It’s vital that you see the world while you’re still young in order to explore, learn, and grow. And while there are many corners of the world you could fly off to for soul-searching, the United States is a wonderful place to start.
From top cities for young travelers to small towns filled with unique attractions, there’s so much to discover. But before you grab your backpack and essential travel photography gear, here are 10 things you need to know before traveling to America for the first time.
You’ll need to obtain travel authorization before entering the United States. There are three different types of visas you could get: a Tourist Visa (also called a Visitor Visa, which is the easiest to get), a Temporary Visa, and an Immigration Visa (the hardest one to acquire).
Before getting any of these, make sure to check if your country is part of the Visa Waiver Program, which permits citizens to visit the US without a visa for business and tourism. Travelers from countries under this program must apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA Visa. This functions more like a permit than an actual visa. Having an ESTA will enable you to enter and exit the country for two years.
Comprised of 50 states, the US is enormous. Traveling by plane is the most practical way to go to long-distance destinations within the country. It’s also the quickest, most convenient, and cost-effective mode of transportation when visiting different regions.
What’s more, America is famous for its car culture, with 95 percent of Americans owning a personal automobile. Ever since the 50s and 60s, cars have remained the most popular means of transportation and are deeply ingrained in the nation’s lifestyle and popular culture. In urban areas, Uber and Lyft have started to replace traditional taxis and public transportation due to their convenience.
When booking a hotel room, it’s best to book in advance to avoid any last minute problems. Keep in mind that hotels are priced by the room and not per person. So when you travel with a group, inquire about group discounts. These are available for both budget motels and five-star hotels.
Be ready to spend more than your initial budget because the US includes a sales tax in almost everything you buy. This tax can add five to 10 percent to your purchase price, depending on which city or state you’re in. The only states that don’t have sales taxes are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon.
Besides sales tax, prepare to spend more money because of tips. Americans tip for a lot of services due to the low minimum wage. Servers at restaurants should usually be given 15 to 20 percent tips, while bartenders get around a dollar to two dollars a drink. Other workers in the hospitality industry should be tipped accordingly: housekeepers and valets get one to five dollars, porters in hotels are tipped one to two dollars per bag, and taxi drivers usually get an additional 10 to 15 percent. So be mindful of these if you don’t want to look like a cheapskate!
To simply associate the United States with big cities would be an injustice considering its environmental diversity. The country has 59 national parks that cover 84 million acres across every state. Though visiting all of them in one go is virtually impossible, you can check out our list of the seven must-see US National Parks, which include some of the best ones, from Denali National Park in Alaska that has hundreds of mammal and bird species to the famous waterfalls and vast wilderness of Yosemite National Park in California.
Aside from beautiful national parks, another reason why the United States is such a tourist magnet for young travelers is its thrilling festivals such as Mardis Gras, Burning Man, Coachella, and many other arts and live music festivals. Smaller towns are teeming with unusual but fun-filled festivals that celebrate beer, bubblegum, burgers, and all the good things in life.
Large Food Serving Sizes
It’s no secret that the United States has an obesity problem—and this is because food serving sizes are usually large. Fast food still dominates the culinary landscape but there are also many restaurants that serve smaller portions, though the dishes are usually pricier. Ironically, the US tops the list of countries with citizens that exercise the most.
Art, Culture, & Technology
One pervasive myth about America is that it prioritizes technology over the arts and culture. To the contrary, all three are thriving. Many artists are based in the US because there are so many opportunities to capitalize on their talents.
San Francisco and New York City are known for top celebrity chefs in the culinary arts like Rachel Ray and the late Anthony Bourdain. Santa Fe is another melting pot for culture and the arts, with 240 art galleries and 14 museums; not to mention it’s also the hometown of world-renowned Game of Thrones author, George R.R. Martin. And if you ever want to see some of the best films America and the world have to offer, check out the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
Lastly, the millions of Americans of different races in the US live harmoniously. While the media may sometimes focus on the bad side of America, the portrayals of extreme racism are a myth. But this isn’t to deny that rotten eggs exist in the country—just like in other nations. But it’s still a matter of perspective on how you take in what you experience when visiting a foreign land.