The United States is a huge and diverse country with so much to see and do. Planning your first ever trip to the US can feel overwhelming, but with some preparation and research, you can have an amazing vacation. Here are some tips to make your planning easier and ensure you have a great first trip.
Research the Top Destinations and Attractions
The US has incredible natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, vibrant cities like New York and Los Angeles, national parks full of wildlife, and so much more. Figure out what interests you the most – beaches, mountains, big cities, historical sites, road trips, etc. – and research the top destinations and attractions that fit your interests. The US National Park Service website and travel booking/review sites like TripAdvisor are great resources. Make a list of your must-see places.
Find Cheap Flights to Get There
Once you decide on your destination(s), finding an affordable flight will be essential to keeping your trip within budget. Compare rates across airlines and online travel agencies like Expedia. Being flexible on your travel dates can lead to huge savings – midweek flights and off-peak season travel tend to be much cheaper. Consider budget airlines like JetBlue or Southwest. Connecting flights are often cheaper than nonstop, so consider flying into a hub like Atlanta. Signing up for airfare deal alerts and flying from ATL can help you snag a good price.
Look into Lodging Options
The US has accommodations ranging from hotels to hostels to vacation rentals. Your lodging budget and preferences should guide where you stay. Reviews on Booking.com and TripAdvisor can help identify quality, affordable options in your destination. Hotels tend to be the most expensive, while hostels cater to the budget traveler. Vacation rental sites like Airbnb offer unique stays like apartments or private homes. Consider location, amenities, and cost when booking.
Get Your Documents in Order
To enter the United States, you’ll need a valid passport, travel authorization under the Visa Waiver Program, and possibly an ESTA visa waiver. Double check current visa/entry requirements for your home country and allow plenty of time to complete any required paperwork or applications beforehand. It’s also smart to make copies of important documents in case any are lost or stolen during your trip.
Understand the Transportation Infrastructure
While a rental car provides flexibility for covering long distances, public transportation like trains, buses, and subways are a more affordable way to get around, especially in big cities. Download transit apps to help navigate local transport. If you will be renting a car, research rental companies for the best rates and make sure you understand any insurance requirements, toll systems, parking rules, etc.
Use Credit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fees
Using a credit or debit card with no foreign transaction fees will save you money on every purchase abroad. Cards from Capital One, Chase, and some other major issuers don’t charge this. Inform your bank you will be traveling internationally to prevent your card from being flagged or frozen for unusual activity.
Stay Connected with an International Phone Plan
Having phone and internet access while traveling internationally is crucial these days. Contact your provider about international roaming rates and plans or consider purchasing an inexpensive SIM card with prepaid data when you arrive. Apps like WhatsApp are great for cheap texts and calls over Wi-Fi.
Stay Safe and Healthy
Finally, make sure to obtain travel health insurance in case you need medical care abroad. Bring any prescription medications you take regularly and check to see if any vaccinations or health precautions are recommended for where you are visiting on the CDC website. Exercise normal safety precautions as you would at home.
Planning a trip to the US takes time. Begin researching 6-12 months in advance if possible. The more effort you put into planning, the more rewarding your first visit to the diverse USA will be!
*This is a collaborative post. For further information please refer to my disclosure page.
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