8 important tips for budget travel in India
If you are reading this, you are probably planning a trip to India or already on one. If this is true and you need to save a bit of money, do not skim past this post. It is well worth the few minutes it takes to read, as my tips for budget travel in India will certainly be useful for you. I am sure you will be able to use them over and over again. What’s more, this information will also be applicable no matter where you decide to travel in the world.
When I first started travelling, there were no blogs to read. There was only whatever was written in the guidebooks as a shining light. What was written in them was gospel because there was no alternative information outside of books, and how many of them could you carry? Dont get me wrong, you will still need a guidebook, and please dont neglect to buy one. Guidebooks such as the lonely planet are an essential source of information. Today all the alternative information you could ever need can be found at the click of a button although it varies massively in quality.
Some blogs are brilliant and very original. I recently read a post by Asher Fergusson and discovered taking charcoal tablets will reduce the chances of getting the infamous Dehli belly? I maybe late to the table on that one, but I have never thought of that, and I consider it a stroke of genius. On the other hand, I am convinced some bloggers just copy and paste whatever they happen to find and call it their own.
All my content is all original with many unique aspects. I hope you find ideas you won’t find elsewhere by reading this. That means actually finishing this post will be worth your time as we all want to save a little money, dont we?
Presumably, at this point, you have read my post on how much is the cost of travel to India for a month and have a rough idea of what your money will get you. If you haven’t then do it now as understanding how you will structure your daily budget will be essential to make sense of what I am about to write. Now I will share my tried and trusted way of budgeting my money. While I would imagine it is unique to me, I suspect it will also work for you, so read on and see if you agree with my 8 important tips for budget travel in India.
Tip number 1 – Work out how many days you plan on staying away.
I suggest you total up the number of days from the start and finish. Be sure to include your flight days, too, because they also count. Calculate the number of days against your chosen budget. My budget is 30 pounds a day because I like a little comfort and say I book 100 days. I then will calculate 30 times 100 days. That is £3000, which will cover my basic expenses for the duration of my time on the road. By that, I mean the cost of sleeping, eating, entrance into attractions and travel.
Knowing the answer to how much you will spend before you arrive will give a much better chance you managing your money properly. If you read my guide on how to plan a trip to India in 5 easy steps you will see that this is the first step. Working out your money really is that important guys. For a realistic breakdown of what your money will get you I would suggest you also read my guide on the cost of a day in India. This post is of high value and you will be able to use this information repeatedly.
Once you arrive at your destination and clear customs on the Indian side, change a little money at the airport because that is by far the worst exchange rate you will get. That becomes your base rate for your daily spend. Say you get 88 rupees per pound, and you have decided your budget is 30 pounds a day. So your daily spend is 88 times 30, and that equates to 2640 rupees per day.
When you get into town, you will almost certainly get more. For the sake of argument, we will say 92 rupees per pound. That gives you an extra 4 rupees per pound. Change 1000 pounds, and you get 4000 more than you would do in an airport, but you have kept your daily budget the same at 2640 rupees. That 4000 you just made can be carried over for when you need it.
I hope you can understand what I am saying clearly, and if you don’t, please dont be afraid to ask. This method is cost-effective and well worth you trying for yourself. You will have to log everything but I will get into that shortly.
If you withdraw money from an ATM, you will still get more than you will do for cash at the airport. You will have to check your online banking to work out how much it has cost you. Banks at both ends will probably charge you something for the transaction, and the exchange rate will not be as good as you would get for hard cash.
You will also have to watch how the exchange rates and how they fluctuate daily. Keeping an eye on this can help you choose when to change or withdraw money for maximum profit for you. Again I will go into more detail on this shortly so read on.
Tip number 2 – Decide on your float.
The float is what I call the lump of money I have saved to do things not included in my daily spend such as organised treks, extreme sports, national parks, diving and just about any other extra cost you can see coming in your plans. If a large portion of your trip is on an organised tour, I think it is obvious to factor that into the daily spend, but that is not the case for most backpackers.
Very often, plans change, and it is good to have that freedom. Maybe someone says it is lovely over there, and you decide to check it out for yourself. But it is essential to have some idea where you want to go and what you want to see. If you have a coherent plan of the places you plan on going and the activities you will be engaging in, it will make working out your basic daily spend far more simple.
If you are stuck for where that plan might take you and you need ideas, use the internet and look for images that excite you. I often flick through guide books to get inspired or look out for bloggers like me. Using these resources will give you an idea of what states are budget-friendly and what states are not. I found Incredibleindia.org to be an excellent source of inspiration.
Tip number 3 – Keep a record of your spending.
Have a notebook that you keep on your person where you can jot down your daily spend. Record when you save any money from your total daily budget or when you make or lose money on the exchange rate. Anything that is surplus always gets carried over to your float and it is also your salvation when you go over your daily spend.
Keeping a record helps you not get into a mess with your budget as no one wants to have to come home early. At the end of every night, total up what you have spent, and you can work out where you stand.
Tip number 4 – Save money on transport in India.
Get overnight trains or busses to save on accommodation. If you have to make long journeys, it is better to do them during the night. If you choose not to, you will have to pay money to make the journey and then pay for a hotel. It makes no sense if that option is available because one cost can cover the other in your daily spend. Of course, if there is no train, then you cant use this trick, but if you can, it is a game-changer for your budget.
The good news is that given India’s vast size. the option to use this little trick comes up often. If the bus or train leaves late in the evening, you may have to pay for a half-day at your hotel, and that is a service many hotels offer. That usually means about 5 to 6 pm. That is still better than paying for a full night as well, doesn’t it?
When moving around cities you could negotiate the bus or subway systems instead of using taxis all the time to significantly keep the costs down. They can be a headache, but they are far cheaper. If you must get a taxi I would suggest you download the Uber or Ola apps for the best price. Better yet, get one of the shared tuk-tuk services you can find in many cities across the country.
Tip number 5 – Eat locally.
Eat locally sounds obvious, but it deserves some explaining. Tourist food costs more to buy, so the cost is shown in the costs on the menu. Also, because the ingredients are more expensive to buy, restaurant owners are reluctant to throw anything away. This can cause problems for you if you wind up eating old food. All of the worst cases of food poisoning in all my years of travel in South Asia have been from tourist restaurants, and when I say my worst, I mean life-threatening.
However, in the same token, you have to take it slow and build yourself up to eating locally every day. Many of us are not used to it, and our bellies will find it all too rich. For the first few weeks of starting a long journey, I tend to have a western breakfast and a local dinner. As soon as my belly is ready to take it, I eat local food only as it is cost-effective and tastes better anyway.
Indian people have mastered Indian food, but when it comes to fine pasta, not so much. I am sure Indian people feel the same way when they come to the UK and see our attempts at making a Bhuna. They must think, what on earth is that! The moral of the story there is when in Rome…..
Tip number 6 – consider the impact of domestic tourism in India.
When planning a trip to India, a useful tip is to consider the impact domestic tourism will have on your budget. It can be a far greater issue than it sounds at face value. All but a handful of the younger Indian tourists travel for more than just a few days. Think about that for a moment. If you were planning on going somewhere nice for the weekend, you wouldn’t mind spending out a little, would you? In short, if you are somewhere that the Indian people also enjoy, you are going to struggle to stay on a budget as prices will go up on everything.
Fortunately, what western tourists want from their holiday and what domestic tourists want tend to be a different sport. So much so I have seen that Lonely planet has written a separate series just for Indian tourists.
When backpackers and domestic tourists want the same thing, there are no prizes for guessing what most business owners will gear themselves towards. It is just good economics, in my opinion.
For example, there is a lake called Pangong Tso in Ladakh that was previously of no interest to domestic tourists. Backpackers could stay for just a few hundred rupees in the villages around the high mountain lake. Then there was a blockbuster movie titled The Three Idiots that was hugely popular, and it featured the lake. It took the local people’s interests, and now it is tough to get a room around the lake for less than a couple of thousand rupees. Public holidays can cause prices to triple overnight, so stay on top of any upcoming events to save your budget.
Tip number 7 – Take it slow
Please don’t rush backpacking! Doing this puts the costs of your trip up fast. Not only that, it stops you from taking it all in. You are only there once, so enjoy the moment and be kind to yourself. I often see my fellow travellers cramming far too much into their itineraries. What will ultimately happen is that you will spend all your time on public transport if you do this.
When I visit a major attraction, I budget about four days for my visit. For minor destinations, I will only budget three. If I have any time leftover, then good for me. I can invest that time somewhere else, but often that is not enough. Sometimes I will visit destinations to budget a few days and wind up spending a couple of weeks. This will happen! Especially along the coasts or on islands where you find your own little slice of tropical heaven. It must be a shock to no one that travellers are reluctant to leave paradise.
Try and keep an eye on the route as well. I suggest drawing it on a map so you can see what it looks like. If it is all over the place, you should think about changing it as backtracking costs you more money and more importantly, your time! You will probably only be in that area once in your lifetime, so it makes sense that you want the best value for money as humanly possible.
Tip number 8 – Think about the time of year you visit India.
If you travel to one of the Travel Inn hotels in the UK and it costs £66 a night in July, it will also cost the same in December. This is not the case in India. With the peak tourist season comes the peak tourist prices. Oddly this does not only apply to hotels. Costs of seemingly unrelated services such as a tuk-tuk can also significantly become more expensive. In some destinations such as Goa or Rajasthan, these differences can become very dramatic as you struggle to find a bed.
The cost increase will be noticeable as you try and stay on budget. I would suggest adding the extra rupees into your daily spend when you are creating your financial plan for your adventure. I will also add that just because it is the peak season, it does not mean it is the best time for your visit, and you will have to share your experience with oodles of other backpackers.
Before I move on, I will have to justify my self on what I have just said. So I am planning to visit Ranthambhore national park in Rajasthan. The peak season is shortly after the monsoon when it is cool. The climate is pleasant, but humans are not the only creatures that find this time glorious. There will be water sources everywhere, and the foliage will be at its thickest.
You will inevitably have to share the routes with scores of other jeeps whos engines will scare off any wildlife that may be sitting directly in the road. What’s more, you will be paying peak prices for having the luxury of all these handicaps.
In summary of my post on budget travel in India.
How much is all this going to cost? It must be one of the most frequently asked questions, and I hope my posts have been useful in my readers getting a grip on working out the answer to that question. Make a plan before you leave. It does not matter if you do not stick to it regimentally as long as you have an idea of what you want and where you are going. Get inspired and dream! After all, it gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning and face the grind of ordinary life.
Work out the number of days and work out how big your float needs to be, based on your predicted activities. Keep track of your spending and try and stay within your guidelines. Be reasonable with yourself when working out your daily budget. You want to be able to do the things you want, and that involves you being realistic. Ten dollars a day is simply not enough to survive, let alone thrive and appreciate what you are doing.
One final tip is to check out my post on scams in India. You are very likely to become a victim of one while you are backpacking across the country so I recommend arming yourself with the information to see the most common scams coming.
I know correctly budgeting your money is vital information for many of us, so I have made this post as coherent and detailed as possible. If I have missed anything and you have any more questions, just leave a question in the box provided, and I will get back to you. Try not to fret too much about the costs as India is genuinely excellent value for money. Just enjoy what is likely to be some of the best days of your lives. Happy trails, my fellow intrepid travellers and until next time.
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