India on a Budget: Top Travel Tips & Guide for First-Time Travellers

Ah, India.

The land of curry, beautiful chaos, and magnificent landscapes: India is definitely every traveller’s dream destination. The country is like a continent in itself — each region having its own beauty, charm, and colorful culture. However, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, especially if culture shock is not something you want to experience.

Travelling to India requires a lot of preparation, and deciding where exactly you want to go. The North region is a great place to start for first-time travellers as you have more options for sightseeing, beaches, mountains, and the most popular Golden Triangle. We were lucky enough to score really cheap flights to Delhi, thanks to AirAsia’s promo fares. Without hesitation, we immediately booked Manila – Delhi, with a short stopover to Kuala Lumpur, for about PHP16,000 round trip. From there, we planned carefully the places we want to go to for 7 days of travel. It seemed pretty short, but we managed to visit 5 regions including the most popular Golden Triangle tour (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur).

When we first told people that Nat and I are going to India in April, we had mix reactions — some were excited for us, but most were worried about our safety. Two girls travelling to India wasn’t exactly a pretty thought. For months we tried to convince our loved ones that everything will be okay and that we are capable of handling ourselves. We even created a video on what to pack and how to travel safely.

True enough, even 2 months have passed since our India trip, I still look back fondly with only lasting memories, and interesting stories to share. For this blog post, I want to share you a complete guide to travelling to India on a budget (under $1,000).

PLANNING OUR TRIP

When you’re travelling to India for the first time, planning it can be quite overwhelming as there are just so many things to see. The first thing you need to consider are the top places you want to visit. For Nat and I, we wanted to incorporate a hiking trip to the mountains, aside from just seeing the city. Since we were landing in Delhi, it made sense to look around places in the North. Luckily, we had a local friend who arranged a trip for us. We were a group of 7 (5 Indians plus Nat and me) — and coordinated a hiking trip for our first 3 days in India.

First Leg (Hiking) 

General Itinerary:

Day 1 – Land in New Delhi
Day 2 – Bus ride to Kasol
Day 3 – Trek to Kheerghanga (Himachal / Himalayan mountains)
Day 4 – Trek back to Kasol
Day 5 – Arrive New Delhi and start Golden Triangle Tour

The hiking crew!

The Travelling Foxes climbing the Himalayan mountains

The best sunset ever.

Camping under the stars

Top Tip #1: It’s best to coordinate with a local friend you can trust to arrange the bus transfers and other local transportation. Going with a bigger group makes more sense so you can split the costs for renting tents, and hire a tour guide (if ever).

Second Leg (Golden Triangle Tour)

For the next 5 days, I was assigned to create an itinerary where we can see and experience India as much as we can. I went straight to research but found that it made much more sense to hire an agency and save yourself from a lot of time and headache. I discovered this website called Tripcrafters. They are a local travel affiliate marketing company where they work with hundreds of travel agencies in India and help shortlist 3 agencies to match your budget, itinerary, and schedule.

Top Tip#2: Do diligent research on the travel agency first (use Tripadvisor) and mention to them that you are currently looking at other agencies so they will keep their prices low.

They will get back to you (surprisingly fast), but be aware that Indians are super persistent at selling (meaning, they will annoy the hell out of you until you tell them a firm reason why you are not choosing them).

In the end, we chose Oasis Travel because they were fast, reliable (based on TripAdvisor reviews), and the most value for money. The total package offered to us was USD600 for 3 people (USD200/each) that include car rental for 4-5 days with a driver, hotel accommodation, and tour guides for each city.

Here’s our rough itinerary guide for a complete Golden Triangle tour:

Day 1 – Pick up from New Delhi (option to do day tour in Delhi) and drive to Agra.
Day 2 – Visit Taj Mahal in Agra. Drive to Jaipur
Day 3 – Arrive Jaipur
Day 4 – Whole day tour in Jaipur
Day 5 – Drive back to New Delhi

(New Delhi) 

Nat & Nat in Red Fort, New Delhi

Must-visit: Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort, Connaught Road

Top Tip#3: Most of the monuments and gardens have very expensive entrance fees for foreigners (350-500INR). Going to at least 1 monument should be enough, and the rest can be seen and enjoyed from the outside.

(Agra)

The Amazing Taj Mahal

Top Tip#4: Visit the actual Taj Mahal for sunrise (6AM). For sunset, it’s best to see it from the Mehtab Bagh (moon garden) for a spectacular view of the lake and majestic Taj Mahal.

(Jaipur)

Marveling at Jaipur’s amazing architecture

Must-visit: Monkey temple, Amber Fort, Street markets

Top Tip#5: It’s a must to at least check out the markets in Jaipur. They sell cheap and good quality garments, saris, and other traditional Indian attire and jewelry. You can also visit the spice market and buy authentic Indian spices (and cook your own Indian curry back home!)

WHAT TO BRING

Okay, this is an essential part when planning your trip to India. Since we mixed backpacking/hiking with a city tour, we needed to plan a bit more in advance to ensure we had the proper gear for our travels. We’ll be sharing another video or blog post soon about packing hiking gear for the snowy Himalayan mountains.

In general, the first thing you need to know is the weather conditions in India. We, unfortunately, went there during their hottest season – April. And being a conservative country, deciding what clothes to bring was quite a challenge. It was important to wear thin shirts (with sleeves), long pants and skirts, and shawls to cover ourselves from the sun. Slather in some sunscreen, chapsticks, and wear the proper shoes for walking.

Entering India, you need to make sure you have your E-Visa ready and printed out for immigration. About 3 weeks before your trip, make sure to apply online. It’s relatively quick and easy, as you get notified on the status in 2-3 days.

Once you’re there, be wary of the food you eat. If ever you haven’t heard about “Delhi Belly”, it basically means the risk of getting sick from the food or drinks you consume while in India. Some of us don’t have a strong gut, and you certainly don’t want to spend most of your vacation in the hotel room nursing a bad tummy! So a good tip is to bring a medical kit and some over-the-counter medicine that includes probiotics — you can find these in any drugstore.

Top Tip #6: Bring USD or any major currency like Euros or Japanese Yen. We mostly brought Philippines Peso and they, unfortunately, don’t exchange them in India.

For more travel tips on what to bring, check out our video here.

COST OF GETTING AROUND (Budget of PHP 30,000 or less)

India is relatively cheap as a destination in comparison to almost anywhere. Planning your itinerary in advance such as tours, transportation, accommodation, will help you with setting up a good budget. We spent PHP16k for our airfare (super good deal!) so the rest below are our expenses for the whole trip.

*Note: 1INR (Indian Rupees) = 1PHP (Philippine peso)

First Leg (Kheerganga Trek)

Total Cost: Est. PHP 5,000

Breakdown:
  • Bus to Kasol (12hrs)
  • Food – about 80-100INR per meal
  • Camping / Tent rentals
  • Transportation back to New Delhi

Top Tip#7: There’s a special Mami (noodles) in India – and it’s amazingly addictive! I highly recommend ordering a hot Mami any time you’re hiking in the cold mountains. Seriously, they make the best instant Mami noodles out there. Plus super cheap!

Second Leg (Golden Triangle)

Total Cost: Est. PHP 25,000

Breakdown:
  • Tour c/o agency (PHP 11,750) – Includes accommodation in New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, transportation with driver, toll, gas, and driver’s meals
  • Monument Fees  (PHP 3,500) – Taj Mahal is the most expensive, about PHP1,500, plus other monument fees not included in the tour
  • Food & Meals (PHP 1,200/day) – Depending on where you dine, but a budget-friendly option can go down up to PHP100/meal
  • Shopping (PHP 5,000) – It’s definitely shopping heaven in India, especially if you’re looking for cute souvenirs or “saris” (traditional Indian costume). Prices may vary, but always remember to barter!

Top Tip#8: Almost everything in India is negotiable…don’t be afraid to barter! If they don’t give you a price you like, walk away and you’ll find it elsewhere or they’ll call you back and agree.

IN CONCLUSION

Travelling to India requires an open mind and an adventurous spirit. When they say India is not safe, some parts of it may be true, thus being prepared and being street smart is definitely a must. It’s best to just drop your expectations as a foreigner travelling here for the first time. You’re either going to be let down or if you’re like me it might exceed expectations.  Either way, India has loads to offer in terms of cultural experience, worthwhile travel stories, and gastronomic cuisine. There is charm and character in every city you explore, and the best part of it here is — it’s cheap and affordable!

Final Tip: You’ll never be able to fully explore India in a week. Instead of daydreaming about what India will be like, spend more time looking up places you want to see you can make the most of your time.

 Happy travels!

Rockin’ in our beautiful saris!

Follow our adventures (The Travelling Foxes) here:

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