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The Broke Traveler's Guide: Tips and Tricks for Budget Travel in INDIA

Updated: May 10, 2023

Listen up, fellow wanderlusters and penny pinchers! Are you itching to explore the vibrant colors, flavors, and chaos of India, but worried that your wallet won't stretch far enough? Fear not, for we have cracked the code on how to travel India on a budget. Yes, you read that right. We're talking about the land of spices, saris, and spirituality, where every street corner is a feast for your senses. But let's face it, traveling can be expensive, and not all of us have the luxury of a trust fund or a money tree (if you do, please DM me).

From bargaining like a pro in the bustling bazaars to feasting on mouth-watering street food, and some good ol' Indian jugaad we've got all the insider tips and tricks to make your broke traveler dreams come true without breaking the bank. So, put on your traveling pants (or saree, we don't judge), and get ready to experience the enchanting land of Maharajas and masala magic, all while keeping your bank account happy.

i. Bargain Like a Pro in Bazaars

One of the most exciting and overwhelming experiences of traveling in India is exploring the bustling bazaars and markets. From textiles to spices, jewelry to handicrafts, there's no shortage of treasures to discover. However, the prices can be steep, especially for tourists. The key to getting a good deal is to bargain like a pro. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Start by asking for the price and then offer a lower price.

  • Don't be afraid to walk away if the price isn't right. Often, the vendor will call you back with a better offer.

  • Keep a poker face and don't show too much enthusiasm for the item you want to buy.

  • Be respectful and courteous throughout the negotiation process.

With a bit of practice, you'll be able to score great deals in the bazaars and bring home some amazing souvenirs without breaking the bank. And if you can't bargain like a pro, at least pretend to be offended by the price and walk away dramatically. It's all part of the game."

ii. Finding Affordable Accommodations

Accommodations can quickly eat up your travel budget in India, especially if you're staying in high-end hotels. However, there are plenty of affordable options available, including hostels, guesthouses, and homestays. Here are a few tips for finding affordable accommodations in India:

  • Use booking websites like Hostelworld,, and Airbnb to search for budget-friendly options.

  • Consider staying in a hostel or dormitory-style accommodation, which can be significantly cheaper than a private room. (Sign up to get a list of cheapest accomodation options state-wise)

  • Look for homestays, which offer a more authentic and immersive experience of Indian culture while being cheaper than hotels.

  • Check out websites like Couchsurfing, where travelers can stay with locals for free.

Budget stays in India

By choosing affordable accommodations, you'll be able to save money and have more funds available for experiences and activities.

iii. Eating Street Food Safely and Inexpensively

Street food is a staple of Indian cuisine and can be found in every corner of the country. However, many travelers are wary of eating street food due to concerns about hygiene and safety. The truth is, street food can be both safe and delicious if you follow a few simple rules:

Indian street food

  • Look for stalls with a high turnover of customers. This indicates that the food is fresh and in demand.

  • Avoid street food that has been sitting out for a long time or looks stale.

  • Check the cleanliness of the stall and the utensils being used to cook and serve the food.

  • Choose dishes that are cooked thoroughly and served hot.

  • And if you're feeling brave, try the infamous "spicy" street food challenge - just be sure to have a glass of lassi nearby!

iv. Use Public Transportation

Getting around India can be expensive, especially if you rely on taxis and private cars. Instead, opt for public transportation, such as buses and trains, which are much cheaper and often offer a more authentic experience of Indian life. Remember that the journey can be just as rewarding as the destination. Here are some transport options to consider:

  • Buses: Be prepared for crowded conditions and long journeys. But don't worry, you'll have plenty of time to chat with your fellow passengers and practice your Hindi skills. And if you're a woman in Delhi, you'll be happy to know that buses are now free for you.

  • Trains: Snoring men and snacking aunties are a common sight on Indian trains. But if you can't beat them, join them! Strike up a conversation with your fellow passengers and share some snacks. Who knows, you might even make a new friend. Pro tip: bring earplugs to avoid snoring men and loud groups.

  • Tuk-tuk/E-rickshaw/Auto: These little three-wheeled vehicles are a fun and efficient way to get around cities. Just be sure to negotiate the fare before you hop in, and hold on tight as you weave through traffic. And if you're feeling adventurous, ask the driver to take you to a hidden gem that only locals know about. (Don't forget to bargain)

  • Metros: If you're in a big city like Delhi, Bangalore, or Mumbai, the metro can be a convenient and inexpensive way to get around. But be prepared for rush hour crowds and long queues at the ticket counter. Pro tip: use the women-only compartments in Delhi's metro during peak hours for a more comfortable ride.

v. Embrace Jugaad

  • Use a polythene bag as a makeshift raincoat

  • If you've forgotten your phone charger, don't panic. Simply head to a local shop and ask if they can charge your phone/ ask fellow travelers/ get it charged in a cafe.

  • Crossing the road in India can be a daunting task, especially for first-time travelers. India, we have our own unique hack for crossing the road - using the hand! Stretch out your hand in the direction you're heading, as if you're stopping traffic with your magical powers. Walk confidently and steadily across the road, while maintaining eye contact don't be afraid to show those cars who's boss! And if all else fails, just find a local and cross the road with them. Safety in numbers, right?

  • Get a glass of lassi/ nimbu pani to beat the Indian heat!

  • Grab a free meal at gurudwaras/temples (Langar) / Community Kitchens (Bhandara) when hungry

vi. Ask the locals

Locals have an intimate knowledge of the area and can often offer creative solutions to your problems. Plus, striking up a conversation with locals can lead to unforgettable experiences and new friendships.

  • Befriend a local aunty or uncle who can give you insider tips and free chai. They might even invite you over for a home-cooked meal! (Facebook Group to Connect with locals)

  • Get a free guided tour by following a group of locals pretending you're a part of their family. Bonus points if you can master the local dialect and blend in seamlessly. (Disclaimer: We're not responsible for any awkward family photos or overbearing aunties that may come your way.)

Travel with locals
Travel with locals

  • Take advantage of the Indian hospitality and stay with a local family for free. Just make sure you're ready for dadi's endless supply of food and unsolicited advice.

  • Find a group of people heading in the same direction as your destination and hitch a ride! Sure, you may have to sit on someone's lap or share your space with a few chickens / cows but it's all part of the adventure, right?

vi. Be open to new experiences

Sometimes, embracing jugaad means stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something new.

  • Become a chai connoisseur: India is known for its love of chai, so why not embrace it? Try different types of chai, from masala to ginger to cardamom, and discover your favorite. And don't forget to accompany it with a delicious snack, like pakoras or samosas.

  • Learn to speak the language of head shakes: In India, a head shake can mean a variety of things depending on the context. Master the art of interpreting head shakes, and you'll be able to navigate any conversation or negotiation like a pro.

  • Join a street cricket game: Cricket is India's national obsession, and you'll find impromptu games being played in every neighborhood. Embrace your inner athlete and join a game, even if you don't know the rules. You're sure to make some new friends and have a lot of fun in the process.

  • Take advantage of free street entertainment: In India, you never know what you might stumble upon while walking down the street. From impromptu street performances to religious processions, there's always something happening. And if you're lucky, you might even come across a wedding procession complete with dancing and live music. And the best part? You don't need an invitation to join the baarat! ! So instead of shelling out money for expensive tourist attractions, embrace the local culture and enjoy the free entertainment.

vii. Stay flexible

As a budget traveler in India, you have to be as flexible as a yoga guru to embrace jugaad. From sudden changes in itinerary to unpredictable bus delays, you need to be ready for anything. India can be overwhelming for first-time travelers, but a true jugaadu knows how to embrace the chaos. Instead of getting frustrated by the crowds, traffic, and noise, lean into it and enjoy the ride. With the right mindset, you can turn those hurdles into hilarious anecdotes and unforgettable memories. So stay open-minded and go with the flow – you never know where jugaad might take you!

  • Master the art of sleeping anywhere: Whether it's on a cramped overnight train or on a park bench, a true jugaadu knows how to catch some z's in any situation. Invest in a comfortable neck pillow and learn to doze off with one eye open so you don't miss any important sights.

  • Use social media to your advantage: In today's world, social media can be your best friend when it comes to travel. Use it to find local deals, connect with other travelers, and even score a free meal or two by offering to post about a restaurant on your Instagram.

  • If you're short on cash, offer to work for your hostel or guesthouse in exchange for a free stay. Who knows, you might even learn a new skill like washing dishes or making chapatis. (Travel and volunteer free , Himalayan volunteer tourism)

Travel tips

So, my broke travel comrades, let me leave you with this: the world is your playground, and India is the ultimate playpen. With a little creativity and a lot of jugaad, you can have the adventure of a lifetime without breaking the bank. Whether you're using public transport, bargaining like a pro, or sipping chai like a connoisseur, embrace the chaos, and have fun. Who knows? You might just discover that the best things in life aren't measured in rupees or dollars but in the memories you make along the way. So pack your bags, buckle up, and get ready for the ride of your life. And remember, when in doubt, just ask a local. They always know the best hacks for traveling on a budget in India. Happy travels!


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