8 Ways to Travel the United States Cheaply and Comfortably

As with any long-term traveler, the biggest goal is to make the amount of money we have to last as long as possible. If we must spend money, the goal is to spend it as efficiently as possible. To prepare for our big road trip around the United States, Cuong and I gave away all our possessions, save a few boxes of mementos. We chose the things to bring with us very carefully, with two things in mind: practicality and comfort. Travelling the US is expensive, but it there are ways to lessen the burden. We had to decide on what we needed to take that makes sense in the long run. Through our experience, we have learned a few things.

IMAG5446-PANO
Took a picture of my partner taking a picture of me on one of our side trips.

car is the most versatile method of transportation;

R1: Interstate buses can only takes you from point A to point B, usually between two big cities like Manhattan and Atlanta. What if you wanted to stop by a nearby state park for a day out? A car can take you anywhere we want to on the map. We frequently took side trips to national parks and Six Flags. Unlike most buses, we could charge our phones in the car!

R2: What we spent on gas, we saved on rent and hotel cost. With the right setup, enough blankets and pillows, my car transformed into a comfortable bed. We usually chose brightly lit gas stations, fast food restaurants, or rest areas to spend the night. We have not had a problem with any of them.

R3: It functioned as our storage; it was a luxury that we don’t have to carry everything on our backs. When we get hungry, we just post up, grab some food from the trunk and go.

One thing I would change: I wish that I had bought a new set of tires. On the mountain back roads of Colorado, my car did a 180 degrees spin that made my heart drop to my stomach. Luckily, there were no cars around and I made it without a single scratch mark.

One thing to know: There will be lots of driving. Yeah, duh. But it is really important to ensure that you don’t get fatigued by driving too long. Cuong and I scheduled our driving time. We made it work  by driving in five hour intervals and taking turns sleeping. Planning and spacing it out made our trip as efficient and relaxing as possible.

2. Our Tiger rice cooker functioned as our portable kitchen. Eating out costs. Our solution for long term food source is using a rice cooker. For newbie cooks and veteran chefs alike, it is so simple to cook up a bag of ramen or a quick vegetable stir fry in a rice cooker. We take advantage of chain fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, with their abundant amount of power outlets to cook up a meal.

3. Pack for Rain and Shine. In just Hawaii, we experienced seven different climate changes; that is just one island. Through our trip, we’ve been through blizzard conditions, tropical rainstorms, as well as humid summer weather. I found these packable dawn jackets to be lifesavers as they’re light and incredibly. The more prepared you are for diverse sets of climates, the less likely you will be spending on new clothes.

4. Couchsurf and Airbnb to save on hotels costs. With every destination, we like to find Couchsurf or Airbnb host in the area who can show us around. It gives us an opportunity to meet people, refresh from sleeping in the car for so long, and take care of our hygiene. To learn more about this awesome community, see my short guide to Couchsurfing.

5. Shop at the right places. In highly populated cities like DC, New York, and Los Angeles, prices for food can be much more expensive. To save on grocery costs, we typically stock up when we find a budget friendly store. On the east coast, we shopped at Dollar Tree and Aldi for all our snacky needs. If you’re a fan of Waffle House, take it all in before you go over to the west side. On the west coast, keep an eye out for 99 Cent stores for your one-stop shop needs.

6. Knowledge of budget airline flight deals. We flew Allegiant Air from Los Angeles to Hawaii at half the going price. Beware, budget airlines typically have very strict carry-on rules, and they will charge you for every extra thing. You get what you pay for.

7. Get the best travel cards.

Charles Schwab is an excellent checking accounts card that has no ATM fees whatsoever. 

Capital One Quicksilver and BankAmericard Travel rewards card gives you 1.5% cashback on every purchase. 

8. Make long Term Investments. We don’t nickel and dime everything. We did spend on a few things that we considered an excellent use of money.

  • Six Flags Season Pass- $70/year; Roller coasters throughout the country!
  • National Parks Pass- $80/year; We hiked at Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Yosemite, and more!
  • Miscellaneous passes such as NYC CitiBike pass, metro cards, etc- biking around NYC can seem scary with all the crazy traffic and people, but it is an experience that made us want to come back.

I would love to hear from you! If  you have any budget travel tips, please share. 🙂 

4 thoughts on “8 Ways to Travel the United States Cheaply and Comfortably

Add yours

  1. Nothing quite like getting out and feeling the excitement of a new place/discovery. It is a perfect balance to the reality of work/life that can keep us in one place where it is easy to get trapped by a more narrow focus. There is so much I want to see in the States, and look forward to the time I can explore it more thoroughly 🙂 Cheers to your travels!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s crazy to think that all it takes to see someplace new is to drive 10-15 minutes, walk in the woods near your house or visit a new bookstore, but most people don’t do it. Then they wait for their “once a year” vacation as if they never have a chance to go out. Likewise, I feel like I’ve been taking for granted how beautiful this country is, and hope to do more traveling here as well. Cheers to your travels, too! Looking forward to more of your posts. 🙂

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