Listen to the rustling ocean of grass on the Great Plains, stand in a blanket of sea mists on the Pacific Ocean, scale the dramatic mountain cliffs of the Rockies; you can’t help but feel alive on a holiday to the USA. We love the expansive diversity here, a veritable melting pot of identities, cultures, and sights. From the skyscrapers of New York to the solitary beauty of The Grand Canyon to the sunny beaches of Hawaii, wherever you go there is something new to discover.
New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Hollywood, Chicago; the USA is the birthplace of bright lights and big cities. Wherever you go in America, you are not far from the culture, cuisine, and entertainment of these dynamic cities. Whether you are looking for the modern, cosmopolitan vibe of New York or the easy-going charms of Savannah, the captivating atmosphere of New Orleans, the hippy vibe of Portland, or beautiful, outdoorsy Seattle, you will find it all in the USA.
The USA shares borders with Canada and Mexico, and has coasts situated on the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean. From vastly different coasts to dramatic mountain peaks, dense forests to sprawling deserts, the landscape of the USA is stunningly diverse. Possibly the most famous being Arizona’s Grand Canyon, one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Colorado Rockies are filled with jaw-droppingly beautiful alpine slopes, pristine lakes, and impressive wildlife. Old Faithful, a predictable cone geyser that erupts every 91 minutes, is located in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park, shooting boiling water up to 56 metres high. Or see one of the most diverse areas in the USA in Washington's Olympic National Forest, where you will find steel-grey beaches, glacier-capped peaks, and misty rain forests.
Visit some of the most diverse beaches in the world, with shores offering anything from formidable volcanoes to amusement parks, to all-night parties. The shores of Hawaii’s islands offer abundant stretches of golden sand beaches and awe-inspiring scenery. Cape Cod’s breezy charm offers glitz and glamour among a laid-back atmosphere. Santa Barbara, California has some of the USA’s most prime beachfront real estate and is filled with swaying palm trees, picnic tables, golden sand, and chic boutiques. Or visit Florida’s array of beaches, including Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach, or South Beach, for supreme sun and sand opportunities.
The USA has some of the most famous landmarks in the world. The Statue of Liberty, located on Liberty Island, is a colossal neoclassical sculpture instantly recognised as the place immigrants passed on their way to Ellis Island. Philadelphia's ever-popular Liberty Bell is the iconic symbol of American independence. Tour the White House in Washington DC, home to the US President, or see the Lincoln Memorial, which preserves the memory of Abraham Lincoln, the president who led the USA through abolishing slavery and the Civil War. In Keystone, South Dakota you will see Mount Rushmore, where the faces of four former presidents (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson) are carved into the rock face, and in Seattle, Washington see the 182-metre Space Needle, built for the World Fair in 1962 and resembling a flying saucer.
All travellers visiting the USA must now ensure they have obtained approval under the Visa Waiver Program before they travel. The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is an online process run by the United States government to determine the preliminary eligibility of visitors to travel under the Visa Waiver Program, prior to their arrival to the USA.
You must visit www.cbp.gov/esta and provide basic information about yourself in order to receive authorisation, which usually takes a matter of minutes, though it is advisable to complete your application as soon as you start planning your trip, or at least three days in advance, to avoid any delays. If you don't hold a valid ESTA by the time you travel you may encounter difficulties in entering the USA. Your ESTA approval will be valid for up to two years and for multiple visits to the USA. You can be refused a Visa Waiver or entry to the USA if you have a criminal record or if you have ever made a false statement on a previous visa application.
There are no restrictions on the US Dollar, so you can exchange your UK Pounds before leaving the UK. There are typically currency exchange booths in the larger airports in the USA, but you will not find any if you are flying to or from small, rural airports.
Your best option for exchanging money is to buy US Dollars in advance, where you will generally get a better exchange rate. Once you leave the airport, it may be difficult to find places that exchange money. Alternatively, withdraw cash from cash machines, which are available at most banks. You will be able to use your credit card pretty much everywhere while on holiday in the USA.
Please note that some hotels may charge a resort fee, payable locally, please contact our destination specialists for details.
The nuances of tipping while on holiday in the USA are vastly different from in the UK. While tipping is not legally required, service jobs tend to pay poorly, therefore tips supplement these wages. In general, tips are 15 percent of the bill, while 20 percent is considered a good tip. Leaving a 10 percent tip is a sign that you were not happy with the service.
Tip bartenders one to two US Dollars per drink and tip servers 15 to 20 percent of the bill. Service is usually included in the bill for groups of six or more, so check before including any more. Taxi drivers should get about 10 to 15 percent of the fare.
No special vaccines required.
The United States of America is an astonishingly diverse country, with different weather patterns from east to west and north to south. Most of the USA is marked by contrasting seasons which generally follows the same pattern as the UK. However, the temperatures and climate depends entirely on the region. Because of these wide differences, what you pack for a holiday in the USA depends on where you are going and what season in.
Cotton T-shirts and shorts that will keep you cool in the summer;
Umbrella in the rainy season
particularly in the Pacific Northwest (Washington
Jeans or trousers and jumpers in the winter;
Converter and adapter (the power supply in the USA is 120 volts at 60 hertz);
Sandals in the summer;
Light or heavy jacket
depending on which season you are travelling in;
With its range of cultures, backgrounds, and immigrants, the USA is a mix of cultural and culinary flavours based on regionalism and diversity. The foods here vary from coast to coast, and even neighbourhood to neighbourhood. The dishes in the south-eastern states have been heavily influenced by African slaves from generations past, including barbecue, fritters, and fried chicken. In Louisiana the French influences of Creole and Cajun reign supreme. The south-western states have been influenced by Mexican cuisine, including beans, corn, chilli, and guacamole, while the west coast has developed fusion cuisine, which takes ingredients from numerous cuisines to create flavourful dishes.
The cheeseburger. Eat it traditionally, gourmet, sliders (mini burgers), Kobe (the Japanese top-range beef), or try it piled high with tomatoes, lettuce, onion, pickles, or mustard (American mustard, that is.) For a variation, add green chillies, nacho cheese, or fried onions. Top with cheese and you have your cheeseburger. The classic American food.
New England Clam Chowder
Originally thought to have been passed along by French fishermen in colonial times, this classic American soup is so much more than just a soup. Thick and aromatic, New England clam chowder has layered flavours atop a meaty foundation. There are, of course, many variations, but the original New England clam chowder is creamy with potatoes and onion and packed with the quahog clam, which gives the chowder a briny kick.
Meatloaf is what it says on the tin—a loaf of meat. A traditional meatloaf is made by mixing a lump of mince with bread crumbs, an egg, onion, a splash of milk, and seasonings like oregano, salt, pepper, and paprika. It is then patted into a bread tin and baked for about an hour. It tastes like a gourmet hamburger, but without the bun.
Chilli con Carne
Chilli con carne is a spicy, stew-like dish popular in the south-western states of the USA. In fact, it is the official dish of Texas. The ingredients generally include some type of meat, thus the Spanish words con carne (with meat), chilli peppers, onions, tomatoes, beans, and spices such as cumin, chilli powder, salt, pepper, and strangely enough, chocolate, which adds a gentle richness to this slow-cooked dish. The chilli is served with soured cream, guacamole, and sometimes rice.
A much revered tradition in the USA, the eating of S’mores evokes childhood vacations and carefree camping. While it takes a lot of work, the reward is enough to make it worth it. Roast a marshmallow over an open campfire, squish it between two graham crackers (similar to a digestive, but not as dense), and add a few squares of chocolate.
While street food is not particularly common in the USA, there is certainly a rising prevalence of food trucks across many metro areas. Street food ranges from tacos to hot dogs, falafel to crème brûlée. Be careful to only order street food from vendors whose food is clean and fresh, as well as cooked right in front of you.
New York Hot Dogs
New York is known as much for its haute cuisine as its street foods, the humble hot dog being chief of these. Various stands are scattered around the city streets, all of which boast the best dogs around. Top yours with ketchup, American mustard, and mayonnaise or even add chilli, cheese, or jalapeños for a mouth-watering kick.
Corn dogs are a tasty twist on the classic hot dog. Invented at a Texas State Fair by an industrious hot dog vendor, a corn dog is basically a hot dog dipped in corn meal and fried.
The Reuben is another New York classic. It is a fully-loaded sandwich made on Rye bread, piled high with corned beef or pastrami, and topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing.
Made famous in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, the Philly Cheesesteak is an amalgamation of steak, onion, and green peppers, all slathered in cheese. The trick to the flavour, apparently, is to find the cheapest, fattiest steak possible in order to get the proper taste.
Deep, thick, saucy, loaded with cheese—the Chicago-Style Pizza is an iconic slice of Chicago. Sold at street vendors, in fast food chains, as well as in restaurants, this is a Midwestern classic.
Prices in the USA vary widely, from rural to city, coast to coast. A takeaway meal in the larger cities may cost six to 10 US Dollars, while in the rural areas you will probably only pay three to five US Dollars. A sandwich costs about five to seven US Dollars, but can go up or down depending on where you get it. A one-litre bottle of water costs about 75 cents in the rural areas, while it may cost one to two US Dollars in the cities. A bottle of wine from a supermarket can cost as little as three US Dollars or go up to 15 US Dollars for a low-end bottle in the cities.
Since the people of the USA are from such a rich and varied background, there is no official national dress. Similar to the UK, people in the USA typically wear suits to work and jeans and T-shirts at the weekend. Overall, the East Coast is more dressy for evening wear, while the West Coast style is very relaxed, influenced by surfing and beach lifestyle. Alaskans dress for the cold climate, wearing slippers, parkas, hats, gloves, and clothing made from the fur and hides of animals they hunt.
With such a rich mosaic of people and backgrounds, the customs and traditions of the USA vary greatly from region to region. The people are very patriotic and nationalistic, and this pride is evident in their many rituals like the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag and the celebration of Independence Day (4th of July). Like every country, the USA has its own set of social customs and traditions. Most of these are ruled by politeness and consideration for others.
Customs in the USA include:
• Religion plays a very important role in the lives of many Americans.
• Americans drive on the right-hand side of the road.
• Tipping 15 to 20 percent is considered almost obligatory and you will seriously offend your server if you tip less.
• Americans generally dislike formality or social deference due to age or position. When being introduced to someone new, follow the cue of the person performing the introduction.
• Shaking hands and saying ‘pleased to meet you’ is customary when first meeting someone.
• If you are invited to dinner, take along a small gift, such as flowers, chocolates, or a bottle of wine for your host.
• While the USA generally practices a relaxed dress code, different regions vary vastly. In New England it is customary to dress conservatively. On the east coast, casual wear is acceptable for the beach, but not for restaurants. The south and west are more relaxed overall, generally wearing jeans and nice shirts, even for some upscale restaurants.
• Do not be late. Americans are generally punctual and expect their guests to be also.
• You may notice that most Americans do not eat holding both their knife and fork. They usually eat everything with their fork in their right hand, only picking up the knife to cut their food into pieces before putting it down again.
The wildlife in the USA is rich and varied, with a vast array of wild animal species spanning chattering forests, sweeping coasts, and stunning mountain peaks. Many animals are situated around the USA’s 58 national parks, but there are many more living outside of these parks. See brown bears in the rivers of Alaska, elephant seals along the coast of California, bison on the plains of Montana, and alligators and crocodiles in the swamps of Florida. The national bird is the bald eagle, which soars above densely packed forests, while America’s biggest cat species, the mountain lion, prowls out west in the expansive state of Texas.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The rugged peaks of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park are home to numerous wild animals that the USA is known for, including bighorn sheep, bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears. Drive Trail Ridge Road to see wildlife like squirrels, deer, and elk, as well as birds like Clark’s nutcrackers, mountain bluebirds, and golden eagles, or head for Coyote Valley Trail, a mile-long loop that circles the Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley, to see elk, moose, and coyotes.
Black bears are the largest protected animal in the eastern United States. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling Tennessee and North Carolina, is their home. Small(ish) and fuzzy, they are a bit more tolerant of humans than their grizzly cousins. Out west you can watch brown bears snatch salmon from waterfalls at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The grizzly bear, a subspecies of brown bear, generally lives in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) and the Rocky Mountains.
Mountain Lion Viewing
Called the cougar, panther, or puma depending on location, the magnificent mountain lion differs from its African cousins in that it has no mane and no loud roar. Mountain Lions roam free in Big Bend National Park, Texas, as well as the Chihuahuan Desert and the Chisos Mountains, where they have been known to follow hiking trails at dawn and dusk.
Everglades Alligators and Crocodiles
You can find alligators and crocodiles living side-by-side in the Everglades National Park, Florida. Incidentally, these subtropic wetlands are the only place in the world that this happens. To tell the difference, check its snout. If it has a broad one, it is an alligator; if it has a narrow one with an exposed fourth tooth, it is a crocodile. You will see alligators sunning themselves along the Anhinga Trail in the Royal Palm area along the Shark Valley loop. Crocodiles chill in the saltwater of the Flamingo area, at the southern tip of the park near Florida Bay.