10 tips for an economical trip to India

With its mountains, beaches, palaces, wildlife and gastronomy, there are myriad reasons why India continues to be a top choice for travelers seeking adventure. And while it excels in luxury – offering tourists the chance to stay in the former palaces of Maharajas and bask on the backwaters of Kerala in a houseboat with a private chef – India also allows for budget travel. without skimping on comfort.

With a little research, you can often find decent accommodations for under $13 a night and a delicious dinner for under $7, and with the following tips, you can equip yourself with the knowledge to travel smarter and enjoy the maximum of your time. Here’s how to get the most out of India on a budget.

Check the cheapest time of year to travel

Before traveling to India, it is important to think about the regions you want to visit and the weather. April is often the cheapest time to find flights when the temperature soars up to 80°F (mid-30°C) in popular states like Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa, while a a number of resorts close until high season begins at the end of September.

The monsoon season also kicks off in May with heavy downpours likely to dampen your tanning plans, but it will also mean fewer crowds at tourist hotspots and discounts on accommodation. For visitors to the Himalayas and surrounding regions, April to June is the best time to visit, and trekkers in Leh and Ladakh will find milder temperatures but larger crowds as families flee the heat of cities in seeking cooler climates.


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Buy a standard class ticket for the chance to get to know your fellow travelers © knyazevfoto / Shutterstock

Take the night train

One of the smartest ways to save money is to travel between cities by overnight train, avoiding the cost of a hotel. In Duronto and Rajdhani trains, the price of dinner and breakfast is included in the price of a ticket. On other services, fresh food purchased from vendors will cost no more than $4.

It may seem obvious, but the earlier you book, the less you will pay for your ticket. Reservations for Indian Railways open 120 days before departure, and you can book your train through 12Go if you are abroad, or you can do it in person at the station if you are already in India.

Get out of your comfort zone if you want the best price. For example, a single ticket from Delhi to Hyderabad might cost $71 in 1AC where you’ll be confined to a two-person compartment with tinted windows and only one other person to chat with, but a standard sleeper class ticket with open windows and lots of people for the company will only cost $12. Also consider the type of train you are traveling on. Duronto fleet tickets cost more than others because they are faster, newer and stop at fewer stations during the journey. Express and Mail trains are slower and have fewer services on board, but you will save your rupees.

Go off the beaten track

If you are traveling to a megacity like Mumbai, expect to pay high prices for accommodation, food and drink. It is therefore worth considering other large centers that offer just as many restaurants, bazaars and boutique hotels. Hyderabad, for example, is home to some of the best biryani, bracelet shops and Mughal architecture in the country, as well as museums displaying Buddhist and Jain relics, sculptures and textiles.

Instead of visiting the Maharashtran temples at Ellora and Ajanta, consider exploring the Karnatakan monuments at Hampi, Badami and Aihole, which receive fewer foreign tourists and are a much more peaceful and rewarding outing. Instead of fending off touts and fighting for a quiet spot on Goa’s crowded beaches, consider visiting Tamil Nadu’s Pondicherry with its beach walks, surfing and yoga.

Two women board a wooden boat at water level piloted by a man
Solo travelers will find better deals if they team up with others on day trips © Linka A Odom / Getty Images

Traveling in a group

Even if you’re traveling alone, it makes sense to partner up for taxi rides from airports into town or for day trips and excursions from your hotel, especially if you’re traveling alone. Most budget hotels offer multi-occupancy rooms, which can further reduce your bill. For example, a single room in a bungalow on Agonda Beach in Goa can cost from $24 a night for single occupancy or $30 for three people sharing a deluxe room. And if you ask nicely at the reception, the staff will often set up a camp bed in the room at no extra cost.

Learn the art of haggling

Part of the fun of trawling markets and bazaars is negotiating with vendors to get a good price. It’s a ritual and not just for foreigners: Indian buyers will also enter at lower prices than advertised. The key is knowing when to stop. Although a foreign tourist may be charged double (or even triple) the price of an item, remember that many of those you negotiate with earn low wages. Paying a little more than you wanted can make all the difference to a low-income worker who can then feed their family with your money.

An auto rickshaw pulled from above on the road during heavy rain
Agree your fare with the driver before setting off by car © Puneet Vikram Singh, Nature and Concept photographer, / Getty Images

Hop in a car

Often mistakenly called “tuk-tuks” – the Thai term for auto rickshaws – the cars are a fast and efficient way to get around. While Uber and Ola taxis operate in India with lower prices than regular taxis, any car will be stuck in traffic during rush hours. Cars, however, can squeeze through traffic jams and get you to your destination in the blink of an eye. Be sure to agree a package before you set off or ask the driver to turn on the meter at the start of the journey.

Check in at a hostel

In general, budget accommodation is easy to find in India with many small hotels and guesthouses available on websites like MakeMyTrip (currently not accessible in Europe), or shared by word of mouth. But big cities can still be expensive or booked in advance, and staying in budget hotels often means compromising on comfort, hygiene and safety.

However, you can still travel on a shoestring budget by checking into a hostel where you’ll find everyone from solo travelers to large groups of Indian college students on field trips. Founded in 2013, the Zostel Group opened its first property in Jaipur hoping to introduce a super cheap alternative to local lodges, and a much safer option for younger travelers – women in particular.

Offering mixed dorms, female-only dorms and even private rooms, Zostel has now expanded across the country from Pushkar to Panchgani and Aurangabad to Alleppey, with a bed starting at $5 a night with a shared bathroom and free Wi-Fi. and breakfast included.

Try street food

Indian food varies wildly from state to state and the best way to get a feel for local delicacies is to eat at street food outlets which generally charge less than $1.30 for a plate of freshly cooked food. stuffed. pani puri or fried pakora. Choose vendors with long queues that suggest they are well-known and reputable for hygiene and quality.

Fried snacks like cobblestone vadaWhere dose with sambar are generally the safest options as they are cooked over high heat and on the spot. Do not hesitate to ask for advice: local residents are happy to direct visitors to their favorite kathi– rolling cart or bhel puri seller.

Take an early morning flight

If you don’t have time to catch a long-distance train to your next destination, India’s national airlines offer scheduled flights throughout the day to all major cities, and many more in between. SpiceJet and IndiGo are the two preferred carriers, with prices starting at $43 one-way between New Delhi and Hyderabad if you fly just before 8am. The same flight doubles in price in the evening. Compare prices on 12GB.

Buy an Indian SIM card

One of the fastest ways to rack up huge costs is to use your own mobile to send text messages and make and receive calls. Instead, unlock your handset before you leave home or bring an old one and buy an Indian SIM card from Airtel or Vodafone.

If you are flying to Delhi or Mumbai, you can buy one at the airport. To buy a SIM card from a local store, you will need to show some passport photos, fill out a form providing a local address and contact details for someone who can vouch for you. It’s a much more inefficient process, but the fuss will save you a fortune in the long run.

Daily costs

  • Hostel room: Rs.500 ($6.50);
  • Basic beach hut for two: Rs. 2000 ($26);
  • Independent apartment: Rs.3000 ($40) for the whole apartment;
  • Daily transportation: Rs.250 ($3);
  • Cost of a vegetarian thali: Rs. 75 ($1);
  • A dinner for two: Rs. 800 ($10.50);
  • Bottle of beer: Rs. 100 ($1.30).

About John McTaggart

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