Knowing how much to budget for a trip to the USA can be tricky because there are just so many options. But fret not! We’ve got you covered. With some savvy saving hacks and pre-planning, you can enjoy a stateside adventure without wiping out your bank balance.
How much should you expect to spend while in the USA?
The cost of traveling in the USA can vary greatly depending on your chosen accommodation, transportation, and activities. Certain cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are known for being particularly expensive when it comes to vacationing. However, there is a range of options available that can suit virtually any kind of travel style or budget.
For a high-level average cost, if you are taking a road trip to the National Parks, expect to spend around $50 per day. This is for a basic trip that includes camping, car hire, and cooking your own meals. Depending on the park you are visiting, you may find yourself spending a bit more or less based on the activities you choose and what time of year you are visiting.
For big cities on a budget, $150 USD per day is more realistic as even low-end accommodation can be costly. If you prefer traveling with a bit more comfort, expect your costs to be a little higher as the big demand for accommodation in certain cities drives the prices up. If you are looking to save some money, try to look for hostels, Airbnbs, or Couchsurfing opportunities. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for any discounts or promotions that could help you save money while still allowing you to enjoy your trip.
For a more detailed understanding of how to allocate your budget, let’s break it down into the main areas your money will go - accommodation, transport, and activities. We don’t include a breakdown of food costs as that can really be as cheap or as expensive as you make it. Basically, cook your own meals to save money or eat out at restaurants if you have more room in your budget.
Accommodation costs will be a large part of your budget when traveling in the USA. The costs vary significantly depending on where you are traveling to and the type of accommodation you are looking for.
For a hotel room, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 per night. Cities like New York and Los Angeles can be even harder to find budget accommodation as prices here are typically higher than average due to their popularity with tourists and the higher cost of living. However, with some research and careful planning, you can still find good deals to suit your budget.
One of the most affordable options is staying at a motel or campground. Most motels offer basic amenities at a fraction of the cost of a more upscale hotel. Campgrounds offer an even more affordable option, but may not always offer the same level of comfort that you would get in a hotel or motel. Unless otherwise marked, it’s free to camp in State Forests. Campsites within the national parks often have a fee of $10 on average per night. For the more popular parks, you will need to reserve a spot well in advance.
Airbnb and other similar services are an increasingly popular choice for travelers, as they provide a wide variety of accommodation options, from apartments to private rooms. Not only do these services offer a more flexible and customizable experience for those looking for something different from a hotel, but they can also be more cost-effective.
To get the most value for your money, it is essential to take the time to do your research and compare prices when booking accommodation. Platforms like Booking.com and Agoda are great tools to use as they offer a variety of deals, discounts, and other special offers.
When it comes to transportation between cities, airlines often have really good promotions, so domestic flights can start from as little as $20. However, outside of promotions, plane tickets start from around $75.
If you are planning on driving, the cost of renting a car, fuel, and highway tolls can quickly add up. But it is also arguably the best way to get around the country unless you are short on time. Depending on the size of the car and the rental company you choose, a rental car can cost anywhere from $30 to $100 per day. Gas prices in the USA range from $2.50 to $4.00 per gallon. In states like California where gas prices are soaring, they might even be higher than this. The further outside the big cities you get, the higher these prices are likely to be.
When traveling within a city, public transport is usually the most affordable option, with fares usually only setting you back a couple of dollars. However, the public transport systems in most cities often leave much to be desired, so they aren’t always the most convenient choice.
In major cities there are numerous ride-sharing services are available, such as Uber and Lyft. The cost of these trips is highly dependent on the route you are taking, but the average ride with Uber, for example, is reported to be $20.
The cost of activities varies, but most of the country's top attractions are quite affordable or are even free! Activities will probably be the smallest part of your budget unless you are splashing for a bucket list-worthy experience like a hot air balloon ride over the Grand Canyon. While there are plenty of different types of activities to do while you’re in the US, here’s what to expect for some of the main ones:
Some of the best museums and galleries in the US, like the ones in Washington DC, are actually free, so no budget allocation is required here! For those that do have an entrance fee, they are usually around $10 and you can often find discounts and special offers.
Many cities have free festivals and events throughout the year that you can take advantage of. This includes things like parades, music festivals, comedy shows, carnivals, food festivals, and holiday-related events. Check our month-by-month guide to events and festivals in the USA to see what’s happening while you’re there.
If you're interested in checking out a sporting event, ticket costs are influenced by the sport, the location of the game, when in the season it is, and who the teams playing are. Sports such as basketball and baseball are typically the cheapest, with ticket prices ranging from $20 to $100. Tickets for NFL games, on the other hand, can cost anywhere from $50 to $500. If you plan on driving to the game, make sure to factor in parking fees. These fees can range greatly, from a few dollars to over $100 so make sure to check the fees for the venue you intend to visit.
The cost of going to National Parks, like everything else, depends on where you are going. Some are completely free to enter, and some have an entrance fee. Some charge for parking, while others don’t. For parks that have an admission fee, it usually ranges from $5 per person to $35 per vehicle. If you are going to a few national parks with entrance fees, an America The Beautiful pass costs $80 and gives you 12 months of free access to these parks. You will still have to pay camping and parking fees though.
Other big tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty or a trip to Alcatraz, again vary greatly in their cost so you really have to check these individually when budgeting. But, as a very very rough guide, these can cost between $20 - $50 for entrance.
If you want to visit a theme park, for the major ones like Disneyland and Universal Studios, expect to spend upwards of $100 for a single-day ticket. Entrance to smaller parks can start from $30. Some parks offer discounts if you purchase multi-day or family passes while others offer discounts for certain days or seasons. Make sure to add on at least another $20 per person if you plan on eating at the parks as the prices of food are heavily marked up and many don’t allow you to bring your own.
Top Tips for saving money while traveling in the USA
Being prepared for your trip by doing your research and booking things well in advance is what we preach, but aside from that, here are some other ways (some a little less conventional than others…) to save some cash while traveling in the US.
These tips can apply to almost everywhere you travel:
Look for hotel deals that include complimentary breakfast - cut out the cost of one whole meal per day. Or choose places that have cooking facilities to cook your own meals
Try Couchsurfing to save money on accommodation - not only that but you can meet some really cool people and get a good sense of what life is really like here.
Join a free walking tour of the city. If you enjoyed it then pay a tip at the end
Opt for free activities. Every city has them if you look hard enough.
Check for discounts/coupons for attractions before you book. Many places will even offer a discount if you purchase tickets in advance.
Travel in groups to share the costs of car rentals and accommodation
Travel slower and limit the number of cities you visit. You can often get discounts if staying somewhere for at least a week and if you cut down on the number of places you visit you also cut down on transportation costs
The less conventional ones
The USA is the land of the free and by that, I mean free giveaways, free samples, and free souvenirs! Make the most of this while you’re there and really embrace this side of the American culture. Get creative!
You can get free souvenirs by completing the Junior Ranger program at every national park site. These are made for kids, but you get a cool badge from it!
Free samples are everywhere in the US. Don't be shy, save up your appetite and get a free lunch of samples!
America is the crème de la crème when it comes to giveaways. At just about every event you go to, there will be something being given away for free. If you don’t want to splash on a souvenir, depending on what it is, these can be a great memento.
There is a national day for just about everything in the US, particularly when it comes to food. Think National Hotdog Day, National Spaghetti Day, and even National Buffet Day! On these days, related businesses often give away free food or have really great deals.
In most casinos in Vegas, you can get free drinks if you are gambling. Play a few rounds of the penny slots, get your free drinks and you’ve got your pregame sorted.
Save yourself the camping fees at National Parks by camping in nearby State Forests. These are generally free to camp in unless stated otherwise. You can also check the FreeCampsites site or the Free Roam app for other free campsites in the area.
If you are doing a road trip, use a fuel app (like GasBuddy) to find the cheapest prices near you. While the difference per gallon may only be small it can really add up over time.
You can have a great time on almost any budget in the USA and there are many ways you can cut down your cost of traveling while you are there. So now that you (hopefully) have a better idea of what options might be best suited to your budget, it’s time to get out there and plan!