Traveling throughout the US is a wonderful idea. Exploring this country leaves you speechless, and it is a must for every road tripper. This country is filled with amazing people, awesome music, and great roads to drive on. The cultural diversity encountered here teaches travelers the art of humility and respect.
Although you might plan a relatively long road trip, there is never enough time to visit everything. Traveling continuously for one year, you might cover around 60% of the states. Making a plan before leaving is probably the best thing to do. Even though you like spontaneous decisions, you must know the main spots you want to visit beforehand. It is better to have a clear idea of what you want to see – that will keep you organized.
Tips on Planning a Trip to the US
Planning is never easy, is it? You have to know what to expect, and take in consideration all the factors that might go wrong. We’ve made this list of tips for you since we have lots if experience with traveling the US. Make sure you leave a comment if there is anything you’d like to add! Don’t hesitate to leave us feedback as well! Safe trips!
Recommended books (for planning routes):
Visa & Documentation (for non-citizens)
Traveling to the US usually requires a visa. Regardless of how much time you spend here, you will need the approval to travel. If you spend less than 90 days, you can apply for a visa waiver using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). If you plan on staying 90+ days, you need to apply for a regular visa.
Where? At the American Embassy in your country. How? Make sure you have a valid passport and a clean criminal record. The Homeland Security will do a detailed background check on you. They want to make sure you are not traveling to the US for different purposes.
Once you arrive in the US, your 90 day period starts. Watch out! It does not reset if you go to the Caribbean, Canada, or South America! So make sure you make the best out of these 90 days in North American.
As I’ve mentioned before, doing a longer trip requires a regular visa application. You can apply for a tourist visa – they will probably give you one for at least 6 months.
Brace Yourself: The US is Huge
My husband and I are passionate travelers. We’ve been traveling throughout the US for half a year, and we’ve only managed to visit 15 states. The United States is a huge country, so make sure you know what to expect before you arrive. If your time is limited, pick the most important states you want to see first. Make a list and visit the cities in geographical order. Make sure that if you leave the East Coast, you won’t have to come back. That takes a lot of time and gas money.
Here is a list of best places to see in the US. If you can’t afford to stay 90+ days, make sure you visit at least 20/25 of these places before you leave.
Rent a Car Outside the US
Use a British or Australian website to book your car before leaving. It is so much cheaper! If you wait until you get to the US, the prices are going to be unbearable. Important tip! The car company deals might look good, but they do not include insurance costs or taxes. You will have to pay a lot of extra money when you return the car! So either ask from the beginning and make sure you can afford it, or rent a car from outside the United States.
There is No Point in Buying a Car
Some people might think that buying a car is cheaper than renting one. Those people are wrong. While there are a lot of great online offers that promise great quality, they don’t specify that you need a lot of documentation in order to purchase a car in the US. Here is what you need to know if you do decide to buy one though:
- You need to insure your car (between $300-$500 per month)
- You need a valid driver’s license
- You need a US address (maybe a friend or a relative?)
- The insurance company needs to know you are foreign in order to cover possible accidents
There is a lot of things to consider when buying a car. If you want the headache, go for it; if not, rent a car. It’s easier and I personally believe it’s smarter.
Pack Light Although You Drive
Even though you drive, you don’t have to pack heavily. It will only make your car slower. Make sure you take the basic stuff with you, but buy the other stuff on your way. American products are not at all expensive! For instance, if you start road tripping in the summer, pack only light clothes. Buy one or two sweaters on your way if you make it through the winter. There is no need to carry them with you throughout the summer!
The best place to shop is Walmart. You can find everything there! From ramen soups to organic food, there is no need to worry. Walmart is THE place for cheap traveling. You can also find cheap stuff on Craigslist.
Add National Parks on Your To-Do List
Best things don’t come for free. You will need to pay an entrance fee (around $35), but it is totally worth it. If you know you are going to spend more time in National Parks, you can buy an annual pass, which is only about $85.
National parks are the greatest places to visit in the US, especially if you are a fan of hiking and climbing. You can usually camp in these parks too.
Find the Best Quality at the Lowest Price
It sounds like cheap advertising, but it’s true. Finding the best quality at the lowest price is possible if you know some tricks:
- Don’t overspend on accommodation. Find hostels or hotels that don’t take more than $60 per night.
- If your budget is really tight and you enjoy meeting new people, look for accommodation on Couchsurfing.
- In order to look up great prices, try Booking.com. They usually have a lot of amazing deals, depending on the season!
- Last one, best one – Airbnb. Book your favorite rooms, condos, or apartments at a low price through this awesome website. It is like shopping for a house, you can pick whatever fits your needs!
Sarah Keith, CEO at RushMyEssay, shares her thoughts. “I strongly believe that couchsurfing is one of the best experiences you can have. There is so much to learn from your hosts! At the end of your stay, I am sure you will become best friends. Of course you have to pay attention to whom you choose – make sure you go to those who have great reviews and lots of positive feedback.”
Of course this advice is not only for Europeans, but it is very common seeing Europeans not tipping in the US. That happens because in European countries, tips are included in the final price. In the United States on the other hand, that is not the case.
You want to tip anywhere between 10-20%, depending on the state you are in. For example, tipping 10% at a restaurant in a state like Florida is usual. The minimum wage here is 8.10 USD per hour. In a state like New York though, where the minimum wage is 10.50 USD, you might want to tip 20%. For hotel porters and room service employees, tipping around $5 is usual. Taxi drivers should also be tipped anywhere between $1-4. Remember – the minimum wages are so low in the US that employees literally survive from tips. So, tip please.
Be Careful How and What You Eat
I will say it loud and clear: food in the US s*cks. They contain a lot of sugars and unhealthy preservatives. On top of that, the size of the dishes at restaurants are huge. Americans make up for 5% of the world’s population, and consume more that 25% of the global energy. Therefore, if you don’t pay attention to your diet, you are going to gain a ton of weight.
Shop at Whole Foods or the organic section at Walmart. Avoid fast food and pizza. If you need something to go, choose Chipotle. Don’t let yourself tricked by free soda refills and unlimited bread – that is a certain path to gaining limitless weight. The taste of the food is amazing, but don’t overconsume.
Take a History Lesson
If you are from Europe, Australia, or New Zealand, you probably don’t know too much about American history. Good! Because you are about to get free lessons throughout your trip. There is a lot to find out about American history!
For instance, St. Augustine, Florida is the first city to exist in the United States. This is where all the fun began! Also, Salem, Massachusetts is famous for its 17th century trials. If you want to research a little bit beforehand, watch John Green’s amazing Crash Course history channel on YouTube. You’ll learn a lot!
Road tripping in the United States is a great idea. You are going to have an amazing experience meeting new people and visiting new places. Americans are open-minded people who are always willing to help. They will welcome you in their homes and country with their arms open. I’d say try couchsurfing wherever you go. Living with a host is a unique experience, as well as a culturally enriched one. You are going to find out so many new things about the United States throughout this road trip experience! Enjoy, my friend, and then don’t forget to share!
Author Bio: Brandon Stanley is a professional independent journalist. He is also interested in writing articles concerning marketing, SEO and traveling. Apart from that, Brandon loves collecting old books and playing the piano. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter