India. When we began contemplating where to go after Europe, we knew that it had to be somewhere different. Though Europe is amazing, we weren’t being pushed to experience a completely different lifestyle in the way that we hoped to.
Our final two choices came down to the east coast of Africa, or the subcontinent of India. If it wasn’t obvious from the title of this post, India was the winner.
We didn’t know much about India other than the fact that most people either loved it and swore it changed their life, or hated it with a burning passion. After spending three full months there, we can see how both types of people arrive at their conclusions.
India is dirty. It’s smelly, smoggy, dusty, a litter mine, you name the type of gross and it can be found. Soap is a rarity, toilet paper is almost non existent, and bugs of every kind live wherever they please. Many of the citizens do not respect each other, and female safety is a legitimate daily concern.
But India is also stunningly beautiful. It has some of the best landscapes in the world. The cuisine is bursting with flavor. The art and textiles are vibrant and one of a kind. Many people will welcome you into their homes as if you were family, and the children just want to be kids like everywhere else.
India is a place of parallels and changed our outlook on many aspects of life. In addition to being an incredible place to explore, India is a very inexpensive country to travel through. We stayed in India for three months and spent a grand total of $3,978. Split between two people, that’s $1,989, or $663 per month. Keep reading to find out how we did it!
While booking accommodation in India is not difficult, there are less options available than when booking in westernized countries. Our favorite way to travel is through Airbnb, but we found that aside from global cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore, there really weren’t a lot of options. Be prepared to stay in either hotels, hostels, or guesthouses through much of India.
Our nightly budget for accommodation in India was $20, which is a generous amount for most of India. Every booking we made was well under this price per night, with the exception of Mumbai. During the three months we traveled through India, we spent a total of $1,108 on accommodation. That’s $12 a day for two people, or $6 a day per person.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that most hostels in India were higher quality than hostels in Europe, and for much better prices. On average, a hostel bunk in India costs $4-6 per person each night. In lieu of shared rooms, many nearby guesthouses rent out private rooms, which range from $8-15 per night.
The tricky thing about housing in India is that the line between basic accommodation and high quality accommodation has a very large price difference. Budget travelers will have an easy time finding affordable places to stay, but those craving western amenities should expect to pay for a 4 or 5 star hotel, which averages $100+ per night in India.
We looked into mid range accommodation at 3 star hotels, but found more often than not that the hotels were infested with bugs or lacked basic amenities, like windows and private bathrooms. We were more impressed with the quality for price we received for budget accommodation than mid-range accommodation, and would recommend either choosing high end or budget stays when visiting India.
When booking accommodation in India, there a few things to keep in mind:
1. Visit the Property
While many times planning accommodation ahead of time is helpful, this isn’t always the case in India. Particularly for long stays, it’s far better to book one night at a highly rated guesthouse, and then spend an hour or two “shopping” for other options. Many times we found places that weren’t advertised online that had better amenities and lower rates than the original place we booked.
2. Read the Reviews
Many budget guesthouses and hostels do not include photos of their property, or include poor or outdated ones. This is a common reality in India, so rely on previous reviews, particularly those with details for a rough understanding of what’s included. Look for reviews that state “hot water”, “clean premises”, “comfortable beds”, and “good wifi”.
3. Be Flexible
Unless you book every night in India at hotels like the Marriott or Hyatt, expect to lower your standards for accommodation. Things like constant hot water, absence of bugs, and quality food are likely to not be present at some of the places you stay, especially in rural India. Arriving with low or no expectations can alleviate some of the stress of not having western amenities.
To get a better idea of how far your money will go, we’ve ranked the cities we visited by accommodation cost. Below you’ll find the top 3 most expensive cities we stayed at in India, as well as the top 3 cheapest cities we stayed in. All of these costs represent either Airbnb or hostel stays.
|Top 3 Expensive Cities We Visited||Price Per Night on a $20 Budget||Top 3 Cheapest Cities We Visited||Price Per Night on a $20 Budget|
|Mumbai, India||$32||Manali, India||$9|
|New Delhi, India||$22||Agra, India||$10|
|Kochi, India||$15||Udaipur, India||$12|
With our accommodation costs so low, we were able to eat as cheaply or as extravagantly as we wanted to. Food is a tricky game in India, because the water is unsafe to drink and many basic food storage standards in western countries do not exist in India.
We followed a general rule of thumb of only eating street food from vendors that had a queue, and sticking to restaurants that had good reviews. For the most part, these principles kept us healthy, though Greg did experience a bout of food poisoning after eating a vegetable dish where the food hadn’t been properly stored.
As a safety precaution, we would not recommend eating any meat in India unless you prepare it yourself. Every time we tried a chicken or beef dish, sections of the meat were not fully cooked. Meat dishes aren’t very common in India because of Hindu beliefs, so if you can go vegetarian while there you’ll probably have some tastier meals anyway!
While we typically like to cook our own meals, we found due to the lack of Airbnb’s that it was seldom an option. Luckily, food in India doesn’t cost very much. A typical meal on the street may run $1-3, and a decent meal at a restaurant costs $5-10. We ate a fantastic 4-course meal at a nice restaurant in Mumbai for $40. Overall, our total food cost for three months in India was $1,382. That’s $16 a day for two people, or $8 a day per person.
Last but not least, transportation. We published a full post on transportation in India here, but will touch on it lightly in this post as well. Transportation in India is very cheap, but can also be very difficult to navigate.
During our three months in India, we collectively spent $265 on rickshaw and Uber rides inside each city, and $393 on flights, trains, and longer busses to switch cities and leave the country. Added together for a grand total of $658, that breaks down to about $7.50 per day for two people, or $3.75 per person.
The easiest and fastest way to get around is by plane, and if planned in advance isn’t too expensive. Trains and busses typically cost $5-15 per person, but take much longer and are difficult to book without an Indian phone number and bank account. If you have any plans to take ground transportation, we recommend booking with a travel agent in the city, who will charge a $1 fee in exchange for booking your ticket.
For a more in depth look at navigating India, check out our full transportation post here.
Accommodation, food, and transportation are the biggest costs you’ll have when traveling India, unless you happen to get sick enough for a hospital visit. We met several people on the trip who this had happened to, which is another reason to have a global travel insurance policy.
Though we did not have to pay for hospital expenses, we still had a few extra costs during our time in India. As we mentioned in our 9 Months in Europe post, every month we pay a phone bill of $90 to T-Mobile so that we can both have data automatically in every country. In India, this bill went up by about $20 per month because we used Uber to get around, and the international driver calls cost 20 cents per minute for each call.
Additionally, our 5×5 storage unit with all of our belongings costs $60 per month, and our car insurance for the car we keep in storage is $40 per month. Added together, we paid $669 in phone, insurance, and storage bills while in India.
Be sure to factor in what types of souvenirs you’ll want to bring back from India, because it truly feels like another world, and many states are known for having exquisite textiles, rugs, and fabrics. We shipped one medium sized box back to the states for Christmas for about $15.
Lastly, you will very likely need a visa to visit India! We obtained our 3 month visas while in Spain, and paid $75 per person.
The Total Cost for Three Months in India
Traveling through India has been one of the toughest, but most rewarding experiences we’ve had during our travels. While it certainly isn’t for everyone, it’s a life changing experience for those who do go.Here’s one last full breakdown of how much it costs to travel India for three months.
|Total For Two People||Price Per Person||Cost Per Person Per Day Over Three Months|
|Bills and Boxes||$684||$342||$4|
|Grand Total in India||$3,978||$1,989||$23|
On $23 per day, per person we were able to live somewhat comfortably and eat as much as we wanted. We do some freelance work while we travel, and increased our net worth while in India thanks to the low cost of living. This budget could easily slide up or down depending on how high or low your standards are for accommodation, housing, and transportation.
Though India is a rougher and tougher place to travel, it’s a great place for adventurers who are open to new experiences and who have a lower budget. With the exception of the high life that can be found in Mumbai and parts of Goa, expect services to be very basic.
We could have easily spent more money on accommodation in India, but found that we gained a better local insight when staying in budget guesthouses. We also could have saved more money on food, but preferred to have quality, safe meals. Our costs reflect this, and we advise anyone traveling to India to adjust their budgets according to their preferences.
India is the most vibrant country we’ve ever been to, and will remain part of our lives forever.
When we began planning a route through India, Manali was high on our “must visit” list. Though not a major city by any means, Manali has been highlighted more and more as a stunning destination. Located high up in the Himalayas, Manali is a hill station, adventure sport capital, and outdoor wonderland.
One of the best things about Manali is that it offers something for everyone. Thrill seekers come for the large variety of winter adventure sports. Photographers hike for the stunning nature views. Many come to escape the bustle of India’s city life, and some end up staying for good.
In Manali, everyone feels like family, masala tea is guzzled more often than water, and people prioritize mindfulness and leisure. Not convinced of a visit yet? Here’s our top 10 photos of Manali to try and persuade you.
Scenic Views From Our Guesthouse in Old Manali
Early Morning Shot of a Lone Owl
Our Off-roading 4×4 at the Summit
River Beas Running Through Manali
Waterfall Captured on a Hike
First Light in Old Manali
Traditional Himalayan Kitchen
Eagle Soaring Over Layers of Mountains
Gazing at Manali’s Incredible Scenery
I can count on one hand how many times I’ve felt homesick this year. Once the night we left my Mom’s house in Wisconsin. A few times around the six month mark of our travels, and this year as the holiday season started.
While I was mentally prepared for the time spent away from my family, I never took time to process what being abroad for the holidays would feel like. Last week, as my Facebook feed started to fill with friends traveling home, families reunited with pets, and cooking frenzy’s beginning, I truly felt homesick.
Thanksgiving has been a long standing family tradition in my family, and the day is typically filled with a kitchen full of chefs, met later with a giant table of hungry friends and family members. The smells of pumpkin pie and hot apple cider waft through the house as shrieks of laughter from little ones add the perfect ambiance to the ultimate “family day”.
This year, I was at a complete loss on how to celebrate Thanksgiving in India. We’ve been staying in hostels since they’re actually nicer than Airbnb’s and many hotels in India. Though our accommodation had a massive kitchen, there was no oven, no family, and certainly no chance of a turkey.
Greg, ever the optimist, suggested that we splurge a little, and celebrate Thanksgiving in India, turkey and budget be damned. After several prods I agreed, and turned to the ultimate source of inspiration: Pinterest.
Typing phrases like “no bake stuffing” and “pumpkin puree from scratch” had me feeling like a Thanksgiving fraud, but Pinterest came through for me in the end. After a few hours of creative searching, I compiled a list of recipes and ingredients that I was reasonably confident existed in India.
The next day Greg and I headed to the most modern part of Jaipur, where Google said two expat grocery stores existed. The grocery trip ended up taking three hours, two Hindi translators, and a bit of improvisation when we couldn’t find western ingredients.
Fun fact: Mix white sugar with molasses or honey to create a DIY brown sugar!
Some luxury imported ingredients ended up costing us extra, like $15 for a bag of frozen cranberries, and $11 for 250 grams of pecans. Luckily, we made up those costs by the low cost of fruits and veggies, and only spent $5 on apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and 2 pumpkins. In total, the entire shopping list was around $120.
When we returned to the hostel, I ran into two girls from America. Sarah, from Minnesota, and Chloe, from California. We were all feeling the Thanksgiving blues, and decided to cook the meal together for a ‘Friendsgiving’.
Word quickly spread of our endeavor, and over the course of the afternoon we acquired waves of people eager to help chop, slice, and whisk together the meal. I am so grateful that Sarah and Chloe were cooking as well, because I largely underestimated the amount of work it was to create every dish scratch.
After four hours of cooking, we had prepared a meal of fresh pumpkin soup, garlic mashed potatoes with bacon bits, sweet potatoes with a caramelized pecan topping, apple onion stuffing, brown sugar glazed carrots, and cranberry marshmallow fluff.
Twenty people, most of whom hadn’t grown up with the holiday of Thanksgiving, embodied it’s namesake and traditions in an incredibly beautiful, authentic way.
What had started as a resentful holiday ended up being one of my favorite travel moments of the year. As the meal wrapped up and everyone slipped into their respective food coma, I FaceTimed with my family to wish them a happy start to their Thanksgiving. Greg and I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, and will remember our Thanksgiving in India forever.