I’ll be honest– finding a place to crash is one of my ugh parts of traveling solo in India. It’s literally draining.
Budget cradles here spell the need for an open-mind, with a crowbar of willpower and let’s face it– India is not as cheap as it was and your room doesn’t always match the higher rupee you’re paying!
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, without compromising decent, safe and clean (forget chic!). If I’m too cheap, I might find myself in the gut of a basement afraid to touch anything in my room. Something a little pricier might be better, but it doesn’t warrant instant peace of mind. Why?
The rules of the game and standards of house-keeping are different here.
Here’s two examples:
Do you really think the blankets and throws on the bed get a wash each time a person leaves? (I don’t even use the throws on at the Hilton!) At most, “house-keeping” will hang it out in the sun to dry and give it a duster beating.
My tale of two evils: When I was in Dharamsala, it was cold and thick 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 chalk flurry) and then, handed to me. My jaw dropped. Standards in India can hit you in the gut like that.
Unwashed vs. dusty? Take your pick. I ended up keeping the blanket that was in my room.
Is India’s dirt dirtier than the west? With the unrestrained littering and bathroom habits of animals (and people) here, it would smell so. Thus, do you really want to walk barefoot on your rug, knowing that you’re mopping up the trekking dirt, human piss and cow poo remnants from the sole of every person before you?
Behold, the Indian “vaccuum”.
Ways I deal with budget stays in India:
1. Throw out expectations
All my memories of staying at a Carlton Ritz, Hilton, Sheraton or even Marriott, Best Western… ERASE.
As I write, there’s a bug family celebration going on in my room– mosquitoes, moths, ants, gnats, roaches, giant geckos and you-name-it bugs attracted to my light. It’s too much variety to keep count! The inner freak-out is still there, 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 tip has a firm bed, welcoming sunlight and thankfully, no large roaches.
I’m not saying– “Expect the worst…” Well NO, expect the worst! Anything remotely better than your worst imagined fear, will feel like a gem!
My electric plug-in mosquito repellent
2. Exercise blind faith
Feigning ignorance to things which might normally gross me out helps. My walls were an aged pink with scuffs of mud stains. (…at least, I hope that’s mud). My off-white sheets came with a few granules of soil and a tiny pubic hair?! Eeek!
“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. Much of the laundry is hand-washed in a river or bathing ghat.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself to make my impressions of “dirty” go away.
3. Shop around & get a scope of the city bargain.
Looks aren’t everything, but choosing where to lay your head in a developing country can feel like EVERYTHING. Sometimes, you find a great bargain straight off! Other times, it’s like flight comparisons; it takes shopping.
For 100 Rupees (approx $2.00), I was in a decent guesthouse run by good people (but it’s also the bug room with pube sheets!) and 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, reminiscent of a homeless shelter and my shoebox room- though sunlit- looked like a scuffed college dorm room, with a shared bath and squat toilet. Hardly thrilling.
Can looks be deceiving? Outside of my lodge in Gokarna.
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, tolerable.
4. 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 this decent room.
It smelled of cigarettes and the meal eaten there last, but at 750 rupees ($19 approx),
it was one of the nicest budget hotel options around! Not bad.
5. Wanna share a room?
it’s time to sculpt those pickup lines, because most soloists know this– when it comes to finding great bargain pads, it sucks to be single!
Hooking up with other solo travelers helps buffet expenses. An upgrade to a double room feels like a steal when split in two!
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.
A word of wise, however– always use discerning judgment when choosing your bedmates!
6. Always look on the positive side.
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.
7. Pack to prevent
If you’re like me, you’re not fine with collecting head lice, bed bugs and whatever germs or spills exist in a third-world budget mattress or a bus/train bed. Thus, 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.
The hardest part of solo travel and budget stays in India.
In India, suffering culture shock with your room only amplifies 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 and a tiny pubic hair on shaded sheets… It’s easy to feel your scream imprisoned with a rusty bolt and padlock! That’s a pretty long and lonely journey for a night.
At dawn, I smell a stench odor sliding under my door crack. I’m awoken by the most grisly, hallway-echoing sounds of my neighbor (another solo traveler), whose undergoing a brutal case of Delhi Belly and non-stop projectile vomiting.
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.
- 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