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Planes, Trains, and Buses: How to Travel India

By Sara | February 3, 2017

Getting around in India can be a frustrating process. There are a number of ways to travel from city to city, and a number of ways to book tickets. Transportation was an area that we struggled with while in India, and hope to provide some tips so others have a better experience. Here are our best tips to travel India by plane, train, and bus.

Airplanes

If money is no object, flying is the fastest, easiest choice. Simply go to your favorite booking engine and choose your flights. If planned far enough in advance, domestic flights in India only cost $15-50 USD.

Tip: Before booking a flight, check how far the airport is from the city center. Sometimes the cost to the airport ends up being the same cost of a bus ticket due to distance!

Trains

India has one of the largest train networks in the world, and routes that will take you to almost anywhere. Train tickets typically cost $7-30 USD per ticket, depending on distance and dates.

Booking

The trick with trains in India is planning in advance. Tickets sell out quickly, and it’s advised to book 90 days in advance. There are usually still spots up to two weeks ahead, but this isn’t guaranteed.

To book a train ticket in India, you need to create IRCTC account. I’m going to be perfectly honest: this process is an absolute nightmare if you aren’t an Indian national, and doesn’t always work even if you follow the steps to the ’T’. Additionally, you MUST have an Indian phone number to book yourself.

If you feel like jumping through all of the hoops, check out this article for a step by step process to create an account.

If reading the steps makes you dizzy with confusion, or you don’t want to get an Indian phone number, your best bet is to book train tickets through a travel agent. Travel agents can easily be found in every city throughout India, and are typically located on the city’s busiest streets.

Simply tell the agent where you’d like to go, what date you’d like to travel, and what train class you prefer. The agent will charge a 100 rupee ($1.50) fee for booking your ticket, which you pay directly to them, along with the ticket cost. They’ll then give you a paper ticket for your date of travel.

**Tip: It doesn’t hurt to check with your hotel, hostel, or Airbnb host to see if they will book you a ticket through their IRCTC account instead. At the very least, they should be able to point you to a nearby agent.

Train Classes

When choosing your train class, there are several options. This article nicely outlines each option. Our personal recommendation is to choose the side berths in AC2 or AC3 cars for overnight trips, and the AC Seater car for day trips.

On the Train

Once you arrive at the station, find out where your train boards, and then watch for your car. The train car classes are written on the outside of each car, and you have 2-5 minutes from when the train arrives at the station to get on board.

The trains offer meals, typically biryani and chapati along with chai, and cost around 70 rupees ($1.10). From our experience, the train food is safe to eat, so you can expect a decent, hot meal.

Another advantage to trains is having a bathroom on board, although I use this term very loosely. The train bathrooms are quite literally holes in the bottom of the train (you don’t want to walk on India’s train tracks). Be sure to bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you, as the likelihood of either being present is slim to none.

Trains are a great way to experience the Indian culture and countryside, and will get you where you need to be fairly effectively. The major downside of train travel in India is how far in advance reservations typically need to be made. For travelers who enjoy a more flexible schedule, busses may be the better option.

Busses

Busses are another effective way to get around India, and often cost less than train tickets. The major advantage to booking bus tickets is that they are always available and can be booked as late as same day travel. Bus tickets in India usually cost $5-20 USD.

Booking

Booking busses is a bit easier than booking trains, but still has hassles. Services like redbus.com and abhibus.com show bus schedules and allow online booking, but typically don’t accept international credit cards or phone numbers.

Like with trains, the easiest way to book a ticket is through a travel agent.

Types of Busses

Busses in India come in a variety of types. The main options you’ll have are Seater, Semi-Sleeper, and Sleeper. Each of these options has an additional variant of whether you prefer an air-conditioned or non air-conditioned bus.

We found the sleeper busses to be our favorite type of bus travel. Each berth has its own privacy curtain, and enough space to stretch out entirely. Also, unlike trains, the berths don’t fold, so you can have a bed to yourself for the full ride without others sitting on it.

Semi-sleepers can also be a good option, but aren’t as comfortable as sleeper busses. The seats recline almost all the way back, but you have less space to adjust for sleeping.

Seater busses are good for shorter distances or day journey’s, and are the cheapest option.

**Tip: Not all busses are made equal. Volvo busses are the nicest busses India has. If a booking agent offers you a Volvo bus, we’d advise choosing it.

On the Bus

A major drawback to busses is lack of bathrooms and lack of food. The bus driver will stop one time for food, at a restaurant of their choosing. These restaurants don’t typically have great food, so we’d advise bringing your own snacks for the trip.

The busses also don’t have bathrooms, so judge your water intake carefully! Drivers typically stop one or two additional times aside from the food stop for a bathroom break. These stops can be on the side of the road or at a squat toilet facility. Either way, bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer!

More Things to Consider

Long distance travel in India isn’t glamorous, but is certainly an adventure. Here’s a couple more tips to help you on your journey through India.

  1. When making decisions about how to travel, take comfort and time into consideration as well as cost. Often the price difference between flying and taking a train is only a few dollars. The extra time saved and comfort had may be worth the extra cost so you can explore your next destination right away.
  2. When given an option between A/C and non A/C, choose A/C. India is hot, year round.
  3.  Always, always, always bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer. A tiny bottle of hand soap doesn’t hurt either.

Whether flying, taking trains, or taking a bus, those who successfully navigate travel in India can navigate travel almost anywhere else. A little patience and creativity goes a long way, and the stories gained from difficult travel are worth the hassle down the line. We wish you the best of luck!