Location Guide: Intro to the USA

This post begins my series of location guides, detailing my travels with tips and information I’ve learned along the way. These posts will be from my perspective as an Australian traveller, but I’ll try to make notes where information would be completely different for those of different nationalities. This post is an intro to travel in the USA, with specific city guides to follow. 

Country: United States of America
Easiest Airport to Fly Into:
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), but direct flights also available to San Francisco, and connecting flights to all other major cities
Major Airlines: Delta, American Airlines, United, Virgin America, Southwest
Official Language: English, but Spanish widely spoken
Drinking Age: 21

Top Tips: 

  • If you’re from Australia (or other countries on the Visa Waiver Program) you’ll need to apply for an ESTA Travel Authorisation before heading overseas. It’s super easy to complete, and is usually approved straight away. It’s tied to your passport, so while I would recommend printing your confirmation, you don’t need to actually show any documentation on arrival. There is a fee of $14USD, but your ESTA approval lasts for two years.
  • Tipping is a big deal in the USA. If you’re coming from Australia like me, tipping is a bit of a bizarre concept to get your head around as it’s not something that happens here. The best rules I’ve been given to get my head around tipping are:
    • At a restaurant/diner/cafe etc. make sure you tip at least double the amount of sales tax listed. Most receipts list the “recommended” tip at three different percentages which makes it easier. No need to tip anywhere that just has counter service (i.e. fast food restaurants, starbucks, etc.)
    • If you’re drinking at a bar, tip at least $1 per drink
    • Tip anyone who carries your luggage at least $1 per bag
    • Tip shuttle drivers (to the airport, etc.) 20% of your fare (if you prebook through a company such as SuperShuttle they have the option of adding this to your online payment), and if it’s a free hotel shuttle tip at least $1
    • Don’t forget to leave a tip for your hotel maid. I generally leave $1 on the desk with a “thank you!” message each day of my stay.
  • In a lot of states sales tax isn’t added to the price you see on the tag. So while that top may say it costs $9.99, remember that there’s a very good chance your total could be up to 10% more than that. Fellow Aussies, just imagine that our prices don’t include GST and calculate accordingly.
  • Depending on where (and when) you want to go, domestic flights within the USA can be quite cheap. There are so many airlines to choose from and if you’re not completely tied to one airline, you can usually get a good deal. Otherwise, other easy ways to get around include Amtrak trains, or bus services such as Greyhound or Megabus. I was quite hesitant the first time I used a bus for long distance travel in the states (don’t get me started on the state of bus and train travel in Australia), but was pleasantly surprised with the experience. For example, you can catch a Megabus from LA to San Francisco from just $5, and most of the buses have wifi and power outlets on board! As long as you don’t mind a long trip, this is a super simple and cost effective way to get around.
  • Be prepared to take off your shoes at the airport. Plan ahead and wear shoes that you can slip on and off with ease, otherwise you’ll be holding up a queue of frustrated travellers while you try and undo all of the laces on your boots. It’s annoying, but being prepared definitely simplifies the process.
  • Eat all of the chicken and waffles you can. I gained the 5kgs I had worked super hard to lose pre-holiday back just by eating chicken and waffles at every given opportunity, and honestly do not regret a thing. If you, too, come from a dark land where this delicacy is not readily available, take advantage while you can.
  • If you’re on a budget, most places you go will have free refills on soda and coffee, so sticking to soda, coffee and water will get you fully hydrated (and caffeinated, and sugar-filled) with a minimal spend.

Watch out for my city-specific location guides over the next few weeks!

Happy travels!


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