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Land of dreams

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.   

Highlights of USA

Dynamic Cities

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.         

Natural Wonders

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.        

Beautiful Beaches

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.       

Iconic Landmarks

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.        

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On the Blog

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Must See Culture

Our experts

Claire

I have always loved travel and feel very privileged to be in a job that allows me to see so much and pass on my passion and knowledge to others. I have been lucky enough to see a lot of America from New Orleans, California, Chicago and Boston and Las Vegas to name a few. Each time I go, I experience something completely different which is why to this day I still find it mind boggling because within one country you can be taken on so many different journeys and experiences.

What has been your favourite travel experience?

I did a multi centre driving the California Coast covering Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. I hadn’t done an itinerary like this before and it’s the best holiday I have done. I will do this again and there a few other areas I would add into the holiday such as Yosemite and Pismo Beach.

What's your best piece of travel advice?

Pack light – you will be bringing a lot back and don’t forget your ESTA!

Which destination has surprised you the most?

Chicago, I didn’t really know what to expect. It ended up being an amazing alternative to the hustle and bustle of New York; so much history and architecture. The Chicago skyline is breathtaking especially when you’re sharing cocktails with the locals up the Hancock tower 1000ft above the city looking out to see the skyline in lights.

Which local delicacy have you enjoyed the most?

You can’t visit Chicago without experiencing true Chicago town pizza – very filling but amazing.

If you could get on a flight tomorrow where would you go?

I would happily take a flight to any area of the 50 states of America, I want to see them all. (I know you are thinking there are 52 states - common mistake people make!)

Have you bumped into anyone interesting whilst abroad?

No one famous, but the tour guide for our Grand Canyon excursion was unbelievably knowledgeable and had so many stories to share with us.

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Michelle

My favourite experience in the USA would be the first time I went. I visited New York and Las Vegas, the two most iconic cities in one multi-centre. It was an exciting experience and one I will never forget.

What has been your favourite travel experience?

Doing most of the rides at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando in one day! It was very exhilarating and tiring but definitely one to remember.

What's your best piece of travel advice?

Explore each place as much as you can, always try something different and take lots of pictures.

Which destination has surprised you the most?

Miami – I didn’t realise the massive South American culture in this city! Loved it.

Which local delicacy have you enjoyed the most?

Chilli Dog – very messy but very tasty.

If you could get on a flight tomorrow where would you go?

I would go back to Miami, relax on the beautiful white sandy beaches while sipping a cocktail, and listening to the lively South American influence of music.

Have you bumped into anyone interesting whilst abroad?

Mr John Fitzpatrick – he is the owner of the two Fitzpatrick hotels in New York and owns Killiney Castle in Ireland. He hosted a dinner for us while in New York and we spent all night listening to the stories of an Irish American millionaire living the dream in the USA.

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Liz

I’d highly recommend driving around New England in the fall. Boston, the Berkshires and Cape Cod are all stunning, especially when the autumn colours start appearing.

What has been your favourite travel experience?

A helicopter tour in New York. It was an amazing way to see the city from a whole new perspective.

What's your best piece of travel advice?

Plan your trip before you go, research the area and pre book any excursions to maximise your time away.

Which destination has surprised you the most?

I can honestly say that they all have. Every place has their own hidden gems and surprises to keep you guessing.

Which local delicacy have you enjoyed the most?

Lobster, barbeque pulled pork and peanut butter M&Ms.

If you could get on a flight tomorrow where would you go?

Chicago – it is somewhere I haven’t visited yet but from what I know, it is a really interesting and exciting city.

Have you bumped into anyone interesting whilst abroad?

A former Mayor of Miami, a really charismatic man and bon viveur.

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Jon

I’ll always be thankful that someone told me about the Alcatraz Tour in San Francisco, it really is a must do. The history of the prison is fascinating but also eerie. The audio experience sets the scene and really gives you a clear picture of how the prison was operated including real life events from the past.

What has been your favourite travel experience?

My favourite travel experience within America has to be Sky Combat Ace. Flying over the deserts of Las Vegas in a 360hp aerobatic plane whilst enduring barrel rolls, loop the loops and much more. An experience that will never be forgotten.

What's your best piece of travel advice?

If you’re going to the USA for the first time, I’d recommend New York because it’s such a vibrant and exciting city. Pick a central hotel and you will have everything on your door step.

Which destination has surprised you the most?

Orlando, the Gulf Coast, Miami and the Florida Keys. There is so much variety within Florida to cater for everyone, from thrill seekers to beach lovers. I loved all the stunning small coves with sandy beaches hidden within Florida’s coast line and to top it off it’s the Sunshine state of the USA.

Which local delicacy have you enjoyed the most?

Pinks Famous Dog – The Famous Pinks Diner located in the heart of Hollywood where they have over 100 different mouth watering Hot Dogs, tasted by all the Hollywood celebrities who just can’t resist their amazing taste.

If you could get on a flight tomorrow where would you go?

It would be to California which is my favourite area that I have visited so far. It would include Los Angeles and San Francisco. I would definitely recommend driving between these two cities as there are some beautiful areas that can be missed along the Pacific Coast Highway.

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Fiona

Vancouver is a fantastic city, it is the only city in Canada you can stand on a beach and be surrounded by mountains. It is also your gateway to your rocky adventure.

What has been your favourite travel experience?

Western Explorer Rail & Coach Tour. It offered everything from helicopter flights, gondola rides to national park visits and Glacier tours. Whilst seeing the Rockies in the most stylish way possible on the Rocky Mountaineer.

What's your best piece of travel advice?

If you’re going to Canada, you have to visit Niagara Falls, I could watch the falls in awe for hours on end. They are amazing and should be considered a natural wonder.

Which destination has surprised you the most?

I would have to say walking on a glacier at the Icefields Parkway would have to rank top. Taking you in an Ice Explorer right up to the Athabasca Glacier where you can walk on ice as thick as the Eiffel Tower.

Which local delicacy have you enjoyed the most?

Surrounded by deep waters, you can find everything from fresh water Salmon and Trout to all kinds of seafood on offer. Try a local dish called Poutine, this is a common Canadian dish made with French fries topped with a light brown gravy sauce and cheese curds.

If you could get on a flight tomorrow where would you go?

Vancouver, to start with a city stay, then to follow with a self drive to explore the Rockies, not forgetting to hop over to Victoria for some exciting whale watching, famed afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress or visiting the Buchart Gardens.

Have you bumped into anyone interesting whilst abroad?

Mike Vincent. This guy knows everything about bears and wildlife. He has seen 77 bears just last summer alone, and knows the best places to spot them at the best times. Mike can be found at the Fairmont Lake Louise as their best and most informative hiking guide.

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Gemma

I have been very lucky to have travelled to many countries but have always been very impressed with Canada. It is such a vast country with many activities, beautiful scenery and the Canadian people are very friendly. I will definitely be visiting Canada again and highly recommend it.

What has been your favourite travel experience?

The Via Rail journey was great between Montreal and Quebec, as I was lucky enough to be upgraded and enjoyed the food, wine and chocolates whilst enjoying the scenery.

What's your best piece of travel advice?

Pack adaptors and phone chargers at the top of the case, you will likely need them upon arrival.

Which destination has surprised you the most?

Lake Louise as the pictures do not do it justice, the scenery is beautiful.

Which local delicacy have you enjoyed the most?

The Banana Pancakes at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver were delicious. The Quebec locals are crazy over Poutine which is essentially Chips, Gravy and Cheese! Be sure to bring home a souvenir bottle of Maple Syrup.

If you could get on a flight tomorrow where would you go?

I would probably go on a short shopping trip to Montreal. There is an underground city network stretching twenty miles of shopping centres and the flight direct from London is just over 7 hours!

Have you bumped into anyone interesting whilst abroad?

I met a lovely couple in Ile d’ Orleans who own a vineyard producing ice wine, they explained the process and I even got some free tastings!

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What to pack

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;

Swimming suit;

Umbrella in the rainy season, particularly in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho);

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;

Mosquito repellent;

Camera.

Light or heavy jacket, depending on which season you are travelling in;

Hiking boots;

Passport;

Sunscreen;

Currency

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.

How to get your currency

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.

Currency code

USD

Tipping

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.

USA Specialities

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.

Cheeseburger
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
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.

S’mores
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.  

Street Food

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
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.

Reuben Sandwich
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.

Philly Cheesesteak
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.

Chicago-Style Pizza
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.    

Average Prices

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.

National Dress

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.

Customs & Traditions

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.

Wildlife

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.

Bear Watching
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.          

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