USA on a Budget (Travel Guide 2019)

Planning a trip to USA on a budget

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The United States of America probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. This country dominates the media and entertainment industries. There are probably few people left on the planet who haven’t heard of New York City or Los Angeles. America really is enormous, and it offers travelers lots of different experiences, climates, sites, and activities.

If you’re looking for a USA trip planner with tips and tricks on planning a trip to the USA – or even better, you’re trying to figure out budget travel in the USA, then look no further! Let’s craft and create your American dream trip!

YOUR USA TRIP PLANNER

The USA is a big country that has a lot of different niches to fill, depending on what kind of experience you’re looking for. There are amazing National parks – Yosemite anyone?! – incredible beaches – hey, Malibu, hey! – and unique experiences like seeing the wild buffalo in South Dakota or walking the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco. There sure is a lot of “WOW” factor to the USA.

The USA is a little tricky to do on a budget, so it’ll involve a lot of planning ahead. If you’ve never tried couch surfing, this might be the place to do it! Airbnb is another great option, as hostels aren’t really a thing in the USA yet. Also, plan to hit up the grocery stores to do some peanut butter and jelly sandwich shopping, or maybe just some turkey and cheese. Eating out is always fun, especially in cities known for culinary delights, but if you want to have a good budget travel USA trip plan, grocery stores can be a lifesaver!

The information found on these pages are crucial USA trip planner essentials!

What You Need To Know About Traveling to the USA

Currency in the USA – The USA currency is US Dollars. It comes in bills that include 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. Then, of course, there are the burdensome coins.

If you’re doing a road trip, you’ll be wanting to have lots of 25 cent pieces  (quarters) on hand. Most parking meters and laundry facilities demand coin usage.

ATMs in the USA – There are a lot of different banks and ATMs in the USA. All come with a few dollar withdrawal fees.

However, if you are an Alliance member customer, the Bank of America ATMs are free from withdrawal fees for you. The same goes with Citibank; if you’re a Citibank customer, you can use Citibank ATMs for free.

Electricity in the USA – It’s quite likely that you’ll need a USA plug adapter if you’re traveling from the UK or Europe to the USA. You will also need a voltage converter. In the USA, the power plugs and sockets are type A and B. The standard voltage is 120 V, and the standard frequency is 60 Hz.

Safety in the USA – Safety in America is a bit of a concern, isn’t it? With gun shootings and gang violence, it can seem like a scary place to travel.

I would say that traveling to the USA is no less safe than traveling to Costa Rica or Colombia. Almost every country has its crime problems. Just don’t leave your valuables out and about and unattended and don’t do anything too reckless at night.

Visa to the USA – It all depends on where you’re from, but generally, a citizen from a foreign country will need to apply for a US Visa before entering the country.

There are certain international travelers who may meet the visa-free travel requirements. All the information you could ever need is found here.

UK, EU, or Australian Citizens Traveling to the USA – If you’re from the UK or the EU and have a handy dandy passport from one of the counties on the USA’s special list, you can get an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) through the Visa Waiver Programme.

The ESTA allows travel for up to 90 days. And if you’re looking to either apply for or check your ESTA status, click here.

Language in the USA – Surprise, surprise, the people in the United States of America speak English. A basic knowledge of English will be vital for USA travel.

LGBT Rights – LGBT rights in the USA do vary by which state you’re in. Same-sex sexual activity is legal everywhere in the USA and has been since 2003.

However, family, marriage, and anti-discrimination laws vary by state. Some states do legally recognize same-sex marriage, and some offer civil unions. Adoption policies vary by states as well.

Transportation Around the USA

Car

Unfortunately, transportation isn’t one of the shining stars of the USA. I recommend renting a car and taking an epic USA road trip! Nothing is more fun than driving with a friend across the states and taking in the natural beauty of the land. It changes so much from state to state and is truly incredible to witness as the hours fly by on the road.

Planes

Flight tickets are pretty expensive in the USA, so it’s only a good way to get around if you’re going to major cities like Las Vegas and New York. I recommend Spirit Airlines or Allegiant Airlines. You have to check out their websites directly as they can’t be found on Skyscanner or Kayak!

Trains

Feel like experiencing quintessential American transportation? Do a train ride! It’s a little pricey, but it’s mighty glorious to watch the world move by you looking through a train window. Trains are known for being clean and quite a fun experience, but they have very limited routes.

Buses

There are some relatively inexpensive buses that you can take from major city to major city. There is the Megabus, which, if you’re from the UK or Europe, you should already be familiar with. Again, it’s the same with trains that routes can be kind of limited. If you want to glance at a route map for reference check here.

Seasons in the USA

The United States has a lot of climate and temperature variation, depending on the state and region you’re visiting. One part of the state might be getting pummeled by snow, and another part may be ridiculously hot and dry. There are four seasons in the USA: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Fall is often referred to as autumn.

The presence of these seasons depends on where you’re heading. Thus, the best time to visit the USA hinges on your destination! Generally speaking, winter is November through March, Spring is March through May, Summer is June through August, and, Fall is September through mid-November. These seasons are usually reflected pretty well throughout the USA, with temperatures being at their lowest in the winter and highest in the summer.

The North

The states located in the north of the USA are generally cooler as they are farther away from the equator. They get lots of snow in the winter, which is generally November through February. Just imagine the freezing temperatures of North Dakota, yikes!

The South

The southern states never really get any snow. Their winters are pretty mild. Think of the Texas and Arizona heat or the almost tropical weather of Florida. Their summers are blazing hot!

The East

The east coast is often divided into two sections; the more northern states and the more southern states. The northern states like New York and Maryland see freezing winters with hearty snowfalls, and the southern states like North Carolina and Georgia are more humid, hot, and tropical. No snow is found there!

The West

Ah, the infamous west coast! Again, the more north you go, the colder it gets, and the more south and closer to Mexico you travel, the warmer you’ll be. Spring and autumn are lovely around these parts.

The Middle – aka The Midwest

The middle of the USA is called the Midwest. Since it’s really in the middle of the country, it is a little strange that they call it the Midwest instead of Mideast or Mid-Middle? But anyways, the Midwest is characterized by flat prairies and lots of farmland. There are lots of lakes and rivers and beautiful lesser-known cities. Then, of course, there are the big cities of Chicago and Saint Louis, which you may very well be acquainted with. The Midwest is known for super cold winters and hot summers with lots of humidity!

THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN THE USA

See a Show on Broadway

When visiting New York City, you simply have to see a show on Broadway. Or “off-broadway” for that matter, where the up and coming NYC shows are being performed. This is an ultimate bucket list item for any visitor to the USA. There’s also the glory of eating NY pizza, checking out the Statue of Liberty, and spending a day wandering around Central Park! There is so much to do in the Big Apple!

Hike in the National Parks

The United States has absolutely incredible national parks. There are a total of 61 national parks, and you probably have heard of the big names out there – like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. However, there are plenty of majestic and totally jaw-dropping natural wonders that are a little less notorious. If you want to check out a list of them all, click here.

Walk the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

What is more iconic to the golden state of California than the Golden Gate Bridge? You can walk across the bridge, drive across it, or bike across it. However you want to do it, it’s worth the trip! If you’re in San Fran, make sure you walk around Chinatown and grab some dumplings, and stop by Pier 39 to watch the seals bask in the sun!

Sample the Wines in Napa and Sonoma

Napa Valley and Sonoma County sit back to back about one hour north of San Francisco. This region is lovingly called “The Wine Country.” This area is known for producing the best wine in the United States. There are hundreds of stunning vineyards to visit, tour, and do tastings at. Any good USA trip planner would recommend a trip to wine country!

Learn to Surf

If you’re in California, you may as well grab a board because: “Surf’s up, dude!” A total USA bucket list item is learning to surf in Cali, isn’t it? You’ll probably want to do your surf lessons in Southern California – also known as SoCal – where the waters are much warmer than in NorCal.

Whiskey Tours and Fried Okra

The southern states are known for their good ol’ southern recipes like fried okra and grits. These signature dishes are also served up with warm, moist cornbread and hunks of barbecued meat. If you’re in the South, there are also some fantastic distilleries! In fact, there is a little something called the American Whiskey Trail. I recommend visiting Maker’s Mark Distillery in Kentucky or Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee!

See A Show at a Honky Tonk

Speaking of Tennessee, if you’re heading to the South, you simply have to stop in Nashville. It is one of the most fascinating and unique places to travel in the USA. If you want to witness a taste of Southern American culture and you’re asking me where to go in the USA, the answer is easily Nashville! I love the music scene there, with gigs taking place in every little restaurant and bar almost 24/7. These small venues are called honky-tonks; they are where you see country music acts, lots of cowboy boots, and cowboy hats!

Learn to Hula Dance

One of the most special states – and one of the best places to visit in the USA – is Hawaii. It’s a magic island state floating far off the California coast. It’s filled with volcanos, wildflowers, great surfing, and tropical weather! If you’re visiting any of the Hawaiian islands, what would be cooler than learning how to hula dance? If dancing isn’t your thing, just tuck a flower behind your ear and head to the nearest Luau! Just a word of caution though; it is pretty pricey, so if you’re doing a budget USA trip planner itinerary, you may have to pass on this state!

See the Mangroves and the Crocodiles

Florida is known for so much more than just Disneyworld! Florida has a fascinating climate of marshy wetlands that are home to strange birds and big crocodiles. I recommend taking a little boat cruise to check out the wildlife and the natural surroundings from a different viewpoint. With the mysterious and lovely Spanish moss dangling off the tree branches. It looks like a whole new world!

See The Infamous Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is totally iconic! Located in the Midwest in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, it’s the behemoth mountain carving of past presidents of the United States. It really is enormous. How did people create that? Driving to Mount Rushmore is an experience in and of itself. You can see the wild buffalo roam, try blackberry wine, and see the beautiful black hills unfold around you.

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN THE USA

St. Patrick’s Day

Chicago is an absolutely epic city with amazing museums, great food, and excellent public transportation. And no other city in the USA does Saint Patrick’s day like Chicago does; the city positively erupts in jollity! There are huge parades with large crowds, and most spectacularly, Chicago dyes its river bright green.

The Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is the USA’s Independence Day. It is celebrated with fireworks, picnics, and big boat parties. It is one of the best American traditions to eat watermelon, grab a Budweiser, hang out with friends and family, and celebrate America’s Independence. Countrywide, the weather should be perfect for barbecuing!

Halloween

Halloween falls each year on October 31. It is a day where Americans put on costumes and walk around their neighborhood, asking their neighbors, “Trick or Treat?” This question almost inevitably ends in fistfuls of candy being handed over to them. If you are older than 14 or 15 and not a parent, the best way to celebrate this festival in the USA is downtown at the bars or house parties with friends. Expect a wild night!

USA TRADITIONS

Thanksgiving

Yes, Thanksgiving is a holiday, but it also feels like one of the cornerstone traditions of American culture. Each year near the end of November, Thanksgiving is celebrated with family. It is a time to eat, eat, and eat some more! Turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie are some of the expected dishes you will find on almost any family’s table in the USA. Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude as well, where people usually express what they’ve been grateful for this year. In the last few years, “Friendsgiving” has become popular as well, usually celebrated with friends the week prior to actual Thanksgiving. It’s the same food, the same sentiments – just another day to celebrate being together.

Eating Fast Food

Does this qualify as an American tradition? Well, I clearly am leaning towards yes, as I’m including it here in my blog. Americans – not all Americans mind you, but in general – eat a lot of fast food. From Subway and McDonald’s to Wendy’s, there are what feels like hundreds of fast-food chains to the average visitor in the USA. If you’re in a rush or just want to try Taco Bell’s Rattlesnake Fries, stop into your nearest fast-food chain and order some cheese and carbs and grease. Chances are… it’s going to be delicious.

Tipping!

If you’re heading to the USA, it’s good to be aware of their tradition of tipping. In the USA, it is customary to tip your restaurant server 15% or 20% of the bill. It’s also very common to tip your taxi drivers, your hairstylist, your bartenders, your massage therapist… the list goes on and on and on. So, when in doubt, tip! When people ask me what to do in the USA, I sometimes blurt out: Tip! It’s a little joke, but it’s kind of true too.

WHAT TO EAT IN THE UNITED STATES

Chicago Hot-Dog

A Chicago Dog is an all-beef frankfurter snuggled in a poppy seed bun. It’s dressed in yellow mustard, white onions, red tomatoes, and green sweet pickle relish. One of my favorite ways this has been described to me as a hot dog “dragged through the garden.” Your Chicago Dog is smothered in colorful veggies! Did you notice an ingredient missing, though? Ketchup! It is the strong opinion of Chicagoans that ketchup simply does not belong on a Chicago Dog. If you happen to be in Chicago on National Hot Dog Day, July 19, then chow down, friends!

New York Pizza

Pizza, pizza, pizza! Chances are that you’ve already tried pizza. Probably just once or twice, right? Or maybe it’s closer to a few hundred give or take a couple hundred. But have you ever tried New York pizza? It’s hand-tossed and covered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Its crust is thin and crisp. Pizza so perfectly thin that it’s commonly folded in half to eat. Excuse me for a minute while I go order a pizza…

Texas BBQ

Texas Barbecue is so incredibly delicious and unique that it’s actually divided into four styles based on the region: East, South, West, and Central Texas. East Texas prides itself on cooking the meat so slowly that it falls off the bone; it’s always cooked over hickory wood. In the West, the meat is cooked over mesquite wood. In the South, you can expect thick, sweet molasses sauces. Central Texas is known for cooking it over all kinds of wood, but the meat is rubbed with just salt and pepper. Are you drooling, yet?

WHERE TO GO IN THE USA

I feel like I’ve already covered a lot of ground with the popular cities in the USA like New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. Not to mention the wine country and the honky-tonks of Nashville. So, I’m going to devote this little section to a few more underrated cities in the USA that might never have been on your radar before. Can I say, “You’re welcome” yet?

Big Sur, California

Big Sur is a stunning section of the Central Coast of California that is nestled between the Carmel Highlands and San Simeon. Big Sur is absolutely gorgeous to drive through, as it’s a scenic stretch of untouched coastline. It has abundant wildflowers, huge California condors, and charming sea otters floating by. Big Sur is known for its fantastic hiking opportunities, relaxing beaches, and redwood forests.

Indianapolis, Indiana

Indiana? Really? I know! Indianapolis actually has a thriving arts and culture scene. They have an incredible Museum of Art, as well as lots of public sculptures and art pieces. They also have a burgeoning microbrewery scene. There’s an abundance of cool new brews to try. I stumbled into this restaurant called 3 Sister’s Cafe, and it turned out it was featured on the popular TV show, “Diners, Drive-In’s, and Dives!” I had the most amazing pancakes made with fresh berries and lemon compote. Indianapolis is full of tiny treasures ready for you to find!

Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California

If you are a ski bunny or a snowboarding aficionado, then Lake Tahoe is the place to be. Lake Tahoe sits on the state line between California and Nevada in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is known for amazing hiking in the spring and summer, and epic ski slopes in the winter.

Portland, Oregon

Portland is one heck of a city!  The biggest city in Oregon, it is nestled along the Willamette and Columbia rivers and is a true gem of the Pacific Northwest. From artisan bakeries and dazzling bookstores to hipster music venues, Portland has more to do than any traveler has time for! A must-try is Voodoo Donuts, known for its spooky – and sometimes a little raunchy – donut creations. Also, check out all the fun hiking trails around the city.

Final Thoughts

The USA is known as the land of the free and the home of the brave. That may be their mantra, but mine is: the USA is the land of the food and the home of the natural wonders! It’s hard to beat the fantastic American cuisine that is so incredibly diverse dependent on region.

The land is also mind-blowingly diverse, with huge mountain ranges, vast planes, and awesome canyons. If you’re heading to the USA, I hope you have a lot of time on your hands, because you’re going to need—and want— time to explore all the incredible things this country has to offer!

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