The United States of America is a vast country. It has something interesting for every type of traveller and it’s fun to explore. But there are some things about the USA that you need to know before you visit.
If you’ve never been to the USA before and you are planning a trip – you are in for a treat. There are, however, a few things only specific to the United States of America, and knowing them can help you to have a problem-free trip.
THINGS ABOUT THE USA YOU NEED TO KNOW
#1 To enter the USA you need a visa or ESTA
Unless you hold an American or Canadian passport, to enter the United States of America you need to have a visa or an ESTA. If you qualify for it, I recommend applying for ESTA, instead of visa. ESTA stands for “Electronic System for Travel Authorization”, and is a digital document that allows you to travel to America without a visa. In contrary to the normal visa, the application for ESTA can be done entirely online. It is also cheaper and faster.
Alex always gets his ESTA when travelling to the USA, thanks to his British passport. In the past, I needed to apply for a visa which meant going on the appointment in person and being screened and questions about the reasons that I want to visit the USA. I could never be sure if I will get the visa or not. Luckily, it has recently been announced that the rules might change for Polish people, so I am looking forward to it.
#2 Everything in the USA is big (including the country)
The USA is H-U-G-E. Planning a two week trip with the goal of visiting the whole country equals Mission Impossible. To get from Los Angeles to New York it takes 6 hours by flight and 41 hours by non-stop driving. And you won’t even see the whole country in between.
I’ve been to the USA twice and I’ve only seen a small part of it. The second time, during two weeks in the country I went on the American Southwest Road Trip, and I wish I stayed several weeks more, just exploring the National Parks of the US.
With the size of the country, comes everything else. Huge food portions in the restaurants, massive bags of snacks in the shops, oversized clothes, big cars or the huge monuments. Grand Canyon is big, too. Be prepared to be overwhelmed by the size in America.
#3 The USA is diverse
It is hard to put the USA into one box. Every part of it is different. In one country you can encounter a hot climate with tropical animals, as well as arctic regions, where snow never melts.
Each state has a different law, and what is legal in Utah, might not be acceptable in Texas. There is also a federal law and local law, to make things even more complicated.
Across the country, you will find also different dialects and accents, as well as varying customs and traditional food types.
#4 Cities in the USA are not made for walking
I’ve discovered this several times when I was travelling in the USA. My favourite way of exploring the new city is on foot. Unfortunately, not in the USA. The cities in the United States of America are not prepared for walkers. Everyone owns a car and drives, so pedestrians are not treated with priority. In some places, there are no pavements and no zebra crossings, and if they are, they are very narrow and barely used. Be careful when you decide to walk in the USA!
There are, of course, some exceptions. I liked walking in the parts of LA, including Venice, and San Antonio (by the river). You just need to look harder to find them.
#5 Tipping is customary
If you go to the restaurant in the US, expect to add at least a 15-20% tip to your bill. Tipping is what the food servers depend on, as an essential part of their wages, so don’t forget to leave it. Luckily, the food is cheap, and it’s easy to add a tip on top of that.
#6 Things are measured differently in America
The system of measurement is different in the US compared to Europe, or other places. The measurement units in the USA are called the US customary units. The system is similar to the imperial units. What does that mean in practice? Well, you might get a bit confused at first when you need to estimate the weight in pounds or height in feet.
The length or distance in the US is measured by inch, foot, yard, and mile. The area is calculated with square miles or acres. Volume is measured in ounce, cup, pint or gallon. The temperature in Fahrenheit, and weight in pounds. This can be a little bit strange at once, but by using Google you can quickly convert the metrics from one to another and understand what Americans talk about.
What other things about the USA you know? Share some interesting facts about the United States in the comments!
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