Important things to know before traveling to the USA

 

Planning on traveling to the USA on holiday for the first time this year? While there is much to see and do in this exciting country, there are a number of things that you should keep in mind as you plan your trip to America … check out our list below:

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1) Apply for a visa waiver before packing your bags

Unlike many other nations in the developed world, entry into the United States of America is tightly controlled, even for western nationalities.

Even Canadians, who have the easiest requirements to meet, are routinely grilled with questions by eagle-eyed border guards trained to sniff out individuals with less than noble intentions.

As long as you look into visa waiver programs before booking your ticket (which will allow you 90 days of travel in America for business and/or pleasure), and remain calm as you answer the queries that Homeland Security asks of you, everything will be fine.

2) The United States is a massive country

The USA is not like the United Kingdom or France – measuring 4,314 kilometres east to west, and 2,514 kilometres north to south at their widest points, this country is impossible to experience in its entirety during the standard two week holiday.

Even if you use the maximum 90 day allotment that your visa waiver provides you, you’ll be constantly rushing around, which will make it hard to soak in your destinations.

As a result, it is best that you confine yourself to one or two geographical regions during your stay in the USA.

3) Tipping culture is pervasive

Throughout much of the Western world, gratuities for workers in the service industry are either included in the bill, or wages are at a rate that makes leaving a sizable one unnecessary. In America, the choice of whether to leave a tip is left up to the consumer.

Most citizens opt to do so for even sub-par service though, as wages for many jobs in this sector in the USA are very low ($2.13 an hour, though servers that don’t make enough in gratuities in a given month are topped up to $7.25 an hour over the amount of time that they worked).

For acceptable service, 15-20% is standard, and locals are more than happy to tip more than that for an exceptional experience.

4) Units of measurement are in imperial units, not metric

Just drove away from the airport in your rental car, and are shocked at how slow freeway speed limits are in the USA? Unless you are from Germany or Italy, you might be mistaking miles per hour for kilometres.

Units in America are still in imperial units, despite most other nations switching to metric more than a generation ago. Other things to watch for: temperature is in Fahrenheit, petrol/gas is sold by the gallon, and product measurements are in ounces and pounds.

5) Travel to the US can be a costly affair

It’s good to start pre-planning a while in advance as flights can be anywhere up to $600 one way depending on where you are flying from. Expedia often run deals, sometimes you get upto 60% off last minute offers, these can be found on mamma.com. Make sure you look out for various deals and get saving well in advance.

Museums in Florida for the whole family

Orlando’s central location makes it the perfect hub for families who want to explore all that Florida has to offer. Since flights to Orlando are often rather affordable, your family can fly to Orlando, rent a car, and start your adventure. If you stick to a schedule, you could see many of the state’s best cities within less than two weeks.

As you travel, make sure you visit these museums in Florida. They offer unique views that you won’t find anywhere else. They can also act as cultural anchor points that will help you balance Florida’s amazing restaurants and beaches with something more educational than snoozing the day away on the sand.

Orlando Science Center

City: Orlando

Hours: Closed Wednesdays, open all other days from 10 AM to 5 PM

Admission: $19, discounts available for children, students, and seniors

You  might as well start your educational tour of Florida in Orlando. The Orlando Science Center will give you time to relax after your flight while you visit some of central Florida’s finest science exhibits.

Orlando Science Center has several permanent exhibits as well as some traveling exhibits and special events. It’s suitable for kids and adults. You’ll learn about the natural world, biology, weather, and space. It’s interesting but doesn’t get too technical, so don’t worry that it will all go over your head.

Take some time to visit the Crosby Observatory and its 10-inch lens refractor telescope. It’s the largest telescope in Florida, so you will get a view of the planets, nebulae, and stars like never before. The observatory has some night hours. Check the website so you can schedule your visit on a day with hours after dark.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

This place is one of the better museums in Florida

Photo by foun10head via Trover.com

City: Miami

Hours: Open from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM every day except Tuesday

Admission: $18, discounts for children, students, and seniors. Military personnel get in free.

Vizcaya is a sprawling estate built by Miami businessman James Deering. The villa sits on 50 acres of preserved gardens and native forest. About ten acres are devoted to immaculate gardens designed to mimic the style of those owned by royalty and wealthy merchants during the Italian Renaissance.

While the formal gardens are spectacular, anyone who loves nature will want to visit the native forest. Miami’s growth has removed most of the native forests along Biscayne Bay. The native forest was a barrier to commercial and residential developments, so most of it was replaced with buildings. Vizcaya is one of the few places where you can see what’s left of the forest. Standing along the water, it’s possible to imagine the dense trees stretching along the bay.

The villa has been turned into a respectable art museum. It was actually the Dade County Art Museum in the 1950s.

You’ll want to spend the night in Miami before making the drive to Key West. I recommend Hotel Urbano. It’s close to Vizcaya and has beautiful rooms affordable rates.

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Photo by via Ashley via Trover.com

City: Key West

Hours: Open from 9 AM to 5 PM every day

Admission: Adults: $13; Children: $6; Children five and under get in free.

It takes about three and a half hours to drive from Miami to Key West. Take your time and enjoy it. Hopping from island to island is a great experience unlike any other drive in the USA. During the drive you can feel your mindset switch from the hustle of Miami to the relaxation on the Keys.

Make reservations at The Gardens Hotel to make the trip even more enjoyable. You can’t really choose a bad hotel in Key West, but this is one of the best options for privacy at modest rates. It’s not exactly the cheapest hotel in the world, but nothing is really cheap in Key West. Besides, it’s worth splurging a little. Unless you decide to move to Florida, you probably won’t make the trip to Key West again in the near future.

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is one of the area’s most historically significant buildings. Hemingway wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” while living there. It’s a spectacular house purchased for him and his wife by a wealthy relative. While visiting, check out Hemingway’s extensive library to get an idea of what he was reading while working on some of his most popular stories.

Salvador Dali Museum

Photo by Bill Dillard via Trover.com

City: St. Petersburg

Hours: Thursday and Friday: 10 AM to 8 PM, 10 AM – 5:30 PM all other days

Admission: $24, discounts available for children, students, and seniors

Every aspect of the Dali Museum honors the passion and humor that made Salvador Dali one of the 20th Centuries most celebrated artists. The museum displays several of Dali’s artworks. Anyone who loves art should visit the Dali while passing through St. Pete.

The building itself is a wonderful tribute to the Spanish artist. The large helical staircase symbolizes Dali’s fascination with DNA sequences. There’s even an outdoor sculpture of Dali’s trademark handlebar moustache.

Try your best to visit the Dali Museum on a Thursday or Friday, when it stays open late. The outdoor garden offers a wonderful view of the sea as it sets into the Gulf of Mexico.

If you want to spend the night in St. Petersburg, stay at Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront so you can reach the Dali easily. It’s less than a mile away.

Florida Aquarium

City: Tampa

Hours: Daily from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM

Admission: $23.95 with discounts for children and seniors

It only takes half an hour to drive from St. Pete to Tampa. You can easily make Tampa part of your stay in St. Petersburg or visit it on your way back to Orlando. Just give yourself plenty of time if you plan to board your plane on the same day.

Make a stop at the Florida Aquarium while you’re in Tampa. The Aquarium recently opened a new exhibit called Ocean Commotion that has a huge collection of strange sea life. It’s pretty amazing to see how these creatures adapted to their underwater environments.

You will also want to visit the Coral Reef exhibit. It does a good job simulating a 60-foot dive into the ocean. It’s as close as it gets without suiting up and jumping in the water.

Matthew Thompson is a writer and blogger based in Louisville, KY. You can follow him on Google+ or check out some of his latest travel writing on the Hipmunk website.

Explore Kauai

When you go to explore Kauai, be sure to check out the Na Pali Coast ... photo by CC user kdvandeventer on pixabay

Welcome to Kauai, it has the distinction of being the oldest island in the Hawaiis. Its natural beauty is spectacular and attracts people from far and wide. Every year it receives over 440 inches of rainfall. This stunning places as diverse geographical features like deserts and beaches, forests and swamps besides mountains on its little over 550 square miles area. It has four distinction regions, each with its own natural attractions – the shores on North and South along side views on the east and west.

This remote yet stunningly beautiful island is dotted with beautiful spots. The Hanalei Valley Lookout offers great opportunities for those beginning to explore Kauai, and for clicking photos. It is in Hanalei; alongside several waterfalls one might find a rainbow. Visiting this magical place is a must on very Kauai itinerary. Towards the west side is the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge. This came up in 1900s simply from crossing the river. Today it takes one across to the Hanapepe town that has many galleries, shops and galleries providing an insight into the local artists works.

People from all across the world love to holiday in the Hawaii islands. Kauai in specific is popular wedding destination too. Number of Americans flock to holiday at its beaches. The visit this picturesque place most of the foreigners seeking to visit this part of the USA would need to apply for a temporary visa like the tourist visa. It is important to note that citizens of some countries that have already been listed in the Visa Waiver Program may travel without one. These travelers would just need to check ESTA visa status and plan their visit.

Another crowd puller is the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife refuge. It closes on all federal holidays besides Sundays and Mondays. The National wildlife refuge here was started in 1985. Hawaiian seabirds thrive in the area, the cliffs and slopes are overshadowed by the lighthouse. For wildlife animals too it provides a natural habitat. It is home to the Hawaiian monk seal, Humpback whale and Green sea turtle all of which are on the endangered list.

For adventure seekers, Kauai has some amazing options. There are helicopter tours, ATV tours, train tours, tube tours, whale watching, Dolphin charters, sport fishing tours, surfing and zipping. For checking out its charming coastline and wonderful waterways one could choose the ever so popular kayaking tours. Then there are the Island Tours which take one to the magical land of the Garden Island. The professionals ensure that visitors get to see the best in limited time. This location is what romantic novels and movies are made of. Be it romantic sunset, meteor showers, full moon nights or just staring at the star lit skies can trigger couples to get intimate.

Trip to any place is considered complete only when we shop even if it is just bringing back gifts as souvenirs. There are a number of spots like art galleries and boutiques to pick up something you like. Also crafts fairs are nice places to find something you would like.

Chicago, Illinois, USA!

One of America’s most iconic cities, Chicago, is a place with a rich history and a vibrant present. Famous for stockyards, gangsters and blues music, this hub of the Midwest was where the world’s first skyscrapers were built. Modern-day visitors can also enjoy the beaches on the shores of Lake Michigan, as well as a very warm welcome. All you need is some single trip travel insurance and a positive attitude.

aerial view of Chicago

Home of the Blues

Chicago is an exciting city for anyone who is interested in culture and the arts, especially American culture. The city occupies a unique place in American popular culture, being considered the home of electric blues, a genre which influenced an entire generation of British rockers, who then re-exported the music back to the US during the ‘British Invasion’. African-Americans were drawn to Chicago in the 19th century, due to its more tolerant attitudes to race relations than many other places. This has left a rich legacy of music, which visitors can explore at Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, the former location of Chess Records.

A Free Laugh or Two

As well as music, Chicago is also known for having a tradition of comedy performance. The likes of John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Mike Myers cut their comic teeth in the city, performing with a troupe known as The Second City. Visitors can see the current members of the troupe, occasionally augmented by previous alumni, perform for free every night except Friday. The club is located at 1616 North Wells Street.

Sporting Legends

Chicago possesses some of America’s iconic sports teams. The Chicago Bears NFL side play at the famous Soldier Field, while the Chicago Bulls basketball outfit are one of the NBA’s best known clubs. They play at the United Center on the Near West Side. The Chicago Cubs are a baseball team with a long history, and visitors can take in one of their games at Wrigley Field. They enjoy a rivalry with the Chicago White Sox, whose home ground is located at Cellular Park, in Bridgeport. The two three-game series held between the teams each year is one of the hottest sporting tickets in the USA.

Beach Life

There are no admission fees on any of the city’s beaches, bordering Lake Michigan. As well as the beaches, visitors can also enjoy the wonderful views from Hyde Park’s Promontory Point. A lakeside walk is a great way to bring down the curtain on an exciting day in Chicago.

If you’re from abroad, make sure to look into securing an ESTA visa before entering the states though. Save yourself some headache and apply before showing up at the airport.