Couple of hints and tips really helped me out in my flying visit through the states. Here’s what I can remember will add any I remember later on here.
Since I last went travelling the internet has changed how we travel (obviously I hear you say) well yes but here’s a few specific ways how…
- Just rocking up to places doesn’t always work out and usually isn’t the cheapest. No one is really bartering for your business like they did for Kat and I in 2006. Rather you tend to be punished with higher rates or fully booked dorms. Your best bet is to book online early with the likes of Hostelworld or Booking.com. May be that this is a country specific thing too but I suspect it’s fairly ubiquitous.
- Research the location, American hostels tend to be in less desirable parts of towns, particularly big towns so make sure if you’re arriving somewhere late you make use of Uber or similar (aka me in the tenderloin in San Fran).
- However most American hostels have free breakfast included in the price. I’d recommend any HI or USA hostels.
- I also got caught out rocking up for a greyhound. Just like the trains at home they are much cheaper when booked in advance.
- Not really a planning tip but I found overall public transport between cities is poor to non-existent. Generally it was cheaper to fly or rent a car.
There are freebies to be had still in the US. Generally most of them are found by be-friending people here’s some of the random freebies I enjoyed in the US
- Product promotion – I picked up chocolate bars, bottles of water, umbrellas and chewing gum from people promoting on streets and tourist attractions. The umbrella was a store in New York which gives out umbrellas for free whenever it rains, The New Stand at Columbus Circle.
- HI membership, if you stay in more than one is worth it as you will save $3 a night and if you stay in one place for 2 nights you get a third night free
- Volunteer. Sometimes hostels need a little help here and there I got a night free and a dinner for helping shift some rubbish from the hostel to the local landfill which was an experience in itself! I also got to sample deep fried artichokes and got to know a local fairly well which was lovely!
- Share your plans with people you meet – you never know they might be doing the same thing and discounts or freebies could be on the horizon. I got into the amazing but pricey Monterey aquarium as a guest to a local with annual membership
- Walking tours. Most cities have free walking tours. Admittedly they are working for your tip but I’ve found the quality is really good and there’s no obligation to pay a certain amount. Check out companies like Free tours by foot, I did the China Town/Little Italy/TriBeCa tour in New York and it was full of info. In Vegas the Nomad walking tour gave a tonne of background to how vegas came to be and what times the various free shows happen and where.
- Check what your hostel has on. I did a free hike in LA to see views of the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory but there were also tours to Venice beach, bar crawls, free comedy nights etc.
- Just being nice to people! Karma works! I helped out a retired teacher book some tours online and my ‘reward’ was a ticket for the crazy ride on top of the stratosphere casino. Not entirely sure it was a reward though (see pics below) I also was shouted a few meals, coffees and subway tickets by locals I’d taken the time to chat to.
Vegas baby & Grand Canyon
- The strip is really long so a 24 hour ticket for the ‘deuce’ bus is really worth the $8
- Walking round the casinos is pretty entertaining. Get your timing right for the volcano show at the Mirage (7pm, see below) and the belagio fountains. Also the Venetian has a canal with gondola rides running right through the middle.
- Any of the casino resorts will hold your bag for free so if you have an early check out and a late flight check your bag at wherever you plan to finish your evening.
- Trips to the Grand Canyon or Hoover damn should be booked online. My hostel quoted $114 for the exact same tour selling for $72 on GC tours
- Don’t pay to get to the Stratosphere viewing deck! Instead go for a $7 beer in the bar and hold onto your receipt to get free entry (Standard admission $20)
If it’s raining ☔️ all the museums will be mobbed. If you’re prepared to deal with it than fine. If not go for a coffee and come back early another day.
- Book in advance, major attractions like the Empire State, tenement museum, Statue of Liberty sells out weeks in advance. The tenement museum was possibly my favourite attraction in the US (alongside Alcatraz which also sells out) so don’t miss out!!
- A personal point of view but on your trip to Statue of Liberty I would skip getting off on the statue island and go straight to Ellis island for the museum. The best views of her Liberty is from the boat (below)
- If you’re doing 9/11 memorial museum go for early entry tickets. The museum is excellent but gets busy and spoiled somewhat by more insensitive tourists posing in front of exhibits and taking pics in areas marked out as no photography. Also make sure your download the app beforehand with tour narrated by Robert DeNiro
- Hire a bike and cycle over the bridge to Saulsalito. Loved it!! If you don’t want to do the return you can get the ferry back with your bike. Be sure to check out the ferry times before nipping for lunch in Saulsalito
- Book Alcatraz in advance and wrap up warm. Even in the sun, that island is freezing cold!
- Have your wits about you. San Fran has a big homelessness problem and a lot of unhinged folk wandering the streets. Uber pool is a cheap way of getting around
- You can watch big TV shows being filmed for free by volunteering to be part of the TV audience. Check out Jimmy Kimmel and tvtickets.com for shows like Big Bang theory
- LA is vast so a bit of planning will go a long way
- Sunsets in LA are something special. Get yourself to Santa Monica or the Griffih Observatory for spectacular views.
- Early park entry is advised for any theme parks. Even if you have been to the Florida parks it’s worth doing the LA parks for the behind the scenes studio tours.
- Go to a lakers game and get 5 mins of theme by using their hashtag. I was up on the Megatron for an embarrassing length of time!
- You can walk round the La Brea Tar Pits for free and read the signs. The $12 museum entry is really only worthwhile if you time it right for the excavator tour. Seeing the scientists at work is also quite interesting.