las vegas

Sin City on a Budget: Las Vegas, USA

If you were to say three words about Vegas, they would probably be gambling, money and madness. But there’s more to Vegas than standing at the blackjack table, and it doesn’t have to be a hugely expensive trip to go and soak up Sin City. Backpacker’s certainly shouldn’t cross it off their list of potential destinations when visiting the USA as there is more than enough to see and do on a budget, without getting (too) involved in the madness of it all.

las vegas


Ok, bear with me! I’m not talking about propping up the card tables for 12 hours and losing every last dime. Vegas obviously isn’t short of a casino or 2 and wandering around them all is an activity in itself. With all the different themes, from Venice to Egypt, each and everyone is absolutely mesmerising, with tiny details included to make you feel like you’re in Little Italy or visiting the Pharaohs.  And that’s not to mention the people. I don’t think there is a better place in the world to people watch! With folks from all walks of life, you see the best and worst of them at a casino table as their luck turns on a sixpence. Just don’t get too close. If you do fancy a little flutter, but away from the pressures of the pros and those willing to put their life on it, you could try somewhere like to pick up some practice in advance of the real experience.

venetian vegas


Forget paying hundreds of bucks for Cirque de Soleil tickets, there are plenty of freebies flying around in Vegas to keep you busy for a week. Instead of shows head to the Volcano at the Mirage which erupts every hour from 8pm until midnight. It’s a true visual and audio spectacle, as is the Fountains at the Bellagio which dances around to a variety of musical accompaniment every 15 to 30 minutes. If you’re want your breath taken away and still have full pockets this is for you.

bellagio fountains


In most situations people are fairly uncertain about giving their details away. In Vegas you need to bin that habit and sign up for everything! There are freebies everywhere, all you need to do is find them. When you first arrive take some time to trawl through all the free mags and flyers and you’ll find some amazing deals. If someone stops you in the street give them your details. You’ll end up saving a goldmine. This extends to getting this insanely cheap as well. You can go to restaurants and pay $5 for a steak, side and a beer if you have the right flyer, or enter attractions for a fraction of the advertised price.

Hit the Pool

After late nights and lots of drinking you’ll need some down time, and with Vegas’ intense heat, the pool is the perfect place to kick back, shake off the hangover and get ready for the day ahead. When you’re booking your hotel this is a worthwhile consideration, as you might save a few dollars on a cheaper hotel, but if it doesn’t have a pool you’ll spend more time out and about spending money.

Eat and Drink on the Move

You’re in Vegas. Obviously you’re going to have some big nights on the town and soak up everything it has to offer. Instead of propping up the bar in expensive hotels, get some drinks for the street. Everyone out on the strip is suppin’ on something, so why not join in. You’ll save a heap and be able to invest that later on! And I know what you’re thinking, you get free drinks if you’re in a casino gambling right? They’ve well and truly cottoned on to that one – if you’re not throwing enough in their coffers at the table or the slot machines then the waitresses will sail right by you. Tried that one…

There’s just a few tips on how to survive in Vegas on a budget, but there really are countless ways to do it. Beyond the gambling and expensive shows there are deals and freebies everywhere. Keep on the lookout and this can be the cheapest stop on your trip!

5 Things Not to Miss in Vegas:

  • Wander the Strip and take in every piece of madness going on around you
  • Explore the casinos and all their garish beauty
  • Play the slots
  • Enjoy the audiovisual show at the Bellagio Fountain
  • Go and enjoy the Fremont Street Experience

For more great tips on what to do in the US check out our USA Travel Guide.

Radio City, New York CIty

Walking in a Winter Wonderland in NYC: New York City, USA

At any time of the year New York, known as “the city that never sleeps” is an amazing experience that overwhelms the senses. With its imposing skyline, huge parks, shopping precincts, monuments and bustling metropolitan atmosphere, there is nowhere quite like it. Visiting in winter and particularly at Christmas is a truly magical experience. The city comes alive with the celebrations. Dazzling lights, huge Christmas trees, roasted chestnut stalls and the tinkling of Santa bells and carol singers on the streets, all make for an enthralling winter break.  Here are some top tips for what to look out for during winter in New York.

Rockafellar Plaza, New York CItyRockerfeller Plaza

Christmas in New York does have a particular focal point and that is the way that Rockerfeller Plaza is transformed into a brilliantly lit winter wonderland. The New Yorkers are light fanatics and nowhere is this more evident than in the plaza. Focused on a huge 80 foot high Norwegian pine that is thought to be the biggest Christmas tree in the world, the Christmas light display is not to be missed. An open air ice rink is another feature of winter at the plaza and this together with the lights, brings crowds of people flocking there throughout the festive period.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Any visit to New York at Christmas time would not be complete without obtaining tickets for what has become a big Christmas tradition, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Showing at the Radio City Music Hall, this festive stage show features over 140 performers, lavish costumes, grand sets and an original music score. A combination of song, dance and humour portrays traditional scenes in the style of a 90 minute revue. A tradition that was first established in 1933, the women’s precision dance troupe – The Rockettes feature strongly in the performance and this year celebrate their 85th anniversary. Running between early November and the end of December, the show draws an annual visitor total of around 1 million.

Radio City, New York CItyThe Majestic Monuments of New York

Of course New York would not be New York without a selection of the biggest and most famous monuments in the world. There are many that are worth a visit and of course, you would want to start out with the most famous of them all – The Statue of Liberty. A gift from the French in 1808, the statue is over 150 feet tall, looks out over the harbour and symbolises the independence and freedom upon which modern America is based. Another impressive statue is featured at the Columbus Circle Fountain near the south west of central Park. At a mere 70 feet high, this statue of Christopher Columbus is not a patch on then Lady of Liberty but, having been sculpted out of marble, it  is still very impressive.

Festive Shop Window Displays

New York offers a range of shopping precincts and famous department stores that could keep you shopping for your whole stay. During the festive season and usually unveiled in late November, some of the department stores present vibrant window displays that have enormous entertainment value in their own right. If that was not enough some stores even put on festive shows and presentations. There is a walking tour that covers around 2 miles and features some of the best window displays. Shops on the tour include Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Saks on 5th Avenue (good for visitors with children because it depicts scenes from a children’s book), Lord and Taylor and Barneys. All of the window displays feature vivid lighting and scene depictions that are rich in detail so taking one of these walking tours is highly recommended for great entertainment value.

Shopping in New York CIty

This is a sponsored post from Columbus Direct. For more information about Columbus Direct please visit their site or follow them on Twitter @columbus_direct

For more great destinations in the USA, whatever the season, visit our USA Travel Guide

San Jose Skyline View

A Gem of a City in the Golden State: San Jose, CA

If you are ever visiting the magnificent city of San Francisco, then do not miss out on the opportunity to experience another fantastic place just an hour south. The city of San Jose is the capital of the very entrepreneurial area of Silicon Valley – home to the headquarters of Microsoft and Google.

Accommodation San JoseSan Jose has a population of nearly 1 million and is not too far from Santa Cruz, the town where people go to chill, sunbathe and play volleyball! This city has some great weather all year round and just misses out on the San Francisco fog. It also has some cool accommodation options for budget travellers, as you’d expect in California! Either click on the picture to be redirected to this stylish flat or visit here to see for yourself.

Top 5 things in San Jose, California

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph

Whilst walking through the streets of San Jose, you can’t help but notice this spectacular centrepiece. This cathedral is absolutely beautiful and is listed as one of California’s historical landmarks. It is the first non-mission parish built in California, but was damaged by earthquakes in 1822. Many years after in 1885, after much reconstruction, the cathedral opened again to the public.

San Jose Cathedral

Winchester Mystery House

Are you coming to California around Halloween? If so, a visit to this spooktacular place is in order! Having corridors opening up to other corridors and hidden surprises lurking around each corner – you’ll be in for a fright. This haunted house is something not to be missed, especially if you want to get into the season’s spirit.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

A trip to SJ is not complete without a trip to this fantastic Egyptian museum. Exhibiting a whole selection of mummies and artefacts from Ancient Egypt, there is something to interest anyone. If you are a student, they also offer student discount if you show your student card. Take a trip around the museum, as they have some beautiful gardens with some impressive carved sculptures.

Raging Waters

This amazing water park is situated just outside the city. It is a great place to go to have fun with family and friends. It is one of the largest water parks in Northern California and has many attractions and rides suited to all age groups. Remember to bring plenty of sun cream – if visiting peak summer – as it can get extremely hot! Fountains go off every few minutes to cool down the paths.

Great America Theme Park

Just minutes away from the heart of San Jose, this amazing theme park has some of the best attractions California has to offer. There is entertainment to suit anyone and wide range of restaurants dotted around the theme park. Visit there in the Halloween season to get a real scare!

So if you are in the Golden State, don’t forget to pop by this gem of a city.

San Jose Skyline View

For more great destinations in the USA and North America check out the USA travel guide and North America travel destinations pages!

Maui, Hawaii - Haleakala National Park

6 Things Backpackers Must Plan On Doing In Maui – Hawaii, USA

When most people think of Maui, they imagine relaxing under picturesque swaying palm trees along soft pacific sands, drink in hand, sporting nothing but shorts and sunglasses.  While this is probably one of the first things you’ll probably do while visiting the island, it is important to note that Maui has tons of other adventures and activities that might pull you off the beach for just a little while.  Here are some of the things you won’t want to miss before leaving Maui…

Hiking In Haleakala National Park

Miles and miles of trails cut through the sub-tropical rain forests of this gorgeous protected land.  You’ll quickly notice how noisy this thriving ecosystem is, as it is home to a wide variety of tropical and endangered species of birds and mammals.  Fresh streams cut paths down the mountain towards the coast as they pass over lushly covered waterfalls.  A hike to the summit of the Haleakala volcano will grant you one of Hawaii’s most stunning panoramic views. Haleakala National Park has a lot to see in just one day, so don’t be afraid to find one of the park campgrounds and split it up over a day or two.

Maui, Hawaii - Haleakala National Park

Driving Around the Island

There are a number of different ways to get around the island, but renting a car will enable you to see and do everything at your own pace.  Maui’s major highways hug tightly around the coast’s cliffs and beaches, making it an absolutely beautiful drive.  And unlike public transportation, a rental car gives you the freedom to stop off wherever you like for a photo or maybe a quick dip in the ocean.   Route 37 takes you across the island and up to the summit of Haleakala, perfect for those who still want to catch the view without putting in the miles hiking.

Outrigger Canoeing

These outrigger canoes are a staple of Hawaii. Designed to be more stabilize than traditional narrow vessels (like the canoe), outrigger canoes are ideal in the rough and unpredictable surf of the Pacific Ocean.  Having two hulls also spreads out the weight of the canoe along the surface of the water, which means that they are also much quicker moving.  They also happen to be a whole lot of fun!  Filling up a canoe with a few friends or family can make for an exciting day out on the water.

Wind Surfing in Maui, HawaiiSnorkeling

You can’t come to Maui and truly understand it’s natural wonders until you take a look below the surface.  From the beach, these crystal blue waters look void of anything but soft white sands. But when you put on a face mask and dive in, you’ll be amazed at all the sea life bustling about just under foot.  Vibrantly colored fish dance between a wide array of coral as you look down floating above.  If you’re lucky enough, you may get a glimpse of one of the island’s real treasures: the endangered giant sea turtle.  One other tip: don’t forget the sunblock.  It’s easy to lose track of time while snorkeling around but you are keeping your back and legs in direct exposure to the sun for an extended period of time.  Take breaks, reapply, and always use waterproof sun block.

Maui Botanical Gardens

There are a number of botanical gardens on the island all working towards the preservation and conservation of Maui’s plants and flowers.  For just a small donation, you can take a tour with a guide who can explain all hundreds, even thousands of brilliant species.  Many of the gardens also host unique workshops and events to help raise awareness and support.  So, take a minute to stop and smell the flowers – you’ll be glad you did.

Luau, Maui, HawaiiExperience a Luau

This probably requires no explanation, but even if you aren’t familiar with what a luau entails, just plan on going there with an appetite and ready to have a great time.  Simply put, a luau is a meal or feast accompanied by entertainment, typically music and hula dancing.  The menu can vary anywhere from fish to kalua pig with plenty of beer and wine to go around.  The festivities take place outdoors, typically right along the beach, and you can find many of the hotels and resorts putting on their own for their guests.  Check out the Maui Ocean Club, as they put on a great luau right on Ka’anapali Beach.

These are only just a few of the things you won’t want to forget to put on your itinerary when visiting Hawaiian paradise.  What are some of your other favorite things to do while in Maui?

Check out more great places to go backpacking in North and Central America here. Or take a look at our USA travel guide for more info on the best places Stateside!

This is a sponsored post

Aspen Mountain View

Christmas Backpacking Adventures in the Snowy Hills: Aspen, USA

Two Skiers AspenAspen is the kind of place that intrepid travellers aspire to visit by any means necessary. Whether you’re a huge fan of skiing or snowboarding, a person who simply wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of cities, or simply an individual looking to recreate the epic journey of Lloyd and Harry from Dumb and Dumber, Aspen could be the perfect place for you to start or finish a holiday as a backpacker in 2012.

The Colorado-based city is described by its Teletext Holidays guide as the company’s “favourite American resort”, though it goes on to claim that “it has everything we look for – except, obviously, convenience”. For this reason, it serves as the perfect place for people to make their own way to. While it is still an option to transfer to Denver on a flight from one of the main airports of the US, the chance to backpack from somewhere like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago or New Orleans could be one of the most life-affirming experiences you may ever have.

While the chance to join in on festivities has passed for 2011, the Christmas period for Aspen is one of the busiest and most exciting periods. There are a bunch of free holiday activities that will undoubtedly keep visitors happy in the “12 Days of Aspen”, an event held in a large number of venues across the city for skiers and snowboarders alike.

After making your own way to Aspen, you will find it to be the best place to relax and unwind. Due to its 6,000 or so residents, the town-like atmosphere of the area gives peace and tranquillity – something even reflected on its world-class slopes. These boast perfect snow conditions for sportsmen and women of all abilities, while partnering resorts at Snowmass and the Aspen Highlands spoil you for choice if you want to go slightly further afield.

Aspen Mountain View

While Aspen boasts the most expensive property prices in the US, it still remains to be an attractive old-style mining town that drew investment from the silver boom in the late 1800s. For this reason, it is packed with restaurants, bars and shops – both general and specialist – that can cater to the needs of anyone who wants to spend their final few dollars after a long backpacking trip across the States.

Skiing in Aspen5 Things Not to Miss in Aspen:

  • The Aspen Art Museum is free every day.
  • Ambassador Program – Ambassadors offer free mountain tours daily at 10.30am.
  • Free sing-a-long and Kids crafts occur weekly by the campfire at Snowmass base.
  • Hallam Lake – walk the half mile nature trail loop.
  • The Red Brick centre for the arts – rotating exhibitions, watch the artists at work and browse the shop.

Of course, it may be perfect for Aspen to be a penultimate stop-off. Given its isolation from the rest of Colorado, it may be worth finishing your adventure in Grand Junction, Denver or Colorado Springs. Just ensure you plan well – Aspen’s not the easiest place to get to!

This is a featured post from Teletext Holidays.

Everglades alligators

11 Things to See & Do in the Sunshine State – Florida, USA

While many people come from all over the globe to experience the thrills and delights of Florida’s theme parks, the state has a wealth of other amusements and attractions for travellers. Next time you’re in the US and think about heading to Florida, forget about the theme parks and check these out:

  • If you are planning on going to Florida during February book a villa and flights package with Florida4Less and head to the Florida State Fair to see examples of historic villages and county displays. You’ll see the huge variety of Florida’s people and cultures. If you miss the State Fair check out the early March Strawberry Festival in Plant City.
  • Head to the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor’s Complex to learn about our journeys into space.
  • The Salvador Dali Museum in St Petersburg is host to the largest collection of the works of Dali to be found outside Europe. St Petersburg is also the home to one of the US’s largest Holocaust museums.
  • Take an airboat ride through the swamps of the Florida Everglades. Keep an eye out for alligators and flamingos!

Everglades alligators

  • Florida is home to Miccosukee and Seminole Indian reservations. You can visit these reservations to learn about their culture and history and maybe win some money in the casinos.
  • Take a charter fishing boat out and grapple with Sailfish, Tarpon, Largemouth Bass and other fine examples of Florida’s fish.
  • Head to Biscayne National Park to see Mangrove forests, seagrass beds and the remains of shipwrecks. Scuba divers can get up close and personal with the wrecks and a glass-bottomed boat trip can show visitors the reefs and wildlife of the sea.
  • Pop along to Canaveral National Seashore for pristine, undeveloped beaches and, in June and July, the chance to see sea-turtles laying their eggs.

Canaveral National Seashore

  • Visit St Augustine, which is the oldest settlement by Europeans in the United States. The land was claimed for Spain in 1513 and the city founded in 1565. It’s also the location of America’s first free black settlement.
  • Literary types might want to check out the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West.
  • Visit some of Florida’s beautiful lighthouses.

Florida clearly has so much more to offer a backpacker than just the theme parks, so why not take the time to enjoy it?

Why not check out our USA Travel Guide or other destinations in North America to get your travel juices flowing…

This is a featured post from Florida4Less

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Haight Ashbury San Fran

The Hills of San Francisco, USA: A Photo Diary

San Francisco is an incredible city packed with loads of things to see and do. Around every corner is a world recognised icon or location of a scene from a film, but there is also as much intrigue in people watching as there is in the landmarks.

From the Golden Gate bridge to Alcatraz, the windy Lombard Street to the hippyish Haight, San Fran provides a surprise at every turn and always offers entertainment. Whether you explore it on one of the many trams wandering the city or take the modern option of a stroller you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with the city.

It really is a travel destination which offers a feast for the eyes, which is why i’ve decided to let the pictures do the talking in this post, as they’ll do a far better job than i ever could:

San Fran Houses

San Francisco View

San Fran Building

Golden Gate Bridge

Lombard Street San Francisco

Haight Ashbury San Fran


San Francisco Trams

If this has whet your appetite than why not book a hotel in San Francisco now and go out an sample it for yourself. It’s certainly a great backpacking destination and well worthy of a visit. And while you’re there you could extend your trip and see some other great travel destinations in the USA too…

This is a sponsored post.

usa backpacking

Stunning Scenes in Sunny SoCal – Santa Barbara, USA

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 6.5/10

usa backpacking
There’s no doubting that America is an amazing place to visit. It has a wealth of attractions and the full range of climates and environments to suit nearly everyone’s needs. However, i always find myself coming back to the question of how suitable it is for a backpacker. The huge distances often make travel challenging and whenever i have visited i’ve found the need to rent a car in order to make the most of the small time i have there, an issue which wreaks havoc on a backpacking budget.

Having said this, Santa Barbara is a beautiful place for any traveller to visit. Everything is immaculate, fom the coordinated white buildings with terracotta roofing to the sun kissed people that characterise Southern California. It stands out from the majority of other towns in the US that i’ve visited in its feel as a proper ‘town’ in the English sense of the word. It has a town centre full of shops and small individual stores that you won’t find splattered across every postcode in the US. This compares to most other ‘towns’ which are really just huge grids of streets with the occasional mall or row of three shops on a corner. It can also be enjoyed on foot without the constant need to jump in the car and has plenty of spots to explore, whether its the stunning Mission or the views from the town hall. Add to this a huge, well kept beach and a mountain back drop and you’re starting to get a fairly attractive proposition.

But this all comes at a price and Santa Barbara is one of the more expensive stop offs along the coast of Southern California. I was fortunate enough to have a friend to stay with but it was clear that backpacker accomodation wasn’t cheap and this was echoed throughout the shops and eateries around town. If you’ve paid out to rent a car or for an expensive Greyhound then the last thing you need is to have the travel purse attacked further.

Backpacking in Santa Barbara - MissionI loved this place – it’s stunning all round, is full of things to keep you busy and if the rankings here were judged purely on the place and not the wider context then it would have a much higher score. Unfortunately, it’s the standard travel issues that affect everywhere in the US which hold it back. If your pockets are bulging and you want to sample one of America’s prettiest towns then Santa Barbara should be near the top of your list, but if the purse strings are starting to tighten then this one might be a step too far.

Look for other spots to go backpacking in the USA here.

grand canyon

Grand Canyon, USA – Backpacking Photo of the Week

The Grand Canyon is pretty high on most backpackers list of must sees and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. You could spend days and weeks wandering around the area without getting tired of it and if you’re a bit of a flashpacker you might even consider a little helicopter ride over the top!

grand canyon

Peruse some more photos from the Backpacking Photo of the Week series here.

san francisco backpacking

San Francisco, USA – Backpacking Photo of the Week #6

Backpacking in America is an incredibly rewarding experience as it offers such a wide variety of environments, people and attractions. Even the major cities are vastly different and each has their own, separate appeal. San Francisco is a beautiful place and makes taking an interesting photo very easy as it oozes character. Whether it’s the constant undulation of the ground beneath your feet, the stunning architecture around every corner or the views out to Alcatraz Island, you’re never left without a sight to take your breath away.

san francisco backpacking

See more of the Backpacking Photo of the Week series here or discover more places to go backpacking in North America here.