Although India may not be as budget-friendly as it was back when the hippies first drifted over to the subcontinent, it’s still a great place for backpackers who are willing to sacrifice some creature comforts in an effort to save money. Sightseeing can be expensive as entry fees for tourists tend to be at least ten times higher than for Indians. Like any large country, the price for hotels and food fluctuates widely between cities and regions, although we couldn’t always see why some places were more affordable than others.
While we can see spending $30 for a hotel in a big, modern city like Mumbai, for example, the places in Darjeeling often charged the same – and didn’t offer internet, heat, or hot water. Much of your travel budget here will depend on where you go and your travel style, as well as how much shopping you want to do. Many, many cool things will find their way into your pack if you aren’t careful.
The daily average cost for our trip to India was $42.23 (or $21.11 per person per day), although you can easily travel there for less if you’re okay with taking more risks on inexpensive street foods and hotels. We like western-style breakfasts most days and a beer or two each night, both of which drive up costs considerably. With a bit of determination, I think you could get it down to $15 per person per day, as long as you eat and travel like a local.
In an order to avoid some of the more unsavory characteristics of the Indian hotel room – bedbugs, bad neighborhoods, worn-down buildings and outdated furniture – we usually stayed in rooms that were one level above the cheapest. Most of our rooms did have fans, televisions, hot-ish water and clean-ish sheets. Once again, everything is relative. After a boiling hot night in Varanasi we moved to an A/C room for a couple of days, but this was the only time we enjoyed that luxury during our two-month stay in India. Like in Sri Lanka, the beds were always hard as rocks, and sometimes the pillows were so old they spat out stuffing as we slept.
Predictably, food prices in the urban areas were much lower than in tourist towns and quality tended to be much higher. The exception was the tourist town of Darjeeling, where the many domestic tourists ensured that the quality of available food was high, but also that the prices were kept in check. If we ate at hole-in-the-wall places or off of food carts, our meals were easily under $2 each. For instance, our last breakfast in Kalimpong – including three roti, two vegetable dishes and tea – was Rs.30 ($0.55).
Transportation costs were a bit higher than we had anticipated, partially because we took a first-class train from Mumbai to Jaipur and generally avoided the lower classes of trains. Some backpackers travel in sleeper class (the lowest of the long-distance Indian train classes), but I’m just not hardcore enough for that.
Here is a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not include costs to enter the country, which included $245 in airfare from Sri Lanka and visa fees of $177 ($88 each).
|Type of Expense||Total Cost
(for 58 days)
|Lodging||$631.59||$10.89||Our lodging choices ranged in price from $4.60 in Pushkar and Varanasi to $33.28 in Mumbai.|
|Food||$906.28||$15.63||Eat as the locals do for great flavors and prices.|
|Transportation (within country)||$476.85||$8.22|
|Entertainment||$104.49||$1.80||Includes the Taj Mahal, bike rides in Hampi, a Bollywood film, camel rides, temples, and Mysore Palace.|
|Incidentals||$105.70||$1.82||Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, and donations.|
|Grand Total*||$2,449.15||$42.23||*Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare)|
Some Examples:1 L water – Rs.15 ($0.30)
640ml beer from a wine shop – Ranged from Rs.60-150 ($1 – 3)
Dinner at a local’s restaurant, per person – Rs.150 ($3)
A small cup of chai – Rs.5 ($0.10)
Western style breakfast – Rs.150 ($3)