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This past summer I spent 6 weeks backpacking in India with one of my very best friends.
One of the most common questions I get is how did I manage to do this as a “broke college student”? So here it is- the 10 best budget-saving tips to travel India on a super (like super) tight budget!
Number one because this was the handiest, greatest, most-useful thing I have ever had traveling! Trabug is basically a rent a phone service. You can choose between a variety of packages depending on how much data you want, and they deliver the phone right to where you are staying! The phone comes with apps like Olacab (which I will talk about later), RedBus, WhatsApp, and audio tour guides pre downloaded. When your time in India is over, they pick it up from you! During the month that we used the phone we had to call their help line once, our issue was immediately taken care of, and they gave us extra data for the trouble. Before my trip, I was debating whether or not I would get a sim card because I was super intimidated by some of the things I had read about all of the paperwork you need to fill out, the possible delay in service, etc. and I am SO HAPPY we went this route!
The first 3 weeks of our trip were spent backpacking around in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. In each city we stayed in an Airbnb and had exceptional experiences! If you want specific recommendations, please reach out! We are talking about views of the Taj Mahal from your roof, with home cooked meals for less than $20 a night.
- If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you’re missing out. Get $40 off your first time using Airbnb!
This honestly was one of our biggest difficulties while traveling in India. At least half of the ATMs we went to did not work. But the exchange rate they give you (in comparison to that of the airports) is significantly better! To deal with this, we would take out as much cash as we could whenever possible.
(On that note.. I was anticipating credit/debit options to be more available than they were. The majority of places you go to will NOT take cards. ONLY CASH. And of the handful of places I used my card, I returned home to phone calls from my bank that my debit card was hacked. Just be cautious.)
I went to local convenience stores a few times and quickly learned to buy the unknown, Indian brand of whatever you were looking for. We got crackers one morning and the familiar brands were easily 4-5 times more expensive than the Indian versions. (Plus, I think that is half the fun of traveling- to try all the different foods and drinks that you wouldn’t have at home!)
Think Uber or Lyft, but India style! This came downloaded on our Trabug phone and we used it nearly every day. There are options to get a ride from both a car or a tuk tuk, to have a private ride or ride along with other passengers. Most of our ola cab rides were about 100 rupees (less than $1.50) for a 15-20 minute ride. Similarly to how Uber works, if you wait a couple of minutes or walk to a more central location, the price often will drop.
Most of my lengthy travel in India was via domestic flights. I flew from Johdpur to Dehradun for $30 on Jet Blue, and that even included food! It was more expensive than taking the bus or train, but much more time efficient. My recommendation is that once you have already taken an Indian train ride, save the time because there is so much to see in India.
- Trying to find good deals on flight? Read this post to see how I find $400 roundtrip flights to Europe on the reg.
Shopping in India is SO MUCH FUN. You will see more fabrics and gemstones and spices and hand-made crafts then you know what to do with. But when the store owner offers you a price of a few hundred rupees (and you do the math to find out that is only a couple of dollars), be strong. One recommendation I got from another traveler in India was to immediately counter-offer half of their original price. They say 300 rupees, you say 100! Expect to go back and forth a couple of times, but never pay what they originally offered- that is just customary business practice in India.
Do it. End of discussion.
Okayy, I’ll elaborate. Chances are, you’re going to get sick while you are there. Or scratched by a monkey (that happened to one of my friends from Australia.) Or you’re going to miss a flight. Or lose luggage. Or need to come home early. Sh*t happens.
My travel companion got sick and we needed to come home early. This meant we had to buy new tickets, on top of the ones we had already purchased. Before leaving for India, we were both pretty apprehensive about buying travel insurance. “Do we realllyyy need it?”, “But medical care is so cheap in India..”, “Let’s just save that money”. But THANK GOODNESS we did because our additional flights were fully reimbursed through World Nomad’s Insurance. (For reference: full coverage was ~$150 for our full six week trip.)
Bring your student ID
Nearly every “touristy” place we went had a discount with your student ID, even the Taj Mahal!
When you’re in India you’ll quickly realize that there are two kinds of people: “veg” and “non-veg” as they call it. About half of Indians are vegetarian and it’s significantly the cheaper option when you are eating out. Sometimes the non-veg options would run 2 or 3x more than the veg menu.
Do your laundry
You can find detergent for less than 100 rupees (~$1 USD) that will easily last you over a month. Any of the laundry places we found were 15-20 rs. PER item. Find a bucket and get washing.
Skip the “air con”
I was in India through June and the first couple weeks in July and everybody there confirmed that that was the worst time to go due to the weather. It was hot and humid and I have never sweat that much in my entire life. But when we didn’t have air conditioning, we didn’t miss it. Most rooms in India have fans and they were enough to keep us cool.
If you use these tips, you can easily maintain a budget of less than $20 a day (~1300 rs.). And if you are not going to as many tourist attractions or not interested in shopping, your budget can easily be closer to $15 a day (~1000 rs).
GUEST POST from Kaelyn Moody. Kaelyn is a wanderlusting, college student studying nursing, and travel enthusiast. Follow her travels and adventures on Instagram.