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.
After spending two weeks in Jaipur’s vibrant but congested pink city maze, we were eager to board our train to Udaipur. We’d heard nothing but good things about the so called “city of lakes” and were excited at the prospect of finding another gem like Manali.
The ride to Udaipur was our simplest yet, as the city was only six hours away from Jaipur by train; mere sister cities, by India standards. Upon arriving we instantly noticed something different – smooth roads.
Our rickshaw navigated the streets with a speed unattainable elsewhere in India, where the potholes and jagged road lines prevent efficient speeds and steering.
The second revelation we had was in regards to the air quality. Though still a busy city, compared to Delhi and Jaipur, the air in Udaipur was easy to breathe, and what congestion did exist was lessened by the two lakes flowing through the city’s entirety.
In central Udaipur sits Lake Pichola, a manmade lake with an island palace in the center. Bridges link the shortest portions of the lake’s edges together, creating an incredible photo spot. Adjacent to Pichola is The Fateh Sagar Lake, which offers evening boat rides and a sidewalk promenade to take in the views.
The lakes provide a sense of calm and quietness to those visiting Udaipur, and that feeling is matched with the charm of the locals.
As a part of Rajasthan, the Indian state known for textiles and silks, Udaipur locals largely specialize the arts. From theatre to pointillism to exquisite ink paintings, it’s impossible to not notice the love and care the locals put into their trades.
Craftsmen in Udaipur are always eager to offer a cup of chai and talk about their art forms, and we shared many memorable afternoons in the home galleries of locals.
With hilly views, tranquil lakes, and sunsets that rival the Caribbean, Udaipur natives have learned that rooftop eateries are the way to please tourists. Throughout Udaipur the advertisements for rooftop bars, restaurants, cafes, and guesthouse decks are endless, giving even the most fugal traveler an opportunity to enjoy the view.
We had initially only intended to visit Udaipur for 5 days, but ended up staying a full two weeks. India is a vast country with a wide range of environments, and Udaipur is one that you won’t want to pass by.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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 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.
- 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.
- When given an option between A/C and non A/C, choose A/C. India is hot, year round.
- 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!
My parents tell me that when I was little, I was the only kid they knew that operated on a schedule. I woke up and went to sleep at the exact same time every day without fail, save for one night.
As the story goes, I was a year old, standing in my crib in the middle of the night, sobbing my eyes out and pointing at my dresser. After trying the usual baby soothing methods, my Mom followed the path my finger was on to find one of the dresser handles flipped upwards, instead of downwards like all the other handles. A simple flick to change the handle direction, and their clockwork baby was back.
As I’ve grown older, my desire for order remains largely unchanged. Those who know me well understand that I love to be impeccably organized, have things meticulously planned (with an additional plan B,C, and D) and complete tasks with checkboxes on a set timeline. They may also describe my less stellar qualities as impatient or controlling.
Over the years I’ve learned that frustrating as it may be, I can’t force the world to operate on my schedule. Not everyone has the same sense of urgency that I do, and crying until someone flips a dresser handle just doesn’t have the same effect when you’re an adult.
Realizing a fault and changing a fault are two different challenges. After getting frustrated for the umpteenth time on our backpacking trip, I realized that life would be much easier if I could learn to be more flexible.
So, I imposed upon myself the most logical, time effective solution: 3 months of budget backpacking through one of the world’s most notoriously frustrating countries: India.
I figured that if I wanted to live life more flexibly, I should just get on with it already and learn the necessary lessons. So, off to India we flew.
Upon arrival in New Delhi, I was instantly overwhelmed.
Just outside the airport, several of my top frustrations greeted me with enthusiasm. There were bugs everywhere, and they were crawling on me no matter how hard I swatted. The smoggy air felt dirty to walk in. The blazing horns every five seconds set my irritation levels skyrocketing, and the sluggish data speeds prevented me from having control over our navigation in a new country.
It was then and there that I knew coming to India was the right decision.
Over the course of our first week I overcame issues that in any other country would have had me filing a complaint or calling the Better Business Bureau.
Our first Airbnb had not one, but two lizards roaming around. Slimy, green, creepy lizards that are meant to live outdoors. Not to mention the cockroaches who’s home was our bathroom, the lack of accessible, clean drinking water, and the smog that freely seeped into the house through poorly insulated drywall.
It wasn’t by any means easy, but I made a huge amount of progress during that first week in India. Forced to handle frustrations like insects indoors, loud noises, not feeling clean, and not having access to the usual creature comforts of western countries, I slowly started to become more flexible, and less irritable. When you can’t change your situation, what’s the point in getting upset anyways?
As time went on and we traveled further into the depths of India, both Greg and I were consistently tested with challenges.
The utter lack of disrespect for the environment is astounding in India, and the smells that accompany it can make one want to vomit.
The idea that it’s okay to keep the change, no matter the bill size, without asking, can be maddening coming from a society that pays back every small favor.
And the sheer decrease in standards for accommodation, food, and cleanliness took longer to adjust to than we care to admit.
In India, we learned how to not let a lack of soap, towels, and toilets ruin our day. When lack of basic necessities doesn’t stress you out, not much else does either.
We learned how to sleep through the honking that never ends in this country. The skill of quieting your mind before bed, regardless of your surroundings is incredibly valuable anywhere in the world.
We learned how to brush our teeth with bottled water, identify when we were being scammed, and deal with “Aunt Flo” in a country that largely lacks basic sanitary products. By taking away familiarity and comfort, a whole new opportunity opened to reshape our thinking and processing patterns.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I would find in India. My only hope was that it was a place that would push me to change in ways that Europe and the U.S. hadn’t.
In the past three months I’ve experienced growth in myself, my closest relationships, and my overall worldview. My initial goal of becoming a more patient, less irritable person was met, and I’ll leave India with so much more than that.
When you fling yourself into an environment entirely different than what you’re used to, new perspectives present themselves. Those perspectives allow us to consider problems from a fresh lens, and discover solutions outside the realm of what we thought possible.
For all its hassles and imperfections, traveling through India is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
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