How to Explore the U.S. This Summer for Cheap (or Free)

If you have no firm plans after the academic year ends (and a flight home sounds too expensive), it might be time to explore the country outside of your campus. The United States is a massive place: each of its 50 states is the size of some countries, each with its own climate, culture, and sometimes dialects.
Our suggestions for an affordable and entertaining summer trip? Rent a car to drive yourself around, visit national parks and other free spots, and save money by skipping hotels. Read on and find helpful links at the bottom:

1. Drive Yourself
Air travel is expensive in the United States. Because of the long distance between regions and cities, train fare is not much cheaper. And once you arrive, mass transit is not always reliable in major cities. Renting a car can be the most efficient (and cheap) option for summer travel. Find competitive rates using a comparison tool like Kayak. Use your credit card. Rental companies often prefer credit cards over debit cards and it can help you avoid added fees or delays in your request.

2. Visit National Parks
The U.S. national parks system is a vast network of forests, lakes, beaches, deserts, and mountains preserved and maintained for the enjoyment of all. Most national parks are free, only charging for the cost of parking. Visit the Northern California seaside at the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Southern California desert landscape of Joshua Tree. Take a tour of the night sky at Utah’s Capitol Reef. Visit the NPS site to find a park near where you’re traveling — there’s one in just about every state.

3. Skip Hotels, Save Money
Like air travel, hotels in the U.S. can be expensive. Hostelling International USA, the country-wide youth hostel network, is an affordable alternative. You can also try contacting local chapters of student clubs in the cities you’ll be visiting. They may offer their extra space to travelers. And don’t forget to check the AirBnb listings near you.
Good luck and have a safe summer!