Visit the USA: 10 Smart Tips to Prepare and Enjoy your Holiday!

travel tips to prepare your trip to the usa

Traveling to America is a dream for many!

After all, with its 50 unique and fabulous states, an area of over 9,8 million km2, and a population of roughly 334 million people, the United States are the fourth largest country in the world by area (just behind Russia and Canada), and the third one by population (only behind China and India), which have something for anyone!

Are you dreaming about sun-soaked beaches? You’ll find plenty! High-top forests and National Parks? There are! Sandy Western deserts? There are? Snow-capped mountains? Bustling metropolis? World-famous casinos? Anything in between? The US has all the ingredients to make any trip exciting and memorable!

The truth is though, that traveling to the US is not the easiest thing on Earth: you need Visas, medical insurance, planning ahead of time, understanding the local culture, and overall be prepared!

In this article, we will give you 10 essential tips to prepare for visiting the US and avoid ugly surprises, useful whether it will be for a solo trip, a honeymoon, or a one family vacation!

Let’s dive right in!


 

 

1. Get a Tourist VISA or,

if you’re eligible, an ESTA

1.cappadocia

There are two ways to get a permission to enter the US for tourism: getting a Visa or getting an ESTA.

Getting a Tourist Visa for the US is expensive (costs 185USD as of 2023) and requires presenting several documents (job documents, criminal record, family tree etc.) to an American embassy and, almost always, also sustaining an interview in person by an American consular office.

Said that America also offers a second type of entrance permit called ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), which is an automated system that assists in determining eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.

The problem is, that the ESTA is available only for citizens of 39 countries (all European countries, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Chile).

If you hold a passport from one of these countries, you can ask for an ESTA up to one week before your trip, it’s easy, fast, and cheap and I wrote a comprehensive guide about How to get an ESTA and everything you need to know too!

2. Get a Medical Insurance

before Traveling to the US

get a medical travel insurance before traveling to the usa

The United States offers the best healthcare services in the world, but these services are unfortunately not affordable to all.

Unlike in Europe, here there is no universal healthcare. The U.S. government does not provide health benefits to citizens or visitors. Any time you get medical care, someone has to pay for it: whether it’ll be insurance or yourself in person!

Hospitals in the US demand a high up-front fee for treatment and without health insurance, you may be unable to bear the cost.

To give you an idea, if you’re uninsured, a visit to the hospital in an ambulance can cost you 500 USD, and a visit to the Emergency Room can cost your pocket around 3000 USD.

Hence, it’s common for anyone traveling to the US to get sufficient health coverage in your travel policy, even more, if you’re  traveling with your family or someone with weak health.

 

How Much Does a Healthcare Policy for the US Cost?

Having a quick look online, you can find healthcare insurance for the US that ranges between 30-60USD/week (varies depending on the company and maximum coverage), which after all is not an exaggerated price to pay to have peace of mind!

3. Accept that you Cannot Cram

Everything there’s to See in one Trip!

usa are so big you cannot visit them all in one holiday

The US all together is a massive country and seeing all its attractions in one go would take over a year of traveling, if not two!

After all, the USA is a federal country composed of 50 states some of which the so large that could be a country by themselves too (think that only the area of Texas, for example, is double the one of Germany!).

Your best bet, is therefore first, to accept you won’t be able to see everything on your trip; and second, to choose what’s more important to you and focus on that!

 

 

Here are some ideas you might want to consider for Your Itinerary!

  • Do you want to stare at the wide-eyed beauties of the US Metropolis? Go for New York, LA, or Las Vegas!
  • Do you love movies? Enjoy the magic of Hollywood!
  • Do you love Disney? Visit a thematic Disneyland park in Orlando or Anaheim!
  • Do you like history? Check out Washington DC, Kansas, Fort Collins, or New Orleans!
  • Do you like beer and modern marvels? Roam the streets of Boston or San Francisco!
  • Do you love music? Write the cities of Seattle, Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans on your list!
  • Do you seek adventure? Why now explore the wild locations of Alaska, or the national parks of Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or Yosemite?
  • Do you love surfing? California’s Huntington Beach is waiting for you with its wicked waves!
  • Are you a beach lover? Here we go with Maui and Miami.

As you can see, the US has it all (these were only FEW examples!): before your trip, your hardest task will be to decide, depending on the days available to you, what to include and what not!

It’s a tough decisional process, but also fun as it will make you travel with your mind even before jumping on the plane! ;D

4. Include Money for Tipping in your Budget Plan!

money for tipping in the usa

If you’re coming from a non-tipping country (like me, from Italy!), discovering how the US tipping culture works might make you turn your nose at best, and slightly upset you at worst: here you HAVE TO tip for anything!

I mean, is not that you MUST tip, but you’re EXPECTED TO and people will look at you like a stingy asshole if you don’t.

To understand the US tipping culture, it’s important to understand that over 60% of Americans affirm to live paycheck-to-paycheck, wages in many jobs are low, the pay doesn’t include contributions for healthcare and social security, and that’s why many people go by just thanks to the tips they receive.

As a tourist, you’ll just have to accept that tipping is customary and expected in the US.

 

How Much Do You Need to Tip and for What?

When talking about bars and restaurants, leaving a gratuity of 15 to 20 percent on top of the bill (before sales tax) is standard, with 25 percent given for top-notch service.

Servers in America work hard for the money – they’re generally friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to go the extra mile for customers. Said that, bad service is unusual but it happens.

To not tip at all, though, the service would have to be dreadful. Leaving just 10 percent is a clear indication that the experience was not up to par (I know, if you come to Europe it seems absurd to leave a tip for a bad service, but that’s how America works and as tourists, we need to fit in with the local culture!).

If you don’t think your waitperson deserves to be paid for their service, the best course of action is to explain to the restaurant manager why you’re not leaving a tip (so that you won’t have anyone running behind you out of the restaurant asking for a tip!).

Another thing you can do, if you’re not happy with the service, is to voice it right away, so you’ll be giving the waiter a chance to solve the problem and make you happy (voicing problems is encourages in the US, contrary to Europe where is just awkward).

Keep in mind that in the US you are not expected to tip for restaurants only, but also taxi drivers, valets, cashiers, barbers, hair stylists, cleaning staff, and barmen (1$ per drink is the norm!)… basically anyone!

So all in all, you’d better plan 20% more on your travel budget just for the tips ;D

5. Consider Buying City-Passes

to Save Money on Attactions!

buy city passes for saving on attractions - usa travel tips

Are you visiting some of the large US Metropolitan cities and you’ve got plenty of attractions on your bucket list?

Know that getting city passes is the cheapest way to visit several museums, landmarks, and iconic buildings within the same city and save good money on entrance tickets.

As an example, getting a New York Citypass for the price of 136$ will give you access to visit the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the American Museum of Natural History, the Top of the Rock Observatory and the Guggenheim Museum, which individually would cost more than 220$ (you’ll be saving roughly 40% with a City Pass!).

At the moment, the City Pass is available in 16 US cities, and you can find all info about prices and what’s included on the Official US City Pass page.

 

6. Check your Passport Validity

(for at Least 6 Months!) 

check the passport validity for at least 6 months

In order to be allowed to travel to the US, you will be asked to provide a passport with at least 6 months validity from the moment you enter the country (or more, if you’re planning to travel the US for longer!).

Be sure to check the expiration date of your document before you go, and in case of upcoming expiration, ask for a new document ahead of time.

Like this, you will avoid bad surprises ;D

7. Plan Trasportation and Things to Do in Advance,

as Distances are Huge! 

distances in the us are huge! plan trasportation in advance

We already talked about how HUGE the US is in the introduction of the article.

But one thing is talking about it, and another thing is REALIZING it.

To give you an example, to drive from Miami (East-Coast) to Seattle (West Coast), it takes you 48 hours of non-stop driving (and if we suppose 5 hours of driving every day, it will still take you 10 days!).

Unlike in Europe where all cities are close to one another, in America cities and points of interest are spread out, and there’s a lot of farmland and nothingness in between too! 

If you’re on a tight schedule, my tip for you is to open Google Maps and start planning: pinpoint the places you wish to see, check out the distance and the best way to get from point A to point B (car? domestic flight? public transport?).

To help you out you could use Rome2Rio, a website that helps you to compare different transportation modes, times, and costs.

For other similar websites that will help you to plan your trip and save you time and money, I can also suggest you check out our article 15 Essential Apps for Smart Travelling 😉

 

8. Expect to Pay More

Than What’s Displayed on the Price Tags!

expect to pay more than what its displayed on price tags

The US is one of the most expensive countries in the world, with cities like New York being among the most expensive places to live on Earth!

So, before you go, it is important to budget well your expenses to avoid unpleasant surprises!

One thing to know, when you will be shopping around physical shops in America, is that what is stated on the price tag, usually is the price WITHOUT sales taxes added!

While in most of the world, you read the final price under an item, in the US more often than not happens that the price will increase at checkout (tips excluded! *sighs*).

 

“Why is that?” you might ask…

The reality is quite simple: in the States there are a multitude of taxes!

In most purchases you will have to pay both State and Local Municipality taxes, which constantly change across states, according to item category and sometimes multiple times a year!

Therefore, it is cheaper, easier and more efficient for American shops to change this tax one time in the cash register, or in a Point of Sale System as in the case of large Department Stores, rather go through all of the inventory changing price tags every time a tax update is released.

9. Cash is King in the USA!

Always bring some with you!

 

in the us, cash is king!

When you will be traveling in the US, remember to always have some cash on you: after all, in the US cash is king!

The truth is, that credit cards (not debit!) might bring you a long way and are widely accepted even by small formal businesses.

Said that, on your journey in the States you will find over and over lots of workers and informal businesses that accept cash-only.

Coming from Europe where by law you should be always allowed to pay for everything with the card, this was a surprise: in the US there are no rules about it: businesses are free to accept only the payment methods they like and not accept others.

Because of that, having your card is not always enough, and it’s better to carry cash too. Also, don’t forget to keep 1-dollar bills in your pocket for all the tips you’ll likely have to pay along during your holiday 😉

10. Get a SIM Card the moment you Land,

to avoid over-paying for Internet

get an us simcard at the airport in usa, to avoid overpaying

Last but not least: the internet!

Nowadays almost everyone needs internet, and if you don’t want to waste money, you’re best bet is to switch off your foreign data plan (roaming fees in the US are enormous!), and use the Free Wi-Fi you will find on your way or, even better, purchase a cheap SIM card with prepaid data in the moment you land.

To give you an idea of the prices, for about 50$ you could get a T-Mobile SIM card with unlimited data for 30 days. If you, unlike us, can live with less than the unlimited plan, you can also spend way less than that! 😉

E-Sim cards are also an increasingly popular option to get internet on your phone: you buy it online, they instantly deliver it to your phone by email, and you’re online! (in this case, you need a phone compatible with the e-sim technology!).

For more info about the internet in the US, SIM Card options, offers, and prices, I suggest you check out the blog of TravelTom which covers the topic perfectly in great detail, and surely might help you to choose the best option for you! 🙂

Conclusion

Holiday in the Usa

And here we come at the end of this article 🙂

In this post, I gave you 10 smart tips to prepare for your visit to the USA and give you peace of mind!

Before you go, I would like to ask you:

  • What do you think about the article?
  • Was it useful to you?
  • Do you have any other tips you might want to share for future readers?

Let us know in the comments below if you’d like!

(It makes us always happy to receive feedback on what we write and also to exchange a chat 🙂 ).

Here you can also find other articles and destinations of the world for your inspiration:

As always, thank you for reading,

and see you in the next article!

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