How to Travel Cheap in America

Since the last three months I am trying to acclimatize myself with the new culture, harsh winters, bland food, lack of public transport and many other things. I recently moved to the States from India. Change is always difficult, especially when you move out of your cocoon for the first time. And, I am slowly learning to adjust and blend in while grasping the local nuances.

Amidst all this, I decided to travel someplace more lively and densely populated (living in Cincinnati gets boring at times). Also, I was bored of staying at the same place for three months at a stretch! So, you can understand that I am not an expert on traveling in the US. But, this first trip made me wiser and taught me how to spend money prudently. 

Through this post, I would share airlines, car rentals, hotel booking details to help you plan your travel.

Getting Somewhere by Air:

I found two airlines which offer some great deals throughout the year. Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air are low-cost air carriers helping to reduce your holiday budget considerably. Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday would get you such great deals (One side airfare for as low as $15) that you wouldn’t believe your eyes! 

My Deal: I booked a return fare to Orlando, Florida from Cincinnati, Ohio for $70! By Frontier to Orlando and by Allegiant from Orlando. I used that combination as it gave me the best deal, so you need to check both for best rates. Most of the airline booking vendors wouldn’t show these airlines, so I booked directly with them online.

The Flip Side: Both the airlines charge for cabin and check-in baggage, but allow a small carry-on (think of laptop bags & backpacks) bag for free. If you aren’t fussy or traveling for a short period, you can roll your clothes into your backpacks. Otherwise, you can add a baggage by paying the extra fee ($20-$40/bag).

Another airline that I find beyond amazing is Southwest. They have a free baggage policy, offer extremely reasonable fares, rarely charge a fee for cancellations/date change and their flight crew is hilarious! Again, you wouldn’t find Southwest flights on any major booking platform.

Moving Around: 

If you have traveled to the US, you would know how expensive moving around gets with the exorbitant taxi fares. Public transportation is non-existent (unless you are in Chicago or NYC), so you are left with two options i.e either walk around or rent a car. Walking around is not recommended as everything is quite far-off, so you would need your own car at all times.

Car Rentals: Luckily, there are umpteen car rental companies from where you can rent any type of car with a starting rate of $12-$15/day (depends on your location, tends to be high in cities and around holidays). These rental companies have their pick-up points at all major airports. Hiring a car is a very simple process – Book online, go to the rental companies counter at airport for formalities and pick your car. Personally, I have used Budget and Enterprise.

Things to Know:

  1. You must have a credit card and a valid international license to book the car.
  2. These rental companies charge an underage fee for people under 25 so take that into account. Also, it is recommended to buy insurance which varies from company to company so compare that cost as well.
  3. You can choose to book the car directly at any airport but that would take time and you may not be able to compare rates.

Cab: Apart from the huge fares, there are chances that you would be ripped off by local cab drivers as they may take you through longer routes. Thankfully, Uber has come to the rescue with extremely pocket-friendly rates and its giving sleepless nights to local cab companies. So, if you aren’t able to rent a car, you can rely on Uber.

Staying in the States:

Booking a hotel, homestay, hostel or resort takes the same amount of effort everywhere. There are multiple criteria such as location, food, cleanliness, luxury, amenities, and service that people consider before booking their stay.

In the US, I prefer booking through Hotwire and Airbnb. Till now, I have found the cheapest rates on Hotwire for hotels. Also, Hotwire has a unique pact with hotels which allows them to offer lower rates than other online travel agents. For such deals, they just hide the hotel names and once you book they disclose the specific details. So, if you can take that kind of risk, go ahead and book it. There have been times when I have regretted taking that Hotwire deal, but just on rare occasions.

As for Airbnb (Get $20 off on your first stay), the world knows what a success the platform is! Before coming to the US, I never used Airbnb due to my concern for safety and privacy. But, I booked through the platform in Florida & Boston and was happy with my experience. I shall still recommend everyone to be careful and read reviews before booking.

I would end the post with those pearls as of now. In case you need to know more, just drop a line in the comments section.

Update (April, 2018): I have updated this post with more details as I learned new ways to save money while traveling in America.

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