Our trip through the USA in 2015 was our most expensive trip up until now. Even though we didn’t stay in fancy hotels or eat in expensive restaurants, we still spent € 3500 each, so a total of € 7000 for 2 people for 26 days. Let me tell you all the details about our expenses and give you some tips to make this trip a little bit cheaper.
FLIGHT & TRAVEL INSURANCE: € 730 per person
We booked our flight about 3,5 months in advance, after a few weeks of looking around on many different websites. I made a list with flight details and prices and followed the price evolutions. At first, prices were over € 750 but every time I checked (about once a week) they had gone down a little bit. After a few weeks, they started going up again (about € 10 or 20) so we decided not to wait any longer and booked.
We first planned on leaving the last weekend of june but after comparing prices, it appeared to be about € 370 cheaper to leave a week earlier: € 630 in stead of almost € 1000 per ticket. A big smile and some puppy eyes to my boss later, we were ready to change our initial travel dates.
Our travel itinerary started in New York and ended in New Orleans. We took a flight from Brussels to New York (direct) and to come home, a flight from New Orleans to New York followed by a flight from New York to Brussels. I checked which option was cheaper: booking all flights at once or booking the outward and return flight seperately. In our case, the first option was the most interesting.
We didn’t take the basic travel insurance that was proposed when we were booking our flight tickets. These insurances usually don’t cover the high costs for medical care in the USA. We bought seperate insurance at ‘Europese’, which cost about €90.
RENTAL CAR, GAS AND OTHER TRANSPORTATION: € 705 per person
As to transportation, the US are a country of extremes. In the cities, a car is completely useless and it is much easier and cheaper to take public transportation. There’s also a lot of traffic and parking spaces are rare and expensive. However, outside of the big cities, you can get almost nowhere if you don’t drive your own car. So we decided to rent a car (and also because a trip to the USA isn’t complete without a road trip), but soon found out this is quite expensive… This is what we did to limit our expenses on transportation.
1. Rental car, parking and gas: € 540 per person
Read my 20 Tips to saving money on rental cars and avoiding problems for all my tips.
Here’s what we did to put these tips into practice:
- We didn’t rent the car from day 1 of our trip. We first visited New York and Washington D.C. (7 days total), and went to pick up the car the day we left Washington D.C.. At the end of our trip, we dropped off the car as soon as we arrived in New Orleans. Also, this way we needed the car for exactly 14 days, which was cheaper than renting it for 12 or 13 days because of the special price for weekly rentals.
- To find the best price for the car, I checked out many different websites (Budget, Hertz, Avis, Alamo, Kayak, cheaptickets, …). I spent quite some time making a list with prices and options to be able to compare the whole package. We finally went with Budget but made the reservation through vliegtickets.be (Belgian website that sells plane tickets, car rentals, etc.)
- Size of the car: our main demand was enough trunk space, to be able to hide our luggage during visits etc. It wasn’t easy to estimate because most of the cars that exist in the US don’t exist in Europe, so we had to guess. However, we quickly found out that the price differences between different categories of ‘normal’ cars are quite small, so we chose a ‘standard car’ rather than a less comfortable smaller model. We got a Hyundai Sonata, which was really comfortable and cost only $ 1 or 2/day more than most smaller models and had enough space for 2 large and 2 medium size bags.
- Insurance: We found a package that included liability insurance and our travel insurance included coverage for personal injuries in case of an accident. The only extra we took was road-side assistance because when it comes to cars, we’re not really handy 🙂
- Costs for extra options: we had no extra costs for options. We didn’t take a GPS (this costs about $ 15 per day!). Instead, we bought a road map and printed out some descriptions and detailled maps from Google maps. Of course, this took me some time but it made us save us about $ 200!
- Airport pick-up: we rented the car from Sunday to Sunday, so we had no other choice as to go to the airport. The rental offices in the city were closed on Sunday. I don’t know if it would have been cheaper. To avoid high costs getting from and to the rental office at the airport, in Washington D.C., we booked a hotel room very close to the airport so that we could take the metro (also, the hotel was cheaper than hotels in the center of Washington D.C.) and in New Orleans, we took the bus to get back to the city instead of a taxi. We had no luggage, so this was no problem.
- One-way fee: big international rental companies like Avis or Hertz were clearly a lot more expensive than local companies like Budget or Alamo. At Budget, we paid $300, which was about half of the price when renting at Avis or Hertz. As I wrote in my 20 tips for saving money on rental cars and avoiding problems post, be careful about “hidden” one-way fees!
- Gasoline: We compared gas prices during the whole trip and paid about $ 2,35 per gallon (= 3,79 liters) for regular unleaded gasoline (87), which is really cheap compared to Belgian and European prices. I recommend to always compare prices, as they can vary a lot, even within the same area. We drove about 2100 miles or 3350 km an spent a total of € 120 on gasoline.
- Parking: € 60 (total)
Conclusion: We paid about € 580 for the car (incl. insurance and taxes) and anoter € 300 for the one-way fee. We spent about € 140 on gas for 3350 km (2100 miles) and € 60 on parking. This brings the total at € 1080, or €540 per person.
2. Public transportation in the cities and train from New York to Washington D.C.: € 165 per person
In New York, Washington D.C. and New Orleans, we used public transportation. We bought a metro card, daily card, etc. to save money and tried to organise our daily visits so that we only had to take public transportation between our hotel and the city. The rest of the day, we mostly walked from one sight to another. We spent about € 115 on public transportation per person. Check out the destinations pages for detailed information for each city.
We took a train to get from New York to Washington D.C. (+- 300km, 3h30). The ticket was quite expensive for Belgian standards (€ 50 per person) but all together, it was cheaper than keeping the car longer. A cheaper option to get from New York to Washington D.C. is taking the bus. This costs only about €25 but takes almost 5 hours.
ACCOMMODATION: € 1000 per person
For this trip, we really tried to find the cheapest double rooms available, which wasn’t easy. Check out the different destinations pages for more information about each hotel.
Here’s what we spend on each hotel (prices per night for a double room):
- NY city – Country Inn – 5 nights – € 120 (incl. breakfast)
- Washington DC – Radisson Reagan – 3 nights – € 95 (no breakfast)
- Front Royal – Scottish Inns – 1 night – € 50 (no breakfast)
- Charlottesville – Super 8 – 1 night- € 50 (incl. breakfast)
- Williamsburg – Quarterpath – 1 night- € 50 (incl. very limited breakfast)
- Petersburg – Econo Lodge – 1 night- € 50 (incl. breakfast)
- Charleston – Extended Stay – 4 nights – € 80 (incl. very limited breakfast)
- Savannah – Best Western Central – 2 nights – € 70 (incl. breakfast)
- Opelika – Holiday Inn Express – 1 night – € 35 (incl. breakfast) (*)
- Baton Rouge – Super 8 – 1 night – € 60 (incl. breakfast)
- New Orleans – Fairchild House – 4 nights – € 90 (incl. breakfast)
(*) We got a “free” night through the Hotels.com Rewards Program. We booked 10 nights with them and got 1 night for free (value based on the average of the 10 paid nights). We only had to pay a few dollars and some taxes ourselves.
VISITS: € 275 per person
Here’s a list of our most expensive visits (prices per person):
- Rockefeller Center, NYC: $ 30
- MET, NYC: $ 18
- Monticello, Virginia: $ 24
- Colonial Williamsburg: $ 40
- Boone Hall Plantation, Charleston: $ 20
- Magnolia Plantation, Charleston: $ 31
- Nottoway Plantation, Louisiana: $ 22
- Laura Plantation, Louisiana: $ 20
- Swamp tour, Louisiana: $ 22
But we also did a lot of free or inexpensive visits:
- Several days of walking around the cities looking at buildings, markets, bridges, parks, …
- All the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.
- Capitol and Library of Congress, Washington DC
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia: $ 20 per car for a whole week
FOOD & DRINKS: € 650 per person
In 26 days, we spent about € 650 per person on food, or € 25 per day. At noon, we usually ate a sandwich, a salad or another simple meal and in the evening, we went to simple restaurants, diners,… In Washington DC and Front Royal, we also had to buy breakfast because it wasn’t included in our room. In Charleston, we had a room with a small kitchen, so we went shopping at Walmart and cooked our own food a few times. We limited alcoholic beverages because they’re often quite expensive. We only drank a couple of cocktails.
I think it’s difficult to spend less money on food, except maybe if you’d cook at your hotel every day.
VISA, TRAVEL GUIDES, ROAD MAP, MEDICATION: € 40 per person
Being Belgian citizens, we didn’t need a visa. We only had to subscribe to the ETSA Visa waiver program, which costs about € 14 per person.
We used a Lonely Planet travel guide but instead of buying the whole book (and draging it around), we only bought the 3 chapters that were relevant for our trip. It cost about €3,50 per chapter. We also bought a road map, that cost € 8,50.
We spent another € 15 per person on medication (we still had some medication and bought some for more than 1 trip), a new travel plug, batteries, and some other small items.