When you think of trips to America, a tight budget does not come to mind. You will think of shopping in New York, family trips to vast theme parks, epic road trips or splashing the cash on the Vegas strips. This diverse country has so much more than that to offer, and being on a budget won’t stop you enjoying the breath-taking natural landscapes, world famous culture and delicious region delicacies.
Whilst the US is often ignored by budget travellers in favour of Europe and Southeast Asia, with a little research, planning and creativity you’ll find lots of money-saving tricks that allow you to enjoy America to its maximum potential without breaking the bank.
Take Advantage of Free Attractions
From parks to galleries and museums, America is filled with free attractions. Washington DC, New Orleans, and Houston are some of the best cities for free attractions. It’s always beneficial to research the attractions in your destination upon arrival, many offer online discounts, free admissions between specific times or are cheaper when pre-booked online. Aside from the traditional attractions, America is also filled with development projects that include street performers and musicians, markets and architecture.
Although Santa Fe, San Francisco, and New Orleans are filled with free cultural oddities to pass the time, big cities like New York also offer a broad range of free attractions and activities. The Big Apple’s most famous parks are free to enter and usually offer street performers and musicians. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) is free to enter on Friday afternoon and the Guggenheim has a ‘Pay What You Wish’ policy on Saturday’s.
Check out city tourism cards, they will give you entrance to lots of free attractions and sometimes free public transport. Cards start at $35 and they offer free access to museums, queue jump, and restaurant discounts.
Unlike Europe and Australia, you won’t find many hostels around the US, but if you want to save on accommodation try camping.
Various types of camping can be found across the US from urban campsites with pools and bars on the outskirts of cities to rough back-to-nature options in national parks. Most campsites are well equipped with bathroom facilities, pools, laundry facilities and even Wi-Fi and will only set you back $20 to $30 a night.
If you are a regular US traveller, you can buy an $80 Annual Pass through USGS, this pass offers access to over 2,000 Federal recreation and camping sites.
Couchsurfing is a unique service that lets visitor stay with locals for free. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a good option if you want to meet friendly locals and discover an off-the-beaten track version of America.
Airbnb is a worldwide respected service that allows travellers to rent an affordable spare room or a separate apartment. At roughly $30 to $40 a night, you can share a single room or a shared space in many cities across the United States. The best thing about this, aside from being a low cost, is that you’ll get access to a kitchen which will save you money on eating out.
Major cities like New York, LA, and Chicago are home to branches of the YMCA and offer a no-thrills inexpensive place to sleep, shower and sometimes a warm meal.
Avoid Tourist Traps
USA is a popular tourist destination around the world so there’s no surprise that businesses are making the most of the opportunities. In any big city and by any popular tourist attraction you will find a gift shop, overpriced street vendor and poor value for money restaurant. If you are on a budget and have a little time to spare, avoid these establishments as you will find they offer low value and low quality. The further away from the main attractions of the city center the better value you will find. If you are on a time constraint try and choose a brand name, they will not elevate their prices because of the location.
Before any vacation do your online research, use community forums like TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet or small traveller blogs to get honest reviews and recommendations. Here is where you’ll find recommendations on how to find less popular, but equally high-quality establishments.
Advice for International Visitors
Travelling to the USA? Then don’t forget to Check ESTA application. The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is a web-based system used to determine the right of visitors from VWP countries to travel to America.
Those who receive an Authorization Pending response should check the ESTA application status updated within 72 hours, the final decision will take no longer.
Unless revoked, the duration and validity period of an ESTA is two years from date of authorisation or until your passport expires. The ESTA authorisation is valid for multiple trips over the two years and you will not need to reapply until your passport expires. This doesn’t mean you can stay nonstop for two years, you can only stay for 90 days or less at a time but you can do multiple 90 day visits during this time. If you want to stay longer than 90 days, you must obtain a visa.