Backpacking in India in 2014 is different from what it was a few years ago. However, it can be as cheap as $8/day, or you can splurge up to $30 depending on the convenience. Jon and I initially set a $25/day or 1500 INR budget as a couple (meaning $12.5/person), then we withdraw our money weekly so we have a $175/ week budget, with which we might decide to splurge at the beginning then become complete cheapskates by the end of the week… Or when we flash-pack and book a 3-star hotel then we will decide to have our breakfast buffet to last for lunch, so we only have to pay for our evening meal. Also, we’re not a museum and temple kind of traveler; we can check it out if it’s free or maybe pay for it if it’s something like the Taj Mahal in Agra or the Forts in Jaipur. It’s all up to you. The exchange rate in India is $1: 60 Rupees and £1: 100 Rupees.
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Different Accommodations in India
In India, there are different levels of accommodation depending on your budget; dorm-style hostels are not as common as in South East Asia, but you can still find some in Goa, Mumbai, Jaipur, and even Varanasi which will cost you $5 to $8 per person. But if you’re traveling as a couple or a group of two or three friends it’s worth booking a private room in a hostel or guesthouse for $10 to $20 per room – AC or Non AC depending on the city. If you want to flash-pack with a little more convenience with a buffet breakfast, WIFI, and if you’re lucky a swimming pool, then expect to pay a minimum of $25.
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If you’re traveling on your own, we’d suggest you choose the hostels where other solo backpackers stay. As a couple, we prefer to book a nicer guesthouse or a hotel with nice amenities and a strategic location. If you’re with a group of friends then just stay anywhere you want but better if you book it in advance – hostels tend to be more spread out than in SE Asia!
You can also couch surf, volunteer, and work in hostels in exchange for a free bed. Also, only in India, you can afford to book a 5-star hotel for as little as $90/ night for a deluxe room with a buffet breakfast. It’s good to sometimes splurge for a 5-star just to relax and recharge yourselves especially if you can’t-do it in your country as it’s too expensive.
We are traveling India almost entirely via trains, not just because it’s super cheap, but because it’s a much more authentic experience than flying. Also, we’re impressed with the Indian railway system, despite some long delays which happen in every country. Since we usually travel via overnight sleeper train, we save a night per trip on accommodation costs.
There are four kinds of sleeper coaches on the trains which are ideal for foreign tourists: the 1st class, 2ndclass, 3rd class and the non-ac sleeper which we prefer. To save a lot of money, I highly suggest you register yourselves with IRCTC so you can book your tickets in advance and save money from the travel agent’s fee. When you book online, you’ll pay as little as $4 for an 8-hour journey for the non-ac to $10 with 3rd class AC. If you want to experience the real India and enjoy the scenery, we suggest you just book the non-AC sleeper train or the 3-tier AC.
Also, from the train stations, you better off look for the Prepaid Taxi or Rickshaw booth stand wherein they have a fixed rate to book your transport from the train station to your pre-booked accommodation or the tourist street where you can find a place to stay. So to stop the hawkers or scammers, tell them that you’re looking for the Prepaid booth stand and they will all leave you alone.
Indian and Western Food
Before arriving in India, a lot of people warned us about “Delhi Belly.” So far we never experienced that despite eating street food and the food on trains but you must always be careful. In the north, you can have a budget meal for less than $1. Jon and I used to buy three dishes and share them with us; we have a budget of $5 per meal together or maybe more if we saved on the transportation and accommodation budget. Also, you can easily buy bottled water everywhere, and it should only cost 15 to 25 INR (about 50 cents)!
Sometimes when Jon and I are making a long-distance train trip, we buy bread, jam or butter, some chips or chocolates and just put them in our “goodie bag.” Yes, we have a goodie bag, which is useful if you’re having a break from India. Plus when we go to a restaurant or coffee shop we can sneak in our bottled water and some snacks if outside food is not allowed, but we badly needed to use their Wi-Fi for a day! (LOL) But don’t worry during train rides as there are a lot of food vendors passing by and some of the AC express trains have food included!
Tourist Entrance Fees
This all depends on your preference, for example in Agra as a foreign tourist you have to pay 750 INR or $ 12.5 for a one-day valid ticket to the Taj Mahal, entrance to the Agra Fort, and some other tourist areas. Also in Jaipur, when you go to the Amer Fort you can purchase a combo ticket of $6 or 350 INR which includes several other famous forts/museums. If you have a student ID card, then you only paying 250 INR (almost $2 savings!)
However, if you plan to see these tourist things, also consider the price of the taxi or rickshaw for your sightseeing which is usually quite pricey, we had to pay $25 for 8-hour sightseeing just for the 4-seater taxi, but luckily we were sharing with two other people.
ALCOHOL AND PARTYING
Jon and I haven’t partied like crazy in India, (it seems like we had enough of that in South East Asia) but if you want to the cost of a large Kingfisher beer in a shop is only $1. If you buy it from bars, then it’s more like $2 to $ 3 per bottle. Goa’s probably the cheapest place to drink, but in the larger cities like Mumbai and Kolkata, it gets a bit pricey.
For cheap airfare, we always use different websites such as Skyscanner, and Kayak and you can even go to the Airline’s website to check if they have promotions. If you’re coming from the Middle East or Europe, you better fly into Mumbai or Delhi while if you’re coming from South East Asia then it’s way cheaper if you’ll be flying in at Chennai or Kolkata International Airport. We’re impressed with how modern the International Airports in India are and I bet you will like them too.
Tips for Budgeting
If you’re traveling alone then it’s really easy to budget your money as you decide fully on where to stay, what to eat, and which places to go. But if you’re traveling with a group where all of you will decide the things together it is suggested that you guys talk to each other before the trip on how much is your budget for everything, as it can easily get complicated once you’re on the road. As a couple, it’s very usual that one of you is in charge of budgeting and tracking your spending to keep things on track, but of course, both of you will decide on how to spend your money. One major tip: We were much more spontaneous traveling in South East Asia where we didn’t pre-book places to stay, instead just finding somewhere when we arrived. We were able to do that in Goa, but if it’s high season it can help to pre-book your accommodations in advance or at least have an idea of where to stay especially in Jaipur, Varanasi, Agra, and Kolkata. It’s not like arriving in Khao San Road in Bangkok where everything is all in the same place.
India is a nice country that should be on your travel bucket list. As a woman, yes it has safe but you must also take precautions. I highly suggest you travel with at least a friend to save money on your budget, for safety, and have more fun!
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