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Ultimate United States Backpacking Travel Guide 2020

The United States of America, commonly called the US. USA, and America is an iconic country of 50 states covering a huge portion of North America. It is hugely diverse with snowy mountains, lovely beaches, tropical seas, man-made landmarks, amazing nightlife, and great regional food. This is also where I’m from 🙂

This backpacking travel guide will help you in navigating the US, know how to backpack the US, experience the best activities, get off the beaten path and save money while visiting different parts of the US.

United States at a Glace

Language

English

Currency

United States Dollar

Best Money Exchange

Differs between Countries

Local Dishes

Apple Pie

Drones Allowed

Yes, with restrictions

Is water safe to drink

No

Vaccinations

Check CDC

Power Plug Type

A, B

Car Sharing Options

Lyft & Uber

Peak Season

May to September

Backpacker Friendly

Yes

Hitch hiker Friendly

Yes

Credit Cards Accepted

Yes

Preferred Payment Method

Cash/Cards

Low Season

November to March

Top 5 Things to See and Do in United States

1. New York

A city that never sleeps, New York is the world’s most culturally diverse city fully packed with amazing art galleries, museums, theatres, and restaurants.

2. Chicago

Chicago is one of the most energetic cities in the USA known for its bold architecture, great museums, tasty food, and thriving nightlife

3. Las Vegas

It is a great place to visit year-round having an amazing variety of activities for all kinds of travelers. You can hike, bike, or climb, visit museums, enjoy casinos, or attend free street side shows.

4. Los Angeles

It is the largest city of California State surrounded by desert, mountain ranges, forests, valleys, and lovely beaches along the Pacific Ocean.

5. Austin

You can visit Austin, the capital of Texas, to enjoy the warm weather, live music, house bars, great biking and hiking trails, and various outdoor activities.

Other Things to See and Do in United States

1. San Miguel de Allende

Go to Boston and take a whale-watching cruise, visit Harvard University, and capture a photo outside the Cheers bar.

2. San Diego

A Southern California beach city that sees forever and sunny weather. It houses the famous San Deigo Zoo, a range of museums, art galleries, artist studios, and gardens.

3. Nashville

Also called Music City, Nashville is the birthplace of Western and Country music. In this city, you can hit the local bars, visit the oldest presidential houses, and explore the famous Nashville Zoo.

4. Seattle

Seattle is a stunning city surrounded by mountains, water, and evergreen forest. You can stroll along the beautiful waterfront, take a ferry around the nearby islands, visit Woodland Park Zoo, and tour the great museums this city has to offer.

5. Houston

America’s 4th largest city, Houston has no shortage of things to do if you are looking for culture, fun, dining, and shopping experiences.

6. San Francisco

Visit this amazing cosmopolitan place on the planet to check out the stunning Golden Gate Bridge or take a tour of Alcatraz Island.

7. Miami

It is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world known for its trendy nightlife, impressive art galleries, world-class restaurants, and beautiful beaches.

8. Portland

Portland is an incredible city where you’ll find lovely weather, cool food trucks, beautiful parks, bars, and cocktail lounges, and hiking trails in the nearby mountains.

9. New Orleans

A French-influenced city known for its bustling nightlife, great live-music scene, and singular cuisine reflecting its history – a fusion of American, French, and African cultures.

Typical Costs

WPCS 2.1.4

Transportation

If you keep using public transport, you can get around for almost $5.00  a day. And if you want to go on a road trip, you’ll probably need a car which means additional costs for insurance, renting and gas. The car rentals in the US range from $30.00$150.00  a day.

Accommodation

In America, you won’t find many hostels. However, you can find a range of cheap hotels and motels. Dorm beds in the hostels cost around $24.00$40.00 per night. Hotels in cities charge at least $70.00 per night and in cities like New York, a room starts at $100.00 per night. Given its size, the charges in the US vary a lot depending on which region you are in. 

Food

Food is quite inexpensive in the US. You can eat really well on a budget at cheap sandwich shops, noodle shops, fast food spots, and go-to places. Sandwich shops will cost you around  $5.00, fast food items will be almost  $6.00 per meal, mid-range restaurants will cost between  $10.00$15.00 for a meal with a drink. However, you can save some money by cooking your own food. Expect to pay approximately  $50.00$70.00 per week for groceries.

Activities

Considering the size of the United States, prices for the activities vary a lot from region to region. Attractions like theme parks, museums, galleries, etc. usually charge an entrance fee. Walking around, hiking and visiting parks and beaches are almost free everywhere across the country. 

Suggested Budget

Wondering how much does it cost to travel to the United States? Have a look at the following table that details the suggested daily budget:

Travel Style Accommodation (per night) Food (3 Meals) Transportation Activities (Per activity) Daily Cost
Backpacker
$25.00 - $40.00
$10.00
$10.00
$15.00
$65.00
Mid - Range
$45.00
$20.00
$20.00
$35.00
$80.00- $100.00
High - End
$65.00 - $70.00
$50.00
$35.00
$70.00
$130.00 - $200.00

Budgeting Tips

 

What are ways to save money when traveling is one of the most-asked questions. Considering the size of this country, there are tons of ways which can help you save a lot of money.

1. Cook your meals

You should limit dining out and cook at your hostel or hotel to save money. Grocery shopping can cost around $60.00 per week and is quite cheaper and healthier than eating out.

2. Camping

You can find cheap campsites around the national parks so, if you have a gear or camper, you should camp when visiting a park. Many campsites begin with $15.00 per night for a tent.

3. Couchsurfing

What would be better than sleeping for free on your trip to the US. Couch-surfing was started in America and till now, it is connecting tourists with locals who not only give a space to live for free but the opportunity for a new friendship.

4. Walking

The best way to explore any area is by going for a walk as it is absolutely free. You can experience more simply by wandering around, meeting locals, and watching people passing by.

5. Do the free stuff

In the US, there are various things to see and do for free like visiting a market, swimming at a beach, free movie screenings in the local cafes, catching a lovely sunrise or sunset, climbing a mountain, visiting free museums, and attending free events.

6. Get a bus pass

paying for a day pass is significantly cheaper than paying for each individual trip

7. City tourism cards

With city tourism cards, you can visit a lot of attractions and sometimes include free public transportation too for $30.00$40.00. You can use this card for visiting museums, attractions, and eateries.

8. Get a national park entry pass

If you get a national park pass, you can enter all parks for free without paying the entrance fee for each park. Its one-time cost is $80 and will be used for four parks.

9. Travel on regional buses

One of the best ways to get around the US is by bus. You can travel from one place to other using buses for as low as $1.00.

10. Redeem hotel points

Don’t forget to sign up for the hotel credit cards before you visit and use those points once you reach. This is quite helpful, especially in big cities.

Where To Stay

It can be hard to find a hostel, so I typically suggest using airbnb.com to find a good stay. If you prefer to stay closer to downtown then hotels.com gives plenty of options.

All States

Airbnb

All States

Hotels.com

All States

Hostelworld

How To Get Around

The United States of America is a massive country and distances are great, so it is important to decide the mode of transportation in advance that you’ll use for getting around. The following are some options for getting around the US:

Car Rentals

Traveling via car is the preferred method in the USA as it offers the maximum flexibility. If you use a car, you’ll have the freedom to go wherever you want, sleep whenever you want, and do whatever you like. There are many car rental companies in America that offer a great number of deals.

chicken bus

Public Transportation

Many of the American cities have convenient transportation options including subways and metro systems. Fare starts from  $2.00 for one way rides but there are different options for visitors. You can get a 7-day unlimited MetroCard in New York City for only  $29.00 which will be used for subways and buses. In San Francisco, you can get the MuniMobile pass that gives you unlimited rides for  $5.00/day. Taxis are metered and the base charge starts around  $3.00 with an additional  $2.00 –  $3.00 per mile.

RideSharing

There are some companies which are way cheaper than the local taxis and are the best way to get around the city. Uber and Lyft are the most common providers.

Traveling via car is the preferred method in the USA as it offers the maximum flexibility. If you use a car, you’ll have the freedom to go wherever you want, sleep whenever you want, and do whatever you like. There are many car rental companies in America that offer a great number of deals.

Trains

The cheapest method to get around the city having fare as low as $1. Greyhound is the national bus service in America and can be an affordable option too. A bus ride from Chicago to Detroit begins at almost  $25.00, New York to Washington D.C. starts at nearly  $15.00, and Austin to New Orleans is around  $60.00. Another good option is Megabus, which I have used many times.

Bus

The cheapest method to get around the city having fare as low as  $1.00. Greyhound is the national bus service in America and can be an affordable option too. A bus ride from Chicago to Detroit begins at almost $25.00, New York to Washington D.C. starts at nearly  $15.00, and Austin to New Orleans is around  $60.00. Another good option is Megabus, which I have used many times.

Airlines

As America is so big, you can fly from one major city to another to save some time but it can be very expensive. It is better to book the tickets in advance to save some money. Sample single journey fares include Seattle to Tucson for  $99.00, San Francisco to Maui for  $170.00, and New York to Chicago for $60.00. Some budget-friendly airlines in the United States are Spirit Airline, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue Airways.

Hitch Hiking

Hitch hiking isn’t very common in the United States but still possible. Just do your due diligence.

Resources

When To Go

The United States of America is a huge country with a lot to offer to tourists. The best time can be any time of the year depending upon the part you are visiting and what activities you would like to do. However, if you are uncertain when to travel to the US, the best time of the year is from May to October when the country sees a significant influx of tourists. Spring (March-May) is another great time as it is an ideal time for visiting heritage sites and enjoying outdoor activities like camping, biking, and hiking. You can also visit the US during the winter months as it is an off-season to visit the country but it can be a completely different experience, especially during Christmas and New Year.

How To Stay Safe and Aware of Scams

 

The United States of America is a safe destination to backpack and travel, even if you are a solo or female traveler. The crime rate is generally low and violent crime is not common either.

1. Beware of weather conditions

America is prone to natural disasters and many of its states are prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes, depending on the winter conditions. So, it is important to follow the advice of TV reports, emergency services, and local authorities in the event of natural disasters.

2. Pick-pocketing

Stealing is the most common criminal activity in the US with over 7 million reported cases annually. So, you should take sensible precautions to save you and your property against petty crime. Keep an eye on your belongings every time, especially while taking public transportation.

3. Be cautious of animals

The United States of America has a huge number of dangerous animals like bears, lions, snakes, and alligators. So, be careful, look out for the warning signs, and follow local advice.

4. Travel insurance

Always travel with insurance. Purchasing good travel insurance will protect you against cancellations, theft, injury, and illness. It’s an ultimate protection that saves you if anything goes wrong.

5. Don’t stay alone

It is not advised to walk around alone at night. Try to stick to crowded places while exploring sites. So, find the spots frequented by locals and double-check the receipt when you ask for the bill.

6. Watch your drink

Drink spiking can happen, so never leave your drink unattended.

7. Credit Cards

Always keep an eye on your credit card. Some of the US restaurants take the credit card from you to swipe it. double-check your bill to make certain that you aren’t charged for something additional. And be wary of sketchy ATMs as credit card skimming is on the rise.

8. Car-Theft

Car break-ins are one of the most common crimes in the US. So, it is advised not to leave any valuables in the car, especially during the night. Take all things with you into your hostel and if there is something you want to leave in the car, make sure it is out of sight.

Packing List

 

If you want to pack efficiently for the United States, here’s what you absolutely need to pack for a comfortable trip:

2 Pairs of Shorts

5 long sleeve

8 pairs of underwear

Medicine

2 Pair of jeans

Flip flops

Toiletries

Locks

Swim Trunks

Comfortable Sneakers/Sandals

Quick dry towel

Laundry Bag

5 shirts

8 pairs of socks

Dedorant

Hand Sanitizer

Power Bank

sarong

Sarong

Sun Glasses

Sun Screen

Raincoats

Light clothes for Summer

Hiking Jeans

Refillable water bottle​

Small medical kit

Universal Adapter

umbrella

Umbrella

Travel Security Belt

Sunhat

Bug spray

T-shirts,Skirts, Blouses, Jackets

Carry-on travel backpack

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