How to backpack through the US on a budget

Keep to a strict budget

When backpacking in the USA, you will struggle to keep within the budget that you have set yourself for your trip. However you must be very strict with yourself and make sure that you don’t overspend; the whole point of backpacking is, after all, to save money!

Finding cheap accommodation

You will find that it is the accommodation, rather than meals or travel, that eats up your budget the fastest. If you are going to stay on top of your budget you should start to look at where the cheapest places to stay are in the United States. While you might think this means confining yourself to the dodgy backstreet motels that are the setting of so many crime novels, it actually means finding local camp sites or cheap hotels on your travels.

Depending on the time of year you might also want to phone up local colleges and see if they have any dorm rooms available to rent for a few nights. They will be very comfortable and usually close to local amenities which you will need. The YMCA and YWCA also provide cheap rooms to travellers, although these are sometimes difficult to find in advance of a visit to having a backup hotel should always be the way that you travel.

Although hotels are scattered across Europe, in the continental United States they are much less common and they are only ever based in the depths of busy cities. Cheap hotels are a more commonly available if you can afford them.

Limit your travel budget

It can be very tempting, when you’re tired and grouchy, to forsake bus travel with a local taxi. However although it might seem like a taxi isn’t too expensive, you should always stick to bus travel where possible so that your money goes a lot further. After all, bus routes usually take you through remote areas of the country that otherwise you would miss out on seeing.

Travel bus

Flying should be a last resort, but don’t dismiss it entirely when travelling around the United States. Europeans are rarely familiar with the idea of taking a plane across to the other side of the country, but in the US it’s much cheaper than in Europe and, quite often, the only feasible way of travelling long distances.  Sites like momondo can help you find the cheapest deals on your intercity flights but always try and book as much in advance as possible. The later you leave it, the more expensive the flights become.

The cheapest way to travel by plane is to book well in advance or try to find last-minute deals at the counter. The internet is your friend: the cheapest deals can often be booked online, and you can even find cancellations at discounted rates on many airlines’ websites.

Be careful

As a backpacker you need to watch out for various “tourist traps” in the United States, just as you would anywhere else. Make sure that you don’t travel alone at night and that if you feel unsafe in your accommodation, you get out of there straight away, and that someone always knows where you are. Your personal safety is much more important than a cheap holiday.

Photo credits:

  • YMCA: Wikimedia Commons
  • Bus: Wikipedia

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