The United States may seem like a long way to travel on holiday, but the sheer array of affordable, and even free, experiences on offer in the US make it a value-for-money option for South African travellers who are keen to explore its epic natural landscapes and fascinating history.
“Once you’ve purchased that air ticket, it really is plain sailing once you’re in the States,” explains Theresa Szejwallo, Trafalgar South Africa MD.
“The USA prides itself on its diversity and although the dollar-rand exchange rate may frighten South African travellers, I can assure you that it’s certainly one of the most affordable destinations for South Africans to visit because of that diversity.”
Szejwallo highlights the array of national parks and monuments dotted throughout the countryside as examples of the destination’s affordability.
“Entrance and admission fees to these attractions are very affordable and of course it costs nothing to admire the epic landscapes that stretch from ‘Sea to Shining Sea’. The USA is a magnificent road-trip destination.”
There are several polls that reveal the country’s most affordable cities to visit, but US-destination experts, Trafalgar, have refined trips to incorporate highlights you’d expect to visit on any trip, as well as additional experiences that can only be enjoyed as part of a Trafalgar holiday, explains Szejwallo.
“You would probably never be able to organise lunch with the mayor of Williams in Arizona yourself, or spend an evening with an Amish family on their farm, but these experiences are among those we’ve managed to organise to provide insider moments you wouldn’t find elsewhere.”
Szejwallo offers her advice for South African travellers thinking of heading to the US. These American States are among those offering the best affordability:
Blaze a trail through the canyonlands, monuments and irresistible natural beauty of Arizona, home to the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert and Lake Powell.
Embark on a Trafalgar Family Experience and walk in the footsteps of Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy, embracing the epic tales of the Old West as you explore all the highlights of one of America’s most affordable States to visit.
Phoenix is consistently rated as one of the cheapest cities in the United States to visit, with a range of things to do that won’t cost you a dime. Head up to Dobbin’s Lookout for spectacular views of the city or pay a visit to Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation Area, with several hiking trails on offer and great views.
You could also visit the Arizona Capitol Museum or Phoenix Art Museum, which is free on certain days of the week. If you want to sink your teeth into the Wild West, visit Goldfield Ghost Town, which offers free gunfighter shows every hour on Saturdays and Sundays.
Other free experiences in Arizona include the Lava Tubes near Williams, the Window Rock Monument and Navajo Veteran’s Memorial Park, and the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, the oldest continuously operating trading post for the Navajo Nation. Hit the Mother Road and head to Winslow, most renowned for ‘The Corner’ that featured in the Eagles song Take it easy, to snap a selfie with the six-foot bronze cowboy.
Trafalgar Highlight: Board the Red Rock Magic Trolley through Sedona’s luminous orange and red landscapes, then visit the historic railroad town of Williams to dine with its mayor, John Moore.
Randsaver: Attend a Free Ranger programme at the Grand Canyon which reveals the nature, science and history of one of the world’s largest canyons. These programmes are available on the South Rim and North Rim, although the latter is closed during winter.
The ‘Land of the Free’ is perhaps no better explored than in the US state of Virginia, located a stone’s throw from Washington D.C. This is a state that boasts a rich history of pilgrims and patriots who settled on these lands to create a ‘New World’ centuries ago.
Trafalgar’s Historic Highlights features insights into Revolutionary War history and the first settlement at Jamestown. Travellers delve into the lives of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at their former haunts and visit Britain’s largest colony in the New World from 1699 to 1780, Colonial Williamsburg.
This city is touted as one of the most affordable in the USA and a living monument to America’s colonial history. Walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers of the USA, touring the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg which is free to visitors.
You can see the historic buildings and watch historical interpreters on the streets, but you’ll need to purchase a ticket to go inside the buildings and museums. Consider riding the Jamestown Ferry, a 15-minute free ride giving you insights of what the British settlers saw on arriving at the shore centuries ago.
Other free experiences in Virginia include self-guided tours to the historic campus of William & Mary where Thomas Jefferson was educated, along with three other presidents. For a small fee, you can visit the Shenandoah National Park and walk along a brief portion of the famous Appalachian Trail, which spans over 2,000km. Visit Arlington National Ceremony to pay tribute to the brave men and women who’ve lost their lives in conflicts. On certain days of the year, there are commemorative ceremonies open to the public for free.
Trafalgar Highlight: Spend some time in Colonial Williamsburg to immerse yourself in history. Chat with blacksmiths, admire a fife and drum parade and perhaps engage in some politicking with a costumed Federalist in the town square.
Randsaver: Visit Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, to gain insights into the trials of early 17th century colonists. Walk through the life-size re-creations of the colonists’ crude fort, explore the mock-up of the Native American Powhatan village and climb aboard a replica of one of the three ships that sailed from England to Virginia. If you buy a combination ticket, you will have access to both the Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown on different days.
The bubbling mudpots of Yellowstone, the oldest national park in the world, can be found in Wyoming. This western US state is the home of lawless backwater towns like Sheridan and Cody, most famous for its son, Buffalo Bill, whose life you would have an opportunity to explore during a visit to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West as part of Trafalgar’s National Parks Wonders.
In addition to the icy peaks of the Grand Tetons and its surrounds, where you can embark on a range of hikes and perhaps take a float trip down the Snake River during season, there’s Yellowstone National Park with a range of museums and natural wonders to explore after gaining entrance ($30).
Watch as Old Faithful arcs impressively in the air every 90 minutes, see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and admire the Midway Geyser Basin’s kaleidoscopic Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the USA.
A great affordable launch pad for your holiday in Wyoming is the city of Jackson Hole. Visit the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center to learn more about Jackson Hole. Take a free gondola ride at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in the late afternoon to view the entire ‘Hole’. Or look up at the stars (in season) with free public stargazing events on the lawn next to the Center for the Arts every Friday.
Other free experiences in Wyoming include the free re-enactment of a Wild West gunfight in Cody on most days during summer, see Independence Rock known as the ‘Register of the Desert’ on which pioneers would carve their names, and Medicine Wheel near the Big Horn Mountains to see how this circular white limestone site has been used for centuries as place of sacred ceremony.
Trafalgar Highlight: Learn about the rich Western heritage of Sheridan with dinner at PO News and Flagstaff Café, established in 1910.
Randsaver: Delve into the history of pioneers during a free visit to the Oregon Trail Ruts, a National Landmark showcasing the gouges cut by the wagons used by emigrants heading west in the mid-19th century.