Travel to USA

The United States of America is the second largest country in North America (not far behind Canada). Commonly referred to as the USA, the U.S., the States, the United States, or simply America. The country is undoubtedly a global powerhouse with everyone across the world knowing something about the USA – perhaps even having their own ‘American Dream’.

Also popularly known as the ‘land of opportunities’ there are many sights and sounds to experience across the 50 states. While the cities are a massive draw for tourists, with New York, Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas being major hotspots – the country also has some amazingly beautiful landscapes to explore.

Some highlights include the Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks, the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills, the Lakes, the great Mississippi river, the surfing hotspots of Oahu and the vast wilderness of Alaska. Hiking, surfing, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing and boating – it’s all possible somewhere in the States.

A USA trip isn’t complete without ticking off at least one of these major sights – the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Hollywood sign, a cheesy Las Vegas neon sign, the Golden Gate and the White House. Though, these are just the start of the amazing sightseeing opportunities and tourist hotspots spread throughout the country.

The sheer mass of the country and the diversity of its people and land prevents any overarching statement about a typical American trip. There are so many different kinds of experiences, with an opportunity to change it up each time that you visit.

Travel tips for the USA

Visa Requirements for the USA

Citizens from countries within the Visa Waiver Program as well as citizens of Bermuda and Canada, as well as Mexicans living on the border (holding a Border Crossing Card) do not need a visa to visit the U.S. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) includes 38 countries to visit the U.S for business or travel purposes for up to 90 days. Visas will be required for longer periods. Visit this website for a list countries included in this program. In order to travel without a visa on the VWP, you must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S. bound air or sea carrier. Visit the ESTA webpage on the CBP website for more information.

For Canadians and Bermudians, the entry period is normally for a maximum of six months.

For citizens for all other countries, a visa will need to be obtained before arriving in the U.S. There are different types of U.S visas, so make sure that you apply for the right kind of visa. In broad terms you will either apply for a non-immigrant visa or an immigrant visa (there are different types of visas in each category). Visit your nearest USA embassy for all visa requirements and forms.

Important Cultural Information

America is made up of several different ethnic groups, with varying cultures throughout the country and even within the same city. Take a city like New York, for example, you will find different ethnicities represented in each neighborhood. Despite these differences, the county has a strong national identity with certain common cultural traits.

Politics is a big part of American culture. Most Americans will defend their Political opinions across a wide range of issues. Political debates often get heated and lead to insults and personal attacks. For this reason it is best to avoid any political discussions with Americans, unless you come from an unobjective and unbiased point of view. Most will be happy to share their views with you, as long as you don’t get too defensive against what they are saying.

Americans are generally perceived as loud, passionate and curious conversationalists that tend to be quite open and vocal about various issues that other cultures may be more reserved about. Americans may also seem superficial ro rude in some parts of the world, though this is simply how they come across.

Another interesting part of the American culture is that Americans often tend to identify with the country of their ancestry, even if several generations of their ancestors were born in the U.S. For example, many descendents of Irish, Italian or African descent will often identify as Irish, Italian or African rather than American.

Banking & Money in the USA

The official currency in the U.S is the United States dollar ($). A dollar is divided into 100 cents. Common American bills are for $1, $5, $10, $20, while the $50 and $100 bills are less common.

You will find currency exchange centers in main downtown areas as well as at international airports, many banks will also provide exchange services. The best option is to draw cash from an ATM, which are widely available. Make sure to let your bank know that you will be traveling internationally beforehand – also note that you will be charged a fee.

The major banks in the U.S include Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citibank. All of which have branches and ATMs in most major cities across the country.

Visa and MasterCard are widely used and accepted throughout all 50 states and all inhabited territories. Almost all retailers will accept card, even for amounts as small as $1. Most hostels, restaurants, bars and other dining facilities will also accept card. If on the off-chance they don’t, you will likely see a sign outside saying ‘Cash only’.

Medical Emergency Information

Like all of the movies and TV shows have taught us, the nationwide emergency number in the U.S. is 911. This is the number to call for medical, fire or crime related emergencies. It can be called from any telephone.

We advise getting good travel insurance USA before you travel. Compare options with both WorldNomads and SafetyWing.

Wi-Fi and Internet in the USA

Finding Wi-Fi in the United States is generally an easy task. Most restaurants, cafes and hotels will offer free Wi-Fi. There is also an increasing amount of free Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas and tourist attractions in the major cities. Wi-Fi is also usually available on trains, buses and airplanes. Make sure to set-up a VPN (like ExpressVPN) before using public Wi-Fi spots.

If you are in the USA for a long trip, you can get a U.S. SIM card at a mobile phone retailer. Tourists are recommended to consider AT&T or T-Mobile USA. Both offer good coverage and offer pay-as-you-go plans with both calling minutes and data. You can get these SIM cards at the airport upon arrival or at one of the retailers as well as at convenience stores like 7-Eleven, CVS, Target, Walgreens and Walmart.

For those looking to put in a few hours of work while in the country, there are ample coworking spaces available throughout the country. Just a simple Google search will provide loads of options of places to check out.

Arrival in the USA

Unless you are arriving to the USA from Mexico or Canada, you will likely be arriving via plane. There are several major international airports spread throughout the country.

Most travelers, however, will arrive at one of the below major entry points along the coast:

  • New York City, Newark NJ, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston, Washington D.C., Orlando, and Miami are the major entry points for people coming from the east (Europe).
  • Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Honolulu are the major entry points for people coming from the west (Asia).
  • Qantas serves Dallas/Fort Worth non-stop from Sydney, along with a daily service to Los Angeles from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and San Francisco from Sydney. Air New Zealand also serves Houston from Auckland as well as Honolulu, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
  • Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis are major ports for travelers from major Asian and Canadian countries.
  • Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas are major entry ports for travelers coming from South and Central America and the Caribbean. Most major airports in the US have direct flights to most Mexican cities.
  • Miami is the main entry port from Cuba.
  • There is a direct flight to New York, Chicago and San Francisco from New Delhi, India, as well as a direct flight from Mumbai to New York. There are also direct flights to New York from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, UAE and South Africa.

Travelers should be warned that international flights bound for the U.S tend to have much higher security. Before leaving for the U.S make sure to research the latest travel regulations and be sure to abide as the airport security procedures continue to evolve. Travelers arriving from Canada can take advantage of clearing U.S entry formalities (passport control and customs) at their Canadian port-of-exit.

Search for flights to America on Expedia.

If coming from either Canada or Mexico, you can arrive via car from the several border crossings. Note that these border crossings are amongst some of the busiest in the world so expect long waiting times. Consider Europcar for car rental in the U.S. There are of course several bus operators operating bus routes between the U.S and Canada and Mexico. Greyhound is a popular bus operator in the area.

Amtrak offers an international train service from the Canadian cities of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal into the U.S. There are no train services operating border-crossings from Mexico and the U.S. San Diego and El Paso are the nearest train stations to the Mexican border.

Areas of the USA

There are 50 states in the United States of America – the country is extremely diverse, offering something different in each state. Listing all 50 states would be a bit extreme, so we’ve divided the country into 13 broader areas. These are generally the more popular tourist areas of the U.S.

New England

Here you will find the cities of Boston, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire. There are beaches, rugged mountains and snowy winters. You’ll also find some interesting small towns in this region that is steeped in American history.

Mid-Atlantic

Here you will find the cities of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia. The mid-Atlantic is home to some of the countries most densely populated cities along with some of the most cosmopolitan areas – namely New York City.

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South USA

The South of American includes the cities of Alabama, Arkansas (here’s a few things to do in Little Rock), Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina. The south is all about friendly hospitality, home cooking and its lively music scene ranging from the blues to jazz, rock ‘n roll and country. The south still holds onto their strong traditions of religion, family and food – it’s easy to identify a Southerner. The landscapes range from mountains and waterfalls to plantations of cotton and sugarcane and long palm-tree lined beaches.

Florida

With its tropical climate, Florida is a haven of resorts and white sandy beaches – along with some giant theme parks in the central areas. Florida is one of the most popular tourist destinations, including Miami and Key West. The tropical jungles, blue oceans, coral reefs, savannas, sandy beaches and exotic wildlife are always extremely exciting for visitors.

Here’s a few things to do in St Augustine, a coastal city in Florida.

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Midwest of USA

Cities in the midwest include Illinois, Indiana, Michigan (where you’ll find Torch Lake), Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Here you will find farmlands, forests, lakes, small towns and industrial cities.

Texas

Texas the second biggest state in the U.S with a strong influence from its Spanish and Mexican past. The landscapes range from subtropical jungles and savannas through to the rugged South Plains, sandy beaches, mountains, cattle-ranches and hot deserts. Major cities in Texas include Houston, Dallas, San Antonia and Austin.

Great Plains

Cities located within the Great Plains include North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and Oklahoma. These are the flat states, featuring forests and desolate areas.

Rocky Mountains

The place for adventure! The snow-covered Rocky Mountains offer great hiking, rafting and snow skiing opportunities. The area also features deserts, subtropical lowlands and highlands along with the cities of Colorado (here’s the best things to do in Pagosa Springs), Montana (here’s the best outdoor activities in Montana) and Wyoming.

Southwest of USA

Home to the cities of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Las Vegas, Phoenix and New Mexico. The southwest is heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture as well as having a strong native American influence. It’s the land of canyons, meteor craters, sand dunes and giant mountains.

California

California offers a mix of modern cities, rainforests, coastlines, snowy mountains, deserts and beautiful beaches. Major Californian cities include San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. It is a popular holiday destination in the U.S – particularly the beaches in Northern California.

Travel tips for California

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Pacific Northwest

There’s a mix of outdoor activities and cosmopolitan cities located in the Pacific Northwest. Cities include Washington DC, Idaho and Oregon. The outdoor spaces include forests, mountains and beaches!

Alaska

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Hawaii

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Transportation in the USA

Because the massive size of the U.S and the great distances between major cities, most travelers will travel via plane between destinations. However, road tripping is also quite popular for tourists coming to the U.S (particularly along Route 66).

Most cities will have one or two airports (for example, you’ll find two international airports in California), with extensive domestic flights. Many smaller towns will also have a small airport – though, you may need to transfer to another airport first. Search for domestic flights here. You can get from the east to the west in about a six hour flight, or five hours if traveling from the west to the east.

If you have time, you could also consider long distance trains and buses to travel between major cities. Amtrak is the national rail network, though this is rarely the fastest way to travel. The rail network also isn’t as comprehensive as what most would expect. The East Coast states from Virginia northward are well covered however a few of the Western states have no rail network. The long-distance trains will also be much more expensive than the bus. You should also note that you will need to book far in advance, especially between major East Coast cities. Greyhound is the main long-distance bus carrier.

There are extensive public transport options available in the big cities, especially New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco.

Outside of these cities, public transport is not as commonly used as many locals prefer to drive their own cars. For car hire in the United States, you would need to have had a driving license for at least a year. You will also have to have a credit card. Major car hire companies are available at most international airports as well as major hubs throughout the country. Consider Europcar for your car hire.

Transport in the USA

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Accommodations in the USA

No matter where you travel to the United States, you will find a variety of good quality accommodation ranging between all budgets, especially in the cities. Motels are common throughout the country, while you will also find a mix of other budget-friendly accommodation options like guesthouses, hostels or budget hotels. Motels are found beside main roads and are a common accommodation choice for travelers on a road trip looking for a convenient place to spend a night. The rooms are generally quite standard, though include the basic amenities one would need.

Travelers with a higher budget will find a variety of boutique hotels, luxury hotels and lush all-inclusive resorts.

Throughout the country, but especially out West, many towns still feature historic hotels. They are usually well-preserved and fun for a night or two, though don’t expect them to feature modern amenities.

Some cities, usually the popular tourist ones, require hotel tax that is added on to your accommodation rate – as much as 15%!

Read our guide on where to stay in New York for the best places to sleep in the city. And for the outdoor fans, here’s the best camping places in the USA.

Make sure to book ahead to ensure that you get the accommodation that you want – especially in popular tourist destinations and around holidays, festivals and events. We recommend checking out accommodation on online booking sites like Booking.com and Expedia.

Accommodations in the USA

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What to Eat and Drink in the USA

The food scene in the States is extremely diverse – both in terms of its establishments and its cuisine. From 24-hour diners and take-out joints through to five-star fine-dining restaurants – there is something for everyone.

While many may think of the USA food scene being comprised mainly of fast foods, that’s not the case. While, yes, there are a lot of fast-food joints and convenience stores, there is also so much more. Each state has its own specialties and regional cuisines. There are also a number of international cuisines available – you can literally find any type of food. Popular international cuisines include Chinese, Asian-inspired, Italian, Portuguese, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean.

When in the Midwest, the Rockies, the South and Texas, the food scene is all about steaks and other beef products. Fish is the main cuisine in Florida, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, Maryland and the Pacific Northwest. The East Coast is popular for Shellfish while Maine lobsters and steamers (clams) are the dish to eat in New England. Cajun food, inspired by French cuisine, is found in Louisiana and Creole cuisine is mainly found in New Orleans. When down south you need to get your fix of soul food – crispy fried chicken, pralines and BBQ. Each neighborhood in the cities of Tennessee and Memphis will have its own ‘cue hut offering BBQ ribs and smoky meats. California is where you will find the healthier foods, including more fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.

The food scene also never stops – with 24-hour diners, food trucks, and bars – you can get food at any time of day.

Some typical American staples that you’ll find across the country include good ‘ol burgers, hot dogs, Philly cheesesteaks, sandwiches, and pizza. Mexican food is also common throughout the country, with Americans having a particular love for tacos!

A USA trip often ends with a few extra kilos/pounds added…

Tipping is a common practice throughout the United States, especially at restaurants where it’s normal to tip between 15-20%. The service is usually fast and very friendly in restaurants – largely because of the tipping culture.

Things to Do and See in the USA

The list of things to see and do in the USA is endless. There’s definitely no shortage of incredible and breathtaking things to do in America for every kind of traveler. From seeing a show on Broadway in New York City and spending some time on the slots in Las Vegas to taking a classic American road trip or conquering the Appalachian Trail.

While we couldn’t possibly list everything to see and do in America in one post, here are some of the top places to visit:

  • Grand Canyon – on many bucket lists, this is the longest and most visited canyon in the world (tip: see it from a helicopter with this tour!)
  • Mount Rushmore – where four former presidents have their faces carved into a cliff face.
  • Denali National Park – featuring North America’s highest peak.
  • Mesa Verde National Park – well-preserved Pueblo cliff dwellings
  • Niagara Falls – massive waterfalls on the border of Canada (join a tour leaving from New York).
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park – located in the southern Appalachians.
  • Yellowstone National Park – the first national park in the US and home of the Old Faithful geyser (this tour includes a stop at Old Faithful, the Lower Falls of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone). Here’s why you should visit Yellowstone National Park in winter.
  • Yosemite National Park – home of El Capitan and the famous Giant Sequoia trees (do a 3-day camping adventure in the park). Read our guide on things to do in Yosemite along with the best hikes in Yosmite.
  • Zion National Park – hike through the otherworldly landscapes at this Utah national park.
  • Walt Disney World – because everyone loves a bit of Disney adventure.
  • Golden Gate Bridge – an iconic US landmark in San Francisco (ride across it on a bicycle tour).

Other popular attractions that many including in their USA trip include going to big sporting matches (baseball, basketball or football topping the list), wandering through the amazing list of museums (including the 19 Smithsonian Institution Museums in Washington), going wine tasting in Napa Valley, explore the Jazz scene in New Orleans, take in the Hollywood sights and sounds, tick off the top sightseeing spots in New York or going surfing in Hawaii.

Things to do & see in the USA

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Shopping in the USA

Absolutely all major international shopping brands – luxury and chain – will be available in the U.S. America is the birthplace for the modern ‘shopping mall’. American suburbs will also have miles of small strip malls, which include long rows of small shops with shared parking lots. Large cities will generally have shopping districts, opposed to pedestrian-friendly shopping streets.

Major department stores in the U.S include Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Barney’s New York, Kohl’s, Sears, and JCPenney. Walmart, Target, and Kmart are the most well-known discount stores. While Kroger and Albertsons are two of the largest supermarket chains.

Outlet stores (ie. factory shops) are also popular across America. They are generally found along major Interstate highways outside of most American cities. The largest chain of outlets in the U.S is Simon Premium Outlets.

You may also pick up some bargains at garage sales on the weekends in the suburbs, at flea markets and at auctions.

USA’s Nightlife

New York is aptly nicknamed the ‘city that never sleeps’. There is constantly something on the go in the city – from Broadway shows and live bands to pumping bars and nightclubs. There is something for every kind of nighttime explorer.

Most of America’s big cities take on a different vibe when the sun sets, transforming into something wild and spectacular. Some of the cities with the best nightlife include Miami Beach, Tampa and Key West (Florida), Las Vegas (Nevada), New York City, New Orleans (Louisiana), Chicago (Illinois), Nashville and Memphis (Tennessee), Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco (California), Austin and Houston (Texas), Boston (Massachusetts) and Seattle (Washington).

In all cities you won’t have to look too far to find a bar or nightclub – they are scattered throughout the city. Most cities will also have a dynamic live music scene, ranging from country music to hip hop and rock.

Safety Tips for the USA

The USA is generally a safe country to travel to, though as always one must always maintain a certain level of awareness when traveling. Protect your personal property against petty crimes like pickpockets and car break ins. There have been reports of gangs targeting vehicles of cars who appear to be tourists – so rather don’t leave personal objects in the car (even in the boot).

There are areas with violent crime, usually with gangs, though these rarely involve tourists. For safe travel USA, take care when traveling to unfamiliar places and avoid these places at night.

Areas bordering Mexico, like Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas have been associated with crimes associated with illegal drug trade. Remain vigilant in these areas and follow the advice of local authorities.

Here’s how not to look like a typical New York tourist.

Conclusion

America is possibly the one country that nationalities from all corners of the world are familiar with before ever setting foot in the country. Through the films and television programmes produced in the country we’ve become familiar with the culture, cities, food, and sights. We all know about the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Hollywood Sign in Las Angeles and the White House in Washington.

But there’s so much more to explore than the big city sights. There are national parks throughout the country with some of the most spectacular landscapes – the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Everglades are just to name a few.

A USA trip will be sure to tick off a few big bucket list items!

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