Budget Tips India Travel

8 Tips for Doing India on the Cheap

When I travelled to India this year, I managed to survive easily on just 1000 rupees per day (around 10GBP/15USD), including accommodation, domestic travel, food, sightseeing and of course, souvenir shopping! While it wasn’t too difficult to live within this budget, it definitely would have been really easy to go overboard and spend a small fortune. Whenever I go to a country which is much cheaper than the UK (which is most countries) I constantly convert the prices of things back to sterling and feel like I need to take advantage of all the bargains- don’t do this! Learn to think in the local currency. Just because it’s cheaper than your home country, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily cheap. Take advantage of the fact that you’re in one the cheapest countries in the world- just think the extra pennies that you save can go towards your next holiday. These tips are just small, smart changes that are not going to have much impact on the amazing experience you are going to have in one of the most interesting countries in the world!

1) Choose non AC- If anything is going to send you off budget it’s AC rooms! Room prices can be double, or even triple the price of fan only rooms. Even when I visited Rajasthan in April, where temperatures were over 40C every day, I never missed Air con. Maybe this is because I’m from Scotland and hate air con because the concept of making a room freezing cold has always seemed strange to me- my core desire in life is NOT to be cold! I just made sure that the fan in my room was nice and strong and would keep me cool enough to get a good night’s sleep. It also helped me climatise better to the heat outside, so it was a double win really.

450 rupees a night in Udaipur!

450 rupees a night in Udaipur!

The hotel in the photo is Nukkad guesthouse. Click here to book a room!

2) Eat like a veggie- Depending on what part of India you travel to, this might not actually be a choice. Many of the holy cities forbid meat, although some restaurants will have a secret meat menu, especially for foreign tourists. Cutting out meat will really cut down your food expenses- and could save you from suffering from the infamous Delhi Belly! For just 100 rupees (1GBP/1.50USD), you can get yourself a vegetarian thali which should contain rice, 2 veg curries, pickle and some curd. More than enough to fill you up. Whereas, if you were to order chicken curry, rice, garlic nan and a mango lassi, you would probably spend around 400 rupees (4GBP/6USD.) Again, this is much cheaper than it would be at home but if you eat like this everyday your costs will really start to multiply.

One of many 100 rupee veg thalis in India

One of many 100 rupee veg thalis in India

3) Go sleeper class- Every man and his dog has heard the horror stories about taking public transport in India. Some people decide to go for overpriced chartered tours, others hire drivers or decide to go tourist class. Regardless of where you decide to go in India, you are definitely going to have to cover a fair amount of ground, given the vast size of the subcontinent. Don’t blow your budget on AC private cabins on the train. I promise that you won’t compromise your safety, and it won’t be like sleeping in a sauna. Sleeper class in India is SO CHEAP and actually pretty comfortable too. Check out this guide to the different train classes in India here. I found it was a fine place to get a decent nights sleep since the beds are completely horizontal, rather than reclining chairs. If it gives you any piece of mind, India Rail seems to try and clump tourists together, so it’s a nice place to meet like minded travellers. Even if you’re not in with other tourists, most of the people travelling on the trains are families, it’s not going to be packed full of solo males looking to take advantage. Don’t worry about that, I didn’t feel vulnerable at all in sleeper class and found that a lot of kind families were curious to find out where I was from and why I was in India and made me feel really welcome. The windows are left open, and there are fans so the cabin is always cool. One piece of advise I would give is to bring a chain for your bag and sleep with the key, because regardless of where you go, there’s always the chance of pick pockets and thieves, but this is even the case in European cities.

Unfortunately, the only picture I have of a sleeper train in India is of me lying on top of random people's luggage and stuffing my face with cold pizza... enjoy!

Unfortunately, the only picture I have of a sleeper train in India is of me lying on top of random people’s luggage and stuffing my face with cold pizza… enjoy!

4) Swap coffee for chai- Delicious, spicy and sweet masala chai is one of the things I miss most about India. I try and make it at home but it’s never quite the same! Take advantage of being able to get real authentic chai so easily. On the train or the side of the road, chai can cost as little as 7 rupees(7p/0.10USD!) Such a cheap caffeine fix. Although it can be difficult to make the change, and you will probably be tempted by the occasional coffee in a tourist restaurant, swapping coffee for chai tastes amazing and will cost you next to nothing!

Don't forgot to pay Krishna a visit if you find yourself in Bundi!

Don’t forgot to pay Krishna a visit if you find yourself in Bundi!

5) Don’t be afraid to use a travel agent- Most budget travellers tend to shy away from travel agents, due to the hefty amount of commission they add to trips and tours. However, when it comes to booking trains and buses in India, they are the way forward. Many train stations are a bit out of town, so the amount you would spend to get there in a tuk-tuk to book tickets independently is around the same as what they charge in commission- not a lot if you decide to book sleeper class trains, like I suggested. Booking online still seems like a difficult option for tourists, but this could be set to change in the future. Since trains and buses in India sell out pretty quickly, it’s a good idea to jump into a travel agent in your first port of call with your planned itinerary, and book all your transport at the one time. Be prepared that some trains might sell out if you don’t prebook, so it is a good idea to have a back up plan.

My mum and me in Old Goa

My mum and me in Old Goa

6) Don’t be afraid to barter- If you’re anything like me, you might find it hard to pull yourself away from the amazing bazzars! Of course, this is going to eat up your budget. Unless you negotiate hard. The same goes in India as goes anywhere- tourists pay tourist prices. I found that everything was open to negotiation, particularly in the low season when I was travelling. This doesn’t only go for shopping, but for hotel rooms too. Try and get a lower price if you are staying for more than 3 nights, the owner should be happy to accommodate you.

Don't be afraid to barter at the Anjuna flea market!

Definitely practice your bartering skills at the Anjuna Flea Market

7) Travel in the low season- Travelling in the low season gives you so much power for negotiating good deals at the bazzars and when booking hotel rooms. If you travel in the shoulder season, the weather will still be bearable and places will be a lot less crowded- meaning you’re also much less likely to get scammed. I travelled at the very beginning of the hot season and would definitely do it again. Before I left I read so many threads on tripadvisor saying there is no point going to India in the hot season because it will be terrible and you won’t be able to go outside- it wasn’t that bad at all.

Another benefit of travelling in the low season is being able to see sights like the Taj Mahal without herds of tourists surrounding it!

Another benefit of travelling in the low season is being able to see sights like the Taj Mahal without herds of tourists surrounding it!

8) Don’t book hotels ahead- This is the absolute golden rule! Now don’t get me wrong, when you land in Delhi or Mumbai, it will be nice to have somewhere booked ahead because it will probably be overwhelming enough trying to navigate your way around these huge cities. I would try and email or phone the hotel and ask their rates because chances are that if they’re quiet and you agree to pay them in cash in person, rather than by card on the booking site, they’ll give you a room for much less than is shown on the hotel booking site. You could also be cheeky and ask for a free airport transfer if you’re feeling bold!

Whenever I arrived in a city, my friend and I usually checked out about 5 different hotels. Don’t be shy and ask to have a look at the room, check out the wifi signal and try to negotiate the best rate based on the other hotels that you have seen.

I got the ultimate steal in Pushkar- a huge double room with a balcony, right in the centre of town with a rooftop restaurant and amazing wifi (even in the room itself- no hanging about awkwardly on the hotel landing trying to upload pics to Instagram!) All this for just 300 rupees (3GBP/4.50USD) between 2 people at a newly built inn that wasn’t on hotel booking websites. You really can’t beat that! The whole time I was there, I never spent more than 450 rupees (4GBP/6USD) on a double room, always stayed in a room that suited us perfectly and only prebooked rooms in Mumbai and Delhi.

Spacious room, wifi and balcony... for 300 rupees!

Spacious room, wifi and balcony… for 300 rupees!

The hotel in the photo is called Hotel Diamond. If you would rather book before you go, check out Hotels Combined to see if you can get a good deal!

I hope these tips can help anyone who is trying to travel India on a budget! I’ve heard of people doing it for so much less, and also so much more. It’s always better to overbudget, just in case there are any unexpected costs. And of course, don’t forget to factor in the cost of Travel Insurance.

What’s the cheapest country you’ve ever travelled to? Have you ever travelled to India? What are you tips for backpacking on the cheap?

If you’re travelling around India, don’t miss these posts!

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48 Comments

  • Reply
    Clair Kelly
    17th February 2016 at 11:24 pm

    I loved this post, it so reminded me of my trip to India in December. I agree with all of your points except the Air Con, I think I’d die!! Definitely agree with you on the vegetarian food. I couldn’t believe the difference between paneer and chicken, almost double the price! I must have splurged as my budget was 2700 rupees per day!

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      18th February 2016 at 11:30 am

      Aw thanks! I think the reason that we found it so easy to negotiate was because we were there in April… I can imagine or budget would probably have doubled if we travelled in December!

  • Reply
    Anita
    17th February 2016 at 11:29 pm

    Interesting tips, few of them contradicting my regular planning assumptions, like using travel agents and not booking hotels in advance. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      18th February 2016 at 11:30 am

      Thanks Anita 🙂

  • Reply
    Sarah
    17th February 2016 at 11:35 pm

    Love these tips! They’re really practical and things I would share with a friend too!
    Sarah recently posted…How to Get 1000 Followers on Twitter in 28 DaysMy Profile

  • Reply
    Lottie Reeves
    18th February 2016 at 12:29 am

    These are some great tips, thanks. I definitely have the tendency to convert prices to funds and suddenly feel like I really *need* that extra pashmina because its only £1! I will try to put some of these into practise in my upcoming trip to Vietnam.
    Lottie Reeves recently posted…How To Teach Overseas And Travel The World: Part 1My Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      18th February 2016 at 11:32 am

      The struggle is so real! Even now in Korea I still tend to think I’m getting a good deal because something is “just a fiver!” Hope you have an amazing time in Vietnam. A country I would love to visit, and I’m sure your pounds will stretch far in 🙂

  • Reply
    Melissa Leger
    18th February 2016 at 12:34 am

    Travel in SLOW season! Yes, I never understand unless people are traveling with kids, why everyone wants to go when everyone else is going. The service is bad and the weather is hot.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      18th February 2016 at 11:36 am

      Definitely! Much better service, fewer people, double win!

  • Reply
    Andrea
    18th February 2016 at 1:30 am

    But…but….I LOVE AC! Hahah give me Air Con or give me death! 😀 Great post though for maximizing your money somewhere that’s already pretty cost effective!

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th April 2016 at 9:52 am

      Haha I really hate AC- I hate being cold! So I don’t miss it. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  • Reply
    Daniela
    18th February 2016 at 4:36 am

    I´m surprised how easy it can be 🙂 India is on my travel list but not sure if I will make it in the next 3 years but saved it just in advance 🙂

    Thanks for the great tips.

    Regards,
    Daniela

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      18th February 2016 at 11:36 am

      Thanks Daniela! India is definitely worth putting on your bucket list, hope you get the chance to visit 🙂

  • Reply
    Tricia @ The Adventure List
    18th February 2016 at 6:14 am

    I have read much about India travel because it doesn’t appeal to the traveler in me but what does Dehli Belly mean?
    Tricia @ The Adventure List recently posted…Rantings of a Tired Hostel GuestMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      18th February 2016 at 11:35 am

      Basically it just means getting food poisoning, or a dodgy stomach from eating. Can apply to anywhere in the world, but I think it’s called Dehli Belly because it’s so common there!

  • Reply
    Cassie @ Cass Travels
    18th February 2016 at 6:14 pm

    I can’t imagine those temps without air con!!! I’d love to see India one day though 🙂

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      19th February 2016 at 9:08 am

      Never underestimate the power of a good fan! 🙂

  • Reply
    Sarah
    18th February 2016 at 7:03 pm

    India’s on my bucket list, and these are really great practical tips for when I go… hopefully it’s soon! Pinning this 🙂
    Sarah recently posted…Best Restaurants in StamfordMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      25th February 2016 at 10:25 am

      Hey love! Just found your comment in my spam pile, oh no!! Hope you get to India soon 🙂 Thanks for the pin!

  • Reply
    Brenda
    18th February 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Loved this post!
    I never had pretty clear the idea of visiting India, but now you almost got me convinced.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      19th February 2016 at 9:09 am

      Thanks! You should definitely go if you get the chance, I totally recommend it 🙂

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    20th February 2016 at 1:23 am

    India looks like an amazing place to visit. I’ve heard such great things about it from so many people. Thanks for these great tips!
    Cynthia recently posted…The 8 Must-See Waterfalls in the City of WaterfallsMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      20th February 2016 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks for your comment! It’s amazing, I’d recommend it to anyone who ever has the chance to go 🙂

  • Reply
    Mary @ Green Global Travel
    23rd February 2016 at 9:42 am

    Great advice for budget travelers in India! It’s wonderful to know that going veggie in India can bring about savings as well as drinking chai.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      25th February 2016 at 10:24 am

      Thanks! It must be one of the most veggie friendly countries in the world 🙂 And drinking chai everyday is definitely not too much of a challenge for me <3

  • Reply
    nikki yadav
    2nd April 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Very nice post and pic.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th April 2016 at 9:52 am

      Thank you!

  • Reply
    Nikita yadav
    26th April 2016 at 5:11 pm

    Very attractive Image you are looking cute.

  • Reply
    Nikita yadav
    26th April 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Please tell me your next trip in India.

  • Reply
    Louise Allonby
    30th June 2016 at 6:19 am

    Fantastic post and blog. Always dreamed of going to India one day

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      1st July 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks Louise, I hope you manage to make it there one day!

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    Douglas Chorpita
    14th December 2016 at 7:11 pm

    Great website. I can tell that this is WordPress under the hood. 🙂 I am headed to Kochi in four weeks. So excited. You got it right: Cheap is less expensive. But cheap can also be super fun.

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      Nicole Louise
      19th December 2016 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks, it is indeed wordpress! Kochi is an awesome city. Check out Happy Camper hostel for a great, budget friendly place to stay 😊

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  • Reply
    Xenia
    4th February 2017 at 8:17 pm

    Hi Nicole, the hotel you stayed in Udaipur looks fantastic especially for only 450 eps I would love to stay there. Can you please give me the name of the hotel?
    Many thanks.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      9th February 2017 at 11:12 am

      Hi Xenia, it’s called Nukkad Guesthouse. I’ve added a link to it in the post after seeing your comment 🙂

  • Reply
    Advika @Tours In India
    15th February 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Hi Nicole Louise, I am glad to know that you enjoyed your India visit. You have shared great tips here and I found it interesting and informative

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      15th February 2017 at 4:53 pm

      Thanks very much, Advika!

  • Reply
    Agness of a TukTuk
    16th February 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Great tips! India is always on the list for budget travel, I’m sure, like myself, they find your article very helpful for their upcoming journey to India. India was a blast for me. I enjoyed reading through your write up, keep it up!
    Agness of a TukTuk recently posted…How to NOT Get Robbed Abroad – Tips for Staying Safe while TravelingMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      19th February 2017 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks so much Agness! I’m a huge fan of your etramping so it’s cool to see your face around here! India is my favourite destination ever. I love everything about it but especially the amount of rupees I have left in my pocket at the end of the day 🙂

  • Reply
    Julian
    1st August 2017 at 10:53 am

    Thanks for the tips. We will be traveling around Rajasthan in two weeks and these insights will come in useful. I am looking forward to the train rides 🙂 So you never really used booking.com or agoda for overnights? I know you might get better rates but it could also turn out to take forever to find a good place.
    Julian recently posted…Exploring the Magic Temple city of Bagan, MyanmarMy Profile

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