Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap
Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Take the Train for Dirt Cheap Transport
One of the best ways to stretch your rupees in India is by taking advantage of the country's extensive and affordable railway network. Train travel in India is extremely cheap compared to taking flights or hiring cars and drivers. For the cost of a single domestic airline ticket, you could likely ride the rails for weeks.
India's trains range from sleeper cars with bunks stacked three high to lavish carriages with private cabins. You can choose from five main classes of service: general seating, sleeper class, 3AC, 2AC, and 1AC, with general seating being the most budget friendly. A general seat on an overnight journey seldom costs more than $10 USD even for long haul trips. With India Rail's vast coverage reaching most corners of the massive country, you can rely entirely on trains to get around.
Opting for sleeper class is only marginally more expensive, usually around $15 USD for an overnight trip, but the upgrade grants you a padded berth and privacy curtain. Travelers report 3AC class, which provides bunk beds and AC, offers remarkable value at roughly $25 USD per night's ride. With these inexpensive tickets, you can affordably crisscross India seeing top attractions like the Taj Mahal in Agra, Kerala's tranquil backwaters, and the bustling markets of Mumbai.
The key to scoring these low Indian Rail fares is to book well in advance, as trains fill up quickly. Use India Rail's website or mobile app to check schedules and snag tickets. Be prepared for train journeys that stretch 10 hours or longer, but views of India's varied scenery make for an unforgettable overland adventure. You can save cash on food costs too by stocking up on snacks and avoiding railway station restaurants.
What else is in this post?
- Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Take the Train for Dirt Cheap Transport
- Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Homestays and Guesthouses Beat Pricy Hotels
- Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Street Food Offers Tasty Bites for Pennies
- Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Explore Nature and Temples for Free
- Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Haggle Down Costs at Markets and Bazaars
- Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Ride Share Buses and Tuk Tuks to Save Cash
- Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Pack Light and Wash Clothes by Hand
- Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Drink Chai Instead of Fancy Coffee
Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Homestays and Guesthouses Beat Pricy Hotels
With hotel rates often eclipsing $100 or more per night in India's main tourist centers like Delhi, Mumbai, and Rajasthan, many budget-focused travelers seek alternatives to keep accommodation costs low. Homestays and guesthouses offer a wallet-friendly lodging solution that also provides a glimpse into Indian family life.
Opting for a homestay over a hotel provides an authentic Indian cultural experience while saving a significant chunk of change. Homeowners provide guest rooms on a budget and often include home-cooked breakfast and dinner in the rate. For $25-40 USD per night, you get a comfy room along with personalized hospitality and delicious homestyle meals. Homestay popularity boomed after the government instituted accreditation to ensure quality, safety and a welcoming atmosphere.
Intrepid travelers laud Indian homestays as a highlight of their journeys. Sharing meals with your hosts grants insight into customs and daily life. City dwellers offer handy insider tips while homeowners in places like Alleppey enlighten on local traditions. You become less a hotel guest and more a friend or family member. Homestay locations range from busy Bangalore highrises to remote villages. Choose based on your interests or desired interactions.
Beyond homestays, India abounds with independent guesthouses known as B&Bs. These provide basic but pleasant lodging for bargain rates. Budget hotels crowd cities like Delhi and Mumbai, but guesthouses shine in smaller tourist destinations like Pushkar and Dharamshala. Amenities range from bare bones to full service with some hidden gems costing as little as $10 per night.
Savvy travelers use sites like GoStops to locate reputable homestays and guesthouses. Double check quality before booking. Read reviews and only pay deposits via secure methods. Confirm if sheets and towels are provided or if you need to BYO. Clarify when meals are served and if there are usage limits on things like WiFi or hot water. Be open and gracious with your hosts. Respect their home and way of life to gain a valued cultural journey.
Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Street Food Offers Tasty Bites for Pennies
One of the best parts of traveling in India is experiencing the incredible street food scene. Forget about dining in restaurants when you can join locals at bustling stalls and mobile carts serving mouthwatering bites for just a few rupees. Trying India's flavorful and affordable street food makes for some of the most memorable (and budget-friendly) meals on your trip.
Street eats like piping hot samosas, aromatic curries, and chai cost a fraction of restaurant prices. A filling meal often runs less than $2 USD total. Half the fun comes from strolling through markets with an empty stomach and loading up your plate from whichever stall's aromas entice. The fare ranges from vegetarian dishes like pakoras and dosas to meat curries and tandoori chicken. Seafood like fried fish and shrimp biryani tantalize tastebuds in coastal cities.
The best India street food pro tip? Follow the crowds and go where locals queue as they know the prime purveyors. Venture beyond the usual tourist haunts into local neighborhoods and you'll find hidden gems. Street food safety is always a mild concern but stick to clean and popular stalls. Check that food is freshly made and watch it being cooked. Avoid lingering spreads and go for turnover.
Fellow wanderers endorse street food crawls as the best way to savor India's dynamic cuisine. Chris Backe recounts taste testing Mumbai's flavorful pani puri, syrupy jalebis, spicy samosas, and rich kulfi ice cream all while exploring the city's neighborhoods. He estimates spending just $10 total over 7 hours of epic snacking. Melanie Pender describes joining an evening food walk through Chandni Chowk market in Delhi, feasting on curries, kebabs, parathas, gulab jamun sweets, and more for under $1 per Indian snack plate.
Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Explore Nature and Temples for Free
India dazzles travelers with its wealth of captivating natural landscapes and historic temples that largely cost nothing to enjoy. Avoid overpriced group tours and instead opt for Do-It-Yourself exploration to immerse in the spiritual heart of India without draining your wallet.
Nature beckons across India from the soaring Himalayas up north to the steamy jungles of Kerala down south. The curving backwaters, crisp high-altitude trails, and powerful waterfalls like Jog and Athirapally all offer epic scenery that won't cost you a rupee. American travel vlogger Karl Watson suggests joining locals on weekend hikes up to viewpoints overlooking town for stunning panoramas, like Matheran Hill near Mumbai.
For a uniquely Indian experience, head to the Ganges River in Varanasi to witness sunrise rituals along the holy waters. LA-based travel blogger Madhurima Dutta says arriving before 6 AM guarantees an unforgettable visual spectacle, with light illuminating devotees offering prayers, musicians chanting hypnotic tunes, and small boats gliding by. Entrance to the open riverside ghats is always free.
You can't visit India without exploring incredible historic temples, with access completely free at almost all sites. The intricately carved sandstone Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai and the gleaming white marble Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi count among the architectural marvels well worth several hours. Don't miss the richly decorated Hindu Shore Temple in Mamallapuram, carved from two giant granite boulders and overlooking the Bay of Bengal.
Australian travel writer Michael Turtle says joining the joyful evening aarti ceremony at Varanasi's riverside Dashashwamedh Ghat left him spellbound. "To experience the sights, sounds and smells alongside thousands of Hindu pilgrims is something you'll never forget." Arrive early to find standing room.
Visiting temples requires both patience and cultural sensitivity. Expect crowds and lines at popular sites. Follow strict dress codes that typically forbid shorts and require shoulders and knees covered. Remove shoes when entering sacred interiors. Ask permission before photographing people. A relaxed mindset and polite demeanor ensure your enriching journeys stay smooth and welcoming.
Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Haggle Down Costs at Markets and Bazaars
India's colorful markets and bazaars offer travelers bountiful opportunities to hone their haggling skills while scoring deals on handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs. With vendors' initial asking prices often highly inflated, negotiating is expected. Haggling with good humor and courtesy helps travelers save up to 50% off items they fancy.
Australian blogger Carly Weller insists that haggling is a must in India's bazars. She recommends starting your bargaining at just 25% of the quoted rate. Vendors will dramatically scoff and bluster but stand firm. Let them make the subsequent offer, then counter slightly higher without agreeing. Weller recalls haggling for 15 minutes over a Kashmiri papier-mâché box, finally getting it for 1/3 of the original 400 rupee ask.
Los Angeles vlogger Madi Higgins scored handmade quilts for a fraction of what her hostel's gift shop charged simply by hitting the local market in Jaipur. She advises channeling a coy, demure persona and feigning poverty as a student to coax sympathy deals. Examine items closely as if unconvinced of the quality before making cheeky 200 rupee counters to initial 800 rupee demands.
Approach haggling more as collaborative bargaining where both sides feel respected, not combative conflict. Offer prices with a smile, not a grimace. Vendor reactions will mirror your attitude. Fellow shoppers report better deals and less pressure when they bargain politely over the usual Western aggressive tactics.
Remember that 500 rupees can be a vendor's entire day’s salary. Find a fair rate that compensates their time and materials without overpaying. Prices usually settle around 40-60% lower than the opening ask. Don’t relentlessly grind. Locking eyes and reading reactions help identify when the vendor reaches their bottom rate.
Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Ride Share Buses and Tuk Tuks to Save Cash
Opting for inexpensive public transportation and ride sharing services allows budget-focused travelers to put more funds towards experiencing India's cultural attractions and culinary delights. Savvy wanderers rely on buses, commuter trains, tuk tuks, and shared taxis to traverse cities and journey between destinations without draining their rupee reserves.
India's extensive public bus network reaches everywhere from teeming urban centers to remote rural villages. Fares run just pennies for short city routes to $10-15 for an 8 hour countryside journey. AC sleeper buses offer overnight trips between cities with berths costing slightly more. Trained blogger Ruchira Karkhanis recommends using the MakeMyTrip or Redbus apps to find schedules and book tickets for major bus companies like Kerala RTC or KSRTC.
Intracity commuter trains like Mumbai's local provide an affordable way to zip around congested metropolises. Crowded second class general tickets work out to a few cents per ride. Find stations using Google Maps and pay for your journey once aboard. Commuter apps like Jetty and Ridlr help navigate complex transit networks in cities like Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore.
No India trip feels complete without a ride in an iconic auto rickshaw, locally known as tuk tuks. The vibrant three-wheeled motorbikes weave through chaotic streets for just $0.50-2 per short trip. Clarify the fare upfront to prevent driver scams. Stand firm or find another tuk tuk rather than overpay. Approach rides with a sense of humor and thrill for an only-in-India experience many globetrotting bloggers highlight.
Shared jeep taxis like Mumbai's fleet of Premier Padminis offer fixed rate rides along set routes identified by route numbers marked on the vehicles. Hop on and pass your 5-10 rupee fare to fellow passengers who in turn pass it forward to the driver. Shared taxis work like affordable group shuttles following logical routes between key areas of town.
For journeys between cities, trains and discount intercity buses keep costs low but can involve long travel times. Some patient wanderers boost savings by taking the least expensive transport option then splitting longer trips over multiple days. They journey during the day then stay in a midway town overnight before continuing onward the next morning.
Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Pack Light and Wash Clothes by Hand
Packing light and washing clothes by hand is a budget travel hack that lets globetrotters extend their India trip for weeks longer. Minimalist packing increases luggage agility for rail journeys and saves hefty checked bag fees on flights. Adding DIY laundry preserves your limited clothing while accumulating experiences, not stuff.
Leave behind bulky winter coats and formalwear unsuitable for India’s tropical climate. Pack versatile mix-and-match outfits in lightweight merino wool or quick-drying synthetics that resist wrinkles and odor. Limiting yourself to a 40 liter backpack forces creativity. Roll rather than fold clothes to conserve space. British travel vloggers The Gap Year Guys swear by packing cubes, compression sacks, and multi-use items.
Travel blogger Steph Be from TravelBreak spent two months independently backpacking India with just a 38 liter pack. She says sticking to a minimalist color palette of black, white and gray extended her wardrobe. Be chose breathable athletic fabrics that layered well and could be creatively restyled endlessly. She hand washed underwear, shirts and dresses herself daily using hotel sinks.
Fellow minimalist backpacker Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads says limiting yourself to just three sets of clothes helps focus your trip on destinations and culture. Her top India packing tips include a sturdy daypack, lightweight scarf with multiple uses, and Thermacell mosquito repeller. Ettenberg suggests embracing laundry as a cultural experience. She often washed clothes in hotel basins or buckets beside village wells, meeting locals along the way.
Washing clothes in the sink or shower prevents overpacking multiples of everything. Use hotel soap or bring a collapsing silicone scrubber. Handwashing serves both hygienic and eco-friendly purposes by conserving water. If sink space limits drying, hang clothes on balcony railings or windows using binder clips. Some hotels even provide laundry service with rates cheaper than home. Vlogger Madi Higgins paid just $1 to get clothes washed, dried and folded at her Jodhpur inn.
Travelers’ tips for successful handwashing include: use a Universal Sink Stopper to seal basin drains, scrub stains quickly with soap before they set, alternate wearing shoes to extend time between washes, shower caps keep dirty/clean clothes separate in your pack, wring thoroughly and unroll shirts while wet to limit wrinkling. Adding a travel clothesline and tiny bottle of Woolite laundry soap solves most road washing needs.
Rupee-Stretching India: How to See the Subcontinent on the Cheap - Drink Chai Instead of Fancy Coffee
A steaming cup of chai symbolizes the welcoming spirit of India just as much as the Taj Mahal and colorful saris. This spiced tea mixed with milk and sugar provides a sweet, milky jolt of caffeine perfect for fueling your exploration. Sipping complimentary chai from humble roadside stands and tiny tea stalls proves far more authentically Indian than paying inflated prices for lattes and cappuccinos at Western-style cafes.
Travel writers who prioritize cultural immersion over coffeehouse comfort find embracing chai over fancy brews helps stretch budgets further. Chai's origins trace back 5,000 years to ancient Ayurvedic traditions of brewing teas with healing spices. Masala chai earns its name from the Hindi word for mix thanks to its blend of spices like cardamom, ginger, black pepper, and more.
Don't let occasional hygiene shortfalls at local chai stalls deter you. Stick to places with high turnover that brew batches fresh throughout the day. Australian travel blogger Dave Dean recounts how hanging around a chai stand at Aurangabad train station gave him a chance to chat with locals while enjoying a quick pick-me-up for just 5 rupees a cup. He appreciated the sweet warmth of the milky brew as conductors passed by shouting arrival announcements.
You can also savor authentic chai at restaurants and dhaba roadside eateries without forking over Starbucks prices. Ohio-based travel writer Emily Johnson recommends ordering masala chai at dinner then lingering over a second round served in clay kulhars. Sipping from the biodegradable cups with their earthy aroma completes the Indian tea experience. She's snapped photos of her clay kulhars lined up amongst vivid spices at markets like a local.
Seeking out chai experiences helps travelers appreciate cultural traditions and forge connections with welcoming locals. Memorable moments happen when you least expect, like writer Megha Jain accepting a stranger's invitation to take chai together at a humble stand in Kolkata. She learned about her new friend's work caring for prisoners released from the notorious Kalighat Jail as they shared their earthy brew.