I have started a series of articles about traveling on the cheap, and today is about the US! I have traveled several times to the US, to NY, Boston, LA and San Francisco, and then I have gone on a 3 months motorcycle road trip from San Diego to Seattle to Washington DC, in 2011. Here are some of my money saving tips.
Cheap flights to the US
I have used kayak.com for a start, to compare websites and tried a cool option of them, the multiple city trip.
Say I don’t really care whether I land in NY or DC or Boston, and then I want a flight to LA or SF or Seattle, and then back to Europe, I can input all the airport codes and Kayak would give me the cheapest route. How cool is that??!
On the search, you need to know the airport code, so SFO for San Francisco and LAX for LA, and enter them coma separated.
For about $1,000, I found a flight from Europe to SF, overland to LA, LA to Mexico, overland to Guatemala and back to Europe on a flight from Cancún.
For domestic flights, I like spirit.com and jetblue, as well as Virgin. Most of them include their flights in the usual search engines, but once I have found the cheapest I always double check that they don’t knock a few bucks off if you book directly through their website.
Cheap hotels in the US
My trip was a bit special since we traveled on a motorcycle, so we couldn’t book in advance since our agenda could change unexpectedly.
If you know your dates in advance, you should definitely book your hotel nights as soon as possible. Having the freedom of the bike, we used to stay in cheap motels some 5 miles out of town, and visit the town during the day, then come back to the hotel. We sometime sprung on a downtown hotel when the city was worth it, like NYC of SF.
I joined a few reward schemes when we’d stay at a hotel chain, and would make sure to include the reward when considering the total price, sometimes a little extra would end up in racking points and getting free nights.
I also looked at ALL that was included, even though Motel 6 usually had the lowest prices, paying for wifi or breakfast ended up being more expensive most of the time.
We loved using Airbnb to stay at people’s place or renting a full apartment, although the last-minute planning of our trip made it difficult to contact potential hosts and arrange for meeting. If you know your dates a few days in advance, this is a great way to stay in prime locations at a fraction of the hotel price.
Cheap outings and visits in the US
One of the best investment we made was buying the National Park pass, for $80. It is valid for a year and you can get into all NP, plus other attractions. This is an amazing deal, since entrance to major parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone is already $25.
For visits to museums and other attractions, I would always look for deals online. Maybe the museum has a free day a week, like NYC’s MoMA on Friday nights ($25 otherwise!). Or you could get a 2 for 1 entry via sites like groupon. It never hurts to check and plan your visit accordingly. Another good way to save if you want to see several attractions is to look for the city package deal, which usually includes transportation, and free or heavily discounted entried to major sites.
US miscelleanous money travel tips
Since I travel on the bike, I have discovered that in the US you usually pay for crossing a bridge, but only one way. So if I’d do a circular trip around the SF Bay for example, I’d check on Google Maps which way I’d have to go to avoid tolls.
Camping in the National Forest and natural zones administered by the Bureau of Land Management is usually free. In such a vast country, free camping abounds, make sure to ask around if it’s fine to camp, you will save heaps on hotels. We used to have breakfast after a camping night at McDs or similar to enjoy free wifi, and brush our teeth!
Gas prices can vary quite a bit from one state to another, same for cigarettes and other items. If you plan ahead you can fill your tank before you hit an expensive state. Though on the motorbike, our 4 gallon tank doesn’t make much of a difference.