How to explore the US on a budget

How to travel the USA on a budget

My passport recently expired, and I’ve got no travel plans on the horizon any time soon. Just a long list of DIY house and decor projects to tackle (the closest thing to it will be getting travel photos printed and travel footage organised over the winter)!

I suspect my next trip though – whenever that might be – will be back to the US. There’s more competition on routes now and airfares are dropping, which is exciting. And once we’re actually over there it’s not terribly hard to travel on a budget.

Getting around the US

I’d love to do another road trip. We travelled around almost entirely by car (minus a cheap bus trip from NYC to DC) and it was super comfortable, convenient, and frugal. Petrol is practically free compared to the prices we pay here, and we managed to rent a car for just over $40 a day, including insurance. I recommend starting your search with CarHirePlanet. If I was travelling solo, I’d look at joining a tour group with the likes of Grand American Adventures.

Figuring out where to stay

In some big cities there’s just no getting around it – you will be paying out the nose for a place to lay your head. But between Airbnb and Booking.com (plus many generous blog friends who opened their doors to us) we managed to find accommodation for around $50 a night on average.

We moved around on a loose schedule, usually booking at the last minute (the only place this backfired was Boston, where even cheap motels were over $100). If you’re up for it, consider caravan parks, campgrounds and homestays too.

Seeing the sights

Planning ahead is the key here.

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in national parks (and there are so many! Some of my favourite spots were definitely National Park material) it might be worthwhile to invest in an unlimited annual pass.

If you’re more of a big city person like me, major centres often have a lot of free attractions; and of the ones that aren’t, many have specific hours or days where you can get in for free. And if you’ve got a lot to pack into a short time span, then the CityPass may be for you – definitely one for travellers with more money than time.

6 thoughts on “How to explore the US on a budget

  • Reply Sense May 26, 2016 at 21:36

    U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! 🙂

    Where would you go?

    I am planning a camping/road trip with my family next year to go north from San Fran up to Portland and Seattle before/after my cousin’s wedding in Oregon. I j’adored Portland and am a total hippie at heart so I really cannot wait. It’s a part of the country that many don’t explore–most people go between SF and LA instead.

    • Reply eemusings May 27, 2016 at 09:07

      I really want to hit the PNW (and go up to Vancouver). Back to NYC. Love to visit blog friends in CA again. And the Southeast. And Philly! EVERYWHERE

  • Reply FF @ Femme Frugality May 28, 2016 at 02:31

    Come to Pittsburgh when you get that passport renewed! I’ve found the cheapest way to be car, too, and because aside from our major cities our public transport is scarce, and even then it can be limited or isolated, car also offers the most flexibility. Our gas prices are probably much lower now than when you visited, but they may creep back up again as crude is going back up. Sounds like it’s still comparatively affordable, though?

  • Reply Santanu May 28, 2016 at 14:01

    Wonderful guide. Just one of my friend asked me about how to save money while travelling to USA and I found the perfect content for him. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Reply Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial May 29, 2016 at 12:21

    Let me know if you plan to hit up Boston. If you’ve visited before, you probably have seen all the sights, but we can show you where the locals hang out. I wouldn’t really recommend bringing a car here though, parking in the city is a nightmarish experience.

  • Reply Martin - Get FIRE'd asap June 1, 2016 at 10:44

    Hi NZM, I recently did a couple of posts on how to cut the cost of travel during my recent trip to NZ. As you (and I) point out, research prior to leaving is the key as well as listening to what the locals and other travellers suggest.

    Blindly turning up with credit card in hand is a sure fire way to spend a lot on travel, accommodation, meals and tourist traps.

    Hope you get back to the US soon. Sounds like you already have plenty of offers to show you around.

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