A country where kilometres become miles, liters become gallons, kilograms become Pounds, and so on. This makes us think how huge is the United States of America. And after reaching to the USA you can imagine how big and huge this country is. There are many unique things that the US has little different or unique than the rest of the world. As the USA is a new country and inhabited by many migrants from different parts of the world you can spot amalgamation of many cultures here. Therefore the lifestyle here is little unique for first-timers in the United States of America. Let’s read about travel tips for Visiting America for the first time or the United States of America – things to know about America before going.
TIPS FOR ROAD TRIP OR COMMUTING
- As the United States is huge, and if you are traveling by car from one place to another then it will be a long drive. As many are used to kilometers, so sudden distance in miles creates a mirage and therefore plan accordingly. Take breaks in between as the US is known for distance blindness.
- In big cities of the US, parking is a big issue or very expensive, so better not to rent a car in big cities. Rely on taxis, Uber, or metros.
- The cities are very big and can’t be done by walking tours as it is very common in Europe. The cities of the US are not for walking tours as all attractions are widespread and you can not walk so long.
- If you rent a car from the airport then it is always cheaper as compared to renting a car from city-center. If you are an international tourist, then carry an International driving license and also with rental charges, you have to pay extra driver insurance charges.
- Always check the condition of the car before renting, take the toll card machine as for first-timers, you may cross toll roads many times unknowingly. Or ask car company to add I-pass or similar transponder to deduct automatic toll on highways.
- Most of the petrol pumps or Gas stations are automatic ones and man-less which means you have to fill gas yourself which is not very common in Asia or Middle East countries.
- Staying in a motel in between the cities is cheaper than staying at hotels in cities. So if a distance is too long, then break your journey and rent a room in the nearby motel of that driveway.
- Some people also take internal airlines to commute from one city to another. There are many airline cards associated with the bank with many good offers. They have yearly membership too. Check them and then book the tickets. The only issue in internal air travel is that you can’t take too much luggage with you as they have some restrictions on baggage and extra baggage costs you a lot.
- There are many gas stations with snacks bar, resting zones, small stays on highways between cities. Whenever you feel tired from driving, stop there to relax as sometimes you feel, the roads will never end in the US. Also, the distance of one city to another is very long with all nature in between. Also, you cannot see villages or villagers in between, so many of the times it can be boring.
- Keep your car stocked with eatables, snacks, music collection, juices, water, and some road trip games for children.
- All US states have different rules in terms of speed and penalties vary in the state to state. The drive is right-hand side in the whole country
STAY, HOTEL AND RESTAURANT TIPS
- There are plenty of huge family rooms with big king-sized beds in hotels in the USA. You can even accommodate 4 to 5 people officially in those family rooms with 2 to 3 king beds. In Europe, it is very difficult to find a family room with all family staying in one room.
- Check for buffet breakfast and in the US, not many hotels offer buffet breakfast with rooms. Also if they give buffet breakfast then it is very minimal and not like Asia, the Middle East, or Europe.
- Many hotel stays have laundry room and you can clean your laundry by paying a coin and then drying them out also by paying a coin. Mostly using of washing machine and dryer are at extra cost but sometimes it is included in room rent too.
- Free parking is available in some of the hotels and not at all hotels. Better to check before the type of parking, as hotel parking is very expensive.
- Generally, breakfast is served on disposable crockery and cutlery. And more of self-service or self-made types.
- The power plugs and sockets are of type A and B. The standard voltage is 120 V which is just different from the rest of the world. So if you are taking any electrical gadget without an adapter then it will not run there.
- Many US hotel chains offer happy hours or evening snacks which are included with room rent. Check those hotels as they are always winners with family. I enjoyed the in-room happy hours with Hilton, Chicago, and popcorn time at Radisson Blu, Champaign.
- While eating out in a restaurant, which is not a self-service type, tipping to waiters is recommended. Tipping in restaurants is very common in the United States of America.
- They serve tap water at many places for drinking water and in many cities, it is not risky to drink that water.
- Consumption of alcohol or drinking age is 21 years in the USA. If you look too young, then the bartender or server will ask for your age proof on a legal document.
- Vegetarians will find good options at Indian restaurants, Pizza bars, Mexican outlets, Italian joints. As vegan is trendy in US, you will now find many vegan restaurants sprawling everywhere here.
PLACES OF ATTRACTIONS
- As this country is huge with major 6 time zones, don’t try to cover all attractions on the same trip.
- Include any one of the national parks or nature trip on your trip.
- If you are visiting more than one national park, then check for national park cards as some card offers access to many National Parks with a single payment and this proves to be a savior.
- Many cities offer city cards with many attractions clubbed together. If you are doing many attractions they purchasing these city cards is a wise option or else for 1 or 2 attractions don’t purchase city cards.
- Don’t go to less visited natural areas or go for a hike to an isolated place in your first visit.
- There are many museums of all interests, like science & technology, arts & culture, Natural history and many more.
- Marine life lovers will find many aquariums and under water zoo in many cities. Also for children there are many varieties of theme parks and water parks in US. But for theme parks or water parks, you have to shell out at-least 1 full day in your trip.
- There are many mural arts or huge painted surfaces with funky colors and figures. Look out for some artistic walls or corners in the city.
SHOPPING IN USA
As the United States of America is considered a shopping destination, you will find many tempting deals and shopping ideas here.
- You would find good deals in factory outlets or shopping malls outside the city. Many upscale brands you will find these outlets at good rates.
- In cities, you will find good deals at Macy’s, Burlington’s, Primark and many such departmental stores.
- Credit cards are majorly accepted at all places.
- The currency will be deducted in the local currency of your credit card issued country and not in USD.
- Many US stores offer return policy up to 30 days and therefore keep the receipt safely with you for returning an item.
SOME COMMON SLANG OR LANGUAGE DIFFERENCES
Read some common differences between English – British and English – US
- Luggage becomes Baggage
- Lift – Elevator
- Autumn – Fall
- Car Park – Parking Lot
- Crossroads – Intersection
- Film – Movie
- Air Hostess – Flight Attendant
- Bathroom – Rest Room
- Milk for Tea or Coffee – Creamer
- Dustbin – Garbage or Trash
- Flyover – Overpass
- Pavement – Sidewalk
- Holiday – Vacation
- Chips – Fries
- Caravan – Trailer
- Not many attractions or public places offer free WiFi in the US. But the majority of hotels, malls, restaurants, and eateries offer free WiFi.
- If you are thinking to buy a local SIM then it is recommended to take from T-mobile as it is more customer-friendly. Buying prepaid International SIM cards is very tricky in the US as they offer so many plans with locked or unlocked phone options. If you take local number then do not receive calls from unknown numbers as half of them are fake or spam.
- If your country offers better International calling rates, then better to activate your International calling on your phone.
SAFETY & GENERAL TIPS
- Mostly the US is safe but it is advised to take general precautions.
- Don’t explore unheard neighborhoods or shady areas at night time.
- When to visit US ? – US have beautiful Fall (autumn), spring, summer and winter. You can choose your preferred season and can plan your trip.
Check 4 seasons of US – Fall, Winter, Summer & Spring –
LOCAL CULTURE & PEOPLE
- Americans are social and talkative. A courteous smile with Hi is always respected here. Sometimes they love to crack jokes or talk to you if they meet you in a lift/elevator or hotel reception.
- Sometimes in crowded places, you will find lots of talkative people and a little noisy which is just opposite to Europe.
These all observations are based on my personal experience when I visited the US for my East Coast road trip and Midwest trip. I hope I am not hurting anybody’s sentiments of any country or lifestyle. I hope you loved reading some tips for Visiting the United States for the first time or things to know about America before going. Traveling to the US is always great as it is huge and too big and welcomes all open-heartedly.
- EAST COAST ROAD TRIP ITINERARY.
- THINGS TO DO IN CHICAGO.
- THINGS TO DO IN NYC.
- THINGS TO DO IN WASHINGTON DC.
- WHERE TO STAY IN NYC OR HOTEL OPTIONS IN NEW YORK CITY.
- FOOD TOUR IN CHICAGO.
- TOUR TO NIAGARA FALLS FROM CHICAGO.
- VISIT PHILLY.
- TAKE A UNIVERSITY TOUR IN USA – VIRTUAL TOUR OF UIUC.
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That’s pretty similar to how I’d normally explain how vast India is, when I’m talking to a European! And USA is much bigger! It is no fun when a country has 6 time zones and even TV shows have to mention which timezone they’re talking about! Thanks for the very many tips. Yes, visiting a national park would be something I wouldn’t miss. Thanks for the details of hotels, esp., about laundry, buffet breakfast and parking. Those are things I just take granted for.
Yes, India is also similar and diverse too with every states having their own peculiarity. Hotel stuff in US is little unique as compared to other places.
Wow, this is such a comprehensive guide for visiting USA for the first time. You seem to have covered all from parking problems, stay, logistics and others. USA is huge and is seriously not possible to cover in a single trip. I see you have recommended visiting a national park. Any recommendations on which one to visit if I am going there for the first time?
It depends on the area, where you are visiting first. US has national parts in every state. I visited Niagara State Park in my first visit.
I love shopping in the US. I remember my first trip and the choices are just amazing. I love that credit cards are majorly accepted in places which means I don’t have to carry cash around. Thank you for the tip about factory outlets. Will make sure to visit during our next trip.
You would find same stuff at half prices in factory outlets.
Good tips for someone visiting the states for the first time. I agree parking is very expensive in big cities like the NYC, SFO etc. I did use Uber and metros. Buying a local SIM wasn’t difficult but found it expensive as compared to other countries.
Oh my god! What a thorough guide for the US! I would have found it almost impossible to capture the whole country in one article.
I would have loved to see something like this when I was going to visit for the first time.
I have actually never been to Chicago, but have been to few other places in America. I remember my first time, the confusion and how much research I had to do beforehand. I wish I had known all these things before going. I think I spent a full TWO months on research before my first visit. Crazy eh?! I remember I also go the citypass for my visit, as it helped me a lot with choosing attractions and knowing what to see and do. I also agree on that it is a great destination for both summer, winter, spring, you name it! There is always a city or national park that is well suited anytime during the season.
This is some great insight and recommendations! The U.S. is certainly very vast and diverse, it’s always interesting to hear about someone’s first time visiting. There are definitely many different terms and slang used within the country that take some getting used to. I hope you enjoyed your trip!
Yes, I loved US and learnt many new things.
Excellent recommendations, well done! You are right saying that the US are a great destination all year around, I visited both in summer and winter and always had a fantastic time. Also, the language difference section is super useful!
Thanks for finding it useful.
These are really useful tips. I have been to the US three times and I know how big it is. I might have only covered like less than 1% of the entire country. I was not aware of the attractions being clubbed and the tickets can be purchased for two or more together. i will keep that in mind next time. By the way even I found that factory outlets are so cheap. I go so many dresses for really very cheap price.
I was lucky enough to be able to travel most places on the west coast (particularly California), and even managed to visit Yellowstone. Before visiting, my idea of US was mostly from Hollywood movies. I was quite surprised to find so much natural beauty. And the vast spaces! US is definitely very different from other places I have visited.
Being American I still found this post to be interesting. I enjoyed reading the comparisons. I learned European terms that I was not familiar with haha! It’s interesting how different the US is from the rest of world!
Since I live in Canada, travelling is much like being at home other than the US still uses the Imperial system rather than the metric system. Canada did as well when I was growing up so this is what I learned and frequently still refer to kilometers as “miles”.
Really enjoyed reading this Yukti, it kept me engrossed right till the very end. Had i come across a guide like this before heading to UK back in 2017, it wouldn’t have been that much of a shock, coming from India. Its so interesting to see the concepts of Motels in USA, that are highly recommended, which is so unlike India. In India, people prefer to take breaks but check into city hotels. One thing is for sure, there are a lot of things that are different but similar. It something like – Same Same but Different.
Great recommendations (as an American speaking here)! I agree our cities are quite far apart, but as someone else said, it makes for a good road trip! A great point you make is that you can come to the US anytime of year–we have all 4 seasons here so no matter what time of year you come, you can find a place with agreeable weather. As you said, be sure to pay attention how far apart things are. For example, even Americans don’t realize how big California is and they try to see San Francisco and Los Angeles in the same day–not possible!
I think it’s valuable you highlighted that staying in motels can be cheaper than hotels. I did a huge road trip with girlfriends at 19…all of it was motels and it was amazing value; clean, big and easy to pull up and park.
I enjoyed reading your post! I am a USA native and agree with pretty much everything you have stated. When visiting other countries I am always confused with kilometers, liters, and kilograms because I am so used to how it is done in the US. Many of the cities are far apart and many of the drives can be quite boring, but some areas are quite nice for a road trip. Also as you have mentioned I would not recommend driving in the bigger cities-parking fees add up quickly! I enjoyed reading your perspective on the country.
I liked how detailed and informative this post is, for those who wish to travel in US for the first time. Most of the blogs talk about the places to visit and top attractions, while you have drilled it down to the most basic fact of getting acquainted with the country, the procedures, and the little things that need to be considered by tourists.
I grew up in UK when it was still miles, gallons and pounds, and then the country changed to kilometers, litres, and kilograms. But then I moved to the States and and to switch back again.
When you’re a digital nomad who travels the world, it’s so confusing to keep switching backwards and forwards.
I think Jay, wherever you go, metric system changes. May be those countries are testing your Mathematics conversion skills.
Yes maybe they are! Good call on T-mobile .. they have a great pay as you go plan, and if you know your coming back to the country … you can downgrade you plan to $4 per month which keeps your phone number so that when you go back you don’t have to buy a new sim and a new number.
With such a large country like the U.S. there is so much diversity in what you will find when you land. Always love when people expect only one thing and find that diversity. Good to tell people that renting a car at the airport is cheaper. Although sometimes the airport concession fees make finding a spot in the city with limited hours cheaper. I often have a challenge with U.S. automated gas pumps not taking Canadian credit cards. So you have to pay before you pump! When we do road trips, we often look for hotels that have free parking. Glad you found the outlet malls. One of my favourite stops on a U.S. trip. A good list of tips.
Thanks for loving it and yes the petrol pump part was very new for us after coming from India or Middle East region. It is good that one American family helped us and explained all the process.
I remember the first time I visited the States. I was just intimidated by the size of everything – the buildings, food portions and even some of the people. Also, got yelled at a lot because I wasn’t used to the compulsory tipping culture of the USA at that time.
An informative post for a first timer to the US. I remember when I went for the first time, everything was so large and loud. I couldn’t believe the portion sizes of food – enough to feed a family of four but only for one person. I imagine if you come from a quiet sleepy town in a small country that the US would blow your mind.
This sure is a helpful article, thank you!
We are planning our first trip to the US next year (supposed to go this year…) to visit New Orleans, so I will save your post for another read 🙂
As an American, I enjoyed reading your post and getting perspective on what it must be like to visit here. You hit the nail on the head with many things!
Ooh these are great tips. As a European, I never would have thought about the city walking tours point, but of course everything in the US is sooooo spread out!
A very informative post and a must read for first timers. The USA is indeed a massive country! so many cultures, so many of many different things! My takeaway after living there are the stars, stripes and cowboy boots.
Yes, I know stripes are so common there and even all merchandise are sold with that stripes patterns.
When I visited the US – and I guess you are referring exclusively to the US when talking ’bout America?! – for the first time, I was completely unprepared. Also, I was travelling by public transport which is an adventure in itself. You can probably imagine all the funny situations I go myself in.
Yes I am talking about US and really some situations are very funny when you go for first time.