WHAT TO PACK FOR INDIA (AND OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION)

If you are a budget traveler and have been Googling a number of “what to pack for India” articles, this might be for you.

The author of this article did the same thing six months ago, and while many of those packing articles were useful, a lot of what she read was total crap.

So here it is—WHAT TO PACK FOR INDIA—for the low-budget, penny pinching, cheapskate traveler (some prices are included, so you know you won’t break your budget), intent never to spend more than 600rps per day ($10/day).

*Notes for how to make a good purchase.

If you already have some of these items, bring them. But read the list before you decide what you want to buy and bring from the west, and what you can wait to buy.

Get ready!

Get ready!

CLOTHING

  • Flip flops or sandals: buy ’em there (50-300 rps) *Unless you wear a shoe larger than a 12 mens USA (46 EU). Slim pickings for large feet.

  • Lightweight cotton clothing: but it there (100-300 rps per item, anywhere in India)

  • Lightweight jacket or fleece: buy it there (100-400 rps per item, from any of the street carts and car boot sales in bigger cities. Trains are effing cold at night, and so are some regions in general, despite it being a tropical country.)

  • Socks, undergarments: buy ’em there (30-50 rps per item, buy them on the street)

  • Bras (under wire or sports): BRING YOUR OWN (selection is poor)

  • Scarf, pashmina, etc: buy it there (150-6,000 rps, from a pretty cheap cotton number, to mid-range silk/bamboo hybrids, to the highest quality 100% cashmere wrap) *Sit down for over one hour and make the warehouse/exporter (not some small-time local shop) explain everything you could ever want to know about scarves, including burn tests, water tests, ply count, weave, pattern, color, and more. Do this with several people. Scarves are sold everywhere. You won’t miss your opportunity, despite what they might tell you in Rajastan.

  • High quality performance clothing: BRING YOUR OWN (if you are a Smartwool snob, or are looking for Gortex, bring it from home. India isn’t on the quality bandwagon yet, and while you can find some performance gear near the mountains at well-below western prices, you run the risk of buying fakes (fairly easy to spot, though). Theoretically you could find these items in shopping malls for western prices, but honestly, you didn’t come to India to hang out in the mall.)

  • Bikini – bring your own (1,500-2,500rps) The locals don’t wear them. You will find them for sale in beachy areas and they are only there for tourists. They often cost as much as they do at home.

TOILETRIES

  • Shampoo/conditioner: buy it there (125-150 rps)

  • Soap: buy it there (10rps a bar)

  • Laundry soap: buy it there (6-10rps a bar)

  • Toothpaste: buy it there (10rps for little travel-sized tubes, available everywhere)

  • Tampons/pads: buy ’em there (150-300 rps for a twenty-pack of OBs–significantly cheaper than in the west, though sometimes tampons are difficult to find.) *When in doubt, ask the first woman you see wearing jeans or western clothing and she’ll tell you where to go.

  • Razors: BRING YOUR OWN (if you are a Gilette Mach 10,000 snob, or totally attached to your electric hair removal system [yours truly uses an epilator], bring your own. Otherwise, buy disposables for pennies)

  • Face wash, body wash, and other bullshit: but it there (60-150 rps)

  • Insect/mosquito repellent: but it there (70-150rps for Odomos, the cheapest and very effective local choice)

  • Medicines: buy ’em there. Cheap, cheap, cheap! And a lot of it doesn’t require a prescription.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Luggage locks/chains/padlocks: buy it there (50-150 rps, depending on what you want). Domestically made padlocks are available everywhere, but look far less secure than what you will find in the west. Chains are easy to find at train stations. Little baby luggage locks are useful, but not necessary if you aren’t a negligent fool.

  • Mosquito net: don’t bother. You don’t recall ever seeing these for sale, and though you had your own, you used it only once. In mosquito heavy areas, you will find nets pre-hung over the beds of even the cheapest, most rock-bottom rooms.

  • Malaria pills: don’t bother. Call yourself crazy, but mosquitoes can be avoided with insect repellent, long sleeves and pants, ceiling fans, sheets, on beaches, and by avoiding stagnant water. You WILL get bitten, and malaria does exist, but so does Dengue (far more dangerous), Japaneses encephalitis, and more. So try not to be paranoid.

  • Flashlight: buy it there, or bring your own favorite. This is a necessity. Power cuts happen all the time. You will need it to see what the hell you’re doing while trying to unlock your bag on a bus or train in the middle of the night. You might also like to blast some guy in the face if you catch him masturbating at you on a train.

  • Phone: not necessary. Really, it’s not. Mankind did without mobile phones for all of human history, barring the last twenty years. If you can’t live without it, then go ahead and bring it. Mobile phone charges will change state to state. If you don’t have one, you will save yourself the trouble of charging it and paying to reload it, and can easily avoid amorous Indians trying to get your digits.

  • Makeup: bring your own. There’s no replacing something as personal as a little makeup, and even though you may not feel many occasions to wear it, from time to time, a little mascara makes you feel human again (and, if you happen to be a tall woman heavily bundled, also helps locals know you’re not a man). Several girls asked to borrow your makeup.

  • Clothing line: not necessary. Everyone in India hangs their clothes on lines, and lines are everywhere. And if you have so much clothing that you need to hang a new line… well… shame on you.

  • Water purification tablets, filters, etc: not necessary. Bottled water is available everywhere, and heavily frequented restaurants often provide clean drinking water, which will be totally safe once your tummy gets adjusted. *However, there is one item you strongly recommend and wish you had: a lightweight, electric immersion coil to boil a cup of water in your room. This would have enabled you to enjoy cups and cups of amazing tea for sale everywhere. Alas, you did not have this, and the only potential substitutes you found were large immersion rods (250rps) for sale (in electric districts of big cities) that can boil a bucket of cold water in ten minutes (not a bad investment, as more than half of all guest houses do not provide hot water for showers and laundry).

  • Sleep sheets, bags, etc.: not necessary. Don’t be a princess. India is dirty. Get over it. Wear pajamas if you are afraid of dirt or bugs. Wrap your head in a pashmina if you’re terrified of head lice. Sleep sheets are not a multi-purpose item and they aren’t particularly useful on cold trains and in the winter. You’re better of buying a lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight blanket when the time comes (100-500rps, depending on quality).

  • Yoga mat: buy it there. (250-400rps). No question. Leave your $20 mat at home.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR INDIA TRAVEL (WHAT THE GUIDE BOOKS WON’T TELL YOU)

  • M.R.P. – “max rupee price” When buying manufactured items, imported goods, bottled water, toiletries, packaged foods like candy bars, ice creams, chips, and more, look on the package for “M.R.P.” The number next to it is the maximum price for which the vendor may legally sell that item. If they try to overcharge you, shove it in their face. They have to comply. And if they don’t, just walk away and find the same thing 20 feet down the road.

  • Directions/“Which way.” – Indians are everywhere and all of them know what “Which way (e.g., railway station)?” means. But they would rather tell you something bogus than admit they don’t know. Always ask at least three people which way before going in that direction. Ask, ask, ask the entire way there, block after block. Also, Indians don’t point in straight lines. They wave their hands in an arc, which can be as confusing as a head bobble for “yes.”

  • Always ask an impartial local before you buy something – If they are selling leather notebooks, don’t ask them how much they would pay for a leather notebook. Always ask someone in a different industry—or better yet, someone who doesn’t sell things for a living. Same thing goes for learning what the local price of a rickshaw should be. If you are on a train, for example, ask your neighbors how to get from the station to wherever you want to go, ask them how much is a rickshaw, whether a local bus is available, etc. Ask, ask, ask. Mine information from everyone.

  • Rickshaw drivers are assholes and liars – Really, they will lie to your face smiling, without the slightest bit of guilt. Know the cost beforehand by asking locals. Most rickshaws are not metered. Know your distances as well by consulting maps, guidebooks, and locals. To a rickshaw driver, a 6km distance is really only 2km. Rickshaw drivers also stick together, so asking several drivers for the real price may not get you anywhere. Same thing goes for bicycle and scooter renters. Everyone will tell you something is much farther away than it really is.

  • Public/governmental buses – By far the cheapest and most readily available for your willy nilly departure. They are very crowded (so keep your backpack small so you can fit it under the seat [no more than 14”], but tourists are favored for seats (especially women). Sometimes tickets are sold at the station, sometimes on the bus.

  • Sleeper trains – Need to be booked in advance from hard-to-find windows or online with an account you won’t have (unless you have a local indian friend who can book it for you, and then you can hand him cash). Hence, the need for travel agents who will take a commission. You don’t need a paper ticket (a photo of your computer screen will do just fine). 3AC, 2AC, and 1AC are entirely unnecessary. If you don’t want to pre-book your sleeper, General Population tickets are always available last-minute, and then you can try your luck sneaking onto a sleeper car and finding a vacant bed. When the ticket guy comes around, show him your Gen Pop ticket and ask if it is available for an upgrade (you will pay him then and there, the difference). You will often get lucky.

  • Travel with another person – Simple logic: it halves the cost of rickshaws and rooms.

  • Bananas, yogurt (curd), and rice – Eat a lot of this in the beginning of your trip. Yogurt is a probiotic (friendly gut bacteria); bananas are a prebiotic (food for your friendly gut bacteria); rice is gentle, easy to digest, and never full of baddies. If you do get a dodgy belly, go back to these foods. If you have the runs, eat heaps (10+) of bananas (contrary to what you might think, it makes your poo sticky again).

  • Eat in crowded, local (non-tourist) restaurants – In addition to feeling more like you’re in India, crowded means that the food is fresher (higher turnover), good, and probably pretty safe. Also significantly cheaper than any place else you will find.

  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch (only free chai) – If you think you’re about to get an authentic, local, Indian experience for free, think again. Nothing is for free in India. If you aren’t paying in rupees, you will pay dearly in energy or sexual harassment. The only thing for free will be a chai, and even then, you will have to listen to a sales pitch and tolerate flirting.

  • Small cash is king – Indians hate making change. They also hate ugly, old, torn notes. Hoard the small 10 and 20 rupee notes (very useful for street food, train food, and at bus stations). If you get stuck with an old, ugly, torn note, consume your item first, then explain it’s the only money you have left and they will feel obliged to accept it. Coinage is also precious. You might think it worthless, but coins are collected and melted in Pakistan (melt value is higher than the rupee value). This makes small money hard to find and it sells on the black market for a high premium (this only concerns business that are legally obliged to give you exact change).

  • Public toilets – Usually 2 or 3 rupees (seldom 5). Always guarded by some jerk that will try to charge you too much. Point to the wall, where the price is written, and raise hell until they give you your change back. They have to. Another reason small change is king.

  • Amorous guest house owners – If you are an attractive girl, be prepared. Your guest house owner may likely offer you a lot of free chai, food, music, massage, motorcycle rides, and anything else. He wants into your pants. He will tell you how he doesn’t care about money, only about human connections (See: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” above.). He will tell you about his ex-European girlfriend, or friend. He will never leave you alone, burn holes into you with his eyes, and never give you a moment’s peace.

  • You have Facebook?” – Don’t give your Facebook information out to everyone. Seriously. It’s a bit like having a mobile phone, and the local boys will abuse it.

  • Expensive essential oils – If it’s pure, you can rest assured that no vendor would liberally dab it on your forearm for a whiff. Pure oil (barring things like Tea Tree) is expensive. You will never get a whiff of pure sandalwood oil. It’s that expensive.

  • Laundry – Every bathroom comes with a bucket. Do it there, with your ten rupee bar of laundry detergent. Don’t be a princess. Half the time, if you pay for laundry, they’re beating it against a rock in a dirty river anyway.

  • Ayurveda, massage, “healing” in general – There are very few trustworthy professionals. There are very few laws regulating these activities and massage has no legal regulation at all. Everyone thinks he’s a massage therapist, and if you’re a lady, don’t bother—it’s not worth the creepy.

  • Yoga Teacher Training programs – Truth be told, while yoga was invented in India, the majority of the best programs and teachers are now in The United States. If you want a quality education, research your ass off and don’t do an intensive course (too much to learn in too little time). The Yoga Alliance is a joke as far as certifying institutions go. If, however, you are looking for a month-long yoga holiday and think you’re so smart and/or experienced to teach yoga after just one month, then go ahead and be a jackass (you will learn a thing or two and you will improve your practice to some extent). Of course, there are some amazing schools and legit people in India, but you’re going to have to research your ass off beforehand.

  • Tour packages – Don’t buy them. You can do everything yourself much, much cheaper. And you will meet a lot of other travelers who regret having purchased these things. They either paid too much, or wished they could have stopped their itineraries because they met really amazing people along the way.

  • If he doesn’t answer your question immediately, don’t waste your time – “Excuse me, which way to the bus station?” is your question. The local will pull you aside and say, “Where do you want to go?” You say, “The bus station.” He says, “Ok. And where do you want to go from there?” Most likely, he’s an agent for a tour company and will try to pull you off course. Don’t waste your time.

  • Excuse me? One picture?” – Many locals will ask to take pictures of you, or with you. Sometimes they are families and want you to pose with their children; other times, they are single men who want pictures with white women. Depending on how you feel, you can indulge them, or firmly say no. If you say yes, know that it’s almost never just “one picture.” It turns into ten, and then all the other locals jump in and try to get your picture as well. If you want to have a laugh, demand that they pay ten, twenty, or even one hundred rupees for a picture with you (because some Indians will do this to you as well). You might actually make some money.

So there you have it. This is just the author’s opinion, man. She wrote this after more than five months in India, averaging 450 rupees per day, because she is a rugged, cheap bastard.

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Categories: Budget Travel, India | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “WHAT TO PACK FOR INDIA (AND OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION)

  1. PAW

    Maria, I hope you had as much fun writing this as I had reading it.
    Thank you for the therapy.
    -P

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