I’ve put together this USA travel guide to help you navigate this HUGE country. But I must say, as much as I love visiting the United States. It really isn’t the best place to travel as a backpacker. For one, it’s not budget-friendly at all, you need money to travel here. But for the most part, it’s just not set up for cross country budget travel, to get from place to place can be expensive and if you are lucky enough to find a hostel chances are one night in a dorm could buy you 1 week in a dorm somewhere like Thailand.
All of that aside the USA has so much to offer both domestic and international travelers alike from sipping cocktails on a rooftop bar in the USA to hiking in Sedona. It just needs a different approach to traveling compared to other countries.
Probably the best way to explore the USD on a budget in a car or van on a road trip, or in short bursts exploring one state at a time.
United States, officially United States of America, abbreviated U.S. or U.S.A., is a country in North America, a federal republic of 50 states.
The United States is hugely diverse. Its physical environment ranges from the Arctic to the subtropical, and includes rain forest and deserts, rugged mountain peaks and flat prairies.
The currency in the USA is United States Dollars (USD).
The dialing code of the USA is +1.
The water is mostly safe to drink from the tap in the USA.
Accommodation in the USA is as diverse as the country itself. You will have no issue finding a dorm bed in a hostel when in the cities, but be prepared to pay up to $40 for the bed in some cities. Outside of the major US cities motels or B&B’s are the most common form of budget accommodation. If you are on a tight budget then Couchsurfer is commonly used or you could think about camping or renting a camper van. But if you can budget well the USA has some pretty amazing places to stay. From romantic cabins in Wisconsin to tiny houses in Northern Arizona.
For a bed in a dorm expect to pay from $10-$40 USD if you want a private room in a dorm then you are looking at at least $50 USD in most places. Or if you prefer to stay in a hotel expect to pay at least $60 USD.
Food in the USA is as diverse as the physical geography. Although the USA may be well known as a lover of fast food and you will not struggle to find a great burger wherever you are you will also be able to find authentic Mexican, Italian, and any other number of of there traditional cuisine from countries all over the world.
Some other traditional North American foods include: Clam Chowder (Boston), Bagles (New York), Deep Dish Pizza (Chicago), Texas BBQ, Grits (The South), Key Lime Pie (Florida Keys), and Corn Bread (The South).
Let’s face it. The USA isn’t a particularly popular backpacker destination as it’s not budget friendly. Most people opt for shorter trips and will just explore a particular area, rather than trying to backpack the entire country.
It’s hard to give an accurate budget as if you plan on visiting New York, San Francisco, or one of the other expensive cities this is going to blow through your budget. But if you are on a road trip and camping then this is going to dramatically reduct your budget.
The figures below are an average of what you can expect to spend per day.
Backpackers Budget – $60 USD
Accommodation: $30 USD
Food: $10 USD
Activities & Transport: $20 USD
Mid Budget – $130 USD
Activities & Transport: $50
Luxury Budget – $250 USD +
Accommodation: $100 USD
Food: $50 USD
Activities & Transport: $100 USD
It’s impossible to condense safety advice fr the entire USA into this small section. It’s best to check scams and safety advice for each city you plan on visiting.
But one thing I know for sure is that you should never travel to The USA without some kind of insurance. There is no free healthcare from foreign visitors there so if anything should happen to you you will end up with a very large bill without insurance. There are 2 travel insurance companies I recommend SafetyWing and World Nomads.
SafetyWing is insurance specifically for Digital Nomads which renews every month. Whereas World Nomads is more for Backpackers. You can read the full review I wrote about long term travel insurance here, and use the widget below to check the price of World Nomads.
If you want to save money by cooking for yourself then I would strongly suggest checking before booking that the accommodation has a kitchen. Being able to cook for yourself in the USA will help you save a lot of money.
This is how I was able to stay in Guatemala for almost a year rent-free! There are lots of opportunities in the USA and it’s not expensive to join and if you join through my link and use the discount code in this blog post you get some money off… you’re welcome!
If you want to safe money are are planning in spending time outside of the main cities then make sure you have a waterproof tent and a decent sleeping bag. If you can splurge for a camping stove and a pot to cook with that will also save you a lot of money on food. Or look out for campsites with kitchens.
Using couchsurfer is pretty common in the USA. Not only will it save you money, but most hosts are happy to offer advice about things to do in their town or city too.
Here’s the thing. No one really wants to book their whole backpacking journey months in advance. But in the USA it really is the only way to save money on your travel expenses. Try and book flights, buses, and trains as far in advance as you can to find the best deals.
The water is safe to drink directly from the tap in the USA, so be sure to bring a good water bottle with you.
Wondering what to pack for the USA? I got you. Take a read of the packing lists linked below and download my printable packing list by dropping your email into the form below.
The best way to see the USA is by car, so consider renting a car or camper van for at least part of your journey. There are so many amazing road trip initiates you can find online and USA driving guides to different states. Remember each state has it’s own rules so be sure to do some research ahead of time.
Other than driving your options for traveling from city to city or state to state in the USA are flying, trains, or buses.
Within the cities you will find buses, subway systems, trams, taxis and Ubers to get you around.
It’s difficult to say exactly when is the best time to vist the USA as a whole as the country is so diverse, as is it’s weather.
The USA has varied seasons in each of its regions, if you want to play it safe then the best time to visit the USA is during the Spring or Autumn as this is when you will find the mildest weather. The Summer and winter months can be brutal with extreme heat and cold. Plus the summer is considered peak season and many US citizens will also be traveling during this time driving prices up.
Spring generally lasts from March to May and it’s the best time to visit for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and camping because of the varied terrain.
A Walk In The Woods is Bill Bryson’s very entertaining guide to walking the Appalachian Trail. The trail which stretches from Georgia to Maine covers some of the most incredible landscapes in the United States. If you are a lover of the outdoors and are thinking of hiking any part of the trail you need to read this book. As well as being full of entertaining stories and personal reflections, it gives you an easy to digest introduction to the history and ecology of the trail.
If you are looking for some inspiration to help with the planning of your trip to the USA then this National Geographic book is it. It covers all of the 50 states and boasts 5000 thinks you can do in each of them. It’s a great resource to use in planning your US bucket list that’s for sure!
The book is beautifully illustrated and offers detailed information and facts about each state.
I couldn’t not put this classic book on the list. It’s one of the all-time greats and if you haven’t read it yet then there is no better time than now. The Color Purple is set between the two wars in the deep south of the United States. The story centers around a young African American girl born into a horrific family life during a time of segregation. The book followed Celie as she fights to free herself from her past.
I couldn’t put this book down once I got a few chapters into it. There is a reason this book is a New York Times Best Seller. It’s a novel about a young child left to fend for herself in the marshland of the North Carolina Coast. The book paints a rich picture of the landscape and the prejudices of small-town life in the 1960’s USA. Part ode to nature and part coming of age story, this mystery will grip you from start to finish.
Another one of my favorite books. The House on Mango Street has been printed in multiple languages and is taught in schools across the United States. It’s the story of a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero growing up in Chicago. The story is told in a series of moving vignettes. Some will move you to pure joy, others to tears. It’s the perfect companion for any USA vacation!