The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world, situated in North America; it’s somewhere I believe everyone should visit in their lifetime.
Although, one visit is never enough.
Each of the fifty states in which the country is divided into has something unique; from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan cities to the incredible wonders of the Nation Parks, there is something for everyone.
An while the cities of New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Fransisco are the draw for most tourists, each of the countries cities and states is well worth heading out to explore – I told you, one trip to the US is simply never enough.
Sadly, the tourist infrastructure connecting these states and cities that span 9.8 million kilometres isn’t the best in the world, and travel here isn’t the cheapest either.
Therefore, most travellers opt to visit one or two locations, spending a week or two in each before heading home.
In this travel guide, I hope to challenge that way of thinking. Provide solutions to those budget and infrastructure problems and provide inspiration as to some of the more unique and undiscovered parts of the United States.
Table of Contents
- When To Visit The United States
- How Long To Spend In The United States
- Getting To The United States
- Where To Visit In The United States
- How To Get Around The United States
- Typical Costs In The United States
- How To Stay Safe In The United States
- Gear & Packing List For The United States
When To Visit The United States
Since the United States is such a large country, the climate and temperature change drastically depending on where you plan to visit.
This means that you don’t need to leave the country to go from the sunshine beaches of California to the ski resorts in Aspen, and therefore the best time to travel often depends on where you’re planning to go and what activities you’d like to do when you get there.
Broadly speaking (although it’s often up for debate), the United States is split into the North and the South.
The north of the country, home to states like New York, Connecticut, Iowa, and Ohio, have more defined seasons.
Here winter often brings extreme temperatures and heavy snowfall, and the summer (which usually begins around May time) often features temperatures 30 degrees and above.
Image Source: Mindful Wellness US
Meanwhile, the South of the United States, including states such as Texas, Nevada and Florida, sees heat and humidity for the majority of the year, with even the winter months often dry and relatively warm.
However, the seasons aren’t the only thing you’ll need to contend with when booking a trip to the United States.
That’s because the country celebrates several National Holidays throughout the year, these along with school holidays (Spring Break especially), is something you may want to look to plan your trip around, especially if you’re travelling on a budget.
Major tourist attractions such as Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, often reaches total capacity by midday on Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Meanwhile, the cost of flights (both domestic and international) and hotels all increase.
How Long To Spend In The United States
There’s a lot to do in the United States, and seeing it all on one trip is near enough impossible. We’ve travelled internationally to the United States more than two dozen times over the past decade alone, and based on our own experiences, we’ve found the best way to see the best of what the country has to offer is to put together some highlights.
You can then use that shorter, more refined list to see how the locations might fit together on a trip (or several trips), each lasting between one and six weeks.
In some cases, you may be faced with decisions to save on time and money.
For example, a few days at Universal Studios resort in Orlando, Florida, may not be worth it if the cost of visiting is equivalent to a week of your travels otherwise.
Alternatively, you might have to decide between locations and activities. For example, Disneyland or Universal Studios if you’re in California, Dallas or Austin if you’re in Texas or Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure if you’re in Orlando.
The limit in how much time you can spend in the United States as a tourist is not an easy question to answer. However, on a broad level, without going into too many technicalities, the general rule is six months – with visitors being able to request extensions where required.
Between four and six months is enough time to see a lot at a surface level in the United States.
However, if you want to experience off the beaten path experiences and have time to rest and relax during your visit, then you’re going to want to increase this to 24 months.
This is, again, why many people often choose to visit the USA multiple times for a duration of 2 weeks to 6 weeks over several years.
Getting To The United States
Depending on where you are travelling from will likely depend on the practicality and cost of your transport method.
While we often fly into the United States from Europe, there are many alternatives that may provide a holiday in themselves or be more affordable.
According to the FAA, more than 5,000 public airports in the United States (19,000+ including private airports), with more than 5,400 international passengers arriving daily.
It’s therefore unsurprising that travelling by plane is the most common way to arrive in the United States. The most popular airports for international travellers include;
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport – Situated in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s hard to describe the scale of this airport to someone who has never been before.
While we’ve never had the pleasure of staying in Atlanta overnight, we have done many transfers for internal flights within the US at this airport.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – The fourth busiest airport in the world, and the second busiest airport in the United States with more than 75 million passengers in 2019, is located just a 30-minute drive or train ride from Dallas, Texas.
Los Angeles International Airport – An excellent airport for those looking to explore the west coast. Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX as it’s more commonly known, is popular with travellers looking to visit Hollywood or Anaheim.
If you’re travelling from some of the adjoining countries to the United States, such as Canada or Mexico, then you may choose to cross the border into the country on a coach or a bus.
While this transport method is relatively cheap compared to driving a car yourself, it’s still a very long journey (12 hours to 4 days) depending on where you’re going from/to.
When booked in advance, a flight from these adjoining countries can often be just as affordable as travelling by bus with a more comfortable journey and quicker travel times.
If you’re travelling from some of the adjoining countries to the United States, such as Canada or Mexico, you may choose to cross the border into the country in a car.
However, depending on where you’re travelling from and to, this transport method could be lengthy (12 hours to 4 days) and expensive ($100 – $1,000 in gas) when compared to flying.
While travelling by car does give you the added flexibility, it might be worth considering an alternative transportation method and then hiring a vehicle upon your arrival into the country.
You can take both one-way cruises and round-trip cruises from multiple countries into the United States. Popular ports in the US include;
Port of Miami – Miami is known as the cruise capital of the world, and rightly so. The Port Miami site is more than 518 acres in size and sees more passengers than any other cruise port in the world. Popular international destinations to/from here include; The Bahamas, Cuba and Europe.
Port Canaveral – Situated in the sunshine state of Florida on the South East Coast of the United States, Port Canaveral is the gateway to Walt Disney World Resort and home of the world-famous Kennedy Space Center.
Galveston Port – Located in Galveston, an island city on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Galveston Port is one of the largest in the United States and popular with tourists travelling to/from Mexico on vacation.
Cape Liberty – Is one of three trans-Atlantic passenger terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey situated south of the Statue of Liberty. If you’re coming from Europe and looking for a city experience, you’ll want to look at docking here.
Travelling by cruise to the United States can be expensive and time-consuming. However, if you’re looking to explore several locations during your trip, it could be the perfect opportunity to do so.
Where To Visit In The United States
On a seasonality basis, the United States is split into two based, the north and the south.
However, on a regional travelling basis, the country is actually split into four, and while the exact states inside each area vary depending on who you speak to, generally speaking, it’s;
The Northeast – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
The Midwest – Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.
The South – Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma.
The West – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii.
When you’re looking to decide where to travel for a short trip (1 week to 6 weeks) to the United States, you’ll save time and money by sticking to one of these general regions.
I’ve split the best of each of these regions up below;
The northeast is my favourite region in the USA. There’s so much to see and do here it was difficult to narrow it down into just a handful of places;
Bar Harbour, Maine – If you’re looking for a weekend getaway in the northeast, then you’re sure to find it here.
The delightful town of Bar Harbour is situated on Maine’s Frenchman Bay serves as a gateway to the mountains & cliffs of the neighbouring Acadia National Park.
Acadia National Park, Maine – This 47,000-acre park on the Atlantic coast is graced by woodland, rocky beaches and glacier-scoured granite peaks. Among the wildlife are moose, bears, whales and seabirds.
Portland, Maine – One of the most visited cities in Maine, Portland is set on a peninsula extending into Casco Bay. The city’s unofficial slogan is ‘Keep Portland Wierd’, and those who have visited will know this slogan to be true.
With a mixture of entrepreneurs, artists and artisans, there’s a charm about this city and those who call it home that make it well worth the visit.
Boston, Massachusetts – Boston is a modern metropolis. Yet, underneath all of this, the city’s old-world charm remains, and the whole city tells tales of its history and significance in American culture.
One of the best things to do in Boston is the Freedom Trail. You can take a guided tour of some or all of the trail. Alternatively, if you’re on a budget, you can do what we did and go on a self-guided Boston Freedom Trail tour.
If you’re looking for a city break in the northeast, look no further. Although be sure to bring a loaded wallet as Boston is one of the most expensive cities in America.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts – This hook-shaped peninsula is a popular summertime destination. Filled with quaint villages, seafood shacks, lighthouses, ponds and ocean beaches, there’s something for everyone.
Nantucket Island, Massachusetts – This tiny isolated island just off Cape Cod is home to unpainted buildings, restaurants, high-end boutiques and steepled churches. A popular summertime destination, the town’s Whaling Museum recounts the island’s role as a 19th-century whaling hub.
Grand Isle, Vermont – Also known as South Hero Island, and with a population of just 2067, the tiny island of Grand Isle is well worth a visit when exploring the northeast USA.
Covered in pastoral farms, lush vinelands and miles of green rolling hills, Grand Isle is a haven for outdoor adventurers and those looking to seak tranquillity.
While Grand Isle may be an island, it’s well connected, just a short ferry ride from Plattsburg, a half-hour drive from Burlington or a day trip to Montreal.
Finger Lakes, New York – This region of New York is often overlooked in favour of New York City and Niagara Falls. However, that shouldn’t be the case, as Finger Lakes is about as picturesque it comes.
Home to fine dining, wineries and luxury hotels, the 9,000 square mile region is a four-season playground for all.
New York, New York – New York City is one of the most famous cities in the United States. Situated in the northeast of the country, it sees over 13.5 million international tourists every year and therefore unsurprisingly has a range of accommodation and activities to suit all budgets.
Niagara Falls, New York – The world-famous Niagara falls straddles both New York state and the Canadian border. Inside Niagara Falls State Park, the Observation Tower, at Prospect Point, juts out over Niagara Gorge for a view of all three waterfalls.
Trails from the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center lead to other viewpoints. For example, the Aquarium of Niagara is home to Humboldt penguins, seals and sea lions.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Fans of the film “Rocky” featuring Sylvester Stallone will already be well acquainted with the city of Philadelphia.
The largest city in Pennsylvania boasts a vibrant history, most notable of which was the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed on July 4th 1776.
The Midwest is home to one of the top tourist attractions in the United States, Mount Rushmore – more on that in our things to do guide.
However, don’t let that be the only reason you visit this region, as the states and cities here have much more to offer;
Cleveland, Ohio – Known for its beautiful parklands, vibrant art scene and musical history, Cleveland is well worth 48 hours of exploration as you pass through.
Put-in-Bay, Ohio – This small village on South Bass Island in Lake Eire was made famous during a battle in 1812. However, the island boasts a historical museum, winemaking activities and a family fun centre, including a limestone cave and butterfly house.
Indianapolis, Indiana – The state capital is home to some fantastic museums (some of which are free) and one of my favourite city parks in the USA, White River State Park.
Door County, Wisconsin – This small county lies on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan and is well known for its long shoreline and many parks, including; Peninsula State Park, Newport State Park and Potawatomi State Park.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is known for its breweries and ties to the motorcycle brand Harley Davidson.
Rapid City / the Black Hills, South Dakota – Known as the gateway to Mount Rushmore, the Rapid City and the Black Hills area offers extensive local history and geology exhibits. If you’re not able to drive to Mount Rushmore, then many day trips will leave from this area, so it’s well worth spending a night or two.
Chicago, Illinois – Home to the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, Maxwell Street Polish Sausage, jazz music and an extensive gangster history, including the likes of Al Capone, there are many reasons to visit the fantastic Chicago.
Famed for its bold architecture, including the iconic John Hancock Center, 1,451-ft. Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower. There’s unsurprisingly no shortage of things to see & do, and tourists new to the city could easily spend between 3 and 7 days here.
Mackinac Island, Michigan – Sitting on Lake Huron is Mackinac Island between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. The majority of the island is consumed with the Mackinac Island State Park, with trails, woods and the limestone Arch Rock formation.
However, there’s also a delightful museum that includes local works, Native American art, maps and 19th-century photos for those looking to learn more about the island’s history and importance to the state of Michigan.
Kansas City, Missouri – Sitting on the western edge of Missouri, straddling the border of Kansas in Kansas City. Known for its rich jazz heritage and famous BBQs, foodies and those looking for a city with culture are going to be incredibly pleased as to what they find here.
The south is known for home cooking, BBQ ribs, country and blues music and farming. Foodies and those looking for a depth of the culture will feel at home here.
Marfa, Texas – This small desert city in west Texas is an arts hub hosting exhibitions, concerts and festivals year-round. In recent years the city has gained mythical like status and as such featured in many major publications such as Vogue and GQ.
Greenville, South Carolina – Art lovers flock to Greenville to visit the Greenville County Museum of Art, home to a vast number of pieces by Southern artists spanning several centuries.
While those looking for outdoor adventures, head to Falls Park and Paris Mountain State Park, both of which feature multi-use trails and spectacular views.
Bentonville, Arkansas – The birthplace of retail giant Walmart, Bentonville is unsurprisingly home to the Walmart Museum. However, there’s more to this city than just Walmart.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art displays work from the colonial era to the present. Inside its sprawling grounds, you’ll find forest trails, sculpture gardens and waterside pavilions.
While the Scott Family Amazeum offers hands-on science and art exhibits.
Asheville, North Carolina – Located in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Ashville is known for its vibrant arts scene and historic architecture, including the dome-topped Basilica of Saint Lawrence.
Athens, Georgia – Known for its antebellum architecture, the city of Athens marks the start of the state’s Antebellum Trail of historic Civil War towns.
History enthusiasts visiting Athens should visit; T.R.R. Cobb House, the mansion of a mid-19th-century lawyer, Taylor Grady House, a Greek Revival mansion, and the Church-Waddel-Brumby House, which dates from the early 19th century.
Orlando, Florida – Visitors come from around the world to see Mickey Mouse and his friends at Walt Disney World Resort. However, if you’re not a fan of theme parks, there’s no need to worry as Orlando has something for everyone.
Walt Disney World isn’t the only resort in Orlando as the city is also home to Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Aquatica and more. As a result, many holidaymakers base themselves at either Universal Studios or Walt Disney World (or somewhere in between) and then travel between the two locations during their trip.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana – Founded in 1699, the capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge is situated along the Mississippi River and is filled with history.
Famous landmarks include; Old Louisiana State Capitol, Magnolia Mound Plantation, LSU Rural Life Museum and the USS Kidd.
I think the west of the United States has the most to see & do. Luckily, most of it is isolated along the coast, making getting between major sites relatively quick and easy.
I’ve narrowed down my list of places to visit the following – although believe me, this could have easily been twice, maybe three times as long;
Seattle, Washington – Washington States largest city, Seattle is home to a cutting edge technology industry with head offices for both Microsoft and Amazon.
However, don’t let the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan city fool you, as it’s got mountains, water and thousands of acres of parkland waiting for you to explore.
The city’s most famous landmark is the futuristic Space Needle, a 605-ft structure featured in the 1962 World’s Fair. For $59, you can visit the observation deck, alternatively, you can dine in the rotating restaurant which provides incredible views out over the city and the ocean.
San Francisco, California – Known for its famous Golden Gate Bridge, steep streets and Alcatraz, the city of San Francisco is often high on most USA travellers bucket lists.
However, it comes at a price. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to visit in all of the United States, which can make sticking to a budget here incredibly difficult – especially if you want to see & do everything the city has to offer.
Los Angeles, California – One of the most famous cities in the United States is Los Angeles. This sprawling city in Southern California is the centre of the film and television industry and pays homage to it with the iconic Hollywood sign, Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame.
Nearby you’ll find studios including Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Brothers, offering behind-the-scenes tours.
Death Valley, California – This desert valley in Eastern California is one of the hottest places on earth and the lowest point in the United States at 282 feet below sea level.
You can book a day trip to visit Death Valley from popular neighbouring cities, including Las Vegas and California. However, these are incredibly popular trips and therefore often require reservations in advance.
Napa Valley, California – Nappa Valley is situated in Nappa County, north of San Francisco. The region was made famous for its hundreds of hillside vineyards, delicious wine and gourmet food.
If you’re visiting the area, be sure to visit the Napa Valley Wine Train, a vintage locomotive and travelling restaurant running through the valley.
San Diego, California – Situated on the Pacific coast of California and known for its glorious beaches, beautiful parks and warm climate is the city of San Diego.
Relaxing on the beach is a popular activity here, but certainly not the only one given the city is home to numerous art galleries, artist studios, museums and gardens. One of our favourite attractions to visit is the large active naval fleet, with the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier-turned-museum, open to the public.
Las Vegas, Nevada – Las Vegas, Vegas, or the city of sin. Whatever you choose to call it, this city is something else entirely.
If you’ve never been to Las Vegas before, it’s hard to know what to expect, and however, I’ve tried to explain it to people, but it’s never quite been right. That’s because nothing quite compares to experiencing Las Vegas first-hand.
Even if you’re not into gambling, there’s still plenty to see and do here, and it’s an excellent base for visiting nearby attractions such as the Grand Canyon or cities such as Los Angeles. Las Vegas is also a destination you don’t have to splurge to have a good time.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – Much like Las Vegas, the true size and beauty of the Grand Canyon is hard to convey, and instead something I’d encourage people to experience first hand for themselves.
We opted to visit the Grand Canyon on a day trip from the nearby city of Las Vegas. The tour we chose included a stop at the Hoover Dam, as well as the round trip transportation and lunch.
However, we also paid extra to go out on the Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped bridge made of glass, allowing visitors to walk 4,000 ft above the canyon floor.
Yosemite National Park, California – Situated on the western Sierra Nevada mountains of Central California is Yosemite National Park.
The most famous attribute of the park is the Yosemite Valley, an awe-inspiring glacial valley around 7.5 miles long and 3,000 to 3,500 ft deep, surrounded by high granite summits such as Half Dome and El Capitan, and densely forested with pines.
Portland, Oregon – Portland is the largest city in Oregon and sits on both the Columbia and Willamette rivers in the shadow of the snow-capped Hood mountain.
Made famous for its iconic parks and picturesque bridges, the city is one of the most eco-friendly in the United States and has multiple microbreweries, independent coffee houses as well as a thriving art, theatre and music scene.
How To Get Around The United States
The distances between places in the USA is so great that it’s essential to plan in advance and in most cases you’ll have the choice between; a car, a plane, a train or a bus.
While choosing the correct method of transport is essential for both staying on budget and convenience, the decision is likely to come down to where you’re travelling to/from.
If you’re travelling from the airport to a major attraction and don’t plan on doing any travelling outside of the resort upon arrival, then taking a bus or charted coach may be worthwhile.
Some examples of when we travel by bus include;
- Between Orlando Airport and Universal Studios Resort
- From Las Vegas to Hoover Dam (& Grand Canyon)
- Between LAX and Universal Studios Hollywood
- From Anaheim (Disneyland, CA) to Universal Studios Hollywood
While we have travelled on FlixBus and Grayhound between cities within a 4-hour driving range, it’s something we’d advise you to do with caution – our experiences have all been entertaining, to say the least.
Amtrak is the only passenger rail service that offers services throughout the United States. However, many opt to fly instead of taking the train as tickets tend to be more expensive, the journey is long, and the stations are generally more disconnected when compared to airports.
That said, if you’re looking for a scenic route around the United States or into Canada. You can save money by booking in advance and travelling by coach – although a private room may be worth the extra cost if you’re travelling overnight.
For those looking to explore more of the USA on a budget, check out The USA Rail Pass. This pass gets you ten rides over 30 days for $499. Those with a valid student ID can save 15% on this pass and all other Amtrak tickets.
Domestic flights are prevalent in the United States, given the distance between different cities and states.
Booking in advance can help you achieve affordable flights with airlines such as; Spirit, JetBlue and Delta. Given the volume of domestic travellers for both business and leisure, facilities such as luggage storage are readily available at most major airports.
While most airports are situated 20 miles or more away from major attractions and cities, you should be able to hire a car or take public transport relatively easily – a great example being the FlyAway bus from LAX to Union Station.
Be sure to factor in the cost of getting to/from the airport into your budget, as this can often make flying more expensive and time-consuming.
It’s no secret that travelling by car is fantastic for getting off the beaten path. It provides you with an endless amount of flexibility and convenience. However, travelling between states in a car can be both uncomfortable and tiring.
This isn’t for everyone, especially solo travellers or those with limited time to spend. However, an alternative that still provides some level of flexibility and convenience is hiring a car upon your arrival.
Car hire offices are available at all major airports, but you’ll often get the best deal by booking in advance.
Taxi / Ride Sharing
If you’re travelling between locations in cities where public transport is limited or unavailable, then look at ride-sharing.
Uber and Lyft are my personal favourites, with various options, including minivans and ridepool (where you share the journey with others to lower the cost).
Be sure to compare both apps to get the best available price as it’s algorithmic-based and, therefore, Uber and sometimes come out cheaper than Lyft and vice-versa.
Typical Costs In The United States
How much you spend in the United States largely depends on where in the country you visit. For example, NYC is significantly more expensive than Los Angeles, while Boston is more expensive than Maine.
Generally speaking, however, the south is cheaper than the north, and the states on the coast are more expensive than the states inland.
Of course, this is just an example, as depending on your travel style, the amount you spend even in some of the more affordable states can run into the hundreds of dollars a day per person. However, here’s a quick breakdown based on our experiences;
On average, a backpacker will be looking to spend $75 (£55 / €65) per day in the United States. This is enough money to stay in a hostel in most locations, cook basic meals or grab a $5 pizza slice, and take public transport to get around the city.
Activities in the United States on a backpacker budget will be limited to walking tours, hiking, and hanging out at the local beach.
Meanwhile, travelling long distances to multiple cities and across state lines will often require hitchhiking or booking Amtrak or the Greyhound in advance for the best rates. However, be prepared to add on anything from an additional $20 to $120 per person for a domestic flight if nothing else is available.
A mid-range traveller can expect to spend $145 (£105 / €145) per day in the United States. This includes a private room in a three-star (or under) hotel, or a private room in a local Airbnb.
With this kind of budget, you’ll be able to eat out for one or two meals per day. You’ll also be able to take the occasional taxi around the city for convenience.
In most cities, you’ll also be able to use your $145 budget for a broader range of attractions and activities compared to a backpacker budget. This includes the likes of museums, botanical gardens, food tours etc.
Finally, on a luxurious budget of $250 (£185 / €300) per day, you can expect to stay in accommodation with at least a 4-star rating in most major cities.
With this kind of budget, you’ll be able to eat gourmet food at some of the finest restaurants in most cities and have an alcoholic beverage (or two) most evenings.
You’ll be able to replace public transport with taxis or car hire and enjoy premium upgrades for most significant attractions while also going on day trips from your base location to popular sites such as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park.
In major cities such as New York and Boston, hostels and budget accommodation are readily available. However, in more remote locations less frequently visited by tourists, you may find the accommodation range more limited.
In which case, those on a backpacker budget may be looking to couch surf or increase their allocation to a more mid-range accommodation option for the duration of their visit.
We managed to stretch our mid-range budget to a luxury hotel in Las Vegas thanks to discount coupons earned through MyVegas. As a result, we stayed in a Suite inside the Bellagio for under $70 per night.
Of course, this is just one example of how planning months in advance can allow you to stretch your budget – which can sometimes be well worthwhile.
Another example of when an upgrade to accommodation may be worthwhile is the extras included. For example, at Universal Studios Resort in Orlando, Florida, guests staying in selected hotels can get a complimentary Express Pass.
This Universal Express Pass then gets you fast-track to the front of the line for the vast majority of rides inside both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
The pass usually costs between $75 and $125 per person. However, the rooms at these selected hotels can be as little as $250 per night.
Which makes the increased cost worth it on a practical level if you’re planning on getting the Express Pass during your visit, and of course, this is before accounting for the additional level of luxury you’ll receive from staying in a more premium hotel.
Another example of this you’ll find across the United States is accommodation with complimentary breakfast. Just make sure that you’re getting a similar quality hotel for the price you would otherwise pay.
After all, if the cost of a hotel with complimentary breakfast is $10 more than the same quality hotel without breakfast, then it may be a false economy.
Budget food is readily available across the United States thanks to major grocery stores such as Walmart and fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Wendys.
If you’re on a mid-range budget, you may be able to replace the fast-food chains for independent cafés and coffee shops or a chain restaurant such as Applebees and TGI Fridays. Alternatively, you could order in with the likes of door dash.
With a luxury budget, the possibilities are endless. You’ll have the ability to add alcoholic drinks, starters and desserts to your order with ease and enjoy high-end independent restaurants in the majority of cities and states.
There are several free museums and other attractions to visit across the United States. However, some more ‘touristy’ attractions do come at a cost.
If you’re planning to participate in multiple activities in the same city during your trip, then look into the cost-effectiveness of a City Pass.
We used one of these on our first trip to New York City, and as first-time visitors, we managed to check off the majority of major attractions on a budget in just four days.
Be sure to research these as far in advance as you can, as promotional deals are often running (especially over Black Friday), which can help you save even further.
As discussed in our earlier guide to getting around the United States, travelling by coach is often the most affordable way to travel between cities, although not the most comfortable.
Some of our favourite companies include; Megabus, Greyhound, FlixBus, and Bolt Bus. All of which regularly run promotional offers for discounted fares (as little as $1 between major cities).
Meanwhile, travelling by train is another relatively affordable option but limiting given the disconnected rail network.
Finally, the most common form of travel across the United States is by plane. Sadly, however, the cost of the flights plus transport to and from the airport often requires additional funds.
Much like accommodation costs, you could potentially save on transport costs by booking a hotel close to the heart of the city or attraction you’re visiting. For example, when we visit Universal Studios in Orlando, we book a hotel within walking distance of the parks.
This saves us $25 on parking daily, alongside the cost of hiring a car and gas. So while we end up spending some of that back again on Ubers to go to the local Walmart, we still manage to achieve a 75% saving.
Just be sure that a hotel closer to the city/attraction isn’t costing you more than the transport costs – that is unless you’re only spending a short amount of time at the location, in which case the extra charges may be worth it to maximise the time you have.
How To Stay Safe In The United States
According to the global peace index, the United States is the 117th most dangerous country to visit. Making the country more dangerous than countries such as Brazil, Jamaica, China and Argentina.
While these statistics show one thing, it’s also worth looking into the crimes by region. The vast majority of these crimes happen in highly dense metropolitan areas, with New York and Texas ranking as some of the worst states on the list while Maine and Vermont are some of the best.
However, Helen and I have travelled to both New York and Texas on more than one occasion, and while there have been some questionable things happening, we’ve never been the victim of a crime. Nor have we anywhere during our multiple trips to the United States.
As in all countries, you can minimise your risk by;
Researching The State / City In Advance
Many international visitors (ourselves at one point included) struggle to grasp the true size of the United States. You can drive more than 15 hours and still be in the same state.
Therefore the cuisine, slang, dress style, accents, attitude, and people’s walk are entirely different from city to city and state to state.
As such, it’s well worth researching the attitude and customs of the locals before your trip so you can be best informed as to what to expect.
This also pays dividends when looking for accommodation – especially budget accommodation and striking a balance between a good neighbourhood and an affordable price.
Get *Good* Travel Insurance
We have scrimped on travel insurance in the past, and I can tell you from our own experience of arriving in the Philippines to a worldwide pandemic and a volcano eruption, it was 100% not worth the savings.
World Nomads have the most comprehensive insurance I’ve been able to find on the internet. While exact offerings vary depending on your residency as a resident of the United Kingdom, I’m currently offered (at the time of writing) the following cover as standard;
- Dental Treatment
- Travel Accidents
- Baggage Insurance
- Death Overseas
- Medical Evacuation
- Some Pre-Exsisting Medical Conditions
- Trip Cancellation
- Medical Repatriation
- Digital Nomad Cover
To learn more about what World Nomads can offer you be sure to visit their website.
Check The Weather
Of course, crime isn’t the only thing you’ll need to worry about on your trip to the United States as there’s also the weather to consider.
Extreme weather conditions in certain cities and states are not uncommon, and during certain seasons, you may experience storms and hurricanes, which can result in an evacuation.
Be sure to check the weather in advance and regularly during your trip, although most hotels and hostels will alert you to any weather warnings in advance and have a particular action plan in place should extreme weather occur.
Animals & Insects
There’s a wide variety of wildlife in the various reserves, lakes, parks and oceans of the United States. However, as majestic as many of these creatures are, they are also wild and potentially dangerous.
Bears are one of the most common and most dangerous animals to look out for in the United States, with a recent study finding bears in more than 40 of the 50 states within the country. While bears are commonly seen in woodland areas during the summer, they can often come to nearby towns in search of something to eat.
If you’re travelling to a region where bears are common, check out the Bear Smart Society website, so you know how to stay safe should you encounter one.
Only bring the cash you need and a bank card if you’re heading out for the evening. Leave additional items at the hotel or hostel, and be sure to let someone know where you’re going.
When at the bar, always keep an eye on your drink and avoid walking home alone at night if you’re intoxicated. If you do experience an emergency, call 911 for assistance.
Gear & Packing List For The United States
What you choose to pack for a trip to the United States is going to vary drastically on multiple factors, including;
- How long you’re travelling for
- Where you’re planning to visit
- When you’re planning to visit
- The activities / attractions you plan to take part in / see
Below is a list of base essentials. You can use this list to then build on depending on the factors discussed above.
- T-shirts (long sleeve and short sleeve)
- Light jacket
- Swimming outfit
- Rain jacket
- Comfortable, yet smart trainers
- Flip-flops or sandals
- Leggings, cargo pants or chinos (something long legged that dries quickly)
- Body wash
- Dry shampoo
- Dental floss
- Nail clippers
- Feminine hygiene products
- Hair clips / bobbles
- Make up
- Pain killers
- Plasters / band aids
- Copies of prescriptions
- Ear plugs
- Hand santiser
- Antibacterial wipes
- Phone charger
- Copies of passport and ID
- A padlock (for the hostel lockers)
- Chilly’s water bottle
- Universal plug / charger
- Backpack / duffel