You often hear people say that they can’t afford to travel, particularly to a foreign country. Most see international trips out of reach and as something that they can rarely or never afford. However, throughout my year of travel, I want to show you that it is possible to travel internationally on a budget and still do and see all (or most) of the things that you want. You don’t have to break the bank to be a world traveler!
The first step, is to set a budget. For our “round-the-world” (RTW) trip, Craig and I are aiming to spend an average of $50 per day (excluding some other costs that we are incurring back in the U.S., such as health insurance and student loans payments that we can’t get rid of during our travels). There are some countries that we expect will be cheaper (India and Nepal) and others that will be more expensive (Turkey and Israel, particularly around Christmas). We aren’t strict to spending a certain amount each day and know that some days we will spend a lot (for example, if we are buying a pass for museums that will be used for several days or going on a camel safari) while other days will be much cheaper (for instance, when we walk everywhere and don’t pay to enter any sights, museums, etc.). To make sure that our spending doesn’t get out of hand, about once a week, I take stock of what we have been spending each day (see more below), and we decide if we are spending what we wanted to or if we need to make changes. (A great resource for thinking about travel budgeting and planning is How to Travel the World on $50 a Day – Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter by Nomadic Matt, one of my favorite travel bloggers.)
To keep on top of our spending while traveling, Craig and I have been using the Travel Pocket iPhone app to track all expenses. Each night, I check the app to ensure that all of that day’s expenses have been recorded. It may seem a bit tedious, but once you get used to it, entering money in becomes second nature. This is also a chance to see how expenses that day compare to other days and make sure that our spending is reasonable for that country.
So, with all that said and without further ado, I present: Travel by the Numbers: India!
I’m not including all of the pre-trip purchases that we made for our entire year-long trip in this section – just the things we paid for specifically for the India portion of our trip. (I plan to post an in-depth look at general pre-trip purchases at a later date!)
Plane Ticket = $0
We initially purchased our one-way tickets from Houston to Delhi (with a one-day layover in Beijing) for $626.12 per person, totaling, $1,252.24. However, for several years, we have been saving points on our Capital One Venture card, hoping to use them on a trip. All of that saving paid off, and we were able to “erase” the $1,252.12 charge from our credit card. In the end, we paid $0 – absolutely nothing – for our plane tickets to India via China!
India Visas = $80 x 2 = $160
No getting around this cost…
India Book and Map = $0
As we were packing to move out of our apartment and embark on our trip, I came across dozens of unused or partially used gifts cards in our apartment. As we prepared for our travels, I made sure we used as many of these gift cards as we could! I put a Barnes and Noble one I found to good use and purchased Lonely Planet India ($34.99), as well as an India map ($11.99), both of which were very useful for our trip.
The Cost of Six Weeks in India
After being successful not spending much specifically for India in the lead up to our trip, we planned to spend between $30 and $40 per day once we arrived. We based this budget estimate on a conference call we had with other long-term/RTW travelers and online research, including daily budget estimates put together by BootsNAll, another great resource for trip planning.
After a total of 45 days in India, we are happy to announce that we spent an average of $33.54 per day for two people!
Here is the breakdown of our India costs:
- We spent an average of $8.98 per night on accommodations over the 45-day period. This almost always was at a guest house. However, we took several overnight trains, which helps out on the accommodations part of the budget!
- When we arrived in India we stayed in a hotel that was a bit more expensive ($17 per night). The cost was higher as we booked online in advance (rather than negotiating a room rate upon arrival), the room had air conditioning, and we paid for a place with hot water (that didn’t actually end up working…). We also “splurged” and spent $18 per night in Agra for a hotel as I was a bit under the weather, and we wanted a place close to the Taj Mahal with air conditioning and hot water (although, again, the hot water didn’t end up working). The cheapest place we stayed cost $5 per night (no air conditioning and a shared, hall bathroom) and was our favorite guest house of the India portion of our trip! So, price doesn’t necessarily determine quality.
- As I mentioned earlier, taking overnight trains are a great way to find savings in the accommodations portion of your budget. And, you don’t spend precious daylight hours in transit. However, just be careful doing too many overnight trains in a row…you can quickly get burned out
- We found that agoda.com usually had good hotel prices and could be used as a guide in trying to figure out what to pay at guest houses. While Lonely Planet India has recommendations, we always cross-referenced these with Trip Advisor reviews. Sometimes when a hotel or restaurant gets in Lonely Planet, it stop working as hard or raises its rates as owners know that people while continue to come as it is recommended in a guidebook. We found that looking at the guidebook, Agoda, and other online sites for pricing put us in a better position to negotiate for room rates upon arriving to an area. As we were traveling in the shoulder season, guest house owners were more willing to lower rates, as well
- One downside to booking on arrival is that you have to coordinate your own transportation from the train or bus station to an area you plan to check out accommodations. Sometimes it’s worth the extra dollar or two to book your guest house in advance if the place you plan to stay provides free pick up upon arrival, as many do in India, particularly during the shoulder and low season.
- This includes attending a cultural dance performance, going to the movies, etc.
- Food was our largest expense, accounting for 39% of spending. In India, food is very cheap, and we were able to eat lots of it. We typically ate a full lunch and dinner every day and frequently had snacks or an afternoon Coke and/or lime soda. Occasionally, we would have a beer or drink with dinner but didn’t drink regularly as that can quickly cause your “food” costs to rise!
- One way that we tried to keep food costs down and avoided buy too many snacks was to buy a jar of peanut butter (this may be cheaper to bring directly from the US than buying locally) and eat it on crackers, naan, or just buy itself if we were hungry between meals or in the evening.
- The miscellaneous charges cover random purchases (sunglasses for Craig after the ones he bought broke), toilet paper, a cover for Craig’s passport, exchange rate loss when we changed money upon departure, some currency I kept as a souvenir, and laundry (which we only paid for twice in India…the rest of the time we washed it in the sink…another money saver!).
- Most of the tourist areas and sites of interest in India are reasonably priced. Some, such as the Taj Mahal, are more expensive (costing about the same as our fully daily budget) but definitely worth the entry fee! There were a few times that we decided to skip museums or other places as we didn’t think visiting justified the cost. And, there were a couple of places that I didn’t take pictures inside as the camera fee was as high (or almost) as the entry. However, for the most part, prices weren’t too bad at “tourist sites,” and I could pay to take photos while we still kept to our budget. I can’t think of anything that we didn’t do that I really wanted to because of the cost.
- The majority of our transportation costs went to trains and buses between cities.
- Traveling by train was extremely inexpensive, especially traveling in Sleeper class. The first few times we took the train, we paid for AC cars, which are a bit nicer and can include food/snacks; however, despite the high summer temperatures outside, I found them too cold inside. And, with the train moving, the non-AC cars were cool enough and a lot cheaper! While the AC cars included sheets and a pillow on overnight trips, Craig and I had sleep sheets with us to keep us off the seats and protect ourselves from mosquitos at night. We also found it much cheaper to purchase train tickets ourselves at stations rather than going through a travel agency (which we had to do a couple of times…the commission they charge is ridiculous!).
- We found the overnight buses not to be too bad. There are some safety concerns around taking overnight buses (the largest being reckless drivers who do not drive carefully through the night in very dark areas on poor roads) so I preferred taking trains when we could. However, the buses that we did take were not bad. In India, you or you and your companion, can book your own sleeping compartment (aka “sleeper”), which is above the seats. You and your backpacks can fit inside the compartment and a little door slides across giving you privacy while you sleep. Again, I would recommend having your own sleep sheet as I’m not sure the cleanliness of the seats where you lay your head!
- Other than rickshaws to/from bus or train stations upon arrival/departure in a new place and a few local buses, Craig and I tried to walk everywhere we could. We found that it saved us money, and we were able to see much more of the city than we would have otherwise. We both love to walk and got tons of it in!
Overall, 6 weeks in India cost us $1,509 for two people.
With pre-trip expenses, that brings the total cost to $1,669.
Crazy, right? Many of my friends in the Washington, D.C., area spend that or almost that much on rent each month. And, think, you could spend 6 weeks in India for that amount.
For those of you who are graphically inclined, here is a pie chart breaking down our India expenses:
(Note: Total may equal over 100% due to rounding.)
In a nutshell, that is our spending in India. It’s a country that has so much to explore and can be extremely affordable.
And, travel in India can be done even cheaper, if necessary. We moved around a lot so our transportation costs were higher, and we usually stayed in places with western toilets in popular areas of each city. Ways to reduce costs below what we spent would be to stay in cities longer than one to three nights, buy food at local markets and grocery stores to prepare yourself, eat street food regularly for at least one meal per day, etc.
However, on the other hand, if you are a luxury traveler, there are also many options for you in India, as well. Not everything is for backpackers. India is the type of country that you can make it by on $30 per day for two people or live a life of luxury, spending hundreds of dollars on food, accommodations, etc. Hopefully, this has gotten the wheels turning in your head about your next trip…to India or somewhere else!
Any questions on our India spending? Do you think you could travel on just $33 per day (for two people)?