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 and daily India budget.
Sure, why not!?
Daily India Budget for Backpackers
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:
- Travel Insurance. I use World Nomads which is what Lonely Planet recommends
- a VISA. You would be surprised how many people email me saying they showed up without one and got sent home. Click here to see what one you need and GET IT ahead of time.
- Want more tips for traveling India or better yet to have me plan your trip? Buy my India Guide ebook and even if you ONLY read that, you’ll be 1000% prepared for your trip. It’s 6 years of India travel experience all wrapped up in an organized easy to read manner.
Budget for food in India
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
Lodging budget in India
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.
Check out this post for the best budget hostel chains in India.
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.
- Make sure to read my itinerary ideas.
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 and tours
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 of your backpacking India daily budget
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.
A few more tips to meet your daily India budget of just $20…
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!
- If you’re coming to Goa, consider buying my Insider’s Guide to Goa. Click here to buy it.
- 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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thanks a lot rachel for your quick response. as you mentioned somewhere, you have revealed the location of the secret hotel in goa. i will be regualr reader of your blog now. keep up the spirits. cheers!!!!
This is so so so soooo helpful! Thank you! A wee bonus is the mention of MoMos! Silly me didn’t know India has them.
Yep! Not everywhere, but even where I am in the middle of Karnataka I find them. Lots of Tibetan refugees here :)
Good tips Rachel ;). Also, I use the Schwab card too – best debit card in fbe biz!
Hey Ford! Haven’t talked to you in ages! Yeah CS is the bomb.
We’ve been SOOO happy with prices in India. We are paying a bit more than your average just as a splurge, but you are totally right – you could make it as cheap as you want to!
I think India’s a great place to splurge because you get a lot for your money of course. a 200 dollar room here would put you in a taj hotel
I had never heard of a sleeper bus. Wow. And that you can rent a scooter .. How much do they cost to rent?
Yes sleeper buses are really nice, and a scooter 100-200 rs per day
hi rachel….thanks for this informative site on travelling but in terms of budget i am self controlled in expenditure like saint … i have travelled in orissa,west bengal, bihar and jharkhand in Rs 100 per day budget except trasportation expenses… u know u can save lot of money by just talking with local people of place in which u r travelling in food and accomdation expense…
It’s great you can travel like that, but for a foreigner I would say this is next to impossible and for most Indians traveling as well- so I don’t want to lead my readers to believe they could travel so cheaply.
I miss being able to live so cheaply.
Hi colleen ..i am following u on facebook …someday i will definitely travel beyond India than u guys will be very helpful….but outside India Rs 100 budget i don,t think that’s possible … thanks u guys for sharing u r experience which help us in planning better and going beyond lonely planet type travelling…
Who wouldn’t? lol
Great tips! Although we also had to pay to see many the attractions in Delhi. Hoping that the no entrance fee applies for everywhere else! :-)
Yeah, there are some fees for the bigger places, but for me I don’t go see all of them because well I just get “templed” out lol
It’s amazing you can travel so cheaply there. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and India is notching higher and higher on my places-to-travel list! And it’s wonderful that I would be able to do it on a budget. That always makes me happy :)
So glad you’re wanting to come to India :) Budget travel here is truly amazing… you’ll have a blast!
Thanks for the tips. Looking forward to go from Delhi to Agra on the 27 February.
Love to read your stories.
I can’t believe you can travel so cheaply there! India is definitely on my list, and reading your blog is putting it higher and higher up on that list. Just need to convince my boyfriend now! haha
Haha yes after you convince him you’ll see it’s even cheaper because you can split rooms , they charge for a double room sometimes even if you are a single.
Thanks for the tips.
You really can live well in India on the cheap! Thanks for sharing – this post is bringing back some great memories for me :)
Happy to bring back good memories :)
Thanks for sharing this :) It really brought back some memories from our time in India. As a couple, we spend about $35 – 50 / day, depending on where in India we are. Absolutely agree that people should go for the veg food option…not only are they cheaper, but man are they delicious! Love the food in India, all of it. Great tip about the taxi meter chart too, totally forgot about that thing! haha. Also, what are the cheaper brands other than Himalaya? I have to admit that I’m one of those people who buys that brand…
Thanks for an awesome post. Cheers!
Thanks Dariece, I definitely can’t stay on this small of a budget living in Goa but while on the road like I am now in Karnataka it’s funny trying to remember how cheaply I used to travel. Other than Himalaya, just the off-brand Indian stuff which is usually the same because most Indian brands all are about Ayurveda- my Indian friends think foreigners are funny spending so much but to us it seems cheap because it’s less than Pantene or Herbal Essence (which is what I buy now).
Haha you must get asked this all the time! Great break down. And I would definitely be up for the veg Indian food over the crappy American pizzas too- much better deal.
I do get asked a lot!! lol and even with this post I’m sure I’ll still get asked A LOT!
This is the best budget post I’ve read so faar (and I’ve read a lot!). Thanks so much, really appreciate it. Love from Holland!
Thanks Ivana :)
Helluva guide! I’m planning on passing through India next year for my first time and appreciate all the India advice you’ve compiled so far in your blog :)
Yes, I like the post. Very helpful for sure for travelers. Street food obviously is a good choice during budget travel. If you roam around a city/town you will definately find makeshift shops selling rice, vegetables, pulses (example: Rajma), Kadhi, roti. Maximum Rs. 50 one time food expense and it taste good. All you have to be on time during lunch or dinner hours and check whether the food is hot or not. I remember in Delhi for Rs. 10 I had Rajma Chawal years ago during lunch. Recently I visited Bodhgaya in Bihar and for Rs. 35 I had a plate full of Litti – local food along with vegetables for dinner. Even during morning hours at Pushkar there is a shop selling Mirchi Bada and at Bundi a shop selling ‘Kachori’ famous among locals and is also less than Rs. 25 with tea. Try it if you wish. Cheers!
Great tips, thanks!! :)
such a great resource! the food looks amazing!
Hey! I was just browsing through your blog when I came across this post and there was one thing which bothered me – 750 rupees for a visit to Taj Mahal? It’s a SCAM. I know a few people who were once approached with a similar offer that the 750 rupee ticket will take less time for them to get in and the normal queue will take a couple of hours for entry. The truth is that people tend to go for that instead of standing in the queue which takes (a worse case scenario will be) 20 minutes. Yep. Just wanted to let you know. Beware of scammers, they’re there at the monuments too, sadly.
Hi, thanks for this tip, but even on the main website for tourism department it has this price. We did stand in the long long line with the rest, and all foreigners pay this fee.
Not a scam. 750 inr is the fee for foreigners and 20 inr for indian citizens. All these are official fees, i can attest as visited Taj Mahal and was asked to pay 750.
This was as per 2014. Not sure if prices have been revised now.
Hi Rachel, i’ve been reading your blog and taking notes the awesome tips you are sharing. I’m from the Philippines and travel is my passion too. I’ve been to India last 2013 but I visited Bangalore and Mysore. Now I plan to go to Kolkata and Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur and Delhi. And for sure the railways will be the cheapest and the best mode of transpo. i just got approved 2 weeks of vacation and I want to go back to India. I have tons of questions but really i don’t know where to start. Maybe i’ll shoot anothet cooment for my questions. For the meantime I’ll read and re-read your blogs.
I hope you find lots of information you need on my site, let me know if you have any particular questions later.
I came across your blog very recently, and I’m extremely impressed with the way you’ve planned your travel. Even as an Indian, I’ve made mistakes that you’ve told us to avoid!
Great article, you’ve found yourself another follower. :)
Thank you for following along :) I love when indian people tell me I’m doing something right haha it’s a big compliment
Amazing read. I loved your detailed analysis of the costs involved, very useful stuff. I’m heading to India in May for 3 months and will travel the whole place, really looking forward to it
awesome! have fun
Hi Rachel, so you’re saying you just bought SIM cards when you got to India?
Yep! I have a post on it. you need your passport, 2×2 photos, and copy of passport.
I’ve been stuck on your blog for two days..I’ve literally read everything you’ve put upon ..Great work I must say,you portrayed India just the way it is ,guess you yourself view India the Indian way now. This post ,it just shows how really cheap travelling in India is .I really wonder why don’t Indians backpack in India, probably too engrossed in making money for the future generations.. Great work ..Loved every bit of your blog
Glad you’re enjoying the blog! even though it’s cheap, many indians don’t make enough money to travel like this & it’s not as acceptable in the culture yet.
hi Rachel, nice article on indian traveling budget. I have been backpacker myself since I didn’t know the meaning of backpacker. Because it’s true that traveling is cheaper here then any other countries I know. But I was backpacking alone, slept in temples and ate their food, did hitchhiking, traveled wherever the next local bus took me and yes it was fun for a mumbai city born guy like me…
Then I met a gal like me and we started traveling together around India and it became more amazing but it became more expensive now for me… Only because she’s french…lol
so I completely understand your article and some comments…
Now for both of us now we spend together almost 1000/- to 3000/- a day… Depending on our hotel and the activities we do. Like in jaisalmer we did camel safari or in andaman we did scuba diving or we just entered to see ancient monument where she would pay ten times then me…
And how can forget those taxis and ricshaws charging me ten times the amount till the time I don’t start talking in pure local hindi and bargain like indians… You know wat I mean… ;-)
but sometimes it’s not necessary to have same energy to bargain especially when I have already travelled for 9 hours in semi sleeper bus in Himalayas… That time I just want to crash in my hotel bed…
I think I have shared alot already… After reading your well described article and comments I couldn’t stop myself… :-)
anyway my gf cooks awesome daal fry now and paneer butter masala… She’s expert in that… You can come along with your bf someday at our place in goa. We will glad to have you for dinner… Cheers.. :-)
Hi Jani, thanks for sharing! Sounds like you are having an amazing time!
Hello Rachel, thanks for sharing this post. :) Its very useful and informative. Currently, I am gearing up for a 6 month backpacking trip, that I may never return from lol, which will commence on December 11 of this year. India is my second country on the list, and it seems like I have found my guide blog.:)
awesome lol :)
Great blog and thank you for the useful information. I require some advice which you may be able to help with.
I have three days to spare and am planning a Delhi to Agra trip to see the Taj Mahal etc. and I’m trying to work out the best way to do this. I am happy to catch a trai n and do it myself, but I’m not sure if I can do it alone. Everywhere I’ve looked or asked, people recommend a car journey and a private tour guide for such a trip. I’m not sure what the best option is :/ I’m happy to do it alone or in a group if need be.
Hope you can help.
Hi there are lots of agencies to sell you bus tickets.. they are cheap and go there and back in one day
is it safe travelling alone for girl in india?
how to travel from kolkata to taj mahal? if going by flight, what is low carrier in india? thanks rachel
Hi Winny I’ve written articles on solo female tips for India as well as booking flights in India on low cost carriers :) please use the search bar on the home page to find!
While I bet this post (and a few others Ive read here) will apply, do you have any suggestions on staying in one spot? I want my first trip to be kinda stationary, get a feel for the place before I do any ‘major’ travelling in country.
You should look into renting a room on OLX.com to save money!
Havent heard of that site before, will check it out for sure (right away, becasue my ability to remember to do things isnt the best…)
haha, same here ;)
Hi Rachel! Thankyou very much! I might backpack India as a solo next year. I`m a girl. I often take my long train/bus rides overnight to save accomodation money while backpacking. Is it ok to do this in india as a female solo traveler? Gracias!
Yes! I do :) I take 2 AC or 3AC not sleeper class (anymore, although I used to)
Thanks for the tips and info. My partner and I will be arriving in India in March (fingers crossed with visa) for 6 months. Hoping to find 2 – 3 places to set up for a month, so will definitely be checking out more of your awesome posts. Cheers!
awesome! enjoy :)
Hi, what was the name for the 50 ruppee ymca in mumbai? and is this a place you turn up or can you book online?
Hi Chris, It’s just called the YMCA there are a few I think, this was the one in Colaba and I don’t know about reservations – If you can make one though I would.
do you think that generally speaking these prices will still be valid in 2017? travelling as a couple, we are budgeting 40$ a day for 2.
Yes I think so, they have not changed much in the 3 years I have been here.
It seems you had great time even with this small daily budget. Well done, Rachel!
Hello rachel, its amit from rajsthan.
Your posts on travelling in india are very impressive and helpful. You plz tell me a thing about most foreigners visinting india, how do they manage their long trip in india in terms of duration of time and budget. Means how they tend to manage their jobs or businesses there, while on vacations, and students how they manage their budget. Plz respond to this.
Okay…I’ve been backpacking India for the last 3 months, with 2 more months to go, so I thought I’d give my opinion on this. The budget the author came up with MIGHT be possible. But here’s the thing: you will need to devote LITERALLY at least 1 to 2 FULL hours per day, possibly more, just to the activity of haggling. Most rickshaw drivers and hotels/homestays will not give you the Indian price. You’ll have to do a LOT of standing/walking around, waiting for a driver that will give you a fair price, or walking around to find a hotel owner that will do the same. You will have to be extremely aggressive, and the hassle of getting these prices is not worth it by the time you’ve done it 50 times already. Also in many cases you will not get these prices, the Indians will not budge because they know you’re a westerner and assume you’d rather fork over the money than sleep on the street or walk to your destination. I’m glad I budgeted twice what she recommended to be safe, as that is turning out to be more like it. If you’re white, and don’t speak Hindi, do NOT expect to get these types of deals. This is just my experience of course, but every other westerner I’ve met here has had the same issues. Unless you plan on staying at an ashram or volunteer opportunity for most of your trip, these numbers are unrealistic. I love the Indian people and their culture, but to 90% of them all you are to them is money.
Hi Andrew, I appreciate your comment and it’s good to see another side of it. I don’t negotiate that hard, and shop a lot, and I did keep to this budget. I think slow travel helps a lot.
Thanks for the detailed information! We are planning on visiting India at the end of the year…on a budget:) Great stuff, many thanks – also for the inspiration!
WOW. How comprehensive is this! Excellent information and very true, although the prices have just got higher than 2-3 years ago. Yet this remains a pretty good guide for backpacking in India.
Yep prices are going up! boooo
Hi Rachel, this is great. Im basing my entire trip on your blog. Going to Goa in April 2018 and need your help with transport suggestions. We will be staying in the North of Goa for 5 days, then going to the South for 3. Since Panaji is the only place I want to visit in the middle, I want to include the typical excursions there on my way from the North to the South. Bearing in mind that we will have our luggage, whats the best way to go about this? Any ideas?
Hey you just hire a driver to take you South and tell them you want to stop in Panjim and Old Goa / Spice Plantation (if those are the places you want to stop at) on the way down. Will include in price. Then they stay at car with your luggage – you pay once you reach South Goa.