When the industrial revolution was taking place, India was under the British who subdued industrialization and mechanism. Thus the individualistic cottage industry remained as it had been, millennia before. Today craftsmen continue producing products not made elsewhere, making India a shoppers paradise. Irrespective of your pre-travel resolutions, we have yet to come across any of our friends who have traveled with us not bemoan that their suitcase is too small! We share with you some issues about shopping and spending money in India.
Many of the shop owners are dishonest. Best to receive what you have bought and give your money. If you are getting your purchases shipped, please pay by credit card only as this gives you some level of assurance, and ASSUME that you will encounter some issue if goods are shipped. Spiritual Journeys Inc or its agents cannot assume any responsibility for nefarious practices of shops and their owners.
Cash: You will get the best deals if you were to spend cash, but equally you do not wish to have huge amounts of cash with you nor do you know how much to encash as you do not wish to be left with excessive cash when you depart from India.
Travelers Checks: You should have some of your spending money in travelers checks, some of them in perhaps $ 50 denominations so that you encash the smallest denominations towards the end of your trip. You can encash them in banks (best rate/most inconvenient), shops (worst rate/very convenient) or hotels (moderate rate/most convenient).
Credit Cards: Many of the larger shops take credit cards and certainly airlines and other major service providers. However, often you will be asked to either pay an additional fee to cover credit card charges and/or pay extra to cover sales tax. This could amount to an additional 5-7% on your final negotiated (!) price. Make sure that the currency (should be INR) is CLEARLY marked on your credit card slip. If a credit card slip has been made incorrectly or otherwise needs to be voided, please keep a copy of the voided slip for your future records. Do NOT destroy it.
ATMS: All major cities have a plethora of ATMS. At worst you might have to pay a small handling fee (similar to your home country if you were using an ATM outside your network). References may give you a location of an ATM, however, do not solely rely on this information as you might find that the one ATM in your neighbourhood (or indeed in the small town that you are visiting) is not working!
Conversion Rate: The India Rupee fluctuates as any other major currency. The best way to get the current conversion rate is to check on one of many internet sites, such as this one.
Bargaining and haggling: Any self respecting Indian is loathe to pay the asking price. (I find it difficult to pay what the Federal income tax man wants off me, but while I am pretty good at haggling, I must confess I have, as of date, not had much luck with the government – but tomorrow is another day!) Firstly, check prices in 2-3 places. Then offer less than half – even one third the asking price. Be prepared to walk (you can always come back). Do NOT get emotionally tied up with either the vendor or the product (These folks have been selling for generations, and could teach a class on psychology at Harvard!).
Tips for porters, guides, drivers: For an expected average quality of service, consider Rs 50 per bag for a porter, and Rs 100 per day per person for a driver or guide.