You are here

Travel Money Tips for Backpackers in North America

19th October 2017

Are you planning a USA backpacking holiday and wondering how you might be able to save money on your trip? Jordan Smith is from the Gold Coast in Queensland, but has been travelling the world on extended-stay trips on and off for the last few years. We asked him to share his best travel money saving tips for each of the regions he has been to. He has already shared his money-saving tips for Central America. But today he shares his tips from his experiences backpacking through North America.

How long did you spend in North America and where did you go?

A few years back I spent about 6 weeks (broken up around my time in Central America) travelling around North America. I visited Hawaii, California (San Diego), Nevada (Las Vegas), Texas (Houston), Mexico (Cancun, Isla Holbox, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Tulum and Lake Bacalar), and Canada (Banff). During this time I used US dollars, Canadian dollars and Mexican Peso's, so I had quite a few different currencies to get my head around.

How did you make your budget last your whole time there?

During my time in North America I had quite a lot I wanted to see and do, but a very short amount of time to do it! With this in mind I had to pack a lot of things into my 6 weeks there. I was able to use a few saving tactics to ensure my budget stretched far enough for me to do everything I wanted.

Hawaii was actually the first stop on my USA leg because it worked out cheaper to fly there one-way from Brisbane, rather than fly one-way to LAX. Hiking, cliff-jumping and finding hidden beach caves was definitely an awesome way to break up the long journey from Australia!

In most of the cities I visited I tried to find free activities to do - for example, in San Diego I explored Balboa Park and its Botanical Gardens. I saw a seal colony on the beach for free, and while this wasn't free, I definitely took advantage of the bottomless bloody mary's we found!

Las Vegas wasn't actually on my original plan, but I found a cheap flight leaving from Vegas to Cancun, and Mexico was on my list, so I jumped on a bus and headed to Vegas! I found Las Vegas hard to do on the cheap, especially when it came to finding cheap eats. Be careful of the ATM's - some of them charge up to USD$20 for one withdrawal! One way to save money in Vegas is to head to the old part of town – it’s much cheaper, and very cool! I spent very little money there, but had one too many drinks and nearly landed up in my own version of the 'Hangover' in a wedding chapel with a girl from Wagga-Wagga, NSW. Long story and one that landed up costing me a lot of money when I then missed my flight to Mexico and had to rebook it - so, don't do that if you want to save money. Definitely consider booking flights later in the day if you think you will have a big night before, save yourself the stress and money of having to reschedule a flight. 

Mexico was very up and down budget-wise. Some places, like Cancun and Cozumel, are very popular with tourists and were more expensive than other less popular places, like Isla Holbox and Lake Bacalar. I only spent a few nights in Cancun using cheap "collectivos" (share taxis) or coaches to see other places nearby.


During my time in Banff I stayed in a hostel. Despite this, it was still a ski resort and wasn't a very budget-friendly destination. I managed to save some money by having most of my meals at the hostel, which were much cheaper than most places in town. I also happened to be there during Black Friday sales so I got some good savings that way. If your trip doesn't coincide with the sales,  you can also try and visit at the very beginning or the very end of the season as prices are cheaper then too!


So what are your top 10 money saving tips for travelling in North America?

1. Go camping! A lot of people travel to North America for all of the famous (man-made) attractions, but there are also so many amazing national parks throughout the region, and camping is a lot cheaper than staying in hostels!

2. Go hiking! There are many incredible hikes (especially in Hawaii) that are easy to access, well-marked and provide some spectacular views - plus they're free!

3. Use ride-sharing apps. There are a lot more available in the USA than in Australia, so they often given away free rides or discounts to stay competitive. I was given 5 x $5 discounts for signing up and then a US$50 credit as a 'Christmas gift'.

4. Make use of the many budget airlines available - sign up for their emails and get a heads up on any sales. Many of them also fly internationally (think Central America) for very little.

5. Don’t be afraid to the catch the buses in USA and Mexico - they are comfortable, reliable and cheap! In Mexico a common form of transport is a "collectivo", which is essentially a mini-bus taxi and is quite cheap.

6. If you head to any big city, like Las Vegas, try avoid staying there on the weekends as accommodation prices soar. I stayed in a 3* hotel on the strip for AUD$40 per night during the week. This cost tripled over the weekend.

7. Hire a care if you're travelling with a few people - it might work out cheaper.

8. Do you research on organised tours - some things may be just as easy (but a lot cheaper) to do on your own.

9. North Americans really know how to eat and drink, so keep an eye out for all-you-can-eat / bottomless specials!

10. If you're planning on hitting a lot of attractions in one city in a short amount of time look into getting a 'city pass'. These can work out really well for you (and a lot include public transport) but ONLY if you make the most of them!

What is the most extreme thing you did to save money while in North America?

I didn't really do anything extreme in North America to save money, but I did find that I was able to save quite a lot by having a flexible schedule. I also took advantage of last minute budget flight deals, and flew out of cities that I hadn't necessarily planned on visiting. For example, it worked out cheaper to fly from Honduras via Houston to Canada and stay for the night there than it would have cost to book a direct flight. Plus, I got to add Houston to my list! 

Since his North and Central America adventures, Jordan has also spent a few months (or the better part of a year) travelling the UK and Europe. He’s sharing his tips with us for budget travelling in these regions next!

In the meantime, if you need any help sorting out foreign currency for your backpacking holiday, just give us a shout and visit us in store today!



This blog is provided for information only and does not take into consideration your objectives, financial situation or needs.  You should consider whether the information and suggestions contained in any blog entry are appropriate for you, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.  While we take reasonable care in providing the blog, we give no warranties or representations that it is complete or accurate, or is appropriate for you.  We are not liable for any loss caused, whether due to negligence or otherwise, arising from use of, or reliance on, the information and/or suggestions contained in this blog.