The USA is a vast and diverse country, which has a lot on offer for travelers to discover, see, and enjoy. No wonder why planning a trip to the country from Europe may seem like an extremely expensive affair. However, the truth is – with a bit of careful planning, you can get cheap deals to reach the USA from Europe and even have a budget trip across the country. If you don’t believe it, here are some budget travel tips from Europe to the USA.
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Book your flights early and avoid peak season
Since air travel would take the biggest chunk of your travel budget, it’s best to book your flights early on rather than waiting for the last moment and paying a premium on the tickets. You should keep checking the airline websites to look for great deals that are offered from time to time. Another important tip is to avoid peak travel times if you can.
For instance, unless you’ve planned to witness the International Balloon Fiesta (which is a hot air balloon festival) in Albuquerque during early October, or the Mardi Gras parade (during February-March) in New Orleans, you should avoid visiting these places during the dates that coincide with these events.
That’s because most things – from accommodation and food to shopping will be available at a premium. But if you do plan to enjoy the festivals or can’t avoid traveling during the peak times, try to save on your air travel by booking your flights as early as you can.
Check last minute online/airport deals
Even if you have made last-minute travel plans, check if the airlines and other holiday websites have any last-minute deals on offer (many are likely to). If you find one, don’t hesitate to book if it’s good. Remember – procrastinating when time on your hands is short could mean losing out on a great last-minute deal.
Take the cheapest route
Sometimes, you can save a lot by flying to a destination that’s closest to your chosen place instead of going there directly. If you’re flexible and don’t mind where you land, you may even take the cheapest flight to the US, and start your travel from there.
For example, if you’re starting from Frankfurt, instead of flying directly to the Los Angeles International Airport, you can fly (with one or two stops) to Long Beach Municipal Airport instead, and pay almost half to one-third of what you would have paid in case of a direct LA flight. Once you land there, you can visit the nearby places of attraction and then move out via road (say, by taking a bus).
Plan your accommodation
Traveling on a budget would mean steering clear of luxurious and fancy hotels. However, it doesn’t mean you should stay cooped in dingy rooms. You just need to do some homework online to get the best deals at cost-effective rates. If you like staying at the house of a local and get to know the region’s culture and way of living better in addition to tasting home-cooked meals and traveling to off-beat local places, booking your accommodation via Airbnb would be the ideal choice.
Not only will you save a lot on your accommodation this way but also get a local perspective of which places to visit and what to do/eat etc. Thus, you may end up discovering lovely yet quaint or off-beat places that no tourist sites or travel guides list. You may also check other budget-friendly staying options like HomeAway or FlipKey (for vacation rentals), Homestay (for homestay accommodation in the US) etc.
Consider car rental for road trips
Though there are plenty of buses, trains, and flights to move around as well as in and out of different US cities, you would never get from them what a road trip would unveil before your eyes. In case your heart is set out on a US road trip, consider taking a car rental.
If you are going to stay at one place for a long-term, a car rental – preferably on a weekly/monthly basis, would cost less than a daily/hourly rental. However, make sure to decide on your pick up location carefully. For instance, instead of picking your car at the airport and paying a heft surcharge, you could pick it up a nearby city location, which is easy to reach from the airport.
Documents needed to enter the USA
If you’re a foreign national, you’ll need a passport and a valid visa issued by an official of the US Embassy/Consulate, unless you’re from one of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries, or are a citizen of Canada, or a lawful permanent US resident.
Tips for visitors from VWP countries
Foreign nationals from the VWP countries are allowed to enter the US without getting a visa, albeit for a limited time and under limited conditions. If you’re a foreign national from one of the VWP countries, you must have an approved ESTA, reach the US on an approved carrier (if you’re taking the water or sea route), stay for not more than 90 days in the US for businesses or medical/pleasure purposes, and be able to prove you’re not inadmissible for entry. However, you’ll still need to have a passport.
How easy is it to travel to the USA with the ESTA?
To apply for the ESTA, you’ll need the following:
- Valid passport from a VWP country
- Your contact information
- A valid PayPal account or credit card such as VISA, MasterCard, Discover (Diners Club, JCB), and American Express to pay the application fee of US $14 (for each application)
- Information about your most current employment, if applicable
You need to remember that for your ESTA VISA application to be successful, your purpose of travel must be business, tourism, or transit to another country. Work, study, and permanent residents aren’t allowed on the ESTA Visa Waiver Program.
Ideally, you should check the official website of the Department of Homeland Security to ensure you meet the eligibility criteria for ESTA. Since the ESTA application process takes about 10 minutes per applicant, you can get it pretty quickly. However, you should complete the ESTA registration at least 72 hours prior to your departure to the US. Though the ESTA is usually processed in less than 24 hours, the duration may be longer (up to 72 hours) in some cases.
If you already have an ESTA, make sure to check your ESTA validation date. Usually, your ESTA authorization will remain valid for a period of two years. This period starts from the date your ESTA is approved and continues for either two years or until your passport expires. During this period, you can make multiple trips to the USA, but don’t think you can stay in the US at a stretch for two years.
Your maximum period of stay should still be 90 days or less. In case you plan to stay for more than 90 days, it becomes mandatory for you to get a visa at the nearest US Consulate or Embassy. In case you get a new passport or change your country of citizenship, gender, or name, you’ll have to apply for a new travel authorization.
It’s important to ensure your ESTA is valid to avoid any inconvenience or last-minute rush.