I’ve been keeping a secret from you, blog peeps! I hope you’ll forgive me, but I didn’t want the blog boogeyman to come and get me while I was home alone without the hubs, who just got back from a 3 week trip to India!
We paid for his entire trip with my side hustle income and some of my overtime money, so we didn’t have to go outside our regular budget at all to pay for it. I’m super happy about how it all turned out, and I convinced him to write about his experience and give tips on how to travel in India just in case any of you are interested in visiting such a cool, faraway place. 🙂 So, without further ado, my other half:
Hi BudgetBlonde readers! I know you all get little snippets about my life from time to time here on Cat’s blog, but trust me when I say Cat tells me all about her blog-friends and blog readers all the time. So although you may not realize it, I feel like I know some of you pretty well too.
With that said, it’s my pleasure to share with you what I’ve been up to lately. As you all know, we’re on this crazy adventure here in Grenada because I’m in medical school. My school offers a variety of elective courses for the summer ranging from dive & underwater medicine to medical experiences in different places like Sweden, Prague, Thailand, Kenya, and India.
Since my undergraduate curriculum was pretty specific, I didn’t get the option to do a study abroad, and it was something I’d always wanted to do. Of course the last three years of graduate/medical school have technically been abroad, but after about a few months here, it starts to feel more and more like home. So, after some discussion with Miss Catherine herself, we decided to start saving so I could participate in the India Medical Experience Program. Three weeks, ten flights, and one big SmartyPig savings account later, I’m back home in Grenada, and this is my story:
How To Travel In India
Since this is personal finance blog, I’ll share a little about the costs. How my amazing wife came up with the money for me to do this is some sort of magic. (Editor’s note: I was able to take my blog to the next level after taking this class.)
As you might expect, the big ticket item for the trip was airfare. I had a total of ten flights that we broke into four tickets. To start, I flew from Grenada to New York (via Miami) and for that we used frequent flier miles. My next ticket was roundtrip from New York to Mumbai (via London) and for that we stalked Kayak and other sites until we saw a good deal and jumped on it when it came along. Within India, I flew from Mumbai to Delhi which was about as much a domestic flight in the US. Although there are discount airlines in India we had a really difficult time booking with them so we went with a national carrier and paid a little bit more. Lastly, we found a cheap flight back from New York to Grenada, but it required an overnight layover and airport switch in New York and then another overnight layover in Miami.
All in all I flew about 22,500 miles, and it cost us about $2250.
Housing, Meals, and Transportation
These were covered in the university fees for the course which amounted to $750. This also included 2 credits of coursework which will go on my transcript.
After the course was over, I opted to stay behind in India for 4 more days during which I literally did as much as humanly possible. This added up to four nights in hotels, a tour of the Taj Mahal, which included private transportation and guide, and meals and souvenirs. Hotels were pretty inexpensive and averaged about $100/night. The tour and private car were definitely a splurge but well worth it and cost about $300, and meals and souvenirs were incredibly inexpensive. Most meals were less than $10 and breakfast was free at my hotel. And of course I got lots and lots of gifts to bring home like scarves, pashminas, bangles, and even a few sarees, which all together cost less than $300. All together the touristy stuff cost about $1100. I should note that I didn’t have to add on 4 days at the end, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see the Taj Mahal while I was there.
I had to pay for hotels near JFK airport and near the Miami airport because of the overnight layover (incidentally, these were more expensive than the hotels in Delhi and Mumbai). I also incurred some overweight bag fees on my domestic flights in India. To prevent this on my other flights, I bought another carry on bag. Lastly, there were a few cab fares to and from the airport but those were negligible. Together all of this added up to about $500.
Grand total for 3 Weeks In India + Flights: $4600
Like I said, I’m good at some things but if you want to know how my amazing wife was able to fund this trip, you’ll have to check out her posts on side hustling. I admit I’m pretty bad at saving money, but she’s a wiz at it and for that, I’m endlessly grateful.
Now I know this is personal finance blog, and you’re probably more interested in how to travel in India, so I’ll spare you all the bloody details about my time in the hospital while I was there. Basically, I rotated through a different department every day for two weeks, which means I got to see a little bit of everything. I will say that this was my first clinical experience since I started medical school and so it was the first time I was able to see many of the things that I’d only read about. I’ll also say that the hospital where I rotated was in a rural part of India and so it differed quite a bit aesthetically from what you’d see in the US but medically it was every bit as effective.
For example, most departments are not air conditioned (and it’s hot in India) and there are very very few private beds. I was also able to see some conditions that are pretty rare in the US. Lastly, the professors and residents there are incredible. Everyone was eager to teach us and share with us as much as they could in the time we were there.
THE TOURISTY PART
So all in all, there were six students and two professors from my university who went to India. The other five students flew back home as soon as the course was over, but I opted to stay behind and visit Delhi (the capital city), Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), and Mumbai (home to Bollywood and most populated city in India).
Mumbai is my new favorite city in the world.
It’s in the top 5 for both most populated and most densely populated cities in the world, so it’s crowded. You realize this as soon as you step out of the airport at 2:45 am, and it seems like at least one million of the 12.5 million residents are right there waiting for you trying to get you in their cab, to take their tour, or to stay at their hotel.
You further realize how crowded it is when you notice how bizarre it is that there is fairly heavy traffic at 2:45am. From the window in my hotel room, Mumbai could be any other big, dirty, busy city but Mumbai is truly a city you have to experience with all of your senses, which means you have to get out there. The sights are beautiful, breathtaking, and sometimes disturbing. Amid the beautifully colored clothing, jewelry, and smiling faces, there is a lot of poverty.
The sounds range from the never-ending cacophony of car horns to hawkers who want you to buy their sandals to the unique upbeat rhythm of Indian Music. Wonderful smells and tastes can be found throughout the city at stalls selling various snacks and teas like vada pav (think of a big spicy french fry on a bun with some spicy sauce on it) and masala chai (black tea spiced with ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom and made with sweetened buffalo milk).
Oh, and people in Mumbai are super friendly, like the three guys below who just started chatting with me at the Gateway to India. They asked to take a picture with me:
I found Delhi to be quite different from Mumbai. Gone were the narrow roads that seemed to be endlessly clogged with traffic (even at 3:00 am) and in their place were broad avenues with trees on both sides and wide sidewalks. Instead of overstuffed local trains clunking around, there was a super-modern metro. I was discussing this with my driver in Delhi and he told me that he loved both cities but Mumbai was more like a girlfriend and Delhi was more like a wife. In any case, I liked Delhi too, but I will have to spend some more time there on a future trip to really explore and experience it properly.
Agra is a four-hour drive from Delhi and home to the Taj Mahal. Normally I don’t advocate guided tours because I’m a huge fan of getting out and experiencing a city on foot and on my own terms. That said, I knew I had only about 18 hours to somehow get from Delhi to Agra, tour the Taj Mahal and if possible the Agra Fort, and then get back to Delhi.
So we bit the bullet and paid for a private guided tour. If you’re wondering how to travel in India, I admit it was EXACTLY what I wanted and very safe. My driver was super friendly, and although his English wasn’t that great, we were able to chat and he shared lots of stories on our drive. The tour guide was super informative and knew just how to maneuver through the crowds and even took pictures of me at all the sites.
The Taj Mahal itself is architecturally amazing. The symmetry, the craftsmanship, the delicate gemstone inlay, and the sheer size are breathtakingly beautiful. My words and pictures come nowhere close to capturing its true magnificence. Guided tour or not, if you ever get the chance I highly recommend seeing it in person.
So that’s what 3 weeks in India sounds like in a blog post. Looking back I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to finally have my study abroad experience. It was everything I hoped it would be. Looking forward, I really would love to go back again with Catherine, possibly as a visiting physician in a few years. I’ve also busied myself with trying to learn how to cook various Indian dishes, so if you have any tips or other recipes, feel free to send them my way.
Lastly, I know most of you are trying to save money, but let me encourage you to perhaps save for a trip to visit India. I know it’s not Paris or Rome or some secluded island like Grenada in the tropics, but India is beautiful. The people there are wonderful and friendly, and I promise it will be unlike anywhere else you’ve ever been.
Thank you hubs for taking the time to write a post. I hope you all enjoyed his recap and his pictures. 🙂
So, who wants to go to India now? What do you think would be the best/worst part? Do you have any questions for the hubs about how to travel in India?
Images courtesy of Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences