What Tourists Should Bring to India
Though different towns and cities influence what you wear and how you act (some states are more conservative or are less safe for a woman traveling alone, especially after dark), there are some common basics you'll be so happy you have with you while you travel.
Because I'm a multiple personality kind of packer that's both terrified of not having what I need to feel comfortable, and can also be satisfied with a lot less and roll with the punches in new places, my packing lists go through a couple of drafts.
First, I write down every product or tool I would normally use throughout my day, starting from when I roll out of bed, to when I climb back in. It's usually 82 items long and consists of things like, full manicure sets, make-up I hardly ever wear, specialty foods, three different pairs of shoes, and a plethora of things just in case.
Then, when I actually begin packing, I edit. This is because we're only allowed one bag and I couldn't possibly fit everything I wanted. So I cross out things like, shampoo and conditioner, socks, fingernail polish, and band-aids. You know. The big things.
Inevitably, once I'm at my destination, I discover the things I'd wished I'd brought, and the ones I clearly didn't need (or even took out of my suitcase.)
Things I didn't need to bring:
Every single pair of underwear I owned.
As many books as I did. I bought twice as many books during my trip, as brought. (Perhaps I shouldn't have brought any, says the traveler.)(Gasp! says the writer.)
Things I wished I'd brought:
Hand sanitizer. Mutliple bottles of them.
I'm not a germ-o-phobe, but when you manage to get poop on your hand while trying to handle cleaning yourself with water at a squat toilet in a salwar kameez, with no toilet paper—even though you miraculously find two small and partially used napkins in your purse with only marginal amounts of curry stains on them—and then finding no soap at the hand-washing station, you know it's time for some hand-sanitizer.
I was very happy to find, an hour later, that our lunch destination had soap and running water. Even after washing my hands twice, my middle class white girl North American heebie-jeebies forbade me to eat the South Indian way—with my hands. I'm quite adept at it and even impressed a few locals. But that meal had me using a fork. Lemme tell ya.
So, bring multiple bottles of hand sanitizer with you. One in your bag for carrying around, one in your purse, and one for your pocket.
The best advice I can give to the newly interested in traveling to India is, Pretend you're camping. Bring hand sanitizer, bottled water, toilet paper, and wet wipes.
But in all seriousness, here's a few things to add to your own packing list, and why:
Eye mask and Insomnia remedies (for the plane and strange beds),
Melatonin (to prevent jet lag),
emer-gen-c packets (powdered vitamins and electrolytes to add to your water) (for dehydration and as an immune system booster),
cough/throat drops (for post-nasal drip from allergies to strange-to-you pollens),
remedy for motion sickness (for the plane or long car rides with much exhaust and stop and lurch traffic) and for stomach upset (“Oops, I forgot to use bottled water to brush my teeth”),
flip-flops (for easy off and on at temples),
compression socks (for those twenty-two hour plane rides, and long museum tours),
peppermints (for when you feel queasy and also because airlines are completely stingy with their water).
Even though you buy four bottles of water after you go through security, and you go through the boarding of your flight, you may very well be surprised with another security check in the tunnel to your frickin' plane. I was so distraught I cried twice, begged for extra water multiple times, and was still so dehydrated, I found it hard to swallow.
Around eight hours later, I was ecstatic to remember I had berry-flavored Riccola in my purse, along with the peppermints.
Also? My partner graciously reminded me that a few hours of not swallowing was a pretty fair trade-off for being able to go to India.
Have fun packing!