A Guide to Backpacking Around the USA
I was fortunate enough to spend a summer backpacking around the USA and staying with friends I’d met on my travels in other parts of the world. It was an experience I’ll never forget, partly because I decided to travel around the country by bus, which isn’t a common thing in the US. You meet some odd and interesting characters when you travel by public transport, but it made the journey even more colourful!
The USA is one of my favourite countries to travel, which is always quite surprising to most people – perhaps because it doesn’t sound very exotic. But America is actually an incredibly diverse place, with each state feeling like a different country.
If you’re planning your own trip to the USA it can be overwhelming with so many places to visit. I’ve put together a list of the places I visited as well as some tips for your trip.
My favourite routes for backpacking around the USA
Amtrak through California from Los Angeles to San Francisco
La La Land is somewhere you’ll instantly recognise, because so many movies are shot there. I did all the touristy activities, like The Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Kodak Theatre and Universal Studios. But there’s more to LA than just the movies – it has beautiful parks for hiking and plenty of beaches where you can soak up the sun.
I love Venice Beach and Santa Monica, which are both easily accessible from the city. Since everything is incredibly spread out, I’d recommend either hiring a car from the airport or taking Uber pool, which is incredibly cheap compared to Europe. You can easily get about for just a few dollars and it’s much quicker than taking the bus.
After a week in LA I took the Amtrak up to San Francisco, which is an incredibly beautiful journey. It takes you all along the coastline. The train has a viewing carriage with enormous windows so you can look outside and admire the views. It’s truly breathtaking and well worth the train fare.
Once I stepped off in San Francisco I was quite surprised as it was extremely cold for summer, but this is due to the fog and unique microclimate. Still, San Francisco has some great things to see and do, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf. I’d highly recommend trying a burger from Super Duper Burgers and stopping off for a coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee!
Megabus from Chicago to New Orleans
Since I was travelling on a budget I chose to fly to Chicago. Then I traveled by Megabus from Chicago all the way down to New Orleans. The buses cost only a few dollars but take many hours. Make sure you’re prepared with warm clothing (the air conditioning is freezing!) and plenty of snacks.
Along the way I stopped in Memphis to visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland, which is super cool since you get to step inside “The King’s” former home and also see his aircraft collection. I really loved my visit here. It brought a whole new meaning to the lyrics from the song “Walking from Memphis”.
I also stopped in Atlanta, which is home to the World of Coca Cola and the largest aquarium in the western hemisphere. The World of Coca Cola is really fascinating, since you get to see how many different brands of drinks the company actually makes around the world – it’s astonishing.
Tips for backpacking around the USA
Look for good hostels – There aren’t as many hostels in the USA as there are in Europe. However there are some good ones, if you look for them. Check out this list of the best party hostels in the US if you’re looking to meet cool people and let your hair down.
Use cheap hotel sites – In some cities there may be only one, or maybe even no hostels. Then you’ll need to stay in an AirBnB or hotel. I found some great deals on hotel rooms by using apps like Hoteltonight or bidding sites like Priceline.
Don’t try to see it all – The USA is just too big and too vast to see it all. Instead, choose a state, or maybe a region that you want to cover.
Don’t stick to the cities – Most first-time backpackers choose to visit the major cities like New York, Miami or LA. But my favourite places are the national parks and the fun, smaller towns like Austin, Texas.
Remember to tip – The US has a strong tipping culture, so you can expect to pay $1 cash every time you order a drink at the bar, and 20% of the bill if you go to a restaurant. If you’re trying to travel on the cheap, I’d suggest sticking to fast food places where you’re not expected to tip.
Choose your mode of transport – Some backpackers choose to rent a car for the ultimate Great American Road Trip. Vehicles can get expensive though if you’re driving them outside the state where you hired the rental. If you don’t feel like driving then plane is definitely your quickest option. I’d recommend booking well in advance or collecting air miles that you can redeem for a free flight. The cheapest way to get around the USA is definitely by bus, – particularly the Megabus – which offers fares from just $1, but it can take a while to get from A to B. Alternatively you can take the Amtrak train, which is incredibly scenic but more expensive.
This brilliant guest post is from Victoria (Pommietravels), who is founder of Fashion’s On Vacation and a female guest blogger at American Travel Blogger. She has visited over 50 countries, including Madagascar, Japan and Iceland. She currently works as a full-time blogger living in London, preferring to take shorter trips whenever she can.
Want to read more guest articles? Read here
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