Travel Insider: Where does all of India go to book cheap travel?

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Last Updated on September 9, 2011 by Christine Kaaloa

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Planning my first backpacking trip to India, in 2008, was a stressful mess! I was Skyping with my girlfriend in California. We were both, wildly flipping back-and-forth betweenLonely Planet Indiabuy lonely planet india guidebook pages and internet browser windows for hours, attempting to plan the best route around India and decode its train schedules and bookings.

This time around, I didn’t have the time or patience to repeat that kind of planning. Fortunately when I arrived in India, there was a wealth of travel agencies at my disposal everywhere I went. They’d give me advice about transportation planning and for a slightly higher rate, they would book my bus and trains for me. But I still felt there was a pot of gold deeper below the surface.

Midway through my trip, I met others and gained useful search tips to help me plan my trip on my own. Most of these sites were recommended to me by vacationing Indians, expats living in India and fellow travelers. It was like learning the secret password to open Ali Baba’s cave!

Did it save me money? Yes! Time and stress? Definitely.  I could handle my bookings from an internet cafe,  my laptop on a moving train and now, I can even plan my future trips from anywhere! Now, I don’t need to take the 10,000 steps I took to trip planning back in 2008. Instead, I just can follow India…

Here are 4 popular search engine sites Indians go to for travel booking and planning :

• offers standard international/domestic flight and hotel searches. It also handles train, bus and car bookings throughout India.
Being able to see train and bus schedules and make reservations on the spot bookings made it one of my favorite go-to sites.

• handles standard flight and hotel searches and offers IRTC train reservation bookings.

• handles the minimum of Travelocity services, such as flight bookings (domestic/international), hotel and vacation packages for your budget holiday. Though I learned of this site too late to try it, I’ve heard from others, it promises the lowest prices of all search engines!

• is a good umbrella search engine if you want to check several different search engine sites in India.

Any tips on what worked for you when you planned your India trip?


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  • 1)Pre-book your first few nights in India, and get the hotel/guesthouse to arrange an airport transfer. It’s amazing how much peace of mind this gives you when you step out of the arrival gates and into the chaos. You can wing it easily from then on.

    2)For those who love trains (by far the best way to travel India), the frustration of Sleeper class being constantly booked out 3 months in advance becomes all too familiar. However “booked out” doesnt actually mean there arent sleeper Berths available (Indian Beauracracy). You can try your luck on the waiting list, or go for the emergency/tourist quota, but these are often sold out too. If you really want that particular train, a great local trick is to simply buy a general-class unreserved ticket, and then ask the ticket inspectors for an upgrade as the train rolls in. Try to be first in line. Might seem risky, but you’ll almost always get a berth (even if you have to wait on the train for a little while), and the alternative of an overnight bus on bone-jarring, pot-holed roads makes it worthwhile to try!

    • @Pete: Thanks so much for your tips! I totally agree with the first tip! Spot on. Having a room and airport pickup when I arrived absorbed my initial overwhelm. As for the second– I wish I knew this info. I’d heard that the train tix are always booked full and that there’s a tourist quota.. which gets quickly filled also. Didn’t know asking for upgrades were possible. Will have to try that next time. But maybe I’d chance it on a day train vs. a night one. 😉

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