How much does it cost to travel in Southwest USA? In this article, I’ll share a complete overview of the costs of travel, accommodation, and food.
Costs of travel
When you fly from Europe to Southwest USA, you probably find the best prices when you fly to big cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. Before you book, try to figure out which place you’d like to visit and if you want to book a return flight or an open-jaw ticket (with an open-jaw ticket you fly to one airport and fly back to Europe from another airport).
My favorite website for checking ticket prices is Google Flights. Here you can find a map which will show you the cheapest places to fly to. For actually booking your ticket, I would recommend using Skyscanner. You can probably fly from Europe to Southwest USA for less than €400 during the low season (€650-€800 in the high season).
When you live in the United States, you probably don’t need to spend this much money on flights.
You go on a road trip to Southwest USA without a car, so you’ll need to rent a car. It’s always cheaper to rent a car before you go on your trip and make sure to book one through a European website because all of the necessary insurances will be included in the price. Depending on the type of car, you’ll probably have to pay something between €20 and €45 a day. I’ve got some good experience by booking through rental companies like Alamo and Hertz, but also by using AutoEurope.
Don’t forget to budget gas for your road trip. It is a lot cheaper than getting gas in Europe, but you’ll also need a lot because of the long distances. Prices range from €2,50-€4,50 a gallon (4 liters). I usually check the website GasBuddy for the best prices. Prices differ a lot from state to state, gas can be really expensive in California.
You also need to think about parking costs. Most of the time you’ll free parking, but you’ll probably have to pay a lot in large cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco. This can be $10-$50 a day, depending on the location (tourist spots are really expensive). A great resource for parking prices is the website BestParking.
I wouldn’t recommend traveling by public transport in Southwest USA, your options will be very limited and it’s quite expensive. The only place where you should consider using public transport is San Francisco. Parking is really expensive ($40+) and you’d love to go for a ride on one of the famous cable cars.
Where to stay
The easiest thing to do in Southwest USA is a drive from hotel to hotel. Usually, there are many options, from low-budget hotels like Motel 6 or Super 8 to midrange (Best Western) or more expensive (Hilton). Prices range from $60-$200. In big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, it’s really expensive to stay in hotels, you’ll probably see prices from $200 and up. There are cheaper options, but really check the neighborhood before you book, because it might not be a place for you to walk around at night. I mostly use Booking.com for booking hotel rooms, because it’s so easy to use.
Would you like to stay at one of the National Parks? Check out the website of the National Park you want to stay at (you won’t find it on other websites). Staying in a national park can be expensive, but it also saves you a lot of time, so it might be worth it.
Do you prefer something more low budget and more adventure? Try camping! There are many beautiful campgrounds in Southwest USA (especially in the National Parks). The sites are very spacious, and you’ll also have a picnic table and a fire ring. A place on a campground will cost you somewhere between $14-$40 a night. Camping in Arizona and Utah is cheaper than camping in California. Usually, you can make a reservation from three to six months before you go (depending on the campground), but a lot of the time it is a first come first serve campground. Make sure to arrive as early as possible.
Almost everybody who’s going on a road trip in Southwest USA wants to visit the beautiful National Parks. For every park you visit, you’ll pay an entrance fee of $20-$30, so it’ll probably be cheaper to get an annual America the Beautiful pass. This pass is valid for a whole year and will cost you $80. You can buy it at every park entrance.
Besides visiting National Parks, there are plenty of other places to visit and things to do in Southwest USA. For example:
– Monument Vally: this beautiful landscape is not located in a National Park, but owned by Navajo families. The entrance fee is $20.
– Alcatraz: if you go to San Francisco, you must visit Alcatraz. The boat tour and audioguide on the island will cost you about $40. Make sure to book 3 months in advance. There are lots of other things to see in this city, if you want to see it all, make sure to spend 4 days in San Francisco.
– Antelope Canyon: you’re only able to see this beautiful part of nature if you book a tour (book in advance) and will cost you about $40.
– Studio Tour in Hollywood: one of my favorite things to do in Los Angeles. I would recommend doing the Warner Bros tour, which will cost about $65.
Activities with a discount
In some larger cities in the USA, you can buy a CityPASS. With this pass, you can enter many touristic highlights for less money than you would spend when you book everything separately. In Southwest USA, you can get a San Francisco CityPASS, which gives you access to a bay cruise, the Aquarium of the Bay, and San Francisco Zoo & Gardens.
Every budget is possible when it comes to food? Do you prefer eating out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Make sure to budget $75 a day per person. Will you be camping and making your own meals? You can easily do it for $20 a day. I usually switch between cooking myself and going out for dinner and spend somewhere between $35 and $50 on food a day.
Overview: How much does it cost to travel in Southwest USA?
As you imagine it’s pretty hard to give a clear overview of the cost of travel in Southwest USA. There are so many options! To make it easy, I’ll give you two different scenarios:
– Low budget: camping, make your own meals, and just visiting the National Parks – $50 to $90 for two persons per day.
– Staying in hotels, going out for dinner quite often, visiting National Parks and doing other activities – $150 to $250 for two persons per day.
During my road trip in 2016, the two of us spent about $170 to $220 per day. We mostly stayed in hotels but went camping in National Parks. We also did a lot of other activities and went out for dinner most of the time.
Additional tips to save money
– Don’t just book the cheapest tickets, always check the prices for car rental as well.
– If you book a hotel, make sure breakfast is included. That saves you from buying a meal.
– Do you prefer to go out for breakfast? The portions are really big, so you’ll be able to take some to go for lunch (cold pancakes taste really good).
– Check gas prices before you drive into another state. Prices differ a lot from state to state.
Would you like to read more about Southwest USA?
Or check out one of these guides:
Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West: with the Best Scenic Road Trips