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5 Best Ways to Travel America on a Budget

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Got a vacation for at least a week? Planning to explore ‘America the Beautiful’? But, budget is holding you back, right? If so, you have come to the right place. Because I believe traveling should never break your bank.

Today I will share some practical tips on the Best ways to travel America on a budget. Yes, my friend, I don’t want you to spend your hard-earned money unnecessarily, and most of them I’ve learned from my bitter experience. I won’t let you to make the same mistake.

So, let’s explore the bright lights of Las Vegas, the Golden gate bridge of San Francisco, the Statue of Liberty of New York, Yosemite National park of California, Alaska, Lake Tahoe of California, the beautiful beaches of Los Angeles, and many more, in a budget-friendly way.

Here’s a summary for you, in case you are in a hurry;

This article will demonstrate some best ways to travel America on a budget and share some handy money-saving tips. I believe car is the cheapest way to travel across the country with family and enjoying it. Car will also allow you to save costs on food and accommodation. Later parts will share all the nitty-gritty.

Don’t forget to check out the handy infographics at the end of the article. 😉

Let’s start step by step, knowing the facts and figures.

Don't forget to visit Golden gate bridge in San Francisco during dusk
Golden gate bridge in San Francisco during dusk

What are the traffic options available to travel America?

As a medium of transportation from place to place, America has various traffic options available. But, you have to run a cost & benefit analysis among all the options available and pick the best fit for you.

Here are some briefs on all the options available for your consideration;

Plane

Plane will take less time to go from one place to another.

But it will make the largest dent in your pocket.  For example, a non-stop flight from New York to San Francisco costs around $200.  The price of the tickets varies from season to season. Some other things have an impact, like on which day of the week you will fly when you book the tickets, how many days left to your flight.

If you find other options available at a lower cost, it’s better for you not to board on plane. It will help you to save money for other uses. After all, we are planning to travel America on budget, right?

Bus

Moving from one place to another on a bus will not be as speedy as the plane.

But it does have a price standpoint comparatively. It will take 3 days, on average, on the journey. It will provide you a cheaper journey. The ticket from San Francisco to New York takes $150. So it saves $50 straight.

Train

Train can be another option to use.

You can buy USA rail pass to choose your route over a 15, 30, or 45 day period. There are 500 destinations to choose from your lists.

But it does cost higher than the bus fare. A 15-day trek will cost $459. If you take a 30-day trek, it will cost $689. A 45-day trek’s cost is $899.

Another drawback of choosing the train as an option for exploring the USA is, train is not accessible everywhere in the USA, i.e., you can’t take a train anywhere you wish. This drawback leads to my ultimate favorite traveling option, which is traveling by CAR!

Car

Car can be the best option for people looking for quality time to explore from coast to coast. It has become part of American culture.

For me, it is a symbol of independence. 

Car has two options. You can use your car, or you can rent a car.

For long trips, people generally use rented cars. Renting a car will cost in fuel.  Approximately, it will cost $300 to move from San Francisco to New York, as per gallon fuel cost.

Though it seems the cost to be relatively higher on car, this method will save you huge in other parts. More on that later.

So, Which traffic option should you choose?

Highways in the USA is one of the best experience for you while traveling the country.
Highway at autumn sunny day in Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado, USA.

 I have discussed the best options available to travel on budget. Now it’s time to suggest the best one.

Moving from one place to another place via plane is too costly. As a budget traveler, I always focus on saving money while spending quality time and enjoying the trip. So I suggest not to use air service all the time. If you have time issues or emergency, only then use it.

Train’s passcard provides you many benefits, like one-time payment, secure travel, etc. But, I never recommend train as an option to travel across America. Because in some areas, there is no route for trains. You should select one traffic that will help you to cover the maximum area.

So, we now have only two options. Bus or Car, which one should you choose as a budget traveler, and why?

Here are some pros and cons of both options;

Advantages and Disadvantages of Bus include:

Advantages
  • Routes are available in the whole country
  • Bus fare is less
Disadvantages
  • Too many stops; waste of time
  • Food and accommodation cost is higher

 Advantages and Disadvantages of Car include:

Advantages
  • Routes are available in the whole country
  • Saves accommodation and food cost as you can stay in the car overnight and choose the best places to eat.
  • You can travel on your own schedule, time-efficient while having the best experience.
Disadvantages
  • Higher fuel cost
  • Car rent expense

Considering these two options, I believe car is the best option as it also saves the accommodation cost. Accommodation cost is huge in America.

Besides, traveling by bus consumes a vast amount of your time which can be spent exploring the country otherwise. By renting a car, you can move as per your mood. It will also save the time that otherwise would be spent on unintended bus stops.

There are two options available to travel across America by car. You can use your car. Or, there are several car rental companiesrental companies available who offer a good quality car for the trip. Now, what should you choose?

I suggest renting a car. Because rental companies buy and maintain those cars, especially for long trips. Moreover, you’ll have various options available to choose from, no worries about carrying extra luggage. Your car may not be the best fit, like their ones.

If you want to use your own, you surely can. Be sure to check the car’s condition before the trip to avoid any upfront hassle.

If you are determined that you want own car for the trip, there is another good alternative. You can buy a cheap second-hand car from a car dealer or owner. The benefit here is that you can pick the right one for all your needs, and you can also resale it when after the trip. But, buying a car only for the trip, registering it and insure it, I find the process troublesome.

Where most of the money go while traveling?

Here is a sample list of expenses you should expect while traveling to the USA;

  • Accommodation: $ 1036
  • Food: $3260
  • Drinks: $438
  • Gas: $ 670
  • Parking: $255
  • Miscellaneous: $175
  • Attractions: $270
  • Taxis: $41
  • Bus: $18

Please note that this is an estimation only. Travelers share their experience of cost with the editorial team, and of course, from my personal experiences. This list will give you an idea of what to expect.

While our team tries to keep the cost as up to date as possible, the amount may vary from time to time, depending on your food, accommodation, and other personal habits.

In general, it will cost around $6200 for traveling to the USA for 4 months or 120 days. Per day average $50. The price may increase a bit if you travel for a shorter amount of time.

The cost of any item is higher in the big cities and towns. You will find the cost, even half in small towns.

5 Best ways to travel America on a budget: Tips and Techniques

Now, you have got an idea of the transportations available and the average cost to expect. Here are some handy tips that will help you to travel America without breaking your bank.

Tip No. 1: Wisely plan ahead

Plan works like a map or blueprint for any work. It helps the work to be done efficiently. It is not an exception in traveling. It would be best to have the full plan from where to start, where to stop, and how to move to the next places. It will give the best pleasure at a lower cost.

Pro Tip: While planning, try to be as flexible as possible. Remember, everything might not work as planned.

You should consider a lot of things while planning your America trip. If you visit America for the first time, you will undoubtedly want to visit Las Vegas, New York City, San Francisco.

But, please be noted that the accommodation and the average cost of a restaurant meal are relatively higher in these areas. Worry not, dear. I’ve some useful tips to keep the costs lower in those areas too. Keep reading for more tips. 

 You can visit many more impressive places, for example, Savannah, Charleston, or San Antonio. These places are lesser-known cities in the USA. But they are rich in history and will offer you an impressive nature to explore. You will get the chance to meet the USA’s local charms, which can be a nice way to travel America while exploring its cultural diversities.

So, plan wisely. Consider priority, budget, time, and other situations that suit you best as a traveler.

Money Saving Tips While on The Tour

Here are some money-saving tips you should consider while traveling across America;

Tip No. 2: Keep your food cost low

Food costs the highest on any trip. Have you ever noticed the fact!

Try spending wisely here; otherwise, it takes a huge chunk from you. Because the average cost of restaurant meals in the USA is relatively higher than the other countries globally, for example, try avoiding fast-food restaurants or flashy ones, no need to pay extra for glitters. Instead, try testing local foods.

You can enjoy street food too. New York is known for its high-quality street foods. ‘The Halal Guys’ is my personal favorite. Here’s a video from food insider on The Halal Guys’ legendary Chicken and Gyro Platter:

Some other tips for keeping your food cost low while not sacrificing the taste of famous traditional American dishes.

Eat downstairs

Want to save some money while passing quality time with the locals and enjoying their cultures?

Eating downstairs can be your best bet. Food prices are usually lower in these areas. Top restaurant provides you an environment. But these downstairs provides the culture. If you can cope with the noisy environment, beautiful environment, then dine downstairs.

BYO (Bring Your Own) if possible

Did you know the average cost of restaurant meal in the USA is around $20 while the same meal only costs $4.50 when cooked at home! (Source: promoneysavings.com).

You can cook your meal at least for some period of your trip.

Luckily, you don’t need a big hotel kitchen to cook. Pick a cheap hotel with at least a mini-fridge and keep a coffee maker and rice cooker in the car. Trust me, they are not that heavy, but they’ll significantly reduce the burden from your pocket.

Buy some groceries from a grocery store. Walmart and Costco are my favorite. Here’s a handy list for you with a more inexpensive grocery store.

Honor the Gas stations

Gas Stations have become a part of American culture as soon as cars have become a part. Almost 80% of the gas stations have bars and restaurants in the USA, and food prices are ridiculously low at some of them.

These restaurants might not be great for family dining, but they can serve some good quality fast foods and take away foods. Here’s an article on foods you can eat at gas stations while traveling across the America.

Tip No. 3: Keep exploring costs low

While visiting beautiful America, you will explore lots of new sites and attractions. But not all of them are worth visiting. I have learned it from bitter experience, but you shouldn’t, my friend.

Here are some tips that can save you some bucks while exploring the country.

Check the list of free sites

Every city in the USA has a fair share of free attraction sites. It includes parks, galleries to tours, and events. What you need to do is research the sites. You should keep your mind open and enjoy the free sites.

I found some of the best attractions are Desert Botanical Garden, Arizona; the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado; Chicago Cultural Center, Illinois. Besides, there are many museums across the country which offer free entries throughout the week. You can get all the information just by Googling or by asking the local tour guides.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
Desert View Watchtower at the Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA.

Check this list from Readers Digest for more exotic free sites to visit. At this point, I have to confess America is a haven for budget travelers.

Federal recreation pass & City tourism cards

Federal recreation pass is another best thing that can help you afford travel America on a budget. For a total of $85 ($5 processing fee included), you can enjoy year-long access to 59 federally operated recreation sites across the country. That’s a steal!!!

all 59 federally operated recreation sites across the USA
Keep this handy list with you to check whether your Federal Recreation Pass covers it or not.

I recommend Yosemite, Redwood national park, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon among all the recreation sites. You should not miss these parks at any cost.

You don’t need to buy the national park pass in advance. The national park service administration is too good. You can buy it when you visit the national park for the first time. At $15-20, you can visit 5 parks on your trip. That will save you even more.

City tourism card is another one to provide you the benefits of seeing a large number of attractions. Sometimes, it may include your public transportations costs also. It gives you free access to museums. Occasionally they offer discounts in the restaurants too. You can purchase it online or from tourism information centers.

Though many city authorities have raised the fees for city pass, so you have to plan wisely. I think the city pass can be a better option, even if it costs the same as a single buyer. At least you won’t have to spend time standing in line.

Tip No. 4: Use apps for the best deals

The 21st century has made traveling so much easy, fun, and, most importantly, affordable. You can check hotel or parking availability, best value restaurants, or almost anything before visiting the place.

Though some apps might cost you some bucks, the good news is I found the free ones are enough for a budget traveler. Though, one drawback is you might need to use more than one app to manage everything for free. I think this is justified.

Some of the free apps I found to be particularly useful are Trip Advisor, AccuWeather, Google Map, and Google Keep. If you are traveling to the US from other countries, then Mobile Passport and Google Translate can save you from the hassle.

Tip No. 5: Keep your sleeping cost low

Accommodation is the 2nd highest cost on the trip. You need a place to sleep at night, though. Accommodation is like the food expenses that you can’t avoid at any means.

But you can save here too if you plan wisely. Here are some actionable tips for you;

Use car

By far this is the best option for saving big on accommodation. Superstores, like Walmart and Costco, offer free parking where you can stay overnight. Though they may not allow you to stay for an extended period, I found 1 or 2 days stay is ok almost everywhere. Below are some of my favorite free parking spots;

  • Walmart
  • Camping world
  • Rest stops

Wherever you park during your road trip across America, follow the below tips;

  • Follow manners and behave well with your neighbors.
  • Keep the environment clean.
  • Ensure safety first.

Go camping

Using free parking staying overnight might seem odd to some, or free parking might not be available everywhere.

In that case, my solution was camping. Camping is much better than free parking as you can stay in touch with nature. Camping spots are relatively safer than free parking too.

You can camp around almost all the national parks. They have campsites with all the necessary amenities. You can camp with a camper or gear. These campsites usually cost $10 to $30 per night.

Thinking of where to get the best camping sites? Here you go. Check FreeCampsites.net. I found this website incredibly affordable and of good quality.

Besides, you can check out Campinmygarden.com. It is a sharing economy website. It provides you the opportunity of camping in the people’s backyard. Its cost is also very low.

Couchsurf

Couchsurfing is a service that permits you to stay with the locals for free. You can use the websites or other websites to keep your accommodation costs low. I don’t think you will be able to find anything cheaper than this.

There are two benefits to this. You can meet the local charming people. And also saves money.

But, it has one major drawback. You don’t know with whom you are going to stay and all people are not the same. For this reason, I prefer the next two options over this.

Stay in cheap hotels

When you are unable to manage or skeptical about couchsurf, this can be your best option. You will find lots of cheap hotels and motels on the roadside across America. Yes, the experience with these hotels might not be that great, but they will save you money in the end.

The rooms will have only basics commodities and almost always worn. You will find a bed, a bathroom, a TV may be a desk also. I think it would be enough if you just want a sound sleep.

Hostels can be a good option

Most of the hostels in the United States are overpriced. Besides, you will find only a few of them. They will cost around $30 per night.

Though hostels are a bit expensive, you can find the other people there and will have the chance to socialize. I think social benefits will outweigh the costs. 

Hostels would be best if you travel with others. It will help you to be economical. But in solo trip stay in hostels? Nay, I don’t think that would be great.

If you ask for suggestions, then I would recommend South Beach Hostel (Miami), Jazz Hostels (NYC), International House (San Diego), and The Green Tortoise (San Francisco). Have a look at this blog for in-depth information.

Apart from these, here are some other tips that can save you money here and there while not destroying the fun and excitement of traveling across America on budget.

Miscellaneous tips

  1. Avoid junk food restaurants on the highway or roadside. Instead, keep some stock food, like sandwiches, snacks from the grocery shops.
  2. Keep water bottles with you. Refill them whenever you can.
  3. Try to park your car in small cities’ free parking sites because big cities, in general, don’t have free parking sites. It adds up to your cost.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on traveling America on budget

  1. How much would it cost to travel across America?

    In a vacation period, you can enjoy the parts of the largest America. It will cost about $6200 for 4 months.  You will able to visit the whole country. That is $50 per day.

  2. How can I start traveling?

    First of all, set your mind. Then select the places you want to visit. Gather all the information that you need and make a detailed plan. This post can be a helpful guide. Set your budget and start exploring.

  3. How much money do I need to travel the whole world?

    It will cost between $20000 and $30000 to travel the whole world per person. It’s an estimation from the fellow travelers experience shared with us.

  4. How can I travel the world on budget?

    The decision to travel the whole world is too big. It is a difficult one to do on a budget. But there are some main factors of consideration to do it correctly. It includes;
    1. Get well prepared with a detailed plan map.
    2. Collect all your necessary documents based on countries requirements.
    3. Order your vacation days if you are a job holder.
    4. Look for work on the road to make money.
    5. Book the travel in advance for the trip.
    6. Get the right digital cards for transactions.
    7. Look for lower food and accommodation costs.

Handy Infographics on best ways to travel America on a budget

Traveling to the USA is cheaper than many other western countries. Be smart on the trip. In this article, I have tried to mention and explain all the best ways to travel America on a budget.

If you have any further queries, please let me know in the comment box. I will be happy to answer you. If you find this article helpful, don’t forget to share it with your friends, family, and loved ones. Happy traveling!!

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