The Basics of Visiting the United States

As Americans, we’re always thinking about venturing out to other countries and planning a week long trip here and two weeks there.  When we look at going back to France, we know that it’s not ridiculous to plan a week or two to catch a few big sights and have time to relax.  When we go to Mexico (and it’s pretty frequently) we know that the country is split into pretty well defined areas, but each area can easily be tackled in one visit.  It’s not like that with the USA.  Do people understand the basics of visiting the United States?  Do people realize that you can’t visit New York City and experience California’s Big Sur coast in the same week?  We’re going to lay it out for you now!

 

Visit USA mapVisiting the United States

First US city that comes to mind?! Quick!?  New York?  Los Angeles?  Miami?  Dallas?  Yeah, none of those are even a day’s drive apart.  When we talk to people heading to the States and hear their list of places to see, more often than not it’s a mish-mash of sights scattered across thousands of miles.

When you’re planning your visit to the US, think about what you’ve always dreamed of seeing, or where you’ve always wanted to hike or swim.  If the purpose of your visit is to get immersed in culture, pick a quadrant of the country and research what you’ll find.  For history, anything on the East Coast is good.  For nature, we will 9 times out of 10 say to head to the western states.  Here’s a quick breakdown of the four very general sections of the mainland USA…

Time Square Broadway SignsVisiting the Northeastern US

Visiting the Northeastern US may include New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Pizza, clam chowder and Cheese-steak.  Fashion, history and art.  And Maine.  You must venture up to Maine for the rocky coastline and lighthouses.  There is more, but these are the must-see areas.

NOTE: this is the only portion of the US that you can EASILY get between major cities by train/car in a short amount of time.

Tip: You could group Washington DC into this area and visit it too.  It is an amazing city that, as Americans, we are very proud of.  Even if the politics are bad, the sights, art and history are incredible.  And when we say history, we’re talking about the founding of the United States and its development over the centuries centering here.

Chris Taylor at White House Washington DC

 

Stately Oaks Plantation 1The Southern states

If you know your US history, you know that the South is the toasty warm, humid part of the country that’s home to cotton and tobacco farms. It’s the former Confederacy that lost the Civil War in the 1800s.  It’s fraught with historical sites, beautiful Antebellum plantation homes and Walt Disney World.  The South is where you’ll also find Miami, Atlanta and New Orleans.  Touring the South provides everything from the Smokey Mountains to the Bayou and Everglades.  Spending two+ weeks experiencing the history and nature, and you’ll feel like you saw a diverse picture of the USA.

Tip: Florida is home to the Keys, an archipelago stretching into the Caribbean Sea, all connected by lengthy bridges.  A one-of-a-kind sight.  It’s also home to the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine.

Taylor Family at Castillo San Marcos St Augustine Florida 1

Many Glacier Hotel and Swiftcurrent Lake Glacier National Park 2The Rocky Mountains

Oh the Rockies: home of John Denver, Yellowstone National Park, the Cliff Dwellings and mountain goats.  If your idea of America is the Wild West, this is where you need to start.  Denver, Colorado is a major airline hub, making it more affordable to fly into and use as your home-base for your Rocky Mountain adventure.  And if you’re thinking about covering multiple regions, start here and continue onto the West Coast or up to Chicago.

Tip: there are five must-see National Parks in the Rockies:  Glacier NP, Yellowstone NP, Grand Tetons NPRocky Mountain NP and Mesa Verde NP.  The scenery is that of epic oil paintings.  It’s pretty easy to plan and tackle all five parks, but even an itinerary like this needs at least two weeks.  As far as the USA goes, these sites are as close together as you can get, but except for the Tetons/Yellowstone, each is a day’s drive apart.

Rob Taylor and LittleMan West Thumb Geyser Basin Yellowstone 1

 

Visiting the West Coast

Red Space NeedleSeattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego… The West Coast is the land of neighborhood cities.  If you’re looking to experience trendy, hip America, the West Coast is it.  We’ve been all over the country, hitting the tourist spots and small towns, and nothing is like the West Coast.  Seattle is set between the Cascade and Olympic mountains… on the water and each neighborhood is completely unique, offering different breweries and restaurants than the next hood over. Portland is woven between rivers, watched over by Mt Hood, and is very similar to Seattle regarding neighborhoods.  San Francisco sits on the Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge guarding it, and with Yosemite and the Muir Redwoods close by.

From the high class row-houses to the Mexican-influence Mission District, the gambit of cultures in America settles in SanFran.  Between SF and LA there is the Big Sur coast, dotted with wine, beaches and camping.  Los Angeles is home to Hollywood and Disneyland.  San Diego is the beach and a taste of Spanish-American history.


Tip:
The options from either the north or south end of the coast lead you to Vancouver, Canada or the Mexican Baja Coast.  You can’t go wrong.  Totem poles one way, tropical beaches the other.  Sushi to the north, fish tacos to the south.  **check each country’s border crossing policies regarding their visa requirements for your country of citizenship.

Chris and Rob Taylor Huntington Beach

 

Mt Rainier from Airplane 1Jetting around the USA

If you’ve lived or visited anywhere outside of North America, you probably have used regional airlines or booked really inexpensive flights to get you from stop to stop.  Unless you’re a business traveler or have a limitless travel budget, it’s not easy to do that in the US.  Here, flights are ridiculously expensive.  Where it used to be cheap, say less than $100 San Francisco to Seattle, it’s now upwards of 2 or 3x that (more for short notice tickets).  If you’re flying cross-country, Portland to Atlanta perhaps, you’re looking at a $400+ USD ticket with at least one stop-over in the middle.  This is why we recommend seeing the United States in quadrants.

Tip:  there are random small airports with regional flights that still aren’t price gouged.  If you’re an hour or more outside of a major city, this could be an affordable option to get to your next destination.

Long Beach Airport 1

 

Penn Station Subway New York 1Train travel in the USA

I’ll just say it.  Trains aren’t an option in the United States like they are in Italy or Japan.  We don’t have fast trains connecting major cities.  We have scenic train service and metropolitan commuter transit, but you’re not hopping a bullet train to cut your drive time.  Train fare is not cheap if you’re planning on anything more than a day’s ride.  If you’re TRULY INTERESTED in experiencing America by train, do check with Amtrak and use their personalized help services to understand and plan your adventure.

Note:  the train is probably the best way to see the State of Alaska, which is vast and tiresome to do by car.  The train cars have glass tops and the route is not along any highways, so you’re seeing nature in its purest possible form but still from a vehicle.  You can drive around much of the state too, which is best if you want to camp or hike, but if you want to relax and enjoy, use the train.

 

Actually getting here: a US visa

If only travel was as easy as waking up and saying “Let’s see what’s happening in _______ today,” but it’s not.  There are things to plan for and reservations to make, locations to research and documents… DOCUMENTS?!  Yep, just like with any sort of international travel outside of specific travel zones, you need a visa.  The State Department has laid out rather clearly what constitutes needing a Visiting Visa (B2) vs any other type:Getting a VISA

  • tourism
  • vacation (holiday)
  • visit with friends or relatives
  • medical treatment
  • participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations
  • participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating
  • enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)

All of these reasons are fairly clear.  Not too many questions can come from them.  Where it’s more complex is if you’re intent or length of time in the US is more than a tourist visit:

  • studyGet your Docs
  • employment
  • paid performances, or any professional performance before a paying audience
  • arrival as a crewmember on a ship or aircraft
  • work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, and other information media
  • permanent residence in the United States

Each of those reasons will require much more documentation and approval.  Visas may be more difficult to obtain based on the reason, but still worth requesting.  To quote VisaNow:

 “You might have already guessed that some nationalities have much higher rejection rates than others. The U.S. State Department is more wary of B visa applicants from countries that are politically and economically unstable because they assume citizens of those nations are more likely to want to leave their home country for good.”

You never know until you try.  For a great resource, including accounts of denied visas, check out VisaNow.  Check out their recommendations for securing visas more swiftly.

 

We know.  You’ve read all of this information and are thinking “Is a visit to the USA really worth it?”  The answer is YES!  While we may not have thousand year old streets to wander or tropical waters to swim in around every turn, the experience is one of a kind.  We are ready to welcome visitors and new friends and help them have a one-of-a-kind experience.

patches background

Do you have more questions or would like to know about specific travel plans or destinations?  Leave a comment or send an email.  We’re happy to help with general inquiries, and for more complex requests, we can refer you to a travel booking expert.

Visiting the USA pin

Want to Pin it?!  Go for it!

17 Comments

  • Rachel

    What a genius idea of a post! The US is such a vast place it’s difficult to know where to begin! I’ve only so far done 4 days in LA, on a very skint by then layover. I’m barely able to say I’ve been!

    October 24, 2015 at 7:11 am
    • 2TD-Rob
      Rob Taylor

      Thank you! Yeah, when we talk to overseas friends, they’re always offended when we giggle at their really zealous plans. If you need help or ideas, let me know. And if you’re still in LA, I have friends to assist in many ways, including travel agents that are friends. 🙂

      October 25, 2015 at 8:18 pm
  • Valery

    Whenever I travel to the United States I always get caught out by the addition of tips and taxes when eating out – can add at least 25% to your bill.

    October 26, 2015 at 10:10 am
    • 2TD-Rob
      Rob Taylor

      Great call out. That’s something we don’t even think about because we’re so used to it. Tips may be dwindling out though, as more and more metropolitan areas pass new wage laws really bringing up server/crew salaries.

      October 27, 2015 at 5:16 pm
  • Erika @ Erika's Travels

    I love this post! I work as a flight attendant and, until I transferred to Seattle last month, frequently worked international flights from Italy to New York. I would speak with a lot of people coming to the US on short vacations (1-2) weeks. When I asked about their itineraries, they always included at least five locations in completely opposite corners of the country. It wasn’t unusual to see an itinerary that consisted of 10 days in the US with visits to New York, Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

    November 6, 2015 at 9:43 am
    • 2TD-Rob
      Rob Taylor

      Yeah, we try to be respectful and not laugh at the extremely tight itineraries, but it’s humorous sometimes. We may write a series about visiting each region efficiently. Would you like to join in on it?

      November 17, 2015 at 8:32 am
  • Kevin Wagar

    Great post Rob! Coming from Canada, I totally get the confusion when people arrive in Toronto for lunch and are looking to enjoy their dinner in British Columbia, a 5 and a half hour flight away 🙂 We take travel in North America for granted and can forget the frustrations for those who aren’t as familiar.

    December 1, 2015 at 6:54 am
  • mark

    I think Australia is the same many people are ignorant to the size of the big countries. In Europe, you can drive across a few countries in one day, not so much Australia. Sydney to Melbourne is 12 hours in a car

    February 8, 2016 at 11:16 am
  • Marta

    We’re going on our first family trip to the US this summer! And you’re totally right: figuring out how distant places REALLY are from each other is what’s taking me the longest time: I started with epic plans and now reality is slowly setting in: we’ll need more than one trip (which is of course a great excuse to go back)!

    February 8, 2016 at 12:37 pm
  • Renne Simpson

    This is a fantastic intro to traveling around the USA! Great photos too. This is brilliant really – I’ve always wondered about how people from other countries decide on where to go when they plan to visit the US. There are so many different regions, all with their own distinct vibes.

    February 8, 2016 at 7:01 pm
  • Tarah

    Great post about the US! It really puts the size in perspective once you visit somewhere else and you can visit 3-4 countries in 2 weeks easily.

    February 8, 2016 at 8:51 pm
  • Voyager

    Very informative post for US visitors, it is such a vast country, you would need lots of time to cover and still you may not be able to do justice. India too is similar, each Indian state has its own share of attractions, cuisine and culture to experience.

    February 8, 2016 at 11:15 pm
  • Gearoid McSweeney

    To try to see too much at one time is an understandable mistake. However, it is usually more rewarding to settle on one region and get to know it well. I spent a few days in NYC last year and I’m going to focus on getting to know it better.

    February 9, 2016 at 10:18 am
  • Sabine

    This article is really a challenge, the whole USA in 1 go 🙂 Our dream is to drive one day from east to west and back again from west to east. It’s a diverse country with lot’s of great things to see. One day…

    February 9, 2016 at 10:45 am
  • Ami

    Simple and absolutely required tips. Thanks for sharing these as I know so many of my friends who need this now. Will be bookmarking it

    February 9, 2016 at 8:48 pm
  • Stéphanie Langlet

    That’s a great article ! It’s an excellent idea to detail the different areas of your country according to the tastes of people.

    April 3, 2016 at 1:04 pm
  • Heather

    Good, very generalized post on how to quickly sum up US. I think distance is an issue for most people when planning travel anywhere. The reality of time never seems to match up with what you think you can see and do.

    April 4, 2016 at 6:24 am

LEAVE A COMMENT