By: Erin Konrad
In the United States, most students don’t have a traditional gap year experience. Instead of taking time to explore and travel after high school graduation, they head straight into their first year of college. But those who don’t take a gap year can miss out on the opportunity to become independent and get a little more life experience before becoming locked down into the world of adulthood. So, if you’re taking a gap year and want to travel around America, you’ll get the chance to see some amazing sights, eat great cuisine, and check out American culture at its finest. Need some tips on how to get the most out of your travels? Read on for info on everything from where to stay to how to save money on your trip.
How to Get Around
The easiest way to travel to America is by airplane. Before you book your trip, pay attention to travel sites like Expedia or Travelocity to catch flights when they’re at their cheapest. Some of these sites offer alerts, so you can be notified as soon as your preferred flight goes on sale. Once you’ve spotted a good deal, you can easily snag an affordable ticket. Plus, if you want to purchase a one-way ticket, you’ll be able to leave your trip open-ended in case you don’t know exactly when you’ll want to return home (obviously you’ll be having way too much fun to want to head back!).
Once you’ve made it to the US, there are plenty of inexpensive transportation options to get around. If you’re making your way completely cross-country, it’s probably easiest (and cheapest) to travel by plane. If you’re staying in one general area or are traveling between nearby states, there are trains and buses that can take you where you want to go. Quick Google searches can help you pinpoint the exact routes you want to take. While traveling in a specific area, use the subways or metro systems. Most bigger metropolises (like New York and LA) have subways that are relatively easy to navigate (especially if you have experience using Europe’s rail systems).
Once you’re in a specific city, take advantage of ride-sharing apps like Uber or Lyft. Just download the app, and follow the quick and easy steps to set up an account. These services are often the cheapest option (since taxis are pricey and will often rip you off) and are the most convenient, since you can pick up a ride from virtually anywhere. The only downside to transportation in the states? You have to be over 21 to rent a car. So your best bet is to stick to public transportation or walk (it’s free!). Not sure how to navigate a specific area? Ask the locals. Everyone from a hotel concierge to someone at the local Starbucks can give you hints on how the people in that area get from point A to point B.
Where to Stay
In the US, you’ll have plenty of options of where to stay while you’re exploring the country. Although hostels are not as common in America as they are in Europe, they still serve as some of the most inexpensive options for young adults. Other gap-year travelers often have luck with the super popular rental accommodations from sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Find the perfect option by entering your destination and your budget, and they’ll offer selections that will fit your specifications. These types of rentals can be great if you don’t want to stay at a hotel or if you’re eager to fit in and not look like a tourist. You can also find inexpensive rooms through price-saving sites like Hotels.com or Booking.com. A search on sites like these can reveal great deals on accommodation (even occasionally at some higher-end hotels!).
Want to completely rough it while you’re in the US? More adventurous types can backpack throughout the states or check out local camping sites that are available to travelers. Although you might need to have some cash upfront for gear and supplies, overall, you can save money by not having to pay for actual accommodation.
How to Save Cash
After making sure you’re getting the best deals on travel plans and lodging, there are several ways you can save money throughout the duration of your trip. The best way to save a ton of cash? Use your student ID to get discounts on everything from stores and museums to tours and restaurants. If you’re not enrolled in college yet, most places will take either a high school student ID or a driver’s license. Make sure you ask about available discounts anywhere you go – places might not advertise even if they offer special deals.
If your accommodations allow (like an Airbnb rental or at a campsite), make your own meals. Eating out three times a day can really cut into your budget. Cut some corners by grocery shopping and cooking instead of always dining out. If you’re in a major city, steer clear of any overly popular restaurants. These tourist traps can hike up the prices even if the food isn’t that good. Make sure to ask locals where they dine – this can lead to awesome recommendations for authentic, tasty food!
Tourist Attractions You Can’t Miss
There are so many amazing things to see in the US, but make sure you check out some must-see sights like the Empire State Building in New York City, the beaches in Southern California, the music scene in Nashville, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. If you’re looking to soak up some culture, Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago have some of the world’s most impressive museums and art collections in the world. So, whether you’re craving authentic Southern food in New Orleans or want to take in the gorgeous scenery at Zion National Park in Utah, there is definitely something to see for every type of traveler.
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