One of the top destinations for budget travel, India offers a wealth of experiences from the beautiful mountains of Himachal Pradesh to the vibrant metropolis of Mumbai. With cozy accommodations as low as $10 a night, mouthwatering street food options for a mere $3 sometimes, and affordable transportation to get you around the country, it’s entirely doable to travel around India for less than $30, especially if you take to heart some of our best tips for traveling on a budget in India.

READ MORE: Goa Digital Nomad Travel Guide

Choose Trains for Long-Distance Travel

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Consider exploring India through its vast railway network that seamlessly connects remote villages to metropolitan cities if you have a flexible schedule. Not only is it wallet-friendly compared to flying, but you can also find fares for less than $1 in the general class (UR) compartment for distances over 50 kilometers.

Here is a quick look at the hierarchy of Indian train seatings, from the budget-friendly General Class to the premium Executive Class (EC). Note that not all trains will have all the seating classes available. 

Without Air Conditioning

  • Unreserved General Class (UR)
  • Second Seating (2S) 
  • Sleeper Class (SL)
  • First Class(FC)

With Air Conditioning

  • Chair Car (CC)
  • AC 3-Tier Sleeper (3A)
  • AC 2-Tier sleeper (2A)
  • AC 1-Tier (1A) 
  • Third AC Economy (3E)
  • AC Executive Class (EC)

The UR is affordable but can be crowded and sometimes untidy. If you want more comfort, opt for the SL. For air-conditioning and bedding at a reasonable price, 3AC is a good choice, especially during hot weather. Many long-distance trains provide charging points and food services. Also, they're more generous when it comes to how much luggage you can bring with you.

Use Cabs and Autos for Local Travel

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For budget-friendly local transportation, buses are the best choice. But if you're seeking a balance between comfort and cost, online cab-booking platforms will be your go-to. Ola and Uber dominate ride-share services in many cities around India, providing a range of vehicles from cabs and autos to even bikes in metro cities. They offer both shared and private ride options with stringent safety measures in place.

For short trips under two kilometers, traditional cabs are often cheaper, but check the apps just in case. Beware: not all drivers use meters in traditional autos/taxis, so to help you negotiate you should research the minimum cab fee for your specific destination. You can search for “minimum charge for auto/taxi in [destination]” for a fare reference to negotiate.

Be ready to be flexible in your negotiation during peak times, odd hours, or trips over eight or nine kilometers, and always confirm the price upfront before you take off. In areas without ride-sharing app service, you can also hire a taxi for the day with a set price, detailing your itinerary instead of hailing multiple rides. 

Use Buses to Get Between Cities

For long-distance intercity journeys, especially to hill stations where trains might not be an option and flights are pricy, buses are the perfect solution. Both private and government buses offer choices with or without air-conditioning and sleeper or pushback seats. You can book private buses through platforms such as Redbus. For government buses, visit the official website of the respective state by searching for “State Name and bus booking.”

When commuting to or from the airport, consider using airport buses instead of taxis in major cities. They're typically air-conditioned and only cost half as much as a taxi ride.

Book Hostels Instead of Hotels

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Whether you are on a solo adventure or with a close-knit group of friends, hostels are a great way to save money when traveling in India. Starting sometimes as low as $7, these accommodations are budget-friendly and typically cater to digital nomads with WiFi, work-friendly desks, and clean amenities. You don’t even have to share if you don’t want to because many even offer private dorms for those who prefer more privacy.

For larger groups wanting privacy, consider homestays or Airbnb instead of hotels. Before you book on Airbnb, try to find the property’s contact as prices might be inflated for foreigners using the platform.

Eat as the Locals Do

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Street food in India is one of the most affordable ways to eat on a budget backpacking trip to India. However, there are a few tricks to the trade such as prioritizing vegetarian dishes over meat for safety and sticking to hot beverages. Remember, busy food stalls often mean that the food and ingredients are being refreshed more often. Not to mention, a bustling business is usually a sign of local expertise. Residents usually know the best-hidden food gems that won't strain your budget, but will still be tasty.

Going to markets in India is another great option to save money. Stock up on fresh fruits or ingredients to whip up a simple meal if you have a kitchen at your accommodation. You can browse food apps like Zomato or Swiggy to discover the city's top dining spots, signature dishes, and typical costs.

Learn the Art of Bargaining

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Bargaining is a custom deeply ingrained in many cultures, but it’s also an essential skill when you’re traveling through India. Before you go into a haggling environment, research or ask locals about fair rates. If you’re exploring a market, you should begin by visiting multiple shops to understand what the standard price is and then you can start haggling.

Start negotiations low but remain flexible to reach a mutually agreeable price. If you feel the price is higher than the standard rate, silently walk away. If you are lucky, they will call you back for the best deal. If not, move on to the next vendor. With small street sellers, however, try to avoid haggling over small sums—what seems minimal to you could mean a meal for them.

When making high-stakes purchases, local guidance can be invaluable. For instance, in Mysore, one of my traveler friends from Iran purchased a Mysore silk saree, thinking she had done her research. Unfortunately, she ended up with a low-quality duplicate at the price of an original. 

Sign Up for a Retreat

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Many visitors, particularly those keen on yoga, find retreats ideal for an authentic Indian experience. Not only do you immerse yourself in learning, but your stay and meals are typically covered. Good retreat packages will have established local ties, ensuring you get authentic experiences at discounted rates and steering clear of tourist traps. Keep an eye out for early booking or off-season specials to further boost your savings. You can also check out Nurall’s calendar for upcoming retreats and other offers for digital nomads in India.


Our Take

All in all, traveling in India on a budget doesn't mean compromising on quality experiences. By making informed choices and tapping into local insights, you can immerse yourself in the vibrant culture, enticing cuisine, and breathtaking landscapes of India without busting your budget.

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