Travel Budget: India
One of the things I’ve gotten away from in the past year has been publishing my travel budgets in an attempt to help other backpackers get a feel for how much they can expect to spend in a given place. This is something I’m often curious about before visiting a new country, and always wish I could find more info on. As such, I’m going to make an effort to get back into the habit for 2015. For starters, here’s a look a how much I spent over three weeks in India at the end of last year and beginning of this one. This was in by far the most touristy part of the country (Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, and Varanasi) and I’d expect prices to be even cheaper in other areas. If you’re looking to travel on a budget India can definitely be a solid choice.
I spent 29,531 Rupees in 24 days, which at current exchange rates comes out to just under $20 per day. This is actually on the high end for a backpacker budget, however given that prices are so cheap that I didn’t spend much time worrying about cutting costs.
Accommodation was my largest cost, and while some of these numbers are inflated because they represent the full price of a double room it mostly balances out with the nights I used hotel points to stay for free. [As an aside, the Doubletree by Hilton in Agra is a fantastic use of HHonors points.] If you’re traveling as a group the private rooms makes sense (there’s often a negligible difference in cost between two dorm beds and a private room), but if you’re going solo you can find dorms in some of the more tourist cities. I stayed at the Zostel in Delhi for one night (the 21st), and our guesthouse in Varanasi was just across an alley from the Shiva Guest House that had dorms and was super popular. I did notice, especially in Delhi, that there was rarely a correlation between cost and quality in accommodation. This is a city that you’d do well to book only the first night so that you can check the place out before committing to longer.
Food seems to have accounted for a lot of my budget as well, which is puzzling because food in India is quite cheap. I got lazy at the end and ordered room service a few times, which is never the budget option, and while suffering stomach issues I was less likely to eat at the smaller local joints. Also, beer and booze is expensive compared to the cheapest meals so if you want to spend as little as possible that’s an easy area to make cuts.
Travel was more expensive than I expected largely because I visited during the winter holidays and many of the cheaper tickets were sold out weeks in advance. This meant that we had to grab pricier tickets sometimes, and ended up booking through the Foreign Tourist Bureau and paying a surcharge for doing so. This figure also includes several days where I got around largely by auto-rickshaw (and solo, so it wasn’t a split cost). This is actually pretty cheap to do, as long as you negotiate and are willing to walk away from a driver who wants to be ridiculous.
Tourism fees weren’t too bad, even if it is frustrating to see the Indian price at like 10% of the foreigner charges. I ended up not going to the Taj Mahal at all because the weather was bad, but that would have been an extra ~750 Rs or so. In some places, notably Varanasi here, the city itself IS the attraction. It doesn’t cost anything to walk up and down that ghats all day long, though the endless boat drivers and barbers and masseuses and sadhus would tell you otherwise.
Visas for India aren’t accounted for here, since I got mine several years ago (expensive at $160 or so, but as an American applying in the US I was able to get one good for 10 YEARS). For a time, Visa On Arrival (30d, single-entry) was available for quite a few nationalities but some reports say this has been discontinued as of January 2015. Now you have to apply online before you leave, and print a voucher to redeem for a visa on arrival in India. These still seem to be limited to 30d/single, however, so Americans in particular will probably do better to apply at a consulate/embassy beforehand.
Of the Other random expenses, half was because I’m addicted to sending postcards. It costs 15 Rs to send one internationally, so if you have twenty or thirty people you’ve been meaning to write to this is a good place to do it! Also note that you should read ‘tips’ as ‘bribes’ but sometimes you just gotta make things work they way you want them to.
If you’re looking to really save money, I’d suggest:
– Don’t drink.
– Eat local, at small roadside shops.
– Travel on the cheapest tickets you can find (which will normally be unreserved – be prepared for a melee) or take the bus.
Nothing extraordinary and really advice that will serve you well anywhere in the world. Keep in mind that ‘cheap’ is relative, however, and to be frank I’m at a point as a traveler that I’d probably be booking the more expensive trains even if the cheap seats were available.
So, there you have it. Any other tips for traveling India on a budget that I should know before I go back? Leave a comment and let me know!