You don’t have to spend heaps to get across America. Here’s how to see the States on the cheap – and the best things to see.
1. Fly into New York from London
With cheap flights from London, New York is the obvious place to start a trip in North America, but it’s perhaps the least American city in the country.
There are tourists everywhere, and it hums with the noise of hundreds of languages being spoken.
Wander the streets and explore everywhere from the expanses of Central Park to the grungy neighbourhood of Alphabet City, where streets are identified by letters of the alphabet rather than numbers.
Pay a dollar to have your photo taken with the Naked Cowboy who passes the year in Times Square wearing a pair of cowboy boots and white Y-fronts.
2. Make friends in Washington
Hop aboard an Apex bus that left from New York’s Chinatown and, for the princely sum of US$20, arrive in Washington DC in just under five hours.
Head to the Saloon Bar to try and meet some locals. The Washington bar is known for its no-TV policy, low-volume music and communal tables which have been designed to allow for conversation between customers, making it almost impossible not to walk out without having made new friends.
Discover the many open spaces and parks that Washington DC has.
The most obvious buildings – such as the White House and the Lincoln Memorial – will feel incredibly familiar after seeing them so many times on TV.
Monuments centre on the Washington Mall, which is dominated by the large Washington Monument.
It stands like a giant needle pointing to the sky in honour of George Washington, the first president of the USA. At a whopping 555ft, no other building in Washington is allowed to be taller.
3. Check out the jazz scene in New Orleans
New Orleans, or the Big Easy, which can be reached by train via Atlanta on an overnight and all-day trip, is known for its laid-back vibe and couldn’t be more of a contrast to business-like Washington.
The vibrant French Quarter in New Orleans comes alive at night and you can walk the streets to the sound of competing melodies emanating from jazz clubs.
The city is regarded as the birthplace of jazz, after African and Caribbean slaves included European instruments such as the piano to their music when performing in what is now known as Armstrong Square.
Outside the French Quarter in a residential area, no-frills bar Vaughan’s hosts great music six nights a week.
Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers play on Thursday nights and Harry Connick, Jr and Wynton Marsalis have shown up to sit in with Ruffins, who just happens to be a New Orleans icon.
He often cooks a barbecue for the crowd before sitting down to perform.
4. Explore Memphis, the birthplace of rock’n’roll
If New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, then Memphis is the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll.
It’s almost a 10-hour train ride from New Orleans, but the sights and landscapes on the way to the heartland of this vast country make the long journey more than bearable.
On arrival in Memphis, Elvis Presley may mania set in.
Head to Memphis Recording Services, part of legendary Sun Studio where Presley recorded classics such as That’s All Right and Blue Moon.
Sun Studio is still used as a recording studio and artists such as The Spin Doctors and U2 have recorded there.
Every hour, a free shuttle runs between Sun Studio and Graceland, Presley’s famous home.
There’s plenty to take in at Graceland, from the green shag-pile carpet lining the walls and ceiling of the Jungle Room, to the star’s possessions which include jumpsuits, Grammys and gold records.
To complete the pilgrimage don’t miss the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.
The museum covers the development of soul into rock ’n’ roll and includes gems such as the original lyric sheet and piano and guitar chords that songwriter Mark James used to compose Suspicious Minds.
5. Cycle around San Francisco
From Memphis it can a long and expensive train trip to the next stop, San Francisco, where the first thing to do is hop on to one of the famous trams and wobble your way up the city’s steep hills.
The world’s most crooked road, Lombard Street, zig-zags up one of those hills and affords terrific views of the bay and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Plenty of places in San Francisco offer bike hire to cycle over the bridge to Sausalito, a tiny holiday town across the bay.
The key is to hire a bike from a flat part of the city: those hills that are so spectacular by tram are tortuous on a bike.
For those who pedal too hard on the way over, there’s a ferry back to San Francisco from Sausalito.
Best road trip food
Burritos in LA: Los Tacos (7954 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood).
Pizza in New York: Motorino (319 Graham Ave, Brooklyn).
Gumbo in New Orleans: Casamento’s (4330 Magazine St).
Fried chicken in Las Vegas: M & M Soul Food Cafe (3923 West Charleston).
Burgers in San Francisco: In-N-Out Burger (various locations, see in-n-out.com).
Cheesecake in Philadelphia: Isgro’s Deli (1009 Christian St).
What you need to know about travelling to America
When to go: Any time. The peak spring and summer holiday period runs from May to September.
Getting there: There are return flights from London to almost any North American city you fancy. Book in advance and you can bag return flights to New York from London for £300.
Getting around: The main train network is Amtrak; get internal flights from American Airways. For cheap bus fares try chinatown-bus.org, Greyhound or Apex.
Visas: South Africans need a tourist visa obtainable from the US Embassy by appointment. Australians and New Zealanders qualify for the Visa Waiver Programme. For more info see travel.state.gov.
Currency: US Dollar. 1 GBP = 1.54 USD
Going out: A pint of beer in a bar is $3-$5. Accommodation Hostel dorm beds are about $25.