Looking for budget travel tips for India? You are at the right place. Because this is not your average budget travel guide for India. This is, The Bible Of Budget Travelling!
After living in India for almost my entire life, when I quit my corporate career and became a full-time traveller in 2016, I decided to start the adventure from my own country. This was for two reasons: one because I knew if I survived a few months in India and still didn’t give up on travelling I can handle any place in the world. There was no better place than India to test my endurance. And secondly, because India was among one of the most budget-friendly countries in the world, and given I had no source of regular income back then, budget travelling was the only way to go forward.
So my choice was easy, and I spent the initial 12 months of my travelling stint mapping the length and breadth of my country, before actually stepping abroad (except for travelling to Nepal and Bhutan).
My Journey As A Budget Traveller: A Little More Preface
When I was working, I used to travel during weekends and wonder how all those budget backpackers (especially from European and Israel) manage to live a nomadic life. “Where do they get the money from,” I always asked myself. I mean even if I could get that extra vacation time, hotels and flights always made travelling look like a distant dream. Cheap never seemed cheap enough. And sadly, this was happening in India, a country considered as one of the most budget-friendly travel destinations in the world. “If I can’t afford to travel in India, how can I explore the world,” I always enquired myself.
Then in 2016, I had it. I quit my corporate life behind, with little savings and no plan. I had no source of future income, and no one I knew was there to financially support me. My savings also, always, seemed too little to sustain my long term travel goals, particularly if I travelled the conventional way.
But as I quit my corporate life and restricted holidays became an invalid question anymore, I realised that there was a lot more to travelling than what I knew before. I no longer needed to take taxis and save time, neither flying seemed important. I learned how easy it was to travel – at least in India – on a budget as low as 500 Rupees a day (PS: I actually travelled on a budget of 500 Rupees a day during the initial 6 months of my travel-blogging stint). And this was possible throughout the country. In just a few weeks of full-time travelling, I explored new boundaries of budget travelling, that made travelling look more like a reality and less like a dream.
A Few Personal Case-Studies: Budget Travel Tips India Continues…
To give you an overview, my first ever journey (after I quit my corporate life) was to the Northeast Indian states of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. And I travelled around the area for about 2 months around the area for less than twenty-five thousand Rupees (including my Delhi-Guwahati travel).
The next journey in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir (from Delhi), for about a month, took between seven to nine thousand Rupees. And that’s not all, from Kerala to Gujarat to Goa, every place – as I personally found backpacking while keeping the expenses to the minimum – can be travelled for less than 500 Rupees a day. I even did a solo motorbiking trip across Spiti Valley in under 5000 Rupees, which included my food, fuel and accommodation costs, for a period of 9 days.
And how did I manage to save so much and travel on such a low budget? By trying a few budget travel tips that I learned along the journey, which included ‘camping to save money on accommodation’ to ‘becoming a local wherever I went’ to ‘using fuel cards if doing a road trip’ (we will talk about them all later in the article).
So let’s start with the topic in hand and discuss some of the tried and tested budget travel tips for India.
Top Budget Travel Tips In India
Use Indian Railway For Long Distance Travel
Cutting the long conversation short and let’s start with personal experiences… I once travelled around 600kms for almost 100 Rupees in its General Class, that is less than 2 dollars. And that’s how cheap Indian Railways can be. From New Delhi to Bangalore, where the cheapest flight can cost around 4000 Rupees (that too when you book well in advance) trains in India cost less than 900 Rupees with your own sleeper bed. Of course, the journey can take longer, but as I said earlier, if you’re not bound with time, a 36 hour Delhi to Bangalore train ride can save you a lot of money – not to mention all those stories you can get out of the experience.
Indian Railways comes with different classes, with the General Class being the cheapest and 1AC being the most superior and expensive. The hierarchy goes something like General Class-Sleeper Class-3AC-2AC-1AC.
Travel in General Class if you want to save the maximum, but be known that in General class you are not guaranteed a seat, and the chances are you will be space with 500 other people, hopelessly crammed in a bogie that has a seating capacity for just 50 people. So how to make sure you travel with The Indian Railways and still not end up punishing yourself? Travel in the Sleeper Class. In Sleeper Class, you will get your own bed on a fairly cheaper price (about three times the cost of that of a General Class ticket). If you want a little more comfort, try 3AC with Air Conditioned compartment and your own bed-sheet, pillow etc. In Sleeper Class, you don’t get a bed, and there’s no Air Condition.
I travel in Sleeper Class if I know the weather isn’t brutally hot or cold. If, however, I am travelling somewhere where it is going to be 40 degrees outside, I book a 3AC coach, which still saves me money compared to flying.
Use Backpacker Hostels
A few years ago, finding accommodation in under 300 Rupees was not possible everywhere in India. I mean where guest houses still didn’t cost much in small tourist towns, big cities like New Delhi or Bangalore were always expensive to stay.
But since the previous few years, backpacker hostels have emerged across the country and that has changed the reality. We can now get a dorm bed in a backpackers hostel anywhere in India in less than 500 Rupees a night, with many selling a bed for as low as 200 Rupees a night. What’s better is, backpacker hostels (particularly the chains of backpacker hostels maintain hygiene.
Throughout my travels in India, I’ve tried many backpacker hostels including Zostel, Backpacker Panda, Go Stops and The Hosteller, among others, and never did I find dirty bedsheets. Though of course, in a hostel dorm, you share space with others, if getting clean a bedsheet and saving money on accommodation are your priorities, there can’t be a better option.
And then, if you’re visiting small towns in the mountains, or even destinations like Varanasi or Rishikesh, you can get a private room for under 500 Rupees is. It was just the metro cities where guest houses charged big money, which has now been sorted by the entry of backpackers hostels.
So while travelling in India, make it a rule to find something not costing more than 500 Rupees a day. Accommodation consumes most of our travel budget, and we find a way to save on it, we will see that budget travelling is not a hard thing to do.
Carry A Tent While Travelling In Mountains
During the initial days of travelling, when money remained the most important factor for me, I majorly focused on the Himalayan region only. This was for two reasons: one, because mountains are love and I prefer them over any other landscape in the world; and two, because they let me save 100% money on accommodation.
How? By Camping.
I would carry a tent with me and use it for sleeping. This is how I did Spiti Valley motorbike trip, for 9 days, in a budget of less than 5,000 Rupees. I saved 100% on accommodation, by using my tent.
Carrying my own tent moreover enabled me to stay outside of the beaten track where there were no hotels and thus, enjoy the exclusivity of nature.
And because people in the Himalayas are kind, honest and helpful, never did I have to worry about personal security either. There were many times when I left my tent unattended with all the belongings lying inside, to explore a town nearby or do a day hike or something, and nothing ever happened. Forget stealing, I wonder if anyone had ever tried checking my tent in my absence. Yes, the Himalayan region in India is that safe!
Avoid Peak Tourist Season
Because tourism industry in India is highly unregulated, and there is no lowest or highest set bar for services or hotel prices, prices for everything shoot sky high (as per Indian standards!) during peak tourist season. Where prices get affected by in-flow of tourists pretty much everywhere around the world, I’ve seen such a trend to be affecting more in India and locals sometimes taking unrealistic advantage of high demand. So, avoid travelling during the peak tourist season at the moment.
For example, if visiting Goa, avoid the peak season of December to February and rather visit during the monsoon (between July and August) when the weather isn’t too hot and the prices are not affected by high demand.
Even today, when I am financially more stable, and travel blogging makes me money, I still avoid visiting places during the peak holiday season, because other than high prices, having to deal with the massive crowd at the destination is also a total turn off for me as a traveller.
Use A Fuel Card To Get Credits/Save Money For Road Trips
Off late, I’ve been doing a lot of road-trips across India and I’ve found that using a credit fuel card can save you a good amount of money. I recently did a 2 month South India trip (Dec 2019- Jan 2020) and used the Multi-Benefit Sodexo Card for fueling up my motorcycle throughout the journey. Where on one side it saved me from carrying cash, on the other side, it helped me gain a decent amount of cashback through all those transactions.
What’s better is, whatever money you have in your Sodexo card is not taxable. Meaning, if I had consumed 20,000 Rupees during the entire trip (to refuel) from my bank account, I would be using the money that was anyway taxable. But any money in Sodexo card is like points with no taxes to be applied to them whatsoever.
Earlier I was using my personal bank’s credit card that gave me loyalty points on every refuel, but the problem was they had a limited network of petrol stations and any refuel outside of the network earned me nothing. With Sodexo, that was sorted too.
Eat At Places That Are Not Serving Tourists
Food throughout India is super-cheap. If you stay away from the tourist trail and eat where locals eat, you can find a proper meal for less than 50 Rupees for a meal. And no, I am not talking about some offbeat Himalayan town, but metro cities like New Delhi or the over-rated Goa and Hampi.
When I am on a budget trip, I either live on street food or dig deep into the town and find a local eating-joint. Restaurants or dhabas located close to bus and train stations also serve food at nominal rates.
Other Budget Travel Tips For India
And then, there are other common budget travel tips to save more:
- Do you own laundry: as laundry rates in India are high (for some reason I’ve found that getting your laundry done in India costs just as much as it does in Europe. Maybe it’s considered as a luxury-lifestyle thing to do).
- Bargain for better prices: pretty much everywhere you go.
- Avoid renting a car and use public transport: it’s possible to travel throughout India on public transport.
- Don’t bother giving a tip: unless you are really happy with the service.
- Go street and local shopping: you can find street markets throughout India.
- Travel in a group: and share accommodation and transportation costs.
- Hitchhike: and travel around for free.
And lastly, Remember That Budget Travelling Isn’t Something To Feel Ashamed Of
During my early days, and while travelling on a low-budget, there were days when I ate where only locals can be seen eating. I hitchhiked in lorries. Slept at bus stations. And did my laundry in bathroom sinks. I was so pathetically frugal by nature that now when I look back in time and think of my budget backpacking days, I almost feel a little guilty. But it was those days that I made some of the amazing journeys of all time – just like I later did while volunteering in Europe and Australia, which was initially done with the idea of saving money but ended up giving some lifetime memories.
So yea, budget travelling can be wonderful, and you should not take it as something to feel ashamed of. If you are short with the budget, there is no harm in cutting down on luxuries and compromising during your travels. Some of the most amazing things happen when you actually step out of your comfort zone and experience life in its more real and conscious form.
Also Read: How To Travel The World On No Money