19 Essential Things to Know Before You Visit the USA

Are you planning to travel in USA and are visiting from Australia or anywhere elsewhere in the world?

When you visit the USA there is a lot to consider when planning a USA trip, but we are here to help!

There’s the logistics of flights and how to get around, deciding which states and cities to visit, what attractions to see, which hotels to stay in, and the concerns of how much things will cost.

Travel in USA tips
Us walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City

But you may also be wondering about the smaller things, that can often shape our moments and memories. That is the local life you encounter when you travel in the USA.

  • What are the people like?
  • Will they understand me?
  • Do they only have fast food?
  • Is it scary driving on the opposite side of the road?
  • What are the cultural dos and don’ts?

In this USA travel tips guide, we are sharing with you 19 essential things to know before you visit the USA so you can relax, feel safe and secure, and have a fun time!

If you’re looking for planning and preparation tips like getting a visa for the USA, the cost of travel to the USA, and getting around the USA, read this post on planning your US trip. 

Together, we want to help you with your America trip planning so you can be prepared to have a fantastic time on your dream USA trip.

Let’s get Started.

Things to Know Before You Travel in USA

America is 50 United States of Diversity

Visit the USA map

This is a huge country and there are plenty of places to travel in USA that are not just New York City, Las Vegas and LA.

Regional differences across the Unites States extend to food, drink, accents, laws and politics. Plus it has every kind of landscape and climate you can think of!

We highly recommend you trade the Disneyland bucket list dreams for deeper dives into the incredible experiences on hand from stunning National Parks, to rich historical stories, and fun festivals.

USA travel opportunities are endless.

The USA Does NOT Use the Metric System

Travel in USA tips

I’ve missed turn offs because I have no concept of how much a 1/4 mile is and have ordered huge portions of food as I don’t know what 8 ounces are.

The base 10 metric system is so easy. I miss it! Convert. Convert. Convert. Americans also use Fahrenheit instead of Celsius.

Google is incredibly useful for those quick conversions. And I recently discovered the calculator app on my Samsung Galaxy 9+ does conversions.

You Can Supersize It All in the USA

Eating ribs in Nashville, Tennessee

America has long had the reputation for unhealthy fast food of ginormous proportions. You’ve never seen a coffee size quite like a US large (24 ounces).

Be warned. If you don’t be careful, when traveling in the USA you may put weight on.

In the US, you can upgrade and supersize anything, not just food either. Any kind of service will have some kind of upgrade option.

The good news is there is so much competition in the US, that you’re likely to find good deals that work in your favor for quality and budget.

Hot Tip:

Choose a small size for your refillable sodas and coffees…because you can typically refill them. Less price for the same amount!

Here are tips for staying healthy on a USA road trip, which includes some of our favorite healthy fast food places to eat.

America Does Healthy, Delicious Food Fusion Well

Where to eat in New Orleans - The Daily Beet offers healthy bowls, salads, and smoothies,

Healthy eaters rejoice.

There are plenty of healthy and tasty dining options when you travel to the USA, and with smaller portions!

In fact, many of the current healthy food trends have been born in the US, most notably in California.

America does food fusion well and you can find some delicious, innovative dishes. Ask the locals, tourism boards, and do your research beforehand to find those great local food experiences.

People with allergies will be able to find suitable food most of the time. Always have back up supplies on hand which you can get from grocery stores (supermarkets) like Whole Foods or Trader Joes and most local grocery stores have an organic or gluten free section.

Some of the best places to travel in USA for food we have loved are:

Great Coffee Can Be Hard to Find

When you visit the USA go to Portland Oregon for great coffee
We found great coffee in Portland and Seattle and NYC

Search for local roasters to find good coffee.

Read plenty of reviews (with scepticism) and ask the locals.

  • Lattes are best if you like flat whites.
  • Cappuccinos are usually full of air.
  • Brew coffee is pre-made and sits on the warmer.
  • Pour overs and cold nitro coffee are current trends in the US.

Almond or coconut milk are almost everywhere now. If you’re worried you won’t get a good espresso coffee, save your money and go for a black brewed coffee.

Hemp and macadamia milk are my current favorites.

Starbucks does consistently bad coffee on almost every street corner. Seattle is my favorite city for coffee in the US. Portland has aslo great coffee, and NYC you can find a decent cup!

Check out these posts:

Craft Breweries are Flourishing

Craft breweries are growing in the USA

America is becoming known a the best country in the world for craft beer.

It won’t be difficult for you to find a local brewery with a unique and tasty vibe. Many will offer food (or food trucks outside) and have local music playing.

Some will even have cool games like corn hole and giant jenga, making them a place for the entire family.

Some notable craft brew regions in the US are:

The Great American Dream is REAL

You will see the American flag flying proudly everywhere, like we did in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachussettes

Americans are patriotic and entrepreneurial in spirit.

They believe in the great American dream and the belief that anyone can make it happen.

It’s inspiring and motivating immersing yourself in a culture like that. It’s no coincidence this blog was birthed while living in the USA.

Americans are proud, patriotic and confident, which too often people wrongly mistake for arrogance.

American's are definitely patriotic - Chimney Rock hike, North Carolina. Click inside for tips on visiting the USA.
Chimney Rock, North Carolina

Once you learn the story of their nation and its evolution you’ll understand where this comes from and you may just get teary when you hear the Star Spangled Banner and listen to the story behind it.

I love learning about the history of the USA and where this spirit comes from. Some areas I recommend exploring when you road trip the USA to learn more are:

Americans Love the Outdoors

Hiking in Arches National Park, Utah
Hiking in Arches National Park, Utah

Americans are passionate about working out and active outdoor pursuits.

It means outdoor spaces, even in crowded metropolitan cities will abound with plenty of parks, walking and biking trails and amenities.

When you visit the USA there are endless outdoor adventures on offer from kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, hiking, biking, rock climbing, and canyoning.

The USA National Parks are truly spectacular.

My favorites so far are:

And our favorite place to visit is Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. 

But wait. The State Parks and National Recreation are just as exquisite and less crowded.

Check out Snow Canyon State Park, Sand Hollow State Park, Lake Mead Recreational Area, and the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas.

And then All of Sedona is just breathtaking.

Read more

Americans are Orderly, Efficient and Love Aesthetics

On your America trip you’ll soon discover an order and efficient process when you travel in the US and visit the top USA attractions.

Despite the crowds and chaos, they operate quite smoothly.

They incorporate experiences while you wait, like films and special effects, so you’re not bored and irritated. Americans take time to make things look and feel beautiful.

I noticed this when I first taught elementary school in the US – the teacher’s spent far too much time (I thought) beautifying everything.

Soon I realized this was a cultural trait and noticed it across all aspects of life and tourism experiences.

During our USA road trip with my parents from Australia they were amazed at how well Americans preserve their history and culture and how beautifully kept many of the towns and amenities are.

Even the highway rest stops are beautiful.

Your Accent and Words May Be Hard to Discern

Aussies and Americans both speak English, however, you’ll be surprised by how often a blank stare will follow your words.

In Australia, we’re exposed to other cultures through TV and sports and a lot more global interaction, which helps us discern accents and understand what other English speaking people say.

Americans don’t have the same global exposure so they often can’t identify your accent as English, Kiwi or Australian.

Surprisingly, they won’t understand some of what you say because of your terminology.

I didn’t realise how different British English can be to American English until I lived here and received many bewildered looks. This won’t happen as often in cosmopolitan areas like NYC and LA, but it will in less touristy areas.

Come back and tell me how many times an American bartender had no idea what you wanted when you asked for a beer. Be sure to pronounce the “r” on the end of your words.

In Bend I was given a cider at the bar when I ordered a soda!

Even simple things like fortnight (two weeks), surname (last name) and cutlery (silverware) are not recognized.

If you are travelling to USA from Australia, learn a few of the phrases that may be different. Or don’t.

I find it always lends to great and funny conversations, which is one reason we travel to experience that connection with someone different to us and find joy in learning new things through that connection.

Remember, it’s not better or worse, it’s just different!

The Health System is Complicated and Expensive

Hiking in Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego - one of the best places to visit in Southern California
Staying active and healthy in Torrey Pines State Park, San Diego

All I can say is keep yourself as healthy as you can before, and during when you visit the USA!

The last thing you want to do in America is seek medical attention. However, do not ignore it if you are seriously ill or injured just because you are frightened of the cost.

Easy solution. When planning a trip to America, get travel insurance!

It totally crossed my mind with my recent bee sting fright. “I can’t call 911, it will cost me a fortune”. And then I relaxed realising I had travel insurance to protect me in medical emergencies (no 911 call was necessary in the end).

Anything can happen on your travels and the last thing you want is your dream USA trip to turn into a bankruptcy nightmare.

For a small investment, you get a ton of security and peace of mind.

It won’t only protect you in medical emergencies, but with other travel challenges like unexpected trip cancellations, lost luggage, or excess car rental.

Be sure to include any extra adventurous activities you may be doing so you can ensure your coverage is adequate e.g. skiing.

And nominate any pre-existing conditions so you can include a waiver for them should you require help when traveling in the USA.

You can read this post on 15 tips for buying the best travel insurance policy.

Bathrooms are a Cryptic Cultural Experience

From gaps in the toilet doors, to automatic soap, water and paper dispensers that need a degree to get to work, and a seriously confusing tap (faucet) systems in hotel showers, you’ll be puzzled each time you follow the call of nature or clean yourself after a hard day of exploring.

I thought it was just me – I was a serious bathroom idiot – until I put out an update on our Facebook fan page and many people had the same USA bathroom woes.

Even after months of travel in USA, I still encounter hotel showers that are a complete enigma and I have to phone reception to ask,

“Excuse me. How do you get the water to work in the shower?”

Crowds and Traffic are a Reality

Watching the Boston Red Sox play at Fenway Park
Watching a Boston Redsox Game at Fenway Park in Boston

Australians aren’t used to crowds. I can speak from traveling the country in-depth, you’ll often have entire beaches to yourself, and I don’t recall ever having any long waits anywhere, not even in Sydney.

Not so in the USA.

The population is much bigger and USA tourism numbers are huge, especially in summer months. Airports can be a crazy mess, especially LAX, and traffic will be hectic in many areas, especially big cities.

The worst traffic we’ve experienced so far has been in NYC, LA, D.C, and the Northeast.

We got delayed up to two hours on every drive we did in the Northeast on Interstate I-95 on our road trip with my parents.

Here Are a Few Tips:

Get Up Early

I wouldn’t say Americans are an early rising culture, like Australians are. You’ll beat the lines and the crowds if you get to the attraction right on opening.

This saved us hours of time visiting attractions in New York City. It’s also meant we had the trail hiking into the Grand Canyon all to ourselves. We were only joined by hundreds of people later as we climbed back out and finished at 10 am.

Fast Passes

Universal Orlando tickets
We got fast passes for Universal Orlando to skip waiting in the long lines

Get them whenever you can, especially at theme parks. What’s the point in paying a lot of money to visit a theme park, if you spend most of your time waiting on lines?

Sightseeing and City Passes

Exploring San Francisco on the Hop on hop off bus
Exploring San Francisco on the Hop on hop off bus

Want to know how to travel cheap in USA?

These passes can save you money on attractions, but also offer you fast pass access. It can be the cheapest way to travel in USA for sightseeing in cities.

If you are traveling to multiple big attraction USA cities over a 30 day period I recommend you get a the USA Sightseeing Pass which will save you LOADS!!

We have used city passes to good effect in:

Book Visiting Times Ahead

Busy attractions, especially in peak season, will have timed entries, you can book ahead online. Sometimes lining up to get your timed entry ticket can take 40-minutes.

Travel Off Season

This can often be a challenge as America has a climate that makes many destinations seasonal. You can find those off-shoulder seasons.

We visited Martha’s Vineyard one week before tourism swelled the population from 20,000 to 100,000.

Fly In and Out of Smaller Airports

I love our local Raleigh/Durham Airport in North Carolina. I’m often through check in and security in less than 15-minutes.

Americans are Well Mannered, Curious and Friendly

The stereotypes of regional characters in the US are pretty accurate.

On your USA trip, talk to as many locals as you can as you move around to learn their stories, connect to their communities and enrich your USA travel experience.

Americans are some of the friendliest, most hospitable people in the world!

They’re excited that you are visiting, will welcome you and wish you good travels. Some will even invite you to stay or visit for dinner.

They’ll ask a million questions to learn your story, culture and what you think of North America in general.

I have had people multiple times chase me across a car park to tell me how beautiful my dress is.

We had an American follow us across the street to chat as he saw our North Carolina license plate and he has family near there. He spoke to us for ages sharing his family story, asking about ours and sharing his insider tips for Boston.

Americans are well mannered and considerate, especially in the South.

It took me some time to get used to being called “Ma’am” and Craig being called “Sir”. But now I love it and regularly call people Sir and Ma’am.

It’s a sign of respect – similar to Namaste – and not really about making people higher than you, which our egalitarian Australian society hates to do.

Orlando vacation homes are perfect for large groups of family or friends
Hanging out with 20 friends in an Orlando Vacation home

But in saying this, no matter where you go in the world, you will encounter people having a bad day.

If someone responds to you in a rude or unkind fashion, it’s not a reflection of you, nor of their culture, but of their individual personality.

However, don’t criticise the US. You know you don’t like it when someone criticises your country. Share your country and how it is different but without judgement.

Don’t make jokes or comments on race, gender, politics etc. You do not want to offend and remember it’s not a joke if it offends.

Tread lightly here as Australians have a unique sense of humour that goes over the top of many Americans’ heads.

They may not understand that most of the time you are joking or sarcastic. I am speaking from experience with this one!

Security is No Joke in the USA

World Trade Center Memorial in NYC

Is it safe to travel to USA?

I know you are probably concerned about security before you travel in USA.

Yes. We all know Americans have a slight gun ownership challenge.

But, I’ve never experienced an issue in my five years of living here and many travel adventures within the US.

Security in the US is probably the tightest I have ever seen anywhere. I was stunned by the police presence in New York city during our Christmas visit.

It can be a total pain going through constant security checks, but at least you know you’re being looked after.

Prepare for security checks when visiting high tourist attractions, especially places like the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) and 9/11 Memorial, theme parks like Universal Studios, concerts like the Grand Ole Opry, or a baseball game.

And anything government related.

Statue of Liberty tour - one of the best things to do in NYC
Visiting the State of Liberty in NYC

Be prepared there’s a high chance you may have to take belts and hats off when going through the scanners.

And you’ll get through lines quicker if you don’t have any bags, as these will be scanned or checked.

NEVER EVER joke about terrorism, bombs, guns etc during your trip to the USA. Americans can be very literal and will take this extremely seriously, especially USA immigration!!!

Americans are Fun, Passionate and Festive!

Guide to doing Mardi Gras with kids
We loved Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Americans approach celebration with enthusiasm.

If you experience Halloween in America, you’ll see what I’m talking about. They go to extraordinary lengths with costumes, street and house decorations, and parties just to have a fun time.

It’s not just Halloween, but Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, July 4th, and so much more.

They even have election night parties! And they love it if you join in with them.

There’s a party and festival for just about anything. It’s one reason I urge you to not make your USA holiday just about visiting Anaheim, New York and Vegas.

There is so much more cultural depth and richness to experience with the local cultures, especially in the warmer months.

The US has amazing outdoor concert venues like the Greek Amphitheater in LA, Red Rocks in Colorado, Governor’s Island in New York, and our own Koko Booth in Raleigh.

St Patrick's Day Green Chicago River (1)
St Patrick’s Day in Chicago

In places like Austin and Nashville, you’ll have access to loads of free music and concerts from any musical style to any type of venue.

Watching sports is so much more than just watching skilful people do their thing on the field. There’s music and dancing and entertainment, and pre-game parties.

There is nothing like experiencing a College Football Game and the before and after game tailgating party. Or the Final Four College Basketball games from your local bar!

I can tell you this is an experience you’ll remember for life over any kind of ride you experienced at the theme parks, or free drink you nabbed in Vegas for pointing coins into the slot machines.

Credit Cards are More Commonly Used then Paper

Everywhere will pretty much take credit card, which is great for ease, security, and less fees (if you have the right card).

Carry cash on you though for tips!

The US currency is the dollar. It is represented by notes and coins.

The color of the notes is greenish grey and all US notes look virtually the same, so be very careful. You don’t want to hand over a $100 bill thinking it’s a $1.

Even though it costs more than the pennies are worth to produce them, they still persist in making pennies, so you’ll end up with a ton of small brown coins in your purse.

The 10 cent (dime) is smaller than the 5 cent (nickel) and then they only have a quarter (25 cents) which is the biggest coin.

Sometimes you may have a random $1 coin show up.

The Great American Road Trip is a Thing to Embrace

On the road in Utah through Arches National Park

Americans love nothing more than hitting the open road with the top down and the music blaring on scenic drives.

Embrace it. The classic USA road trip is by far our favorite way to experience travel in USA and America is the best place for it.

It’s full of epic scenery and quirky roadside attractions.

I know you may be worried about driving on the other side of the road when you visit the USA, but don’t be, you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

The roads are generally clearly marked to help you stay on the right side. The only time you may struggle on your US road trip is in car parks (parking lots), or on local roads that don’t have a lot of traffic that you can follow.

Sunset Cliffs in San Diego. One of the best places to visit in California to watch the sunset.
San Diego, California

Roundabouts (traffic circles) are not common in the US. It will drive you insane when you are driving around quiet suburban roads and neighborhoods and have to stop at quiet intersections.

They have confusing “four-way” or “all-way” stop sign intersections. That means if there are two through roads intersecting each other there is a stop sign on each of the four corners.

If two vehicles reach the intersection simultaneously, the vehicle on the left must yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.

Proceed with caution. Someone will wave at you when it’s your time to go if you don’t know what to do at a four-way stop.

They do have right-turn-on-red which is amazing and helps the traffic flow!

Related Post –

Tipping is Voluntary, but Expected

Tipping in the USA

Our next blog post about visiting the USA will be a tipping guide so we won’t go into too much detail here. Subscribe and grab the cheat sheet below.

Just go by the old adage, When in Rome…

You probably won’t like tipping, but it’s the way things are done and if you’re a visitor in another country, I think it’s best to follow their cultural way as best as you can!

15 – 20% is the norm for hospitality services.

Handy Tipping Guide Cheat Sheet

We create a variety of free cheat sheets, itinerary guides and more for our VIP email travel tribe. It’s completely free and 110% inspiring and valuable.

Join the tribe and receive a free handy cheat sheet. It’s a one page PDF you can print off and carry with you so you know how much to tip to who and when! No more travel angst for you.

Booking a Trip to America

Accommodation in the USA

Flights to the USA

Skyscanner and Momondo are time saving flight search engines and help you find your cheapest flight across tons of airlines.

Once you find your cheapest flight for your prefrered date, then go direct to that airlines own website and see if you can get an even better deal.

Rental Cars

Rental Cars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Avis, Hertz, Dollar etc.

RV Rentals

Tours and Sightseeing

More USA Travel Tips

Don’t miss these posts for more USA tips:

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What helpful tips or insights on American culture and travel to the United States do you have to share?

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