United States of America

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Howdy! The USA is my second home, and my favourite country in the whole world to travel to. 

Half of my family lives there, so I’ve been visiting since I was a kid. I’ve been to the country 21 times, visiting 13 states, which is a bit crazy. I’ve definitely seen and experienced more of the USA than I have for any other country.

It has everything you’d want in a country. Good food, big cities, diverse wildlife, and tons of natural wonders!

You can split my USA travel into three timelines:

  • Pre Big Trip: I was visiting family in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the surrounding areas.
  • Big Trip in 2018: I spent an amazing 3 months travelling around the country, visiting 10 different states!
  • Post Big Trip: I’ve mainly been visiting friends in Oregon, and exploring the Pacific Northwest. 

I think the USA is such an overlooked country. Other than maybe China, you won’t find another country on the planet so jam-packed with natural wonders and amazing cities. It should be at the top of every non Americans bucket list! 

You’d think by now, after visiting over 20 times, I’d be done with the USA. Well.. nope! I’ve seen a lot, but there’s still a few more places I want to see. At the top of the list are Boston, New Orleans, Miami, Yellowstone, and Alaska. 

Quick Info

  • Population: 327.2 million
  • Capital: Washington DC
  • Language: English
  • Currency: US Dollar
  • Size: 3,796,742 square miles
  • National Animal: Bald Eagle!
USA Flag

Where I've Been

Advice

Unfortunately the USA has so many great places to visit, and they’re all so spread out. I spent 3 months travelling around the country, and barely saw half of what I wanted to!

Rather than listing every single city / national park worth visiting (that would take forever), I’ll just break it down into what I think are the 7 best regions of the country.

I think the ideal time for visiting each region is about 2 weeks. The distance between the regions is pretty significant, and trying to see all of the USA in one visit is like trying seeing all of Europe in one visit. Near impossible! Be sensible when making your plans.

Bos-Wash Corridor
This is a region on the East Coast which includes the cities of Boston, New York, Philidelphia, and Washington DC. Each city is brilliant, and they’re all worth visiting!

Boston and Philidelphia are two of the most important cities in American history, and are full of important relics, such as the Freedom Trail and the Liberty Bell. Plus, Philidelphia has the delicious Philly Cheesesteak!

Washington DC is the nation’s capital. You’ll be able to visit the White House, and see where the US government operates. It’s a city full of history, most of which can be found in the National Mall. This is a 2 mile long park, full of national monuments and museums, all of which are free to enter!

Then best of all, New York City. This is my favourite city in the world, and it has so much to offer. Huge skyscrapers, amazing parks, great food, lots of museums, broadway, liberty island, and more! Manhattan has so much character, and there’s so much to do. My top recommendation is to walk the High Line!

All four cities are relatively close together and linked by train, so seeing them all in a single visit is possible.

California
I’d probably say that California is the best single state to visit in the country. It’s on the West Coast, and spans nearly 800 miles! There’s a lot cities in the state, but my favourites are Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Los Angeles has the weather, the beaches, the hiking, the theme parks, and Hollywood, where you can live out your movie star dreams! San Francisco on the other hand has the Golden Gate Bridge, which is an amazing sight. It also has Alcatraz prison, which is a really fascinating place to visit.

It’s hard to choose between the two cities, so my advice would be to visit them both! Trains run up and down the entire east coast. Going from LA to SF will take 11 hours, but it’s a very scenic journey.

California is also home to Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks. Yosemite is my favourite National Park in the country. It is incredibly beautiful, and it makes you feel so small! Especially when you see the 12ft wide Giant Redwoods. Joshua Tree is also fantastic, and makes you feel like you’re in the wild west!

If you’re into art, the whole state is full of fun art museums. But for a really interesting experience, head out to Coachella Valley. Here you’ll find Bombay Beach, Slab City, and Salvation Mountain. It’s probably the weirdest place in the country. In April, the region also has the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival.

Florida
Known as the ‘Sunshine State’, Florida is another great place to visit. The two best cities are Orlando and Miami. Orlando is every kids dream, as it’s where you’ll find Disney Land, Universal Studios, and a whole bunch of other theme parks! It’s also relatively close to Cape Canaveral, NASA’s space launch headquarters.

Miami is a bit different, and it’s much more of a grown ups paradise. Great weather, great beaches, great nightlife. It’s also close to the Everglades National Park, which is a huge swampland full of amazing wildlife like Alligators and Flamingos. Day trip options include Key West, the Bahamas, and even Cuba!

Pacific Northwest
This region includes the states of Oregon / Washington, and the cities of Portland / Seattle. They’re both fun, hip cities with some great food! But the best of the Pacific Northwest comes from its natural beauty.

The coastline is brilliant, and is a good place to do some whale watching. The small town of Depoe Bay is known as one of the best spots for it! Another place to visit is Cannon Beach, home to Haystack Rock.

More inland you’ll find the cascade mountain range. This includes Mt Rainier, Mt Hood, and dozens of other beautiful mountains. It’s great for skiing, or hiking, and if you like volcanos, you’re in luck!

You can visit Mt St Helens and see the devastating aftermath of a recently erupted volcano. Or you can visit the Newberry Volcanic Monument, where you can hike through obsidian rocks. You can even go see Crater Lake, a breathtaking lake which formed inside of a volcanic crater. It’s a beautiful part of the country.

The Wild West
I guess this isn’t an ‘official’ region, but I’m throwing it in here. What I’m including are the states of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. Most of this region is a barren wasteland desert, but that’s what I love about it!

The first state, Utah, has some of the best national parks in the country. Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands. They’re incredible, and the ‘Angels Landing’ hike at Zion is one of the best hikes in the world!

Arizona’s big attraction is the Grand Canyon, one of the 7 wonders of the world. You know about that, so let me tell you about Monument Valley! This is what you think of when you think ‘Wild West’. Giant sandstone buttes, red sand desert, Navajo Native Americans. It’s probably the most ‘America’ place in America.

Nevada doesn’t have as much of the natural beauty, but it’s still wild. It’s main city, Las Vegas, is Disneyland for adults. Full of lights, parties, super casinos, and gambling. There’s so much fun to be had!

The state also has some great festivals. There’s the Electric Daisy Carnival, an EDM music festival only rivaled by Tomorrowland in Belgium. There’s RISE, the largest lantern festival in the world. And there’s Burning Man, which is.. well, it’s Burning Man. Lots of art, sand, community, and complete madness.

Oh, and Nevada is also home to area 51!

Hawaii
One of the two US states located off the mainland, Hawaii is 2,500 miles off the west coast, and made up of 8 islands. Each one has its own draws, but the best ones, in my opinion, are Oahu, the Big Island, and Kauai.

Oahu is the most popular island, and has the city of Honolulu. There’s some great hikes, such as Diamond Head, Koko Head, and the Haiku Stairs. You can also go snorkelling, or swimming with sharks!

The Big Island is huge, and can offer different environments from the other islands, such as a large snow-capped mountains. It also has Kilauea, an active volcano where you can see actual flowing lava!

Kauai is my favourite island. It reminds me of my favourite movie, Jurassic Park. The Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon are two of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen! A great way to see the Napali Coast is via a catamaran cruise. Expect pods of dolphins and whales to be swimming along side you!

Alaska
The other state off the mainland, located west of North West Canada. It’s the biggest US state, and the wildest. It has some incredible wildlife viewing, and the largest mountains in North America. There’s fjords, ice glaciers, and if you visit in winter, then you’ll probably be able to see the northern lights!

Arriving
The USA is gigantic, so you’ll want to try flying into the airport nearest to where you’re going. Thankfully you’ll have plenty of choices, as there’s over 150 international airports in the country! The two main hubs are New York and Los Angeles, and they’ll have direct flights to pretty much anywhere on the planet.

Once you land, most airports will be connected to public transport, or will have taxi’s/shuttles outside.

You can also enter the country via land from Mexico/Canada, and another option (if you can afford it) would be to go on a cruise from Europe or Asia!


Trains /
Subway
Most of the big cities in the USA are linked via Amtrak trains. These are best on the coasts, and especially good in the Bos-Wash Corridor. You can also do long-distance journeys on the trains, but just remember how big the country is. Going from New York to Los Angeles will take 3 days, and cost $800+ for a bed.

If you plan on doing a lot of train travel, Amtrak offer some good money-saving passes.

Although the train would be a memorable and scenic journey, the normal method of long distance transport is flying. This will be cheaper and a lot faster than the train. New York to Los Angeles would take 6 hours, and cost around $100. Driving coast to coast is also a popular thing to do. The great American road trip!

Most of the large cities will have some sort of subway system, and these are normally pretty cheap and easy to use. Other cities, such as Portland, have light rail systems which work like an overground subway.

There’s no subway systems in Hawaii or Alaska, but Alaska does have it’s own railroad! It connects the two largest cities, and is very scenic.


Bus

Every city, even the smaller ones, will have a local bus system. They’re quite cheap and fairly easy to use. In Hawaii, Oahu has a particularly good bus system, and it’s one of the best in the country!

For long-distance, Greyhound buses are a popular choice. It’s the cheapest form of long-distance ground transport in the country, but you probably won’t enjoy it. They have a reputation for attracting.. crazy people. The bus from New York to Los Angeles can cost $200, and takes 66 hours.

If you plan on doing that, then you are the crazy person on the bus.

A lot of the national parks will have some type of shuttle system in place. They do it to ease traffic, but if you don’t drive, this is a lifesaver! It means you can get around the park with ease. The bigger issue will be actually trying to get to the park entrance via public transport. For most of them, it’s a massive pain to do.


Car
If you’re just visiting cities, then there’s no need to rent a car. Every city will have good public transport systems in place, and getting between the cities is easy! But if you want to visit some of the countries national parks (and you should), then renting a car is by far the best way to do it.

The USA is perfect road trip country, especially in the western regions. You can rent a car in one city, such as Los Angeles, and then drop it off in another, such as Salt Lake City. This allows you to spend a few weeks going on a road trip of a lifetime! Although different pick up and drop off locations can be expensive.

If you don’t drive, then don’t worry! You can have the same roadtrip experience, you just need to join a group tour. I went on a 3 week camping road trip with TrekAmerica, and it was AMAZING.

You’ll also be able to find Uber, Lyft, and taxis in abundance throughout the country.

Hostels
Contrary to popular belief, the USA has plenty of hostels. They’re not as common as they are in Asia or Europe, but they’re there. You won’t have any trouble finding one in a big city, but for more rural areas, you might struggle. I averaged about $30 a night for my hostel beds.


Hotels

Hotels, motels, and B&B’s can be found all across the country. There’s a huge variety, from crappy highway motels to luxury skyscraper hotels. I try to go cheap, and on average, I’ve paid $80 a night for hotels in the USA. But prices vary a lot by where you go, and for somewhere like New York, $150 a night would be cheap.

A lot of the national parks will have a lodge on site. These are normally large wooden buildings which have restaurants, gift shops, and plenty of rooms with very nice views. They’re expensive, with rooms starting at $200 a night, but the fantastic locations are worth the price!

Wherever you stay, just make sure to book in advance. Last minute bookings will really limit your options and hike up prices. If you want to stay in a national park lodge, then book your stay very early. Some places at the more popular national parks will literally sell out a year in advance.


Other Accommodation
AirBNB is very popular in the USA. In most cities you’ll be able to book an entire apartment, or a shared room in a house. These will normally be cheaper than a hotel, and might even match the price of hostels!

Camping is another a popular thing to do, especially when visiting national parks. KOA offers hundreds of campsites around the country, which normally have a shop, showers, power outlets, and laundry machines! They even exist inside cities, and they’re a great accommodation option if you’re doing a road trip.

Expect prices to start around $25 a night. You can bring a tent, or sleep in your car.

Food
I LOVE American food! There are so many delicious things to try, especially for a picky eater like me. The country is too big to really cover it all, but I’ll mention a few of my favourite things here.

For breakfast, a good old American choice is Pancakes. People also love a big breakfast full of Eggs, Bacon, Hash Browns, and Coffee. My favourite breakfast spot is at an ‘iHop’ restaurant. The servings are huge!

For lunch, sandwiches are the most popular option. There are tons of different ones to try, but my favourites are Burgers, Reubens, and Philidelphia Cheesesteaks. The best Burger I’ve ever had in the country (or the world), is at ‘Shake Shack’. As for Philidelphia Cheesesteaks, you’ll find the best ones in Philidelphia.

For dinner, there’s a whole bunch of options. Popular dishes include Mac N Cheese, Pizza, Chicken and Waffles, Chowder, Buffalo Wings, and Ribs. New York and Chicago are known for their pizza, especially in Chicago where they have the massive ‘Deep Dish’ pizza. Desert is normally Ice Cream, Pie, or Cake.

Some regional dishes include New York Hot-dogs, Mississippi Mud Pies, and New England Clam Chowder. For your sweet tooth, try out Pretzels, Hersheys Chocolate, Fritos, and my favourite, Cinnamon Rolls!

If you ever end up around a campfire, you need to try making ‘Smores’. Imagine two crackers with a marshmallow and some chocolate between them, slowly cooked together over a fire. Yum yum yum!

You’re probably thinking “That is all junk!”, and yes, that is true. I gain a lot of weight every time I go to the USA. Most of the food isn’t very healthy, and the portions are gigantic. Most meals are well over 1000 calories. But if you’re a healthier person, there’s no need to worry! There’s also a lot of healthy options.

When eating out, be aware that for any sit down service, you need to tip 15-20% of the total bill. Waiters in  are paid below minimum wage, with the expectation that tips will bring them up to and beyond that point. I think it’s a horrible system, but it is what it is, and you need to tip at least 15% regardless of service quality.

In terms of prices, it depends where you go. For street food and places like McDonalds, expect meals to be around $5-10. For sit down chain restaurants like iHop and Olive Garden, they’ll be $10-20. Independent places vary in price, but they’ll normally be more expensive than chains.

Cooking your own meals is also an option, and ‘Walmart’ is a cheap place to get food.

Drinks
Americans love their coffee! In hotter regions, iced coffee and iced tea are also popular. There’s lots of sodas to try, but my favourite one is a good old Mountain Dew.

In terms of alcohol, beer is very popular, and wine is also had during meals. Personally, I don’t like either of. But if you’re like me and only like mixed drinks, then you’re in luck! There’s hundreds of variants of cocktails. My favourite is the Long Island Iced Tea, especially when it’s mixed with sweet and sour mix.

At a bar, you need to tip $1 for every drink you order.

Cards
Most places in the USA will take any form of card, but it’s a good idea to carry two different types just in case! Contactless payments aren’t common, and sometimes you’ll need to sign a receipt on checkout.


Cash
There’s a ton of ATM’s in the USA, so finding one won’t be an issue. Most of them will charge a fee for withdrawals, so it might be best to withdraw large amounts at a time.

While you won’t need to pay in cash for many things, it’s a good idea to carry cash around for tips. Stuff like taxi/shuttle rides, luggage porters, haircuts, and tours will all require cash tips. In restaurants, if you pay with a card you’ll also be able to tip by card.

Some haggling might be acceptable in a market or a yard sale, especially when there’s no set price, but most of the time haggling isn’t really appropriate.

The currency in the USA is the US Dollar. One Dollar is compromised of 100 cents.  The variations of cash are: 1¢ (penny) / 5¢ (nickel) / 10¢ (dime) / 25¢ (quarter) coins, and $1/$5/$10/$20/$50/$100 notes.

At the time of writing in February 2020, the exchange rates are: £1 = $1.30 / 1 = $1.11

One last thing to note about the USA is that prices are generally ‘pre-tax’. The sales tax rate varies by state, so prices are listed pre-tax, then tax is added at checkout. It’s dumb, I know. If you see something for sale at $19.99, it probably costs $20.78 or so. Never rely on having exact change.


Tipping

The USA is the most tip-heavy country in the world. If someone provides you with a service, you’re expected to tip for it. Typical rates are:

  • Sit down restaurants: 15-20% of the total bill
  • Bartenders: $1 per drink
  • Luggage porters: $2 a bag
  • Taxi/shuttle drivers: 15%

You’ll also need to tip hairdressers and tour guides (even if they’re free). Other people tip for bag packers, cashiers, housekeeping, and just about everything else. People in the USA don’t even know who they should be tipping or how much, as more professions seem to be getting added to the list every year.

In all honesty, it’s a silly system. But if you’re visiting the country, you should abide by it. At very least, tip bartenders and waiters. They’re actually paid below minimum wage, with the expectation that tips will bring them up to the minimum wage level. Yep, that is somehow legal!


Budget
The USA is not a cheap country to visit. The high accommodation and activity costs can create a really expensive trip. On average, I’ve spent $150 a day when travelling in the USA. This is mainly staying in hostels and eating cheap, although it has included some very expensive activities.

If you stick to hostels, free activities, cheap food, and public transport, then travelling for $75 a day is doable. For some nicer food and basic paid activities, I’d go up to $100 a day. For all of the above and a hotel room, I’d go up again to $150 a day. Add $50 to any total where you want to rent a car.

Temperature
The USA is a huge country, and temperatures vary greatly depending on where you go. In summer, you can expect the following averages:

  • New York City: 25c / 77f
  • Chicago: 23c / 73f
  • Orlando: 28c / 82f
  • Los Angeles: 22c / 72f
  • Las Vegas: 34c / 93f
  • Portland: 21c / 70f
  • Honolulu: 25c / 77f
  • Anchorage: 26c / 82f

In New York, Florida, and the rest of the East Coast, the humidity in summer will be unbearable. The rest of the country won’t be so humid, but places such as Las Vegas can have extreme dry heat. A temperature of 80f / 27c in New York City will feel a lot worse than 90f / 32c in Las Vegas.

Summer heatwaves are common. Most cities across the country see temperatures up to 90f / 32c, and in many cases 100f / 38c. In the deserts, prepare for temperatures as high as 110f / 43c. The USA is actually home to the hottest place on earth, appropriately named ‘Death Valley’, where it gets to a mental 133f / 56c!

In winter, you can expect the following averages:

  • New York City: 2c / 36f
  • Chicago: -6c / 21f
  • Orlando: 15c / 59f
  • Los Angeles: 13c / 55f
  • Las Vegas: 8c / 46f
  • Portland: 5c / 41f
  • Honolulu: 23c / 73f
  • Anchorage: -8c / 18f

Most of the country gets a bit chilly, but nothing awful. The regions up around Chicago and Minneapolis can get brutally cold though, with temperatures going as low as -46c / -50f. As expected, Alaska gets very cold.


Weather
Similar to the temperature, weather varies greatly across the country. The East Coast and Pacific Northwest get their fair share of rain, especially in the winter months. The further south you go, the less rain you get.

Florida has some pretty interesting weather. It’s known as the ‘sunshine state‘ and it is very sunny, but it also gets a ton of rain, especially in the summer months. Despite the image of being a sunny paradise, Hawaii is the same, except their rainy season is in spring. Hawaii is actually the wettest state!

Snow is pretty common across the country, with most of it coming up North. Seeing snow in Florida or Hawaii is rare, but it can happen. Even the desert will see snow! If you visit the Grand Canyon in winter, you might see it covered in a white blanket.

The best time to visit depends on where you go, and what sort of weather you like. I would advise against visiting Chicago in winter, and also against visiting the East Coast, Florida, or the desert areas in summer. I think winter is an amazing time to visit NYC, and spring is the best time to see the country as a whole.


Daylight
Due to the extreme size of the country, daylight varies a lot depending on where you go. Here is a quick comparison of some cities:

  • New York: Summer Daylight – 15 hours / Winter Daylight – 9 hours
  • Miami: Summer Daylight – 13.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 10.5 hours
  • Los Angeles: Summer Daylight – 14.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 10 hours
  • Portland: Summer Daylight – 15.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 9 hours
  • Honolulu: Summer Daylight – 13.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 11 hours
  • Anchorage: Summer Daylight – 19.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 5.5 hours

The most extreme place is in Alaska, where the days can have as little as 5.5 hours of light. If you want to go hiking and sightseeing, then summer is a good time to visit. (Although then you’ll miss the Northern Lights)

In northern cities like Boston, Chicago, and Seattle, summer will give you an extra 6 hours of daylight. This is best time to visit if you want to do any sightseeing or any hiking! Down south, it doesn’t matter much.

Natural Disasters
Unfortunately, the USA suffers from quite a lot of natural disasters. In pretty much every part of the country, you’ll need to be aware of something.

All across the Gulf of Mexico, from Florida to Texas, is hurricane territory. These happen pretty much every year, and bring devastating winds and floods. The season runs from June – November, so I would avoid visiting the region during this time.

If you’re visiting the west coast, you should be wary of earthquakes. These are common in California, but can also strike Oregon and Washington. There are fears of an overdue ‘big one’ happening soon, which would cause devastating damage and spawn a tsunami.

The Mid-West and Southern states are home to tornado alley. The USA gets over 1000 tornados every year, far more than any other country. Some of these are massive, and can cause serious damage or death.

The other thing to be aware of is extreme heat and cold. Summer heatwaves can be deadly, especially when combined with high humidity. Adding to this, wildfires are common during the summer heat, and they can get out of hand very fast. In 2018, California had a wildfire which killed 88 people.

Extreme cold and blizzards can also be deadly, especially if you get caught out in them. In early 2019, a Polar Vortex caused some extremely cold temperatures across the country, killing dozens of people.

Thankfully, the USA is a modern, rich country who are well prepared to deal with these events when they occur. Always follow the advice of local authorities. With the exception of earthquakes, you’ll have plenty of time to prepare for any of the above disasters, and you should be fine!

If you’re told to evacuate, then evacuate. Wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados, are no joke. They will get you even if you’re inside and ‘safe’.

Dangerous Animals
The USA has plenty of dangerous wildlife. For starters, there’s the spiders. The most dangerous ones are the Black Widow and Brown Recluse, but these aren’t the only poisonous spiders. If you’re bitten by a spider at any point, try to get a picture of it, kill it out of revenge, and then go to a doctor for treatment.

Snakes are also common in USA, and many of them have poisonous venom. Only 5 people a year die from snake bites, but this would be a lot, lot higher if anti-venom wasn’t so widely available.

The most notable one to be aware of is the American Rattlesnake. Thankfully these guys kindly give off a warning before attacking. If you ever hear a sort of rattling noise when you’re out hiking, pay very close attention to where it’s coming from, then go the opposite direction. Again, get help ASAP if you are bit.

In Florida, there are lots of American Alligators. Some of these guys are huge, and they can be dangerous. Try not to swim in any swamps, ponds, or lakes unless it has been confirmed safe to do so.

The USA is the shark attack capital of the world. You’ll find all sorts of sharks swimming off the coasts of the USA, including Tiger and Great White Sharks. As many as 30 people are bit each year, but deaths rarely occur. Never swim at a beach if there is a shark warning sign up, and always listen to the lifeguards!

In the more northern and western states, you need to be aware of Mountain Lions, or ‘Cougars’. These are large cats, and can easily kill you. If you’re attacked by one, the best advice is just to ‘fight like hell and pray’. Thankfully this is unlikely, as they’re quite low in numbers and very timid.

The last animals on this list are Bears! The USA has three main species of bear. The Grizzly / Brown Bear, the Black Bear, and the Polar Bear. You’ll find Brown Bears all across the country, whereas Grizzly Bears are mainly in the North West States/Alaska, and Polar Bears are only in Northern Alaska.

Attacks aren’t very common, but you should make sure you know what to do, especially if you visit Alaska or northern parks such as Yellowstone. Each bear is very different from the others.

If a Brown Bear attacks you, fight like hell. They’re quite timid and should normally back off. If a Grizzly Bear attacks you, play dead. You won’t win that fight, and you want the Bear to get bored and leave. If a Polar Bear attacks, then good luck. You are almost certainly going to die.

The best way to avoid an attack it to be noisy when hiking, and make sure the Bear knows where you are. They don’t like humans, and will avoid us if possible. Never, ever, go near a cub. Mama bears be fierce!

On Land
There’s too much wildlife in the USA to cover, so I’ll just mention my favourites.

My favourite animal in the country is the Mountain Lion, which is found all across the western states. Unfortunately spotting one in the wild is very unlikely. If you’re more of a dog person, then you might be interested in seeing Grey Wolves! Your best chance of seeing them is at Yellowstone National Park.

Bears are one of Americas most iconic predators. The best place to go bear spotting is up in Alaska, where you can see Grizzly, Brown, and Polar Bears! There’s lots of wildlife viewing tours you can go on. In the mainland, Yellowstone is another great spot for seeing Grizzly and Brown Bears.

If you head down to the Everglades National Park you’ll see all sorts of wildlife, the most impressive of which is the American Alligator. For a really cool experience, head to ‘Shark Valley’ where you can walk, cycle, or take a tram through a 15 mile long swamp pathway. You’ll come into close contact with them!

One of the most historically significant animals in the USA is the American Bison (Buffalo). It was hugely important to the Native Americans, and they couldn’t have survived without it.

When Europeans came to America, it was hunted to near extinction. The number of Bison in the wild went from 60 million to 500 in just two centuries! They’re doing better now, and are common at Yellowstone.

The national animal of the United States is the mighty Bald Eagle! You can spot them all across the country, so if you want to see one, it’s probably best to look for a hotspot near where you’re going.

An even more impressive bird is the California Condor. These are the largest birds in North America, and have a gigantic 10ft wingspan! If you’re lucky, you might spot one flying through the Grand Canyon.

At Sea
As I mentioned earlier, the USA is the shark capital of the world. You’ll find sharks on both coasts, although the best spot for seeing some in the wild is Hawaii, where you can actually go free diving with them!

If you head up to the San Juan Islands in Washington you’ll be able to see some Orcas. You can actually go whale watching all across the country, although the two top spots are in Hawaii and especially Alaska. But even if you’re visiting New York or Los Angeles, whale watching opportunities won’t be too far away.

The species of whales in the USA include Humpback, Blue, and Grey Whales.

If you like diving, then Hawaii and Florida have some great coral reefs which are full of marine life. There’s a good chance you’ll also spot some dolphins and sea turtles, among all the cute and colourful fish!

Another wonderful animal in Florida is the Manatee. A gigantic, friendly sea cow! The best place to see them is up at Crystal River, and you can actually swim with them! A much more inviting experience than swimming with the sharks, right?

Politics
The current president of the United States is Donald Trump. A new election will take place in 2022, which will either see Trump retain his spot for another 4 years, or a democratic candidate take over.

The country is pretty split down the middle between democrats and republicans, so it might be best to avoid talking about it. Some people get emotional over it. There’s also some touchy subjects in the country, such as abortion, Mexican immigration, and gun control. Probably best to avoid mentioning those also.


Sports
The USA is a very sporty country. It’s a huge part of the culture, and the USA is always topping the Olympic medal boards! They have four primary sports, which are Football, Baseball, Basketball, and Ice Hockey.

The most popular is Football (American Football), however it doesn’t really dominate the sporting scene. The other three sports are well supported, and ‘Soccer’ is also growing in popularity!

Personally, I think American Football is a bit of a bore fest. It’s slow paced, and very confusing. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you like Rugby, it might be an interesting experience to see a game.

Baseball is such a uniquely American sport, I think it would be a shame to visit the country and not go to a game. It’s easy to understand and really fun to watch, especially when someone hits a home run!

Basketball and Ice Hockey are both fast paced and full of excitement. I’ve never been to a game, but they do look like a good time. In terms of soccer, the MLS is getting pretty popular, and some big name players are moving to the league! The country also has the best womens soccer teams / players, in the world.

If you like combat sports, then you can head over to Las Vegas. The city is where pretty much all big Boxing and UFC events are held. You can also see WWE wrestling events, but these take place in a different city every week, so you’d need to plan in advance.

Most cities will have a few different sports teams, so you’ll have your choice of games to attend. Prices vary  depending on the sport and team, but in general, Baseball and Soccer will be the cheapest, with Football being the most expensive. Going to a WWE event is affordable, but Boxing / UFC events are expensive.

Safety
The USA has a higher crime rate than most western countries, but it’s not a dangerous country by any means. The news stories of mass shootings sound scary, and they are, but the odds of actually being caught up in one are incredibly small. There’s a lot of gun crime, but the vast majority is in non tourist areas.

I’ve been to the country over 20 times and I’ve never even seen a civilian with a gun!

All police carry guns, which is a little unnerving, but most of them are good people and won’t do you any harm. However, security is very strict in the USA. Don’t be stupid or violent around the police. A lot of people lose their life because they refuse to co-operate with the police.

In regards to tap water, there are a few areas, such as Flint in Michigan, where the water is unsafe. But for the vast majority of the country, the water is completely safe.


Discrimination
The USA is very gay friendly! Every city has a gay community, and most even have an entire street full of gay bars. California and Florida are two very gay states, and great places for the LGBT community to visit!

As a whole, the country has a dark history with racism. Thankfully most people have moved on, but a lot of racist attitudes can still be found throughout the nation, especially in Southern and more rural areas. It probably won’t be an issue, but is something to be aware of.

The USA is a very diverse country, and almost a third of the population is from a non-white background. In cities even more so. For example, less than half of the people in New York are white! Everyone, from every background, will fit in within the USA.


Religion

The USA is a predominately Christian country, with about 70% of people having it as their main religion. However due to the diversity of the country, you’ll be able to find local worship places for all religions.


Health

Healthcare in the USA is of a high quality, however it is insanely expensive.

In the summer of 2019, a teenager from the UK was visiting her sister in the USA when she had an accident falling off an electric scooter. She was in the hospital for a few days, but thankfully fully recovered. Her healthcare costs were over $150,000, and as she had no travel insurance, she has to pay it out of pocket.

Stories like this are not uncommon. Please, do not even consider visiting the USA without travel insurance, not unless you’re a multi-millionaire. Even a 10 minute ambulance ride will cost $1000.

For emergency care, call 911 or head to the nearest urgent care department. If you need non-emergency help during your visit, you can head to a local ‘clinic’ or ‘psychian’. Just make sure you call your insurance first for a recommendation, as they might only cover treatment costs from certain places.

An appointment will cost $50-100, with extra charges for any tests or x-rays. So again, get travel insurance!

Pharmacies can be found everywhere and will sell a range of over the counter and prescription drugs. Over the counter drugs are fine, but prescription drug prices are very heavily inflated.

So for the third and final time, make sure you have travel insurance!


Entry Requirements
Residents of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and most European countries can enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Program. You just need to apply for an ESTA, which is really easy.

It costs $14, lasts for two years, and is normally approved within an hour or two. With an ESTA you can visit the USA as many times as you like, but a single trip can’t be longer than 90 days.

Even with an ESTA, the final say on whether you get in to the country or not lies with the immigration agent upon arrival. They take their job very seriously, and they’ll ask a lot of questions. Make sure you have proof of onward flights, proof of funds, and the address of where you’ll be staying during your visit.

You’ll also need to give fingerprint scans, and have a head-shot taken. If the immigration agent thinks you’re trying to stay in the USA longer than 90 days, you’ll be denied entry and send back home.

If you have a criminal record, or have recently visited a country such as Iran, Iraq, or Yemen, then you’ll be denied an ESTA. In these cases, or if you’re form a non-ESTA country, you’ll need to apply for a VISA.

If you’re from Canada, you can visit for up to 90 days without needing an ESTA!


Power Outlets

The USA uses two types of power outlets, which are type A two pin and type B three pin. If possible, try to get a type A adapter. A type A plug will fit into a type B socket, but it won’t work the other way round.

Adapters will be pretty easy to find in any city, and you could probably get one before leaving the airport.

  • Where To Go
  • Transport
  • Accommodation
  • Food
  • Money
  • Climate
  • Wildlife
  • Things To Know

Unfortunately the USA has so many great places to visit, and they’re all so spread out. I spent 3 months travelling around the country, and barely saw half of what I wanted to! 

Rather than listing every single city / national park worth visiting (that would take forever), I'll just break it down into what I think are the 7 best regions of the country. 

I think the ideal time for visiting each region is about 2 weeks. The distance between the regions is pretty significant, and trying to see all of the USA in one visit is like trying seeing all of Europe in one visit. Near impossible! Be sensible when making your plans.

Bos-Wash Corridor
This is a region on the East Coast which includes the cities of Boston, New York, Philidelphia, and Washington DC. Each city is brilliant, and they’re all worth visiting! 

Boston and Philidelphia are two of the most important cities in American history, and are full of important relics, such as the Freedom Trail and the Liberty Bell. Plus, Philidelphia has the delicious Philly Cheesesteak! 

Washington DC is the nation’s capital. You’ll be able to visit the White House, and see where the US government operates. It’s a city full of history, most of which can be found in the National Mall. This is a 2 mile long park, full of national monuments and museums, all of which are free to enter!

Then best of all, New York City. This is my favourite city in the world, and it has so much to offer. Huge skyscrapers, amazing parks, great food, lots of museums, broadway, liberty island, and more! Manhattan has so much character, and there’s so much to do. My top recommendation is to walk the High Line!

All four cities are relatively close together and linked by train, so seeing them all in a single visit is possible. 

California
I’d probably say that California is the best single state to visit in the country. It’s on the West Coast, and spans nearly 800 miles! There’s a lot cities in the state, but my favourites are Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

Los Angeles has the weather, the beaches, the hiking, the theme parks, and Hollywood, where you can live out your movie star dreams! San Francisco on the other hand has the Golden Gate Bridge, which is an amazing sight. It also has Alcatraz prison, which is a really fascinating place to visit. 

It’s hard to choose between the two cities, so my advice would be to visit them both! Trains run up and down the entire east coast. Going from LA to SF will take 11 hours, but it’s a very scenic journey.

California is also home to Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks. Yosemite is my favourite National Park in the country. It is incredibly beautiful, and it makes you feel so small! Especially when you see the 12ft wide Giant Redwoods. Joshua Tree is also fantastic, and makes you feel like you’re in the wild west!

If you’re into art, the whole state is full of fun art museums. But for a really interesting experience, head out to Coachella Valley. Here you’ll find Bombay Beach, Slab City, and Salvation Mountain. It’s probably the weirdest place in the country. In April, the region also has the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival.

Florida
Known as the ‘Sunshine State’, Florida is another great place to visit. The two best cities are Orlando and Miami. Orlando is every kids dream, as it’s where you’ll find Disney Land, Universal Studios, and a whole bunch of other theme parks! It’s also relatively close to Cape Canaveral, NASA’s space launch headquarters.

Miami is a bit different, and it’s much more of a grown ups paradise. Great weather, great beaches, great nightlife. It’s also close to the Everglades National Park, which is a huge swampland full of amazing wildlife like Alligators and Flamingos. Day trip options include Key West, the Bahamas, and even Cuba!

Pacific Northwest
This region includes the states of Oregon / Washington, and the cities of Portland / Seattle. They’re both fun, hip cities with some great food! But the best of the Pacific Northwest comes from its natural beauty. 

The coastline is brilliant, and is a good place to do some whale watching. The small town of Depoe Bay is known as one of the best spots for it! Another place to visit is Cannon Beach, home to Haystack Rock.

More inland you’ll find the cascade mountain range. This includes Mt Rainier, Mt Hood, and dozens of other beautiful mountains. It’s great for skiing, or hiking, and if you like volcanos, you’re in luck! 

You can visit Mt St Helens and see the devastating aftermath of a recently erupted volcano. Or you can visit the Newberry Volcanic Monument, where you can hike through obsidian rocks. You can even go see Crater Lake, a breathtaking lake which formed inside of a volcanic crater. It’s a beautiful part of the country. 

The Wild West
I guess this isn’t an ‘official’ region, but I’m throwing it in here. What I’m including are the states of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. Most of this region is a barren wasteland desert, but that’s what I love about it! 

The first state, Utah, has some of the best national parks in the country. Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands. They’re incredible, and the ‘Angels Landing’ hike at Zion is one of the best hikes in the world!

Arizona’s big attraction is the Grand Canyon, one of the 7 wonders of the world. You know about that, so let me tell you about Monument Valley! This is what you think of when you think ‘Wild West’. Giant sandstone buttes, red sand desert, Navajo Native Americans. It’s probably the most ‘America’ place in America.

Nevada doesn’t have as much of the natural beauty, but it’s still wild. It’s main city, Las Vegas, is Disneyland for adults. Full of lights, parties, super casinos, and gambling. There’s so much fun to be had! 

The state also has some great festivals. There’s the Electric Daisy Carnival, an EDM music festival only rivaled by Tomorrowland in Belgium. There’s RISE, the largest lantern festival in the world. And there’s Burning Man, which is.. well, it’s Burning Man. Lots of art, sand, community, and complete madness. 

Oh, and Nevada is also home to area 51!

Hawaii
One of the two US states located off the mainland, Hawaii is 2,500 miles off the west coast, and made up of 8 islands. Each one has its own draws, but the best ones, in my opinion, are Oahu, the Big Island, and Kauai.

Oahu is the most popular island, and has the city of Honolulu. There’s some great hikes, such as Diamond Head, Koko Head, and the Haiku Stairs. You can also go snorkelling, or swimming with sharks!

The Big Island is huge, and can offer different environments from the other islands, such as a large snow-capped mountains. It also has Kilauea, an active volcano where you can see actual flowing lava! 

Kauai is my favourite island. It reminds me of my favourite movie, Jurassic Park. The Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon are two of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen! A great way to see the Napali Coast is via a catamaran cruise. Expect pods of dolphins and whales to be swimming along side you!

Alaska
The other state off the mainland, located west of North West Canada. It’s the biggest US state, and the wildest. It has some incredible wildlife viewing, and the largest mountains in North America. There’s fjords, ice glaciers, and if you visit in winter, then you’ll probably be able to see the northern lights!

Arriving
The USA is gigantic, so you’ll want to try flying into the airport nearest to where you’re going. Thankfully you’ll have plenty of choices, as there’s over 150 international airports in the country! The two main hubs are New York and Los Angeles, and they’ll have direct flights to pretty much anywhere on the planet. 

Once you land, most airports will be connected to public transport, or will have taxi’s/shuttles outside.

You can also enter the country via land from Mexico/Canada, and another option (if you can afford it) would be to go on a cruise from Europe or Asia!


Trains /
Subway
Most of the big cities in the USA are linked via Amtrak trains. These are best on the coasts, and especially good in the Bos-Wash Corridor. You can also do long-distance journeys on the trains, but just remember how big the country is. Going from New York to Los Angeles will take 3 days, and cost $800+ for a bed. 

If you plan on doing a lot of train travel, Amtrak offer some good money-saving passes.

Although the train would be a memorable and scenic journey, the normal method of long distance transport is flying. This will be cheaper and a lot faster than the train. New York to Los Angeles would take 6 hours, and cost around $100. Driving coast to coast is also a popular thing to do. The great American road trip!

Most of the large cities will have some sort of subway system, and these are normally pretty cheap and easy to use. Other cities, such as Portland, have light rail systems which work like an overground subway. 

There’s no subway systems in Hawaii or Alaska, but Alaska does have it’s own railroad! It connects the two largest cities, and is very scenic.


Bus

Every city, even the smaller ones, will have a local bus system. They’re quite cheap and fairly easy to use. In Hawaii, Oahu has a particularly good bus system, and it’s one of the best in the country!

For long-distance, Greyhound buses are a popular choice. It’s the cheapest form of long-distance ground transport in the country, but you probably won’t enjoy it. They have a reputation for attracting.. crazy people. The bus from New York to Los Angeles can cost $200, and takes 66 hours.

If you plan on doing that, then you are the crazy person on the bus.

A lot of the national parks will have some type of shuttle system in place. They do it to ease traffic, but if you don’t drive, this is a lifesaver! It means you can get around the park with ease. The bigger issue will be actually trying to get to the park entrance via public transport. For most of them, it’s a massive pain to do.


Car
If you’re just visiting cities, then there’s no need to rent a car. Every city will have good public transport systems in place, and getting between the cities is easy! But if you want to visit some of the countries national parks (and you should), then renting a car is by far the best way to do it. 

The USA is perfect road trip country, especially in the western regions. You can rent a car in one city, such as Los Angeles, and then drop it off in another, such as Salt Lake City. This allows you to spend a few weeks going on a road trip of a lifetime! Although different pick up and drop off locations can be expensive. 

If you don’t drive, then don’t worry! You can have the same roadtrip experience, you just need to join a group tour. I went on a 3 week camping road trip with TrekAmerica, and it was AMAZING.

You’ll also be able to find Uber, Lyft, and taxis in abundance throughout the country.

Hostels
Contrary to popular belief, the USA has plenty of hostels. They’re not as common as they are in Asia or Europe, but they’re there. You won’t have any trouble finding one in a big city, but for more rural areas, you might struggle. I averaged about $30 a night for my hostel beds.


Hotels

Hotels, motels, and B&B’s can be found all across the country. There’s a huge variety, from crappy highway motels to luxury skyscraper hotels. I try to go cheap, and on average, I’ve paid $80 a night for hotels in the USA. But prices vary a lot by where you go, and for somewhere like New York, $150 a night would be cheap

A lot of the national parks will have a lodge on site. These are normally large wooden buildings which have restaurants, gift shops, and plenty of rooms with very nice views. They’re expensive, with rooms starting at $200 a night, but the fantastic locations are worth the price!

Wherever you stay, just make sure to book in advance. Last minute bookings will really limit your options and hike up prices. If you want to stay in a national park lodge, then book your stay very early. Some places at the more popular national parks will literally sell out a year in advance. 


Other Accommodation
AirBNB is very popular in the USA. In most cities you’ll be able to book an entire apartment, or a shared room in a house. These will normally be cheaper than a hotel, and might even match the price of hostels!

Camping is another a popular thing to do, especially when visiting national parks. KOA offers hundreds of campsites around the country, which normally have a shop, showers, power outlets, and laundry machines! They even exist inside cities, and they’re a great accommodation option if you’re doing a road trip. 

Expect prices to start around $25 a night. You can bring a tent, or sleep in your car.

Food
I LOVE American food! There are so many delicious things to try, especially for a picky eater like me. The country is too big to really cover it all, but I’ll mention a few of my favourite things here. 

For breakfast, a good old American choice is Pancakes. People also love a big breakfast full of Eggs, Bacon, Hash Browns, and Coffee. My favourite breakfast spot is at an ‘iHop’ restaurant. The servings are huge!

For lunch, sandwiches are the most popular option. There are tons of different ones to try, but my favourites are Burgers, Reubens, and Philidelphia Cheesesteaks. The best Burger I’ve ever had in the country (or the world), is at ‘Shake Shack’. As for Philidelphia Cheesesteaks, you’ll find the best ones in Philidelphia. 

For dinner, there’s a whole bunch of options. Popular dishes include Mac N Cheese, Pizza, Chicken and Waffles, Chowder, Buffalo Wings, and Ribs. New York and Chicago are known for their pizza, especially in Chicago where they have the massive ‘Deep Dish’ pizza. Desert is normally Ice Cream, Pie, or Cake.

Some regional dishes include New York Hot-dogs, Mississippi Mud Pies, and New England Clam Chowder. For your sweet tooth, try out Pretzels, Hersheys Chocolate, Fritos, and my favourite, Cinnamon Rolls

If you ever end up around a campfire, you need to try making ‘Smores’. Imagine two crackers with a marshmallow and some chocolate between them, slowly cooked together over a fire. Yum yum yum!

You’re probably thinking “That is all junk!”, and yes, that is true. I gain a lot of weight every time I go to the USA. Most of the food isn’t very healthy, and the portions are gigantic. Most meals are well over 1000 calories. But if you’re a healthier person, there’s no need to worry! There’s also a lot of healthy options. 

When eating out, be aware that for any sit down service, you need to tip 15-20% of the total bill. Waiters in  are paid below minimum wage, with the expectation that tips will bring them up to and beyond that point. I think it’s a horrible system, but it is what it is, and you need to tip at least 15% regardless of service quality. 

In terms of prices, it depends where you go. For street food and places like McDonalds, expect meals to be around $5-10. For sit down chain restaurants like iHop and Olive Garden, they’ll be $10-20. Independent places vary in price, but they’ll normally be more expensive than chains. 

Cooking your own meals is also an option, and ‘Walmart’ is a cheap place to get food. 

Drinks
Americans love their coffee! In hotter regions, iced coffee and iced tea are also popular. There’s lots of sodas to try, but my favourite one is a good old Mountain Dew.  

In terms of alcohol, beer is very popular, and wine is also had during meals. Personally, I don’t like either of. But if you’re like me and only like mixed drinks, then you’re in luck! There’s hundreds of variants of cocktails. My favourite is the Long Island Iced Tea, especially when it’s mixed with sweet and sour mix. 

At a bar, you need to tip $1 for every drink you order. 

Cards
Most places in the USA will take any form of card, but it’s a good idea to carry two different types just in case! Contactless payments aren’t common, and sometimes you’ll need to sign a receipt on checkout.


Cash
There's a ton of ATM’s in the USA, so finding one won’t be an issue. Most of them will charge a fee for withdrawals, so it might be best to withdraw large amounts at a time.

While you won’t need to pay in cash for many things, it’s a good idea to carry cash around for tips. Stuff like taxi/shuttle rides, luggage porters, haircuts, and tours will all require cash tips. In restaurants, if you pay with a card you’ll also be able to tip by card.

Some haggling might be acceptable in a market or a yard sale, especially when there’s no set price, but most of the time haggling isn’t really appropriate.

The currency in the USA is the US Dollar. One Dollar is compromised of 100 cents.  The variations of cash are: 1¢ (penny) / 5¢ (nickel) / 10¢ (dime) / 25¢ (quarter) coins, and $1/$5/$10/$20/$50/$100 notes.

At the time of writing in February 2020, the exchange rates are: £1 = $1.30 / 1 = $1.11

One last thing to note about the USA is that prices are generally ‘pre-tax’. The sales tax rate varies by state, so prices are listed pre-tax, then tax is added at checkout. It’s dumb, I know. If you see something for sale at $19.99, it probably costs $20.78 or so. Never rely on having exact change.


Tipping

The USA is the most tip-heavy country in the world. If someone provides you with a service, you’re expected to tip for it. Typical rates are:

  • Sit down restaurants: 15-20% of the total bill
  • Bartenders: $1 per drink
  • Luggage porters: $2 a bag
  • Taxi/shuttle drivers: 15%

You’ll also need to tip hairdressers and tour guides (even if they’re free). Other people tip for bag packers, cashiers, housekeeping, and just about everything else. People in the USA don’t even know who they should be tipping or how much, as more professions seem to be getting added to the list every year.

In all honesty, it’s a silly system. But if you’re visiting the country, you should abide by it. At very least, tip bartenders and waiters. They’re actually paid below minimum wage, with the expectation that tips will bring them up to the minimum wage level. Yep, that is somehow legal!


Budget
The USA is not a cheap country to visit. The high accommodation and activity costs can create a really expensive trip. On average, I’ve spent $150 a day when travelling in the USA. This is mainly staying in hostels and eating cheap, although it has included some very expensive activities.

If you stick to hostels, free activities, cheap food, and public transport, then travelling for $75 a day is doable. For some nicer food and basic paid activities, I’d go up to $100 a day. For all of the above and a hotel room, I’d go up again to $150 a day. Add $50 to any total where you want to rent a car.

Temperature
The USA is a huge country, and temperatures vary greatly depending on where you go. In summer, you can expect the following averages:

  • New York City: 25c / 77f
  • Chicago: 23c / 73f
  • Orlando: 28c / 82f
  • Los Angeles: 22c / 72f
  • Las Vegas: 34c / 93f
  • Portland: 21c / 70f
  • Honolulu: 25c / 77f
  • Anchorage: 26c / 82f

In New York, Florida, and the rest of the East Coast, the humidity in summer will be unbearable. The rest of the country won’t be so humid, but places such as Las Vegas can have extreme dry heat. A temperature of 80f / 27c in New York City will feel a lot worse than 90f / 32c in Las Vegas.

Summer heatwaves are common. Most cities across the country see temperatures up to 90f / 32c, and in many cases 100f / 38c. In the deserts, prepare for temperatures as high as 110f / 43c. The USA is actually home to the hottest place on earth, appropriately named ‘Death Valley’, where it gets to a mental 133f / 56c!

In winter, you can expect the following averages:

  • New York City: 2c / 36f
  • Chicago: -6c / 21f
  • Orlando: 15c / 59f
  • Los Angeles: 13c / 55f
  • Las Vegas: 8c / 46f
  • Portland: 5c / 41f
  • Honolulu: 23c / 73f
  • Anchorage: -8c / 18f

Most of the country gets a bit chilly, but nothing awful. The regions up around Chicago and Minneapolis can get brutally cold though, with temperatures going as low as -46c / -50f. As expected, Alaska gets very cold.


Weather
Similar to the temperature, weather varies greatly across the country. The East Coast and Pacific Northwest get their fair share of rain, especially in the winter months. The further south you go, the less rain you get.

Florida has some pretty interesting weather. It’s known as the ‘sunshine state‘ and it is very sunny, but it also gets a ton of rain, especially in the summer months. Despite the image of being a sunny paradise, Hawaii is the same, except their rainy season is in spring. Hawaii is actually the wettest state!

Snow is pretty common across the country, with most of it coming up North. Seeing snow in Florida or Hawaii is rare, but it can happen. Even the desert will see snow! If you visit the Grand Canyon in winter, you might see it covered in a white blanket.

The best time to visit depends on where you go, and what sort of weather you like. I would advise against visiting Chicago in winter, and also against visiting the East Coast, Florida, or the desert areas in summer. I think winter is an amazing time to visit NYC, and spring is the best time to see the country as a whole.


Daylight
Due to the extreme size of the country, daylight varies a lot depending on where you go. Here is a quick comparison of some cities:

  • New York: Summer Daylight – 15 hours / Winter Daylight – 9 hours
  • Miami: Summer Daylight – 13.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 10.5 hours
  • Los Angeles: Summer Daylight – 14.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 10 hours
  • Portland: Summer Daylight – 15.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 9 hours
  • Honolulu: Summer Daylight – 13.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 11 hours
  • Anchorage: Summer Daylight – 19.5 hours / Winter Daylight – 5.5 hours

The most extreme place is in Alaska, where the days can have as little as 5.5 hours of light. If you want to go hiking and sightseeing, then summer is a good time to visit. (Although then you’ll miss the Northern Lights)

In northern cities like Boston, Chicago, and Seattle, summer will give you an extra 6 hours of daylight. This is best time to visit if you want to do any sightseeing or any hiking! Down south, it doesn’t matter much.

Natural Disasters
Unfortunately, the USA suffers from quite a lot of natural disasters. In pretty much every part of the country, you’ll need to be aware of something.

All across the Gulf of Mexico, from Florida to Texas, is hurricane territory. These happen pretty much every year, and bring devastating winds and floods. The season runs from June – November, so I would avoid visiting the region during this time.

If you’re visiting the west coast, you should be wary of earthquakes. These are common in California, but can also strike Oregon and Washington. There are fears of an overdue ‘big one’ happening soon, which would cause devastating damage and spawn a tsunami.

The Mid-West and Southern states are home to tornado alley. The USA gets over 1000 tornados every year, far more than any other country. Some of these are massive, and can cause serious damage or death.

The other thing to be aware of is extreme heat and cold. Summer heatwaves can be deadly, especially when combined with high humidity. Adding to this, wildfires are common during the summer heat, and they can get out of hand very fast. In 2018, California had a wildfire which killed 88 people.

Extreme cold and blizzards can also be deadly, especially if you get caught out in them. In early 2019, a Polar Vortex caused some extremely cold temperatures across the country, killing dozens of people.

Thankfully, the USA is a modern, rich country who are well prepared to deal with these events when they occur. Always follow the advice of local authorities. With the exception of earthquakes, you’ll have plenty of time to prepare for any of the above disasters, and you should be fine!

If you’re told to evacuate, then evacuate. Wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados, are no joke. They will get you even if you're inside and 'safe'.

Dangerous Animals
The USA has plenty of dangerous wildlife. For starters, there’s the spiders. The most dangerous ones are the Black Widow and Brown Recluse, but these aren’t the only poisonous spiders. If you’re bitten by a spider at any point, try to get a picture of it, kill it out of revenge, and then go to a doctor for treatment.

Snakes are also common in USA, and many of them have poisonous venom. Only 5 people a year die from snake bites, but this would be a lot, lot higher if anti-venom wasn’t so widely available.

The most notable one to be aware of is the American Rattlesnake. Thankfully these guys kindly give off a warning before attacking. If you ever hear a sort of rattling noise when you’re out hiking, pay very close attention to where it’s coming from, then go the opposite direction. Again, get help ASAP if you are bit.

In Florida, there are lots of American Alligators. Some of these guys are huge, and they can be dangerous. Try not to swim in any swamps, ponds, or lakes unless it has been confirmed safe to do so.

The USA is the shark attack capital of the world. You’ll find all sorts of sharks swimming off the coasts of the USA, including Tiger and Great White Sharks. As many as 30 people are bit each year, but deaths rarely occur. Never swim at a beach if there is a shark warning sign up, and always listen to the lifeguards!

In the more northern and western states, you need to be aware of Mountain Lions, or ‘Cougars’. These are large cats, and can easily kill you. If you’re attacked by one, the best advice is just to ‘fight like hell and pray’. Thankfully this is unlikely, as they’re quite low in numbers and very timid.

The last animals on this list are Bears! The USA has three main species of bear. The Grizzly / Brown Bear, the Black Bear, and the Polar Bear. You’ll find Brown Bears all across the country, whereas Grizzly Bears are mainly in the North West States/Alaska, and Polar Bears are only in Northern Alaska. 

Attacks aren’t very common, but you should make sure you know what to do, especially if you visit Alaska or northern parks such as Yellowstone. Each bear is very different from the others. 

If a Brown Bear attacks you, fight like hell. They’re quite timid and should normally back off. If a Grizzly Bear attacks you, play dead. You won’t win that fight, and you want the Bear to get bored and leave. If a Polar Bear attacks, then good luck. You are almost certainly going to die. 

The best way to avoid an attack it to be noisy when hiking, and make sure the Bear knows where you are. They don’t like humans, and will avoid us if possible. Never, ever, go near a cub. Mama bears be fierce!

On Land
There’s too much wildlife in the USA to cover, so I’ll just mention my favourites.

My favourite animal in the country is the Mountain Lion, which is found all across the western states. Unfortunately spotting one in the wild is very unlikely. If you’re more of a dog person, then you might be interested in seeing Grey Wolves! Your best chance of seeing them is at Yellowstone National Park.

Bears are one of Americas most iconic predators. The best place to go bear spotting is up in Alaska, where you can see Grizzly, Brown, and Polar Bears! There’s lots of wildlife viewing tours you can go on. In the mainland, Yellowstone is another great spot for seeing Grizzly and Brown Bears.

If you head down to the Everglades National Park you’ll see all sorts of wildlife, the most impressive of which is the American Alligator. For a really cool experience, head to ‘Shark Valley’ where you can walk, cycle, or take a tram through a 15 mile long swamp pathway. You’ll come into close contact with them!

One of the most historically significant animals in the USA is the American Bison (Buffalo). It was hugely important to the Native Americans, and they couldn’t have survived without it. 

When Europeans came to America, it was hunted to near extinction. The number of Bison in the wild went from 60 million to 500 in just two centuries! They’re doing better now, and are common at Yellowstone.

The national animal of the United States is the mighty Bald Eagle! You can spot them all across the country, so if you want to see one, it’s probably best to look for a hotspot near where you’re going.

 An even more impressive bird is the California Condor. These are the largest birds in North America, and have a gigantic 10ft wingspan! If you’re lucky, you might spot one flying through the Grand Canyon.

At Sea
As I mentioned earlier, the USA is the shark capital of the world. You’ll find sharks on both coasts, although the best spot for seeing some in the wild is Hawaii, where you can actually go free diving with them!

If you head up to the San Juan Islands in Washington you’ll be able to see some Orcas. You can actually go whale watching all across the country, although the two top spots are in Hawaii and especially Alaska. But even if you’re visiting New York or Los Angeles, whale watching opportunities won’t be too far away. 

The species of whales in the USA include Humpback, Blue, and Grey Whales.

If you like diving, then Hawaii and Florida have some great coral reefs which are full of marine life. There’s a good chance you’ll also spot some dolphins and sea turtles, among all the cute and colourful fish! 

Another wonderful animal in Florida is the Manatee. A gigantic, friendly sea cow! The best place to see them is up at Crystal River, and you can actually swim with them! A much more inviting experience than swimming with the sharks, right?

Politics
The current president of the United States is Donald Trump. A new election will take place in 2022, which will either see Trump retain his spot for another 4 years, or a democratic candidate take over. 

The country is pretty split down the middle between democrats and republicans, so it might be best to avoid talking about it. Some people get emotional over it. There’s also some touchy subjects in the country, such as abortion, Mexican immigration, and gun control. Probably best to avoid mentioning those also.


Sports
The USA is a very sporty country. It’s a huge part of the culture, and the USA is always topping the Olympic medal boards! They have four primary sports, which are Football, Baseball, Basketball, and Ice Hockey. 

The most popular is Football (American Football), however it doesn’t really dominate the sporting scene. The other three sports are well supported, and ‘Soccer’ is also growing in popularity!

Personally, I think American Football is a bit of a bore fest. It’s slow paced, and very confusing. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you like Rugby, it might be an interesting experience to see a game. 

Baseball is such a uniquely American sport, I think it would be a shame to visit the country and not go to a game. It’s easy to understand and really fun to watch, especially when someone hits a home run!

Basketball and Ice Hockey are both fast paced and full of excitement. I’ve never been to a game, but they do look like a good time. In terms of soccer, the MLS is getting pretty popular, and some big name players are moving to the league! The country also has the best womens soccer teams / players, in the world. 

If you like combat sports, then you can head over to Las Vegas. The city is where pretty much all big Boxing and UFC events are held. You can also see WWE wrestling events, but these take place in a different city every week, so you’d need to plan in advance.

Most cities will have a few different sports teams, so you’ll have your choice of games to attend. Prices vary  depending on the sport and team, but in general, Baseball and Soccer will be the cheapest, with Football being the most expensive. Going to a WWE event is affordable, but Boxing / UFC events are expensive.

Safety
The USA has a higher crime rate than most western countries, but it’s not a dangerous country by any means. The news stories of mass shootings sound scary, and they are, but the odds of actually being caught up in one are incredibly small. There’s a lot of gun crime, but the vast majority is in non tourist areas.

I’ve been to the country over 20 times and I’ve never even seen a civilian with a gun!

All police carry guns, which is a little unnerving, but most of them are good people and won’t do you any harm. However, security is very strict in the USA. Don’t be stupid or violent around the police. A lot of people lose their life because they refuse to co-operate with the police.

In regards to tap water, there are a few areas, such as Flint in Michigan, where the water is unsafe. But for the vast majority of the country, the water is completely safe


Discrimination
The USA is very gay friendly! Every city has a gay community, and most even have an entire street full of gay bars. California and Florida are two very gay states, and great places for the LGBT community to visit!

As a whole, the country has a dark history with racism. Thankfully most people have moved on, but a lot of racist attitudes can still be found throughout the nation, especially in Southern and more rural areas. It probably won’t be an issue, but is something to be aware of.

The USA is a very diverse country, and almost a third of the population is from a non-white background. In cities even more so. For example, less than half of the people in New York are white! Everyone, from every background, will fit in within the USA.


Religion

The USA is a predominately Christian country, with about 70% of people having it as their main religion. However due to the diversity of the country, you’ll be able to find local worship places for all religions.


Health

Healthcare in the USA is of a high quality, however it is insanely expensive

In the summer of 2019, a teenager from the UK was visiting her sister in the USA when she had an accident falling off an electric scooter. She was in the hospital for a few days, but thankfully fully recovered. Her healthcare costs were over $150,000, and as she had no travel insurance, she has to pay it out of pocket.

Stories like this are not uncommon. Please, do not even consider visiting the USA without travel insurance, not unless you’re a multi-millionaire. Even a 10 minute ambulance ride will cost $1000.

For emergency care, call 911 or head to the nearest urgent care department. If you need non-emergency help during your visit, you can head to a local ‘clinic’ or ‘psychian’. Just make sure you call your insurance first for a recommendation, as they might only cover treatment costs from certain places. 

An appointment will cost $50-100, with extra charges for any tests or x-rays. So again, get travel insurance!

Pharmacies can be found everywhere and will sell a range of over the counter and prescription drugs. Over the counter drugs are fine, but prescription drug prices are very heavily inflated. 

So for the third and final time, make sure you have travel insurance!


Entry Requirements
Residents of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and most European countries can enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Program. You just need to apply for an ESTA, which is really easy. 

It costs $14, lasts for two years, and is normally approved within an hour or two. With an ESTA you can visit the USA as many times as you like, but a single trip can’t be longer than 90 days. 

Even with an ESTA, the final say on whether you get in to the country or not lies with the immigration agent upon arrival. They take their job very seriously, and they’ll ask a lot of questions. Make sure you have proof of onward flights, proof of funds, and the address of where you’ll be staying during your visit. 

You’ll also need to give fingerprint scans, and have a head-shot taken. If the immigration agent thinks you’re trying to stay in the USA longer than 90 days, you’ll be denied entry and send back home. 

If you have a criminal record, or have recently visited a country such as Iran, Iraq, or Yemen, then you’ll be denied an ESTA. In these cases, or if you’re form a non-ESTA country, you’ll need to apply for a VISA.

If you’re from Canada, you can visit for up to 90 days without needing an ESTA!


Power Outlets

The USA uses two types of power outlets, which are type A two pin and type B three pin. If possible, try to get a type A adapter. A type A plug will fit into a type B socket, but it won’t work the other way round.

Adapters will be pretty easy to find in any city, and you could probably get one before leaving the airport.

Bucket List Experiences

Visit Yellowstone National Park

An active supervolcano which inspired the creation of the national park system. It's full of geysers, mountains, and wildlife! You'll need to have a car, or join a group tour.

Take the Yellow Brick Road up Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain is one mans amazing message of love for God! You can reach it as a day trip from Palm Springs, San Diego, or Los Angeles, but you'll need your own car.

Explore Alaska and see Bears/Whales

Alaska is the wildest place in the USA, and it has some incredible wildlife. You can spot Humpback Whales, Grizzly Bears, and more! You can self-drive, or go on a group tour.

Hike the Stairway to Heaven

The 'Haiku Stairs' in Oahu just might be the most scenic hike in the world. Sadly climbing on it is illegal, and you need to go up the back route. It's 10 miles long, and tough!

Visit Kauai

Kauai is the oldest Hawaiian island, and the most incredible. You may also recognize it as Jurassic Park. The Napali Coast and the Waimea Canyon are two incredible spots!

Attend the Rise Festival

The largest lantern festival in the world, celebrating hope, dreams, and life. It happens in Las Vegas each October, and tickets/shuttles cost about $150.

Visit Crater Lake National Park

An old Volcano which erupted and formed a lake in the mountain-top crater. It is amazing! It's best to drive, but you can also do a group tour, or go via public transport.

Fly over New York City

Taking a helicopter flight over the big apple is the best way to see Americas greatest city. There's lots of operators, and prices cabn range anywhere from $150 - $400.

See Niagara Falls

These incredible waterfalls are often thought of as the 8th wonder of the world. They sit on the US/Canadian border, in upper New York. You can easily reach it via public transport.

Go up to the Hollywood Sign

The iconic sign of Hollywood, Los Angeles, is also one of Americas most famous landmarks! The hike is 4 miles long and pretty easy. Get an Uber to the trailhead.

See the Grand Canyon

One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is possibly the most incredible place in the USA. You'll need to have a car, or join a tour from Las Vegas.

Attend the Electric Daisy Carnival

This massive 3 day music festival is Americas Tomorrowland. It's an insane mix of lights, music, fireworks, and art. It happens each May in Las Vegas, and tickets start at $319.

Walk the Freedom Trail

The Boston Freedom Trail is a walking route which takes you through 16 historical sites, primarily relating to the birth of the USA and the war of independence.

Visit Yostmite National Park and the Giant Redwoods

Yosemite is my favourite US National Park. The Valley, and the Giant Redwoods make you feel tiny. Visiting is fairly easy from San Francisco, but will require some of planning.

Hike up Angels Landing

This hike at Zion NP is one of the coolest and most dangerous in the world! It's 5 miles long, and has some very steep cliffs. It's best to visit Zion with a car, or on a group tour.

Go Horse Riding in the Wild West

I wanna be a cowboy baby! This is a great experience, and you can do this from a ton of places in the west. An easy way to do it is on a day excursion from Las Vegas.

Attend Burning Man

Burning Man is probably the most unique festival in the world. It happens in Nevada each August, and will cost $1000 - $2000. It's complex, and requires a lot of planning.

Walk the Vegas Strip

Full of lights, actors, works of art, and super casinos. The Vegas Strip is like Disneyland, for adults! It's 4 miles long, and walking it will bring lots of 'interesting' experiences.

See Flowing Lava in Hawaii

Something is normally erupting on Hawaii's Big Island. Seeing actual, real lava flowing is a once in a lifetime experience! If the lava is flowing, you can see it on a guided tour.

Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

This 1.7 mile long bridge in San Francisco is probably the most famous in the world! The walk across it is an awesome, and should be top of your San Francisco bucket list.

Cycle Through the National Mall

The National Mall in Washington DC is a park full of free monuments and museums focusing on Americas history. It's 2 miles long, and perfect for exploring on bike.

Swim with Manatees in Florida

Manatees are adorable sea cows! They're harmless, and make a great swimming companion. The best place to do it is in Crystal River, near Tampa.

Visit Everglades National Park

This huge swampland in Florida is a really unique national park, full of really incredible wildlife. The best base to see it is Miami, and a fun way to explore is on an airboat tour!

Go Cageless Shark Diving

In Oahu, Hawaii, a 'One Ocean Diving' will take you free diving with sharks! It's a once in a lifetime experiance, and will cost you around $150. Don't worry, it's safe!

Have a Philly Cheesesteak

Arguably the tastiest thing you can eat in the USA! You'll get the best cheesesteaks in their native Philidelphia, and everyone has different opinions on who serves the best.

Yellowstone – PXhere

Hawaii Lava – Scot Nelson

Alaska Wildlife – Christoph Strässler

Haiku Stairs – Kevin McCarthy

Boston Freedom Trail – Ingfbruno

Manatees – Keith Ramos

Rise Festival – Kyle Taylor

Everglades – National Park Service

Niagara Falls – Artur Staszewski

Philly Cheesesteak – Wikipedia

Burning Man – Christopher Michel

All other images are by me! 🙂

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Thanks for reading my USA travel guide! If you’ve spotted something that doesn’t seem quite right, or think there’s anything I should add, please let me know! And if you found this guide helpful, please consider supporting me on Ko-fi 🙂

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