Many of us dream of traveling across the country and seeing all America the Beautiful has to offer. However, not all of us have bottomless bank accounts. Luckily, you don’t have to be a millionaire to travel across the country in style. Here are a few ways to minimize the cost of a cross-country journey while still seeing all the sights.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
1. Pick up a Federal Recreation Pass.
This thing is pretty much worth its weight in gold. For just $80, you and up to THREE friends in your car get unlimited access to any national park, national forest or wildlife refuge in the country. For an entire year.
Let’s do the math here. If you bring three friends along on your trip, that’s $20 each for the pass. Entry to these parks includes camping, so if you pick up a tent and camping supplies…you’ll basically be spending $20 each on lodging for the entire journey.
Obviously camping isn’t for everyone, but considering that many of these parks will likely be on your travel trip itinerary anyway (Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, etc.) there’s no reason not to grab a Federal Recreation Pass. If you’re over 62, you can buy an annual pass for $20 or a lifetime pass for $80.
2. Consider renting a car instead of taking your own.
Though this strategy may seem odd at first, renting a car may actually end up costing less than taking your own vehicle across the country. First off, renting a more fuel-efficient car than your own will save you big time on gas. This factor alone will save you more than you may think.
More importantly, your car will be spared the wear-and-tear of thousands of miles of road time. Maintenance costs can pile up fast, so you may want to consider swapping your car out for a rental if you don’t want to be on the hook for unexpected, costly repairs.
3. No money for a rental? Try a driveaway.
What’s a driveaway? When a car needs to be delivered from Point A to Point B, some agencies will let private individuals (that’s you) do the driving. You’ll be given a car and a specific route and be sent on your way. Fuel costs are covered, though you do need to arrive on a certain date and arrange your own way back. Check Auto Driveaway for opportunities near you.
4. Watch a stranger’s house or pet.
Websites like Pet Sitter and House Sitters America will match you with people across the country looking for someone trustworthy to keep an eye on their home or pet while they’re away. This is a great way to nab free lodging at your destination. Of course, you do have to be prepared to keep a close watch on your host’s pooch or property.
5. See the entire country for under $450 with a rail pass.
Amtrak’s USA Rail Passes start at $449 and are one of the cheapest ways to travel across America. You can book at 15-day, 30-day or 45-day pass that will grant you unlimited Amtrak travel during that period. Hop aboard on one end of the country and cruise to the other for far less than a two week or one month trip would cost you otherwise. Plus, you’ll skip traffic, tolls and construction.
6. Check sites like Groupon for deals at your destinations.
Deal sites often have great offers on things like city tours or local restaurants, so make sure to check for coupons before heading out for the day.
7. Make sure your hotel room has a mini fridge and coffee maker.
You’ll save big on your trip by relying on groceries rather than restaurant fare. Stock your hotel fridge with sandwich supplies and make your own java rather than picking up a coffee to go. Plus, you can actually use that coffee maker to heat up soup and even get creative with an iron to whip up some paninis.
8. Skip the hotel altogether.
There are so many other options for lodging these days. Try AirBnb for a cheap stay in an actual home or apartment – you can choose to book a single room or even an entire house. Try Couchsurfing, a site where locals put their air mattresses, spare beds and sofas up for nightly rental, for the chance to sleep for cheap (or even free) in your chosen destination. Book a bed or room in a hostel for much lower rates than you’d find in a hotel, or even try a night in a YMCA.
9. Bring your bike along.
While we don’t recommend cycling across the country unless you’re in pretty good shape, bringing your along may save you a good chunk of change on local public transportation. Plus, you won’t have to worry about figuring out parking in an unfamiliar city.
10. Don’t forget the water bottle, thermos and tupperware.
Bottled water is an unnecessary and costly (not to mention ecological irresponsible) expense that can be avoided with a simple reusable water bottle. Packing a thermos will keep your drinks warm on the go, but it also works as a perfect insulated lunch box for things like soup, warm pasta and cold salad.
If you do go out to eat and end up with leftovers, you'll want to make sure they get eaten. Toting around a flimsy restaurant container may lead to spills or tossed food, so pack a cheap plastic container to keep your snacks and leftovers safe and accessible.
11. If you do really want to check out a particular restaurant, go for drinks or lunch rather than dinner.
If you’re just looking to experience the ambiance of a particular eatery, opt for a drink at the bar or stop by for lunch. Stopping by for dessert after cooking up your own food at your lodgings is also a great way to balance cost with experience.
12. Keep an eye on airline discounts from budget airlines.
Budget airlines aren’t as plentiful in America as they are abroad, but Spirit Airlines does offer some pretty sweet deals on domestic airfare. You can join their $9 Fare Club for super cheap tickets or just watch your inbox for coupon emails.
There are plenty of ways to keep things cheap while traveling. Click here for more tips.