Advice to a female student travelling to India

I received a question from a concerned grandmother about her granddaughter, a university student visiting India for a month working with poor people.

India for kids

Her question:

My granddaughter is going to be in India for 4 weeks with a group of other college students and a few professors. It is not going to be a tourist like visit, but a learning experience that will involve traveling to many parts of the country and working with mostly poor people. They will eat the local food and stay in non luxurious lodgings.

She has been told that she should wear Indian style clothing. We want know what clothes and other personal items will she need?

How to help the poor
How to help the poor

My answer:

"Indian Clothes"
Me in salwar kameez and dupatta

The cotton salwar kameez is the tradition women wear in the Indian subcontinent. If you are going to be working with “mostly poor” then its best advised to wear it. Most countries of the world would have an Asian shop where you can try and buy some of these Asian clothes. Alternatively, you can buy them online; EBay and Amazon (listed a few here) have a lot of Indian clothing. Remember if you are European/American, then I would advise you to buy one size up, Indian women tend to be slightly petite.

There is no harm in wearing jeans/trousers or khaki/combat browsers and shirts if you feel that they would be the most comfortable for you. Just make sure they are not very tight and you wear shirts that are long, preferably to the hip covering the bottom. Another option would be to wear a “kurta” also known as “kurti” over jeans. The kurti acts a shirt. This will give you the best of both worlds; western and Indian.

Typical Indian salwar on Amazon

You could also have a “dupatta” also known as “odhni” worn across both the shoulders and resting on the chest. The role of the dupatta is to cover the cleavage and contours of the chest. Many Indian women wear the saree, but personally I feel the saree would be over the top. Here’s more about the saree and what Indian people wear in India.

All in all, the best advice would be to wear the Indian clothing mentioned above while working with the poor and while travelling, there is nothing wrong with wearing jeans/trousers and tops.

The cheapest salwar on Amazon

Although you can buy everything in India, some of the other personal items you will need:

Toilet paper: Indians don’t use toilet paper but you will still find them in hotels. If you are going to be staying in non-luxurious lodgings then you might wish to take some with you. When you are there or if you run out of them; find out from the locals where you can get some more. There will always be a shop where you can find them but don’t take my word for it. Shops in remote areas might not have it and you will have no choice but to use your hand and water. Remember, India will have the basic swat toilet – here’s how to use the Indian toilet.

Medicines: You might wish to take some pain killers with you as Indian ones may not be “suit” you. You can bring some vitamin C tables with you if you get a cold. You might wish to bring some antiseptic cream/lotion with you. Check where you are going and what you will be drinking as you might have to take water sterilization tablets if you are not drinking bottled water. Here’s a guide to drinking water in India.

Handkerchief: These are very handy especially during the hot summers. Here’s  guide to climate in India.

Antimalarials: There is a risk of malaria so you should also take your anti-malarial drugs such as Chloroquine. You should take some mosquito repellents or a mosquito net if you can get one. (You are best advised to have your immunizations such as the cholera, typhoid and hepatitis B). Read more about mosquitoes in India.

Shoes and sandals: Take good comfortable shoes with you if you are going to be doing a lot of waking. Sandals are very comfortable in India due to the hot weather.

Plug converter: India uses 3 pin plugs so if you are planning to use electrical appliances, then you must bring a travel plug adaptor/converter for the Indian wall sockets.

Plugs for India on Amazon

Safety items: You could also bring some personal safely items such as flash lights and pad locks.

Money: Bring your credit cards, travellers cheques and make sure you convert money at the airport.

Female urination devices: These can come in handy but not necessary. You can read about using female urination devices for your travels here.

Female urination devices on Amazon

Most other items such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, sanitary pads, moisturisers etc are readily available.

Have a safe trip and let me know if I can answer any further questions.

To have your questions answered visit the Ask Shalu Page or use the contact page.

Further reading
Learn basic Hindi from me with audio
101 travel tips for India

57 thoughts on “Advice to a female student travelling to India”

  1. Hi Shalu

    Yes it is in India women mostly wear salwar kameez, Sarees in home as well as at their work place. Salwar kameez is quite famous worldwide as a fashion statement. In Punjab It is traditional dress with Phulkari. Moreover women feels more safe and comfortable in salwar kameez. Nowadays their are so many options as Kurtas can be team up jeans and leggies.

    Now it is April, weather will be hotter in coming days, then also is a best option to wear. By the way You looks gud shaluji in salwar kameez.. 🙂

  2. Hi Shalu,

    You covered it up so well in this post, and am sure anyone travelling to India would know where to head now. 🙂

    I agree, the Indian Salwar Kameez is what I vouch for too (you’re looking nice in the pic!), and that’s the safest thing to wear, in-fact better than a sari as there’s no question of any exposure from any side. And if you need to travel long or work with people – nothing that it, or even the kurtas with jeans are alright. I liked the way you listed all the places you can buy things too – nice and creative idea.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Hope you are having a nice weekend 🙂

    • Hi Harleena
      Thanks, I am with you all the way as far as clothing is concerned. I agree with sari specially those not fully versed with it can leave some parts exposed hence salwar kameez is the ideal option. I am glad you agree with me. Kurta and jeans is ideal, I too wear it very often and is great for travelling. Works like a charm.
      Thank you for your comments and hope to see you again.

  3. Hey Shalu, Its good to read your another article. Yet again you come up with necessary and useful points. Hope the lady who asked would get an efficient tips and informative whose grand-daughter is going to visit India.All the things you mentioned are mandatory with any feminine who is going to travel long especially medicines, antimalarial and adapter.

  4. Hi Shalu,

    This was an excellent post on what a traveller should bring when she/he is travelling to India.

    I never knew Amazon sold Indian clothes! They seem to sell everything these days!

    One thing, which I’ve found useful to bring to India is sun protection, to protect from the rays of the sun.

    Thank you.

    • Hiten
      Looks like Amazon and Ebay seems to be selling everything under the sun. I agree, sun protection is another thing that is also important. Should have thought of that. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. shalu madam its very good article for students who don’t know very much about india and indian style clothing. I must appreciate u explain each and every important points while travel to india from other countries specially u mention point of plug converter i really like the point

  6. Hi Shalu,

    That’s a very useful post. I didn’t know the names of the different female outfits. Cool to know.

    In Europe the outlets and plugs are round and don’t fit the outlets in America. The picture you put here remind me the adapter I bought in France in order to be able to use a couple of french electric appliances I had in the US.

    Thanks for this useful post.

    • Yes Syviane
      Indian women wear the salwar kameez and sari. You can see I am wearing both of them in the sidebar (sari or saree) and the salwar kameez in the post (in yellow). Thanks for your comment and hope hope to see you again.

  7. I would like to add some important points to your answer which will definately help foreign tourist,

    Personally, I believe that foreign women do need to be very assertive and street smart when traveling in India, and this can go a long way to mitigating the chance of problems happening. I don’t believe that India poses a big danger to foreign women (foreign women are actually probably safer than Indian women, as Indians fear repercussions from foreigners and foreign authorities). However, caution really needs to be excised, and I’d recommend solo travel only for women who have some India experience and knowledge. Otherwise, you may find yourself overwhelmed and in situations that you’re unsure of how to handle.

    • They need to be assertive and street smart, I could not agree with you more. This approach can go a long way in a country like India. Kindly use your name and use @ after your name to indicate keywords. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Hi Shalu jee,

    You look pretty in Salwar kameez.

    Coming on to your post, I’d say this post of yours covers all that is required for the student travelling to India.

    I think women are much safe wearing salwar kameez.

    Also the medicines are the one they have to extra careful with, we usually love generics for everything but they don’t rely on generics.

    Thanks for this great share.


    • Thank you Sapna
      I too think women to India will be safer in the Salwar Kameez and they can easily blend in the Indian community without attracting lot of attention. Those coming to India should definitely bring their own medication just in case.
      Thanks for your comment and hope to see again on the blog.

  9. very nice and great information about Indian cloths .women’s really looks very pretty and beautiful in Indian cloths like salvar and kameez and sarrie .these are traditional as well as modern

  10. Thought I am not a woman I still love reading this article because I have my girlfriend who plans to go to India and I will share this post to her.

  11. Hello Shalu,

    this is very informative! I didn’t know they call it salwar kameez. I remember the Indian lady who worked in that restaurant close to my work place (Indian Rasoi) would always be dressed like you in the photo above. She would wear the cotton salwar kameez and a dupatta. This type of clothing sits so comfortably on you!

    Now, about the toilets. I had no idea Indians use water instead of paper. For us people in the West it looks weird, but let me tell you. Water is healthier for one’s bottom than paper. Also, as you explain in another post, the squat position helps the bowels move better, and it is associated with lower colon cancer risk. I enjoyed reading this article.

  12. Hello Shalu,

    Great collection for a tourist who wants to visit India. I can say the post in one word – All In 1 article. You described here Indian culture, tradition, Women dress, Indian historical place everything in a brief way. So whoever wants to travel India can find the post a mini guide.

  13. I think we, women, are still the first person accountable to us. We have to dress properly and act properly so we can be sure not to give out any wrong impression. Useful and informative. Thanks for the post so awesome as this! 🙂

  14. Great collection for a tourist who wants to visit India. I can say the post in one word – All In 1 article. You described here Indian culture, tradition, Women dress, Indian historical place everything in a brief way. So whoever wants to travel India can find the post a mini guide.

  15. This was an excellent post on what a traveller should bring when she/he is travelling to India.
    I never knew Amazon sold Indian clothes! They seem to sell everything these days!
    One thing, which I’ve found useful to bring to India is sun protection, to protect from the rays of the sun.

  16. Well. I can see that you have posted some pretty great advice. I am sure that a lot of young ladies that intend to travel to India will find this very useful. Some of the tips even apply to men. Thanks for sharing this with us. Cheers!

  17. Shalu, you have summed it all in this blog but I have one question. There are many conservative areas/regions in India e.g. Rajistan which have a very traditional dress, similar to salwar kameez but not exactly the same. I have seen in movies women covering their heads and sometimes even faces. So should tourists follow the same traditions or is it okey to just wear a normal shalwar kameez and not cover head and face when visitng Rajistan and other such areas? Thanks for your reply in advance.

  18. You know later in this year we are thinking about to go on a tour in India. As its neighbor country to us so we have made the decision. But after reading your post i am just amazed. Though its for the girls but i think some tips are also helpful for us.
    Many thanks
    Shalu Sharma

  19. Mam this is Very Detailed and Informative Article And most of them All sanitary pads are recommended to wear as in rural areas cleanliness is not proper so hygiene should be kept in mind.

  20. such a nice collection it is and Indian women mostly like to wear salwar kameez, Sarees in home and other public this thanks for nice info


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