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.
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.
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
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!
USA travel opportunities are endless.
The USA Does NOT Use the Metric System
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
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.
Choose a small size for your refillable sodas and coffees…because you can typically refill them. Less price for the same amount!
America Does Healthy, Delicious Food Fusion Well
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:
- New Orleans
- Southern California
- Portland, Oregon
- San Francisco
- Jackson, Mississippi
- Raleigh and Durham
- Washington DC
Great Coffee Can Be Hard to Find
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:
- 16 Best Coffee Shops in NYC the Locals Love
- Coffee, Beer and Fun Places to Eat in Portland (foodies will love this city)
Craft Breweries are Flourishing
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:
- Portland, Oregon
- San Diego, California
- Denver, Colorado
- Austin, Texas
- Asheville, North Carolina
- Bend, Oregon
- and Raleigh, NC (Brewery Bhavana in downtown Raleigh has been named one of the best breweries in the world. It’s incredible and the food there is delicious and the ambiance something special).
The Great American Dream is REAL
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.
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:
- Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and the story of the Revolution
- Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and the story of the Civil War
- The Civil Rights Trail
- The musical story at Nashville and Memphis
Americans Love the Outdoors
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:
- Yosemite National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Zion National Park (amazing hiking trails)
- Yellowstone National Park
- Arches National Park (incredible rock formations)
- Grand Canyon
- Olympic National Park
- Big Bend National Park
- Grand Tetons National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
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.
And then All of Sedona is just breathtaking.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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:
- New York City – learn how to save money on NYC attractions
- San Francisco – 8 must do tourist attractions
- New Orleans – how to save on attractions with the sightseeing pass
- Las Vegas – tips for visiting on a budget
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
They even have election night parties! And they love it if you join in with them.
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.
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
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.
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!
Tipping is Voluntary, but Expected
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
- Book hotels and apartments in the USA directly on Booking.com, or read hotel reviews for the US on Trip Advisor.
- Airbnb is also an awesome option. Pay careful attention to fees as sometimes they can make it more expensive than a hotel. See available options here.
- Check out these blog posts on popular destinations:
Flights to the USA
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.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Avis, Hertz, Dollar etc.
- Outdoorsy offers a range of unique campervan and RV rentals and comes with $1,000,000 insurance! – See current availability and prices
- RVShare is another option for renting a motorohome, caravan or camper on your US road trip – See what RV rentals are available
Tours and Sightseeing
- The USA Sightseeing Pass can save you loads of money if you plan to visit multiple cities in the USA over 30 days. See attractions included here.
- Our partner, the Get Your Guide tour company offers many USA tours and attractions. They have the lowest prices, guaranteed — no booking fees or hidden charges. You can pre-book tickets and skip the line at top attractions and cancel up to 24 hours before. See all the Best tours and attrractions in the USA
More USA Travel Tips
Don’t miss these posts for more USA tips:
- 10 exciting winter vacations for families in the USA
- 11 steps for planning your dream USA trip
- 17 places to visit in USA in 2020
- How we saved money on flights to the USA
- 10 things Australians should know before planning a USA road trip