Throughout most of our travels we usually book our accommodations at least a day in advance before arrival. Because, it is a lot easier to have somewhere to stay before you arrive in your destination. Especially after a long over-night bus ride or if you are arriving late in some obscure little town in South East Asia. However, it is completely different in India. Sure, you can still book your guesthouses, hotels, or hostels ahead of time and have that piece of mind and not have to worry about it when you arrive. Or you could just wing it and save yourself a lot of money!
Before we arrived in India we were in contact with our fellow traveler-friend Mariana (you can read about her travels here) who told us that she never books her accommodations in advance and usual only spends about 200 rupees a night for a single room. Wow! That’s about 3.5 Euros or a little over $4 USD a night! While we had been lucky a few times to get such cheap rooms in South East Asia, never did we think you could get these types of prices regularly.
We had already booked our guesthouse for our arrival in Bangalore, India. Since we wanted a gentle introduction to India we opted for a homestay (Sumanjay Homestay) that was highly recommended in the forums. While the stay was nice, it turned out to be one of our most expensive accommodations for our entire journey through India! We paid about $27 USD/night, which included breakfast and great conversation with the owners.
After our stay in Bangalore we headed to the coast of Karnataka to the small sleepy beach town of Gokarna without a guesthouse reservation. We met up with Mariana there and we set off on foot looking for a place to stay on the beach. The first place wanted 1000 rupees for a room for 3 people. We looked at a couple more places before we found a new place that had a room for 3 people with attached bathroom at 500 rupees (or 166.7 rupees/person/night)! This guest house didn’t even have a name (yet), but it was right on Kudle Beach and had it’s own restaurant called Dragon Restaurant and they have internet available. There were plenty of other places along this beach as well as other nearby beaches and I’m sure you could get similar deals if you looked around.
Never did we book our accommodation in advance again throughout our 6 weeks in India and on average we spent about 350 rupees (USD $7.43) a night for a double room with attached bathroom. You will pay a little more for A/C. Our cheapest rooms were for 150 rupees/night. About the only times we paid more than 350 rupees was when we booked a room that was recommended in the Lonely Planet, and in Mumbai and Kolkata. While the Lonely Planet is a great resource and we never leave to travel without it, Indian accommodations have taken this as a sign to rip you off! On average their prices were at least double of what the going rate was for similar rooms in the area. For example, on the resort island of Havelock, the Lonely Planet recommends the Pristine Beach Resort. Well, pristine it is not. It is more like a dump and when we arrived we were followed by 3 other rickshaws with tourists all wanting to get rooms there because of the Lonely Planet recommendation! They showed us a cottage that was severely weathered with many holes for mosquitoes to enter and they didn’t even have a mosquito net! The clincher was their asking price of 800 rupees/night! Wow, that was so much that we didn’t even bother to haggle. We left and visited the place two doors down, Golden India (or Hello to the Queen) that had new cottages with a mosquito net for 400 rupees/night. I thought it was such a deal that I agreed and even forgot to haggle! The next day I bargained with the owners and told them that we would stay an extra night if they offered it to us for 300 rupees; otherwise, we were going to move to Neil Island (a nearby island that is known for good snorkeling). Wanting our continued business the owner agreed and I am now certain that we could have gotten that price if I had haggled with him in the first place.
While these are good prices, you need to remember that these are budget accommodations and some places will be better than others and on top of that, this is India ;). So, make sure that you bring your own towels, soap and, of course, toilet paper!
1 – As of spring 2010 on average, you should not have to spend more than 350 rupees for a non-AC double room with attached bathroom (You will have to pay more during high season in some places). Exceptions are Mumbai (very expensive, minimum 800 rupees) and Kolkata (400 – 500 rupees). Note: These prices are for rooms without air conditioning. If you are traveling solo, you will even save more, like Mariana!
2 – Never act as if you like the place. At best show indifference to the place and let them know that you are looking around.
3 – Smile and haggle with them just like at the market and start to walk away if you don’t get your price and most of the time they will either meet your price or come close. 90% of the time they will start with a higher price than they expect you to pay.
4 – Don’t settle for accommodations just because they are recommended in the Lonely Planet. Their prices will certainly be inflated!
If you don’t mind doing your leg work once you arrive in your destination town, you will certainly save a bundle on rooms.
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