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Want to go backpacking in USA, worried about border/customs

Want to go backpacking in USA, worried about border/customs

Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 01:05 AM
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Want to go backpacking in USA, worried about border/customs

Hey everyone,

I'm thinking of travelling to USA. I'll be getting an ESTA visa which means I can stay for up to three months. I am planning on doing it on a shoestring i.e. staying in backpackers hostels and camping either in camp sites or wild where it is legal.

I will have about 9500-10000 dollars. This is enough to do it how I would like. My worry however is that at the border they will ask how much money I have, say this isn't enough for three months, and send me back to England.

If they did this I would offer to buy at the airport an earlier flight home for say a month, and say ''well if I have trouble with money I'll just go back early''. Would they be ok with this? How are they likely to react? Will I be refused three months entry for having just $85-$100 a day?

I thought about just lying and saying ''oh I'm only going for a month'' with a flight booked back and then just staying three but I hate lying, feels and am very bad at it so will probably get caught so would much rather be honest. Would it be worth lying do you think? I just don't want them to turn me away for ''not having enough money'' even though I have done budget shoe string stuff like this before no problem.

Thanks for any advice/help!
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 02:40 AM
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Well the truth is that you don't' REALLY know if th that is enoug h for 3 months because you have to get to those cheap places to stay or camp.
I don't know the rules for telling customs how much money you have or hwo they know. Hitchhiking is not very prevalent now I think (not sure) and not allowed on interstates.
Just some thoughts. Maybe 2 months isn't a "lie".
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 03:10 AM
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Most travelers use credit cards are debit cards. Wouldn't a denit card be a safer way to travel? You should carry that much cash on you.

you might also consider having money wired to you.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 04:13 AM
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Thanks for replies so far. I guess I could just book a flight with return flight for 5 nights to new York (5 nights in new york sounds standard kind of break a single person would take, right?) and then lie to them that I am only going for 5 nights but actually I'd be staying 3 months and going all over the place? (Or less if I run out of money).

I hate lying but really it isn't going to hurt anyone, the visa I'd be on let's you stay for three months anyway, I'd be lying just to ease their concerns about not having enough money. I have done this kind of shoestring thing before in other countries and know I would be fine and if I look like I'm gonna run out of cash can come home early .

The only way they'd know I was lying is if they somehow and for some reason went through huge difficulty and checked my rent account and saw I had paid three months rent in advance to cover my stay, but I can just say ''Oh I did that incase my plans change and I end up staying longer or going somewhere else, landlord said they'd refund it if i went back early'', don't think they would have a problem?

Last edited by Jayboo11; Mar 22nd, 2022 at 04:37 AM.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 05:31 AM
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I wouldn't lie. If you somehow get caught you might be barred from returning for several years. I'd just say you're hoping to travel for a few months. I don't think that's an unrealistic goal with $10,000. Bring your bank statements, debit and credit cards and return air ticket. Prepare a reasonable itinerary. You don't have to stick to it, but it might help Immigration (and you) to determine if you have the resources to follow it.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 07:36 AM
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I think it would also help if you could present a loose itinerary of your backpacking plan. X number of nights in this area, moving on to Y number of nights in that area and then Z number of nights in the next place, etc... proof that you've really thought this out. To land and just say you're going to go where the wind takes you for as long as the money lasts might raise some flags.

I don't know about the East Coast backpacking/camping areas, but in many established campgrounds on the West Coast reservations are required from May to October. In California, back country permits are required for many areas, and these are usually not available at the last minute. Some are issued on a lottery basis months in advance. If wilderness hiking is in your plans, investigate what is required where you plan to go... like bear-proof food containers, for instance. These can be rented, but you need to know what you need to know.

If your idea of "backpacking" is mostly just moving from one hostel to another with a pack on your back, you still need to plan that out. Hostels often require advance reservations.

And just a general comment... Since the pandemic, camping and backpacking and just getting away from home/cities has become more popular. Lots of places are much more crowded than they were pre-Covid. If your trip would be in 2022, some reservations may be hard to get at this point.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 08:17 AM
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"checked my rent account and saw I had paid three months rent in advance"

"I am planning on doing it on a shoestring i.e. staying in backpackers hostels and camping either in camp sites or wild where it is legal."

So which is it?

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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 08:34 AM
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Originally Posted by thursdaysd
"checked my rent account and saw I had paid three months rent in advance"

"I am planning on doing it on a shoestring i.e. staying in backpackers hostels and camping either in camp sites or wild where it is legal."

So which is it?
I meant my rent at home.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 08:45 AM
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You sure seem to be fixated on 'lying' -- which is pretty disheartening. You posted 'lie' or 'lying' 8 times which seems to indicate your are more than comfortable with stretching the truth with immigration officials.

Why not just plan a trip that actually fits your budget . . . so much easier/less fraught with drama.

AND you really do need to pre-plan a fair bit because 'rough camping' isn't legal in a lot of places, camp grounds in popular places like some state and national parks can book up weeks or months in advance. US hostels can be more expensive than you may expect and the good ones book up far ahead for peak summer months. And public transport in remote/rural areas where the most scenic regions are can be scarce to non existent. Hitch hiking is a dying 'art' in the States. Most people would never pick up a solo guy
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 08:58 AM
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Originally Posted by janisj
You sure seem to be fixated on 'lying' -- which is pretty disheartening. You posted 'lie' or 'lying' 8 times which seems to indicate your are more than comfortable with stretching the truth with immigration officials.
Oh I suffer from anxiety disorder, was awake for hours last night thinking/worrying about this even though I don't even have a passport yet haha. Yeah that would be a wiser decision, the money I save I can just use to go somewhere else (Nepal look nice!). I'm not comfortable with it that's the thing or I wouldn't be worrying.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 09:00 AM
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''Hitch hiking is a dying 'art' in the States. Most people would never pick up a solo guy''

Yeah I am aware of that. It's sad, people haven't just suddenly got more dangerous/criminal than in the 60's when it was popular, just the mass media scares everyone these days.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 09:15 AM
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The US doesn't really lend itself to the kind of trip you are envisioning. It is very different from Europe.

First: it is a big country, and distances can be vast.
Second: aside from a few cities - Boston, New York, D.C., San Francisco - it is car country. There are a very few long distance trains - see Amtrak - and some long distance buses, but almost everyone either flies or drives.
Third: forget about hitch-hiking. In a lot of places you are more likely to be picked up by the police as a vagrant than get a ride. Truck stops on highways might work, but you have to get there first.
Fourth: you don't say where you want to go, but you may not find a hostel, or the one you find may be more expensive than you expect.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 09:47 AM
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Do not under any circumstance lie to the border agent. You will get caught and you will be barred from entry for the rest of your life. I agree that the US, and Canada too, is not very amenable to the backpacking style of travel. We don't even have Greyhound in Canada anymore.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 10:17 AM
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If you have a nice apartment in an interesting place, all paid for for three months, perhaps you could do some kind of home exchange or host someone who would then host you in return. I have no experience, just read about it some.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 11:17 AM
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Immigration agents must get people all the time coming from Europe wanting to do what you want to do, so don't sweat it. If they ask, just tell them the truth. You could travel by train (Amtrak). That's what I did one summer in Europe with a backpack. The problem here is public transportation is not as good when you arrive at an train station in a city or town and so it's difficult to get to scenic areas with campsites. It would be nice if you could see several of the premiere national parks in the West (Yosemite, Zion, Yellowstone, Sequoia, etc.) and camp nearby in the national forests (some national forests allow free camping in unimproved campsites). You would really need a car and that could cost $1,500/month.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 11:48 AM
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Map of Amtrak routes in the US: https://www.amtrak.com/plan-your-trip.html

Map of routes in Germany: enlarged map

Consider the difference, bearing mind the massive difference in the size of the countries - Germany is about half the size of Texas.

It is (or was) possible to visit the Grand Canyon by train, and use the shuttle buses once there, don't know about the other parks. You certainly can't visit Great Smoky Mountains, the most popular park in the US, by public transport, for instance.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 11:49 AM
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I don't think there is any chance they are going to find out you prepaid your rent at home for 3 months.

I think you are worried about nothing and they won't care about your issues as they seem ok to me. The idea that $3K isn't enough to live on for a month is odd anyway, that would be an annual income of $40K a year. Do you know how many people in the US have to live on less than that normally? So I don't think they'll say that. I know travelers have to spend more than residents for food and housing, but still.

What is really odd about this whole thing and your problem is that you don't seem to own a credit card. That is your problem. If you really don't own a credit card, I don't understand what's going on. I had a credit card when I was about 18 and that was a long time ago. And on my own merits. YOu just have to have one in case of emergencies, etc. I don't think you should be doing this trip if you really are carrying "cash" on you, as you said. Really dangerous.

I don't think you have any basis for your remarks about how safe hitchhiking is and about how people aren't more dangerous now, it's just media blowing things up. You don't know that, I bet. In fact, the biggest reason for the decline in hitchhiking over the years (compared to the Depression, etc) is that fact that so many people own cars nowadays. Everybody almost has one, even teens which was really rare when I was young or people with low incomes. Cars have gotten a lot cheaper comparatively and last longer than they did back in the 1930s. That's why you may find hitchhikiing much more common in less developed countries. Along with that, that means that the kind of people who hitchhike today in the US are different on average than in the 1940s.

Hitching is illegal on major interstates, I believe, but you could maybe do it on small roads and in more rural areas.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 12:22 PM
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First, and this is important, you do NOT get three months on the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA is the approval process), you get 90 days so be sure and count them properly to avoid an overstay.
I agree with Cristina, you really need a credit and debit card for any car rental or to pay for the occasional hotel or motel.
You need to also get a hostel directory, they are just not that common in the US as compared to Europe and Australia.
Don't get all elaborate with Immigration, just answer their questions and do not elaborate.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 01:20 PM
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https://www.thebrokebackpacker.com/b...-travel-guide/

There are many websites like this.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2022, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by PrairieHikerII
Immigration agents must get people all the time coming from Europe wanting to do what you want to do, so don't sweat it. If they ask, just tell them the truth. You could travel by train (Amtrak). That's what I did one summer in Europe with a backpack. The problem here is public transportation is not as good when you arrive at an train station in a city or town and so it's difficult to get to scenic areas with campsites. It would be nice if you could see several of the premiere national parks in the West (Yosemite, Zion, Yellowstone, Sequoia, etc.) and camp nearby in the national forests (some national forests allow free camping in unimproved campsites). You would really need a car and that could cost $1,500/month.
If the OP is young Border Patrol very well may ask very detailed questions about money, insurance, etc. The same thing can happen when young Americans show up in Shengen or the UK. It may not be fair -- but it definitely does happen.

Amtrak isn't really an option for those traveling on a tight budget -- its just too expensive on most routes. Amtrak is hopeless compared to the trains you took in Europe.

In the current car rental situation - IF the OP is old enough and has a license/credit card - a car would probably cost more than $1500 a month -- Even $100 a day has become hard to find in many regions.

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