The great thing about traveling in India is that you can be as cheap or as lavish as you want. However, there are a number of ways to make your India trip even less costly. Find out how to save money with these tips.
Travel During the Low Season
If you travel away from the main tourist season in India, you can save a substantial amount of money. You may even be able to afford to stay at that luxury hotel that was otherwise out of your budget. Some examples are hotels in Kovalam and hotels in Goa, as well as hotels in Rajasthan (check out the Fateh Prakash Palace or Shiv Niwas Palace in Udaipur). In general, the peak season runs from around October to March in India. However, it differs if you're heading to the mountains, when winter is avoidable and summer is the busiest time. Prices also skyrocket during Indian holidays such as Diwali, Christmas and the New Year. April and September offer good deals, and you can avoid the worst of the heat and monsoon weather in India. Otherwise, if you don't mind the rain, you also can save up to 50% during the monsoon from June to August. Here are the best places to go during the monsoon.
The Indian government introduced a Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime in 2017, and it has significant implications for the cost of accommodations and meals in restaurants. Currently, there's no GST payable on room rates below 1,000 rupees per night. Room rates between 1,000 and 7,500 rupees per night attract a 12% GST. The GST rate increases to 18% on room rates above 7,500 rupees per night. GST is also higher on restaurants located inside hotels with room rates above 7,500 rupees per night. 18% GST is payable on meals at such restaurants, compared to only 5% GST at other restaurants. This can add quite a bit to your bill.
Stay at a Hostel
Thankfully, gone are the days that hostels in India feel like institutions, with rigid rules and staid atmospheres. Groovy backpacker hostel chains are rapidly opening up all over India. They're fun, vibrant places where a good time is guaranteed. The accommodations are really comfortable and you'll find all the facilities you'd expect at a world-class backpacker hostel. Plus, most have inexpensive private rooms, for those who are adverse to dorms. See these top 10 destinations for backpacking in India. Couchsurfing is also popular in India, but choose your host wisely especially if you're female.
If you're young and want to see India on the cheap, low-cost group tours especially for backpackers are an excellent option. G Adventures is a reputable company that offers special small group tours for "18-to-30-Somethings". These tours are perfect for those who want to travel inexpensively and with like-minded people.
Hotel rates have skyrocketed in Indian cities, and they keep increasing every year. In Mumbai, you can expect to pay $150 per night for a decent hotel! If you head off-the-beaten track, you'll save substantially in the cost of accommodations, as well as have a more peaceful and authentic experience away from the tourist hordes. Check out some of the top ways and places to experience rural India.
Book Flights in Advance
You may be thinking that if you wait to the last minute, you'll get a good deal for your India trip. However, this is unfortunately usually not the case. Most domestic airlines in India offer discounts for advance bookings. Not only this, the fare structure is set so that prices keep rising closer to the date you want to depart. If you book at the last minute, you'll most likely pay double compared to if you booked a month in advance.
Take an Early or Late Flight
Yes, it may be a little inconvenient to arrive at the airport super early in the morning or late at night. However, you'll find a greater availability of cheaper flights than if you were to travel at a more popular time. Plus, you'll have the whole day for sightseeing or relaxing, as you won't have to waste part of the day traveling.
Take the Train
There's no doubt that Indian Railways is the best way to travel around India for the budget conscious. Plus, if you travel overnight, you don't need to pay for a hotel. However, something that you might not know is that Indian Railways also offers train tour packages. The new Metro rapid transit system is also revolutionizing transportation in major Indian cities. These world-class trains are modern and air-conditioned. However, the network is still under construction. The Delhi Metro is currently the most extensive and useful for tourists. Much of the Bangalore Metro has been completed too.
Take the Bus
You may have heard discouraging things about bus travel in India, particularly how uncomfortable it can be (don't expect to find any toilets onboard). However, for short distances it's a really cost-effective and convenient way of getting around -- especially in those parts of India where bus services are good. This includes the south Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Negotiate the Price
Haggling is commonplace and expected in India -- and, not to mention necessary, especially if you're a foreigner. Vendors often start by quoting foreigners double or triple the market price. If you don't haggle, you'll end up paying much more than necessary. Here are some tips for bargaining at markets in India. If you walk into a hotel, you can also try negotiating a cheaper rate if it's not fully booked.
Choose a Holiday Package
Combination flight and hotel deals, or holiday packages with multiple destinations and flights, offered by tour agents and online aggregator sites. Makemytrip, Yatra and Cleartrip are the main sites in India that offer holiday packages bookable online. You can usually save up to 30% of the cost of booking flights and hotels separately.
Some of the best things in India are free! Avoid monuments and historical sites that charge high admission fees for foreigners (which can substantially add to the cost of your vacation). Instead, focus on the fabulous things to do in India that won't cost you anything at all, such as temples, festivals, art galleries, and heritage buildings.
Great news if you're a member of a hotel loyalty program! Luxury international hotel chains are expanding throughout India. Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards, Hilton HHonors, IHG Rewards Club, Accor Le Club, Club Carlson, and Hyatt Gold Passport are some programs with attractive options for redemption in India.
Cut the Cost of Meals
Eating in hotels can get expensive, so if you want to save on the cost of meals, make sure you stay in hotels that include breakfast in the room rate. These days, many hotels offer complimentary buffet breakfasts which is great for the stomach and budget! In addition, small local restaurants serve inexpensive meals. If you're wondering which places are decent, follow the crowd! A thali (platter), which comes with many different dishes, is excellent value for money. Your stomach will be overflowing with food for only a couple of hundred rupees, or less. Alternatively, if you're really strapped for cash, head to a Sikh gurudwara (place of worship), where meals are provided free of cost to everyone. Free accommodations are often available as well.
There are many places in India, including new backpacker hostels, where you can get free accommodations in exchange for volunteering. One of the best sites to check out opportunities is WorldPackers. The work listed is diverse and includes social media, photography and video, arranging activities, administration, social work, teaching, and farming.