You may encounter petty crime, like theft, especially around popular tourist landmarks and in larger cities, especially on the west coast where theft is a much more common problem. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times, especially while taking crowded public transportation.Camp – Most campsites start around $10-20 USD per night for a tent — much cheaper than a hostel. You can use nps.gov to find campsites run by the National Park Service. You can also camp for free in National Forests or Bureau Land Management (BLM) lands (search for “dispersed camping” options). Just be sure to respect the environment and follow Leave No Trace principles when camping.Use city tourism cards – City tourism cards allow you to see a large number of attractions (and often include free public transportation) for one low price, usually $75–100 USD. If you plan on seeing a lot, these can save you a ton.Share your ride – If you have a car, taking on riders can be a way to lower your costs. On my first trip across the U.S., I offered rides to people I met in hostels. On another trip, I had friends and readers join me along the way. You can post ads on Craigslist and at hostels to find riders. This not only makes the trip more enjoyable but lowers your gas costs too. If you don’t have a car, you can use look for rides in the same places.Stay at roadside hotels – There are a plethora of cheap roadside hotels such as Motel 6 and Super 8 to the rescue. Rooms start around $60 USD a night (plus tax). They’re great when you’re traveling with someone and can split the cost.Find free museums and events – Inquire at tourism offices, use Google, or ask hotel or hostel staff for information about free events and museums. Many museums offer free or discounted admission times throughout the week.Get free water or free refills – If you order a drink, most restaurants allow free refills while you eat your meal or refills at a low cost. If you ask, tap water is usually provided for free.Bring a water bottle – In most of the U.S. the tap water is safe to drink, so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.Save on gas – If you’re on a road trip, use the app GasBuddy to find cheap gas near you. Also, sign up for gas station loyalty programs as they can save you money on fill ups.Rent cheap RVs – RVShare is like Airbnb but for RVs. You find an RV near you, send a request to book it, and then you can rent it for your trip. It’s super affordable and is a great way to connect with other RVers!
America has 63 national parks as well as countless state and local parks. These parks highlight the best of the American wilderness. Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, the Smokey Mountains, Rocky Mountain Park, the Badlands — the list goes on. Make sure you visit as many national parks as you can to get a sense of the grand and diverse landscape that is the United States. You can use this government map to find a park near you! If you plan to visit multiple parks, get the America the Beautiful Park Pass, which costs just $80 USD and gets you free entry to all the national parks for a year.
One of my favorite cities in the world, Chicago is full of amazing architecture, great parks, good food, and a fun nightlife. It’s a tamer version of New York — but prettier! Don’t miss trying deep-dish pizza (it was invented here, along with stuffed-crust pizza) and seeing the iconic “Bean” sculpture in Millennium Park. They also host one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the country.
This French-influenced city has incredible seafood and Cajun cuisine and even better live music. A visit to New Orleans is a must for any jazz or blues fan. Live music is available seven nights a week (my favorite venue is the Spotted Cat) and there are also tons of amazing walking tours that highlight the city’s unique culture and history (including ghost and voodoo tours). If you plan on celebrating Mardi Gras in NOLA, book early. Accommodations fill up fast!
Closer to Asia than the United States, Hawaii is America’s slice of South Pacific paradise. White sands beaches, clear blue water, tropical jungle, and great surf — Hawaii has it all! Don’t miss the the otherworldly landscapes of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, the somber memorial at Pearl Harbor, and the hikes at Diamond Head and the Lanikai Pillbox Trail near Honolulu.
The birthplace of the revolution (and my hometown), no one leaves Boston disappointed. It’s a big city, but its lack of high-rises, as well as its cobblestone streets and brick buildings, give the city a small-town feel. The Freedom Trail, which covers all the main historic stops, is a must. Be sure to lounge in the Boston Common and catch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park too (the city is big on sports).
America’s capital is home to many of the best museums in the country. It’s a very international city, given the large number of international embassy workers in the area. Don’t miss the National Mall and all its monuments, the Holocaust Museum, and the various Smithsonian Museums (some of the best are the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of the American Indian, the African American Museum, the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Castle, and the American Art Museum). If you visit in the spring, you’ll get to see the cherry blossoms bloom along the Mall.
Completed in 1941, this historic monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a lot smaller than you expect, but it makes a good stop while driving. Originally, the indigenous Lakota Sioux inhabited this area, however, when gold was found in the hills, white settlers forcibly removed them from their homeland. At the Wounded Knee massacre, U.S. forces killed over 250 indigenous women and children. Decades later, Rushmore was built, much to the dismay of the local indigenous population, who consider the land to be sacred. Take a guided tour to learn more about this iconic monument’s complex and tragic history.
Sure, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s built for kids. True, it’s not authentic. But despite all that, Disney World is still a fun time and they have a lot of rides for adults too. I recently went back as an adult and there’s a lot to do there: they have some good restaurants, and Disney Springs has a fun nightlife. If you are in Florida, take a stop for a few days. Indulge your inner child. Tickets cost around $110 USD per day and go up from there (the Harry Potter and Star Wars parks are closer to $150 USD).
Stretching the east coast of America, these mountains are almost 500 million years old and offer great hiking, camping, and trekking. For a multi-month adventure, hike the 2,190-mile (3,524-kilometer) Appalachian Trail which covers the entire mountain range and takes 5-7 months to complete. You can also do day hikes or weekend hikes of its various sections if you want a more manageable outdoor getaway.
One of the coolest, not-so-hidden places in the U.S. is this group of islands in Lake Erie. Widely known to Midwesterners (but unknown to most everyone else), South Bass Island is home to Put-in-Bay, where Midwest hospitality meets Caribbean vibes (you ride around in golf carts and bars have sand as floors). My favorite spot is Mojito Bay, an outdoor tiki bar with sand floors and swings for bar seats that offers up more than 25 different mojitos. These places get very wild on the weekends too. It’s like Miami in Ohio!
Tucked away up in the northeast, Maine evokes images of endless shorelines, wild forests, iconic lighthouses, and lots and lots of lobster dinners. It’s often overlooked yet it’s incredibly beautiful and perfect for a short road trip. Don’t miss trying lobster rolls (a regional favorite) and hiking in Acadia National Park. Portland has some great eateries (such as Duckfat and Eventide Oyster Co.) and picturesque historic lighthouses, including Maine’s oldest operating lighthouse, the Portland Head Light, which opened in 1791 when George Washington was president!
The only good way to see this vast and diverse landscape and the small towns that populate it is with a road trip. I highly suggest renting a car and driving across the U.S. It’s an amazing experience. I’ve done several coast-to-coast trips as well as regional trips around New England, California, and the South. It’s the best way to see the country and you can do it for under $50 USD a day.
You can find all sorts of amazing walking tours, bike tours, and food tours all around the country. They’re a great way to get an in-depth look at the city you’re in with the help of an expert local guide. Take Walks is my go-to walking tour company when I’m looking for something thorough and insightful (and fun). They can get you behind the scenes and are much more comprehensive than your average free walking tour. If walking isn’t your cup of tea, try a bike tour with Fat Tire Tours. Their tours are a fun way to explore a new city and you can see all the highlights in a short amount of time. For a multi-day cross-country trip, go with Intrepid. I love their tours as they only bring small groups and they use expert local guides. Their tours are environmentally friendly too.
Arched Bixby Creek Bridge along the Pacific Coast Highway, with lush hills in the background, in California, United States.
Accommodation – Hostels can be found in most major cities, though options are generally slim. A bed in a dorm room with 4-6 beds usually costs between $35-55 USD per night. Rooms with more beds are marginally cheaper. Private rooms are usually $100-125 USD. Expect prices on the higher end in bigger cities and during peak season. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also have self-catering facilities. Hostels with free breakfast are rare.