What to Bring on an Indian Train to Survive Those Long Train Rides!

For anyone travelling in India, the train journeys are half the adventure. Not only is this one of the easiest and most efficient ways to see the country, but it also feels like a right of passage. If you can navigate a crowded platform with luggage in tow and elbow your way onto an Indian train, then surely you can survive anything!

Yes, you’ll need to brace yourself for some long rides, and likely a few train delays, but they say half the fun is getting there…at least in retrospect. (That was certainly not how I felt when I found out my train to Varanasi was delayed by 5 hours!)

With that in mind, today I’m sharing a list of travel items to bring on an Indian train for some added safety, comfort and fun, because trust me, you’ll need to find ways to keep yourself entertained on those 20+ hour rides.

A few things to bring on an Indian train:

Warm clothes: Even if it’s warm out, it can get pretty chilly in AC1 and AC2 with the air conditioning on full blast – especially if you end up on the top bunk! – so pack a thick hoodie or a warm fleece. My travel outfit in India consisted of a hoodie, thick leggings, fuzzy socks and a scarf. If you’re travelling in the Sleeper Class this isn’t so much an issue as you’ll have open windows and fans; I met a few travellers who complained about it being too warm in that section, so keep that in mind and dress accordingly.

Pacsafe: You’ll be able to store your main backpack or suitcase underneath the bottom berth (I always keep mine locked with a combination lock ), but it’s a good idea to keep your smaller daypack with your documents and valuables close to you. If you’re a deep sleeper, consider locking your daypack in a Pacsafe and keep that behind your head where it’s out of reach.

Reading material: I always bring my Kindle with me and make sure I have a couple of books to last the journey.

Whistle: I know this may sound a bit overboard, but if you’re travelling as a solo female in AC1 where there aren’t always as many passengers, a loud whistle could help keep you safe. We had an incident on one of the overnight trains where a man in uniform tried to assault a foreign female while her boyfriend went to the bathroom (she was alone in one of the 4-berth cabins in AC1), so safety isn’t something to take lightly. If you’re travelling alone, it might actually be a better idea to travel in the Sleeper Class where it’s more of an open layout and you are surrounded by people – safety in numbers. I’ll be writing more about safety in India in another post.

Travel pillow: If you’re travelling in AC1 or AC2 attendants will come around with pillows, however, in the Sleeper Class no pillows are provided. Either way, I’d recommend bringing your own travel pillow. While the pillowcases we got in AC1 were clean, the pillows themselves had seen the test of time and were heavily stained.

Ear plugs: If you’re a light sleeper a pair of ear plugs will come in handy. Trains can get a bit loud.

Silk sheet: This is something to add to your packing list if you’re planning on doing a lot of train travel and/or staying in hostels. Again, while the bedsheets we were provided were clean, the blankets were not and unfurled a big cloud of dust, so a silk travel sheet set that you can use as a liner might be something to look into.

Toilet paper: On a good day, you may find half a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom, but more often than not, you’ll find that there is no toilet paper at your disposal. You can buy packs of tissues or rolls of toilet paper at convenience stores and little shops in the train station, so stock up.

Wipes and sanitizer: Sometimes water runs out on the longer train rides and that means you can’t wash your hands. Bring a pack of baby wipes and some hand sanitizer. Trust me, you’ll need it.

Water: You might be tempted not to drink water so you can avoid the toilets on the train, but getting dehydrated is no fun either. You can pick up 1.5L water bottles at the station and vendors will also come onboard to sell soft drinks.

Snacks: Indian train rides are notoriously long and they also tend to be delayed, so it’s good to come prepared with food to last you the journey. Most train stations have little convenience stores where you can pick up things like cookies, chips, peanuts, chocolates, and other non-perishable snacks. You can always restock your supplies when vendors come through the train.

Imodium: In case you get Delhi Belly. It always strikes at the worst of times!

Headlamp: This comes in handy if you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night when the lights have been dimmed. I’d choose a headlamp over a flashlight as this frees your hands for business!

Small bills: It’s a good idea to have small bills on you in case you get hungry (it can be quite hard to break large bills). A cup of chai should cost you around 10 rupees, which is about $0.15.

And those are my essentials. Let me know if there’s anything else you’d bring along to help ease those long journeys.

Have you travelled on an overnight Indian train?
What else would you recommend bringing along?