USA: Travel Advice

Inspired by the Europe travel advice thread, what advice would you give?

I took a two month trip two years ago around the US and learned a lot from my experience that I’d like to share.


  1. There are two ways to get great hotel deals. First, use to locate hotels in general in your price range. Then, go to that hotel’s website. Usually, they have in-house deals and specials that don’t show up on the travel sites. Using this method, I was able to get a Vegas hotel room for $23/night because they had a “book two nights, get one free” special. Also, check What they do is buy a whole set of rooms from a hotel at deep discounts and then resell them on their site. I was able to get a Reno hotel for $16/night.

  2. Similar to the above, use the travel sites to find cheap flights, then go directly to the airline’s website.

  3. Never, ever get a rental car unless you are driving less than a few miles a day (e.g. you are traveling with a party of 4 or more and need a minivan and you will split the cost.) I borrowed a rental car for 1 month to drive around Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC. I thought I would save money on airfare. Total trips: Pennsylvania to Ohio, Ohio to Virginia, Virginia to Ohio, Ohio to Pennsylvania, around 3000 miles. Plane or train tickets for those trips would have been about 40-60 apiece, or $160-240. Daily cost for train/bus tickets would have been about $5-10 dollars over 30 days, or an additional 150-300 for a total of 320 to 540. The rental car cost $25/day, which is an amazingly cheap rate, for 30 days it was ~$500. The problem was the gas. It cost about $30 per tank, 1 tank per 200 miles. All the trips except Ohio to Virgina took 1 tank. Ohio to Virginia took 2 tanks. On those days, operating costs of the car were $100+. I spent around $1k on the rental car. To save money, I kept it in a parking garage, but I lost money on the rental fee. Splitting the fee with several people helps, but you are still looking at around $30-60 per hour of freeway travel.

  4. If you have an iphone, you can get a free GPS program for navigation. Probably other phones too but I had an iphone when I went. It might not seem useful if you aren’t driving, but it was very useful even when I was walking to the bus stop.

  5. Get a Sam’s club card/membership.

Saving money on the trip:
5. Check liquor laws of the states you are visiting. Usually, west of the Mississippi, there are few regulations on the sale of liquor. East, however, the state governments control liquor sales. Using the GPS as listed above, you need to locate the state-run liquor outlets for alcohol over 16 proof.

  1. Request a refrigerator and microwave for your hotel room. What I usually did was buy a pizza from Sam’s and heat it up in the hotel room.

  2. If you can find a Korean store, buy coffee sticks or coffee tea bags. They usually run about 10 cents each. With the microwave and a microwave-safe cup, I didn’t have to buy coffee.

  3. Never pay for room wifi. You can get an app to share the 3g-4g on your phone, and every phone company has an unlimited wireless plan.

  4. If you like museums, only go to those that are part of the Smithsonian system. They are all free. Private museums, the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, charge a fairly ridiculous entry fee.

  5. If you want to do something with your favorite sports team, one cost-effective alternative is to go on a stadium tour. These are usually $10-20 but you have to be there at certain times. But, when you get to the souvenir store, see #11 first.

  6. Sam’s club bonus fact: every Sam’s club is built within a mile of a Wal-mart, and every Walmart is chock full of official sports memorabilla at a fraction of the cost of buying it from the stadium.

I’m not sure I followed your whole argument there, but the inescapable fact is that for the great majority of the US public transportation is horrible to non-existent. Unless you’re ONLY going to stay in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, DC, and a handful of other places, you will absolutely need a car to get around. :frowning:

Problem is, the Smithsonian is only in Washington. My suggestion would be to buy an annual membership for a museum that offers reciprocal entry to other museums. That would cost you $60-100 dollars and generally gets you into the other museums on the list for half-price, so if you’re going to visit a lot during the year, it could pay for itself. Most have a list of the participating organizations on their membership page.

That doesn’t help with places like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but for natural history and science museums and the like, it does. Works for zoos too.

Dear God, why? I can barely store and use up the stuff I get at BJ’s and I have a house. When traveling I can’t imaging buying at Sam’s Clubs. Where would you keep it and why would you want it?

Your math is not adding up.
If you are driving six hours a day then car rental is $4.25 an hour. You should be getting 25 mpg at least and gas is 3.65 per gallon. Gas consumption is 8.75 dollars an hour if you are going 60 mph. If you are going 75mph it is 11 dollars an hour. The most you should be paying is 15 dollars per hour of freeway travel. The most expensive leg of your journey was $60 dollars in gas plus $25. Still under $100.
How are you getting a plane ticket for 40-60 apiece? That is crazy inexpensive. I just looked on Kayak and I cant find a ticket from PA to Ohio for under $250.
I don’t understand how keeping it in a parking garage saves money that you lose on the rental fee.
Getting a car means you can stay in cheaper suburban hotels if you are concerned about money.

I must respectfully disagree entirely. Always get a rental car, unless you are staying in a single place that has great public transportation. There are lots of things to see outside of the cities. Now, if you are visiting, say, New York and Denver, and have no interest in or time for anything in between them, for goodness sake fly, don’t drive. Even then, you’d want a car in Denver.

What is a tourist going to buy at Sam’s? The quantities generally only make sense for home use. The gas is a bit cheaper, but it would have to be a long trip to make that cost-effective. Not to mention the inconvenience of finding a Sam’s every time you need gas.

Yes, check the local alcohol laws. They vary wildly, sometimes by county or city. So much so, that these generalizations are not helpful.

On one hand, you will save money. On the other hand, you are eating Sam’s Club pizza. There’s almost certainly better cheap food at the aforementioned Korean grocery store, or pretty much anywhere. Nevertheless, the fridge is useful.

Nowadays, almost all low- to mid-priced hotels (ie. Holiday Inn) have free Wi-Fi. The higher-end ones (ie. Hilton) tend to charge for it, because they can.

Many museums/zoos/aquariums/gardens/historical sites are free, not just the Smithsonian. Many others are “suggested donation”, so you can get in for a couple bucks even if you are skint. Still others are cheaper than a movie ticket.

There’s a third way, that’s to get the “Hotel Discount” booklets that are available at state rest areas and welcome centers along the interstate. I usually find my best deals that way. The drawback is that it’s walk-in only, no reservations, so you might find that the place you want is full for the night, but 90% of the time (maybe more), I’ve had no problem.

Also, choose a hotel with a free continental breakfast. That’ll save you meal money.

If you like science museums or are traveling with children, get a membership to a museum that has ASTC and/or ACM reciprocal membership. Note: ACM recently changed its reciprocal policy from free admission to half-price. If you like zoos, the AZA reciprocal membership may be for you.

Also, many museums and/or zoos have one day a week where admission is free, perhaps if you get there during certain hours. Find out before you plan your visit.

Agreed on the searching for hotels etc; but I think it depends on the purpose of the trip. When I travel for personal reasons almost always it is with a rented car. Last fall by picking up a small 32mpg SUV we saved $200 the very first night by staying in Sturbridge rather than Boston. That was almost half the car rental. The night before leaving, we turned the car in, saving a day’s rental, which offset a bit the expense of staying at the Logan Hilton- but for morning flight the convenience and stress reduction was priceless.
When I go to conferences pretty much don’t rent the car- it would just sit and accrue parking charges…

Similarly, if you plan on visiting a lot of National Parks, know that not all of them are free (and the ones that charge an entry fee are most likely the ones you’d want to visit, e.g. Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, …). Entry fees are up to $25/vehicle. If you plan on visiting 4 or more of these, get the annual pass for $80.

No offense,OP, but your list seems to be items that you believe worked for you. As a lifelong resident and native born American I can tell you that most or all wouldn’t “work” for other tourists visiting the country.

Sam’s Club has a worse selection that Costco or BJs.

Not renting a vehicle will limit tourists to either big cities on the East Coast, the Midwest or the Pacific Coast.

Asian stores often purchase their items from wholesalers who care more about quantity than quality. Simply shopping carefully at a large grocery store chain or a retailer which sell groceries along with department items can save as much while also offering higher quality.

Asking about alcohol laws is always the best thing to do. With the exception of a few counties which are “dry” (no alcohol sold), where alcohol isn’t sold on Sundays or where sales end relatively early (1am) the laws around the US are very open. You can buy as much as you can afford whenever you want.

I would advise tourists interested in traveling to the US to contact AAA or other professional traveler organizations before they come here as those companies and groups are often the best resources for solid information.

Unless you’re coming from Canada or Australia, you’ll probably find that things in the United States are much farther apart than you expect. If you plan to rent a car and drive from city to city, make sure you understand how long those drives will take - it’s probably both cheaper and faster to fly.

Another thing, Sam’s Club isn’t in a lot of places. Where I live in Pennsylvania, the nearest one is two hours away. When I lived near Houston, TX, I couldn’t go ten miles without hitting a Sam’s.

The tip about the microwave and fridge in the hotel is a good one. I’d go farther and say look for a homewood suites type of set-up. It’s been my experience that in most of the US you can get a sitting room and kitchen for the same price as any other hotel room. American restaurants will serve you waaaayyyyyy more than youa re accustomed to eating, and there is usually plenty there for the next day’s breakfast or lunch if you have a way to keep it safe and then warm it up.

Walk in hotel prices are literally made up on the spot. Always ask for a discount (ever notice nobody ever asks to see your AAA card for the discount? That’s because it’s a blanket discount they give anyone who asks).

Try to act European. They have a reputation for being desirable but frugal guests. If you seems young, local, shady or high maintaince (like six kids in a Lexus SUV) expect to get soaked.