6 easy steps to plan a trip to the USA you’ve been dreaming of

USA. Are you dreaming about going there? You’re not the only one. A lot of people dream about a trip to the United States for many reasons. Some of them look for their American Dream, others want to compare American movies to reality.

When I was a kid I fell in love with a Native American character of a book. That’s why when I think about this part of the world my heart always beats faster, I almost hear the sound of hoofbeat and smell the smoke of a ceremonial pipe by the fire 🙂

Planning a trip to the USA requires some effort and preparations. What do you need to know?

 

How to organize a trip to the USA – step by step.

First thing to do is to take a map and think which part of the country interests you the most. Do you dream of New York and Miami or you keep thinking of Hollywood, the Grand Canyon and Golden Gate bridge. Let your imagination go wild and create a map of your dreams 🙂

Compare it to the time you have available, check how far are certain points located from each other. If something looks super close it can turn out if would make your trip 400 km longer. You still have time to plan the details but it’s good to have a general plan if you need visa. They might ask about it during the application process.

how to plan a trip to the usa

Visa

If you need visa to travel to the US make sure to have it before booking anything. If you are Polish, check this post in Polish language for more information about visa procedures and a meeting with the consul. If you are not – make sure you follow visa procedures for your country. 🙂

Flights

There is a lot of flights from Europe to the USA and prices are varied. The cheapest flights are to the east coast – New York or Chicago. It’s more expensive to the west coast. From what I noticed it’s not worth waiting for last minute, tickets are cheaper if you book a few months in advance.

You can buy the cheapest ticket if you’re flexible in terms of date, place of arrival or departure. If you want to buy the cheapest ticket don’t look for flights from your country only but also from other capitals not far from you.

I used price alerts on Skyscanner and other cheap flights websites. I set it for flights from Warsaw, Cracow, Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Vilnius to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Eventually, I found a flight from Vienna through London to Los Angeles for 470 EUR. I’ve seen even cheaper ones from Vilnius through Toronto but I didn’t have the visa then yet.

Disadvantage of such solution is time. Counting all transfer times, travel from my home town in Poland to Los Angeles took me over 40 hours. There are much more convenient flights – more expensive but not necessarily unaffordable. If you decide to go for a cheap but long flight check these tips for comfortable layovers and air travel!

how to plan a trip to the usa

Insurance

Do not miss this point. Medical care in the US is extremely expensive  and more serious surgeries can cost way over a hundred thousand dollars. I don’t think you would like to pay for that yourself… Do a good research which insurance company is recommended. If you buy it in Poland – check Polish version of this post for more information on what I used.

Means of transportation

If you plan to travel around cities then you can travel by buses or trains. Connections between big cities work well and they are not too expensive. A very popular way of travelling but quite expensive one (at least for my Polish budget :)) is taking domestic flights.

If you want to visit the national parks, it’s very hard to get there by public transportation.

The most convenient way of travelling in the USA is a car. You can rent a car for 30 to 100$ per day, depending on the car you are taking. The longer the rental time the less you are going to pay per day. Me and Adam paid 500 EUR for renting a car for 17 days with insurance. Except for that if you are below 25 years old the cost will be significantly higher. Rental companies charge additional 20-30$ for young drivers and there’s no escape from that.

how to plan a trip to the usa

If you are 25 or over you can book a car on expedia.com. Their search engine looks for the best deals from many rental companies, the prices are good and they include required insurance. Nobody asks for age though so if you book through Expedia and you are under 25 years old, you will have to pay additionally when you pick up the car.

When I wanted to rent a car for myself during my volunteering (and I will be 25 years old in 9 months… ;)) I checked on Expedia first which rental company has the best deals. Then I booked the car on their website directly (budget.com). Budget.com ask how old you are. Insurance is also included so I knew  how much I am going to pay exactly.

Accomodation

You need to choose your accommodation depending on your budget. Below there is a list of options from free accommodation (or costing you time or cooking dinner :)) to the most expensive one.

Sleeping in the car/wild camping – we didn’t try but a lot of people do it. As far as I know wild camping is allowed outside of the national parks. I heard that you can even ask a park ranger for advice where to camp safely. If you choose to sleep in the car you have to find a safe parking space. Many places don’t allow overnight parking.

Couchsurfing – it’s popular in big cities. Around most of the National Parks there are no hosts available.  Nobody lives there… 🙂 If you want to use it, check how to write a good request on Couchsurfing!

Camping – In a separate post you’ll find more information about camping in the USA. Average price for a campsite is 20$ per night.

how to plan a trip to the usa

Hostels/motels/cheap hotels – prices of hostels vary depending on location. I slept in a hostel in San Francisco and a single bed in a common room cost 40$. We paid almost the same price for a private room with two queen beds in a hostel in a smaller town of Monterey. Prices of budget hotels vary from 45 to 65$.

Airbnb – it’s very popular in the USA and it’s not too expensive. We used airbnb in Las Vegas, we had a room in a house with swimming pool and we paid less that 50$ per night. And the swimming pool is the best thing in the world when the temperature exceeds 40C / 104F…

Hotels – I don’t have any personal experience because hotels didn’t meet our budget… 🙂 But if you’re not tight on money you can find an amazing accommodation very close to all touristic sites. There is a lot of hotels everywhere.

 

Money – how much money to take for a trip to the USA?

How much money do you need to go to the USA? It depends 🙂 I gave you an overview of flights, accommodation and car prices.

Gas costs on average 2,6$ per gallon (3,78 liters). Grocery shopping for two people for one week cost 100-150$. We ate healthy, not the cheapest products but we tried to be reasonable. This amount includes good beer (that’s an important information – a pint of good, local IPA can cost up to 7$…).

You can eat a good meal in a restaurant for 20-30$ and in some pizzerias or Chinese restaurants up to 10$. Don’t forget traditional American cuisine – fast food 🙂 You can also have a meal there for 10$.

how to plan a trip to the usa

Another thing to calculate are tours and tickets. They are not particularly cheap. For example, a ticket to Universal Studios costs over 100$, trip to Upper Antelope Canyon – 40$ (but Lower Antelope Canyon, which is prettier in my opinion – only 20$ :)), Alcatraz cruise – 35$. And remember not to go very wild on your night out in Vegas! 🙂

There is one more thing you need to consider. Prepare your mindset! If you’re not American a lot of things might surprise you here. Check the thoughts a foreigner may have when visiting the USA. I thought most of them too – just the perspective of prices was slightly different… 🙂 Anyway, expect the unexpected – and enjoy!

Are you ready to find your American Dream? Let me invite you then to breathtaking national parks of the west coast: Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park. Let’s look for Indians… 🙂

You might also be interested in my shameless confession from a sinful night in Las Vegas… all secrets revealed! 😉

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