All restaurants and hotels have bottled water. You’ll also find lots of shops selling bottled water so you won’t go without.
        Personally, I wouldn’t bother with the water bottle with a filter. Some countries are really good about supplying filtered water so you can fill up your own bottle and not waste too many plastic bottles. But I didn’t see much evidence of this in India so I don’t think you’d get much use out of a water bottle.
        I hope that helps!

  22. Selena

    So glad I found this! I’m headed to India the 30th of this month for 3 weeks. I had no idea on what to pack but thankfully found this.

    Reply
  23. Pinky

    great post. I would add two things. First, what you pack depends on where you will be, and when. Northern India is coooold from mid-December to February. Second, India has some of the most beautiful and inexpensive shawls and jewelry you will ever find. Save the space in your bag for your finds, and enjoy wearing them while yoyre there.

    Reply
  24. Alice

    This post has helped my anxiety about travelling to India alone in April!
    I’m doing a “taj tour” for 7 days and then travelling to Kovalam for 5 nights, whilst there it’l be my 25th birthday.
    I’m sure there’ll be times where I feel a bit silly on my own but I can’t wait and after reading quite a few of your posts you’ve filled me with a lot more confidence! Thank you!

    Reply
  25. Claire

    This has been really useful as i am planning a trip to India shortly (if i don’t bottle it!) it will be my first time travelling alone. Any advice on the best places to stay in India – hotel wise? i appreciate it depends what area….i am thinking South/South East so Mumbai/Goa sort of areas. Thank you.

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      I’m afraid I haven’t been to the south so I can’t offer much help. It’s also such an enormous area! Have a great time and don’t bottle it!

      Reply
  26. Elizabeth

    Hey i really appreciate the advice! Where did you get those black pants in the last photo? I’m going to be going with a group to India for about 3 and a half weeks and it isn’t easy finding clothing for the trip.

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      They’re from River Island. This was a few years ago but they still have similar styles and lots of options for loose, comfortable but stylish pants.

      Reply
  27. Autumn

    help! I’ve read all the comments and checked the links, but I need more direction on clothing. I’m traveling to India in June!! I was thinking I could wear under armor pants that are dry fit with uv protection. not fitted but loose. I have to wear long sleeves?? ugh I want to respect the culture and wear the appropriate clothing… suggestions? websites?

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      I’m not sure what you mean by armor pants?

      You don’t need to wear long sleeves but pack something to cover your chest and shoulders if you’ve visiting religious sites or when you’re in crowded areas – something like a lose cardigan, a shawl or a scarf is perfect.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.