Planning a trip to America is exciting … and also extremely daunting. Let me guess, you have about 20 tabs open right now, trying to rifle through the never-ending stream of information in hopes of answering the questions racing through your mind. Trust me, I’ve been there. After my time-consuming struggle, I felt it was my obligation to create your one-stop-shop guide to planning a trip to America.
In this article, you will find visa information, tips on getting around, a ready-made budget planner, a guide to tipping and bucket list destinations.
Tourist Visa’s for America
For travellers wanting to explore the states for 90 days or less, ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Organisation) is definitely the way to go. If successful, ESTA is valid for two years (or until passport expires). It’s important to understand that ESTA is not a visa, in fact, it is a visa waiver program for participating nationalities. Click here to find out if you are eligible.
Warning: Make sure you are only using the homeland security and ESTA website to apply for and purchase your ESTA. Ensure you only pay $14 USD. Be aware of third-party sites that are charging a fee on top of the $14. If you do decide to use a third-party site, I recommend iVisa.
If you are not eligible for the ESTA, plan to stay over 90 days at a time, or you want to try and find work, please look into the necessary visa requirements.
Currency in America
The local currency in America is USD. You can use The Money Converter to check current exchange rates.
Arriving in America
The US is huge, and finding the best airport to fly into depends on your personal itinerary. However, most major airlines have cheap flights arriving into LAX. LAX offers easy connections around the whole country. The best option will be to scan sites and find the cheapest route.
Getting around America
With a little over 9.834 million km² of space to cover, you must seriously consider your choice of transport when planning a trip to America. It will depend on how much time you plan on spending in America, how much you want to spend and how comfortable you want to be.
This is definitely the cheapest option. Greyhound buses are the most accessible bus company all over the country. In more rural areas, ‘gas stations’ or rest stops double as bus stops and tickets can be purchased inside.
The US is much like Australia, meaning to see a lot of it in a short amount of time, flying is the easiest and quickest way. Skyscanner and CheapAir are some of the best websites for finding cheap airlines and getting the best deals. Be aware that if you are choosing to travel by air, many airlines subject passengers to pay a fee (usually $50 USD) for check-in luggage instead of including it in the ticket price. If this is your preferred choice of transport, it can get quite costly.
With 6,552,000 km of road interconnecting the entire country, road trips are most definitely high on the agenda. Travelling by car allows more freedom than any other mode of transport and more access to places – especially national parks. Some of the best car rentals are:
Accommodation in America
Booking accommodation in the U.S is completely dependant on your own personal preferences and budget.
Airbnb is one of my favourite options. You are in control of so many filters and the homey feel upon arrival is hard to find anywhere else.
Booking.com is the ideal site for hotels, however, it offers much more. Book your stay below.
Budget specific to the U.S
Creating a travel budget is essential to ensure you have the trip of your dreams without overspending. This is everything you need to know about creating a travel budget. Below is budget specific information for planning a trip to the United States.
$ – Expect to pay $25 – $40 USD per hostel bed
$$ – Expect to pay $70 – $200 for a mid-range Airbnb or hotel
$$$ – Expect to pay upwards of $300USD for a luxury Airbnb or hotel
$ – Expect to pay $30-$80 USD for a bus ride.
$$ – Expect to pay around $55 USD per day for car rental. Anyone under 25 should also be prepared to pay an extra young driver fee.
$$$ – Expect to pay anywhere from $50 – $200+ USD for domestic flights around the US.
A decent food budget per day would be around $30 – $70 USD pp. depending on how often you will dine out. The average price for a restaurant meal, including taxes and tips is between $15 – $40 USD. Alternatively, if you are staying in a hostel or Airbnb with cooking facilities, doing a grocery shop will be a budget-friendly option.
Bucket list experiences in the U.S
I have compiled a list of some of my bucket list experiences to hit all around the US.
San Francisco is one of my favourite cities in the US. There’s something about the never straight buildings, countless piers and the excitement hanging on the outside of a tram that keeps me coming back. If you want to know more about San Fran including things to do, places to stay and other travel tips, head over to my Backpackers Guide to San Francisco.
Located in central California, this national park is one of the most iconic, well-known, and most-visited national parks in the United States. Starting from the grandiose granite walls in Yosemite Valley, all the way to the number of hiking trails tens of miles long, this national park will offer you one-of-a-kind gorgeous views, peaceful campfire nights, skies filled with stars, and daring adventures. For a full guide to Yosemite National Park, click here.
Alcatraz is a must-see attraction sitting off of San Fransisco’s bay area, known famously as an inescapable prison. However, as you step on to The Rock, you quickly find out it was so much more. It’s history dates back to being a sacred rock for local Indian tribes, a military defence fortification, and then a prison.
Pre-purchasing tickets will help you secure your ideal time. Touring at night is much harder to book but the ambiance of a prison tour at night is an experience like no other.
Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park was by far one the most impressive places I have visited in the US and is a destination that should be added to all nature lovers US bucket list. The national park is huge, but housing trees that big, it’s bound to take up some space. Take a day to wander through one of many designated walks snaking around the trees, or stay a little longer and hike into the forest. If you want some more info on the hikes, then check out my guide to Redwood National Park.
You’ve probably watched ‘The Hangover’ at least once in your life. But don’t be fooled by the casinos and flashing lights, that is not all there is to the city that never sleeps. What lays beyond in the desert is of much more interest.
Is less than an hour drive outside of Las Vegas city. A tour down into the power plant will cost you about $30, but it is worth every penny to see one of America’s greatest engineering feats.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon’s west rim is just over a two drive from Las Vegas. Enjoy the Skywalk, overnight donkey or horse tours, helicopter rides, or boat tours. If you want to visit a quieter area, drive a little longer and head to Grand Canyon Village.
If music is your thing, you cannot miss heading to Nashville for a weekend. Head to Sun Studios, dubbed the ‘birth place of Rock n Roll’. You can also visit Elvis Presley’s home, now a converted museum. If you are there in June, you might even be able to snag tickets to the worlds biggest Country Music Festival.
Known as the concrete jungle, it is obvious as soon as you walk the streets why. There is so much to see and do in this city, but if I can offer any piece of advice, it would be to take a night bus city tour with a speaker. There, (generally) a local will be talking you through their city and suggesting some of their own favourite spots to check out. Times Square, Central Park, Statue of Liberty, Broadway and The Empire State Building are barely scratching the surface of what this city really has to offer.
If you want theme parks galore, then head to Orlando Florida. Famous for not only Walt Disney World, which houses the Magic Kingdom and many water parks. But you can also head to Universal Orlando, where you’ll find Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
In 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo gifted America with 3000 Cherry Blossom trees. If an overcrowded Japan at that time of year doesn’t appeal to you, maybe Washington D.C is your next best bet. The streets will be painted pink from Mid March to Mid April. This is also where you will find the famous White House.
Let’s not forget the beautiful volcanic archipelago isolated in the Pacific Ocean. From the road to Hana, the cliffs of the Napali Coast to Waikiki Beach, Hawaii’s island’s house something for every type of traveller to discover. You’ll find everything you need to know about planning your first perfect trip to Hawaii here.
Book a tour in America
Best times to visit America
America offers visitors a chance to experience all four seasons throughout the year, so planning a trip to America will depend on what weather you are looking for. The summer seasons is always a travelling peak, the weather is ideal but there are more crowds and businesses tend to hike up their prices. The shoulder seasons are cheaper, less crowded and America offers a beautiful ‘Fall’ during Autumn – especially up north. If you want to experience a white Christmas, then stay for the Winter.
- Spring: March 1 – May 31
- Summer: June 1 – August 31
- Autumn: September 1 – November 31
- Winter: December 1 – February 28/29
Tipping in the U.S
If you are coming from a country that does not tip, the idea can be quite daunting. Head to my guide on tipping in the US where all will be explained.
If you haven’t already heard, the U.S has some of the highest medical bills in the world. It would make for an extremely expensive trip if anyone needed to seek a medical professional. Travel insurance is a must, and I would definitely recommend World Nomads. Peace of mind is priceless, but if you are still unsure if you should buy travel insurance, read this.
America is a relatively safe country, however, I would still recommend checking the Aus gov Smart Traveller Website for safety advice when planning a trip to America.
For extra advice from a seasoned solo traveller, I have already put together tips for keeping safe when travelling.
Check the Travel Doctor website to find out what vaccinations you need when planning a trip to America. If you have any further questions regarding vaccinations required for the US, I recommend consulting a doctor.