Ask Lonely Planet: It's not cheap to see the land of the free

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If you're keen to explore America's great outdoors, you're probably better off with a car. Photo / Creative Commons image from Wikimedia
If you're keen to explore America's great outdoors, you're probably better off with a car. Photo / Creative Commons image from Wikimedia

How long could one last in the USA with a budget of $6000 to $7000. I have found a cheap bus company that runs on the east coast, but what are some other low cost travel options. Also, I know the Visa Waiver Program allows you to stay in the country for only 90 days, but if I were to go to Canada for a couple of weeks and re-enter the US, would the 90 days restart?

- Matt Lambert

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

Travel in American doesn't come cheap and it's easy to blow your budget. Only the extremely thrifty will spend less than US$100 a day, so at current exchange rates your money might last seven weeks, if you're lucky.

A comfortably mid-range budget ranges from around $175 to $225 a day. For this sum you could expect to cover a rental car, fuel, two meals, a decent hotel and a museum admission or two.

Spending more than $300 a day isn't hard, though, especially if you head to the cities. In rural areas, for example, $100 can buy a princely night's sleep, but in some cities decent rooms start at $200.

Mode of transport is a big factor. Buses are a cheap choice and a good way to hop between cities and major towns. Greyhound crisscrosses the country and offers a Discovery Pass that gives unrestricted travel for between seven days ($246) and 60 days ($556), with increments in between.

If you're keen to explore America's great outdoors though, you're probably better off with a car. It is more expensive, but provides flexibility and allows you to get off the beaten track. Expect to pay at least $30 a day for a compact, economy car and $20 to $40 a day on gas. Car Rental Express compares independent agencies and can be useful for finding good deals particularly on longer-term rentals.

You can keep costs down - and commune with nature - by pitching a tent. From basic sites in State Parks to all bells-and-whistles RV resorts, there are more than 10,000 camping options in the USA, many in some of its most beautiful places.

You can find most of them on these useful websites: recreation.gov, reserveamerica.com and koa.com.

If somehow you manage to eke your budget out longer than your 90-day limit, the Visa Waiver Program does not allow you to extend your stay by popping to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands. Instead, you'll have to apply for a B2-type visa. Visit the US Embassy New Zealand website for more details.

Missing attractions

What can one do when a brochure issued by a travel agent over-promises and then under-delivers on the trip. We have discussed the issues with the agent and they say they met the brochure description fully. Yet they have offered us compensation. Unfortunately the compensation does not cover the costs of further travel to see the places that we have already paid to see but were not taken to. What would you advise? We have completed numerous similar trips with complete satisfaction, but this one was a lemon.

- Neal McCarthy

When booking through a reputable travel agent you're paying for professional advice from experts. You should get what you pay for and if you have problems on your trip it's not unreasonable to expect things to be put right, or else be compensated fairly.

Without knowing the specifics, it's difficult to know what you're entitled to, but if you're not satisfied with the service or offer of compensation from the travel agent, contact the head office if they have one. Be persistent. An offer of compensation is not necessarily an admission of guilt, but it is a common method for keeping customers happy and avoiding bad publicity.

You'll have a much stronger case if you kept a detailed record of the things that you were unhappy with, and voiced your concerns at the time, rather than after the fact. If you know of other people on the trip who were unsatisfied, their evidence could be useful, too.

The Travel Agents' Association of New Zealand is a good resource, with 50 years experience representing the industry; it also acts as an independent mediator in disputes between customers and member travel agents. More information, including the travel agent code of ethics are available at taanz.org.nz.

- NZ Herald

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