I have to be honest with you. India is the country that changed my life back in 2007 and while I’ve been yearning to come back ever since I’ve also been a bit hesitant. It’s a magical country but it’s also a tough one to travel for various reasons I won’t touch on too much in this post.
Seven years later, I finally returned to this magical country and this time to the Southern West Coast and WOW – this was nothing like the north. Find out what to wear in India if you’re traveling to the South!
What to Wear in India: Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala
Minimalist South India Packing List
includes 2 Tops + 2 Bottoms + 1 Dress + 2 Layers + 2 Pajamas
For my 2015 travels to India, I packed slightly differently. Instead of packing everything I needed I took less clothes with five core pieces for 3-4 months travel: two tops, two bottoms, and one dress.
I traveled to Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala so my plan on what to pack for india was slightly different than my first trip with clothing from the above tips on what to pack for india.
Take a look at my complete India packing list!
While many women travel India alone and are perfectly safe I know there are also others that would love to come here but are a bit hesitant. If that’s you, come to the South first!
It is like night and day to the north!
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Mumbai is a major cosmopolitan city and is super chilled out in comparison to Delhi. It’s the gateway to the Southwest of India so make sure to spend a few days here on a self-guided walking tour, local food tasting, and don’t miss the Dharavi Slum Tour by Reality Travels.
Treat yourself to a good night’s rest after your long flight by staying at the Taj Majal Palace Hotel. You can read my review here!
Local women in the city are fashion forward but I’d say the majority I saw during the day wore a long sleeve cotton tunic paired with jeans and nice sandals. I did see some women wear sleeveless tops with jeans but not as many as those that wore longer sleeves.
You may not be used to the heat so wearing jeans depends on your ability to withstand the heat and humidity. When planning what to wear in India, airy cotton or rayon tops of any sleeve length paired with breezy pants or long skirt would work well. You can also buy harem style pants upon arrival if you prefer.
TFG suggests: harem style pants plus Nike trainers isn’t the most stylish look so always remember to pack comfortable sandals as well and don’t count on your trainers as your main comfort shoe. Read these guidelines for more tips on how to choose travel shoes.
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Goa shopping is amazing while totally impractical for travel. If you’re only here for a short time then go crazy and stock up on beautiful boho chic threads especially at the Saturday Night Market in Ampora.
North Goa is filled with European and North American expats and the girls all look like models heading to a music festival in the desert. Think festival fashion or buy it here. This is totally not at all what you expect when you plan what to wear in India. Skin is in.
There seems to be one common uniform amongst the expats: strappy tank tops with long flowy skirts and leather biker boots. Super cute but a total surprise.
You can pretty much wear anything in the beach cities of Goa so standard beach attire (or even less) works. For partying head to Anjuna and Baga; for more chilled out beach time try Morjim and Ashwem.
I didn’t go to the South but I understand it’s more chilled out and the beaches are more beautiful. I’d say Northern Goa beaches were pretty but the more South I traveled the more picturesque they seemed.
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Fort Cochin is the gateway to Kerala and one or two days here suffice. Hire a rickshaw for a city tour or do it yourself. The ferry is a fun and cheap local way to cross from the train station to the fort area.
For Cochin (Kochi) a maxi skirt or harem pants plus tank top or short sleeve would work. This is also probably a good look for the train rides as well.
Most travelers make their way to Allepey to do one of the famous houseboat tours and this is definitely NOT to be missed! They average around 5000-10,000 rupees. I managed to get a “luxury” option for 8500 rupees and I was happy with my splurge. Don’t expect luxury to western standards unless you’re dropping double or triple the cash.
For budget options you can also do a canoe tour instead for about 1000 rupees; or alternatively ride the local ferry up to Kottayam (or down to Allepey from Kottayam) for less than one US dollar. I did all three and they were each unique and enjoyable.
When planning what to wear in this part of India I’d suggest a similar look to Cochin, comfortable airy clothes to keep you cool as the humidity rises.
If you’re heading South to Varkala stock up on airy cotton tops plus shorts or sundresses and prepare to enjoy the sunshine Cliffside. It’s absolutely stunning and you can easily find beachside accommodation. If your palette needs a break from the curries check out Temple Coffee for the best burritos outside of Mexico (okay maybe outside the States).
Varkala was one of my favorite places to hang out but if you’re in the mood for a retreat, I highly recommend Mundax where I spent one blissful week. It’s a small and intimate homestay so if you’re looking for an intense yogi ashram experience this is not it. I loved it so much more. It was absolutely perfect for what I needed. Read my review on Trip Advisor!
It is very important to plan conservative yet light, airy clothing for trips to India. While cities like Mumbai and beach destinations like Goa may have a more relaxed “dress code”, it is still imperative to respect the local culture and dress accordingly.
Even if you’re planning a beach vacation, bring a pair of long pants and long sleeve top you can wear to venture outside of the beach.
General Travel Info
Make sure to book any trains well in advance using cleartrip.com and if you don’t, head to a local travel agency. I learned they have a stash of train tickets even when it says their sold out on the website.
The trains are a pleasant way to make your way down to Goa and Kerala. 2nd class is comfortable but don’t be surprised if there’s trash everywhere.
More Travel Outfit Ideas
Please keep in mind that these tips on what to wear in India are specific to Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala. One of the best tips I’ve ever heard when planning your clothing is to “travel to see not be seen”. Once you’ve arrived take the lead from the locals and dress according to your comfort level (and theirs).
What are your tips on what to wear in India? Please comment!
For more Asia packing tips, please read:
- 10 Step Packing Guide for Southeast Asia
- What to Pack for India + Packing List
- Do’s and Don’ts of Women’s Travel Clothing in South East Asia
- Thailand Packing List: Islands, Beaches, and Buckets
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