How to Plan Your Dream USA Trip of a Lifetime

This post may contain affiliate links. We may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase. Read Disclosure.

Have you been dreaming about a USA trip but don’t know where to start when it comes to planning? Then you’re in the right place.

We know just how hard it is to plan a trip to the USA, especially if you’ve never been before. We have visited the United States many times, including completed a 12-month USA road trip, and have now lived here for several years.

family beside great smoky mountains national park sign
Smoky Mountains National Park USA

We learned so many things over the years about travelling in the USA that we wish we had known in the planning stage of our trips. Things like how to get around, how to save money, and what attractions not to miss.

We know first-hand that it can be overwhelming planning a trip to one of the largest countries in the world, and so to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes we did, we’re sharing our expert tips on how to plan a trip to USA below…

How many days are enough to visit USA?

young girl looking at view of seattle skyline from Kerry Park
Kerry Park views in Seattle

Before you can get stuck into the planning stage, you need to ask yourself how much time you need to spend in the USA.

America is a huge country with incredible diversity, and with so many things to do and places to visit, so you’re going to need to make a list of those bucket list attractions before you can start planning a USA trip.

Knowing what attractions you want to see will help you narrow down how many days you need to spend.

If you want to see The White House, the Statue of Liberty, The Grand Canyon, Vegas and Death Valley – well, my friend, those attractions are scattered across the country and are not going to be easy to fit into one trip, unless you have a lot of time.

So we recommend you split a trip into the East Coast and West Coast, and either do each trip separately or allow yourself a lot of time.

If you do it this way, we recommend 2-3 weeks to explore either the East Coast or West Coast. If you want to see all the main attractions and then some, set aside at least 2-3 months.

We spent a whole year traveling around USA and we still haven’t seen everything. It’s really impossible to say how much time you should spend in America, as it depends on what you want to see and how much you want to see.

How do I plan a trip to USA?

USA Travel Tips - 11 tips for planning your dream trip to the USA. Click inside for important tips about travel to USA.
Statue of Liberty

After you’ve thought about how much time you have at your disposal and what attractions you want to see, it’s time to start the bulk of your planning.

In this guide, we’ve taken steps from our tips for planning any trip and broken it down so it’s specific to planning a trip to America.

1. Getting Tourists Visas for the USA

Abraham Lincoln Memorial - Washington DC
Lincoln Memorial, Washnington D.C

There are many different visa options for the USA and the one you pick will largely depend on where you are traveling from and how long you are planning on staying for.

They also have different visa requirements for different countries, so it’s best to check the official consulate website to see what applies to you.

Here is a brief overview of each one.

ESTA Visas – The American Visa Waiver Program

The ESTA is the most commonly used visa for foreigners. For Australians and those living in the UK and other European countries, getting a tourist visa to visit the USA is pretty simple. You can get your 90-day visa waiver, now known as the ESTA, online.

This US visa for Australian citizens, and other qualified countries, is not a visa as such but a travel authorization. That means you can ONLY travel on it – do not use it for any other type of purpose such as working remotely.

The ESTA US visa is easy to obtain, fill in a simple application form, and wait for documentation to appear in your email.

You can apply for ETSA any time before boarding your flight, but it’s best to do it at least 72 hours before.

It’s very important that you have the ESTA and a record of your approval number. Have the paperwork with you (just in case) when you go to depart.

You will be asked if you have your ESTA during check in and won’t be allowed on the plane without it.

We’ve been caught out before and they were not letting us past the check in counter until we found our ESTA approval number.

If you want to stay in the USA longer than 90 days, or if you plan on also visiting neighbouring countries, the US visa situation is a little complicated.

IMPORTANT: Once you hit USA soil, your 90 days starts ticking, and it does NOT reset if you cross the border to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.

And remember, if you stop off in Hawaii on the way to mainland USA, your 90 days starts ticking in Hawaii.

It’s so important you plan your trip around this or you could get deported for overstaying your visa!

girl on hotel balcony looking at view of waikiki beach with diamond head in distance
Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

The ESTA is valid for two years, which means you get multiple entries on the one visa, but you must leave reasonable time between your 90-day visits so it doesn’t look like you are trying to live in America.

Be sure you keep a record of your ESTA number. You can always check it online to see how current it is.

Other US Visas

If you want to stay longer in the United States, you will have to look at other US tourist visas or non-immigrant visas.

We have previously lived the USA on J1 and J2 work visas when I was a school teacher in North Carolina. We also lived in the US on an 01 Business Visa, but now we are permanent residents with a green card.

family posing on cliff top with pacific ocean views behind them at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Exploring Torrey Pines State Park, San Diego, California

But my guess is you are preparing for your trip to the US purely as a tourist, so the ESTA visa is sufficient.

If you are applying for visas other than the ESTA that require passport photos, read the photo guidelines carefully and talk to the photographer beforehand to ensure they take them correctly.

They are very different and specific and will not be accepted if not exact.

Want someone to help you apply for your US Visa? Check here…

NEED A USA VISA

VisaExpress, a brand of GovAssist, is the leading global consulting company specializing in U.S. visa
and immigration application management and process. They make things easier for travelers planning to apply for a
US visa by the entire application process for individuals and multinational firms.

CLICK TO LEARN MORE

2. Check Your Passport Validity

Don’t forget to check your passport now to make sure it has at least six months validity left on it at time of travel, or you won’t be able to travel to the US.

You also need to have two empty pages in your passport for your entry stamp.

3. Planning Your USA Itinerary

old building in nola with purple wreaths hanging off
French Quarter, New Orleans

America is almost the same land size as Australia, but, unlike Australia, the interior is also filled in with many things to do.

Careful research and planning will help you create your dream USA travel experience.

Consider what it is you really want to see and do. Are you focused on:

One reason we explored the USA deeply is to help future travellers to see that there is much more to America than Los Angeles and Vegas or Disneyland.

To be honest, those three places are at the bottom of my list of reasons to travel to the US. More kitsch and tourist traps than soul.

That is just my opinion (formed after living here for over 5 years and lots of US travel experiences) so take what you want from that.

I can understand why you may have always dreamed of going to LA and Vegas, and by all means plan them into your itinerary, but there are so many interesting places to see in the USA!

Consider unique and exciting destinations like NashvilleNew York, New Orleans, Washington DC, and gorgeous East Coast Southern cities rich in history and culture like Charleston and Savannah. 

people standing on a bridge with a city skyline
Fun family trip to Nashville, Tennessee for country music

My favorite states to explore for natural beauty would be Utah (for Monument Valley) and Colorado.

Make sure you have a list of bucket list attractions you absolutely have to see first. Some bucket list USA things to do are…

Once you have a list of attractions you really want to see, it’s time to map out your USA itinerary – here is how you go about putting your itinerary together…

To help you put your itinerary together, here are some great family vacation ideas for the USA.

Write down the number of days you have

family in boat with snorkels on posing for camera
Scalloping in Steinhatchee

As you know, the visa waiver program offers you a maximum of 90 days (12 weeks), but we are not all blessed with 3 months off work!

Are you like most people who get a standard 4 weeks of annual leave? Or only 2 weeks?

Whatever the amount of time you have, start by writing down the number of days you have in a list, and then you can start ordering your attractions by proximity.

You can usually fly internally to different major cities, and then rent a car to drive to the spots you want to visit. Factor in a travel day between key attractions as traveling around takes a lot of time in America.

To help you out, here is are example 2-4 week itineraries:

Research Other Activities & Things to Do in the USA

family walking through Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Orlando Attractions
Universal Orlando – Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Once you have your bucket list attractions on your itinerary, you can start mapping out the rest of your itinerary with other attractions and things to do.

Remember, The United States of America is the third most populous country in the world, and the popularity of the USA as a travel destination can mean long lines and booked out tours.

So, it’s important that once you have planned your USA itinerary and found some other attractions and things to do, you research the best way to book these activities and attractions you do not want to miss!

Make a list of:

  • Free things to do
  • Parks and playgrounds
  • Best walks
  • Day tours / City tours 

Most of the time, you can book them in advance using Get Your Guide or Viator.

It is wise to book ahead, especially if you are travelling in peak season. Some attractions like Alcatraz can take a few days to get on a tour.

Craig’s sister booked her accommodation for the Grand Canyon a year in advance to ensure she got the dream cabin stay.

I would absolutely recommend Fast Passes at theme parks for places like Disneyland and Universal Orlando Resort (you will be spending a lot of time in queues otherwise).

How to Find Things to Do

people on the hulk roller coaster taking a dip
The Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando

For ideas on things to do in your destination, use these resources:

  • Tourism board websites
  • Ask family & friends who have been there
  • Travel blogs like ours (see our USA destinations section)
  • Facebook (put out an update asking for tips)
  • Twitter (hashtags)
  • Guide books (we use Lonely Planet Guide Books)
  • Instagram (hashtags)
  • TripAdvisor
  • Hotel receptionist/bell boy (once in location they are invaluable)

Doing careful research on things to do in the USA and popular US attractions will save you time AND money and help you find amazing spots like this rooftop bar in Downtown LA.

people taking selfies on Perch Rooftop Bar with views of Downtown La at sunset
Sunset from the Perch Rooftop Bar in Downtown LA

For most people, winging it on a trip to the USA is not a great idea.

We tend to go with the flow a lot, but we have time on our side and we live in the country. We have way more flexibility.

You can also factor in some free things to do on your trip, such as visiting Times Square or Central Park in New York City.

My parents visited in May and we planned a 4-week road trip itinerary from Dallas to Boston including booking accommodation and activities and put it all into a Google Drive Spreadsheet so we could collaborate and plan together.

Get Sightseeing Passes

For places like New York City that have a lot of attractions, so a New York sightseeing pass will save you a lot of money – especially those that have fast passes. WE also saved money using the New Orleans Sightseeing pass and on these top attractions in San Francisco.

Check for other City Passes here

There are also USA Sightseeing Passes, which gives you access to attractions in multiple destinations. It could save you a lot of money. Click here to see more.

4. Booking Accommodation in the USA

aerial view of brooklyn bridge and river
Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Now you have your itinerary mapped out, it’s time to start booking places to stay. You’ve got endless options for accommodation in the USA.

From hotels to motels, resorts and apartments, vacation homes, lodges, campgrounds, vacation rentals and more!

But mostly, the US is a corporate hotel chain experience.

If we are staying in a destination for an extended period, we like apartments or suites for their kitchen facilities to save on eating out, and for separate bedrooms! We book our apartment stays on VRBO or Booking.com

If it’s just one or two nights, hotels are fine.

Those traveling on a budget will find budget hotels, motels, resorts and bed and breakfasts are the best option, and these can be easily booked online through sites such as Booking.com, Expedia.com or Hotels.com. Hostels are not a huge thing in America – there are some, but not many. Check HostelWorld.com for options

aerial view ofThe Lodge on Lake Lure, North Carolina
Our lodge on Lake Lure, North Carolina

Low-cost hotels and motel chains are Days Inn and Super 8, which are usually located on the outskirts of cities and near the interstates.

They aren’t glamorous and will have basic amenities, but they usually come with free parking, free Wi-Fi and breakfast, mostly consisting of bagels, toast, and sugary cereals.

Craig and I used to stay at these all the time and will if we just need a place to stay on a long road trip.

Don’t forget vacation rentals, which are becoming a bit of a painful experience now in the US due to excess cleaning fees being added as well as state and bed taxes.

We’ve found vacation rentals to be the better deal if you are staying for several nights. Cleaning fees are too high to justify one-night stays. It’s probably cheaper to find a hotel.

Be sure to do your research to accurately compare costs.

As mentioned before, due to high population and tourist numbers it is wise to book your accommodation in advance, particularly if you are travelling in peak season or popular cities.

If you decide to camp, stay in hostels, or do an RV then you will possibly be okay with winging it.

Campsites can book out in peak season though, especially in popular National Parks! KOA campgrounds are popular with families.

5. Flying To and Around the USA

girls looking at airplane
Flying Hawaiian airlines

When travelling to America from Australia, we prefer to fly into Dallas International Airport (DFW).

Dallas is best if you are traveling to the East Coast as it gets you closer and often means less plane changes to get to your East Coast destination.

If you are exploring the West Coast, it’s better to fly into Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO).

Flying can be exhausting if you are flying direct from Australia with no stopovers to recover from jet lag.

Travelling to USA from Australia takes approximately 13 hours (to LA) and 16 hours (to Dallas).

Plan plenty of time between connections

Plan plenty of time in between your flights so you can make your connections.

NO, two hours is not enough time to get off an international flight in LA or San Francisco and catch your domestic connection!

I cannot tell you how many times I have sprinted through various airports in the US, especially challenging with kids!

When you clear immigration you must pick up your luggage and go through security again for your connecting flight, even though you are in the same airport.

In the US, they don’t have separate airports for domestic and international. They are housed in the same section, so it means no water bottles (with water) coming through, and long and chaotic security lines.

Be prepared to get undressed – lose your shoes, belts and jackets.

A sunset over a beach
Sunset at Pacific Beach in San Diego

When flying between major cities, you can usually get direct flights. Outside of that, there is higher possibility you will have to change planes.

Factor this into your itinerary and travelling time.

Immigration coming into the US has mostly been slow.

LAX has improved somewhat with my recent entries, but most of the international flights coming into LA seem to land at the same time early in the morning!

Parents, a heads up!

family sitting in Extra Comfort seats flying to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines

If you have young kids, make sure they have been to the toilet on the plane and fed, as you’ll be standing in long lines clearing customs!

We know what’s it like to get off a long flight with a tired, grump and hungry kid who always needs to go to the toilet at the most inappropriate times! (check our tips for flying with kids)

For us, Dallas by far has been the best. Less flights landing at once, and quicker through immigration.

Be friendly and polite to the custom officers. Even though you have your ESTA or tourist visas final entry permission is up to the custom officers.

Searching Flights to the USA

hundreds of tiny flags in grass in front of monument in boston commons
Boston Common on Memorial Day

Check Skyscanner, Kayak, or Momondo to find great deals on flights to the USA. Then go direct to the airlines own website.

And don’t forget to pop into your local travel agent. They can have great deals.

My parents saved $900 on their flights to the US by popping into Flight Centre just to check and there was a surprise sale on.

Domestic flights within the US are frequent, and you can fly almost anywhere. They are competitively priced, although I find quite expensive to what they used to be.

But they are notorious for charging you with extra fees – like baggage.

You’ll have to pay $25 to check in any luggage – you don’t get any luggage allowance unless you have status.

Some airlines, like United Airlines, will now charge you for overhead baggage on the plane.

Unlike Australia, however, they do not weigh your check in luggage. Now I understand how so many travellers in the US can travel carry-on luggage only.

Major airlines include:

You can book via their websites, or compare fares and book using sites like Skyscanner.com

Look for Package Deals

When booking a trip to the USA, package deals can be a low-stress option for travellers who don’t want to organise their flights, accommodation and on-the-ground transport separately.

For package deals that include flights, hotel and car rental, check a site like Expedia.com and travel agents.

If you book your ticket from Australia, including domestic transfers in the one reservation, you will not have to pay extra for your luggage on the domestic flights.

6. Getting Around the USA (apart from flying)

USA Travel Tips - 11 tips for planning your dream trip to the USA. Click inside now for travel tips for travelling to America
Vermont Route 100

Flying domestically can be such a nightmare. With long lines and delays, sometimes it can be better to get to your different destinations in other ways.

I understand the importance of security but dealing with ever growing security measures and chaotic airports due to a large population has taken the fun out of flying.

We prefer a USA road trip as much a possible.

Our general rule is if the destination is less than four – six hours away we’ll drive.

We recently drove from Raleigh, North Carolina to New York City (8-hour drive) as it was cheaper for our family of four than flying, even with the expensive parking tickets and tolls!

The classic American road trip is always fun as there are so many quirky roadside attractions and cool places visit in America.

Train Travel in the USA

train beside ocean
Amtrak Surfliner. Image by DepositPhotos.com

Train travel is not the most common way to get around USA but it’s a good option if you plan to visit mostly cities on your trip.

Trains connecting US cities are operated by Amtrak. You can buy Amtrak train tickets online or at stations. The earlier you book the better deal you’ll get. You can book up to 11 months in advance.

Amtrak also offers USA Rail Passes for 15, 30 or 45 days.

If you have the time, it’s possible to cross the country by train travel, seeing a lot more than you would from a plane.

Bus Travel in the USA

Buses and coaches run between major cities and serve some rural areas.

Greyhound is the largest provider, covering all 48 states as well as Canada and Mexico.

Tickets can be bought online, at bus stations, over the phone or at some convenience stores. You can get deals sometimes booking online. I’ve ridden the Greyhound once and that was enough.

Megabus, is a cheap bus service that is often raved about, mostly for the incredible deals you can pick up.

Totally worth it when you can snag a deal like that. They serve more than 100 cities.

USA Road Trips and Car Rental

A car driving down a road
Vermont in the fall

America really is a driving destination, except if you are visiting major cities like New York or Chicago.

But to be honest, when you visit the USA you will have a better experience in most places when you road trip USA with your own vehicle.

We have always found the best car rental deals in the US with DiscoverCars.com (using them since 2007).

Though car rentals can be pricey, the good news is fuel is cheap!

  • Be sure to check with the rental company on collection what the fuel costs are – sometimes you can get an excellent rate if you buy a tank of fuel upon collection. That way you can return it empty and secure yourself against running late and not being able to top up the fuel and so pay premium price.
  • GPS may be a good ad on service if you have limited WiFi on your phone and can’t access Google Maps. (Um, what did we do before Google Maps – oh that’s right, paper maps!)
  • Put all drivers on the rental agreement (you may have to pay per additional driver)
  • Although you may pay extra, sometimes one way drop offs may work in your favour.
  • Be sure to thoroughly inspect your car and record any defects you see before you leave with your rental car. Capture photos with your phone.

Look out for toll costs – we paid nearly $60 in tolls driving from North Carolina to New England on Interstate 95. We were not expecting that at all, so you’ve been warned.

The I-95 between DC and New England is dreadful.

Check the law in the state you are visiting to see if you’ll need an international drivers licence.

We’ve never needed one, but we have mostly always driven in our own vehicle or had a US driver’s licence. Best to know for sure.

Important Information About Rental Car Excess
car on Skyline Drive Vermont during fall

You may snag an unbelievably cheap rental car deal on the internet for your USA road trip, but when you arrive to pick up the car, you learn that it has minimal insurance coverage and huge excess fees.

You’ll be offered collision damage waiver policies which can double your daily rate. Not such a great deal after all.

We’ve been caught out with this before, arriving after a long flight, tired and flustered and just saying yes (with a grunt) without realising we could get it way cheaper elsewhere.

Rental car companies know this will happen and it’s how they lure you in with cheaper daily rental rates.

You can get cheaper collision damage waiver (or excess waivers) through other insurance providers.

road winding through snow covered mountains in colorado
On the road to Snowmass in Colorado

Bus Tours and Group Tours

If a bus tour is more your thing, or small group independent USA tours, check out these companies:

  • Insight Vacations – every part of the USA, from east to west, and north to south.
  • Trafalgar – bus tours for the 35 to 65-year-old demographic.
  • G Adventures – small-group tours in a responsible and sustainable manner.

The Globus Family of Brands have great tours across the USA visiting all the bucket list destinations. We have traveled with them on numerous occasions and love them. We have an exclusive discount for you in the blue box below! See USA tours:

GLOBUS DISCOUNT JUST FOR YOU!

We’ve secured an exclusive yTravel discount: Save $100 per person on select 2024 Globus and Avalon Waterway Vacations. Use the code: YTRAVEL when booking online at the Globus, Cosmos, and Avalon Waterways websites, by calling Globus and Avalon Waterways directly, or booking with a preferred Travel Advisor. Terms & Conditions.

7. Sim Cards and Data Plans

man jolding phone next to coffee

You’re going to want to stay connected on your trip, but before you buy the first data plan you see at the airport, the biggest question you want to ask yourself is; how much do you want to be connected to the internet and for what purposes?

If you only need to be connected to stay updated with family and friends and the odd social update, you’ll get plenty of opportunities in the US with the plethora of FREE Wi-Fi available.

In fact, you could probably get away with using that for your whole trip, even if you wanted to be connected a little more.

Almost all hotels and accommodation rentals offer free Wi-Fi now.

Plenty of cafes and restaurants will have it, and even grocery stories and movie theatres and ometimes even whole cities!!

Popular attractions will as well, because they want you to share your photos of their attractions (with their hashtags of course).

However, remember that the more visitors in an area using the same Wi-Fi, the harder it will be for you to get decent speeds.

And for Netflix binge watchers, your downloads will often be limited with free Wi-Fi.

Although we’ve stayed in plenty of hotels that offer Netflix as part of their service and many Airbnb’s will have that all hooked up to their in-home entertainment systems.

If you are using free Wi-Fi, we recommend using a VPN service to keep your data private and secure. We have a review of this service here.

If you want a sim for your phone, don’t even bother trying to get one in the USA, just use an eSim provider like Airalo. They offer incredible rates and data packages, and as soon as you land you’ll be connected. You do need an unlocked phone though. See all plans for the USA here.

Pocket Wi-Fi Service & Data Providers

If you want to get a data plan, pop into a Verizon store in the US (the best service connection) or AT&T and by a local sim card with a short-term plan.

When we visited Denver on a short trip, we got a $60 plan which gave us unlimited Wi-Fi, and local calls and texts for the month. This was back in 2016 though, and is likely more expensive now.

Data in the USA is ridiculously expensive. Compared to the United Kingdom, Asia and Europe, data prices are more than double what you would pay in your home county – and honestly, the service isn’t always that good.

Data plans are usually around $60-$80 per month, so if you are an intense internet user, you might be better off getting a pocket Wi-Fi connection, over a sim card. There are a couple of options:

Roaming devices like SkyRoam will give you that, although I feel they can be expensive for travellers on a holiday for a long period of time.

Double check when you sign up to any plan, but the plan may include free texts to international numbers.

Our plans with Verizon do, which is great for when I quickly want to tell my Mum something.

8. Accessing Your Money on Your USA Trip

tall waterfall surrounded by lush forest
Akaka Falls, Big Island of Hawaii

Accessing your money in the States will be, in part, dependent on what kind of cards you have back home.

Getting accessing to your money in America is easy as there are ATMs everywhere and, unlike Australia, everyone takes credit cards and debit cards.

I’ve rarely come across cash only establishments. That can be good news as you won’t have to carry around lots of cash, and you may be able to rack up some reward points.

However, it might not be good news if your card issuer charges you a lot of fees.

Using ATM’s

Withdrawing money from an ATM in the USA, that is not your banks ATM, can have hefty fees.

Average is $3 (on top of what your card issuer charges) but I have paid up to $6 before on a cruise. I know. Outrageous!

Check if your card issuer has a relationship with a bank in the US, so you can withdraw money from the ATM without being charged a fee.

HOWEVER, some banks charge an international conversion fee on any money you withdraw, which is outrageous. Most will charge it only on card purchases.

As Australians, our favourite method of accessing money in America is the Qantas Cash Card, (or even the Virgin Global Wallet). Both of these are the best when it comes to fees.

You won’t be charged any fees when using the card like a credit card AND you’ll earn points.

You also have low fees when withdrawing money from an ATM. Be sure to withdraw large amounts at a time, so you don’t get stung with too many fees.

You will need some cash on hand when you travel in the United States to pay for all those tips!

Hot Tip: If you can access a bank account in the USA, the best way to access your money is to transfer money using OFX. They are by far my preferred way and have saved me hundreds of dollars in fees and good conversion rates.

You may be able to pay for accommodation and tours using OFX and pay via direct deposits.

9. Cost of Travel in America

family standing on brooklyn bridge

It’s a clever idea to know what the costs of travel in America will be before you leave so that you save and bring enough spending money. A word of warning, the USA is no longer the cheap destination of a decade ago.

As of 2023, the prices are outrageous. I realized just how bad after traveling this year to Greece, Italy, and France and our Avalon Waterways river cruise. I had a glass of excellent chardonnay on the Eiffiel Tower in Paris for $9 – I’d be lucky to find a glass of low-grade cat’s p**s at my local dive bar for that price. And I got half a liter of incredible Greek white wine for $5 in stunning Old Town Nafplio!

Then when you add on tipping and sales tax, it’s even more dismal – plus many other foreign travelers have to account for a strong USD so your money is worth less. I say still visit here, but plan carefully, and don’t expect any great bargains. It’s definitely high on the list of most expensive countries to travel to right now, which is sad, because they need the tourism!

Budgeting is no easy task, but don’t worry, here’s a quick overview of how much each aspect of travel is likely to cost you…

Accommodation

  • Low budget: $50 – $100 a night
  • Mid-range: $100- $300 a night
  • High: $300+
  • Airbnb: $80 + (varies widely depending on type of property)

Food

This can vary widely depending on where you are visiting. Popular destinations will be much higher.

  • Fast food: < $10
  • Coffee:
    • $2.50 for drip
    • $4.50+ for espresso
  • Alcohol:
    • $5+ pint of beer (look for happy hour prices and local bars to reduce it)
    • $8-16 glass of wine
  • Healthy takeout meals: $12 – $15
  • Restaurants:
    • Appetizers, wings and burgers: $8-$15
    • Entrée (main meals): $15-$20 ($30+ for classier restaurants)

Transport

  • Fuel: Will vary state by state. In Arizona, it’s only $3.9 a gallon, but in California, it’s up to $5.4 per gallon. The GasBuddy app can help you find good fuel prices.
  • Flights: avg around $120 a leg (what we have experienced so far, but can vary widely)
  • Buses: as mentioned with Megabus you can get as little as $1, but also fares around $10. My greyhound trip from Huntsville to Nashville (2.5 hours) was $30
  • Rental cars:
    • Budget: approx $200 per week (good for 2 people + luggage). We’ve had to upgrade before when arriving to see our budget car and realising we couldn’t fit us all in with our luggage. If you plan ahead, you can get a rental deal for as little as $15 per day.
    • Mid-range: approx $250 – $300 (good for 4 people + luggage)
    • High-end: approx $350 – $500
  • Train: Our 7 day unlimited pass to ride the New York Subway cost $34 p/p
riding the subway New York City
Go down!

Sightseeing Costs

This is hard to give you a budget for as it does depend on your preferences, family size, type of activity, and city.

Take advantage of the free activities (of which there are a lot of), free museum days and attraction days, and use sightseeing passes and check Groupon for any local deals.

But your careful research from step 3 above will give you a good understanding of these costs before you leave for your dream USA trip.

Two things to be aware of for your USA trip budget

1.Taxes

Sales taxes are added onto the purchase price once you pay.

It’s super annoying and still catches me by surprise. Tax varies by state, but you can expect to add on anything from 0% to over 8% of the purchase price.

2. Tips

Again, this is a cost to add on to your bill.

As an Australian, you are going to hate tipping and it can become costly. We’ll have a entire post on it with plenty of tips to help you as it can get confusing.

Basically, you are looking at 15-20% extra for any services you receive.

It’s one reason I prefer to stay in Airbnb’s and will prepare my own food or eat at take outs rather than restaurants. It can seriously eat up your travel money.

Check out our guide for tipping in the USA.

10. Travel Insurance for the USA

people white water rafting on colorado river

Don’t travel to America without travel insurance. Just don’t.

A friend’s son here in North Carolina recently broke his arm. Hospital costs were $30,000. Even with their health insurance they still had to pay several thousand dollars.

It’s insane.

Anything can happen on your travels and the last thing you want is your dream USA trip to turn into a bankruptcy nightmare.

For a small investment, you get a ton of security and peace of mind.

We always say,

“If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel”

The US is the only country in the world where my luggage has been lost or delayed on a flight and multiple times at that.

Flights can also be delayed due to weather (especially in snow storms) and it’s very easy to miss a connecting flight, especially when travelling to America from Australia.

Be sure to include any extra adventurous activities you may be doing so you can ensure your coverage is adequate e.g. Skiing.

And nominate any pre-existing conditions so you can include a waiver for them should you require help when traveling in the USA.

Hot Tip: Get your travel insurance as soon as you book your flights and/or accommodation so that you are covered in case of any trip cancellation emergencies.

woman Stand up paddle boarding in Mission Bay
San Diego, California

And what happens if:

  • You need to cancel your trip unexpectedly
  • A hurricane damages your destination
  • You get sick or injured on your trip
  • Your luggage is lost or stolen
  • You lose your passport

All travel insurance policies will have specific ones for the US and the cost of them will be higher than travelling in other countries.

We were a customer of Allianz Travel Insurance before we became ambassadors and have been impressed with the customer service.

We have experienced a very smooth claims procedure for our cruise trip interruption thanks to Hurricane Irma.

I also spent time with the Allianz team in New York last month, learning more about the products and the emergency medical assistance.

I was very impressed with the quality of care and the focus that is given to the customers safety and health. It is Allianz’s number one priority.

We recommend the following travel insurance companies for Aussies:

  • Safety Wing: is travel medical insurance for nomads. They cover people from all over the world, while outside their home country.
  • EtkaTravel Insurance for worldwide travel. Easy to use with comparable rates and instant polices. Great for those longer term, nomadic, and work abroad travelers. We believe its an essential travel purchase.
  • Cover-More Insurance is a great travel insurance option for Australians.
  • Visitors Coverage:  which provides travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. They are the largest provider of visitor’s insurance for inbound travel to the U.S.
  • Allianz Travel Insurance. We have annual travel insurance polices with Allianz. Really worth getting an annual policy if you travel frequently.
  • World Nomads travel insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, with coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more. 

11. What to Pack for Your USA Trip

woman standing outside hotel with suitcase
INNSIDE New York Nomad Hotel, NYC

This will depend on what season it is when you visit the United States, and for how long.

But generally, you don’t need to pack a lot for your trip to the US.

North America can be cheap for many travel related items, so you can always pick up anything you forget.

Leave room in your suitcase for shopping as you can find some great shopping deals at US outlet stores. And then there is Amazon!

However, depending on the Aussie dollar rates at your time of travel, the shopping might not be so good.

You’ll know the basics of what you normally pack when you travel, so I won’t go too in-depth here.

Tips For Visiting The USA

Now you know how to plan your USA trip, here are some helpful tips to make the most of your experience…

  • Bring any medical prescriptions you may need. You do not want to refill them in the US. We have a medical packing checklist here. 
  • Ladies, in the US, tampons are usually only of the applicator kind. Bring your own if you don’t like them. Otherwise, you can get them at Whole Foods stores and Trader Joes.
  • Electrical adaptors and voltage. This international travel plug adaptor lets you plug in your charger, phone, and laptop. USA operates on a 120V supply voltage and 60Hz. It can be dangerous to use an electrical appliance that is rated at a voltage different from the supply and it may affect the performance of your appliances. Your laptops, for example, will be much slower to charge. You may need to use a voltage converter or transformer whilst in USA.
  • Even if you are traveling in the summer, be sure to pack a cardigan or sweater. Americans are crazy on air conditioning so you will freeze whenever you step indoors.
  • Pack a comfortable pair of walking shoes and hiking shoes (more tips on finding the right travel shoes here). America is full of great cities and exceptional outdoor activities. You’ll be using those feet quite a bit – at least I hope you will.

Final Thoughts on Planning a USA Trip

people walking alpacas
Walking with Alpacas in Virginia

So there you have it, those are 11 things you need to consider when planning your USA trip.

I know it can be overwhelming at first, but planning can be fun once you start researching all the places you can see.

My last bit of advice to you is to make sure you do this research as far in advance as possible, to allow yourself time to make changes and get all your ducks in a row.

And of course, if you have any further questions, reach out to us in the comments – we’re always happy to help!

Pin To Save On Pinterest

We hope you found our USA trip planner post useful? Any questions or travel tips you having for visiting the USA please leave them in the comments section down below!

You may also like

You may also like

9 thoughts on “How to Plan Your Dream USA Trip of a Lifetime”

  1. Beautiful! It’s a refreshing break to see you guys in jackets and mufflers in USA after seeing so much of your sunny photos of Australia 🙂 I’m really inspired to do a road through USA, and if I do get a chance to do it, I’m sure to follow your tips. Thanks so much!

    1. I know!! It’s a big change for us being so cold. We went four years without really a winter so it was quite shocking and way too long! I’m dreading the winter this year already.

      We hope we can offer you lots of tips for when you do come this way. We’ve just bought a truck and travel trailer to set off west full time so we’ll have lots of great stories to share. Great to see you again Renuka! I hope you are well

  2. Thank you so much dear for good and well information. I am planning to visit USA this summer and I will go through your tips and take full advice that you have mentioned. I would like to to see cities as much possible traveling with my family (wife and son 10 years old)
    Please if you can help do so

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

4 Powerful Ways to Travel More & Create Better Memories
Want to know how we've made a lifetime of travel for 25 years? In
This is what gives us incredible memories to share around the campfire. Join our community for insider tips and updates!
Scroll to Top