What women should pack when travelling to India
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.
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. Even if you opt for quite formal trousers, you can dress them down with a casual top and sandals.
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.
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, cross-body 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.
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.
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
Laughing yoga in India – Definitely recommended for a giggle
Instagramming India – It’s an amazingly Instagrammable country!