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12 Tips for Finding Budget Accommodations in India

places to stay in gokarna

You’ll find all ranges of accommodations in India and they’ll vacillate from guesthouses, midrange hotels and luxury hotels.

For long-stay backpacking travelers looking for economic lodgings to stretch their ruppee, finding good budget accommodations in India can feel like a test of resourcefulness, patience and willpower.  A budget cradle spells the need for an open-mind, a crowbar of willpower and let’s face it–  the room might not always match the higher rupee you’re paying for an upgraded experience. During my three month backpacking trip, this is an account of some budget accommodations in India where I stayed.

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Dealing with budget accommodations in India

Guesthouses can range from 100 Rs to 3000 Rs.

If I’m 100 Rs/night cheap, I might find my room in the gut of a basement or tucked in a remote corner afraid to touch anything in my room. Pricier accommodations might be better, but it doesn’t warrant instant peace of mind. The standards of Indian hotels and hotel house-keeping are different.  Some Indian businesses master resourcefulness and facilities may not get replaced until they’re broken.. and even then. New, new-looking, newly-painted… are the five star way.

Everything else, is well, a hit or miss experience of the India way.

1.  Expect metropolitan areas to cost more

Expect the prices to be slightly higher in metropolitan cities, starting at $20. Areas that are central to city attractions will raise in price. Further outside the city center and in more residential areas, you’ll find the prices drop considerably.  Some residential areas pose nice and cleaner environments, but may lack easy commute options, pushing your reliance towards taxis.  In small to medium towns, prices fluctuate between guesthouses and hotels. You might be able to upgrade to a hotel for the same cost as a guesthouse in a metropolitan area. Weigh your options.

2. Book your first night only

If you’re booking your first night at a hotel that is site unseen, it’s wise to only book your first night’s stay and leave it open until you get there. If upon arrival, the guesthouse or hotel doesn’t meet your standards, you can easily change the next day.  If not, I recommend a great site for accommodations in Asia:  Agoda.

2.  A 100 ruppee stay is not always as ideal as it seems

A 100 ruppee stay can stretch your dollar gaining your a small bungalow on the beach, but in reality might not always present as good as it sounds.  Always try to see the room first. Indian accommodations are almost always interesting and unique.Budget accommodations in India and the solo traveler

3. An upgraded price doesn’t necessarily mean an upgrade in facility.

The guesthouse and midrange accommodations are the least expensive, but standards can range in extremes from nicely furnished to sharing a hallway squat toilet . An upgrade in price doesn’t necessarily mean an upgrade in facility.

In looking for a Delhi accommodation that wasn’t Paharganj, I asked a local Indian friend for her recommendation. She told me of a guesthouse that her company recommends for business travelers and it was in the suburbs of Delhi, which meant it was safe. I upgraded my $20/night stay to $30/night and found the room more spacious but not necessarily any closer to my standards than I hoped (it was largely seeing woolen blankets on my bed, I think. Read the next part about my phobia with blankets). Additionally, this hotel was in a nicer part of Delhi, alright but it was far from tourist activity and the metro. This meant to get around, I needed to taxi it everywhere and get back earlier in the day to avoid searching for taxis at night.

4. Throw out expectations

Westerners have a different standard when it comes to accommodations. We just do.  My memories of staying at a Carlton Ritz, Sheraton or even a Motel 6 or Best Western…  Erase.  Re-program.

As I write this post from my room in Gokarna, there’s a bug family celebration in my room– mosquitoes, moths, ants, gnats, roaches, giant geckos and you-name-it bugs are buzzing, attracted to my bedroom light. It’s too much variety to keep count!  My inner freak-out is trying to calm itself, I’m religiously spraying my bed and I just invested in an electric plug-in mosquito repellent from the corner shop. Still, this “Lonely Planet India budget stay recommendation” has a firm bed, welcoming sunlight and thankfully, no large roaches.  It’s all about learning rebalancing your perspective.

If you’re diving into Mother India on a backpacker’s budget, you can’t have high expectations. I’ve learned to expect the worst, just so that anything remotely better, will feel like a gem!  And still, it amazes me how much I love this country.

mosquito repellent electric pluginMy electric plug-in mosquito repellent

Other culture shock examples:


Blankets: 
Do you really think the blankets on the bed of hotels get a wash each time a person leaves?  Personally, I don’t even use the throws on at the five star resort hotels, so I am a bit of an American germaphobe! Indian housekeepers will generally hang their blankets out in the sun to dry and give it a duster beating.  A wash might not take place in a washing machine (I’ve only ever seen washers being sold in south India -Kerala area),  but in a local river or ghat.

When I was in Dharamsala, it was cold and thick woolen blankets were necessary. The one in my room had questionable “stuff” on it, so I asked to exchange it. The boy opened a dusty storage room, rifled through an old bundle of rags, pulled a grubby comforter from it, beat it with his hand once (producing a dust flurry) and then, handed to me. My jaw dropped. Standards in India can hit you in the gut like that.  I ended up keeping the blanket that was in my room.

Carpeting:  Is India’s dirt dirtier than the west? With the unrestrained littering, roaming cows and public urinals in streets, it would smell so. Do you really want to walk barefoot on that hotel rug, knowing that you’re quite possibly mopping up the the residue of human piss and cow poo remnants from the sole of every person before you?

indian vaccuumBehold, the  “vaccuum”.

5.  Exercise blind faith

Feigning ignorance to things which might normally gross me out helps.

“Off-white” in India, doesn’t mean unclean, but you ‘ll need to do less scrutinizing to get through it. While overlooking the hair on my bed will take mental training,… the soil on my sheets? Okay, maybe it’s from the wash. You won’t find many washing machines in India as much of the laundry is hand-washed in a river or bathing ghat.  I’ve sent my own laundry out to get washed through local services, which send them to dhobis of some sort.  In Mumbai, a large population of the city sends their laundry out to get washed by dhobis (a caste of launders).

6.  Shop around

Looks aren’t everything, but choosing where to lay your head in India can feel like everything. Sometimes, you find a great bargain  straight off! Other times,  it takes shopping around on foot.

For 100 Rupees (approx $2.00), it was in a decent guesthouse run by good people. Located across the bus station, I was central. But when I first saw it, I didn’t leap with Hallelujahs. The dingy lobby decor held stationary cot beds (for employee use), reminiscent of a homeless shelter and my shoebox room looked like a scuffed college dorm room, with a community bathroom that held a squat toilet. Hardly thrilling.

Only after shopping around, surveying the guesthouses in town and rudimentary mud huts on the beach, did things fall into perspective.  My room was neat, central to the bus and town, with a 15 minute walk to the beach. It was listed with Lonely Planet India. It wasn’t my worse nor my best accommodations, but I’ll remember it always as a good score of a place. Despite the bugs flying into the room from the outside (I had to keep my windows slightly open for ventillation), it me well for three nights. For the price, I couldn’t complain. I met many western expat travelers who chose Gokarna as their an extended escape, making India their long-term home. I could understand why– rent was low, beach life was good and the town was laid-back.

budget hotel in indiaCan looks be deceiving? Outside of my lodge in Gokarna.

places to stay in gokarna

 

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7.  Follow travelers who match your style

When hunting for a crib, I keep an eye out for other travelers. While middle-aged folk, backpacking couples, families and lipstick travelers may not match my travel style, they’ll likely match my lodging one.  And if I’m shopping around and see any of these people, I might approach them and ask these 3 things–

• Where are you staying?

• How much is it?

• Is it clean and safe?

I was in Trivandrum for one night. I passed a hotel, where I saw young European couples emerging and older American couples dining. I used the three lines (above) and it led me to a decent business studio room with bathroom ensuite for 750 rupees ($19). It smelled of cigarettes from the person before me, but it was one of the nicer budget hotel options around!

 

8. Wanna share a room?

When it comes to finding great bargain pads, it sucks to be single!  So I learned to find quick bed mates in other solo travelers.

Traveling with friends or fellow  travelers can also keep you in the company of good finds and by splitting the costs, you can upgrade the room to a nicer one!  Below is the room I shared with another traveler on my second day in Mumbai. This was in the tourist populated Colaba area.

Sea Shore Hotel, Mumbai

Sea Shore Hotel, 1-49 Kamal Mansion, 4th floor, Near Radio Club, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba, Mumbai

Sea Shore Hotel, Mumbai

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In Kochi, I partnered with Lily- a German girl- for a chic 1,200 rupees/night room.  We paid 600 rupees each (approx $13/person) and got the room in the pictures below. Often, being “a couple” affords a nicer room (bath en suite) at the same price you’d pay for a cramped shanty single with a shared hallway toilet.  In Hampi, I split a 1,000 Rx bungalow with Maude, a French traveler I met on the bus.

budget hotel fort kochi india, Accommodations in Kochi, Accommodations in india, Accommodations in Cochin

Guesthouse in Cochin, I shared this two bed room with a German traveler I met on the plane.

tom's old mansion, fort cochin

budget hotel in fort kochi india, accommodations in fort kochi, accommodations in cochin

Tom’s Old Mansion: Heritage Hotel, Princess Street, Fort Kochi 1200Rs/night

Accommodations in Hampi, Accommodations in india

Hema guesthouses in Hampi. I shared a two bed bungalow with a French girl I met on the bus. We had our own hammock

hema guesthouse hampi india

9.  Expand your vocabulary and learn gratitude

As a traveler who was once only used to staying in hotels, my guesthouse vocabulary expands in India. It only adds to the adventurous feeling of my travels.

My lodgings in Gokarna may have suffered from a lack of personality, style and luxury, hosting bugs and off-white sheets. But in torrid Indian heat and mugginess, one thing redeemed it all… a 100 rupee price tag and a fan.  But my guesthouse in Alleypey was quite different. Located in a private house with many bedrooms, it was converted into a guesthouse. Not bad.

brown guesthouse, accommodations in alleypey, accommodations in india

Brown guesthouse, Alleypey

brown guesthouse

10. Pack to prevent

Being American, I’m from a country prone to germaphobe habits. So if you’re like me, you’re not fine with collecting head lice, bed bugs and whatever germs exist in a used mattress or a train bed. One-third of my pack is chock-full of preventative aids:

A silk liner

Melaleuca/tea tree spray –  It cleans my room, kills bacteria & helps prevent bed bugs.

A twin-sized hypoallergenic mattress cover – Originally designed for people with dust allergies, it’s the kryptonite cover which keeps bacteria and dust mites from penetrating. I cut up my old cover into a twin-bed sized layer; it folds to the size of a pocket hard drive and is lighter than my silk liner.

Read 5 Must Haves for Traveling India

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11. Never trust hotel website photos.

Never trust photos on Indian hotel websites, unless they’re photos posted by fellow travelers on sites like Agoda or Tripadvisor. If you find photos on Indian hotel websites, some act like e-Harmoney profiles.  They only show the best room or best angle, while eclipsing the rest.

My first guesthouse in Mumbai looked fabulous in photos!  I couldn’t believe the price or that was selling a dorm stay.  It wasn’t until I arrived and realized the guesthouse was in a very run-down residential apartment with dorm cots in two bedrooms.  The owner had turned his apartment into a dorm-styled guesthouse and it was in a residential area of town, that you wouldn’t want to stroll around at night. There were foreign travelers from young to old there to lend some comfort of being a lone female traveler in this uncomfortable reality, but was my first and last night there.  No more.

I stopped looking at Indian website photos as reference.

 

Anjali Inn, Mumbai

Mumbai my first night- Anjali Inn. Sometimes, website photos can be misleading…

.Anjali Inn, MumbaiAnjali Inn, Mumbai

12. Hostel is not a standard in India (but times are changing)

NEW ADDITION: Hostels weren’t a term  in India, but recently, a hip and boutique hostel chain opened up for modern travelers (wifi available). I’ve seen a couple of their hostels; book in advance as spaces  fill up fast.

 

Solo Travel and Finding Accommodations in India

I’m not saying that there’s no decent cribs in India, but as a solo gal backpacker on extended travel, I’m hunting for a way to make my rupee stretch. But I don’t want to compromise decent, safe and clean.

 

In India, suffering culture shock with your room can sometimes amplify the sense of loneliness for a soloist. From bugs whizzing from all directions, the stains on the walls, the rotted and warped hole around a ceiling fan, which threatens to unhook itself from violent shakes … to a tiny (pubic?) hair on shaded sheets.  It’s easy to feel your scream imprisoned with a rusty bolt and padlock! A long and lonely journey for a night. You’ve experienced the best and the worst.

But then again, sometimes India surprises you with nicer accommodations.

Watch: The Anatomy of an Indian Hotel

At dawn, I smell a stench odor sliding under my door crack. I’m awoken by the most grisly, echoing sounds of my neighbor (another solo traveler), whose undergoing a brutal case of Delhi Belly and non-stop projectile vomiting .

Read: Food Tips: Avoid Getting Sick while Traveling

I thank Mother India for at least granting me good health– things for me, now seem better than worse!

I leave my room to go to the toilet down the hall and then, it hits me… my bathroom is shared.

Any tips, horror stories or screams that you’d like to share about your budget experience? Holler here.

Related articles

5 Travel Must-Haves for India

How to travel solo in India: Interview with Chiaki Nakashima

Lessons of a first-time Solo Traveler in India

Dealing with accidents and injury in India

The anatomy of an Indian Hotel

19 Comments

  1. Vivek Sharma says:

    Thanks for your valuable tips. Anybody can get a very cheap deal of accommodation anywhere in India. These are the great options for the backpackers mainly who want to stay for extended period and want to explore each and every place thoroughly. Anybody who want to stay for a month, it would be better for them to opt for the personal houses that are on rent. These are usually ten times less than the cheapest hotel rooms. Apart from that, there could be heavy expense on food. So tourists may opt for the regular lunch or dinner services from a basic hotel to save the maximum.

  2. Had a blast reading through your article! I had so much fun when I was in India and I hope more travelers can experience the same. This in-depth article for accommodations will sure help make that happen!

  3. Great informative and useful blogs. I hear you on those smelly quilts and blankets!!! Once I arrived late to a nondescript hotel Bundi, Rajasthan (what a gorgeous town, but ssshhh, don’t tell anyone ha ha!) unfolded the blanket only to find a dried up human pooh in it. OMG!!! Another squirm story was a blocked shower drain in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, over a few days I noticed the water was draining slower and slower, until one day, horror of horrors, I saw liquidy shit coming up through the drain…..umm, time to move on! I guess it all makes for funny stories doesnt it. For any woman hesitating to go to India alone (or guy for that matter), just do your research, take a deep breath and dive in. Its not that dangerous if you are sensible and follow your instincts. Only an extra few bucks can go a long way to having nicer accommodation – a soft mattress, clean sheets, and your own bathroom. Don’t forget earplugs! I love India, heading off soon for my seventh solo trip since 1988 as a 21 year old.

  4. indian says:

    We don’t want backpackers anyway so pls give India a pass. First you guys don’t have money to spend and a king size attitude on top of that.

    • @Indian: Thank you for sharing; your comment is welcome. Yes, I’ve heard that backpackers aren’t welcome visitors in places… maybe many. I wish these places would hang a sign up to let us know to avoid them or to simply turn us away. That would save much time.=-)

      As for ‘attitude’, I can understand why that evolves: each country’s standards, cultures, daily lifestyles are different. As travelers, we want change and difference and we try our best to accept and appreciate them, but it’s not always that easy if the difference is greater than what we’re used to. Sometimes, we’re taken aback by this. I actually love India and it’s my second time visiting. I love the culture and the people… and a part of me wishes I could live there for a year to get to know the country and people better. The country is both, amazing and scary to me. Some aspects of the lifestyle definitely challenge me, as it will others… it’s not the lifestyle I come from. But I won’t be dishonest or apologize about what I experience, what I write or how I feel. If I chose to travel India on a budget, then I got what I paid for. Simple as that.

  5. travelyn says:

    Your tales are very worthy of reading and must be lots of travelers out there who have shared the same dilemmas and horrors. Good luck with your travels

    • @Travelyn: Thanks so much. I’m sure so many of us share similar experiences. It’s why I love meeting fellow travelers! If it’s my posts are a heads up for future travel planning, great. If it’s for commiseration, that works just as good. =)

  6. I agree that the low end in India is awful … but I’ve found that if I ask around, and pay a bit more — and negotiate! — I can usually find a nice clean guest house run by friendly people.

    However, I think you have to avoid looking like a back-packer. If you are clean and well-dressed you will be more welcome at a family run guest house.

    I’ve actually seen an Australian female back-packer turned away from a nice place I was staying in Rajasthan by the owners/managers because she was unkempt.

    • @Mariellen: As an expat of India, I thank you for your comment. I didn’t realize the backpacker look worked against travelers, but I guess there are many of us who can look pretty scroungy. I’m sure no respectable family would want to house someone who’s homeless looking, even if they bring cash. I was at a gh in Mumbai (which wasn’t so “dazzling” but speaking with the management, I remember them saying that they didn’t want any Indians/locals to stay there. They led me to believe that Indians wouldn’t respect the accommodations and that they spit and stuff… Interesting.

  7. Sarah says:

    Your posts about India have been INCREDIBLY helpful.

    I read another post of yours which mentioned getting a lot of your shots/ vaccinations in Thailand before moving on to India. I’ll be in the same situation (Korea to Thailand to India) and was wondering if you would suggest doing that? What’s the price difference between getting them done in Korea or Thailand?

    Again, thank you so much for your thorough write-ups about India. Truly helpful (and very motivating!).

    • @Sarah: Apologies for the late response. Traveling & homelessness makes me forgetful sometimes! ha ha..
      I’m glad you’re finding some of my posts helpful!

      Bangkok’s medical infrastructure and their ability to deal with international clients (in English) is stronger than Korea’s at the moment, I feel… I took my first two rabies shots in Thailand (was on a vacation) and the cost was a sizeable difference to the U.S.. 1/4 the cost literally! Had to get the last shot in Korea & phenomenally, Korea totally failed. Daegu didn’t have the rabies drug so I had to order it from a private clinic and get it done in Seoul. A bit more costly than Thailand but still cheaper than the U.S. Korea is good but I tend to think of Thailand as the leader and if the best is cheaper, I’d definitely go with it. 😉

  8. Gray says:

    Remind me not to go to India until I can afford the really nice accommodations. I couldn’t do this. You are a hardier soul than I am, my friend.

  9. Laura in Cancun says:

    I have so much respect for you right now!

    I feel blessed that even though Mexico is a 3rd world country, Mexicans are remarkably clean. 🙂

  10. jooliyah says:

    oh my goodness, your traveling ability is amazing! you have a super power or something. seriously, i am eating up your blog. i just discovered it while googling for “hula dancing in daegu.” =) and i am so sad that i juuuuuuuust missed you!

  11. Whoops, can you fix my typo. I meant down, not dwon. 🙂

  12. A really great run-dwon Chris. Budget is so relative. I was too sick all the time to write a decent post on my accommodations, but the place I stayed in Agra was disgusting. There were holes in the bathroom wall, it smelled like an open sewer and the sheets were NOT clean. I got it for 400 RS, which is what it’s worth and they normally charge 1,000 RS. Yeah, like, NO.

  13. Ekua says:

    Ugh! I wish I had read this BEFORE going to India. It really was shocking to see how bad “budget” accommodations could be there. I’ll never forget the first Indian hotel I stayed in – the water smelled like curry! And it was $20 a night. It was so hard for me not to compare that to what kind of simple but clean accommodations you could find in so many other parts of the world with a comparable exchange rate. I’d love to think that the stains on walls in budget Indian hotels were really just mud…

    I wasn’t traveling in India for long, so eventually I started forking over a little more cash for nicer accommodations. I feel like I am typically a trooper when it comes to simple spaces or shared spaces, but the dirtiness was too much in India. You’re right about the loneliness aspect… I’m not often lonely on my solo travels, but there’s something about being by yourself in a dark, excessively dingy room that makes you reflect on your place in the world 😛

    • @Ekua: Girl, you shocked me with your comment. I do see you as a mucho GRRR! in comparison to me. But I guess India can test us all!
      @Nomadic Chick: Ha ha.. yeah, I’ve had those moments where they popped some inflated price for a crap room. I lied when I say I only put my hypoallergenic sheet, spray & silk liner down. After Dharamsala and my yoga program, i’ve been laying my yoga mat down as well. 😉

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