It’s official; the USA is a fabulously fun, diverse, and affordable destination – even for mini breaks. Every year, millions of travellers take a leap across the Atlantic to see what the 50 incredible States have to offer. If you haven’t ventured far before, it may seem a bit daunting and potentially out of reach. However, with a little bit of preparation, getting there is far easier than you think. This guide aims to help get you on your way, with tips and essentials on how to plan a trip to the USA.
What to pack?
From the world-renowned brand boutiques in New York to the huge out-of-town discount designer outlets in Orlando Florida, and the tax-free shoe shopping in Philadelphia, you won’t struggle to find amazing shopping opportunities. Therefore, we suggest you pack light and leave lots of room in your suitcase for bringing your new finds home.
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If you’re visiting in the summer months, the humidity in America means you’ll probably get hot, however, the temperature does vary according to the State you’re travelling to so make sure you check before you go. If you’re heading for an east coast city break pack lightweight dresses, t-shirts and shorts. If you’re staying in San Francisco or visiting San Diego on the East Coast, then it can get breezy in the evenings, so pack a light jacket or cardigan.
Of course, you’ll probably be packing the usual gadgetry, but don’t forget an adapter or two to convert your 3-pin plug into the standard USA 2-pin.
Money in the USA
When thinking about how to plan a trip to the USA, you’ll have to think about how you’re going to pay your way around. Apart from needing cash to tip a waitress or taxi driver, or buying a burger from a street truck, you will almost certainly be able to pay for things using a credit or debit card.
Please consider the current exchange rate and the card fees which will apply to card transactions and could fluctuate during your time there. Most shops, bars, restaurants and venues also accept contactless and mobile phone payments. Traveller’s Cheques have been replaced by the prepaid travel money card but do check that this has the MasterCard or Visa symbol on the front, so there is no quibble at the till.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that tipping is customary in the States, so you may want to have some money converted into single dollar bills at the ready. Waiters anticipate between 18-20% of the bill; porters around $3 and taxis around 15% of the fare.
Another little tip, price tags in the shops do not include the tax. So you’ll need to mentally add that on to get the final price.
Drinking and eating
If you’re anything like us, the most important consideration when organising a holiday is what you’re going to eat and drink. Hence this section just had to come next in how to plan a trip to the USA.
First the essentials: the quality of the drinking water in the USA is good, with tap water chlorinated and very safe to drink. It really is down to personal choice whether you purchase bottled water. The USA is famous for Coca-Cola, Pepsi and an array of flavoured sodas, plus of course a good old Budweiser beer. If you’re a bit of a wine buff, you’ll readily find a Californian white, rose or red on offer.
Don’t panic when it comes to food either. You won’t go hungry here and the phrase "eyes bigger than your belly" will definitely come to mind. American cuisine tells a story from the north, east, south and west, with some Mexican influences thrown in for good measure. There really is something to suit everyone and all dietary requirements. You won’t have far to walk before you’ll come across fast food, street food, and State culinary treasures, such as the New York deli, Florida seafood or Texan BBQ.
Medical treatment and insurance
We cannot emphasise enough that you are going to have to arrange comprehensive health insurance in advance to travelling. This is because you have to pay for any of the health services you may need. On the plus side, should you need medical treatment whilst you’re there, the USA has some of the world’s best hospitals and convenient clinics to hand in most locations. Don’t forget to make sure your insurance policy covers you for any of the riskier activities you may be intending to do.
Visas and entry requirements
Before you take your trip, you’ll need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Sounds complicated? Don’t worry. An ESTA simply enables you entry without a Visa and is valid for up two years. You can apply for one online, via US Homeland Security or a reputable visa company, at a cost of around £16. Remember to get an ESTA at least 72 hours before you travel, and you’ll need a machine-readable passport (one with a chip). If for any reason your ESTA application gets declined, or you have an old-style passport, you will need a visa instead.
What kind of holiday should you go for?
When you think of travelling to the States, most people think of New York or Disney, but there are plenty of incredible destinations and styles of holiday farther afield.
Planning a long weekend? High on the agenda on how to plan a trip to the USA will be how to make the most of your time. A city break always has a lot to offer, with history, culture, dining and entertainment just a stone’s throw away. If you’re looking for bright lights and poker faces, then Las Vegas has it all. As well as the casinos, you’ll find endless shopping and fantastic desert and Grand Canyon excursions. Fancy a bit of star spotting? Then head for Los Angeles and Hollywood, with a bit of celebrity mingling at Rodeo Drive baby! How about a fusion of the Caribbean and Latin culture in the art deco city of Miami? This city has the south beach and an amazing nightlife scene.
No USA holiday is complete without visiting at least a couple of the fabulous Californian beaches, or the stunning Galveston in Texas, or the silver sands of Palm Beach in Florida. In fact, our list could go on and on. Whether you’re seeking desert island solitude, a proper party vibe, or rolling surf, the perfect beach you could possibly imagine can be found in America.
Take your theme park experience to a whole new level. A stay on your favourite theme park is readily available. All you need to do is decide which one! From Disney’s Animal Kingdom to Universal Studios, Walt Disney World Resort to Wizarding World of Harry Potter, your choice is literally huge.
If you prefer not to stay too long in the same place, a multi-stay holiday just might be the solution. Jump from one iconic destination to another. Why not take a few days in San Francisco, then head off to the entertainment capital, Las Vegas, and finally chill out in LA. Or if you’re a sun seeker you may prefer the golden charm of Waikiki beach in Oahu and then on to discover the tranquil treasures of the waterfalls and rainforests of Maui in Hawaii.
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