With its stunning variety of landscapes, buzzing cities, and prominence on the world stage, the United States of America definitely has a lot of appeal to travelers. The country is pretty huge, and with so much diversity throughout its fifty states, you’re bound to find a bunch of things to do that tickle your fancy there.
We’ll leave the itinerary planning up to you, but we’ve put together this little United States travel guide to help you out with some of the logistics.
America is the world’s largest economy. The currency in the US is the dollar (USD) and major credit cards are accepted in most places. As the country is so massive, the cost of living really does fluctuate depending on where you are, and what time of year it is.
Your budget also really depends on what kind of holiday you’re having - more of a budget road trip, or living it up in the big cities?
Definitely don’t exchange currency when you land at the airport - the conversion rates there are awful, and the fees are quite high. It’s much better to sort out your currency exchange before you fly or after you land in a major city or to use an ATM.
- Budget motels start at around $45-80 USD ($67-119 AUD) per night for a double room. These are generally cheaper and more simple than hotels, usually around main interstates or rural America.
- If hotels are your vibe, a double room in a mid range hotel will set you back $100-250 USD ($148-371 AUD) per night. Top end hotels start from around $200 USD ($297 AUD), and there really isn’t much of a limit on how fancy you can get in major cities.
- Hotel comparison websites like Hotwire, HotelTonight and WotIf can be a good way to find last minute deals.
- Airbnb is really common and you can actually find entire homes for the same price or less than a hotel room, especially in expensive cities. If you’re not in expensive areas, you can find rooms in shared houses from around $25-30 USD ($37-45 AUD) per night. The average price for an entire home is $160 USD ($237 AUD) per night.
- B&B’s are quite popular in the US and many offer a lovely romantic experience, but they’re generally not the most budget friendly option. Rates are usually around $120 USD ($178 AUD) per night, but can be up to the $300 USD ($445 AUD) ballpark.
- There are options to camp when traveling the USA, although these range from very remote rural spots to private campsites with quality facilities.
USA travel tips: accommodation can be a bit of a bitch in tourist hot spots. Make sure you book at least 3 months in advance during high season (Jan-Feb for snow destinations; Jun-Aug for summer areas). Popular national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite can sometimes book out up to a year in advance!
What USA travel guide would be complete without a section on food? Considering it’s fame for large serving sizes, barbecue roadhouses, burgers and everything fried, it’s safe to say nobody goes to America thinking they’ll be losing weight. That being said, you probably won’t even care on account of how damn tickled your taste buds will be.
You can really decide how much you want to spend on food whilst you’re there. Food trucks can be relatively cheap, and fine dining is very expensive. A good ballpark budget if you’re erring on the cheap side is around $50 AUD per day per person - $10 for brekky, $15 for lunch, $20 for dinner, and an extra $5 for a snack or extras.
Here are some basic guidelines of what to expect:
- A main course at a restaurant can be around $20-40 AUD.
- Breakfast with coffee at a cafe can be around $31 AUD.
- Coffee is around $5 AUD, and it’s around $10-15 AUD for a beer.
- In-N-Out Burger is $9 AUD and a Big Mac meal is around $8 AUD, so fast food options are pretty affordable.
- Lunch from a roadside food truck can be as cheap as $6-8 AUD!
- Dinner in a nice restaurant can be up to $90-$150 AUD.
USA travel tips: don’t forget these prices don’t account for tips!
Important to cover, especially when chatting about dining out - tipping is NOT optional in the USA. Unless your service was horrendously bad, you are expected to tip and it is extremely rude not to. Minimum wage is much lower than in Australia, so tips are essential to helping workers get by.
- Restaurant/cafe staff: 15-20% tip extra, unless already included on the bill as ‘service charges’ or ‘gratuities’. If so, it’s up to you whether to add more.
- Taxi drivers: 10-15%, rounded up.
- Bartenders: tip 15-20% per round - minimum $1 USD per drink.
- Airport & hotel porters: minimum $2 USD per bag, $5 USD per cart.
- Hotel housekeepers: $2-5 USD per night, generally left under the card provided.
- Fast food restaurants: tipping isn’t necessary, but go for it if you want to!
WHEN TO GO
As it’s such a huge place with a variety of landscapes, it’s hard to narrow down a specific time to visit when putting together an America travel guide. We recommend you judge this based on what you want to do!
- High season is June to August, where the days are warmer, there are bigger crowds and higher prices, especially if you’re thinking Hawaii, Florida or California. For ski resorts in the likes of Colorado and Vermont, high season is January to March.
- Low season is November to March, with wintery days, snow in the northern states, and a lot of rainfall depending on the area. It’s also the cheapest and quietest season, other than for ski resort areas and warmer destinations.
- Shoulder season is all the in betweens (Apr-May springtime & Sep-Oct autumn). This means generally more mild temperatures and less tourists.
If you’re targeting popular national parks, it’s definitely an idea to think about going in their low seasons. Although the weather might be colder, at least you won’t be rubbing shoulders with tens of thousands of other tourists.
It’s a budget friendly option to opt for bus travel between major towns and cities, even into some rural areas of the USA. The largest long-distance bus service company is Greyhound, which operates across all 48 states and through to Mexico and Canada. You can also check out Megabus and Coach USA. To get to more remote areas, most major bus companies can advise to link you up with smaller local bus networks.
Generally these buses are very comfortable, air-conditioned, have WiFi, and have the advantage of seeing the countryside as you travel. You can buy tickets online, at bus stations or over the phone. Seating is done on a first come, first served basis, so it’s recommended to arrive early if you want to secure a good window seat!
USA travel tips: if you want to compare different bus company options, jump on Go To Bus.
Although getting around by train is certainly an option in America, it’s not a very popular mode of transport. It can sometimes be as expensive as flying, and takes a whole lot longer. Trains are pretty infrequent and the network is limited.
That being said, if you love the experience of traveling by railroad, you’ll want to look into Amtrak. It’s the biggest national rail system in the USA, connecting US major cities and linking up with buses to smaller towns. You can buy tickets online, and can choose to travel in style with first class compartments if you’re after a luxurious and relaxing panoramic experience.
USA travel tips: the earlier you book, the cheaper your tickets. Look into USA Rail Passes on the Amtrak website if you’re after a lot of train travel.
America is well linked by airline carriers, which remain the quickest way to get from point A to B domestically. Flights are generally pretty frequent and there are a number of major airlines competing with prices.
Flights are more expensive generally than traveling by bus or car, but it’s the best option if you’re in a hurry or aren’t fussed by the cost. This is altogether pretty similar to traveling domestically in Australia and will really depend on your priorities and where it is you want to go.
USA travel tips: check out Skyscanner (and these other awesome travel apps) to get you the best deals.
If there’s one USA travel guide point to make, it’s that driving is arguably is the best way to get around. Road trips are the quintessential American experience and give you total freedom to roam as you please, and to be flexible on your trip. It is so convenient to just self-drive as you would back home, and it opens up so many areas of rural America, its open spaces and its national parks.
As far as costs go, prices can vary a lot depending on the size and type of vehicle, and what type of insurance you’re after. You can hire a small car for on average $36-$110 AUD per day if you’re only wanting this as a short-term option. For longer rentals, this is what you can expect:
- Budget / small car: $270 AUD per week, on average. This would fit two people and your bags.
Mid-range car: around $330-370 AUD per week, easily fitting four people and luggage.
- High-end / large car: $470-670 AUD per week for a large SUV, or for more luxury options such as a convertible.
Campervans / RVs
You might also want to consider hiring a campervan or recreational vehicle (RV) if you like the idea of self-driving. Although not so suited for within major cities, it negates the hassle of searching for accommodation and gives you even more freedom to explore rural areas on your trip.
You can find basic campgrounds (no facilities) for free or up to $15 AUD per night. Otherwise, simple sites with toilets, drinking water and tables range from $12-30 AUD per night. The priciest campgrounds are the developed ones, often in national or state parks, that offer amenities like showers and RV hookups. These generally should be booked in advance and can cost $26-73 AUD per night.
USA travel tips for drivers:
- You’ll be driving on the right hand side of the road!!
- Fuel costs on average $4.26 AUD per gallon (almost 4 liters).
- Generally you won’t be able to rent a vehicle if you’re under the age of 21.
- There are often extra fees for drivers under the age of 25.
- Double check whether there are extra fees for mileage.
- It usually costs more money to have different pick up and drop off locations for cars.
- Airport hire cars are usually always more expensive.
- You can legally drive in America for up to 12 months on your Australian driver’s license.
- Some rental companies might require you to have an international license.
- Get off the interstates and check out some country roads for amazing landscapes!
Modern traveling has been revolutionised by smartphones, and it really just makes life easier to be able to use your phone while you’re on holidays. Whether you’re trying to find your way around a new city, booking flights or staying in touch with friends and family back home, you’re going to want to travel connected.
Most major Aussie telcos offer international roaming options if you want to keep your SIM. This should work in major US cities, but at $5-10 per day, it can get pretty expensive.
We suggest opting for a local SIM card, as a more budget-friendly option.
- T-mobile: check out their 30 day + 2GB + 1,000 minute + unlimited texts tourist plan for around $44 AUD.
- Verizon: have a bunch of plans available, including 30 day + 3GB + unlimited call and text plan for around $59 AUD.
- AT&T: scope out their tourist plans, such as 1GB for $51 AUD or 6GB for $66 AUD.
Alternatively, rather than fussing around trying to buy a local SIM when you land, check out our USA travel SIM options. You can scope out the best option for you, buy before you fly, then just pop it in your phone when you land in the States.