Feeling a little overwhelmed planning your first trip to India? It's ok. Preparing for a trip to India can be a lot. There is so much to plan for, and communication can be difficult at times. We created this India travel checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything.
India Travel Checklist
Step 1: Book your flight
The first step in planning your trip to India on our India travel checklist is booking your flight. Thank you Google Flights, for making it so easy to find and book cheap flights! I like to fly into Delhi or Mumbai because they are large international airports with lots of connecting flights throughout India. If you miss a connecting flight, there is usually another one in a few hours. Generally, they also have the cheapest flights available.
Skip the Layovers if you can
I prefer to fly direct whenever possible. But, if you have to, or want to have a layover (some people like to stretch their legs on land) here are a few tips.
If you are the type of person who gets stressed out traveling, make sure you have at least a 2-hour layover, or even 3. Anything less than that, and you risk running through the airport with your luggage trying not to miss your next connecting flight.
This is especially important if you have a connecting flight in India. Indian airlines are no-no-no-notorious (#biggiesmalls) for being delayed, so leave time between flights.
Pre-book your meals
The great thing about Indian airlines and generally any flights traveling to India is that there is always a veg option! But, if you have other special dietary needs, remember to pre-book your meal. Airlines offer special meals, like vegan, kosher, and other options for special diets and food restrictions at no additional charge.
Make sure to book this at least 48 hours in advance from your flight's departure. The airlines need time to arrange special meals. If you try to change your meal at the airport it’s almost always a no - I've tried.
Getting to the airport
Make sure you have a way to get to the airport. Ask a friend to drive you, book a car service, or if you feel comfortable leaving it to the last minute grab an UBER when you are ready to head out the door.
India Travel Checklist: Flights
- book your flight
- pre-book your meal
- arrange for transportation to the airport
Step 2: Where are you going?
It is impossible to see all of India. Relax, you will get that "India experience" where ever you end up going. The biggest mistake I see people make is trying to cram too much into 2 weeks. There is something to be said for really getting to know a place, instead of trying to tick off as many boxes as possible. Pick a couple of spots and take time to actually explore them. If you are running around from one place to the next like a crazy person you aren't actually experiencing the culture - literally, this is because everything in India moves at a snail's pace. So be like the locals and take your time.
The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is one of the most popular tourist routes in India. It goes from Delhi to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and then to Jaipur. And there are detour cities you can see along the way like Pushkar (famous for camel rides) Jodhpur (the blue city), and Udaipur on beautiful lakes. Plan for about a week to do the Golden Triangle. And then maybe a week in another area of India.
For your second week, I recommend trying to pick places that might interest you. If you love crafts check out Ahmedabad and Kutch in Gujarat. If you want to let loose and party, try Goa, or if you want some Ayurveda and beach time Kerala might be your spot. Or maybe you just want to experience Varanasi. Every part of India is very different and offers something for everyone.
Tip: You will have the best Indian food of your life no matter where you go... You're in India.
India Travel Checklist: Destinations
- decide your travel interests
- pick a few cities
- pick some spots you want to check out in those cities
- learn to say no - don't try cram too much in, and go with the flow
Step 3: Where are you staying?
Now that you know where you are going. The next question is, where are you going to sleep?
If you are coming on one of virtue + vice’s tours, we do this step for you. If you are traveling on your own, here are a few tips.
In big cities, I like to stay in Leela properties. The Leela is an Indian hotel chain. They are beautiful, impeccable properties, with greats facilities and restaurants, and a room is usually about $100.
My boyfriend was born in Bombay and grew up in Goa. His family has been staying in Leela properties since the ’60s. That is some serious brand loyalty.
I also love staying at heritage hotels. They can be a bit more hit or miss. And require a bit of research before booking.
Heritage hotels are palaces, castles, forts, and havelies that were built prior to 1950. The hotel must keep the original facade, architectural features, and general feel of the traditional way of life of that particular area.
Heritage hotels are cool for two reasons. The first is that they give you a local feel. When you travel through India every state, even every village, has a different palpable vibe. When I worked in product development I would stay in international chain hotels with high security, usually Shangri-La. This was because my boss was paranoid (especially in the Phillippines) about me getting kidnaped as a white woman traveling alone. While the hotels were beautiful, it didn’t matter where I was in the world, they all felt the same. Heritage hotels really let you fully immersify yourself in the local culture.
The second reason heritage hotels are amazing is because they are generally very nice and well kept, and cheaper than large chain hotels. You definitely get more bang for your buck in a heritage hotel than a chain in India.
To give you a head start on searching for heritage hotels check out Neemrana Hotels. If you want to live like Indian royalty but at a backpackers budget, this chain is for you!
If you are on a tight budget, that’s cool too, check out HOSTELWORLD. This gives great reviews of hostels all over India. Many hostels in India now offer private rooms with private bathrooms that will run you around $15. I love this option because it gives you the community of a hostel environment, but you get your own space. A room in a dorm will be about $5-$7 per night, and there are always female only dorm room options which I prefer.
If you are looking for a place to start in your India hostel search check out Zostel. Zostel is a well-known brand of hostel chains in India.
I would skip it. Unless you plan to be in one spot for a very long time. There are so many amazing and affordable lodging options in India that I would use before the headache that Airbnb can sometimes become.
India Travel Checklist: Accommodations
Decide your budget
Decide your comfort level
Research and book
Step 4: Getting around
When you first arrive in India you are going to be tired, and the airport is going to be hectic. Men will try and grab your bag as you walk outside. Don’t get nervous. They do this because they want you to tip them for carrying your bag.
It depends on where I am and where I am going but I often like to pre-arrange my transportation to the hotel. Especially if I am alone and arriving at night, which is usually the case.
Hotel car service
When you book your hotel room, contact the hotel by email and ask for them to arrange a car. This is quick, safe, and the least stressful option possible.
You can also arrange for hotel cars to take you to all the sightseeing and shopping places you want to go to.
India finally has UBER. And, another app called Ola. You can book one of those when you arrive. Be careful to specify what kind of vehicle you want. In India, you can call a motorcycle or tuk-tuk on these apps. If you have luggage make sure to get a car.
Recently in India UBER has become unsafe, so exercise caution. Drivers will rig the locks to trap you in the car. I know a few people that this has happened to, so always exercise caution. Tourists at the airport are especially a target.
Whenever I get into an UBER in India I always share my ride with someone, even if it’s my parents at home in the NY. This way they can watch exactly where my car is going and if they are starting to go off course. There is also a panic button built into the UBER app that will allow you to contact UBER immediately to let them know if there is an emergency.
Pre-paid airport taxi
Never get in a car with a random taxi driver. Pre-paid taxi drivers at the airport have special licenses, and they are tracked. Love it or hate it, part of traveling in India is a ton of paperwork. Everything you do is being tracked on paper. This offers credibility and a level of safety. If you just get into a car with a random person, well, there is no way of knowing who they are or where they came from.
tuk-tuks and motorcycles
I know, tourists love riding in tuk-tuks and on motorbikes. Don't get me wrong they are fun. But they are dangerous.
First, you are most likely going to get ripped off. They are going to take you on detours to their "friends" that have the best of whatever it is, you name it. They do this because they have agreements that whatever you buy at these shops they get a cut of.
Usually, you can just say no, take me to where I want to go. But, sometimes you get really pushy drivers who will take you where they want you to go.
The other thing is, a lot of them spend the day drinking. Driving in India is crazy, make sure your driver is sober. I have gotten out of cars and tuk-tuks and walked.
If you get on a motorcycle, always wear a helmet.
I don't care if you don't see local people wearing them. Or, if your friends say it's fine not to. I don't understand why people think it's cool not to wear helmets. Here is a fact, every person I know that has actually spent time in India knows someone that died in a bike accident.
This is tough love. Don't be an idiot, wear a helmet.
Ask around. Anyone that spends significant time in India has a network of private drivers where ever they go. You find these guys through referrals from friends. Drivers can keep you safe and look out for you, or they can be dangerous. Again, safety is key here. You want someone that has been used by a friend or acquaintance for years without any issues. If you need help finding a private driver in India reach out, we're happy to help connect you!
I always book my round trip ticket first, and then my domestic India flights after. Domestic flights in India are generally pretty reasonable, sometimes I book my flights in advance, but usually because of the nature of my job (I never know where I am going to be needed) I book them 24 hours in advance or even the same day.
For domestic India flights, I love using the Cleartrip website and app. I connect my mobile number and they even send me discounts for future flights and updates on my flight status.
India Travel Checklist: Getting around
- Decide your comfort and safety level
- Ask around for referrals
- Book it in advance
Step 5: Don’t forget your passport and visa
To enter India your passport must be valid for 6 months after entry. Make sure your passport is not expiring anytime soon. And, you also need this to apply for your visa.
Both me and my boyfriend have had to spend all day at consulates renewing our passports two days before we were supposed to travel. It’s possible to get passports in 24 hours. But, it's super stressful. Learn from our mistakes.
E-visas are amazing
Unless you are planning to travel to India all the time, there is no reason to get a 10-year visa. The process takes forever, seriously, be prepared to spend at least two full working days at the visa office waiting around. Just get an e-visa.
The e-visa application is super easy, takes about 30 minutes to fill out and you get approval within 3 days.
Here is a great guide to filling out e-visa applications.
India Travel Checklist: passport and visa
- Do you have at least 6 months on your visa from the date you arrive in India?
- Apply for your e-visa, it only takes 3 days but try to get it done early in case there are any issues
Step 6: Plan for the Unexpected
Hospitals in India are cheap, they won't put you into debt as they do here in the states. BUT, they are sometimes really bad. Prepare for the worst and have the options of being transported to better care if you need it.
India Travel Checklist: emergency situations
- get travel insurance!
Step 7: paying for stuff
credit cards and debit cards
Before you leave, call your credit card companies and let them know you will be out of the country. I once forgot to do this when I was in China. Chase locked me out of my account and told me that to regain access I would have to fly back to America and visit a branch in person with my identification. What?! Luckily I had another credit card with me.
To avoid this, just give your bank a call and let them know when and where you will be traveling.
If you can, try to bring a credit card that does not have foreign transaction fees. I love my Chase Saphire Reserve. It offers $300 travel credit every year, access to VIP lounges in airports, 3% points on all travel expenses, and no foreign transaction fees. This card isn’t just great for India, it’s great of any type of travel.
The major businesses in India take credit cards. So whenever possible I like to try and use my card and save my cash for the smaller mom and pop shops and markets that do not take credit cards.
How much should you bring?
Do you plan on doing a lot of shopping? Are you going all out and buying silks, jewels, and home decor for everyone you know? Or are you just getting a couple of little things?
In general, it is always good to have a bit of cash on you in India. Don’t bring too much though, getting robbed is actually quite common in India.
I have found that exchange rates are higher in the states, so bring dollars and change to rupees in India. You can change at hotels, banks, and even kiosks at the mall.
What if I run out of cash in India?
There are also ATM’s at banks where you can take out rupees, but you will be charged fees.
India Travel Checklist: Money
- call your bank and let them know when and where you will be traveling
- Take some cash
Step 8: Packing
Ok. Now that everything is set up for your arrival in India, what are you going to bring?
Suitcase vs backpack
That’s a personal preference. But, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help make the decision.
First, and most importantly. Do you really want to lug all of your things around on your back?
Suitcases with wheels can be so much easier, especially if you have a bad back
What is the infrastructure like?
If you are going to someplace like India where the roads and sidewalks are often more potholes then actual road, a backpack might be easier then trying to pull a suitcase.
But, wait. This might not matter if you are in a private car the whole time.
What is your transportation?
If you are in private cars and planes then a suitcase is no big deal, and you don’t have to worry about the condition of roads. But, if you are traveling around on trains, buses, and motorbikes, a backpack is best.
Are you staying in hostels or worried about getting robbed?
If you are, then choose a suitcase. It weird. Backpackers always opt for backpacks, but in a hostel environment (sometimes they have a locker you can lock but not always) it’s nice to be able to lock a suitcase up.
What kind of souvenirs are you going to buy?
If you like to buy art or other fragile things a suitcase is best to keep them safe. Especially a hard suitcase.
Try a combo like Patagonia’s Wheeled Duffel Bag.
Personally, when I am in India I use this REI backpack.
For a hard suitcase, I choose Briggs & Riley. Yes, to spend $650 on a suitcase sounds almost crazy. But, hear me out. The company has been around for 25 years and offers a lifetime warranty (I never trust startups that offer a lifetime warranty, who knows if they will be around tomorrow?).
The way I travel, my bags take a beating. The popular startup brand AWAY will run you about $250, while that sounds much more reasonable, they only offer a 2-year warranty. So if you like to buy your things to last you forever, make an investment and go with Briggs & Riley.
For my carry-on, I also prefer a backpack. When I travel I keep most of my electronics like my phone, laptop, and camera in my backpack. Do yourself a favor and buy a waterproof backpack. I love Lululemon Everywhere Backpack. While you are on the road, especially in India, you never know what is going to come your way or if you will get caught in a downpour. Keep your expensive electronics safe with a waterproof backpack.
Along with my electronics, I always pack the following in my carry on.
A change of clothes and underwear
My luggage has been lost a lot (another downside to short connecting flights) I can’t tell you how many times having a change of clothes has come in handy. I always back something comfortable, just in case my emergency outfit will be functioning as pajamas as well. Here is my go-to emergency outfit.
I love this JCrew Lunya Washable Silk Pant Set. I am one of those people who wear their pajamas out of the house. And with these babies, it’s totally acceptable. They are especially perfect for when you are traveling and have a 6 am flight, and are just feeling too jet lagged and lazy to change out of your PJs.
I also bring a couple of items to make the trip a little more bearable.
Earplugs or noise canceling headphones
Because I am always next to a screaming kid. If you fly Indian air carriers for some reason there are always a lot of babies and kids on the flight. And, parents generally allow them to play and scream through the isles. If you want to get some sleep earplugs or noise-canceling headphones are a must. I love Bose QuietComfort.
Speaking of sleep this eye mask and neck pillow is a must. Especially if you are in economy class. I very rarely take business. To me, it’s kind of a waste. I am dealing with people who literally can’t afford needed surgeries to live, it seems a little hypocritical to send and $3,000 to travel #firstclasseverywhere.
Starting to drink Pedialyte on flights was a game changer. There is something about airplane air that really effects me. Maybe because I am in a constant state of dehydration. When I started mixing my water with Pedialyte I found long-haul flights felt less brutal.
Dehydration also really messes with your skin. When I was traveling every other month, back and forth from China to NYC at my old job, my skin was a mess. That is until I started using sheet masks on the plane. If might sound a little forward, but lots of people do it. Especially on long-haul flights from the states to Asia. Trust me your skin will thank you for it. I love this Farmacy mask that is specially made for hydrating with coconut.
I always bring a few snacks because I have a tendency to get hangry if I don’t eat regularly. And sometimes it’s hard to find veg-friendly options while traveling. Here are some of my favs.
Dang Original Sticky Rice Chips - these are my guilty pleasure
Saffron Road Sea Salt Crunchy Chickpeas - gotta make sure I have some protein
Primal Vegan Jerky - more protein, these do have soy, so I try to limit how often I eat them, traveling is a perfect excuse
If you need medications, bring them with you on the plane. I always keep Advil with me for migraines. Any medication that you take regularly, or might need in an emergency, like an epi-pen, make sure it’s on the plane with you.
I have never been a very organized person. So I opt not to use a passport holder. That is just one more thing for me to lose track of. Instead I have this amazing wallet by Rebecca Minkoff Large Zip Around Wallet. It’s big enough to hold my passport and has different compartments where I can organize different currencies and cards. I know it’s leather, I know it’s not ethically made. But, I got mine at Century 21 for super cheap and I am going on my 4th year using it.
India Travel Checklist: Carry-on
- anything you might want on a 16+ hour plane ride!
What to wear in India stresses most travelers out. And it is the most common question (aside from helping to arrange accommodations for people) I get asked about. What should I wear so I don’t offend anyone?
I always tell people to keep it modest. Showing your belly is totally ok, but make sure the top is loose and not skin tight. Also, while many girls do not cover their shoulders I like to keep my shoulders covered for the most part, especially if I am traveling alone.
Keep pants loose. India may be the land of yoga, but yoga pants are a no-no. When women wear leggings, they pair them with a kurta, which is a long loose dress that extends down to mid-calf. You don’t really want your butt or legs showing in India (except Goa).
Every time I am in India, without fail I always see a tourist that is decked out in some sort of princess jasmine outfit. Don’t be that girl.
people will stare
Ladies, especially if you are white and blonde, men will stare at you. But, you know what? So will women. That is because in some places they never see white people, so you are, to them, a spectacle. Just to be clear, creepy men will stare at you also.
Here is what I recommend bringing for two weeks in India
You will notice that most of the brands I buy are not sustainable or ethical. When I first got into sustainable fashion I decided I would only buy conscious brands. Guess what? I didn’t really like anything that I bought. Why should I have to settle for something that I like a little bit less because it was made ethically? Those pieces of conscious clothing just end up sitting in my closet never to be worn. I want the clothes that fit me the best and that I will actually wear. I
Anyway. To offset my guilt about buying fashion made by “evil” brands. I make sure I go past the 30 wears challenge. I try to buy pieces that I will wear regularly and that will be part of my core wardrobe for at least 3 years.
So let’s get started - packing tips for India
When and where are you traveling?
First off, what time of year are you traveling? If you are going to north India in December and January you will need some warmer clothes. When people think India, they often think blistering heat. That is not always the case. In January in Delhi, the weather is a high of 67 and low of 43, think LA weather. Warm during the day, but cool at night. Remember to back some warm layering clothes
Don’t over pack you are going to want lots of room in your suitcase to shop! And, don’t worry if you forget something. It will just give you an excuse to do more shopping!
4 short sleeve shirts
Madewell is my go-to for t-shirts. They do a great job creating basics with tiny details that give just a bit of style without having to actually try to look cute.
4 tank tops - remember if you are going cropped, keep them loose
1 kimono or cardigan
To cover up your shoulders if needed
I love the Anthropologie Paulina Cocoon Kimono
A sweater for layering
1 long sleeve button down shirt
This can be styled and worn different ways, like buttoned up, tied, or open
I basically only wear L*Space
1 long ankle length skirt
Free People Sundown Skirt Set - As a bonus this shirt comes with a cute matching top
1 pair jeans
2 loose pants
Anthropologie Blake Striped Wrap Pants Pants that look like a skirt, yazzz. And, Super comfy
Lululemon City Sleek Sweatpant These are the best, performance breathable Tencel, that looks like a cropped jogger
2 pair shorts
(if you are going to GOA, when it comes to clothing, anything goes in Goa.) I always bring one jean pair and one athletic pair
Urban Outfitters BDG Boyfriend Low-rise Denim Short - I prefer a looser fit
1 maxi dress
Ok, a little self-promotion here. I literally designed this dress for traveling in India, shoulders covered - check, long enough, check, not too tight or revealing, check and check.
If it is the rainy season make sure it is waterproof I love this vegan leather moto jacket that is waterproof and perfect for unpredictable weather.
1 pair Yoga leggings
While you can’t wear them as real pants in India, yoga leggings are allowed in yoga and sports classes. Leggings are also great to layer underpants when temperatures drop.
I have been a big fan of Athleta workout gear for a while now and wear Athleta High Rise Chaturanga Tight
1 pair pajamas
Ann Taylor Loft - Prim Rose Pajama set
1 pair sandals
Havaianas. I have been a huge fan of Havaianas since the early 2000s. They are only $18 and last. In India, you want to wear sandals (chappas) to make your life easier. When you enter into a store, office, or someones home you are expected to take your shoes off. Waterproof sandals are also a must if you are staying in hostels for the bathroom and showers.
1 real shoe
Converse. Again, I have been wearing my Chuck Taylors since middle school. They are basically part of my identity at this point. Bring a pair of cheap sneakers that you do not care about to India. India is dusty. And the color of the dirt is red (because it contains a lot of iron). Your shoes will get ruined, that’s just how it goes.
2 pairs socks
I buy my socks at Costco in bulk. 8 pairs of $9.
1 underwire bra
Natori Feathers Bra is the only bra I wear. Seasonal colors always end up going on sale eventually so I buy them when they are discounted.
(These are the best for long plane rides, and layered under tank tops)
1 sports bra
I always forget to pack a sports bra for some reason. Usually, when I fly into India I go through Mumbai, so the mall always ends up being my first stop to buy a sports bra. At this point every sports bra I own is Nike, and I bought in India.
15 pairs of underwear
American Eagle Undies are the only underwear I buy, 10 pairs for $35. They are comfy, they last, and they are affordable.
India Travel Checklist: Packing
- choose your bags
- keep the things you want on the plane and valuables in your carry-on
- pack everything else in your checked luggage
tampons/ diva cup
Tampons are hard to find in many Asian countries because most women use pads. You can sometimes find them in specialty stores, but they are hard to come by. So bring them. I am not going to get into what types of tampons I use, if you need advice on that I think you are reading the wrong blog.
I have not tried the diva cup, but I know some women like it while traveling.
All my makeup is cruelty-free and non-toxic. If you are curious about what I wear, check out this blog article about Ethical Makeup That’s Actually Affordable - GOOP Dupes.
Stick to your normal skincare regimen. If I am going to be out in the sun a lot I like to skip my nightly retinol and replace it with a moisturizer. Eucerin Q10 Anti-wrinkle is amazing for dried out airplane skin.
I never leave the house without sunscreen. This past October SunBum gave me some free product to test out while I was in the Maldives. And, I am obsessed. They recently came out with a mineral line which I love instead of chemical sunscreens.
If you need medications, like to live, don’t forget them.
I know a lot of tourists like to stock up on antibiotics and other emergency meds “just in case”. But, getting prescription medications is really easy in India. Most things we need a prescription for here in the states are sold over the counter at pharmacies in India, and for a fraction of the price.
Wet wipes antibacterial toilet paper
India is dirty. Some people can embrace the dirt, some people can’t. You know who you are. If you are a clean freak bring wet wipes and antibacterial soap.
Toilet paper. In India water is used instead of toilet paper. There are two systems for this. The fist is a big bucket filled with water with a smaller cup that you use to splash water on yourself, and the second is a squirting hose (like what you would find on a kitchen sink). It takes a little getting used to. But, if you are the kind of person that doesn’t do well with change. Bring a roll of toilet paper.
Hotels and hostels will usually have toilet paper, and you can buy it in stores.
India Travel Checklist: Clothes
- first, pack your core tops and bottoms
- remember to bring layering pieces for warmth
- don't forget pjs, socks, and undies
- and of course, toiletries and meds
Electronics & Misc.
You will need to convert your power plugs
India uses types C, D, and M power plugs. Even this can be confusing because there are three different kinds. So get a universal converter this way your plug will work no matter what.
Buying a sim card in India
For about $20 you can get a large data and phone plan. Don't buy a sim card at the airport, you will get ripped off. Cell service in India is spotty. So the carrier to choose depends on where you will be traveling. Before you buy a sim ask a few locals what they use, then buy that one.
Buying a sim card in India can be a little tricky. Make sure to bring a 2”x2” passport photo of yourself to give to the phone store. Without the photo, they will not be able to issue you a sim card.
Learn some of the lingo
Duolingo just came out with their English to Hindi program. While most people in India speak English, it is always fun to pick up a few local phrases. The only place I have ever encountered people that do not speak English is on isolated tribal land. And you won’t be able to go there because you tourists need special visas and paperwork to be allowed access. So don’t stress communication won’t be as difficult as you think. Just remember to speak slowly.
Apps to have
Before you go download google translate. I can’t tell you how many times this has totally saved me.
Gifts if your visiting people
If you are visiting people bring a gift. Something small like sweets or candy from your hometown is perfect. Or if you have visited them before, people love when you come back and bring them a print of photos you may have taken with them from the last trip.
India Travel Checklist: Final Tips
- if you forget to pack something, just consider it an excuse to go shopping!