Budget India Advice
You know, it's a bit of a bummer. For 7 months I kept detailed records of my expenses traveling India on a budget - and then I lost it all when I dropped my phone in the ocean. (In my defence, it was a REALLY good night out.)
So instead of the painstakingly intricate blog some were expecting, here is my best summary of my 7 months backpacking Mother India.
Budget return flights from Australia start at $900 in low season and $1200 in high season. Expect to pay more like $1800 for a world-class airline like QANTAS or Cathay Pacific (which I'd recommend for a safe, comfortable journey).
$85 for a 6 month Visa, valid from date of issue. Double the price if you're paying postage or going through a travel agent. Visa's change and vary for different Passport holders, do your research: http://www.vfsglobal.com/india/australia/.
$20-$30/day essentials (double this for Mumbai)
Accomm - $5-$15/night for a double bed room with or without ensuite in a guesthouse
Restaurant meal - $3
Long distance train (general class) - $0.50-$10
Rickshaw journeys - $1-$2 each
Water - $0.80 per bottle
Beer - $2
Daily tips = $1
Entrance fees, scooter hire or shopping - $5-$10
Booking.com has all the best deals. Set your search parameters to the lowest price per night, select the right Districts to be close to your sites to lower travel costs, check the Free Wifi facility and set the review score to at least 7+ then organise the listing by review scores to make sure you're not getting a dump. Priority should always go to included breakfasts!
It's always important to read the reviews! This ensures you can get the cheapest available place without having to sleep with the roaches. Nothing makes you want to blow your budget on high end accommodation more than a night in a motel with vomit in the wastebin (speaking from personal experience).
Eat where the locals eat. 2 out of my 3 most serious cases of food poisoning came from fancy restaurants. There's no correlation between price and sanitation! The third case was from a roadside vendor when the food had been sitting out too long. Eating in a small family diner-style restaurant is your best bet for affordable yet safe food. If the locals are avoiding it you definitely should too!
You will absolutely, definitely be taken advantage of based off the colour of your skin or your inability to speak the language. Rickshaw drivers are underpaid, overworked and often living in total poverty. Cycle rickshaws are rented out by men who often have to sleep under them at night. You'd want to make a few extra Rupees off a foreign traveller too!
Prices aren't set so it's one thing to expect to pay the higher end of a reasonable scale to help them out from your privileged position as a rich traveller, but it's another to consistently pay 10x the true fare your entire visit to India. It adds up, and frankly budget travellers can't afford this.
So you have to haggle. For the love of Siva, please haggle for the benefit of all travellers that will come after you. For a 5km autorickshaw journey locals would pay about $1 (50Rs). Paying $2-3 (100-150Rs) is perfectly reasonable. If you can't haggle them any lower, walk away and find someone who isn't trying to flamboyantly rip you off. On the bartering system you will find honest people and you will find total jerks. Don't be afraid to ditch the latter to seek the former.
India is a great country for budget and mid-range travel! Due to a growing middle class it isn't the cheapest, but you can comfortably get by and live quite well. You can dine out three meals a day, enjoy your evening beer and never have to walk far while keeping your daily budget low.