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Downtown Los AngelesThe United States and Canada continue to be popular for international budget travelers and backpackers, in spite of generally high prices from a global perspective. This ranking of 12 of the most popular destinations in the region has been updated for 2014, and the places didn’t change much. In fact, most cities are well bunched together, as you might expect from two countries that are so similar in most respects.

Prices in both countries were mostly stable in 2013, except for New York City, which saw nearly every big attraction getting even more expensive. The other notable development is that the Canadian Dollar lost about 10% compared to the US Dollar over the year, so its cities are now a bit cheaper for foreigners. Tourists will actually find that prices in all of these cities are quite similar, so the main difference is the cost of a hostel dorm bed.

Again this year we included Mexico City on the South and Central America Index for 2014, and we put Cancun on the cheapest Caribbean destinations list because they fit those categories better.

How the Backpacker Index works

Prices for most things are fixed and certain, but prices for a “budget lunch” or a pint of beer can vary depending on whom you ask. Still, our estimates are based on a lot of research, and should be very close if not right on.

Costs for each city

  • One night in the cheapest bunk at the least expensive hostel with a good location and good reviews
  • Two public transportation rides per day
  • One paid/famous attraction per day (Every city is loaded with free things to do for budget-conscious travelers, but here we take the average cost of a major attraction in each city for each day.)
  • Three “budget” meals per day.
  • Three cheap, local beers each day as an “entertainment fund.” Non-drinkers might have dessert and coffee or attend a local music performance instead, so this is a general benchmark that should be proportional for each city.

North America Backpacker Index for 2014

1 – Las Vegas, USA (cheapest)

Those who can avoid gambling, or at least those who can avoid losing money, can actually stretch their funds in amazing ways in Las Vegas, with actual hotel rooms sometimes as low as US$10/night. It’s all about where you stay in this town, and those staying in the Downtown area or northern part of the Strip will have many good budget options for food, drinks, and entertainment at low prices. In fact, there is limitless free entertainment available (as long as you don’t lose gambling) so we count “Attractions” as free here.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Hostel Cat Las Vegas – 11.50/night
  • Transportation: 4.00
  • Meals: 26.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 6.00
  • Attractions: 0.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$57.90/day

>>>Las Vegas prices and weather

2 – New Orleans, USA

A genuine travel bargain once you arrive, New Orleans has affordable accommodation plus fantastic food and drinks that are cheaper than most other large cities, even at some of the fancier places. The Bourbon Street area is really a bargain for nightlife and such, but there are good deals almost everywhere in the Big Easy.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: India House Backpacker’s Hostel – 20/night
  • Transportation: 2.50
  • Meals: 20.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 6.00
  • Attractions: 10.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$58.90/day

>>>New Orleans prices and weather

3 – Montreal, Canada

Montreal isn’t necessarily “cheap” even by North American standards, but thanks to some good hostels at reasonable prices it can be quite affordable for backpackers. There are plenty of free things to do and see here as well, and the French influence makes it one of the more interesting places in the region. Highly recommended if you can work it into your trip.

  • Currency: Canadian dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Alexandrie-Montreal Youth Hostel – 18.49/night
  • Transportation: 6.00
  • Meals: 22.80
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 9.00
  • Attractions: 10.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CAD66.29 – US$60.82/day

>>>Montreal prices and weather

4 – Toronto, Canada

Similar to Montreal, Toronto isn’t really a cheap city except for hostels. The weakened Canadian dollar has also pushed costs down for the rest of us as well. This place has plenty going for it though, as perhaps the nicest and cleanest huge city in North America. The city center is compact enough to walk it though, and the nightlife district is one of the best in the world, so there’s no reason to stay away.

  • Currency: Canadian dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: HI – Toronto – 18/night
  • Transportation: 6.00
  • Meals: 22.80
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 12.00
  • Attractions: 16.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CAD74.80 – US$68.62/day

>>>Toronto prices and weather

5 – Honolulu, USA

Unlike anywhere else in the Hawaiian Islands, Honolulu itself makes it possible for a budget traveler to stay within a reasonable budget. It’s obviously not the same as sipping margaritas on a lonely beach at an exclusive resort, though it’s still pretty damn nice even staying in a hostel in this large city.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Polynesian Hostel Beach Club – 24/night
  • Transportation: 5.00
  • Meals: 21.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 9.00
  • Attractions: 10.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$69.60/day

>>>Honolulu prices and weather

6 – Los Angeles, USA

Due to its ridiculously spread-out nature, transportation can be a problem in Los Angeles if you are intent on seeing many different things. But at least finding budget meals and drinks is rarely difficult. Those who mainly want to see the beach and other outdoor sights can really save money, but the big theme parks all cost a fortune. If you are interested in theme parks and studio tours then you should seriously consider buying a Go Los Angeles Card before you go. Some new hostels have opened in non-convenient neighborhoods so it’s best to stick to a place at least close to something you want to do or see.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Banana Bungalow Hollywood – 30/night
  • Transportation: 3.00
  • Meals: 18.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 12.00
  • Attractions: 10.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$70.00/day

>>>Los Angeles prices and weather

7 – Washington DC, USA

Washington DC is quite expensive for hotels, and finding cheap eats isn’t always easy when you are in the main tourist zones. However, nearly all of the museums in the city are free, so this is the only city other than Las Vegas that we assigned a zero price for Attractions, giving visitors a bit more to spend on food and drinks. As long as you can find an affordable hostel bed, everything else tends to be good value here because most of it is free.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Simpkins’ Hostel Capitol City – 28/night
  • Transportation: 4.20
  • Meals: 27.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 12.00
  • Attractions: 0.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$71.80/day

>>>Washington DC prices and weather

8 – Miami Beach, USA

Miami Beach (but not necessarily the nearby city of Miami) has really transformed itself into more of a luxury playground in the past two decades, so it’s not too surprising that it’s a bit tough of the backpacking crowd. Finding cheap meals and drinks can be a challenge, though it’s still a wonderful place to visit if you can fit it within your budget. At least there are cheap hostels here, as long as you don’t mind staying on the less glamorous side of the “island.”

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Bikini Hostel – 18/night
  • Transportation: 4.50
  • Meals: 25.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 15.00
  • Attractions: 8.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$74.70/day

>>>Miami Beach prices and weather

9 – San Francisco, USA

San Francisco is very expensive by most American standards, but it’s also extremely popular and worthwhile for visitors. Some good-value hostels keep totals down, and cheap food shouldn’t be tough to find in those same areas. There are also plenty of great free attractions, so the city can be quite reasonable with the right strategy. Hotels can be very expensive here so for non-backpackers San Francisco is one of the priciest cities in America.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: San Francisco International Hostel – 29/night
  • Transportation: 4.00
  • Meals: 20.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 12.00
  • Attractions: 10.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$75.40/day

>>>San Francisco prices and weather

10 – Vancouver, Canada

Another Canadian city that is still plenty worth a visit even though it’s a bit pricey, Vancouver is just about as pleasant as a city can get as long as you avoid the gloomy winter months. Hostels have become more expensive in the last couple of years, so keeping your budget down is a challenge. Hotels in the better neighborhoods are also pricey.

  • Currency: Canadian dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: SameSun Backpacker Lodges Vancouver – 31/night
  • Transportation: 5.00
  • Meals: 19.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 10.50
  • Attractions: 17.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CAD83.20 – US$76.33/day

>>>Vancouver prices and weather

11 – Chicago, USA

Most things in Chicago are cheaper than in New York City, but there still aren’t too many hostels yet, so finding bargains can be tough. Fortunately, the city center is very compact and easy to visit, and many of the interesting ethnic neighborhoods are also close by and easy to reach. The famous museums here are quite expensive though, although not as bad as those in New York City.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Urban Holiday Lofts – 25/night
  • Transportation: 4.00
  • Meals: 21.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 9.00
  • Attractions: 18.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$77.60/day

>>>Chicago prices and weather

12 – New York City, USA

Unsurprisingly, New York City comes out as most expensive, partly due to the high cost of decent hostels here. The one listed below is actually in Brooklyn, and staying in a nice place in tourist-friendly Manhattan is even more expensive. This city has an abundance of horrible or remote hostels, and for most people it’s worth paying more for a good and central place. Once you have a bed, New York City can be done at a reasonable cost, however. Also, the compact nature of the place makes finding cheap meals quite easy, which isn’t true of some of the spread-out cities. See our recommended hotels and hostels in New York City list for great choices that are all usually quite cheap.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: NYC Guesthouse – 37.95/night
  • Transportation: 5.00
  • Meals: 21.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 15.00
  • Attractions: 20.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$99.55/day

>>>New York City prices and weather

Also check out Backpacker Indexes from the rest of the world




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