Travel Tips

USA Budget Travel

Traveling in the United States can be both a fascinating and rewarding experience, but living and traveling in the USA can be expensive. However, with the right knowledge and a certain bit of travel savvy you can make your way across the USA on a tight budget.

Tourist Trap © Mike Leco /
Beware of "tourist traps" where businesses and restaurants charge inflated prices.

Avoid Tourist traps!

Many of the popular tourist attractions in the USA have accummulated arrays of tourist businesses around them. Some of those businesses sell inferior merchandise at inflated prices. We call them "tourist traps". At any popular attraction, you will find gift shops, street vendors and restaurants surrounding it. Often, it is best to avoid such establishments including the restaurants and shops in most airports. When you visit a tourist sight, it is usually wiser to buy your food and souvenirs a bit further away from the attraction.

Getting around with cheap air travel

Flying is the most common means of traveling long distances in the USA. Nearly every US airline offers tickets at reduced prices on most flights, but you must know how to find the bargains. The lowest fares are normally offered on advance-purchase, round-trip tickets that include a Saturday night stay. Always try to purchase your ticket at least three weeks in advance and always include a Saturday night in your round trip itinerary. Even if you only need a one-way ticket, it can often be cheaper to purchase a round trip ticket that includes a weekend stay. You can always throw away the unused portion of the ticket.

I suggest you check more than one source for any airline ticket. If you have some flexibility in your itinerary, test a few different options for dates of travel to find the lowest rate.

Bus travel is an inexpensive alternative

Bus travel is the cheapest means of transportation across the USA and bus stations are more common than airports. However, the bus may not be the most economical alternative when you consider that cross-country bus travel takes several days and that you must provide your own meals and lodging. Greyhound Bus Company operates the only truly transcontinental bus service in the USA. They offer unlimited-travel passes in seven to sixty-day increments. Special reduced fares are available for students and international travelers. You should carefully consider the trade-off between bus and air travel. Airplanes are much faster, but the bus lets you see the country as you travel.

Train travel is very limited in the USA

As a rule, rail travel in America is expensive, unreliable and inconvenient. You should not consider it as a primary travel option. However, if you plan a lot of travel between major cities, trains can be an economical means of transportation. Amtrak, the only major American passenger rail line, offers a thirty day pass for unlimited rail travel in any part of the United States. Depending on the season, USA Rail passes costs between three hundred and five hundred fifty dollars. This may seem expensive, but if you plan on a lot of travel in a short time, it can be much cheaper than multiple airplane or bus tickets. Remember that trains tend to travel mostly between larger cities!

Do not hitchhike!

Hitchhiking can be dangerous, and it is illegal in most states. You should avoid hitchhiking in the USA as you could end up in trouble with the local police.

Inexpensive lodging can be a challenge

Finding an inexpensive place to stay can be a challenge, however here are some economical alternatives to a cheap motel or to overstuffing a hotel room.

If you are travelling through the more rural parts of America, almost all of the larger state and national parks have campsites which can be rented for extremely low rates, sometimes as low as five dollars a night. Usually this includes a grill for cooking, space for tents, a communal toilet and a shower area. Private campgrounds cost a little more but usually include some added amenities like hot water, swimming pool, Laundromat and grocery store. For more information about camping in the USA, visit our camping tips page!

Camping © Mike Leco /
If you are travelling through the more rural parts of America, almost all of the larger state and national parks have campsites which can be rented for extremely low rates, sometimes as low as five dollars a night.

Many large universities rent out their dormitory rooms during the summer. In almost any major US city, there is at least one university engaged in such a program. Typically you get a room and a shower for a modest price. Unfortunately, most universities only have open dormitory space in the summer, between the end of June and the beginning of September. You must call the housing office of the given university to obtain information about this type of economical lodging.

All major cities have branches of the YMCA and YWCA that offers inexpensive lodging. The room prices usually include showers, a place to sleep and sometimes a hot meal. The YM/YWCA are a bit more expensive than other forms of low-cost housing, but they are also more reliable and more comfortable. Try YMCA lodging information.

Youth Hostels are not as common in the USA as they are in most European countries, but hostels are gaining in popularity throughout the USA. Often, they are the least expensive accommodations. For a modest fee, you get a bed for the night with a hot showen and often a free breakfast. Some hostels require you to provide your own linen, but many of them will provide linen free or for a small additional fee.

Written by: Icarus Annals
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco /
Photo Description: Although not as cheap as camping or hostels, local, non-chain hotels can offer reasonable nightly rates.