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home > hints and tips > things to bring with you

Things to bring with you


Intro

the bottomless rucksack

Electrical/Electronic

plug adapters
rechargeable batteries
surge protector
shortwave radio
minidiscs

Health related

mosquito repellent
sun block
micropur liquid
water filter
plastic skin

Clothing/footwear

chappals/sandals
lightweight waterproof
woolly hat
peaked hat
socks

Finding your way

compass
map book/maps

Miscellaneous

pacsafe
padlock
pocket knife/multitool
small binoculars
ground coffee
stuff sacks
ziplock bags
rubbish sacks
silica gel
lens cloth
zip ties
spark plugs
scissors

Introduction

Everybody has their own ideas about how much stuff they travel with. I've met people who have only a small canvas shoulder bag (I admire them!) with little in it, and those with a large rucksack, daypack AND a holdall. Most people come somewhere between the two extremes.

But most people have one thing in common; there are usually one or two items that they find indispensible, without which they would find travelling less pleasant or more difficult. These things may be very simple yet unobtainable in-country, or they may just be very personal. Digereedoos and mouth organs are common, travel guitars less so. One guy I met last year even brought a hang glider.

What you bring will depend on how long you are staying,and how many home comforts you want with you.

Much of the stuff below requires that you have an anal streak or have Germanic origins, but that is sometimes a useful attribute. We apparently possess a little of both.

The list is aimed primarily at those who have not visited India before, and hopefully may offer some suggestions you may not have arrived at independently. If you have any other incredibly arcane or useful suggestions, drop us a line.

Electrical and electronic

Plug adapters

"travel plugs" that turn whatever your local plug style is into something that fits Indian sockets are useful if you have devices that need mains electricity. India uses 3 pin plugs (round pin, not square as the UK.) of the style of 5 amp (most common) or 15 amp formerly used in the UK and still found in Theatre lighting. Most travel plugs give you 2 pins which will fit Indian plugs. The earth (top) pin is very rarely wired in Indian sockets anyway.

Rechargeable batteries

Again, if you bring electronics (especially digital cameras) that use batteries such as standard AA, it is worth considering bringing a small battery charger and a couple of sets of batteries. Indian standard batteries are useless for anything more than a torch, and the high performance Alkaline brands are either expensive or fake. NiCad (Nickel Cadmium) rechargeables used to be the standard, but the newer NiMh (Nickel metal Hydride) ones have a far greater capacity and more consistent voltage. A shop such as Maplins in the UK have a fair choice, or Tottenham court road is good if you are in London. A simple charger with 4 batteries should be around £15, a rapid charger that charges in half the time should be about twice the price.

Battery brands include Kodak (pricey but good), Sanyo (good if you can find them) or Vanson (cheaper and excellent). Not especially recommended are batteries by Uniross or Hahnel.

Note (2006): If you're in the UK and looking for batteries, have a look at the Battery Force website. They carry a massive range of sizes (including button cells) brands and types including rechargeable's, and offer a selection of rapid and travel chargers. There's plenty of information on the site about equivalent battery sizes, and an up to date inventory of current stock. Best of all, prices are up to 50% less than high street names such as Dixon's or Jessop's, and subsequent orders get an additional 5% discount. Delivery is inexpensive and orders usually arrive the next day. Highly recommended.

Surge protector

If you are travelling with electronic items needing mains power, a small inline surge protector is a wise investment. Indian electricity is nominally 220-240 volt AC, but fluctuates violently from about 50 volts to electronics-frying 300 volt surges. The high voltages are often spikes rather than sustained, but if equipment is unprotected the damage is done. To be fair, it is getting much better, but at least 3 times in the last 2 years dozens of people in Manali village have had TV sets, fridges and hi-fi cooked by surges. Most inline surge protectors are of the "use once" variety; a light indicates they are working, but goes out after a severe spike. Although they will pass current, they should still be thrown away. Available at most computer shops and electrical retailers.

Shortwave or world band radio

A good idea if you're interested in listening to programming from home while travelling, although less of an accessory now that the Internet is available in most towns. Still, nothing beats listening to news radio (especially the BBC’s Newshour programme) to keep up with the world outside India. Shortwave radios tend to be comparatively expensive compared to AM/FM models. Its hardly worth buying manually tuned "dial" models, as finding and holding signals is almost impossible. If you do want one at this budget end, you are better to wait till you arrive in India and buy one in Palika Bazaar in Delhi where they are far cheaper than Europe.

A better bet is to go for a "synthesiser phase locked loop" digital tuning type, where you can pre-set channels and dial in frequencies on a keypad Reception is a world apart from manual types; the synthesised tuning "locks" and tracks the signal as it shifts, keeping the signal as optimal as possible. Bringing a simple "wire" antenna can do wonders in bad reception areas such as mountains. This is basically a long piece of wire with a crocodile clip on the end to clip to the aerial.

Sony make excellent models, including the absolutely tiny SW07 (about the size of a cigarette packet) and the highly recommended ICF-SW7600G (bigger, but cheaper).

In the UK the best bet to buy would be Tottenham court road in London (one of the few places in the UK where bargaining is the norm and cash payment talks), Tandy /Radio Shack, Maplins or possibly the BBC shop at Bush House in London.

If you're flying to India via the middle east, especially Dubai, wait and buy one there. Prices for Shortwave radios in the Dubai airport duty free are about half what they are in the UK.

Minidiscs

If you plan on bringing a Minidisc player (ubiquitous among Israeli travellers), buy any blank discs you want to bring in Europe before you leave. They're very expensive in India, and fairly hard to come by outside big cities. If you need to buy them in India and you're in Delhi, avoid the posh brand name shops and head to Palika Bazaar underground market at A block, Connaught place. With a bit of bargaining and arm twisting, you should get them for about 125 rs each.

Health related

Mosquito repellent

If you're travelling in areas likely to be bad for mosquitoes (a lot of India!), it might be worth bringing some strong repellent. The active ingredient in most mosquito repellent is "Deet", and the higher the percentage, the better the protection. Most Indian repellents available only contain about 15%, and consequently have to be applied fairly often. In Europe stronger solutions can be had that contain 50% or more Deet, and obviously protect better for longer.

Another solution I've used before is to buy Indian liquid repellent (such as Autan) and mix the liquid with the stronger solution brought from home. This is obviously stronger than the native Indian brand, and gives you a bit stronger solution for longer. A good brand sold by Boots pharmacists in the UK and Europe is Jungle Formula. It comes in different forms; creams, gel etc, but I personally prefer the liquid. The downside to Deet based repellents is that they attack and can melt plastic such as watchstraps or plastic bags. When you're packing this to travel, triple check that it is well wrapped and sealed (probably tape the top to be sure) and then check again. I've had this stuff leak on me twice in spite of packing it well.

There are other non Deet based Indian repellents that are pretty good such as Mosfree. These lack the plastic melting capability of Jungle formula, and provide fairly good protection, but are less effective in areas such as coastal Orissa that have Weapons Grade Mosquitoes. These creams are available almost everywhere in India, and are very cheap.

Sun block/zinc oxide

If you're cycling, trekking or travelling by motorcycle - especially at high altitude - total sun block (zinc oxide; the kind Aussie cricketers seem to use as warpaint) is essential to stop lips, nose etc from getting crisped. Cycling in Ladakh it is quite possible to get sunburn under your nose!

Micropur water purifying liquid

If you don’t want to drink bottled water all the time (or cant get any in remote areas) their are a variety of liquids you can add to local water to make it drinkable, from simple iodine, to Micropur liquid. Iodine tastes foul and shouldn’t be used for more than a few days or it can cause thyroid problems. Micropur Liquid uses a silver based formula to clean the majority of nasties out of the water. Just add a few drops to a litre, and wait about two hours and the water is sterilised and safe to drink. Micropur also keeps water clean for up to six months after use. It can be hard to obtain in the UK for some reason, but easy enough in Germany. I think it can also be ordered from the website

Water filter

An alternative to Micropur liquid is a water filter. There are many kinds from simple drip through cups to the pump variety. A ceramic filter cleans the larger particles out then a silver compound on the ceramic destroys smaller bugs. a good idea for trekking, they are more a pain if you are not heading to the back of beyond as they require regular cleaning, and it is quite an effort to pump through 1 litre of water when the filter starts to get dirty. Prices range from about £10 for simple cup types to £200 for pump ones that are guaranteed for life. The best are made by Katadyn and come with durable metal bodies and a filter that will process about 150,000 litres of water.

Plastic skin

Its easy to get grazes in India, and easier for them to get infected. This paint-on quick dry solution keeps dirt and water out of cuts and grazes. They do see to heal a lot quicker too. From most chemists.

Clothing/footwear

Chappals/flip flops

Bringing your own chappals (sandals flip flops, etc) seems like shipping coals to Newcastle in a country where most people wear sandals of one sort or another almost all their lives. However if you're not used to wearing loose open sandals such as basic flip-flops, bringing some might be a good idea as its almost impossible to get comfortable hard wearing ones in India. Teva make excellent hard wearing sandals with Velcro straps (I've been wearing my pair almost every day for two years). Prices start from about £ 25, but look out for sales as these attract a good discount. If you've never worn them before, try to buy a size slightly looser than you'd expect; if they're too tight, you'll end up with blisters.

Lightweight waterproof

Something like a Kagoul or other lightweight waterproof that packs away is worth getting if you’re trekking or around during the rainy season; it gets very, very wet. A breathable material is a good idea, as its very often hot at the same time as it rains. It is possible but difficult to find these in India, and my prior experience has not been good. The one I bought in Mandi HP let plenty of water in, and was definitely NOT breathable.

Dignified woolly hat

You don’t have to be a fashion victim to want one of these. If you're travelling in the mountains, or in Northern India during winter, a woolly hat keeps the cold out- 70% of body heat is list through the head. It is quite possible to buy a woolly hat here -they are available everywhere - finding one that has a modicum of dignity is the really impossible part, unless you especially like ill fitting balaclavas or want to look like Noddy. Lightweight hats made of thermal material seem to be available everywhere in the UK for about a pound.

Logo free cap

If you have an anti-logo fundamanetalist streak (I do) and want to buy a peaked cap/baseball hat to keep the sun off- a good idea- buy it before you get to India unless you want to be a walking billboard for a sports footwear or fizzy water company. Its hard enough in Europe to find a plain hat; impossible in India.

Socks (yes I'm serious)

As with woolly hats. In India outside cities like Delhi, the only kind of light socks available seem to be diamond patterned nylon ones which are hot and uncomfortable and likely to induce foot rot. Bring your own cotton ones. Genuinely thick Wool socks for cold conditions are easy to buy in the Kulu Valley, and extremely cheap. Its a cottage industry, and its very common in the season to see women carrying baskets of grass along narrow paths while knitting socks. Should be an Olympic event.

Finding your way

compass

Even if you're not going trekking and actually need one, a cheap compass can be a good idea anyway, for cities or the countryside. Directions given by locals can be misleading, maps often totally wrong, or at least full of viscious rumours. If all else fails and you know roughly which way you should be pointing in a town or city, often using a compass will get you to within spitting distance. Especially useful for cycling or motorbike tours. For the rich, a GPS (global positioning system) handset could be a good idea, but for the fact that Indian maps never carry grid references.

Map book, maps

Indian maps leave a massive amount to be desired. The normal conventions like accuracy and scale give way to artistic license. A town that doesn't exist on the Indian map can turn out to be home to a quarter of a million people, or if it is marked, it can be 50km from the spot shown. If you're using public transport one good large scale map is probably enough, but if you are using you're own transport, a book type road atlas such as the Lonely Planet India map book is a wise investment in addition to a large scale fold out map. If you are in Dehra Dun, a visit to the Ordinance Survey of India will allow you to purchase genuinely accurate Indian maps in a variety of scales, but these are scarcely available beyond their offices. An excellent source of maps and guides in the UK is Stanfords Maps on Longacre in London.

Miscellaneous

Pac safe

A great idea if you're at all paranoid about theft . A Pacsafe is a kind of wire mesh bag that fits over your backpack and secures with a padlock. Spaces in the mesh allow you to use the backpack straps while travelling. A loop of wire allows you to attach it to an immovable object in your hotel room. The mesh is made of very strong steel wire that should resist anything but the most determined assault, and will certainly stop casual rifling or slashing of your bag on planes or buses. A downside could be that it makes your backpack look like it might contain something worth nicking. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes for different backpacks and camera bags.

padlock

Most rooms in budget hotels and guest houses have bolts that take padlocks to secure them. Padlocks are widely available in India, but the small ones are badly made and easy to pick, while the decent ones are heavy and large. Bringing a moderately decent one from Europe gives a bit more security without adding too much weight. For motorcycle or bicycle tourists, its probably worth bringing a cable or D-lock to secure your wheels. Vehicle theft is on the rise, and the locking system on an Enfield will only deter a four year old.

Multitool/Swiss army knife

Goes without saying really. Massively useful for absolutely everything, as a photographer I wouldn’t leave home without a Swiss army knife. Chinese made multi tools that include pliers etc can be bought cheaply in Delhi or major towns. Not the quality of a Leatherman or Victorinox, but about 80 quid cheaper.

Small lightweight binoculars

Not a must-have, but very nice to have, especially in the mountains or on treks where there is a lot to see at a distance. Lightweight ones get smaller and cheaper all the time. I've you're coming via Thailand, OK quality copies can be had for little money.

Ground coffee

Chai in India is the order of the day, but if you like coffee and you're heading North, bring a small packet of fresh coffee to give yourself a treat every now and again; just boil it up in a saucepan. In the south, especially Kerala and Karnataka, coffee is more easily available than tea; freshly made and usually good. It is possible to buy the ground beans they use through the Indian Coffee house chain, owned by the Indian Coffee workers co-operative. These cafes are found in many big cities and serve excellent cheap food as well as coffee. The ones in Shimla and Trivandrum are especially recommended

Stuff sacks

These are longish bags made out of tent flysheet material. Backpacks always end up getting too full, and as the name suggests, you can stuff these with excess clothing or whatever and strap them to the top of the backpack to get a bit of extra space. They're especially useful if you're planning on travelling by motor bike or bicycle. These are available in most outdoor or trekking shops.

Ziplock / resealable bags

Resealable plastic bags come in variety of sizes and are excellent for keeping small electronic items, camera lenses, passports or whatever dry during rainy season, and dust free the rest of the time.

Bin liners/plastic sacks

If you're planning on trekking, travelling by bike or just moving around during monsoon, dustbin bags or rucksack liners (very heavy duty plastic sacks) are a good idea to keep clothes and general rucksack contents dry.

Silica gel

India can get very humid during the rainy season. Bringing a few small bags of silica gel can help to keep moisture from condensing in electronics and cameras/lenses. the crystals inside absorb moisture to about half of their own volume. Jessops photo centre sell ones that turn from yellow to pink as they become saturated. They are supposed to be reusable after being "dried" on a radiator, but mine stayed resolutely pink after 2 weeks of being constantly heated.

Lens cloth

If you're bringing a halfway decent camera, a good lens cloth is worthwhile. India is dusty and often damp, and your lens will end up filthy. Experience suggests that the best kind of cloths are the "microfibre" kind which do well at soaking up greasy fingerprints without smearing them. These are scarcely available in Indian photographic shops. Most photo stores should sell them in Europe; Jessops is the obvious place in the UK.

zip ties or cable ties

To bring these could be said to be really anal, but they can be useful even if you only have a few pieces. Basically they are the nylon fasteners often used to bunch cables together. They can be pulled tight but not loosened (except the re-usable kind) and are useful for all manner of things from holding bits of Enfield Bullets together, to hanging bags of fruit from the curtain rail to keep the ants away to attaching things to your luggage. They are especially useful if you're touring by bicycle or motorbike. In the UK Maplins are a good source, and they have the re-usable kind, but most electrical parts shops should have them.

Spark plugs

Obviously for those touring by motorcycle or car. Indian plugs are of a low quality and don’t last long or hold their gap for any length of time. Standard plugs from Europe should give you one less thing to think about while touring and make the most of the Bullets rather weak spark.

Scissors

Indian scissors are never sharp and never seem to meet up properly. If you can conceive of a need for good, sharp scissors, bring your own.
 
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neoncarrot is an online personal travelogue of our travel experiences, life in India, backpacking life and chai drinking in the Kulu Valley (also known as the Valley of the Gods) in the Indian Himalaya. The site contains travelling tips and hints, articles and essays, photo galleries, an online journal / weblog and some vital Indian statistics.
 
     
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