13 North American cities by price: Backpacker Index for 2019

Downtown Los AngelesNow fully updated for 2019, the North American Backpacker Index is in its 9th year to rank the major tourist cities in the US and Canada from cheapest to most expensive. The currencies and inflation rates were pretty stable through 2018, so not much changed except for some price increases at many hostels in both countries.

More than in most of the world, it's difficult to rank these cities in a meaningful way because food and drink costs are pretty similar in all of them. This list is meant to help backpackers and budget travelers, and those who are bargain hunters can find really great deals in all of these places, while mid-range tourists with more money than time will end up paying much higher prices.

Again this year we included Mexico City on the South and Central America Index, 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 2019

1Montreal, Canada (cheapest)

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. The relative weakness in the Canadian dollar has helped make Montreal a bargain, at least for Americans. 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
  • Best cheap hostel: Auberge Bishop – 26.25/night
  • Transportation: 6.50
  • Meals: 25.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 15.00
  • Attractions: 12.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CA$84.95 – US$63.87/day

>>>Montreal prices and weather


2New 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. This is a unique and wonderful city that should be included on any itinerary if possible.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: City House New Orleans – 26/night
  • Transportation: 3.00
  • Meals: 21.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 9.00
  • Attractions: 12.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$71.60/day

>>>New Orleans prices and weather


3Miami Beach, USA

Miami Beach (and parts of the nearby city of Miami) has really transformed itself into more of a luxury playground in the past two decades, yet there are still some good deals for 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, even in a popular part of Miami Beach itself. In fact, Miami Beach has some of the cheapest hostels in the United States because of all the competition.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: SoBe Hostel & Bar – 15.70/night
  • Transportation: 4.50
  • Meals: 25.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 18.00
  • Attractions: 10.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$73.40/day

>>>Miami Beach prices and weather


4Washington 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 that we assigned a zero ($0) 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
  • Best cheap hostel: HI Washington DC – 32.40/night
  • Transportation: 4.50
  • Meals: 27.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 15.00
  • Attractions: 0.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$79.50/day

>>>Washington DC prices and weather


5Vancouver, 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
  • Best cheap hostel: SameSun Vancouver – 41/night
  • Transportation: 5.70
  • Meals: 26.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 18.00
  • Attractions: 18.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CA$109.10 – US$82.03/day

>>>Vancouver prices and weather


6Toronto, Canada

Similar to the others, Toronto isn't really a cheap city by international standards, but it is a very nice and impressive city so it's worth a visit. 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
  • Best cheap hostel: HI – Toronto – 38.85/night
  • Transportation: 6.50
  • Meals: 26.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 18.00
  • Attractions: 20.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: CA$109.75 – US$82.52/day

>>>Toronto prices and weather


7Los 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
  • Best cheap hostel: Banana Bungalow West Hollywood – 29.04/night
  • Transportation: 3.50
  • Meals: 21.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 13.50
  • Attractions: 15.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$82.64/day

>>>Los Angeles prices and weather


8Honolulu, 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. There are plenty of cheap restaurants and even dive bars in Waikiki Beach, but this is still mostly a leisure destination rather than a cultural one for most people.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: Seaside Hawaiian Hostel Waikiki – 32/night
  • Transportation: 5.50
  • Meals: 21.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 13.50
  • Attractions: 15.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$87.60/day

>>>Honolulu prices and weather


9Las Vegas, USA

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$15/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. If you are coming with kids you'll want to consider the Las Vegas Power Pass, which gets you about 24 premium attractions for one discounted price.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: Hostel Cat Las Vegas – 31.50/night
  • Transportation: 4.00
  • Meals: 26.40
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 12.00
  • Attractions: 15.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$78.59/day

>>>Las Vegas prices and weather


10Chicago, 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.

>>>Chicago prices and weather


11Boston, USA

BostonBoston is one of the USA's classic cities and an important stop for anyone who wants to get to know the historic New England region. The main sights are all in a compact area in the center, and prices in that area are a bit high for the US. There are also very few good hostels in central Boston, so the better ones are able to charge more than you might think.

  • Currency: US dollar
  • Best cheap hostel: HI Boston – 40.99/night
  • Transportation: 4.00
  • Meals: 24.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 15.00
  • Attractions: 20.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$103.99/day

>>>Boston prices and weather


12San Francisco, USA

San Francisco is very expensive by most American standards, but it's also extremely popular and worthwhile for visitors. This city now rivals New York for expensive hostel rates in central neighborhoods, though 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
  • Best cheap hostel: HI San Francisco – Downtown – 45/night
  • Transportation: 5.50
  • Meals: 25.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 18.00
  • Attractions: 15.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$108.70/day

>>>San Francisco prices and weather


13New York City, USA

NewYorkCityTSUnsurprisingly, New York City comes out as most expensive, but not by much again this year. There are several really good new hostels that have opened up just across the river in Queens, which is actually a far more convenient neighborhood than the established hostels way in the north of Manhattan. Once you have a bed, New York City can be done at a reasonable cost. 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
  • Best cheap hostel: International Student Center – 40/night
  • Transportation: 6.00
  • Meals: 24.00
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 18.00
  • Attractions: 25.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: US$113.00/day

>>>New York City prices and weather


Also check out Backpacker Indexes from the rest of the world




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