USA Backpacking Budget

USA backpacking budget

(Map of USA from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Daily Travel Costs in the USA on a Shoestring Budget


Much of the advice we gave in our Canada budget applies here too. Like Canada it is a very large country but with considerably more places of interest so your expenses really depend on how ambitious you want to be. Focusing on just one area of the country for example California or the North-East then our USA backpacking budget of $65/day is realistic enough. However if you want to visit several different parts of the country in say a month or less then you might want to check out the budget below and perhaps still add a bit more.

On an every day level, USA is perhaps slightly cheaper than most of Western Europe or countries like Japan and Australia. Food is pretty good value when you consider the enormous portions and one meal can leave you pretty full for the day while alcohol is also quite cheap compared to most of Europe.

However aside from the cost of covering large distances, which isn’t that great by bus, what makes USA a bit more expensive for the shoestring traveller is the relative lack of real budget accommodation. Whereas in other parts of the world you will find plenty of hostels with dorms in even the smallest towns, that isn’t really the case in the US. The biggest cities do of course have them but not that many and given the lack of competition they are not that cheap and therefore accommodation costs tend to take up quite a big chunk of your budget.

See where USA ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

More Comfortable USA Backpacker Budget


You can easily end up spending $30 or more a night on accommodation in the United States, perhaps more than half our previous budget so it doesn’t leave you a lot left over for anything else. Therefore adding another $20 on is probably a good idea if your trip is a short one of say a few weeks and you want to see as much as you can. This will give you a bit of room to take a few domestic flights that will allow you to see more of the country.

It is also worth noting that travelling with a few friends will generally cut your costs somewhat. If you are a group of 4 or 5 then renting a car might prove more cost effective and will certainly give you more flexibility and that should be easy to fit into this budget, especially if you spend a few nights on the road and manage to save on accommodation that way.

Sample Prices in USA

Flight from New York to Miami (3 hours) – $80 (when booked in advance) + baggage

Bus from San Francisco to LA (8 hours) – around $35

Meal in an inexpensive restaurant – $12-15

Large local beer in a bar or restaurant – $4

Dorm Bed in Chicago – from $22/night

Dorm Bed in New York – from $35/night

Private Double or Twin room in New York – from $70/night

Private Double or Twin room in New Orleans – from $45/night


Currency – US Dollars

£1 = $1.44

€1 = $1.14

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)

MFT Recommends

Accommodation is the big budget killer in the United States so couchsurfing really is a very good option here and even if you’ve never done it before, there’s not a better place to try it for the first time.

street art in New York City

street art in New York, USA (via Rodrigo BernalCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve travelled in the USA recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉

This article was published in June 2016.