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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- Rajasthan: The Land of Kings in 2 Weeks
- A Backpacker’s Guide to Palolem Beach
- A Backpacker’s Guide to Hampi
- Highlights of 2 Months in India
- Mysore: The Land of Silk Sarees and Sandalwood
- Exploring the Hoysala Temple Trail with Go Mowgli
- How to Travel in Kochi Like a Local
- 5 Reasons to Explore the Kerala Backwaters by Canoe