United States Travel Tips
The United States isn’t a popular place for long-term budget travelers. Most people just come here for a short vacation and to visit one or two cities. After all, it’s a large country without a real tourist infrastructure or good cross-country transportation. Hostels really aren’t big in the United States, trains don’t go a lot of places, and we don’t offer working holiday visas. Moreover, most round-the-world tickets only stop in LA or NYC. But the United States is a country that demands more time. There are lot of national parks, a diverse geography, culture, music, and great regional food. Rent a car and drive around. Take some cross-country tours. The cities are great, but America really reveals itself in the country.
Destination Guides for the United States
Accommodation – The US doesn’t have many hostels. Outside major cities, you’ll just find cheap hotels and motels. Hostels cost between $15-30 USD per night for a dorm room. Cheap motels and hotels cost begin at $35 USD per night. Hotels in cities start at $60 USD per night. The US is very vast and prices fluctuate a lot depending on what region you’re in.
Food – Food in America is very cheap. Between fast food and cheap delis, you can eat really well on a budget. Fast food will cost you $6 USD per meal (unless you go after the dollar menu), mid-range restaurants like Applebee’s will cost around $10-15 USD per meal. Sandwich shops are around $5 USD, and nice sit down restaurants begin around $15 USD.
Transportation – The US is a big country, and its size can make it difficult to travel around. The easiest way to travel is by car. The great expanse of America is best seen via car and the open road. The American road trip is a long-held tradition and gives you the flexibility to see all the off the beaten path places out there. On the coasts, there is an extensive train and bus network that is very cheap, with bus fares as low as $1. Flying is your quickest option but can be very expensive. For cheap flights, consider JetBlue and Southwest. Amtrak runs trains throughout the country, and while amazing, isn’t very cheap compared to the bus.
Activities – Given the size and diversity of the country, prices vary too widely to give an accurate description.
Money Saving Tips
Travel by land – The best way to get across the country is often times by driving or bus. In the northeast, bus fares cost as little as $1. Typically, flying and trains are the most expensive way to get around. If you can, rent a car and share the gas costs with friends.
Get a national park pass – One of the highlights of any trip to America is visiting all the national parks. Getting a national parks pass will let you into all the parks for free so you don’t have to keep paying an entrance fee.
Cook – The United States has some of the cheapest food in the developed world. Grocery shopping for less than $40 USD per week can save a lot of money.
Couchsurfing – The Couchsurfing movement started in the United States, and free accommodation offered can make up for the lack of hostels. You’ll find plenty of hosts throughout the country who will show you around their town and let you stay for free.
Top Things to See and Do
Get lost in New York City – The city that never sleeps is one of the most amazing cities in the world. There’s nothing you can’t do or see here. From amazing museums and art galleries to theater to restaurants to Central Park, everything about New York is amazing. It’s big, crowded, and fast-paced but also full of little neighborhood shops and character.
Unwind in the Florida Keys – These tropical islands in the southern tip of Florida are great places to relax and enjoy the Caribbean lifestyle while still in the United States.
Awe yourself at The Grand Canyon – Words can’t accurately describe how great the Grand Canyon is. It’s breathtaking in all ways. Make sure you hike down the bottom. Most people just look out at the canyon but it’s true size and beauty is best appreciated with a hike down to the Colorado river.
Hike our national parks – America has thousands of national parks. These parks highlight the best of the American wilderness. Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, the Smokey Mountains, Rocky Mountain Park, the Badlands – the list goes on and on and on. Make sure you visit as many national parks as you can to get a sense of the grand and diverse landscape that is the United States.
See Chicago – One of my favorite cities in the world, Chicago is full of amazing architecture, great parks, good food, and great nightlife. It’s a tamer version of New York and even more pretty. (The Chicago-style of architecture is world famous!)
Jam out in New Orleans – Finally recovering from Hurricane Katrina, this French influenced city has great food and even better music. A must for any jazz or blues fan. If you plan on celebrating Mardi Gras here, book early. Hotels fill up.
Dive into California – From LA to San Fran to wine country, California is like a mini-country. There’s so much to see and do in this state. Some of the highlights include Sonoma, the giant Redwoods, San Diego, San Francisco, Death Valley, and cruising up the coastal highway.
Explore Hawaii – Closer to Asia than the United States, Hawaii is America’s piece of South Pacific paradise – white sands beaches, clear blue water, tropical jungle, and great surf. You can often get fairly cheap packages out of California.
Ship up to Boston – The birthplace of the revolution, no one leaves Boston disappointed. It’s a big city, but its lack of high rises, as well as its cobblestone streets and brick building, give the city a more neighborhood feel than most others. It’s often considered America’s most European city. It has history, culture, food, and beauty. The Freedom Trail is especially great.
Get international in Washington D.C. – America’s capital is where you’ll find all the museums and institutions you’d ever want to see in order to get a glimpse into the the history and politics of America. It’s a very international city too given the large number of international embassy workers in the area.
Admire Mt. Rushmore – Visit this historic monument in South Dakota. It’s a lot smaller than you think it would be, but it makes a good stop off while driving and the surrounding mountains and parks make for good hiking opportunities.
Be a Kid at Disney World – Sure, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s built for kids. True, it’s not authentic. But despite all that, Disney World is still a fun time and they have a lot of rides for adults too. I recently went back as an adult and there’s a lot to do there: they have some good restaurants, and Paradise Island has a good nightlife. If you are in Florida, take a stop for a few days. Indulge your inner child.
Hike the Appalachian Mountains – Stretching the east coast of America, these mountains offer great hiking, camping, and trekking. If you think you can handle it, hike the Appalachian trail which covers the entire mountain range.
Visit the Great Lakes – The Great Lakes are like miniature oceans. They have great sailing, boating, fishing, and beach opportunities. Perfect for those traveling during the summer.
Take a road trip – America is a vast and beautiful country. The only good way to see this, the landscape, and the small towns that populate most of the country is with a roadtrip. I highly suggest renting a car and driving across the US. It’s an amazing experience.