most expensive countries in the world for travel
Cost of Travel,  North America

USA Cost of Travel – Suggested Daily Budget

This post outlines the estimated cost of travel in the USA. Read on to see our suggested shoestring and more comfortable backpacking budgets for the so-called land of the free. We also have some sample prices for typical travel expenses in the United States.


USA backpacking budget

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


USA Travel Budget

Daily Travel Costs in the USA on a Shoestring Budget

US$70/day

Much of the advice we gave in our Canada backpacking 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 $70/day is realistic enough and you might be able to get by on less if you travel slowly. 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 parts 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 real 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.

More Comfortable USA Backpacking Budget

US$90/day

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.

If you’re the kind of person who wants to see all the main tourist attractions in the cities you visit, you can also end up spending a lot in just one day visiting sights in New York for example.

Read more: Glacier National Park backpacking guide


USA Cost of Travel Insurance

In addition to the budgets above. allow also for the purchase of travel insurance for your trip plus any other additional expenses like booking flights to the country or buying anything you will need for your trip. We recently updated our suggested options for travel insurance for backpackers.

You can also get a quick online quote from SafetyWing, who are experienced in providing extensive cover for backpacking trips. It’s vital you have decent cover given the expense of healthcare in the US goes well beyond what your average budget traveller can afford.


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

Compare prices to somewhere much cheaper by looking at the cost of travel in Sri Lanka.

These prices were last checked in June 2016. Everything else on this page was updated in February 2019.


Money

Currency – US Dollars

£1 = $1.32

€1 = $1.14

(All exchange rates are correct as of February 2019).


MFT Recommends

Accommodation in the United States can be a real budget killer for anyone looking to travel on the cheap. Consider signing up to Worldpackers and finding work placements where you can sleep for free in exchange for a bit of help. In the USA, one night’s free accommodation alone can cover the cost of the annual membership!


street art in New York City

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


This post was last updated in February 2019.


5 Comments

  • Dodie

    The prices listed here are WAY, WAY OFF. TOTALLY. I have been to 42 of the 50 states, and I’ve never seen a more incorrect post than this, so I can’t let it pass.
    Your costs on travel are TOTALLY wrong. Bus fare $57 plus tax and fees, and you’ll be traveling with the homeless and ex-convicts. You just need to know that.
    Flight from New York to Miami, one of the cheapest flights available (cheaper than flying, for example from Atlanta to Nashville) range from $88-$235 and that’s using Priceline and Cheapflights.
    Inexpensive meals: if you really want CHEAP, the dollar menu at McDonald’s. Even icecream cones are a buck. Side salad, a buck. Really, I’m surprised you didn’t mention it. Waffle House, an American Icon, gotta go there and the food is pretty cheap. Local beer here in Atlanta is $8 – $12 each beer. A bottle of wine is $25.
    Your housing costs were so laughable they aren’t even worth looking up. I mean, seriously, who stays in a hostel in Chicago? That’s a good way to DIE. That’s crazy. You stay outside of that area in a budget hotel, and use a rental car for transportation, as a basic hotel room in Chicago is one of the most expensive and least desirable places you could stay. Only Philadelphia or Detroit could be much worse. Well, Hell’s Kitchen/the Bronx, etc, no one would stay there either. The crime rates for all of these places is extremely high, and the people you’re going to be staying with in those hostels are either homeless dope heads or ex-cons, as those cities are near some of our largest prisons, and the parolees don’t have enough money to rent an apartment.
    This is a really naive article, and could cause someone to really get hurt because they were unaware. Please rewrite, using real people and real stats.

    • myfunkytravel

      Going to reply to your comment (which is probably the most bitter and unnecessarily unpleasant in 10 years of this site) for the benefit of other readers.

      Firstly, I think quite clearly this isn’t a post that is designed to cover every aspect of safety in the USA. That would take a long time. This is a budget travel website (a point Dodie has clearly missed) and budget travellers in any region of the world often take small risks to save money – for example staying in a dorm with strangers is never going to be as safe as having your own room.

      How much of a risk individual travellers want to take is clearly a personal choice. I’d certainly advise anyone to properly research the safety aspect of travel in the US, but that goes well beyond the scope of this post – which like all our other country budgets is just meant to be a brief overview of what some typical shoestring travel costs are.

      As mentioned in the article, the sample prices were researched and compiled in 2016. Therefore an increase is to be expected four years later but not to the extent suggested in the comment. Here are some very quick findings as of September 2020:

      Greyhound Bus Fare from SF to LA for any day this week can be found for $48 with $3 service fee.

      American Airlines have flights from New York to Miami this weekend for $35.

      Local Beer refers to a standard American beer/lager, not some fancy $10 local brewery stuff. Again this is a budget travel article for budget travellers. You don’t have to try too hard to find a beer for less than $8-12 in the US.

      With the accommodation, the key word in each case is FROM. Even the lowest values will seem quite high to many budget-minded travellers from other countries. While it’s true that the standard of budget accommodation isn’t great in the US, anyone who has been backpacking in South America or Southeast Asia will almost certainly have stayed in worse places.

      Are there better ways to travel in the USA than staying in hostels/budget hotels and by greyhound bus? Absolutely. It’s a challenging place for people from abroad who are familiar with how budget travel/backpacking works in other parts of the world. Travelling with friends and renting a vehicle/campervan is a better option and gives much more freedom to get out to explore the nature – which for many is the highlight of travel in the US.

      However for solo travellers, intent on visiting the USA on a budget, greyhound buses and hostels are about the best option (unless you’re happy to couchsurf/hitch-hike/camp). This article gives a realistic idea of costs for anyone in that situation.

  • Felix Garcia

    Backpacking the US can seem daunting at first glance but it isn’t. The US has literally unlimited options for culture, cuisine, and entertainment but it is very much catered towards those people “of means”. To see the really good stuff in the US you have to think like an American. First understand that most Americans only get 1 or 2 weeks off per year and therefore only travel to expensive hotels or to package tours. I recommend you AVOID anything designed for tourists it will suck your money, life, time, and dignity. Yes it’s true that accommodation is the most expensive thing to consider so focus your trip around “the outdoors” which is where all of us Americans are desperate to get. Camping, trekking, sleeping on BLM land, a friends couch, or in your car is how we see our own country. Only rich people and business travelers stay in hotels.

    Second avoid major cities. Besides NY (which isn’t even that great if you’ve been to any other American city) LA (same comment as NY but west coast version), NOLA (dangerous and dirty),Chi City (bring your bulletproof vest)and maybe SF (so so so expensive) nobody from Europe is going to be impressed with boring, dangerous, expensive, overcrowded American cities, get out to the National Parks and small towns that’s where the real America is.

    Smoke weed with hippies at the campground in Salida, CO; get wasted with rednecks and musicians in Omaha, NE , learn how to shoot in Waco, TX; soak in country music in Nashville, TN or learn about antebellum in Savannah, Georgia. You may blow your own mind when you peel back the layers just a little.

    In America when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. Seek out the weirdest most obscure thing you can think of in the US and watch your world unfold. Peel it slowly and see.

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Hi, yeah it’s pretty expensive alright! Unfortunately you don’t get as much budget/backpacker accommodation in the US as you find in Europe and what does exist tends to be expensive and often of low quality.

      Even in the big cities in California the choice isn’t great and I believe it’s also one of the more expensive states. On the bright side there is a pretty good train line that forms a nice backpacking route and plenty of coaches too so it’s easy enough to get around.

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