I know it has been a while since I wrote a post. So much has happened over the past two weeks and I have just been too overwhelmed. I cannot share now what has happened in my life but over the next few months you will definitely get to know.
In addition, I was in Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram and Chennai last week and I am slowly trying to recover from a travel hangover. I don’t want to recover though.
This is also hopefully my last post about traveling in the USA. Over the past few months, I had fun writing about my experiences in USA this time around and hopefully you had as much fun reading about them as well. Hopefully my third visit to USA will happen soon too. I don’t want to disguise this post as a tip/ guidebook but hopefully this will be handy for everyone traveling to USA.
Many of them are general things and it can be handy for anyone traveling.
1. Pick the best season: Before booking your tickets, ensure that you are picking the best season to travel to America. I guess this is the only one I wish I had done differently. I went in July which is right in the middle of Summer. Also all American schools have holidays. Coming from India, weather was not that much of a bother. But all touristy places are overcrowded/expensive during peak season and you waste hours trying to see these places with the never ending queues. However definitely better than off peak season when many places are closed for the holidays.
2. Choose the right attire: Wear comfortable clothes based on the season. I know this should be obvious but many people kind of forget this while packing for their trip. Summer meant that I ended up wearing a lot of dresses and shorts. The only place I needed my jeans and jacket was in San Francisco.
3. Choose the right footwear: Again, I know that many people ignore this when it comes to traveling. Most times traveling means that you end up walking your butts off. We walked more than 20 kms in Washington in a day. So if you decide that you would prefer to do this in heels, then be my guest. Your feet will definitely be your worst enemy otherwise.
4. Research like crazy: USA is a huge country and I have still not covered even a tiny fraction of the whole country even after 2 trips to the country. You can be overwhelmed with choosing which place to visit. In the end, you will still end up missing a lot since you do not have enough time to cover it all.
5. Don’t be surprised if you get compliments: I have never been anywhere before where random strangers (ladies) give you compliments. The first time I got one, I was taken aback since I did not expect it. By the end of the trip, I got used to it and I kind of missed it when I got back.
6. People will flirt with you when you are a solo woman traveler: Even if you are a normal looking girl like me and you are traveling alone, be prepared for some harmless flirting. Not in an obnoxious Indian kind of way though. Guys are genuinely friendly and they do understand their boundaries.
7. Don’t forget to wish everyone ‘A good day’ anytime of the day: Everyone wishes you a lovely morning and it would be extremely rude if you don’t reciprocate.
8. Tips are expected at most places: Tipping is part of the normal culture in most of the big cities. You are expected to pay at least 10-15% of your restaurant/ activities/ cab fare.
9. Pay extra for checked in luggage for all flights within USA: All airlines charge you extra for a checked in luggage. I was not backpacking and hence I had a suitcase whenever I traveled around the country by flight. Minimum is 25$ for every checked in luggage.
10. Immigration queues are long: I landed in Chicago and I waited for almost 2 hours just to pass immigration. Most of the major Airports in the US are like this, is what I have heard. Never lie to your immigration officer and be patient and your time will come.
11. Security checks at Airports: You cannot escape this. You are asked to remove everything including your shoes and then asked to enter a glass cabinet when your turn comes. Stand on the spots marked and raise your hands. A device then scans your entire body and once this is done, you can proceed to collect your things. In some cases, be ready for some frisking.
12. Hotels, Hostels or AirBnB’s? : I think this definitely is a personal choice and each one will have a different choice when it comes to traveling in the US. I personally loved the AirBnB experience and what better country to try than the US. I prefer staying close to all the attractions since I spend less time commuting.
13. Avoid Hop-on – Hop off tours: In most of the big cities, you can maybe take one ride on the Hop-on – Hop off tour just for the experience. But using them continuously can be an erroneous choice. They are overcrowded, expensive and always late. In the big cities, I preferred the subway/ train system since they are so convenient. Taking cabs can be expensive and I took them only when I had no other choice.
14. Driving in USA: Yes you can drive in the USA for upto 6 months if you have a valid Indian driver’s license. Since most of the towns can be a little less accessible than cities, cars come in handy in such places. Only thing to remember is that they drive on the other side of the road and to follow all rules.
15. Google maps is your best friend: If I didn’t have Google maps, I would have got lost many more times. Even if it is a bit confusing at times, it still gets you to where you want.
16. Be ready to experience some kind of racism: I did not want to put this here. But if you are brown like me, then you would have experienced it too, especially in smaller towns. There is nothing you can do and you have to learn to ignore it.
17. Always carry a book: If you love to read like me, then carry a book everywhere you go. There is a lot of wait time and you need something to keep you occupied, especially if you are traveling alone. Having trouble picking a book? Check out this amazing collection of travel books by James that you can pick to pass the time.
18. Use Yelp to find the best restaurants near you: Yelp was very helpful and they helped me in finding the best restaurants nearby whenever I wanted.
19. Cash or Card: I mostly used my travel/ Visa credit cards. But on the last but one day, they blocked my credit card since I was a day late in making my payments (which I did after getting back to India). There were no ATM’s nearby and the place did not accept American express. So I ended up spending a part of my reserve cash (Around 500$).
20. Vegetarian food in USA: Did you check out my previous post on finding vegetarian food in USA?
21. Express Passes: This is really helpful when it comes to in Summer. You can avoid unnecessary queues. But they are extremely expensive and I could not afford them in many cases. But in case of big cities, it allows you to cover more number of attractions with an express pass.
22. Viator Deals: I loved this app and I was able to book multiple tours through them. They find nearby deals in major tourist attractions and this can be helpful if you want to find good deals.
23. Shared Cabs to/from airports: Again you can book this through Viator and this turns out to be much cheaper. Only thing to remember is that they accept only paper printouts.
24. Public Transportation system: Find the best deals for public transportation system in every city. They are the cheapest and most convenient. Unfortunately they are kind of limited to the cities. It is virtually non-existent everywhere else in USA.
25. Install Uber: They are much cheaper than normal cabs. I did use Uber couple of times while I was in USA.
26. Train Travel: One of the best ways to see this enormous country. Everyone should definitely try this.
27. Budget: I am the last person to give you advice on this. It is definitely expensive when you compare it to Indian rupee and you definitely should have backup funds to fund your trip.
28. Lastly go with an open mind: USA is a vast and magnificent country. You can conquer the entire country if you keep an open mind. I definitely fell in love with the country and will definitely go back to explore more.
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Guidebooks for USA
Traveling to USA and need more guidance on which books to read? These are our recommendations for you to read before you go.
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