When in India, try to emulate local dress by covering up shoulders and legs and wearing light, flowy materials. // © 2015 Thinkstock
I have never experienced more packing anxiety than before my two-week trip to India. I knew I would be visiting important pilgrimage, prayer and burial sites that are significant to Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu religions. I would be traveling solo, eating to my heart’s content and visiting areas with mosquitoes. And, though I wasn’t visiting during the hottest time of the year, the weather in late September would still be quite warm and humid, with temperatures averaging in the mid-90s Fahrenheit.
As a result, I had four major goals in mind while filling my suitcase: to respect religious and cultural norms, to avoid drawing additional attention to myself, to protect myself from bugs and digestion problems and to remain comfortable in the heat.
Re-Think Hot Weather Wear
When I see a 90-degree forecast, I think short sundresses and skirts, lightweight shorts and open-neck, backless tank tops. If it’s the right occasion, I might even throw in some swimwear or something see-through.
In other words, I’ve been programmed to think of wearing everything you should not bring to India. With a population that is about 70 percent Hindu, 20 percent Muslim and 10 percent Jain, Buddhist and Sikh, India is a religious, conservative country, which is reflected in the way Indians across economic, religious and social backgrounds dress.
Cover Up, Ladies
Women should aim to cover up as much of their body as possible. Pick materials that breathe well and lighter colors that don’t attract heat. On the other hand, make sure that clothing does not appear translucent in the sun.
Also, instead of tight pants and jeans, bring loose pants. Fortunately, “Gypsy-style” pants are trending in the fashion world, and various options can be found everywhere from athletic outlets and yoga shops to designer, fast-fashion and boho-style stores, such as Free People and Lucky. Before my trip, I was actually overwhelmed by the possibilities for pants and long skirts. These choices are comfortable, and they do not reveal body form. Plus, they’re a lifesaver on warm days when exposing your legs is inappropriate.
For the upper body, also think loose and conservative. Pack light, long shawls that can cover your shoulders and chest area. You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to add Indian-made shawls in a variety of designs and vibrant colors to your collection.
Look to the Locals
Another tip important for female travelers is to take inspiration from Indian women, who rarely wear Western fashions. While it’s not necessary to buy and wear an authentic sari or “salwar kameez,” look to these two common outfits as inspiration. Though a sari requires countless folds and tucks, the salwar kameez is a relatively easy look to replicate: simply wear pajama-like trousers and a tunic.
Men Can Relax
Guys have it easier. Like the ladies, though, avoid shorts. While there are plenty of Indian men wearing turbans, long baggy pants and tunics, there are just as many wearing Western fashions. Light khakis and long jean pants — even on the tighter side — are appropriate, as are cotton blouses and sandals.
Prepare Your Feet
One way to remain cool is to let your extremities breathe. Sandals, widely worn by locals, are also a practical choice for visiting temples and burial sites that require you to take off your shoes or put on plastic booties over your shoes.
Be prepared to go barefoot at the busy Jama Masjid mosque in Old Delhi and to wear booties at the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah in Agra. When your shoes are off, pay more attention to the ground: Red ground can get rather warm at certain spots, and there might be shards of stone on the ground to avoid. I suggest Birkenstocks or other flat, high-quality sandals that are sturdy and offer foot support.
Pack Little Extras
Baby wipes will come in handy for dirty feet and sweat-drenched backs. Travel-size packs of tissues will prove useful at the many bathrooms where toilet paper has not been replenished, which is common at both major attractions and roadside restrooms.
Some areas, such as Old Delhi with its mixture of dust, odors, pollution and people, can be an affront to the respiratory system. In these situations, a mixture of tissues and throat lozenges go a long way. Peppermint essential oil is a great pick-me-up and smells excellent. Last but not least, don’t forget your bug spray and sunscreen.
Eat and Drink With Care
Though India gets a bad reputation for causing food sickness for visitors, I ate like a queen and didn’t suffer any debilitating, tummy-rumbling consequences. I stayed away from any raw vegetables and all meat, and used sealed water bottles for drinking water and for brushing my teeth.
Staying hydrated is essential, and water bottles are plentiful so stock up. To be on the safe side, bring some Pepto-Bismol and consider getting a prescription for Imodium, which slows down digestion.