25 Days Touring The USA- How Much Did It Cost? | Travel Review
Updated: Jun 30, 2020
In 2017 my best friend moved to America for a year to Study Abroad. Between when I caught the travel bug and when she left, we'd visited Paris, Barcelona and Dublin together, doing little trips here and there when we could. The prospect of her being on the other side of the world was really scary, we'd been practically joined at the hip for years, but once we got over the initial separation anxiety and internal screaming, it also brought the idea that we could finally take the plunge and do a 'big trip' like we'd spoken about so many times before. And so we committed to the plan and started brainstorming.
Now this trip wasn't as 'cheap' as it could have been, at all, in fact now that I've tallied it all up I feel a bit sick.
While we had daily spending budgets, stayed in hostels and cooked most of our own food, we also decided to visit our dream locations, even if they were spread across the whole of the USA, meaning city-to-city travel was more expensive, and the cities we'd chosen in general weren't the cheapest either. The outlook we had was that it could possibly be our one trip around the USA for a while, if not ever, and so we wanted to do and see everything on the tops of our bucket lists, even at the extra cost! I worked 2 jobs for a whole year, one full time office job, and then in a restaurant for 2 evenings a week and a full 10 hour Sunday shift, saving every single penny possible. It was hard work but so worth it- I'd do it all again tomorrow if I could.
Myself with Leigh and Karolina, 2 of the wonderful human's I met on my Trek, on the rim of the Grand Canyon
Bia (the previously mentioned best friend and soul sister) had the time to do a 2 week trip in between her semester end and her plans with her family, but I decided to do a little extra before I met her and booked myself onto a Trek America tour. The tour took me from LA to San Francisco, where I met up with Bia for a few days of exploring before we headed down to New Orleans, then over to Washington D.C and finished in New York City.
The USA doesn't have the abundance of hostels that you'd be used to if you travelled somewhere super backpacker friendly, and because we were covering such a large area in such a small amount of time, we basically booked all connections and accommodation in advance, as well as any really famous/ busy touristy things that we wanted to make sure we definitely did while we were out there.
It was by far my most expensive trip to date but was worth every penny, it was honestly the best month of my life. Plus, considering people can pay upwards of £1,000 for a week's package holiday to Europe, I don't think I did half bad. I have lots of post ideas regarding where we went, what we loved most etc but I know the main question on everyone's lips will just be 'How much did it cost?'. And so here's a basic over view of what I did, how I booked, and how much it cost to do it, let's begin:
*Anything booked in dollars has been converted using current rates into GBP, but I've also given the dollar amount too, and I've also quoted the prices that I personally paid for each thing- the current prices may vary slightly*
Firstly, I had to travel down to London Gatwick Airport for my flight, as it worked out over £120 cheaper than flying from Manchester (where I live in the north of England), and the cost of getting there/ staying over wasn't bad either, so:
Coach from Manchester Chorlton Street Station to London Victoria: £5 via National Express.
Gatwick Express Train from London Victoria to Gatwick Airport: £17 bought from the station but you can pre-book on their website,
Shuttle bus to/ from Gatwick South Terminal to Hotel Ibis London Gatwick: Free.
One night stay at Hotel Ibis Gatwick: £44 booked via booking.com.
After my night in London, it was time to head to the airport ready to fly to LAX, where I was staying in Venice Beach by myself for a couple of nights before meeting up with my Trek America group.
My first glimpse at an LA sunset from Venice Beach Boardwalk
Mini bus transfer from LAX to my Venice Beach hostel: £18 ($22.50) via Super Shuttle.
2 nights in Venice Beach: £78 ($100) staying at Samesun Hostel, booked via Hostelworld. I LOVED this hostel, the location honestly couldn't be more perfect. You're right on the boardwalk in the centre of everything, with an easy walk to Santa Monica along the beach.
Uber taxi from Venice Beach to the Trek America meeting point @ Fairfield Inn & Suites LAX: £11 ($14) done via the Uber app.
And then it was time to embark on my week long trip up the west coast. We traveled from LA to San Francisco, stopping at River Island State Park, Grand Canyon, Route 66, Las Vegas and Yosemite. You can read all about my time with them here.
Trek America Western Wonder 7 Day Tour: £809 booked through their website, I did this tour.
Food kitty for all meals on Trek: £55 ($70, $10 per day) given in cash on arrival.
Japanese Tea Garden/ Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Our wonderful Trek Leader dropped us off at our individual San Francisco hostels/ airport transfers to avoid us getting lost or paying for transport, where I met up with Bia to embark on our 2 week adventure...
4 nights in San Francisco: £137 ($176) staying at Orange Village Hostel, booked via Hostelworld. This hostel was in a great location, but was undergoing refurbishments at the time. There were only a few showers per floor of dorms which was a struggle in the morning but other than that it was fine.
Alcatraz at sunset Tour: £31 ($40) booked in advance via Alcatraz Cruises. This tour was incredible, a must do. You HAVE to book in advance, and it's also slightly more expensive to go during the sunset, but I would 100% recommend it, it was beautiful and one of the best guided tours I've ever done.
Flight from San Francisco International to New Orleans Louis Armstrong, with 2 hour layover in LAX: £164 ($211.80) with Delta, booked via SkyScanner.
3 nights in New Orleans: £84 ($109.20) staying at Auberge NOLA Hostel, booked via Hostelworld. This was possibly the best hostel I've ever stayed in. The rooms were beautiful, and they had a great set of social space with a fab courtyard. The staff also hosted pre-drinks and then took the group out to different locations every night of the week, we did Bourbon Street and watched live jazz on Magazine Street with them and it was hilarious.
Honey Island Swamp Tour: £44 ($56) booked in advance via Cajun Encounters. This was such an amazing day. The tour included pick up from near the hostel, the drive to the swamp, and an incredible boat tour. We saw alligators, wild pigs, raccoons, birds, snakes and all sorts of rare bugs. Our tour leader was hilarious and we felt safe and well looked after- would definitely recommend! Plus, are you really even in Louisiana if you don't visit a Bayou?
Auberge NOLA staff member, Bia and myself drinking 'Grenades' on Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Flight from New Orleans Louis Armstrong to Washington Ronald Reagan: £115 with American Airlines, booked via SkyScanner.
2 nights in Washington DC: £59 ($76.40) staying at HI Washington DC, booked via Hostelworld. This hostel was a little cramped but had a great kitchen/ social area, the location also couldn't have gotten any better if it tried. The price we paid included a $3 per person, per day fee because it was a 'Hosteling International' hostel. If you're already a member of HI, you won't need to pay this and your stay will be even cheaper!
Tour of The Pentagon: Free! Booked in advance via Pentagon Tours. You have to request to do this 90- 14 days before your visit. Unfortunately at the time, British Citizens weren't able to tour The White House, and still can't, as there is no senior diplomat available to do the tour for us. If you are from another country and are interested in touring The White House, you need to contact your Embassy in Washington, or if you are a US Citizen, do so through your Member of Congress. The Pentagon tour was a really cool alternative, though!
Flight from Washington Ronald Reagan to New York JFK: £55 with American Airlines, booked via SkyScanner.
5 nights in New York: £162 ($209.14) staying at Q4 Hotel, booked via Hostelworld. We stayed just outside Manhattan to save a little money, but this hostel was perfectly placed a couple of streets away from a subway station that took us right into the heart of the city within minutes. The rooms were small but comfortable enough, and after we got stuck in a tornado (yay) in Washington and missed out on a whole night in New York, they kindly only charged us for 4 nights so in the end we paid £134/ $167.31 in total.
Broadway production of The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre, Times Square: £92 ($118.85) booked in advance through Ticketmaster For Broadway. I booked this for our last night in NYC/ of the whole trip as a belated birthday present for Bia, as she'd been away for her actual birthday. It was expensive, but worth every penny. I had a real 'pinch me' moment while sat watching this and thinking about how epic the last month had been, and may have even had a small cry... Anyway, a top tip, you don't actually have to book Broadway tickets in advance, unless you want to see a specific show. The company TDF actually have an area in Times Square where you can wait, and receive tickets for various shows for later on that same day for between 20-50% off. We had our heart set on Lion King and also didn't want to waste any time waiting, but this would be an epic way to see something spontaneous. As far as I know, you get the choice of a couple of shows rather than just being assigned a specific one, but you can read all about how it works on their website here.
Empire State Building 'Main Deck' ticket: £28 ($34) booked in advance via their website here. We decided to go for the 86th floor observatory, which is the outside deck you'll see most often in photos, purely because it was so much more expensive to go to floor 102 (it's literally $72 so more than double the price), and you can't go outside for a clear view once up there anyway. You book the tickets for a specific date, but can go up there at any time during that day.
A very happy Meg after visiting the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington/ rainy Times Square at night
Flight from New York JFK to Manchester International: £160, with Thomas Cook (RIP) booked via SkyScanner. This was such a good buy, as it included 2 meals, free soft drinks and free 20kg luggage. We miss you Thomas Cook!
Taxi transfer from Manchester Airport to Manchester City Centre: £21 booked via a local cab company. So this wasn't 100% necessary as I arrive back home mid afternoon and could 100% have jumped on the train/ bus but I cannot explain the level of knackered I was by the time we landed. It was worth the investment to get home asap.
And then we were home, and when I tell you the post-travel blues hit HARD, I'm not over exaggerating in the slightest.
So now you've seen everything that I pre-booked, let me tell you about spending money and a few things I had to buy before I even flew out there, which if you do a similar trip to this, you'll need to buy too:
Daily budget of $50 x 24 days (the first day was practically all travel so I didn't count it): £930 ($1200). Some days I spent very little money, like in Washington where all attractions are free, or when we were camping in National Parks on our Trek, and then on others I spent way over the budget, like in Vegas or New York. I'd taken enough money for $50 per day and it all evened out in the end. I was right on budget when I came home so I'd feel confident in recommending this budget to you guys, too!
ESTA Tourist Visa: £11 ($14) via the USA Customs & Border Protection Website. You have to pay for this at least 72 hours before you leave for the US, as they no longer offer visas on arrival. This is the VISA you need if you are from a country on their VISA Waiver Program (you can find the list of included countries and territories on their home page), and are travelling for business or pleasure for less than 90 days. The official price for the 90 Day ESTA is always $14 so if you're booking through a third party sight or tour group, make sure they aren't charging you hidden admin fees by claiming the price is higher.
1 month of travel insurance: £20 with TopDog, booked via Compare The Market. This is slightly more expensive than normal travel insurance as it had to cover things like hiking, swimming and helicopter rides for Trek America (they have an optional helicopter ride over Vegas and The Grand Canyon that you can book while there if you like).
Our camp site next to the river in River Island State Park, Arizona
Osprey Fairview 40l backpack: £74.99 from Gap Year Travel Store here. This seems to have gone slightly more expensive since I bought it, but it's SUCH a good backpack to invest in. It's the dimensions of the world wide maximum hand luggage allowance, so you never have to pay for luggage whilst using it, and it also unzips all the way round like a suitcase, so you don't have to empty your whole bag to get to something at the bottom.
Summit 250 sleeping bag: £35 from Mountain Warehouse here. The only camping equipment you need to bring for your Trek is a sleeping bag, and I would highly recommend getting a 4 season one if you are visiting The Grand Canyon. The camp site is really high up in altitude, and we actually woke up covered in snow, we were there in May too! It's very, very cold at night, you've been warned!
Microfibre Travel Towel: £9 from Gap Year Travel Store, see a similar one here. This was a fab investment. Hostels and camping obviously don't provide towels, and you need something that packs really small and also dries super quickly for when you're moving around every couple of days, so I would highly recommend buying one of these. I take mine on all my travels now!
Thermal socks and leggings: £20 from Go Outdoors. Again, Grand Canyon is bloody COLD. If you're doing anything similar to the camping section of this trip, definitely get yourself some thermals.
And there you have it, that is genuinely everything spent during/ ready for the entire 25 days of travel.
That brings the grand total for the whole trip to £3,555 or $4,432.
As I said, totalling it all up like that did knock me a little sick, but that's just because I'm used to spending no more than a few hundred on my average holiday. In all honesty, it was the most exciting, grounding and worthwhile trip I have ever taken and I'd do it all again tomorrow if I could.
I have story highlights on my Instagram from all the major cities, as well as lots of unseen photos of the trip too. Take a look if you fancy! Full posts about what we got up to will also be popping up on here over the next few weeks so stay tuned!
What do you think? Have you ever spent a large sum of money to do a 'big trip'? I'd love to hear about it. Meg x