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How Much Money Do I Need To Travel the USA?

15th July 2019

So you’ve decided that you’re off to the USA  - whether you’re taking a solo sojourn, romantic couple’s vacay or a family road trip National Lampoons style, it’s time to grab a pen and paper and the nearest abacus because you’ve got some planning to do.

Forget about the Grand Canyon, Vegas, Disneyland and those delicious In-N-Out burgers for the moment and let’s focus on setting a budget...

When you see the word, budget, can you hear the sound of nails on a chalkboard in your head?

If so, you’re not alone. Ideally we’d just have magic wallets with a never ending supply of Benjamins (a $100USD note) and paint the town green without a care in the world. But this is the real world, and setting a budget (and sticking to it) is the key to not running out of cash half way across the world and having to start a Go Fund Me or racking up some gross credit card debt.

What goes into a travel budget?

Depending on your trip style and what you want to do in the US, your travel budget could vary as much as In-N-Out’s secret menu (Google it). The first step is figuring out how long you want to travel for and what needs to be budgeted for. Let’s start with the big things first:


Unless you’re planning on heading down to the docks and stowing away, one of the biggest costs in travelling to the USA is the flights. Let’s start with those. If you’re on a budget and flexible with dates, travelling outside of peak time (not May to September) and staying up to date with the latest deals can save you precious spending money. If you are keen on that Summer road trip though, it’s not recommended to book those flights too close to the date unless you want to eat into your hotdog fund. Don’t forget things like train costs, other public transport and the odd taxi or Uber if you get the time on your flight wrong and need to scoot.



Whether you want to live it up like Kanye in The Beverly Hills Hotel or you prefer the company of an 8 bed dorm in a hostel, chances are your accom is going to take a decent sized bite out of your holiday funds. Start doing some research on areas you’d like to stay, check out some reviews, compare prices and multiply the per night cost by the total number of nights of your trip.


Make sure you leave enough cash in your budget to enjoy plenty of food; those hotdogs in New York and Key Lime pie in Miami aren’t going to eat themselves! It’s hard to budget for food but eating out in the US costs roughly the same as in New Zealand, except the portion sizes are HUGE. For travel in the States you can probably get away with roughly $15USD for lunch, $25USD for dinner, and a few extra coins for bits and pieces during the day. If you want to save a few sneaky dollars on breakfast, check out hotels that include it, eat up big and laugh all the way to the bank. Don’t forget to factor in tips too, which can be 10-20% on top, depending how generous you are.


You’re not flying across the world to sit in your hotel room scrolling through Instagram all day are you? How are you supposed to make everyone stuck at work jealous doing that? Think of any entrance fees to attractions (I’m looking at you, Disneyland), museums (did you know that some entrance fees are OPTIONAL?) or parks you’re thinking of visiting and add it all up.


Other pre-departure budget expenses

With so much to think about, it can be easy to overlook some little things that aren’t so little. You can’t forget your ESTA Waiver or visa costs and any overdue immunisations. The biggest tip for avoiding a massive budget blowout on your USA trip – don’t skimp on quality travel insurance. It might seem like an unnecessary expense especially when it’s eating into your Vegas spending money, but a few hundred dollars will literally save you tens of thousands if anything happens in the USA. The world’s most expensive medical system isn’t kind to uninsured travellers; a simple ambulance ride could end up costing you $10,000.

You’re going on holiday, so it’s totally ok to have a splurge too. Just make sure you leave spare room in the budget for any off the cuff spending sprees or souvenir shopping for your favourite Uncle.

How much does a USA trip cost?

That’s like, totally a lot of stuff to remember. It’s 2019, surely there’s a robot that can just calculate everything thing for me, right?

Science has got you covered friend. Robots love calculating stuff, so we put a bunch of them together and created the Holiday Budget Calculator (below!). Using a super complex algorithm combining Numbeo data and our exchange rates, we can translate your budget into any currency with the click of a button.


Using the holiday budget calculator is super easy.

Page 1

Start by entering:

1. Enter in where you’re jetsetting off to
2. Pick your travel style
3. How long are you travelling for?
4. Choose your currency NZD/USD

Page 2

Is where your budget plan gets into the nitty gritty of your per day plan. Check out how quickly that one coffee a day adds up over 2 weeks! Be honest here, the robots aren’t going to judge you for having 3 fast food meals per day even though your mum might!

Page 3

The next page is probably the handiest calculation since the one that led to sliced bread. Step 3 is the shopping budget section where you can get an idea of your cost per spending spree and add in any additional funds for souvenir shopping or that 1kg Toblerone from the duty free shop.

Page 4

Following that, Transport is another one of those pesky costs that can add up super quickly if you don’t keep an eye on it. If you’re on a budget, avoid taxis and rideshare as much as you can, the US has a pretty good public transport system in the major cities. You can tell your mum the subway in New York isn’t like it was in the 80’s too.

Now the robots will have had a chance to do their magic and come to the total budget figure going by everything you added. Keep in mind that these are the most basic expenses. Don’t forget to add in travel insurance, other daily expenses like food and drinks, sightseeing, activities and leave some extra room in the kitty for any shopping sprees and emergencies too!


Some final tips for the road

Budgeting doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It might not be the most fun part of your holiday, but it is one of the most important parts.

  • Research your ‘per day’ budget and include the things you really want to do. Once you know the costs, you have a goal to save for and some flexibility to work with
  • Most things are cheaper to book in advance (especially if you’re going near peak times) but some things can be cheaper to purchase in the US
  • Don’t forget to factor in your pre-travel costs (e.g. travel insurance, immunisations and visas).
  • Budget for cheap eats some days so you can treat yourself on others.
  • Don’t forget other cheeky costs like airport transfers, tours and tipping

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.