Another post for my “ask me anything” tag because this is a very FAQ about India. Everyone wants to know how much India is going to cost them and if I can break that cost down into categories for a backpacking India budget.
Sure, why not!?
For 6 months in India, traveling as a broke-ass backpacker I think you’ll need about 3,300 USD (not counting your round trip flight, travel insurance, and visas). You can work hard and do it for less and you could easily slip up and do it for a hell of a lot more as well.
That’s about 550 USD per month.
This comes out to about 8,400 rupees per week, or 1,200 rupees per day (20 USD).
It’s easily doable knowing that some days will be a lot less and some days may be more. It will average out. I actually did it on only 1,000 rupees (16 USD) per day easily, but I hate to give people too high of hopes for cheap travel in India- I might have just gotten lucky.
Before coming to India do not forget these two very important things:
If you want to stay on budget, try to eat Indian veg options. You can eat a meal for about 100 rupees on average easily ordering either a thali or a rice and veg curry with roti. If you start ordered 2 cheese naans and a coke at every meal, you’re doubling your food budget. If you start ordering crappy “American” pizzas and “chicken burgers” you’re tripling it. You’re going to be disappointed with western food from backpacker places for the most part outside Goa, so it’s best to stick with Indian or Indianized Chinese anyways.
Want to go even cheaper? Stick to street food, although mostly deep-fried and unhealthy you can get a couple samosas or a handful of momos for 10-20 rupees, or a chai for 5 rupees.
Each meal: 100 rupees
Daily food budget: 300 rupees
200 rupees per night // Shimla
300 rupees per night // Mcleod Ganj
500 rupees per night // Pushkar
I don’t think I ever spent more than 500 rupees per night on a room- except the 700 I spent (and split with a friend) while I was sick in Varanasi. This was over 3 years ago so prices could have changed… I know I’VE changed lol and couldn’t stay in these rooms anymore ;)
I got rooms for 50 rupees a day (dorm, which is rare), up to 500 (but only when I had a travel partner to split with). When I was alone I didn’t spend more than 300 per room. Sometimes I had someone to split that with, making it 150! These are basic rooms (150-300): bed, bucket shower, cold water, charging outlets, maybe a bottle of water, and a fan. The rooms that are nicer (400-700) will have hot water, A/C most likely, and possibly a softer bed. In the cold months, don’t expect a heater unless you pay extra. If you want to pay 1,000+ really the only thing you’ll get extra is a tv which won’t have English channels.
You should call ahead and negotiate on the phone. I used to say don’t book online but I am updating this now as I feel like things in India have started to change and evolve a bit. You can just show up in person still and many do, but I tend to book online now.
For booking online, I recommend Agoda. I used to stick with Indian booking sites, but Agoda is really killing it lately with the deals. All the Indian hostels are on Agoda as well and because it’s not an Indian website you won’t have issues with your cards not working at checkout & customer service can be better.
You will get these rates at backpacker guesthouses like the ones listed in Lonely Planet by showing up, but don’t expect it as easily in Goa. In Bombay there is a YMCA you can stay at for 50 rupees. Look for places like that in the city to save money. Basically anything that’s 50 rupees or a dorm is going to be roughing it, like really ROUGH.
Each night’s sleep budget: 300-500 rupees on average
2nd class A/C train
nice airy sleeper bus
Your highest cost while in India will be transportation… petrol is expensive everywhere. Ways to save are:
- Take the sleeper class (SL) of the train for big journeys –it’s FINE, I promise. 400 rupees for an 8 hour overnight in sleeper class, but on average about 100 rupees per 100 km in 3 A/C. See my train booking tips.
- You can go even cheaper on the train in third class or “general”, but you won’t have a seat to lie down on. It’ll only cost you a dollar for an overnight 15 hour trip!
- Lowest class trains are usually cheaper than sleeper class buses, and more comfortable; for overnight bus trips you’re talking 600 rupees. See my sleeper bus tips.
- Try to take local buses instead of rickshaws when possible for shorter durations. Local buses can be as low as 10 rupees for 30 minutes.
- Use rickshaws, not taxis, You’ll save about half the cost. Using bicycle wallahs is even cheaper. I took a taxi maybe two times. See my taxi tips to avoid scams.
- Share rides with people from train and bus stations to the “backpacker area” if no local bus is available.
- Know that the more you hop around the more you’re paying in transportation. Staying in a city for three days will really help your budget stay stable.
- Rent a scooter in places that have no local buses and expensive rickshaws.
- Lastly, here’s a little tidbit on how to be safe on transportation in India.
- If you want to go from North to South don’t waste two days on a train, you can get flights for $20-$60 bucks! Use Kiwi to book.
Weekly transport counting all small trips: no more than 3,000 for sure. Probably only 1,500 if you take only 2 big journeys.
Daily average based on 3,000: 428 rupees. It will not be this high, I’m just preparing you for the worst, so based on 1,500 it’ll be about 210 rupees per day.
INTERNET / WIFI /PHONES
It’s always going to benefit you to eat somewhere that offers Wi-FI and use your own smart phone. Paying 20 rupees for a soda to use the Wi-Fi is a better deal than 20 rupees per 20 minutes at a crappy internet café. The internet shops have a high rate in backpack areas so avoid them. Even if you find a guesthouse with “free Wi-Fi” its been added in your nightly rate anyways. Nothing is free!
Bring a crappy smart phone (look on craigslist or used electronic stores) and buy a SIM at the very beginning of your trip. Use it for domestic calls to check hotel prices or call a friend you met in India. This way, 500 rupees will last you two weeks or more if you’re not roaming. Read my article on SIM cards and phone suggestions here.
Internet and phone average: 20 rupees per day if you don’t spend time online except to making bookings
If you are online a lot and don’t have a phone which is unlocked for Indian SIM’s then consider Trabug. It’s a phone ready to go that is delivered to your hotel in India. If you have to buy an unlocked phone anyway, this will come out cheaper (and way easier).
Avoid if you can. Yes, they can be cheap and you could get lucky (once I flew Bombay to Goa off-season for 2,000 rupees, but this is rare). The best thing to do is make your route easily done by train so you don’t get stuck flying. In Peak season a flight from one side of the country to the other (let’s say Delhi to Goa) will cost about 10,000 rupees. It’s only a couple hundred USD, but it’s over a week’s budget.
Domestic flights average: shoot for zero! If you do need one, use Kiwi.
ATTRACTIONS / TOURIST STUFF
Most things like temples are free. The Taj Mahal is the most expensive place you’ll go at 750 rupees. If you’re here six months you won’t be seeing attractions every day. You might go two weeks without having to pay for one at all. If you’re going to visit the National Parks and do a safari these are also expensive. If you average this all out I’d say:
Attractions: 30 rupees per day.
THE FINAL COST
When I add all this up it comes to under 1,000 rupees per day. I tell you 1,200 because when making a budget it’s good to have some wiggle room.
That leaves you 200 rupees extra a day or 1,400 rupees extra a week to splurge on something like a camel safari or boat ride on the Ganges. Plus, you’re going to want to SHOP and get those 500 rupee massages.
BONUS BUDGET TIPS
- Everything in India is negotiable- fruits, veg, clothing, hotel rates, taxi… don’t be afraid to barter. When the rate is listed at a hotel, it doesn’t mean it’s fixed price. It’s the culture to negotiate and you should not feel bad about it. If they don’t give you a price you like, walk away and you’ll find it elsewhere or they’ll call you back and agree.
- Things that are fixed price are items in grocery stores. They will have the cost typed on them so make sure you pay only that.
- Tipping isn’t customary in small restaurants in India and when Indian people tip it’s usually 10-50 rupees even on a big meal. I am a tipper though, it’s the American in me. I round up at least and in fine dining restaurants I do tip 10-15%. In some places tipping is customary- these will be westernized places like Goa or any westernizes restaurant in any city.
- Don’t be tricked into buying Himalaya brand shampoo, etc. It’s good stuff but you can get so many others cheaper and people go overboard wanting to try them all and spend more actually.
- I use a bank card which doesn’t charge me ATM fees (Charles Schwab). This saves me bundles!
- The longer your trip, the shorter your daily average will be. I promise you that!
- Learn to read the taxi meter chart. It will tell you exactly how much your rickshaw should cost, but make sure you’re reading the daytime rates, not the higher night rates.
- Like I said your India visa, flight to India and back (check Kiwi), and your travel insurance aren’t included in this budget breakdown. You obviously HAVE to get the visa and flight! Travel insurance really is NOT the way to cut costs. A friend of mine owed 2,000 USD for letting a UTI get too bad, and another 1,000 because they got talked into a scan at the hospital when they went in for stomach issues. A broken wrist from falling on a scooter could easily cost a foreigner a lot here. They can take advantage of you at the hospital. It’s best to get the scans and whatever they recommend than assume they are taking your for a spin and just have insurance that will reimburse you regardless. I used World Nomads, which is approved by Lonely Planet and is used by all the travel bloggers I follow as well. You can get a quote here!
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