India Packing Tips: 10 Essential Items

Beyond clothing, electronics, chargers, and toiletries, I wanted to share a list of the essential items in my packing list for India that I couldn't have gone without. I did a lot of brainstorming before leaving for India because I didn't want to overpack. I was concerned about not being able to meet the weight restrictions on all of our domestic flights (which in the end was a moot point because no one gave a rat's ass about our luggage weights or even how many bags we were carrying). But it was good practice anyway because it's annoying to end up carrying things you don't even need, especially since we were doing so much city hopping.
The ten items in this list are things I absolutely couldn't have fared without.

It's no secret that India has a problem with pollution and that there are cows freely roaming the streets; and therefore, it's no secret that there are loads of unpleasant smells that a lot of us are not used to. I brought a little vial of peppermint essential oil with me to India and it was probably the best thing I packed. I get my essential oils from TJ Maxx because they're cheap (<$5 per bottle). At home, we mostly use them in the kitchen to freshen it up (it's a really pleasant way to chase out any scents from an intense cooking session) so I just brought a half-used bottle with me; you don't need much to make a big impact.

I kept it with me in my purse and dabbed a bit under my nose whenever I encountered any overwhelming smells and it helped immensely, as the smell of peppermint was strong enough to combat every other smell. To be honest, it didn't eradicate all the other smells, but it's so intense, it will distract your nose from the unpleasantness and dull the nasty smells.

The other benefit of the peppermint oil was the fact that it was cooling. I dabbed a bit on my pressure points (wrists, insides of elbows, and neck) and the cooling sensation helped me battle the heat.

It was also a nice way to clear the sinuses. We found that it was just so dusty, we constantly had the sniffles which eventually turned into fully clogged nostrils (and maybe this is TMI but when I blew my nose, my boogers were literally black.)
Sometimes the public restrooms we used didn't have soap or water so we had to use hand sanitizer instead.

This stuff also came in handy when I ultimately ended up giving into my compulsion to pet a stray dog or goat. They're cute but they're also germy so immediately after a little scratch behind the ears, I disinfected my hands.

Though hand sanitizer can disinfect, it doesn't get rid of the dirt and schmutz on your hands. Often, I used the wipes to clean my hands before using the hand sanitizer, especially when I wanted to have a snack on the go (and didn't have access to soap and water).

The wipes also came in handy when a bird pooped on my arm at Amber Fort in Jaipur. Luckily I was wearing short sleeves and it only got on my skin. I wiped the poo off and then immediately drowned my arm in hand sanitizer. The moral of the story is that you never know what you might encounter or what you might get splashed with so have these with you, just in case.
I was going for two weeks but I only packed eight pairs of underwear with the intention of washing my underwear halfway through the trip. In the travel goods section of my favorite beauty supply store (Harmon) they sell single-use packets of Tide (similar to a ketchup packet) that are really handy for doing a small load of laundry in the sink. This little package can help reduce the amount of clothes you need to pack.

Everyone recommends bringing a scarf for modesty purposes; they come in handy for covering up shoulders before entering temples. But I namely found it really useful for protecting my head and hair from the sun. Because my hair is dark, it would get really hot; throwing a scarf over my head helped cool me down immediately.

I also used my scarf to cover my mouth when the wind would cause little dust storms in the streets.
Of course you'll want sunglasses when it's sunny but I also found that when the wind blew in the cities, it was incredibly dusty and I ended up getting sand in my eyes. And as someone who wears contacts, it was really painful and dangerous. Whenever I saw any dusty swirls headed my way, the sunglasses immediately went on my face.

We fared fine in New Delhi, probably because it was so dry. However, everywhere else we went, we were eaten alive by mosquitos. Bug spray is a definite essential. I also recommend bringing some anti-itch cream because the bug spray isn't foolproof and you'll certainly end up with a few bites no matter how many precautions you take.
No one needed this on the trip, thank goodness, but there's a reason the term "Delhi belly" exists. Many foreigners experience stomach troubles when they first arrive in India. And if you're like me and you have limited vacation time, you don't want to spend it trapped in the loo the entire time. So, take precautions and get a prescription from your doctor before you embark on your trip. Isn't this always how it works? If you bring it, you won't need it; if you don't bring it, you'll need it.

I'm actually kind of a champion when it comes to combating jet lag but I also rarely travel more than 6 time zones away from my own. So for this trip, I decided to bring a little box of Zquil. Each 8-hour dosage is contained in two pills so I took one pill for each leg of my flight out and it helped conk me out pretty good. I used them again when I got back to the States to help me get a deep sleep through the night (because by the time we landed and I got back home, it was around midnight which meant my body thought it was actually 10:30 in the morning, India time).
I bought a few packs of my favorite cough drops, Honees, and boy did they come in handy. Two of us felt like we were getting a bit of a bug with a sore throat so these helped a ton. I think in the end though, it wasn't the start of a cold that was bothering my throat but the pollution, dust, and smog that was the culprit because the throat ache persisted throughout the duration of the trip without any other symptoms, except maybe a slightly achy head (which was likely also caused by the bad air quality). So, if you're like me and you've got sensitive airways and lungs and you're not keen on coughing constantly, you'll want to keep some candies with you all the time.

The sun is v. strong in India. My skin is pretty sensitive to sun (I have photoallergy, which means I get little crusty spots that resemble elephant skin if I don't use SPF); but even if I weren't, I would apply sunscreen every day regardless because I don't want to be a wrinkled leather pouch when I'm older.

Anyway, I highly recommend slathering on loads of sunscreen before you leave for the day and I also recommend taking it with you for reapplication throughout the day. Roll-on sunscreen is great for reapplication; it's not a liquid so it won't spill in your bag and it's convenient to apply. And honestly, you don't even need much because (if you're being respectful of the customs and culture) you shouldn't be revealing much skin anyway.

Also, because of the pollution and smog, I found that my skin got incredibly congested whilst abroad so I recommend bringing face masks, exfoliators, pore strips and whatever products you prefer keep your skin clear and happy.
I would also like to give a shout out to tissues. I had to blow my nose a lot because of the pollution and they also came in handy when the handful of public restrooms we used didn't have toilet paper. I know toilet paper is on a lot of people's India packing lists but since we stayed in nice hotels, they all had toilet paper. Even in an ice cream shop's restroom in Chennai and in Varanasi's Palace on Ganges hotel, which wasn't five-star by any means, they had toilet paper. Anyway, tissues are a nice substitute for toilet paper even when you're not in India since public restrooms often run out. But I wouldn't say this is a necessity to pack because you can just take what you need from your hotel; this is like a Ross Geller philosophy, maybe, but you're paying for the room so you're allowed to take some amenities.

Oh, I also want to mention that every hotel we stayed in, even the dingy one in Varanasi, had loads of toiletries and amenities. Each one had little boxes with a shower cap, razor and shaving foam, toothbrush with a tiny tube of toothpaste, comb, cotton swabs, cotton balls, everything was available. So, if you are really really trying to save room in your luggage, you could potentially omit these things and rely on the hotel to provide it for you. I didn't pack any shampoo, soap, or lotion and relied on the hotel stock; it was never such poor quality that I suffered so I was pleased with my decision.

The other pleasant freebie was the amenities kit we received on our international flight (via Turkish Airlines). It had a toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste, socks, slippers, and sleep mask. The sleep mask came in super handy; I used it every night and then discarded it before I left.
Next up, I'm going to put together a post on what to wear in India, which will round out the whole packing list.