This page looks at the estimated cost of travel in the USA. Read on for our suggested shoestring and more comfortable USA backpacking budget for those looking to get the most out of their trip. We also have some sample prices and info on how to pay for things across the States.
USA Cost of Travel in 2023
Shoestring Backpacker Budget
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 Florida, then a USA backpacking budget of $75/day is realistic enough in most cases. That should just about cover budget accommodation, food, transport and some daytime or evening activities, although you’ll need to be really prudent to stick to that kind of budget as there are so many ways to spend money in the US and backpacking costs are among the highest in the world.
As of early 2023, the Dollar is also strong relative to most major currencies which also has an impact in making it expensive for international visitors.
The other major problem for shoestring travellers, particularly those backpacking solo 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
To get the best out of a trip to the US, particularly as a solo traveller, you may want to increase your budget to around $100/day. It’ll be easier for couples or groups of friends to stick to the previous budget as you can split accommodation costs with the cheapest private rooms often not a lot more than a dorm bed.
In areas such as New York and New England, you will often have to pay $40 or more for a dorm bed which doesn’t leave a lot left over for anyone looking to see and do a lot during the day, whilst sampling the nightlife and eating out in restaurants.
Increasing your budget to $100/day will also give you a bit of room to take a few domestic flights that will allow you to see more of the country. If you are a group of 4 or 5, then renting a car might even prove more cost effective as getting around some parts of the US by public transport can be a challenge.
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 more than $100 in just one day visiting sights in New York for example where some of the main attractions cost up to $50. So you’ll have to be a bit sensible even to stick to this budget in some places. However out in more rural parts of America, like the Glacier National Park, you should find it easier to cut costs to a minimum providing you can find affordable accommodation.
How much are things in the USA?
|Flight from New York to Miami||From $30 + Baggage Fees (Book at least 2 weeks in advance to get the best fares)|
|Bus from San Francisco to LA (8 hours)||From $40|
|Meal in an affordable local restaurant||$12-22|
|Local beer in bar/restaurant||$4-6|
|Dorm bed in a hostel||From $35/night|
|Budget private room||From $45/night|
|Empire State Building Observatory Ticket||$44|
|Travel insurance for backpacking the US||From US$83.44 per 4 week period with SafetyWing (18-39 year olds).|
There’s no getting away from the fact that the United States is an expensive country to visit. Food and drinks may not cost a lot more than in parts of Europe, but costs add up when you factor in the tipping culture in the States with 20% considered standard in most restaurants. All things considered, your daily spend will add up to around 4 times as much as the cost of travel in Sri Lanka for example.
One tip for cutting down on accommodation is to 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 Worldpackers membership ($39 if you sign up using our Worldpackers sign up offer).
Currency – US Dollars
£1 = $1.22
€1 = $1.08
These exchange rates and the prices in the previous section are accurate as of March 2023. Contactless payments are increasingly common across the US but it’s still useful to get some dollars and smaller notes, particularly given the tipping culture.
This USA backpacking budget was last updated in March 2023.
6 thoughts on “USA Backpacking Budget – Cost of Travel in 2023”
To tell the truth, I have been pondering about traveling to the USA for a long time but couldn’t distribute and calculate my budget. I really like this country for a lot of aspects and a trip to the USA has been like a dream for me. But I know that it is a really huge country and you are absolutely right that your expenses depend on your ambitions and wishes. To tell the truth, I didn’t want to be distracted by visiting one city and I wanted to observe plenty of various incredible places there. I’m really glad that I stumbled across your article and understood what budget I can meet. Learning a lot about the USA, I didn’t know that there is a lack of cheap accommodation because it plays a significant role for me. Well, the best way for me is to find some kind of alternative. Thank you very much for the prices of food and other needed expenses for the tourists. Now I have a greater understanding of how to spend my time in the USA and to be ready for this trip.
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.
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.
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.
This is a great and in depth post. I’m considering backpacking California next year but it looks much more expensive than what I originally thought it would be 🙁
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.