It is commonly known that the United States do not belong to low-cost countries. Especially, when we come with a currency weaker than the American Dollar. Our plan was to travel through the USA for many months on a daily budgets about $35 for two of us and including the cost of gasoline. In order to do that, we had to almost completely give up on rooms rental and simply rely on our tent, camping in the wild and support of travel communities. The list of useful applications on Android as well as websites was constantly expanded on the go. Often, it was enriched with recommendations of other bikers, cyclists and backpackers, who also value the unforgettable experiences of a long tramp above short-lived comfort of all-inclusive vacations.
Spending in the USA
While campsites in the US cost $10-35, the cheapest motel rooms are available for minimum $90. It seems that in recent years the prices of everything have increased there. Even a famous hamburger with fries is rarely offered today for less than $12. A bread costs $1-5 (the less spongy-like, the more expensive). When shopping for groceries for the next 2-3 days for 2 people in the cheapest market, limiting ourselves to the absolute minimum and drinking a tap water (which is common in the US), it is hard to pay less than $35. Of course, for people who don’t read labels at all, there is plenty of relatively cheap food. We just treat food like kind of a fuel for our bodies, the junk one won’t keep us rolling for long anyway, it can only enlarge us (and I’m already extra compressed on the back of our bike, so putting on weight is not an option). Speaking of gasoline, if you come from Europe, your wallet will like it: $2-3 per gallon (3.8l).
SIM card in the USA
Internet has significantly changed many aspects of traveling on your own. There are so many websites and forums that unite travelers, users of certain means of transport or even particular brands. Many times you can rely on help of these communities, even in terms of accommodation. Also mobile applications are irreplaceable when it comes to quick check of local services. Strangely, it was quite a challenge for us in the US to find Internet connectivity in general. It is not an issue in big cities, but in the vast wilderness and national parks (in fact, the areas where travelers spend most of the time), you can rarely get GSM signal. And even if you do, it is not so easy to find a SIM card with decent monthly transfer for a reasonable price. For example a subscription with 2G from Verizon would be around $35 per month.
We wanted to be sneaky and find the cheapest possible option in terms of mobile phone calls and Internet. We found Freedompop SIM card for $10 on Amazon. You buy it once and the basic subscription is free. Each month you receive 200 MB of transfer, 200 minutes of talk time, 500 SMS and 100 minutes of international calls. You can call and text, but only if you have Internet transfer or use WiFi. Along with the new number you also receive an online account. You can use this account to invite friends, other users of this SIM card, and get some extra megabytes in return. It is 50 MB for each new contact added to your network. You can add up to 10 buddies and your monthly transfer will increase to 700 MB. There is even a website where people share their e-mails to invite each other and rise transfer credits. We checked, it works. Unfortunately, the quality of phone calls is poor. Often the conversation is interrupted or you can’t connect at all, even with good WiFi. The Internet works well though and 700 MB for free is a good deal compared to the offers of other network providers.
In order to make phone calls, we also bought H2o card for our second mobile. On Amazon it costs $10. In the first month it gives an unlimited number of domestic calls. Later it is 5 cents per minute and 5 cents for SMS. Everything is cool, but what you may not necessary be aware of (because it is written in small print in the offer) is the fact that you also have to pay the same charge for each received call or message. Your credits go down quickly. MMS was not always delivered to me. Your account must be charged at least once every 3 months. Maybe it is not the ideal solution, but it was still the cheapest option we found.
Feel free to comment below if you have some other recommendations and proved services.
Android apps to make travel easier
Below you can find a list of Android apps, which made it much easier for us to travel on low-budget across the USA and other countries.
- Roadtrippers – It is used for route planning, takes into account all the attractions and accommodations along the way. We use it mainly for searching campgrounds (requires Internet access).
- REI National Parks – Includes info about national parks, camping prices, descriptions, trails with maps (Internet access necessary only for pictures download).
- WikiCampsUSA – App enabling campground search. You can download it to have an access to the catalog also offline.
- iOverlander – Displays a map with many spots worth attentions, such as places to camp in the wild, water abstraction point worldwide (Internet required only to display photos), available also online.
- Unit Converter – Almost all basic units in the US are different than in Europe: miles, pounds, temperature in Fahrenheit, so without this or similar app it is sometimes difficult to quickly recalculate in the head (the app can work offline).
- Currency Converter – It is useful especially when we travel across many countries with different currency.
- Google Translator – It is always good to have a dictionary at hand that works even offline for all countries and languages, you just need to download it to your mobile.
- MAPS.ME – Free maps working offline. Updated by OpenStreetMap community, include many points of interest, such as restaurants, gas stations etc. The app comes in handy when hiking or exploring cities. The in-built navigation mode for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists will help you get anywhere.
Websites useful for travelers
We encourage you to familiarize yourself with the following list of sites, especially if you are going on a big trip, searching for new experiences, wanting to get to know the locals and their traditions, work in exchange for accommodation or volunteer.
- Freecampistes.net – Search engine of free campgrounds in the USA.
- Couchsurfing.org – “Surfing on the couch”, a community offering travelers a free accommodation at their houses. A few years ago the service was bought by the company that has slightly commercialized it. The site has been redesigned to incite users to a paid identity verification. This is meant to make it easier to find potential accommodation and to contact with people. Older users have an easier situation here, they can actually ignore a paid verification process because they already have some profile history and references from other users. The references are to most important, they certify your credibility, confirm that you are a nice person that can be trusted and invited home. New users should start by sharing their own couch with other travelers and show hospitality before heading out on their journey. In exchange, guests will give you a good opinion. It is much easier then to find help and accommodation all over the world. Also, the numerous thematic and local groups created within the website can be very helpful. You can ask questions or propose some initiative and count on answers and tips from locals or people with similar interest (we recommend the CS Motorcycle Travelers group).
- Motostays.com – The same concept as described above, but only for motorcyclists. Free use in exchange for showing hospitality to at least one motorcyclist. Nice idea, but unfortunately from our experience, the site still requires some technical work. We lost patience after many attempts of completing the profile. We hope this is only a temporary problem. If someone has experience with this service, we will appreciate sharing your impressions.
- Advrider.com – Popular motorcycle forum, especially in the US, contains many valuable information, travel reports, announcements, and the “tent space” section, which presents a list of places and garages for motorcyclists on the road, offered by other bikers. We used this option very often when traveling through the United States. I wrote about it in a separate post and included a direct link to a map.
- Horizonsunlimited.com – Probably the largest online compendium of motorcycle and travel related knowledge. We really like the way you can communicate there with bikers all over the world. Using the catalog provided, you choose the location and write a message / question and it goes directly as an e-mail to all subscribers of this particular place. Therefore, you get a direct e-mail response, private message to your inbox. Owing to this, you can be sure your message gets exactly to people from particular part of the world, who are willing to help and it will not get lost in the abyss of some forum.
- Workaway.info – Through this site you can volunteer at various projects and tasks: artistic, ecological, engineering, around the household, etc. In return you get a free accommodation in an interesting location and sometimes also food. The annual fee for using the site is $29 per person and $38 per couple. This seems to be a great option to stay somewhere longer, relax from a constant drive, take a chance to get to know the place and learn the language, while pay off the stay with a fair work and support for the host. Unfortunately, in our case, every application so far has ended in a fiasco, for reasons not dependent on anyone (some emergencies, change of plans etc.) or because the host was not responding or breaking contact suddenly, even after the initial acceptance of our application. Basically, you should not take anything for granted until receiving the host’s address or having a conversation over the phone or Skype. Also, it is good to pay attention to host’s opinions displayed at the bottom of one’s profile and read what exactly you are required to do and what type of accommodation is offered in exchange (not everyone likes scenario of 5 hours of hard work in exchange for a mattress on the floor in the collective hall).
- Wwoofinternational.org – Idea similar to the one above, but it is all about working on organic farms. The membership fee depends on the country you intend to work and ranges from 0 to $72. In exchange for 4-6 hours of work you receive accommodation and full board.
- Worldpacekrs.com – a comfortable bed and other benefits in earned by work, volunteering in social or ecological project. The website is modern, registration free, the search engine is user-friendly, takes into account your needs and skills. You have to pay around $30 to book your placement after your application was accepted by a host.
- Airbnb.pl – Allows you to rent an accommodation from a private person. Therefore, for a much cheaper price than if renting a registered tourist object. You have to create a profile and after using the service you give an opinion about your stay and the conditions of the apartment. And vice versa, the host comments the users. This forces both sides to discipline and abide by established rules. Especially, since many apartments have common spaces, sometimes kitchen or bathroom. Although, of course the offers are varied and you can also search for fully private houses or apartments.
- Craiglist.org – An archaic website, does not spoil your eye, and yet it is still number one among Americans to find all kind of items to buy from private individuals, find job offers, services etc. It may be useful when we look for some tourist equipment at lower price.
Desktop program for planning routes
TyreToTravel is our favorite program for planning routes. You will need Internet to use it because it utilizes Google Maps. The planned routes you can share and upload to your GPS. The app is constantly developed by motorcyclists, who created it in response to their own needs. Without spending money on advertisement, the tool has been popularized among bikers and travelers all around the world. Today it has over 50 K users. The program is in free and paid version. The paid one allows to additionally customize routes, check gas stations availability etc.
Perhaps we have omitted some valuable app or service that works for you? You can help us extend the list by sharing your experience in the comments below! :)