Travelling Cheap in the USA
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of setting off on vacation where the nights are filled with sunsets, PBR is flowing, and lots of adventures are to be had.
You suddenly find yourself with a burning and insatiable urge to explore the great Unites States before summer is over and the kids go back to school.
The classic cross-country trip of your dreams – whether you’ve got a week in the car or a couple days by plane – isn’t out of reach. If you’re on a budget this summer (and who isn’t?!), consider this your ultimate guide to travelling cheap in the USA.
Because if you don’t stay on top of your spending, you could be looking at crushing your budget in just a few days. Check out these Money Saving Challenges to save even more for your trip.
In most cases, renting will cost either the same as or less than driving your own car if going on a road trip around the USA. And if you don’t own a car, of course, then renting is your only choice for a classic American road trip.
The up-front costs might seem daunting – but if you choose a rental car that’s more fuel-efficient than the one you own; you’ll end up saving over the course of a long trip and you’re not on the hook for the maintenance that follows a long-haul journey.
Use the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest gas near you on the road. Or another favorite is Google Maps. Simply type “gas” in the search bar and you’ll see where the nearby gas stations are along with most of the prices per gallon.
Also, if traveling by car, open a new credit card that has good rewards for gas transactions. You’ll be filling up your tank a lot, so it is nice to get a little something back.
Prepare for your road trip with this master list.
Amtrak offers USA Rail Passes for 15-day, 30-day or 45-day trips. Prices start at $459 – if you’re savvy about using public transport in each stop on your tour, they’re an affordable way to see the country.
Traveling by bus lets you leave the “how are we getting there” part of the planning to the experts. All you have to do is sit back and relax.
I debated on putting bus travel in the post. Due to the fact that, both time I’ve taken the bus, I’ve had issues.
However, there are multiple budget bus companies that run in the U.S. and I can’t fault them all for one company.
Some of the major bus lines are: Megabus, Boltbus, Vamoose, Tripper Bus, Redcoach, and of course GreyHound.
Buses cover more of the country than trains and have more frequent departures; and unlike air travel, there is no hassle of security.
If you’re going to fly, use obscure search methods. This is the only way travelling cheap in the USA by flight is going to work.
We all know about Kayak, Orbitz, and Expedia, but don’t rule out lesser-known tools like Google Flights, Momondo, or Airfarwatchdog.
In big cities, take public transport to avoid ridiculous parking fees or the chance of getting lost.
Accommodations for Travelling cheap in the USA
Accommodation is one of the most expensive portions of travel.
Many budget travelers turn to hostels when looking for cheap accommodations. This is definitely an option in the US, especially if you are travelling on your own.
But, in my experience, if travelling as a couple, the best value is a low-cost hotel, Airbnb, or camping.
Camping might seem like a cheaper alternative to staying in hotels, and it is. But sometimes it’s not as cheap as you might think.
Fortunately, there are some ways to avoid these steep fees. A couple places to try are National Forests, BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), and Walmart parking lots.
KOA runs almost 500 privately-owned campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada — that little yellow logo means you can sleep easy knowing your campground is part of a well-established network. The KOA app lets you find and book a campground from your car, and a Value Kard will save you 10 percent on campsites
In big cities, like Miami, New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and LA, Hotel Tonight is a great money-saving app to try. How it works: Hotels that aren’t fully booked will offer up their vacant rooms to users of this app for a steep discount. The only tradeoff is that you can’t book too far in advance – 7 days max.
Also, being loyal to your favorite hotel booking system will pay off. Check out sites like Booking.com or Expedia.com
Rent a Room in a Real House.
Finally, don’t forget to think outside the box while travelling cheap in the USA. However, Airbnb and Vrbo are becoming more and more popular. (You may have heard of them).
Research has found that renting a room in someone’s apartment or home can save budget travelers up to 49 percent compared with renting a room in a hotel.
Not only will you save on the base price for a room, you’ll also typically score access to a kitchen, washing machine and tricked-out bathroom.
Plus, there’s no better way to see America then through the eyes of people who live there.
Eat & Drink
Trying new foods is one of the best parts of traveling, but it can add up quickly.
Eating out for every meal will drain your wallet more quickly. But, eating out is part of the fun of traveling. Especially, only if you do so at places you don’t have at home.
Research the restaurants in towns you’ll be visiting, and make an effort to dine at those that are super unique, serve up local specialties or places that residents rave about on sites like Google.
If a fancy eatery is on your must-see list, then go there for lunch instead of dinner or sip a cheap drink at the bar.
Food portions in the USA tend to be very generous, depending on where you are.
Many restaurants will happily split a meal for you, or at least give you an extra plate. Sometimes there will be a “split charge”, but this should be clearly marked on the menu.
Get food to go
If you choose a restaurant for its food and not its ambiance, then order as takeout to minimize tipping. Then picnic in a pretty park or waterfront — you’ll see double the sights!
BYO groceries, even to a hotel
Just because you’re not staying in a place with a kitchen doesn’t mean you can’t make your own meals. Pick a hotel with a mini fridge, make a trip to the grocery store and do room service without the room service.
Having the ability to cook meals along the way can save you hundreds of dollars while travelling cheap in the USA. It will also help you stay healthy while travelling.
You can literally make soup in the hotel room coffee maker or paninis with an iron
The Great American Gas Station
They’re really not the crappy establishments we’ve made them out to be. From make-your-own slushies to taquitos and hot dogs, gas stations have evolved. Check out Gas Station Gourmet . They dish up clever on-the-road recipe ideas, all cooked up from gas station finds.
Bring along a large water jug and fill it up at parks, truck stops, or gas stations to avoid buying new bottles all the time.
Free Breakfast and Snacks
Also, take advantage of free breakfasts if you’re staying in hotels. Hotels that include a free breakfast eliminates one meal each day that you need to pay for.
Pack snacks to have them on hand. High-protein snacks can keep hunger at bay and don’t tempt you to pick up that box of donuts at the gas station.
What’s a vacation if you never get out and explore? Some of your best memories will be from the things you do on your trip. But some activities can be extremely expensive. There are many ways to finding the best local sites.
City Exploring to Natural Wildlife
If you’re planning on doing a lot of sightseeing in one city, then see if you can find a city pass for that city.
Or, if you have a love for the outdoors, get a Federal Recreation Pass.
Basically, if you plan to go to more than 3 National Parks in one year, this is a good investment.
For a mere $85, you and three friends will get a year of free entry to an entire nation of national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and more — it’s pretty much the best deal in the country.
Most of these spots, like Yellowstone, are bucket-list vacation destinations in themselves, and you can camp there once you’re inside.
Don’t forget about the free days. There are a lot of free museums and other attractions throughout the USA. What you might not know is that even the paid attractions often have “free entry” days, where you can visit for free.
Know the difference between a bucket list-worthy activity and something you could do anywhere. Often times when we are in “vacation mode”, we splurge more easily than we would at home.
Before booking spur-of-the-moment activity, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this location known specifically for this activity?
- Can I do this at home?
- Will I regret NOT doing this activity?
- Can I cut my costs elsewhere to account for this splurge?
High Tourist Areas
Be wary of heavily tourist areas. It’s not uncommon for these areas to be overpriced and full of rip-offs.
One of the most expensive parts of travel are organized tours. However, there are some activities or tours, like whitewater rafting or whale watching, that you just can’t do on your own.
And, those city tours can easily be replicated. Go to the tour’s website and write down their itinerary. Do a little research on each stop, and you’ve got your own DIY city tour.
No matter where your trip takes you, there should be a ton of free (or inexpensive) activities to do. Simply Google “free things to do near you”, and you should find enough to get you started.
Thankfully, travelling cheap in the USA has a wide range of options to suit most tastes, and is still a country that can be traveled enjoyably on a relatively low budget.
There’s so much to see and do, really something for everyone, plus it’s relatively safe and easy to travel in.
The other good news is that it’s not that expensive either, at least, if you don’t want it to be.