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USA Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

There are many direct flights between the UK and US operated by a range of airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Non-stop services operate from London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh to all major US airports including New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Chicago. Other important regional cities including Dallas, Seattle, Denver, New Orleans, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, San Diego and Atlanta also have direct air links to the UK. Aer Lingus also has excellent connections via Dublin to the US from various regional British airports.

Flying times from UK

Direct flights from the UK take between 8 and 12 hours depending on the destination. Flights with stops en-route take between 11 and 14 hours.

Time zone

The United States has six time zones. Eastern Time Zone, which includes New York, is -5 hours GMT, Central Time Zone is -6 hours GMT, Mountain Time Zone is -7 hours GMT and Pacific Time Zone, which covers California and Nevada, is -8 hours GMT. Alaska is -9 hours GMT and Hawaii -10 hours GMT.

Visa requirements

The majority of British passport holders do not require a visa to enter America but will need to obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) through the Visa Waiver Programme. The ESTA allows travel to the US for up to 90 days and currently costs USD $14 per application. The ESTA is valid for two years from the date of authorisation or until your passport expires. It is recommended that any application is made no later than 72 hours before departure.

Do’s and don’ts

Tipping is expected for good service – especially in restaurants and bars. Not doing so is considered extremely rude.

Smoking legislation varies between city and state, however, the US generally has some of the strictest anti-smoking regulation in the world. Check state, county and city laws as smoking may not only be banned indoors but outdoors too.

Each state enacts its own road laws and whilst the majority of rules are the same throughout the country it is a good idea to check the traffic laws of the particular state you are visiting.

Although on the whole well-connected, in sparsely populated regions mobile phone coverage can be patchy so, for long road-trips, having a good map is important.

Before taking a person’s picture permission should always be asked.

Money

The currency of the United States of America is the US Dollar (USD) and this comes in a range of notes and coins. The most common notes are $50, $20, $10, $5 and $1 with 25₵ (quarter), 10₵ (dime) and 5₵ (nickel) popular coins in circulation. ATMs are reliable and commonplace throughout the country and nearly all major credit cards are accepted. Currency exchange is simplest at the airport but currency can also be changed in most large banks.

Tipping

This is left to your discretion and although not compulsory is expected by those that provide a service. It is normal to give a tip of between 15% and 20% to waiters and taxi drivers, a tip of $1 to bartenders and $1 per person, per day to chambermaids. Occasionally some restaurants may automatically add service to the bill.

Food and drink

The US is famous the world over for its cuisine and each region has its own distinct food culture. New York City is arguably the food capital of the country with everything from fabulous Asian and Italian food to Jewish delis, hole in the wall doughnut stores or burger joints. New England is renowned for its seafood and shellfish, in particular oysters, lobster and clams, whilst in the Midwest head to a diner for classic American fare – coffee, waffles, burgers, shakes and beer! The South is all about slow-cooked barbecue and each region has its own particular style – especially in Louisiana with its Spanish, Cajun and Caribbean influences. Food in Texas, the Southwestern states and California has been heavily swayed by neighbouring Mexico but California is also renowned for the quality of its Asian fare. Hawaii has its own unique Polynesian food culture whilst cuisine in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska is heavily focussed on game and seafood.

Coffee is the most common drink in America and cafes, coffeehouses and diners, which offer free refills, can be found almost anywhere. Aside from coffee, beer is incredibly popular and there has been a boom in small micro-breweries and craft beer in recent years. The wines of California, Napa and Sonoma are amongst the best in the world with vineyards now stretching north to Oregon and Washington. The South is famous for whiskey with the Jack Daniels distillery the best known, although there are numerous family-run producers. Do note that alcohol laws in the US are strict, the legal drinking age is 21 and almost everyone is required to provide identification when purchasing alcohol.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

The most important public holiday in the US is Thanksgiving which is held on the fourth Thursday in November. A family occasion, Thanksgiving gives thanks for the autumn harvest with dinner almost always featuring turkey. Other key federal holidays include Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day which honours the nation’s war dead, Labour Day and Veterans Day held for veterans of the United States armed forces. Washington’s Day, Columbus Day and the Birthday of Martin Luther King are also observed throughout the country. Aside from these public holidays, St Patrick's Day and Halloween are also widely celebrated.

Shopping

With long opening hours, competitive pricing and a plentiful supply of stores and malls, it’s of little surprise that shopping is, for many an American, a national pastime. Without exception, all major cities offer excellent shopping ranging from giant purpose-built shopping malls and out-of-town outlets to one-off thrift stores and chaotic flea markets. Clothing and electronics can represent good value and special food products – such as Vermont maple syrup – are popular gifts. It is worth noting that sales tax is not included on items and only added at the point of sale. The tax also varies from state to state with five states – Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon – levying no tax at all.

Suggested reading

Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and DK have excellent guide books on the US. Lonely Planet also have specific editions that focus on road trips and Route 66. Bradt also publish a guide book on the US rail network. Michelin and Marco Polo have comprehensive and up to date maps of the entire country. America has also bestowed on the world some of the greatest novelists and writers in history including Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, J. D. Salinger, Ernest Hemmingway, Herman Melville, Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe. Good books include:

‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain

‘The Last of the Mohicans’ by James Fenimore Cooper

‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck

‘Cannery Row’ by John Steinbeck

‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac

‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West’ by Dee Brown

‘The American Future: A History from the Founding Fathers to Barack Obama’ by Simon Schama

‘A People’s History of the United States’ by Howard Zinn

‘American History: A Very Short Introduction’ by Paul S. Boyer

Health

Your doctor is generally the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad. For current information and health advice you may also wish to check the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) website at www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/home.aspx) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on America the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is comprehensive and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

USA Holiday Ideas

USA & Canada Holiday Review

We’re home after an amazing holiday. All went well with flights etc., the hotels were lovely and very good locations in both Toronto and New York.

We loved Niagara Falls and in Toronto the CN Tower was really good and would recommend the hop on hop off bus tour which included a boat trip around the islands giving a good view of the city skyline. We also went to a baseball game at the nearby Rogers centre.

In New York we used the airport super shuttle bus which worked well. We did all the sights including 9/11, water taxi hop on hop off including Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty. Loved Central Park, Top of the Rock and Empire at night and loved grand central station. Did a radio city tour which was great and also saw Kinky Boots, again fabulous. Walked everywhere and the high line was lovely.

Many thanks for your help and recommendations. It has been a truly memorable trip.

JD - USA & Canada - June 2018

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