The Ultimate Budget Traveler’s Guide to Costs in India

India offers some of the best value for money out of any country in the world. Not only that, it also surprises visitors at every turn with incredible scenery, cuisine, history, architecture, and spirituality. We got Goats on the Road to break down the costs of traveling in this fascinating country.

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Food (US $0.25-5/Meal)

Not only is Indian food one of the most delicious and diverse cuisines on the planet, it’s also extremely affordable for travelers in India, with many meals coming in at under a dollar.

I once had a filling meal of curry, potato, bread, and rice for just US $0.25 on the streets of Kolkata!

Keep your eyes peeled for lunch and dinner thalis. These set meals with a variety of curries are almost always all-you-can-eat. The costs vary, but you can typically get an endless meal in India for less than US $2.

For a fancier, sit-down restaurant, you’ll typically pay around US $3-5 for a curry with some rice and some type of bread.

The best way to eat in India is to head to restaurants with a few friends so you can order a tandoor dish or curries to share on the table.

Buying food from markets is a great way to save money in India. Photo credit: Goatsontheroad.com

Accommodation (US $5-500+/night)

Rooms are also of great value in India, with many nice guesthouses and small boutique hotels costing under US $10/night.

My wife and I traveled around Rajasthan for four weeks and never spent more than $10/night on a budget double room. In our experience, even at the budget end of the scale, the rooms were typically clean with decent facilities.

If you up your budget to around US $15-20/night however, you’ll see a significant increase in quality and service. This budget will ensure that you have a private bathroom, a larger bed, and likely a television and air conditioning.

At the top end, the sky's the limit in India. You can find some beautiful, Maharajan-style boutique hotels for US $500+/night, and in Goa, there are some spectacular luxury beach resorts.

Transport

Most people get around in India by train. The rail network criss-crosses the country, making it extremely easy to get to where you want to go. There are also some budget airlines and buses as well.

Trains (US $0.10-3.25+/hour)

Train costs in India will vary greatly depending on the type of train you take, and the distance.

Longer distances are typically cheaper per hour than shorter ones. As a general rule, for longer journeys (12 hours or more), you’ll spend around US $0.50/hour on SL (Sleeper Class) trains, and around US $1.50/hour on AC3 trains. 

There are many different classes of trains, but the ones you’ll most likely come across are:

2S - Second Seating Class: These trains are much cheaper, with long distances not often costing more than a few dollars. But they can be dirty, cramped, and hot as there aren’t always assigned seats and there’s no air conditioning.

Long journeys on 2S trains can be as little as US $0.10/hour. These trains are so uncomfortable and unreliable that it’s worth avoiding them altogether, despite their low cost.

SL - Sleeper Class: With assigned beds that allow you to lie down all the way, these are more comfortable than the seating class, but there is no air conditioning and they can be quite dirty. Tickets on SL trains cost around US $0.50/hour on average for long distance journeys.

3A - AC 3 Tier: As the name would suggest, these trains have three tiers of beds with air conditioning. They are considerably more comfortable, cleaner and quieter than the SL trains. Rates average at around US $1.50/hour.

2A - AC 2 Tier: The best option for people looking for a balance between cost and comfort, these trains only have two tiers of air conditioned beds, so you’ve got plenty of room to sit up. They are typically clean with good service. Long distance rides are typically around US $2/hour.

1A - AC First Class: These trains will give you your own booth with a bed inside, air conditioning, food and great service, but they come at a cost. They are more expensive than 2A and 3A trains with most costing around US $3.25/hour on long distance journeys. More famous journeys, like the Darjeeling Express, can be considerably more.

Buses

Given the fact that the trains are so handy and comfortable in India, it’s only recommended to take a bus for short distances, or into towns that don’t have a railway station.

Some have air conditioning and some don’t. The cheaper ones can be as little as US $0.15/hour on long distances.

Find bus fares for more luxurious buses on websites such as RedBus, where most journeys cost around US $1/hour – depending on distance.

Flights

There are some budget domestic airlines in India, like Spicejet, Air India, Tiger Airways, and Indigo, as well as some affordable flights run by AirAsia.

If you can find seat sales on these airlines, it’s sometimes cheaper to fly long distances than it is to take an air-conditioned train.

Always check the airlines for recent safety ratings, as there have been some issues with unserviced aircrafts causing accidents in India.

ATMs & Cash

There are ATMs in pretty much every town in India, although some very remote places don’t have any machines, which requires some advanced planning for travelers.

Depending on your bank, you may be charged a small ATM fee to take out cash. 

If your bankcard is on the Plus, Cirrus or Unionpay network, you shouldn’t have any difficulty taking out money.

There are also many cash exchanges in most major towns and transport hubs throughout the country. 

Items for sale in Delhi. Photo credit: Goatsontheroad.com

Money Scams

There are a few scams to watch out for in India. Aside from being aware of your belongings and asking the price of your taxi or tuk-tuk before getting in, there is also a common bank note scam that you should be aware of.

As of November 2016, 500 and 1,000 Indian Rupee notes are no longer valid, so if someone tries to give you these as change, refuse them and ask for different bills.

In general, it’s a good idea to avoid street moneychangers. Instead, head into a bank or a proper exchange booth.

Daily Budget for India Travel

India can be incredibly cheap or ridiculously expensive – depending on your travel style.

I’m going to lay out some basic budgets, but it should be noted that even within each category, these can vary depending on what you get up to while traveling in India.

Low-end (US $10/day)

Typically, at the low end of the scale, a traveler can get by on as little as US $10/day in India.

This is if you stay in rooms that are only US $3-5/night, eat only cheap local food, and only take trains every few days or less. 

It won’t give you much room for excursions, entrance fees, or domestic flights, though. You’ll have to travel by bus or SL trains, and you won’t have much left over for entrance fees.

Mid-range (US $35-55/day)

A good mid-range budget for India would be around US $35-55/day per person.

This’ll allow you to have very nice double rooms, three meals a day (in a restaurant if you want), plenty of extra for excursions and transport on nice AC2 trains. This is a very comfortable budget in India.

Top-end (US $100+/day)

The top end category in India will start at around US $100/day.

This will get you into very nice historical and boutique style hotels. You’ll also be able to travel via AC2 and AC1 trains, eat extravagant meals, and even take a considerable amount of internal flights. 

Above US $100/day, the sky's the limit. If you want to take a helicopter ride over Delhi, drink US $300 bottles of wine and dine on the finest seafood, go for gold (literally).

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Watch the sun rise and set in the south, or find solitude in the far northern Himalayas. Our local insiders show you how to find peace among India’s chaos.

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