A trip to the United States is a bucket list goal for many intrepid travelers, and for good reason!
Each of the 50 states offers something unique, interesting, and is bound to leave you with memories that last a lifetime.
However, there are some very important things to know before you book that ticket (and apply for the ESTA express!)
If you want to be a prepared traveler, be sure to keep these tips in mind:
Although it’s not the most fun topic to think about when planning your vacation, travel insurance is an absolute necessity that may save your wallet (and your life!)
It’s no secret that medical care is very expensive in the United States. In fact, the USA has the most expensive healthcare system of any country in the world! To put it in perspective, a consultation with a general doctor costs an average of $190, while being admitted to the hospital can rack up thousands of dollars in medical fees.
To avoid paying astronomical fees in case you get hurt, it’s essential to buy travel health insurance before you board your flight.
Despite the fact that the United States is a technologically-advanced country and there is a very widespread non-cash payment system, it doesn’t hurt to carry around small bills.
For example, the majority of city busses require travelers to pay their fare to the bus driver or buy their ticket beforehand. In some cases, they may not be able to give back change, and you will essentially pay more for the trip than it actually costs!
Speaking of change… It is also worth noting that some establishments will refuse to accept large denominations of USD, such as $50 or $100, in fear of it being counterfeit. The $2 bill has a similar fate, since this banknote is fairly rare and not all Americans are aware of its existence.
Another nuance that comes as a surprise to many travelers is the price tag on goods in stores. While Value Added Tax (VAT) is usually added into the price of an item in other countries, it’s the other way around in the USA: the sales tax is added to the bill during checkout!
If you’ve been eyeing that can of soda for $1, be aware that you’ll most likely pay slightly more — around $1.10 — in the end.
What’s more, sales tax is not fixed and varies from state to state. In fact, if you’re in Oregon you’ll pay 0% sales tax, but if you hop over to neighboring Washington state, you’ll pay a whopping 6.5%!
Keep this in mind, especially if you’re planning a budget-friendly trip around the USA.
Let’s finish off our discussion about money with one of the US’s most famous customs: tipping!
In the States, tipping is expected for almost every service, starting with cafes and restaurants, and including hairdressers, taxi drivers, hotel porters, delivery drivers, and more.
Although the amount is left at the discretion of the guest, an average tip at a restaurant is between 15 to 20% of the total bill. In more expensive states, such as New York and California, the tip can go as high as 20 to 25%. If the service was outstanding, you’re free to tip even more if you wish.
For taxis, hairdressing salons, and other services, it is customary to leave 10-15% of the bill. If you’re planning to visit the local bar or pub, a typical rule of thumb is a $1 tip for every drink, or 15% of the total bill (if you close the tab at the end).
For convenience, many establishments have a useful ‘tip guide’ at the bottom of the receipt that automatically calculates how much you should tip — no need to whip out that calculator!
Have you ever watched an American TV show and were surprised at how big the portions were? It’s not a myth — food in the United States tends to be supersized, no matter if you’re at a neighborhood cafe or a popular restaurant.
If you’re traveling with friends or family, you can even get away with ordering one dish and splitting it between two people.
Sockets and Electronics
The United States, along with Canada and a handful of South American countries, uses the type A and type B socket. If you’re traveling to the US from abroad, be sure to toss a few adapters into your luggage.
In case you forgot, some hotels offer complimentary adapters (or transformers) for guest use. Likewise, you can buy your own in virtually any supermarket or electronic store.
If you are going to travel around the United States, be prepared to rent a car if you want to tick off all the places on your bucket list.
That’s because in the United States, public transportation isn’t as well-developed as other parts of the world and many locals rely on their cars to get around.
If you want to get the full experience, consider renting a car and taking a road trip across the country!
Of course, if you are in New York, San Francisco, or another metropolis, you can comfortably travel by public transport — most cities even have weekly or monthly travel passes that can save you money.
Last but certainly not least, one of the most important things to ‘pack’ with you before you head over to the USA is a smile!
In the United States, smiling is not just a sign of politeness, but an important part of the culture — there’s even a term called ‘the American smile.’
If someone smiles at you, do as locals and smile back!