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Backpacking Through India on a Budget

Golden TempleOne late night as a freshman in college my best friend and I decided we wanted to do something amazing our first summer away from home. We knew we didn’t want to just get summer jobs we wanted to explore the world. We didn’t have serious relationships and weren’t tied down with school or other commitments; we figured we should go backpacking somewhere. We thought about backpacking through Europe like his older sister, or maybe even Africa. After much deliberation we thought India would be the most exciting and budget friendly of our options.

We decided that we wanted to go for 2 months. Originally we weren’t sure if it was going to be too long or too short. We drew a map highlighting all the major cities we wanted to visit with roughly how long we thought we should stay in each city.

Michael Sproul backpacking through IndiaWe decided that our budget for our 2 months in India was going to be $1,500 dollars each for everything over there including a trip to Nepal. Most people were astounded when they heard how much we planned on spending. They said there is no way you can stay within that budget. We knew we could.

My first and best tip is to get the Lonely Planet Guide Book for India. This book saved our lives and our wallets. Inside you can find out what the “must sees” are, places to say, and other travel tips. The book is huge and we didn’t want to carry it around all day so we would cut out the pages for the city we were in and put those in our day packs.

In order to stay on budget we knew we would not be staying in 5 star hotels, in fact some of the places, I would say, I wouldn’t even give a star, but they served our purpose, a place to sleep. We would look at the budget or hostel section in the book for the upcoming city and find one that looked suitable and was in a convenient location. We tried to stay in the 5-10 dollar a night price range, which meant no AC but usually hot water and our own room. Because we were backpacking we didn’t bring a lot of clothes and since it was hot we had to wash often. We would just do it in the sink and we brought a clothes line and hung them up in the room.

Eric Buell IndiaAnother way we saved money on hotels is we would try to plan our train rides to the next city over night. We usually sprung for AC-3 which is the lowest sleeper class on Indian trains that have AC. There are 6 berths in each compartment so you don’t really have privacy but for us it wasn’t a big deal. Train tickets in India are very cheap and the train is quite comfortable. We also did not book our tickets in advance because we wanted the flexibility to change plans so we would look online at the India Rail website or get them at the train station. Sometimes we wanted to stay an extra day in a city and others we wanted to get out sooner.

We generally felt safe during most of our time in India. There were a few close calls but that happens while you are traveling, political unrest was our biggest problem in two cities which made us change our plans, where we felt we needed to leave sooner than expected or not go to a certain city. If you are a frequent traveler outside of the United States I would suggest getting a cheap cell phone that has a sim card slot. These phones are usually around $50 and can be used almost anywhere. We bought an Airtel simcard from India and gave our families our Indian number.  We would then check in at designated times but we could call them or they could call us anytime at a fraction of what it would cost using your US cell phone. Having a cell phone also made it very easy for us to arrange our hotels in advance.

Michael Sproul NepalWhen we were visiting Varanasi we decided we definitely wanted to visit Nepal; however the plane tickets were too much money and the buses seemed sketchy and very uncomfortable. Some locals told us to wait till we got to Darjeeling or Sikkim and cross from there taking local buses. We decided we would see how we felt about it when we got to those cities. After speaking with others it seemed too dangerous for us because Maoist rebels were causing problems for people on the buses; we thought Nepal was out of reach. We decided to wait and see where we were near the end of our trip.

When we were in Mumbai there was a group of people who were pulling up the train tracks on the way to Rajastan where we were going to go on a camel safari. This of course caused us to change our plans. We headed to Delhi and had an extra 4 days we weren’t planning on. We checked online and tickets to Kathmandu from Delhi were only about 250 dollars so we said let’s do it.

We were able to get a tourist visa into Nepal at the airport when we arrived for a few dollars and then we spent the next few days exploring Kathmandu and the surrounding area. Our first night we chose a hotel that was on top of a night club so we moved down to a quieter part of town for the next few days.

Kuchenjunga and prayer flags

Getting to Nepal and moving around as freely as we did only happened because we were flexible. India isn’t the easiest place to travel. You just have to go with the flow and expect your plan won’t be followed 100%. Have a rough idea of what you want to do and then be flexible. We never had our days all the way planned. We knew what we wanted to see and if we didn’t get to it we either said oh well or stayed an extra day.

During our two months traveling we traveled over 10,000 kilometers and stayed in more than 30 cities. We stayed mostly around the coast and didn’t have time to hit the interior of India. There were only a couple of times when I thought 2 months was too long; in fact in some regards I wish we would have gone for 2.5 months and hit more of central India.

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Michael is an avid outdoor enthusiast who loves to travel. He has lived in the US and abroad. He is constantly looking for great new places to explore. He also writes for the The Carefree Traveler and Zion National Park Guide.

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  1. My friend went to India recently. I think he did it on a pretty reasonable budget, but there was severe culture shock I think.

  2. Ivana says:

    Well done :) even 1.500 usd is quite enough for India. especially when you backpack.

  3. Great post! Love the first picture! The colors!

  4. David Moran says:

    India is definitely in my bucket list. It is so different from our western culture.

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