If you’re looking for the cheapest way to travel in the USA, you came to the right place. My wife and I started traveling on the 11th of March 2017. The main goal of our travels was, and still is, to see the world and to find a place on this gorgeous planet where we can settle and start a family.
And so we took off to our first destination, the USA. We traveled for a year in the states and gathered so much information on how to travel in the USA and how to keep your travels as low budget as possible.
Here at travelbackpackgear.com I want to share my own experiences and stories so you can have a better view on how we did it.
Before we took off
My wife and I did a lot of research before we started traveling. We went over multiple websites of fellow-travellers and found a lot of information. Although it took us a while gathering all the information we
needed and still… It was impossible to be fully prepared for this kinda trip. There will always be something you didn’t think of or weren’t prepared for. Still, I wanna try to give you the most complete help possible, so you don’t have to go over multiple sites to find the answers to all your questions.
Visa needed for USA
Anyone who wants to travel to the USA needs a tourist visa, the standard ESTA will allow you to stay 90 days in the States. The problem was that we knew we needed more time to see most of this enormous country.
Our original plan was to stay for a whole year hopping from state to state, soaking up the beauty, culture and just living our wanderlust dream. The whole process of applying for a visa was much more difficult and time-consuming than we imagined. It took about 2-3 months, due to the reason we wanted to apply for a “special” B2 visa. We needed pictures satisfied to American requirements and had to schedule an interview ( for which there was a waiting list) with the American embassy in Belgium to explain our intentions; like why we wanted to visit their country, how we were going to finance the trip and many more questions.
This all went well and we got the approval to go and travel 6 months. If you’re not an American and you want to visit this beautiful country, I really recommend trying to apply for a tourist visa. It is valid for 10 years, you are allowed to stay 6 months in a row and you can extend it for another 6 months ( depending on your situation). The extension would be an option if you want to travel for one year in a row.
Here you have the link to get started: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/
Preparing our trip to the USA
Our plan was to see as much as possible in the States, on a low budget but still with a little comfort. I found a website called Couchsurfing, it is a community that helps travelers all over the world that are looking for a place to stay for free. This platform turned out to be one of our best ways to get in contact with local people, get the best information about the area and make good friends.
The transportation in the USA on the other hand was more difficult than we expected. As my wife and I are both from Belgium Europe, we thought that it would be easy to use public transportation to get from host to host. In Europe this would be very easy but in the States you really need some sort of vehicle to get around.
From Couchsurfing to road tripping
The couchsurfing idea was amazing! We’ve met so many good, hospitable people and had a great time in the States. Although we had the time of our life, we missed a way to transport ourselves. We found out we could not longer depend on the free days of our hosts to drive us to the cool, amazing and adventurous places. So what could we do? We rented a car for a couple days but that ended up to be way more expensive than we thought. We kept on hopping from host to host until we met this amazing family that helped us out a lot! They gave us a place to stay through Couchsurfing and tried to find a way to make our travels easier. After a while they came up with the amazing idea to buy a Van/RV.
At first this sounded kind of impossible but we made it work. Before we knew, we went looking for a decent RV and there it was! Our own RV where we could sleep, cook and chill in. The whole trip changed tremendously. We could drive wherever we wanted, sleep wherever we wanted and stay in each place how long we wanted. This was the best thing that could ever happen to us. We still used Couchsurfing to meet locals for good recommendations and to use their shower as the RV didn’t have one.
USA road trip tips
So from the moment we had the RV we started our very own road trip! Awesome don’t you think? Well, in the beginning we had a hard time finding places to park for the night, we didn’t find free dump stations (as the RV had a toilet and this needed to be cleaned out once in a while),… After a while we became masters in road tripping.
I’ve listed out some important information for you. We gathered these tips and tricks just by facing problems and trying to find solutions along the way.
Always be aware of the seasons!
If you’re planning a round trip in the States you’ll have to look up the weather for that time. We started traveling in March so summer was coming. Our first destination was Miami, Florida (as this was the cheapest flight from Brussels to the USA 🙂 ). From there we meandered our way up along the East Coast towards Maine. From the moment it got colder around October we crossed country towards Oregon and down to California. Traveling like this was amazing as we had brilliant weather the whole year round.
Buy or rent a small Van or RV.
Yes you can rent one, and if you’re only planning to go for a couple months you’ll be better of renting one. Once you plan to stay for a long time I recommend you buying one. At the end of your trip you can sell it again and most of the time you’ll get your money back.
This website is great if you want to rent an RV: outdoorsy.com
Here you can find RV’s if you want to buy one: campingworld.com
Get a Couchsurfing account.
This is one of the best app’s for traveling. You can access the app for free or you can join the membership for 60$ USD. You’ll have lifetime access to the community, there are meetings all over the world with a lot of fun stuff to do. And of course you can ask to every member from all over the world to stay with them. I can tell you, you’ll save a lot of money just by staying with people. They will always help you find the cheapest ”local” way to travel in their area/country/city.
Get a dump station app (If you’re traveling with a toilet in your RV)
rvdumpsites.net is a free website/app you can use to find free or cheap places to dump your water waste. I’ve used this website a lot and again you can save a lot of money. There are places where they charge you 20$ USD just to use their dump stations!!! Crazy don’t you think?
Sleep on Walmart parking lots.
If you don’t want to end up spending tons of money on campsites you can easily hop from Walmart to Walmart. They are all over the States and if they’re open 24 hours you should be fine. Always look at the signs. They will tell you most of the time if they allow you to stay or not. If not, you can always find a spot in nature, find a parking spot in the city (with meter or not). Most of the time you can park there for free until the meter starts operating. There are some websites that will help you find a nice free or cheaper place to park overnight. Here’s at least one: freecampsites.net
Find cheap places to tank.
Gas can be really expensive, at least if you don’t know where to go. This app: gasbuddy helps you to find the cheapest gas in the area. Keep in mind that, if you always choose the cheapest gas it’s not always good for your engine. Respecting a good balance is everything. Treat your car/Van/RV once in a while and it will give you a longer lifetime in return.
Find a good insurance.
It’s important to be insured! We chose Progressive and were really happy with their service.
Buy a year pass for all the National Parks.
If you’re planning to see some National Parks you’ll be better of with a National Park card. It costs you 80$ USD and you can enter all parks with your RV whole year round.
This post will give you some ideas of how to make your travels in the USA a lot cheaper. I am Mathieu the writer of this post. If you have questions or need some more information about a certain topic just leave me a comment below and I will be more than happy to help you out.