I’m not a budget traveler. I appreciate a good value, but I’m more interested in affordable luxury than bargain-basement deals on basic food and accommodations. Given $100 to spend in an exotic destination, I’d rather have one day of sightseeing, one memorable meal, and single night in a well-appointed hotel than four days eating vending machine sandwiches and four nights on a a straw-stuffed mattress.
But different travelers have different goals. My good friend, Jeff Craft (of BodyCraftWellness and the Atlanta School of Tantra Yoga), is more flexible and adventurous than I am, especially when it comes to booking budget hotels sight unseen.
Currently, Jeff’s studying advanced yoga techniques at an ashram in India, but before his program began, he wanted to spend a day or two in New Delhi and Varanasi. On Trip Advisor, rooms with breakfast included range anywhere from $15.00 to $600.00 a night. Jeff decided to see just how much bed and breakfast a guy could buy for around twenty bucks — about the price of a delivery pizza here in Midtown Atlanta.
On arrival in New Delhi, Jeff booked himself into The Eurostar International, where $32.80 covered the room, all taxes, and breakfast. “As the taxi wound down tiny alleys from airport, I thought, ‘What have I done booking this place?’ But I quickly reminded myself, ‘This is India, and this is what you get.'”
What you get, in the end, looks a bit like a typical college dorm, a bit frayed around the edges:
I confess that a bathroom equipped with a color-coordinated plastic bucket gives me the willies. But “for a budget traveler,” Jeff says, “it had all the right stuff at the right price. The WiFi was easy to connect to, fast, and steady. The breakfast was a typical Indian omelette with ‘toast butter jam’ and a choice of coffee or chai masala. It was as good as that preparation gets in India.”
The staff wasn’t “bubbling with joy,” but Jeff reports “they accommodated my every request,” including arranging a round-trip car into Delhi, delivering precise wake-up calls, and arranging a taxi back to the airport. “I would happily stay here again for brief overnight airport stays in New Delhi,” Jeff says, “but for longer stays where time will be spent in Delhi proper, it would be best to find a hotel in town” due to the 45-minute commute during heavy traffic.
For $22.00, this room strikes me as sunlit and tidy. (There is, in Jeff’s photo of the shower stall, another bucket.) But Jeff soon decided that an un-airconditioned room in Varanasi’s heat was not a good idea, so, when given the chance, he paid ten bucks more for an air conditioned “deluxe room,” and moved into this:
While the deluxe room did feature a wall-mounted A/C unit, Jeff was surprised to find that the bed (with a simple foam mattress) and bath (with non-matching pink bucket … with masking tape label) seemed a pretty significant step down from the standard room.
But — ever the optimist — Jeff notes, “the deluxe room was still basically nice, and there is a lovely rooftop cafe which serves a large menu of international cuisine. Everything I have eaten has been good and reasonably priced, and you can bill it all to your room and pay once at the end.” He does offer one tip: “Don’t pay the extra price for a ‘breakfast included’ room. Instead, pay the regular rate and order a la carte. It will often come out cheaper here.”
Jeff describes the staff as “warm and welcoming,” and finds the hotel’s location — some distance from Varanasi proper — to be “an oasis away from the madness of the Indian city experience.” The location — right on the Ganges river in a mixed-use neighborhood — “feels safe.” But “WiFi is spotty” and connectivity was slow and problematic.
If you’re headed to Varanasi, Jeff recommends the Durga Temple, the burning ghats, the evening puja on the main ghat, and a sunrise or sunset boat ride on the Ganges. Half- or full-day trips to Sarnath to see the site of the Buddha’s first post-enlightenment teaching and a number of temples and monasteries are also easy to hire.