There is one habit from my previous trip to India that I am finding hard to break. When I last visited, it was towards the end of a three-year jaunt around Australia, Oceania and Asia, most of it funded by money I had earned en route. One of the effects of travelling for so long is that you learn to budget mercilessly, because each penny you save translates into more time on the road.
It's a simple equation, and it makes it easy to slip into a pretty mercenary attitude to budgeting. I stayed in the cheapest hotels, and was quite happy to live with the noisy fans, suspect linen and friendly cockroaches; I ate in street restaurants that served the most delicious food and charged a pittance for the pleasure; I avoided buying tickets for the more expensive air-conditioned sleeper trains and instead went for plain old second class; and I rarely drank alcohol, bargained hard with rickshaw drivers, and avoided organised tours whenever I could do it myself. It made me happy, and my average expenditure on food, accommodation, transport and entrance fees came to a whopping Rs250 a day, or – at the then rate of 50 rupees to the pound – about £5 a day.
This time I'm on holiday and I have my partner in tow, but the ingrained budgeting of nine years ago is still there, laying on the guilt every time I reach for the wallet. Frankly, this time round it's annoying, because I've already experienced low-end India (and loved it), and I now want to experience mid- and top-end India, if only because I don't want to be single when this is over. Add in a rise in the exchange rate – £1 is now worth Rs85 – and thing get even more difficult. A stunning meal of freshly fried calamari, followed by a whole butterfish with rice and vegetables, plus four 650ml bottles of Kingfisher beer, comes to Rs985, and I haven't even mentioned the sea view and delightfully friendly service. That's just over £12, for two, which is really something when you're used to London prices, and yet as I peel off two Rs500 notes, and add another Rs50 for a tip (a distinctly optional affair in India, but something that is always appreciated and, in this case, richly deserved), I can't help thinking that I'm peeling off four days' budget for just one meal.
This is plainly stupid, because this time I'm on holiday, and my old daily budget is little more than an historical side note. Hell, as we walked back to our room in Varkala the other night, we walked past a fellow traveller using her laptop on the porch of her bamboo hut, which just goes to show how times have changed. But I guess long-term travelling can have long-term effects, and sometimes you have to consciously shake them off, so wish me luck as I bravely get through my therapy by having, oh, OK, just two more beers, and maybe another one of those fine cocktails, thank you very much.
Perhaps I could get used to non-budget travel after all...