What to take when backpacking: India

You’ve booked your flights, mapped your route, and picked out your must-see sights. Now, you need to decide what to pack – and it’s trickier than you might first think. Whether you’re a grab and go packer or spend hours agonising over how many pairs of socks are too many, it always handy to have a rough idea of what you might need, particularly if you’re heading somewhere completely new.

There are lots of factors to consider which will influence what you decide to take with you – how long you’re planning on being away, how active you’re going to be, and whether you’re going to visit any religious or culturally sensitive places, for example.

The first item you need to think about taking with you is a decent travel backpack; I can assure you that trying to maneuver a suitcase around Delhi’s crowded streets will not go well for you. Check out this handy guide from The Broke Backpacker which reviews some of the best backpacks currently on the market, to see what kind of bag would suit your travel needs and style.

If you’re packing for more than a couple of weeks, you will want a pack with at least a 40 litre capacity to make sure you have room for everything you might need. You will also need a decent daypack for when you’re out and about exploring, as you won’t want to be carrying around your big pack all day, especially if you’re travelling during the peak season.

Essentials

  • A micro-fibre towel – these super lightweight towels take up minimal room and dry far quicker then a normal towel, an absolute must when backpacking.
  • Padlock – It’s always handy to carry a padlock on you to lock your bag while on a long-haul bus or train journey, and for securing hostel rooms and lockers.
  • Security money belt – This is a great secure way to stash your money out of sight of petty thieves or chance criminals, especially when travelling through busy or more dodgy areas.
  • ‘Stuff Sacks’ – These waterproof sacks are great for keeping your clothes and other valuables dry and compact so they don’t take up unnecessary room in your backpack.
  • Imodium – Everyone’s heard of the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’, so it’s worth packing some of this to make sure you don’t get caught out unexpectedly.
  • Bug spray – yeah, you’ll need this.

Clothing

The most important thing when deciding what, and how much, to bring with you is to pack light. You almost definitely won’t need everything you’re currently thinking of taking with you, and as a general rule clothes tend to be pretty cheap to pick up on the road as you move form place to place. Packing darker clothes is also a good idea as they don’t show the dirt as much. Here is a list of the types of clothes I took with me on my backpacking adventure around India…

  • Underwear – goes without saying, really…I would recommend at least a week’s worth, but be prepared to wash them by hand.
  • T-shirts – 3-4 T-shirts/vest tops that you can mix and match.
  • Long-sleeve top – Always handy to have one of these to cover sunburn/repel mosquito bites.
  • Hiking trousers – one pair will do.
  • Shorts – a couple of pairs.
  • Jumper – Depending on which part of India you will be travelling to, and in which season, it’s always a good idea to pack at least one lightweight jumper with you.
  • Raincoat – Especially if you’re travelling in monsoon season, but if you’re travelling in peak summer season you can probably leave this out.
  • Swimming costume – India has some of the most incredible beaches and warm oceans, so make the most of these if you get the chance
  • Scarf – one of the most useful things I took with me; you can use it to cover your shoulders while visiting religiously-sensitive sites, to avoid sunburn on the beach, or as a travel pillow while on a bus, train or plane.
  • Walking shoes/trainers – If you’re planning on doing any hiking or lots of walking then you should definitely invest in some decent footwear.
  • Sliders/sandals – for the beach/casual wear.
  • Going-out clothes – Packing light doesn’t mean you can’t take a couple of nice things with you for the evenings, such as a couple of light dresses or skirts.

Obviously, this is just a basic guide based on the kinds of things I took with me to India, and you can customise this list however you see fit, depending on the length of your trip and the kinds of activities (if any) you have planned.

No backpacking checklist is exhaustive, but one piece of advice I would give is to pack as light as possible – you can always pick things up on the road, and sometimes doing it that way is more fun, too.

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