82% of Americans do not own a passport. This is a popular myth believed by many astonished Europeans who can't imagine not bounding happily around their own continent as soon they get their July paycheck. This information is in fact a lot of nonsense (with the real figure being around 30%) but nonetheless; Americans have a bad reputation for sitting comfortably on their own patch of land when there is an entire world out there to be explored. The fact that their patch of land happens to be 9,631,420 square kilometers is something that people tend to forget. The diversity of habitat that this area covers ranges from the freezing snow that encases the plains of Alaska to the tropical heat and paradise of the Florida Key Islands. In between these lay a huge variety of landscapes including the tumbleweed ridden prairies in Texas, the Redwood forests of California, the Rocky Mountains which stretch from Canada all the way down to the southwestern states and the lush greens and blues of the Great Lakes, an area the same size as continental Europe.
Just to experience a small portion of these wonders would help you to understand why Americans do not feel the need to rush aboard a plane to hop to the next continent. They have it all there! Having said this though, to travel from California to Texas by air is about the same distance as flying from London to the center of Morocco. That is about 2200 km. Not just a day's drive. The US is a vast country and in order to understand just how big it really is, you'd have to prepare yourself for a very long trip. It is not a particularly cheap country to travel either but there are some handy tips that can help your budget stretch a bit further.
First things first. Try to avoid the tourist traps. Of course, when in a city famous for its empire state building or on a boulevard covered with celebrity memorabilia, it is difficult not to get sucked into the sense of being on holiday and therefore allowing yourself to become frivolous with money. Try to make your lunch before you go to a popular attraction. Although this may not seem quite as exciting as the burger bars and pizza joints that will undoubtedly surround you all day, you can save an awful lot of money this way. Try not to spend your money at an airport either. If you need a book or magazine, buy it before you get there or wait until you are further away.
Try not to get fooled by the 'last minute.com' idea – buying flights just before you travel is only normally cheap if you have no specific destination in mind. Try to book your flight at least three weeks in advance. Another hint for you is to buy a round trip ticket for a plane journey in the States. This can very often be cheaper than buying only a one-way ticket. Many people just throw their return ticket away. When booking your flights online, try looking into various options and play around with a few dates if you are able to be flexible. The difference could be huge from one day to the next. Also, try to remember that you do not need that Starbucks coffee at the waiting lounge!
The bus is by far the cheapest means of travel in the US and bus stations are very common here. Most backpackers wouldn't get very far without the trusty Greyhound Bus Company, which offers the only bus service that will really take you anywhere in the country. If you are on a very tight budget with a long way to go and not that much time, the plane would be a better option – take into account the days spent on the bus and providing your own meals. You must consider all of this carefully – although the plane may get you to your destination quicker, the bus will provide you with jaw-dropping scenery during your whole trip.
Traveling by train is not really an option for backpackers as the trains are generally pricey, unreliable and often the nearest train station is way out of town meaning you have to be on the bus for hours anyway. The main passenger rail line in America is Amtrak. If you are determined to travel by rail, check out the 30 day passes that they offer for unlimited travel. The price varies from $300 to $550 depending on the season so it may be worth the money if you are planning on traveling between the big cities.
Cheap accommodation is not easily found all over the USA. If you are looking for a place to lay down your head on a shoestring you may consider camping. Most state and national parks have camping sites available from as little as $5. This will usually include a camp space, a grill area and communal toilets and showers. This is also one of the best ways to really feel a part of the nature here.
Although Youth Hostels are not incredibly common in America and normally not that cheap either, the YMCA will, in most cities, offer cheap and reliable accommodations with a shower and sometimes even a hot meal.
Another option is to call ahead to the city that you are heading to and try to grab a bed in a university dorm. These are usually empty during the summer months but are snapped up quickly so don't depend on them being available.
You can make this trip as cheap or dear as you wish by scrimping on many things but it is important to remember that some things be it a photo with Mickey Mouse or a glimpse through the glass skywalk at the Grand Canyon may be worth more than money to you and the chances are that you will never pass this way again.