A Vagabond’s Budget in India

India is one of the more inexpensive countries on the backpacker circuit. Depending on your habits, tastes and where you travel, you can live pretty effing cheaply in this country for as long as your visa will allow.


Make your Rupees stretch. (Photo credit: rvgpl)

I set my own budget at a projected $1,250 CAD dollars per month (all costs in this section will be listed in Canadian dollars, as this is the currency in which I do my finances), and this wasn’t a difficult goal to stick to. It was in fact generous (as any budget you’re setting for yourself should be to allow for wiggle room and emergencies).

Over the course of 3 months, my total spending in India came to a grand total of $4,350.16. But this includes the approximately $1600.00 purchase of Hrithik, my Royal Enfield motorcycle, from which I regained around $1200.00 when I sold him in Darjeeling.
Given this, my actual loss of finance was more like $3,150.16, or about $1,050.00 per month.

So how’d this break down?

Complete 3 month Total – $4,350.16

Auto & Transport – $1,903.21 ($634/month) (again, taking into account the $1200 that was recovered, this was more like $703.21, or $234/month)
Food & Dining – $645.16 ($215/month)
Accommodation – $575.48 ($192/month)
Phone/Internet – $176.83 ($59/month)
Entertainment – $125.34 ($42/month)
Shopping – $587.91 ($196/month)
Gifts & Donations – $106.33 ($36/month)
Fees & Charges – $94.00 ($31/month)
Health – $77.47 ($26/month)
Post – $29.74 ($10/month)
Personal Care – $17.90 ($6/month)
Uncategorized – $10.79 ($3.50/month)

And broken down in greater detail:

Auto and transport – As I said, what you spend will depend greatly on how you travel. I was traveling by motorbike, which meant a constant cost of fuel and repairs. Traveling by bike affords you more flexibility and freedom (and the bonus of looking 30% more badass), but it’s also more expensive than getting around by train would have been. Auto and transport also included jeep rental and auto-rickshaw costs.
These costs do not include my flights in and out of India. I lucked out on my flight over, finding a one-way flight (I tend to use one-way flights to keep my options open) through Kayak.com from Sydney, Nova Scotia (alway more expensive to fly out of the ass-end of countries as opposed to the major centres) to New Delhi (with stopovers in Halifax, NS and Newark, New Jersey) for $802.99 US dollars, taxes in. My flight back to Sydney, as I was pressed for dates and had less flexibility, cost more. I left from Bagdogra and had stopovers in New Delhi, Newark and Halifax, and that one ran me (or rather, ran my insurance agency) $1,434.13 Canadian dollars, also with taxes in. That flight I found through the relatively new to me skyscanners.com. This was the first time I ever found a flight more cheaply than via Kayak. I’d recommend either of these sites for your flight searches as their database is massive, and they quote the true final prices of flights (i.e. The prices AFTER taxes). Both of these flights were, unsurprisingly, economy class.

Food and Dining – I wasn’t terribly frugal with my food. Particularly when I started getting sick, I strayed from the dirt (dirt being the operative word) cheap street eats and ate in seemingly clean restaurants far more often. Still, near the end I couldn’t eat much, so it wasn’t costing me much to buy my rations of fruit and toast. Being sick, however, added to my costs in other ways. Hiring the jeep to follow us into Darjeeling in case I passed out on the way there, for instance. We also bought beer a number of times – if you’re not a drinker, your food and drink costs are always going to drop considerably.

Dirty feet and passed out?

You’re also far less likely to pass out stone drunk in a foreign country. (Photo credit: FlackJacket2010)

Accommodation – Pete and I stayed in hostels and low cost hotels. We splurged a little once or twice to get a good night’s sleep or a hot shower, but for the most part we went for the discount options. We only couch-surfed once, and didn’t camp at any point.

Phone/internet – $96 was spent on internet connectivity, and $80 on phones. This is, again, higher due to a number of calls I needed to make back to Canada during the course of my illness. And there was a fair amount of internet usage as I was, of course, running and uploading this blog.

Entertainment included things like rafting, site entrance fees, a massage, safari, etc.

Shopping – My shopping costs were so high largely because of the GPS I bought for $200 (I sold it before leaving for $100). Another $60 chunk was a voice recorder I bought for interviews I was doing at the time. The remaining portion was largely souvenirs for myself and for friends, and clothing for myself to better suit the climate.

Gifts and donations – I did make a couple charitable contributions, but I also seem to have split the money I spent on gifts for friends between here and shopping. I am not ballsing to go and fix it now.

Fees and charges were largely ATM fees. I fucking hate ATM fees.


(Photo credit: Tau Zero)

Health included medication and doctor fees. Money I’d later see back from my insurance agency.

Post – Sent some shit back by mail.

Personal care – Toiletries and laundry.

Uncategorized – I have no idea what this mystery purchase was. Perhaps I entered it while in a delirious fever. This $11 is forever lost to me.

(As a side note for the curious, I use the very awesome mint.com for tracking my finances. It made what could otherwise have been a very difficult post stupidly easy. It also lets me track my spending when I’m not traveling, with little effort, and I love it for that. And it has pie charts. I fucking LOVE pie charts. Mint is a free service.)

Pie charts for all!

Once again, both the bike and illness knocked my finances up a fair deal from what they could otherwise have been. You can certainly travel far more cheaply in India than for $1000/month. But remember when making your own projected budget: Always allow room for both disaster and opportunity. If you don’t spend it, awesome. But you should have some money set aside in case you need, or just very strongly want, it for anything that might come up.

Some additional notes on your money in India:

Prepare for copious amounts of bank fees. With almost no exception, you can take out only 10,000 Rs from any ATM per transaction. Which means my bank was charging me $5 on every $200 I withdrew. Which blows, and which I was, despite my best efforts, unable to find a way around.

Depending on your bank, you may have trouble withdrawing money from certain bank ATMs. I didn’t have much trouble, but I met several travellers who did.

Paying by credit card where possible (though it won’t be possible very often) can save you bank fees and get you a more favourable exchange rate but, for fuck’s sake, make sure the place you’re passing your credit card to is trustworthy. There are places that are not above stealing your information while you pay them.

Airport change booths will rape you with their exchange rates. Avoid at all costs. They will tell you you cannot legally carry rupees outside of India or exchange them in a foreign country, but I was able to exchange mine without incident at Bank of Montreal in Nova Scotia, Canada. They informed me I could exchange an amount of Rupees up to $1,500 CAD without any trouble. I wish I had known that beforehand.

When it comes to getting a general sense of what things cost in India, just ask around. Ask other travellers what they’re paying, ask the people working in your hostel what your rickshaw ride should cost. Listen and watch what for what other people are paying for things on the street. Consulting guidebooks is grand, but you’ll get a more timely picture by watching and asking people around you in the present day. Once again, don’t expect to pay what the locals do. They’re not making your salary, and they know it. Tourist taxes apply.

Next post up will be ‘Highlights from A Vagabond’s Motorcycle Wanders of India’, where I’ll share the finer details on how you, too, can experience the parts of India I did (the good parts, like rafting down the Ganges in Rishikesh and watching the fiery Ganga Aarti from a boat in Varanasi. Not so much the ‘getting dysentery’ bit). This will also mark the very last of my posts on India, which makes me simultaneously happy and sad. See you then.



*Have I missed touching on something you’re curious about? Feel free to hit me up with questions in the comments block below, and I’ll add to this article where I can as questions come in.
*This budget was set for travels that took place February to April of 2012.
*Photos from these travels can be viewed over Flickr here or on the Facebooks where you’ll find me as Krys C Wanders.


2 thoughts on “A Vagabond’s Budget in India

  1. great post as always! a little tip – on the back of your bank card there should be an indication of what atm machines you can use… usually in canada ours would have a “plus” symbol, so its compatible with any machine that displays the same 🙂 others may use the “cirrus” network. as for the withdrawal limit, that’s usually a daily limit on your card, not the machine. or maybe thats just india 🙂

  2. Hey Kat,

    Yeah, the symbols are a great thing to know, and definitely hold up in most countries. Less so in India, unfortunately. Sometimes just individual machines wouldn’t take travelers cards – like, the same bank might work one day, but not the next.
    And the limits were definitely on the machines, not the cards. My limit is higher than $200 a day. And the limit was often displayed as a message on the ATMs as well – 10,000 Rupee limit.

    In short. . . yeah, that’s just India.

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