Exploring the US on a Shoestring Budget: Tips and Tricks for Your First Trip

Have you ever dreamed about exploring the United States but were only held back by the travel cost? Fear not! Traveling is not as expensive as people used to think.

They just don’t know how to do it right. But we’re here to show you the ropes of budget travel. 

Yes, you get it right, traveling on a shoestring budget is possible. By following just a few tips, you can make your dream trip to the US a reality.

So, pack your bags, put on your explorer’s hat, and get ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime without breaking the bank!

Why Is It Important to Plan a Budget Vacation?

Planning a vacation is an exciting experience with a touch of oncoming relaxation and a break from routine. However, it should be done properly to ensure a stress-free getaway.

First, you need to plan a budget to make sure that the trip doesn’t leave you financially drained. Of course, nowadays almost everyone can get vacation financing at 15M Finance or other lending companies that accept borrowers with any credit history.

However, it can lead to long-term financial distress. Each loan must be repaid, typically long after you turn back home. And this brings us back to the importance of planning a budget-friendly trip.

Planning can help you stay within your means and don’t overspend. A well-planned vacation budget can help you prioritize expenses.

When you keep a check on the cost, it will be easier for you to decide on the activities and attractions or create a meal plan without putting a dent in your wallet. Let’s find out what your vacation plan should include.

Choose Your Destination

This is a starting point for any vacation planning. The right destination is more than half the success of your dream vacation.

When your budget is lavish, your options are almost unlimited. But exploring the US on a shoestring budget requires you to think carefully. Before you hit the road, make sure the place you want to visit is within your means. 

Factors to Consider When Picking a Destination

Here are a few criteria to ensure you choose the right travel spot:

  1. Affordability. Try to look for destinations that offer affordable accommodations, food, and activities. If you’re going to visit a pricey tourist hotspot, try to find accommodations in off-the-beaten-path areas or nearby cities.
  2. Transportation. If you plan to move around a lot, choose destinations with a well-connected public transportation network. This will help you see more and save money on gas costs. If you prefer car rental, make sure to find a service with reasonable prices in advance.
  3. Seasonality. Consider visiting travel hotspots during the shoulder season or off-season to save money on accommodations and activities. This can also help you avoid crowds.
  4. Interests. Of course, your preferences should be above all. You don’t need to choose a destination based solely on its affordability. Look for places that offer activities and attractions that meet your interests.

Top Budget-Friendly Destinations in The US

Here are our top-7 affordable US destinations for first-time visitors.

San Antonio, Texas 

Actually, Texas is one of the most budget-friendly states to explore. And San Antonio is a must-visit spot for a genuine Texas experience. This city combines American history with Mexican culture. You’re welcome to visit it year-round without sacrificing quality.

Sequim, Washington

While visiting Washington’s State Olympic Peninsula, don’t forget to drop by Sequim. This place is known for its sunny weather and lavender farms.

You can enjoy its affordable accommodations, local festivals, and plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City is one of the greatest budget-friendly destinations in the US. The city is known for its thriving arts scene, outdoor spaces, and affordable dining and lodging options.

Additionally, Oklahoma City boasts a vast expanse of the legendary Route 66. Visitors can explore the renowned Arcadia Round Barn and Pop’s Soda Shop while cruising down the road.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City is an amazing place that is surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty and also offers a range of budget-friendly activities.

Everyone can find here something that will meet their interests, from hiking and skiing to exploring the city’s museums and historic sites.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia is home to historic landmarks like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. And what’s more important to us, it’s also a great destination for budget-conscious travelers.

It offers budget-friendly dining and accommodations, along with various free or low-cost activities. 

Pensacola, Florida

Pensacola is a beach town and also one of the cheapest places to travel. Enjoy its public beaches, including the popular Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key, and Gulf Islands National Seashore.

For affordable activities, consider fishing at Fort Pickens Pier, a dolphin tour, a ghost and graveyard tour, or a guided Pensacola Historic Landmarks tour.

San Diego, California

This is probably not the cheapest place to visit compared to other options on the list. However, you can enjoy its stunning ocean views in the off-season without breaking the bank.

San Diego is known for its beautiful beaches, great weather, and attractions like Seaport Village or whale watching san diego, historic Old Town, and Balboa. San Diego offers plenty of affordable options for those who visit it at the right time.

Find Affordable Accommodations

Lodging often eats up a significant portion of your vacation budget. But there are multiple ways to save money on your stay. Keep in mind that the cost of accommodations usually depends on their type.

Hotels are one of the most popular and safe ways to settle. They can be expensive but offer amenities like room service and concierge service. The average daily hotel room rate was nearly $151.10 in 2023.

Hostels are typically cheaper. However, they usually offer less comfortable conditions. For example, you may have to share a room and common areas with other travelers you don’t know. These options cost approximately $10 to $40 per night.

Vacation rentals like Airbnb and Vrbo offer great lodging options for larger groups or longer stays. Instead of getting a room in a hotel or hostel, you can rent an apartment or house and feel at home. The average Airbnb price for the US is $208 per night in 2022.

What Are the Most Budget-Friendly Lodging Options?

Hostels offer affordable accommodations for solo travelers or groups. Also, budget-conscious travelers can consider camping and RV parks.

These can be great options for outdoor enthusiasts. Finally, you can try house-sitting. This option allows you to stay in someone’s home for free while they’re away.

Tips for Saving on Accommodations

One of the best ways to keep your lodging costs low is to be flexible with your travel dates. You can find deals through travel websites and apps, compare prices, and determine periods with the cheapest offers.

Booking in advance can also lead to lower prices. Keep track of special offers, book on Black Friday, and subscribe to the newsletter to stay up to date.

One more popular way to save is to “couchsurf.” This means that you can become a member of the service called CouchSurfing and can get connected with a host who can accommodate you for free.

Finally, you can travel in a group and share accommodations with friends or family. Thanks to this, to split the cost and pay less.

Search for Cheap Transportation Options

Most major cities have a reliable and affordable public transit system. Instead of renting a car or taking a taxi, use buses, subways, and trains. You can purchase daily, weekly, or monthly passes for unlimited rides and save money on gas costs.

Another option is carpooling or ridesharing services like Uber or Lyft. These services can be a cost-effective way to get around, especially if you’re traveling with a group.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also consider biking or walking. Many cities have bike rental programs or bike-sharing services at reasonable prices. 

Finally, walking is a free way to explore your stopping place if you’re going to run short distances. Plus, you can roam the city, enjoy its ambiance, and explore places accessible only by foot.

Ways to Reduce Your Transportation Expenses

If you want to save on transport costs, look for discounts or special deals, such as early booking discounts or off-peak rates.

You can also consider using travel rewards credit cards or loyalty programs. They allow you to earn points or miles that can be used toward transportation expenses.

Save on Food

Although food can be a significant expense, there are many ways to save on it while traveling. One of the best methods is cooking your meals instead of dining out. Choose accommodation with a kitchen or use a portable stove or camping grill.

If you don’t want to cook, try to eat where the locals do. Avoid restaurants in tourist areas as they often set higher prices. Instead, talk to locals or use apps like Yelp or TripAdvisor to find an affordable eatery.

Additionally, you can choose lunch over dinner. Lunch menus are often cheaper than dinner ones. Also, look for happy hour deals at bars and restaurants.

Finally, consider packing your snacks and drinks. This can work if you plan to go on a hike or a long road trip.

Find Free or Low-Cost Attractions and Activities

Free or low-cost activities can help stretch your budget even further. Many cities offer free admission to museums or parks.

Additionally, some attractions offer discounts during certain times of the day or week. Do your research in advance. Keep track of free events and festivals in the area and plan your route accordingly. 

Additionally, many cities have public parks and outdoor spaces that offer beautiful views and opportunities for recreation.

You can also consider outdoor activities, such as hiking, walking tours, or visiting local markets. These can be great places to spend a day or afternoon without spending a dime.

Make Calculations

After you make a roadmap for your vacation, it’s time to calculate the costs and find out how much money you need to make it a reality.

Learn more about your dream destination on the Internet, ask advanced travelers about their experience on Quora, or use a travel budget calculator.

Final Thoughts

Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. Whether you’re exploring the US or any other destination, it’s possible to enjoy your trip on a budget.

By planning in advance and creating a clear travel budget, you can find ways to save money without sacrificing comfort or fun activities.

With a clear vacation roadmap, your budget travel can be a rewarding and unforgettable experience.