How to save money on lodging while traveling the USA

Travel can be expensive or it can be cheap. It all depends on your priorities.

For most people, the most expensive part of travel is getting from point A to point B. The second most expensive part is paying for a place to sleep every night, but there are plenty of ways to minimize those expenses. Here are a few ideas on how to save money on lodging.

tentFree camp   As cyclists, we spent many nights on the side of the highway – we just head back into the woods and find a place to camp. Unless you’re cycling, that strategy most likely won’t work well for you. In the USA, you can camp for free in all national forests and on BLM land, as long as it isn’t posted to camp in designated sites only. Simply find a dirt road heading back off the road, drive for a mile or so, then find a place to put your tent. It’s free and it’s easy and, in the western part of the USA, very easy to find a spot. In the eastern USA, it’s not such a good strategy as there aren’t many national forests and very little BLM land.

Couchsurfing  Using hospitality sites such as couchsurfing, warmshowers (for bike tourists), or hospitality club can be a great way to keep costs down. Not only will you have a free place to stay, but you’ll meet wonderful people. Be sure to be very up-front about what your plans are so your host knows what to expect.

Pay camp  Camping in campgrounds is the next cheapest option. All national parks have campgrounds and many national forests and monuments have them as well. In addition, there are private campgrounds in nearly all popular tourist destinations. Fees vary tremendously from around $5 to $30+/site/night. KOA tends to be the most expensive, but sometimes they are the only game in town and they are still cheaper than a hotel. In high season, be sure to make reservations in advance as campgrounds tend to fill up.

hostelHostels  Hostels aren’t nearly as popular in the USA as they are in many other countries, but some do exist. For solo travelers, hostels are nearly always cheaper than hotels because you pay per bed and share a room with others. Be aware that hostels tend to be more expensive for a family, that’s why we didn’t use them much in our travels.

Local motels  Older, local, Ma & Pa motels tend to be cheaper than big chains. Granted, they aren’t as nice as the more expensive places, but if you’re looking to save money they’re worth it. As we cycled through the USA, these were the only motels we stayed in. They tend to be located on the OLD highway into town rather than along the interstate. The interstate, being new, is lined with new hotels, but find the old road into town and you’ve found the older, more established community.

Chain motels or hotels If you need to have lodging lined up in advance, this is the way to go. This level of accommodation can be found on the internet and prebooked through one of many hotel comparison sites. You can find any price range here from relatively cheap to outrageously expensive – for that major splurge 🙂

Each traveler needs to set his or her own budget and act accordingly. There is a way to fit nearly every budget with a bit of creativity.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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4 Responses to How to save money on lodging while traveling the USA

  1. Heather September 24, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    Camping (for $) has worked well for my family of 6. Most tourists don’t camp so you end up plunked in with locals which can be great. I think there is a learning curve (how to deal with days upon days of rain, bathing, cooking, etc) but we’ve been doing it all along and don’t have to think too much at this point about the basics. BK (before kids) while biking and traveling we found cemetaries to be great for spending a night. They almost always have water and the neighbors are quiet!

    • Nancy September 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

      @Heather, There is a learning curve with camping for sure. The key is COMFORT. You can be uncomfortable for a week or two, but in the long term, you need to set yourself up to be comfortable.

  2. Val in Real Life October 11, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    Great roundup Nancy. Travel doesn’t have to break the bank, you just have to get creative. The funny thing is that’s where the fun and adventure is. Kind of a sweet deal in my book.

    • Nancy October 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

      @Val in Real Life, I agree that that’s where the adventure is! Get creative and fun things happen.

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