How much money do I need to visit… USA

Expenses - North America.

Are you thinking how much money you may need to visit the United States? We know that sometimes it is very difficult to find specific information on costs of traveling other countries. That’s why we decided to share our financial summary at the end of each stage of our journey. Here’s the second part – USA.

How count the expenses?

As we reported in our financial report from Canada, before traveling around the world we estimated budgets. One general budget for the entire trip, and the budgets for individual countries or stages of the journey. All were rough and not too detailed estimates. We focused more on total spendings in each country than a daily limit. We didn’t count flights between the continents, as we bought those tickets beforehand.

From the first day of our trip we were noting all our expenses: accommodation, travel, shopping, tickets to tourist attractions, and so on. Every week we try to verify if we’re not spending too much.

Currently, we have more than half of our trip around the world past us, so we systematically analyze financially each of the stages. This way we know how much our estimates had worked or not.

Summary of our spending in the US

All the amounts are in US dollars (USD). The current average exchange rate of about 0.88 EUR.

We divided the expenses into several categories, as seen in the following diagram:

Accommodation includes accommodation costs: renting a room in New York and New Orleans through www.airbnb.com (you’ll get 35 USD discount if you’ll register using this link), a night at a hotel in Reno, a room on the route between Kings Canyon and Sequoia NP, camping in Death Valley and Page in Arizona, accommodation at a motel on Route 66 and night in Los Angeles on the way to Fiji. The vast part of our accommodation was through CouchSurfing (also sleeping in the car during National Parks round trip), so total accommodation costs are only about 12% of all spendings in the United States.

Transportation includes all public transport tickets, buses/flights and car rentals. This is the almost half of our expenses in the United States. The biggest cost in this category were flight tickets (3 flights, totaling more than 700 USD) and renting a car twice (about 980 USD including fuel and insurance).

For food, we spent a total of 31% of expenses in the US (similar as in Canada). We tried to save and prepare meals yourself, so 15.7% spendings fall into Groceries category.

Other food-related expenses cover 15.6% spent in Restaurants category. It includes all the expenses for food when traveling or when we didn’t have the possibility to cook at home. Likewise, this category covers going out for a beer in the pub, delicious oysters in New Orleans or the occasional ice cream or coffee and cake.

In the Entertainment category we count: admission to the National Parks (Annual Pass) and Antelope Canyon, tickets to attractions (eg. One World Trade Center and bull riding in Page, Arizona), as well as trips to the swamps of Louisiana and the Florida Everglades and small gambling casino in Reno. This category covers a total of only 9% of our total spendings in the United States.

The last category Other is only 2.6% of our costs, and it includes things like laundry, buying cosmetics, ATM commissions, small gifts for the Couchsurfing hosts or the purchase of tourist stove with gas canisters before going to the National Parks, or shower in the Bryce National Park.

Budget or extravagance?

Here is a small list of cost for all categories, in three different variants assumed by us:

Average spendings (in USD)
Category Budget Extravaganza Our expenses
Accommodation (per room/bed) 0-30 50+ 42
Transportation (daily per person) 0-10 25+ 17
Groceries (daily per person) 5-10 ? 6
Restaurants/Eating out (meal per person) 0 20+ 12
Entertainment (attraction per person) 0 30+ 22
Other (per expense) 0 10+ 11

Budget

Traveling on a budget, or “I want to see things, but I don’t have a lot of money to spend”:

Accomodation: Aiming for the cheapest, so Couchsurfing or dorms/hostels. In the US, most of our accommodation was Couchsurfing. Besides the big cities, such as New York or San Francisco, there were no bigger problems with finding a host. In large cities, you need more patience and start searching in advance.

Transportation: Hitch-hiking (although it can be really difficult because it’s prohibited in most of the states or allowed only on certain roads), and in the cities mostly walking, with only minimal use of public transport.

Food: Preparing the food for yourself and buying only the most needed foods. In the US, in almost every town you can find a large discount store or shop, where food prices are quite affordable.

Entertainment: Sightseeing only free attractions. You can see many attractive places in the US completely for free – eg. walk on Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or seeing Statue of Liberty from a free ferry to Staten Island or visiting the incredible New York Public Library.

Other: When on a budget, it makes no sense to buy unnecessary things, and you can use pictures and memories as souvenirs.

Extravaganza

Variant mostly preferred by people with a stable financial situation, who like to spend their vacation comfortably:

Accomodation: Staying mostly in hotels, motels or renting a room on Airbnb. Room rates start at 50 USD per night (depending on the city and location) and can end up sky-high. You have to remember that in large cities (especially New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Miami), room rates for a place near the center rarely descend below 80 USD.

Transportation: Travelling between cities with trains, buses, airplanes or renting a car. The presented price of 25 USD is the minimum cost of renting a compact car for one day (when renting for a week or more), not including the cost of fuel and insurance. On longer routes in the US (eg. between the coasts), trains and buses are more expensive than airplanes. Sometimes, even shorter distances may be cheaper to fly with some cheap airlines than going with Greyhound or Megabus.

Food: Mainly eating out in restaurants, where you have to assume at least 20 USD per person. This cost includes an inexpensive, one-dish dinner, a drink, and a modest tip. The more sophisticated dish or a more well-known restaurant, the cost will be higher.

Entertainment: Visiting all paid attractions can significantly increase the cost of the whole trip. Larger US cities offer CityPASS, which we did mention in the post about Toronto. Such combined ticket can reduce total spendings if you plan to see at least couple of the attractions on the list. For example, in San Francisco CityPASS costs of 94 USD and gives you a choice of 4 out of 6 attractions (including a cruise around the bay or a visit to the famous Aquarium of the Bay) and a weekly ticket for public transport (including the historic Cable Car rides!), while New York, for a price of 116 USD, gives a choice of 6 out of 9 attractions (including the Statue of Liberty, Top of the Rock or Empire State Building). Often, a single entry without such combined ticket will cost about 30 USD, so buying it through CityPass can save up to half.

Other entertainment may include theater or concerts, excursions to various interesting places and trips to National Parks (e.g. Annual Pass that we mentioned numerous times).

Other: This can be limited by imagination and wallet;) In this budget expense are usually souvenirs, e.g. t-shirts with the logo I NY.

Our variant

From the very beginning we try to spend our money wisely. We save where we can, but we don’t regret spending money on the tourist attractions that we really wanted to see. We also don’t walk hungry just to save on food. Therefore, our costs fall somewhere in the middle between the “budget” and “extravaganza”.

Accomodation: Just like in Canada, in USA Couchsurfing also proved to be a great way to meet interesting people and see a lot more often than we planned. Apart from that it significantly helped us save on the cost of accommodation. We ended up paying only if we couldn’t find a host through Couchsurfing (eg. In New York or New Orleans).

While traveling through National Parks, we were mainly sleeping in the car at rest areas. Usually, we didn’t have time to stay longer in one place, so we only camped twice (in Death Valley and in Page in Arizona). Apart from that, we allowed ourselves to rent a room twice – including a roadside motel on Route 66, which was always Dawid’s dream.

The average price, if we had to pay for accommodation, turned out to be 42 USD per room. However, thanks to Couchsurfing and sleeping in the car, in terms of the entire trip to the USA our daily expenses for accommodation was 10 USD a day. If we started looking couch in New York sooner, it would probably be even lower.

Transportation: From the diagram at the beginning of this post you can see that a great part of our spendings in USA was used for transportation. Because of the size of the country, it is hard to travel cheap – especially between the east and west coast. We could reduce costs if we gave up the flight from Quebec City to New York and instead opted for the carpool/rideshare. Slightly longer trip (about 7 hours, instead of 2) would bring savings of about 150-180 USD.

Also, hiring a Mustang for one day – just to ride the famous Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur – could be considered a waste of money. However, we count this as a tax on dreams 🙂

Travelling through National Parks of USA would be much more difficult if we haven’t decided to rent a car. And although the rental price was in our opinion very attractive, because we paid 30 USD per day for the new Jeep Grand Cherokee 2015 (we booked the car from lower class, but there were no cars available, so we got a free upgrade to the Jeep), yet the total cost wasn’t so negligible. As it wasn’t a compact car, the fuel consumption wasn’t cost-effective either – in addition to the dimensions it was partly thanks to 295HP, 3.6 liters V6 engine… After traveling more than 5,000 kilometers and adding up spendings on fuel, it turned out that we paid more for gasoline than for the car itself. And although fuel costs in the US are much lower than in Europe (during our stay the price per gallon ranged from 2.50 to 3 USD per gallon, which at that dollar exchange rate was approximately from 0.59 to 0.71 EUR per liter, while prices in Europe were around 1.40 to 1.80 EUR), unfortunately distances are considerable and the traffic in the cities is quite dense.

To sum up, as long as you don’t need a car to e.g. do a tour around the National Parks, car rental may not be very profitable.

Food: We have tried to prepare our own meals, especially when staying with Couchsurfers, or where we had access to the kitchen. However, as in Canada, we didn’t always have the time or possibility to use the kitchen, therefore still considerably large part (nearly 16%) of expenses were restaurants or fast food. We especially used them while traveling on long distances from one park to another, where often we could use the free wifi, like at McDonald’s. Also tasty food in New Orleans left an imprint in our spending. Not to mention the great chicken over rice from the street stand ‘Halal Guys’ in New York, that we just couldn’t resist.

Entertainment: In our case, we tried to reduce the paid attractions to a minimum. For example, in New York, we chose only one of the view points in Manhattan – from the Empire State Building, Top of The Rock and One Trade Center we chose the latter, and we don’t regret it. Modern building, interesting elevator rides (both up & down include fantastic audio-visual effects!) and breathtaking views were definitely worth the price of 32 USD per person. However, next time we will try something closer to the center, because Freedom Tower is located in the south of Manhattan – while it provides incredible views, the center seems to be distant from currently the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere (546 meters, while the observatory floor is at a height of 382 meters).

Also, we don’t regret the money spent on the trips to the swamps of Louisiana or the Everglades. We liked the Everglades, but we’ll probably skip it next time – Louisiana swamps, on the other hand, are a place where we definitely want to go again.

Likewise, we don’t regret quite expensive tickets to Antelope Canyon, although we discourage people who are not absolutely certain to go there. The views are spectacular, but true colors can be mainly seen only on pictures. The tour itself has a fairly rapid pace and bit crowded, which could spoil the atmosphere of the place.

The small spendings in this category were tips for really good street musicians from New Orleans and nearly two hours full of joy while playing on arcades at Arcades Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco – small pleasures, but definitely worth every penny.

Other: Spendings in this category couldn’t be avoided – laundry, daily cosmetics or shower are small, but needed expenses.

Assumptions vs. reality

So how much money is needed for the US? After summing up all the costs, our average spendings in USA totaled to 40 USD daily per person. We also exceeded our budget by 35%. Yet it wasn’t associated with the extravagance, but with a bad estimate of the original cost – as we mentioned, our initial estimates were fairly general. But if we would give up renting a car and switched the plane from Quebec City to New York for carpool, our budget would fit the last dollar. While the plane was indeed a mistake, without renting the car we wouldn’t see all the wonderful things in the National Parks or the Pacific Coast Highway…

Sample prices

Finally, we present a brief table of prices of certain articles:

Sample prices in the USA
What Price
Dinner in the restaurant for two (main course + drink) 40-60 USD
Pizza 40cm + drink in chain restaurant 18 USD
Sandwich and drink 7.50 USD
Street food – chicken over rice from the Halal Guys in NY 7 USD
Beer at the bar (330ml) 9 USD
Beer (6-pack 330ml) 8 USD
Ice cream (scoops – medium size) 6 USD
Coffee and muffin 3.50 USD
A bottle of mineral water (1.5l) 1.80 USD
Ticket for public transport 3.5 USD
Compact rent a car class (day) 25 USD

We know that you might want to know more than we covered, that’s why we recommend looking at www.numbeo.com, where you can compare the cost of living between different countries and cities.

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