If I were to ask someone where in the US they wanted to go most, the answers I would get would range. Drastically. But many of them would include places like Moab, New York City, Washington DC. What about San Francisco? Chicago, or the mountains of Colorado?
Those are some of the most dramatic, most popular and most beautiful destinations in all of the Continental United States. But seeing all of them is a hassle. Whatever your issue is, whether it be money, time, school or work, seeing a continent, going from one ocean to another. It’s practically unheard of.
This August, I went from Coast to Coast, Pacific to Atlantic. I was able to stop at all the places I said above, and more, and see the scenery and views of 21 states. In two weeks. Doing the US by car in two weeks is impossible, and under $2,000 by plane? Can’t be done. So how did I do it? Train.
Amtrak has a system called US Rail Pass, which is essentially a promotion they created encouraging people to travel around the USA. There are three options, one for 15 days, one for 30 days and one for 45 days. I took the 15 day one, which allows you to go to 8 different places anywhere in the continental United States as long as you are at the final destination before midnight on the 15th day. Same deal for the other promotions, but it’s 12 destinations for the 30 day one and 18 destinations for the 45 day one.
Although I was skeptical at first, it really works! I was able to visit some of the most dreamy destinations in all of America. More information on the Rail Pass is provided below, but I encourage you to check out Amtrak’s website, or call them, as well.
When I say that you can travel across the US for less than $2,000, I mean it. Of course, it comes with it’s downsides. You have to be completely up for the challenge of spending up to 100 hours on a train (In total.) You have to be able to go without expensive restaurants and go for the more budget eats. But it is definitely doable. I’m proof!
Below, I am going to explain how you can eat, sleep, and live for under $2,000. Bear with me.
During my trip, I learned it is absolutely possible, and even easy, to eat for under $7 a meal. While on the train, meals range from $6 to $15, but if you stick with the cheaper versions, you will not only get the healthier, but more delicious meals.
Amtrak offers a wide variety of food, all seen here. But once you get into the real world, it will be a bit harder picking and choosing what to eat. Head to markets, or cultural districts, like here in Boston.
If you’re up for it, there is always fast food, like Chipotle or Mcdonalds, which you can get for down to a dollar. If you’re not, you can still eat for under $20 a day. To calculate that in to our total, for a 15 day trip, it will add up to $300 total so far.
Unfortunately, the United States is one of the most expensive places to get a room. If you’re good with searching, you might find a hotel in NYC or San Francisco for $80. Of course, there is always Airbnb or Couchsurfing, which can go for under $50 a night. Always go for the cheapest options, because even $10 extra a night can suck up your budget.
For instance, this hostel in Chicago, the Freehand, was $170 a night. Prices really get out of hand in the US!
Being hopeful, let’s say that you can get accommodation for under $50 a night. That means for a 15 day trip, that adds $700 to the price of the trip, making it $1,000 now.
Sometimes, activities can be the very thing that make a holiday fun. But that’s not always the case. After all, The Best Things in Life are Free. When traveling, you want to have the most fun you can, and to do that, you can go on hikes, or go swimming, or go to free museums. But you don’t necessarily have to pay for everything you do.
Some of the best things in every city are free, like the Jefferson Memorial! Just as a limit, since everyone needs to go up the Empire State, or tip street performers, let’s say $200 is the most you would spend on leisurely activities.
Last, and definitely not least, let’s add up how much the train and any other transport services would cost. Sometimes you need to get around and don’t want to have to walk, so you call the occasional uber or taxi, which can add up to as much as $100 over the period of 15 days.
As for the train, a 15 day rail pass takes you anywhere in the country, to 8 different place, for $460. Plus fees, that is $500. An astounding price! That means, you can literally travel the country for under $2,000.
I want you to understand that this is backpacking. You are traveling lower than you may have ever traveled. You are living out of a backpack, which I will go more into depth on in a few weeks. It is an experience of a lifetime though, and you should definitely do it. It is, by far, the best way to see the country.