Skip to Content

What women should pack when travelling to India

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.

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, 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.

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

Are packing cubes worth it and do they really save space?

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!

Here are some ideas for tours you can take in India to make the experience as simple and stress-free as possible. These are all bookable through GetYourGuide who offer affordable tours with local guides.

Powered by GetYourGuide. Become a partner.

India: Tips for planning your holiday to Kerala

Monday 15th of June 2020

[…] What women should pack when travelling to India […]

Queen Bubbles

Saturday 6th of June 2020

One thing I did not see mentioned was about feminine protection. It is very hard to buy tampons in India. It is not the custom. So if that is important to you, plan before you go. Wish I would have known.


Saturday 22nd of June 2019

Being an Indian and having lived in Bangalore all my life, I must say the policy of “staring” in India is really bad. I’ve experienced it too and I hate it. I understand it must be a lot more for all of you since you’re foreigners. I agree that dressing according to occasion/place (beach, city/town, temple etc) is the need of the hour. For you and even us locals. However, I strongly disagree with the part that Indians don’t wear anything above the knee. I’m in my twenties. My friends, cousins and even older relatives enjoy wearing dresses, sleeveless, crop tops, skinny jeans and skirts. We’re big on international fashion and frankly, I wear “local” only when I visit a wedding or a temple. You should check out the fashion blogging scene in Indian, it’s super advanced and can match international standards. So to give people tips on what to wear is great but please don’t generalise that all indians dress this way. All major cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune etc are quite modern, fashion wise. That said, I hope you have a great experience in our country. And also meet people like us, who love to dress up.

Namaste :)


Sunday 23rd of June 2019

Hi Nikita, thanks so much for your comment! I hadn't seen any women in short dresses or crop tops so that's great to know.

Chris Hatton

Monday 6th of August 2018


I used to go to school with you, so it was surprise to see your face pop up at the bottom of this page. I hope you are well!! Great advice...for my GF :) If you have any top top tips for India, Nepal, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Thailand, let me know.


Tuesday 7th of August 2018

Hi Chris! Great to hear from you! If you're looking for Vietnam tips, check out Vicky Flip Flop's blog. She has a great itinerary on there I've recommended to a few people and they've followed every word and loved it. I was in Thailand back in 2010 so I'm sure it's changed a bit now but Koh Sok National Park was one of my favourite places. If you're short on time, book tours to make the most of your trip - you'll see so much more and save yourself a lot of hassle. I hope you have a great time!


Wednesday 26th of April 2017

Wonderful piece and very helpful. My question is about cost of clothing over there. What's the cost of say genie pants, scarves and tops from street venders vs stores? I'm looking inexpensive material that will last.


Thursday 27th of April 2017

These kinds of items barely cost anything but the quality is unlikely to be very good. The prices will be cheaper than the stores but you'll need to haggle for them a lot. I think the price really depends on your haggling skills!