The land of the free, where dreams come true and a whole world of possibility awaits – a holiday to the USA is a million adventures rolled into one, from the shimmering skyscrapers of New York to the majestic red rocks of Arizona – it’s a chameleon of a country that is everything you want it to be and more. It’s a natural powerhouse brimming with incredible landscapes and jaw-dropping animal life, the pinnacle of Western culture with glittering, soaring cities and a historic supremo with a fascinating native American past. Whether you want a no-frills, outdoorsy escape, a glamorous city weekend, an adventure-filled sporty stay or a relaxing, feet-up, five-star holiday, America delivers. Here are a few things to note before your stay.
International flights to the States will generally allow you to take one free bag, but going on a flight while you’re in the US is another matter – all checked baggage is charged, even on domestic flights, where it’ll cost around $25-$30 per bag, per flight. Customs officers are famously rigorous – avoid taking anything even remotely suspect as it will be taken very seriously. Do not lock your suitcase, unless you have a working lock with a key. Allow time to get through security ahead of international and domestic flights. Many US airports are now equipped with automatic terminals to process US citizens and anyone who has already travelled through the country for accelerated clearance, but check with immigration officers before heading in this direction if you’re unsure.
Taxis in the US are everywhere and drivers are generally friendly and know their cities extremely well. Taxis are metered, so there are no unexpected costs – it’s polite to round up to the nearest dollar on arrival at your destination. New York drivers are renowned for their dry wit and it can be a challenge to flag one down from the street – make like a local and be confident in your hailing for success. Uber also operates throughout the country, which is an easy and fast alternative.
America is the original home of the road trip – with wide open highways and amazing scenery, it’s the ideal way to really get to the heart of the country. If you’re planning to rent a car, you’ll generally take a shuttle bus from the airport to the parking lot of the leasing company. Reservations commonly include insurance, but it’s always worth examining what exactly is covered and extending it if needed. We recommend adding roadside assistance to your policy, which can normally only be purchased on site. On your return, unless you pay a (sometimes high) one-way fee, where you can leave your car at a different location, you’ll start and end your holiday in the same place and you’ll need to return to the company’s parking lot and take a shuttle bus to the airport.
We can take care of the booking of your US car rental, although you’ll need to be over the age of 21 and present a valid UK licence, a passport and a credit card on arrival. Driving in America is straightforward – roads are generous and signage is clear. That said, Americans drive on the right-hand side of the road, which takes some getting used to and there are a few quirks to be aware of: undertaking is commonplace, at a four-way intersection, the car that arrived first has priority and you can turn right at a red light as long as there is no oncoming traffic.
While driving in the US is carefree, when it’s time to stop, it can be expensive – parking lots at city hotels are known to charge up to $50 a day for the pleasure of using their facilities, which also doesn’t count the tip for the valet, so it’s worth checking ahead.
Hotels come in a wonderful array of shapes and sizes in America, but there are a few operational constants that you can always rely on – when you book with us, your room will already be paid for ahead, but you will be asked for a credit card for any extras added (we’re looking at you, minibar). Breakfast is rarely included and you’re in no way obliged to take yours in the hotel – crossing the lobby with donuts and coffee purchased elsewhere is not likely to offend.
Rooms are often small in big cities where space is at a premium, especially New York, San Francisco, Miami, and to a lesser extent Los Angeles. Even in the most exclusive hotels, if you’re at the heart of a bustling city, you can expect to hear the urban jungle in all its noisy glory ¬– from extractor fans and the air conditioning of your room, to the sirens and cars outside of it – the busy city atmosphere is ever-present and can take some getting used to.
American hotels invented the ‘resort fee’ – this is usually between $20-$30 a day, but can rise significantly, and it covers a range of the amenities on offer, including WiFi, room safe, fitness centre, swimming pool and newspapers. This fee is never advertised, so hotels can appear cheaper than they are – consider it before booking as these hidden costs can add up.
The gratuity is king in America. In restaurants, service charges are increasingly added to bills to save the stress of working out an appropriate tip, but if this hasn’t been done, it’s customary to give anything between 15-25% of the total bill for the server and it’s considered rude if you leave nothing. Valets, doormen, taxi drivers, housekeeping teams, bar staff – they all expect a tip and many rely on the additional income to supplement low wages. Carry small change for these moments – a $100 bill is virtually unchangeable apart from in higher-end department stores.
You can use your credit card anywhere and everywhere and it’s usually as easy as hovering your card or smart phone over the payment terminal. Always advise card companies on your travel plans to avoid the risk of your account being blocked during your stay.
The US is big and there are many beautiful, colossal national parks. Even so, the most famous parks can get overcrowded in the summer, but we can work with you to time your visit perfectly to miss the hoards. Our tip is to book lunch or dinner if you’re planning to stay inside the park during those times – if not, you’ll face the prospect of fasting for the day or a less-than-extensive selection of sandwiches.
The legal age to buy alcohol and get into drinking establishments in America is 21. Identity checks at bars are common, particularly among young people, and it’s recommended to always have ID on you.
The US is an adventure playground for intrepid travellers – full of wonderful sights, otherworldly beauty and another level of escapism, a trip here is a wild ride of discovery that’s anything but boring.