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Expert Advice: 10 Ways to Keep Your Trip to the U.S. Affordable

If you’re heading south of the border, our CAA Travel Consultant has smart tips to keeping costs low

We know, we know—the U.S. exchange rate could be better. But if you do opt to venture across the border, keep your expenses low while maximizing fun with this advice from expert Carolyn Gulas, a CAA Travel Consultant.

1. Compare Total Costs: Every Little Thing Counts

A hand opens the pocket of a black wallet, a stack of American twenty dollar bills inside

Before hitting the “buy” button, try adding up all the anticipated costs within various U.S. destinations. “Think about excursions and meals,” says Gulas. “And when you’re going to big cities, include the cost of a shuttle or parking.”;

In many U.S. cities, the hotels are generally priciest in June and July, and Gulas also says that sometimes the more expensive the hotel, the more additional charges you’ll come across for extras.

2. Venture Off the Beaten Path and Avoid Typical Tourism

Gorgeous landscape shot of rocky cliffs looking over a still blue lake at a US National Park

“The bigger cities are always more expensive,” says Gulas. So a hot spot like New York City will likely be a budget buster.

Don’t be afraid to get a little creative. U.S. national parks offer an affordable holiday with incredible opportunities for outdoor activities, relaxation and wildlife spotting. Or if you’re enthusiastic about visiting an iconic American city, consider somewhere smaller or less touristy. “Look at Washington, D.C.,” suggests Gulas. “A lot of their attractions are free, so you’re not paying a lot for admission.”

3. Travel During the Off-Season

Beautiful landscape shot of Arizona in the summer

It’s all about timing. “In the U.S., kids go back [to school] the last two weeks of August,” says Gulas. “So you get a better rate. I always travel at that time to the popular destinations.”

Likewise, warmer destinations, like Arizona, are less popular during the summer months. If you can handle the heat, visiting during the off-season may save big bucks. “In Scottsdale, Arizona, you can get a room rate at one of [CAA’s] preferred hotels for $75 USD per night,” says Gulas.

4. Always Pre-Book and Lock In the Exchange Rate

Pool lounge chairs and a table shaded by an umbrella at the edge of a pool

Hitting the road without a hotel or car rental reservation rarely leads to easy riding. With the fluctuating exchange rate, Gulas says pre-booking is imperative. “It’s highly recommended to pre-book, as long as you can still cancel,” says Gulas. “It locks in the exchange [rate], so then you don’t have to worry about it fluctuating.”

This applies to attractions and tours, too. “Anything you can pre-book, do it before you go,” says Gulas. “Visit the CAA Store to see what tickets are available. There are discounted rates for CAA Members.”

5. Book Something with Extras

Hotel breakfast laid out on table with plate of fresh fruit and ice bucket with champagne, empty glasses at the ready

You can save a bundle if the hotel rate includes basics, like Wi-Fi or a “kids eat free” promotion.

“Book a hotel that includes your breakfast,” says Gulas. “That’s a huge savings if you have a family of four.”

6. Ask About Canadian Rates (Think U.S. Dollar Versus Canadian Dollar)

A stack of Canadian loonies, toonies and quarters and a stack of pens sit on a sheet of paper

Have a Canadian passport? There may be a discount for you—all you have to do is ask.

“Some hotels are giving 30 per cent off for Canadians,” says Gulas. “For fun family destinations, like Disney, a lot of them have Canadian rates for tickets from January until May.”

7. Consider Driving

Two people sit in the front of a car, a man in a red shirt driving, his brown cowboy hat sitting on the dash in front of him as he looks out at the rural highway

“Driving is usually cheaper, even in the U.S.,” says Gulas. “Their gas rates are always lower than Canadian rates.” Plus, buying plane tickets for a family of four may blow the budget.

8. Visit Tourist Centres

A sign identifies a building as an Information Center

When crossing state borders, drop by the local visitor centre. It’s a smooth move that can lead to hefty discounts on local attractions, restaurants and hotels during your journey. Plus, adds Gulas, “they have coupons galore.”

9. Get Travel Insurance

Hands hold a folded paper map

Before you go, buy a comprehensive insurance policy that covers any unexpected and exorbitant medical bills. It’s just as important as having your passport when crossing the border. “You shouldn't leave home without it,” says Gulas. “CAA offers a family policy where children under the age of 25 are free.”

10. Keep Your CAA Membership Card Handy

CAA Membership card

Last but not least, don’t leave home without your CAA Membership card—it scores serious perks in the U.S. “Take your CAA card everywhere,” says Gulas. “Not just for the road service, but for the savings.”

Need a quote for travel insurance? Look no further than CAA.

Photos (excluding CAA Membership card) via VisualHunt.com.