India is a vast country with diverse cultural aspects that not all travelers explore. It is one of the most popular countries for people to visit in Asia, and that is primarily attributed to its exotic nature.
However, with the fuel price skyrocketing, the pandemic, and the revenge travel trend, things have become increasingly expensive. Don’t worry, though. There are lots of resources and tips that you can use to keep the expenditure under check while simultaneously enjoying the country’s cultural experiences. Take it from a local who knows the ins and outs of travel in the country.
Here is how to travel India on a budget.
Tips to Travel India on a Budget
Street Food is the Way to Go
One of the must-dos in India is to go about tasting the local cuisine. You will find that there are loads of places in every city and town that offer a variety of items to choose from. Street food in India is a popular choice among foreigners and locals who aim to keep their budgets under check. The big bonus is that it tastes so good. The downside is that you could fall ill if you are not careful.
So before venturing out to indulge, make sure that you know all the tips and tricks not to fall ill in India. These are tricks that I have used while traveling the length and breadth of the country and have served me well along the way.
Try the Local Cuisine
Another critical thing to remember is that the local cuisine is much cheaper than trying to eat any international fare. Look out for restaurants that are bustling with local visitors. They are less likely to have inflated prices for each item. It is also another aspect where you can dive into the Indian culture.
Choose One Part of the Country to Visit
The idea of visiting all parts of India in a short duration is ludicrous. So, unless you have months on end and don’t mind slow travel, you should park that idea. Jetting from one end of the country to another is costly and time-consuming. You must choose one end of the bargain to reduce your expenditure where transport is concerned.
Since we are on the topic, let’s talk about flight costs. While air travel costs are incredibly high at the moment, there are a couple of tricks to getting a lower fare. For one, try not to book flights around the weekend. That is when most people travel. Mid-week flights tend to be cheaper, as do flights that take place mid-day or late at night.
Travel by Bus or Rail
Airfare is not always expensive, and you can get lucky. Snagging a good deal can take you across the country for as much as 3000 INR.
However, popular tourist locations like Goa, Jaipur, and Agra are harder to access on a budget when it comes to flights. Here I would highly recommend taking the train or bus. There are various kinds of buses which span from budget to luxury. Choose one that suits your budget. Alternatively, you will find that the train network in India is well connected. Most of us prefer this because it is easier to access bathrooms and stretch your legs at intervals. Don’t expect the trains to be super-fast, though.
Another great tip is to use the overnight modes of transport. Not only do you save time, but you also save yourself the expense of one night of accommodation. It is a win-win scenario all around.
Avoid the Expensive Cities and Go Off the Beaten Path
There are several cities where the cost of living is really high. Bangalore is one such example. I highly recommend going off the beaten path. There is so much to discover and see. You will find that accommodation and food costs reduce drastically when you ditch the high rises.
Hail an Auto Rickshaw
One of the most effective ways of traveling in the city is via auto rickshaws. Those of you who have traveled through Southeast Asia will probably know them as tuk-tuks. A few points to note when you ride in one. First, make sure that they run by the meter. A standard chart usually tells you how much you have to pay per kilometer traveled. If the auto doesn’t go by meter, then make sure you set the price before traveling.
A scam that sometimes catches tourists unaware is when the driver takes you on a long meandering circuit. Check your google maps and ensure you are on the correct route, or you may have to pay extra. Combining the trip with a fellow traveler brings the fair down even more since you split it.
Travel During the Off Season
No matter which time of the year you decide to visit India, you will find that it is peak season in one corner of the country. This is because of the vast diversity in the terrain. There is so much to explore, from the mountains in the north to the coasts in the south.
Most people try to avoid the rains, but the country has a particular charm when the dust is washed away. It is low tourist season, and you can move about without elbowing your way through crowds. Accommodation is cheap, the temperature is cool, and the country has a different feel. Don’t be fooled into thinking there won’t be much to do. This is when locals pull out their rain wear and venture out into the forest for hikes, visit and chill at the hill stations, and relax with a hot glass of chai or coffee. It is one of my favorite times of the year.
Use Hostels or Homestays for Accommodation
Hostels and homestays are much cheaper than the hotels in the country, and they can offer you great value for less money if you choose them wisely. One of the best things about staying in these accommodations is the connections you make. You get to interact with many people, which will help you learn from their experiences. Plus, most people who stay in hostels and homestays are also probably traveling on a budget.
Another great bonus is combining your activities with people you meet. Group activities are always considerably cheaper than solo activities. I find it challenging to start conversations with strangers, and we usually carry some travel board games. Usually, we invite anyone curious to join us for a game, making it a great ice breaker.
Bargaining is a Thing
You’ve probably heard about the amount of haggling that takes place in most parts of the big cities. Think of it as a dance where the seller quotes an absurdly high price, and the buyer quotes an absurdly low price. The negotiation continues until both the buyer and seller come to a number they can agree on. Haggling is usually done on the street and is never done in malls and shops. There the prices are fixed and non-negotiable.
If you have accumulated points on any credit card or platform, I suggest using them to book long-haul flights or accommodation. This will help reduce the overall cost of your trip significantly. We usually use credit card points for airline tickets and Marriott points for hotel stays. You will also notice that the big hotels run deals for members alongside the points. Sometimes they really make sense, especially if you are traveling with family and have kids in tow.
Book Everything in Advance
This is particularly true if you are traveling during peak season. People love to travel within the country, whether it is via rail, flights, or road. Loads of people head out on weekend trips. Peak season in India is crowded, and things get booked out quickly. This is particularly true if you are looking for something cheap and good. Booking earlier ensures you have all your ducks in a row when you arrive. Otherwise, you are forced to choose between less than ideal accommodations or those that are very expensive, which isn’t an easy choice.
India on a Budget: Final Thoughts
Traveling through India on a budget is definitely a doable task. Most of the places you visit will provide you with different experiences from what you are used to outside the country. The way people live changes from state to state, which means that even locals encounter new cultures when we travel within our own country.
India is where you will find your story, which you will retell for years to come.
Penny is the co-founder of GlobeTrove, a site dedicated to travel.