The United States of America. New York, LA, Chicago, Houston or Miami? Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, Yellowstone or the Rocky Mountains? Country and western, Blues, Motown, R&B or Pop? Clam chowder, jambalaya, burritos, hamburgers or pizzas the size of bin lids? San Francisco’s cable cars, New York’s subway, Mississippi steamers, yellow school buses or huge monster trucks? Where do you start to describe the USA? The country really is as varied as the many states it is composed of – in history, culture, food, politics, geography and weather. From the cold north to the tropical south, from the rural plains of the vast interior to the packed megacities. From empty roads stretching as far as the eye can see, to 7-lane traffic jams equally as long. Though many have visited before, it is a vast country with much to see and offer, with a huge range of experiences and destinations to keep you wanting to go back!
Many of our USA tours also combine Canada. Please ensure you also check the entry requirements for Canada, as they differ to those for the USA.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay, though it is always advisable to have some additional validity. You will also require a blank page for entry stamps. Please be sure to fill out the "Emergency Next of Kin" section in your passport.
A visa is required to enter the USA. However, if you are a citizen of any of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand, you do not need a visa for tourist purposes for entry for up to 90days. Citizens from thse nations should apply instead for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), an electronic passenger screening system. Eligible travellers from Visa Waiver Program countries must obtain approval through ESTA prior to traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Visa Waiver Program travellers are encouraged to apply for authorization as soon as they begin to plan a trip to the United States. ETSAs must be applied for a minimum of 72hrs prior to travel, real time approvals are no longer permitted. The ESTA application provides your airline with advance passenger information (details of your passport, country of residence, address of your first night’s accommodation in the USA, etc) and you will be denied boarding by your airline if you do not have an ESTA. The cost is currently $14.00 per person. However, restrictions apply on travellers who have been arrested for certain crimes, whether or not the arrest resulted in a conviction, or who have visited selected countries and you may need to apply for a visa in person at the embassy, or not be permitted entry - please check the visa entry requirements before your departure. If you’re arriving by land or on a ferry from Vancouver or Victoria in Canada, you don’t need to complete an ESTA before you arrive at the border. All other nationalities must check the visa entry requirements before your departure. You need sufficient funds and a return airline ticket.
• Consular Information
Most countries have international embassies located in Washington DC. Due to the size of the country, there are also a large number of consulates located around the country, in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Boston. Please check with your relevant government for the relevant contact details.
N.B. Please note, visa and entry requirements, regulations and restrictions can vary on a regular basis. Please ensure you check in good time prior to travel the current requirements applicable to you.
HEALTH, INSURANCE AND SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS
• Travel Insurance
It is company policy that all passengers must have valid travel insurance prior to travelling, to include but not limited to health insurance and cancellation insurance. It is vital that ALL members of the travelling party are fully insured for the dates of travel. All pre-existing medical conditions must be declared to the insurer and the correct cover must be taken in regard to the specific type of holiday you are taking.
The details of your insurance must be advised to The Big Journey Company at least 6 weeks before your departure date. Please make sure to write down important information from your insurance policy, such as the company’s 24hr emergency telephone number (including dial code from abroad) and your policy number and take these with you on tour.
Canada and Alaska Tour – please advise your insurer you will be visiting both countries, as well as taking part in a cruise as not all policies for North America include both the US and Canada. Additionally, cruising often falls under a separate insurance category.
• General Health
Please talk to your doctor or travel health clinic in person at least eight weeks before you travel, where a health professional can provide you with the necessary health information for your personal needs.
Wearing sunscreen, drinking plenty of water, washing your hands properly before eating and avoiding insect bites should keep you healthy on tour.
We recommend you carry a simple travellers’ first-aid kit containing any basic items that you feel may be required, including remedies for minor stomach complaints.
If you do need to see a doctor during the tour, please speak to your Big Journey Company tour escort.
• Passengers with Disabilities or Reduced Mobility
Our USA Tours is generally Activity Level 2 tour and will require moderate physical activity and include various forms of transport, but will be detailed per tour. Please check our Activity Levels description page to see if this level is suitable to you or contact us if you require further information on the activities involved in the tour.
If you or any member of your party has any medical problem or disability which may affect your holiday, please provide us with full details before we confirm your booking, or as soon as possible at the time they occur, so that we can try to advise on the suitability of your chosen arrangements. Please note, we may require you to produce a doctor’s certificate certifying that you are fit to participate in the tour.
• Medical Conditions and Personal Medication
Please advise us prior to travel if you have any medical conditions requiring special attention during your trip. If you have a specific medical condition, it is wise to carry the relevant doctor’s prescription with you. Important:
- Pack a sufficient supply of any medications you are taking, copies of the prescriptions and the telephone/fax numbers of your doctor.
- Please note, some countries require that prescription drugs be carried in their original container, with the label clearly visible. In the event of you losing your medication, a qualified pharmacist should be able to source a replacement.
There are currently no vaccination requirements for international travellers, but please consult your doctor before travelling for the latest immunisation information as well as advice according to your unique medical needs.
• Travelling with CPAP or other Medical Machines
Please inform The Big Journey Company that you are travelling with such a device as early as possible, and well before you travel. This is especially important in places where there may be issues with power supply, such as on safari or smaller cruise ships. Also,
- Check that you have the correct electrical and voltage adapters for the country and accommodation you are visiting;
- Check with your airline that they allow your device to be carried as additional hand luggage and ensure that your device is easily accessible and properly labelled as medical machinery;
- Always carry a letter from your medical practitioner prescribing its use for you;
- Ensure you have details of your machine separately in case of the need to secure repairs/replacements whilst you are travelling;
- Check with your medical practitioner about the use of tap or bottled water in the event that distilled water cannot be sourced in the country you are travelling to.
Please note, if you require distilled or ionised water, you must inform The Big Journey Company of this at least two weeks ahead of travel, so we are able to make preparations with our ground agents. There will be an additional charge for this.
• Special Dietary Requirements
Please let us know in good time prior to travel if you have any special dietary requirements (e.g., vegetarian, vegan, diabetic, gluten-free, etc.). We will make every effort to accommodate your request with the resources available to us.
• What to Pack and Wear
We would recommend comfortable clothes and shoes for these tours. Feel free to include a smart-casual outfit for dinner if you wish, however there is no pressure to follow a dress code. For most tours, the weather should largely be warm and sunny throughout the journey, however it is always good to be prepared for every eventuality, so make sure you pack a light jacket in case of rain and the fact that it may be cooler in the evening. Insect repellent and sun cream are also essential items. Don't forget your camera, with charger/spare batteries and memory cards.
Alaska and Canada Tour - Those travelling to Alaska and Canada will require clothes for cooler weather, as well as a few smarter outfits for the days on the cruise.
• Luggage Allowances
International airlines are often strict about the size and weight of checked in baggage and carry-on luggage. Prior to your departure, please contact your airline or visit their website for specific luggage requirements, as size and weight limitations may vary according to the airline and destination.
Luggage handling is not included in our USA tours. It may be available at the hotel for a local charge.
Laundry services are available in some hotels on the tour.
The main language of the USA is English. However, for around 15% of the population, Spanish is their first language. In Alaska, the languages of the native populations are recognised, as is French in Louisiana.
The USA covers a large number of time zones due to its vast size. New York and the eastern seaboard lie at GMT-5, 5 hours behind London GMT. Chicago and Houston are -6 hours behind, Phoenix and Salt Lake City at GMT -7, and LA and San Francisco on the western seaboard are 8hrs behind London. Alaska, lying further west is GMT-9, and Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific is at GMT-10, 10hrs behind London and 5 behind New York.
The weather in the USA is difficult to generalise given the large span of the country and varied geography it contains. From June to August, often you will experience warm days across the country, with high temperatures, especially in the south and west coast, the east coast being a little more temperate. In spring and autumn, you will get milder temperatures and variable weather depending on the location. Autumn is also hurricane season often affecting the southern states of the eastern coast and Gulf of Mexico. November to March sees harsh winters, especially in the north of the country and eastern seaboard often with heavy snowstorms. Heavy rains are experienced in some central and southern areas, whilst the western coast still maintains a temperate climate.
In the USA, the standard voltage is 120V and the frequency is 60Hz. Two plugs are used in America, the North American type A plug adapter, with 2 prongs, or type B, which has a third prong for grounding. You will need to bring an adaptor and/or converter depending on which electrical appliances you bring with you.
MOBILES & INTERNET COMMUNICATION
The USA has a well-developed communications infrastructure. A number of cellphone/mobile phone providers offer national coverage and there are well-established landline phone networks. In populated urban areas, there should be good mobile signal but as we head into rural areas, signal may fluctuate. Internet and Wi-Fi are easily accessible in most urban areas and most hotels and restaurants provide free WIFI. Please check data roaming charges for the USA with your service provider before leaving home as these can quickly become very expensive.
The currency of the USA is the US Dollar $(USD). Credit cards are widely accepted at mid-high range establishments, but it is advisable to carry money in cash with you as well as lots of transactions are still carried out in cash. ATMs are widely available in cities, but not so in smaller towns and villages. Care should be taken with notes as there is no difference in the size or colour of note denominations – all look very similar!
Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted credit cards however many places also accept cards such as Diners Club or American Express. If you intend to use any of your debit or credit cards whilst away, please make sure that you contact your bank before you leave to inform them that you will be travelling in order not to cause any problems using your cards or whilst on the trip.
Important note for European passengers - Most card transactions require your card to be swiped, as chip and pin, contactless and cardless payments are only starting to be rolled out. You may be asked to provide ID for card payments, especially outside of the cities.
The USA can prove quite expensive for travellers, as prices often do not include tax, an uncommon occurrence for European travellers. Equally when dining out independently, tips to waiting staff and bar tenders are expected, often around 15-20% of the bill!
• Bank Opening
Banks in the USA are usually open 8am – 5pm Monday to Friday, though can vary locally depending on the state.
After feedback from previous guests, we offer a group tipping package for this tour. Look out for more information in your pre-tour emails.
American food is ubiquitous and needs no introduction. However, as you travel round the country, you will find restaurants from all corners of the globe – from Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and many more, an indication of the mass immigration that shaped the country. you will also find a raft of regional and local dishes, drawing on the local produce and climate.
Some meals are included as part of your tour – please check your individual departure for the relevant meal inclusions.
The tap water in the USA is generally of drinkable, though the quality varies across the country. Unless otherwise advised, you can drink the local tap water, though in many rural areas, many prefer to drink bottled water. Bottled water can be bought at supermarkets, kiosks and many shops.
The USA offers lots for visitors to buy! You will find almost everything you can need in the large shopping malls and in smaller towns, many have local farmers markets. Local foods and drinks can be picked up along the way, especially wine in California.
• Opening Hours
In the cities and towns, most retail shops are open from 9am – 5pm Monday–Saturday, though many vary locally and lots of larger shops are open until 10pm. Sunday shopping is becoming more popular in cities, but less so in the country and smaller towns.
• VAT/Tax Refund:
Numerous shops in the USA offer a VAT refund when leaving the country. Please ask the salesperson whether tax-free shopping applies to the shop in question.
SAFETY & SECURITY
Crime levels towards tourists in the USA are usually low. There’s a risk of petty theft, particularly in airports, in popular tourist attractions and on public transport. Please take sensible precautions to protect your belongings, particularly your passport, money and credit cards. Violent crime, including gun crime, rarely involves tourists. Nevertheless, you should take care when travelling in unfamiliar areas, even in city centres. Avoid walking through less travelled areas alone, especially at night and take licenced taxis only – you can ask your hotel or tour leader to arrange these for you. The alcohol drinking age in the USA is 21 and is strictly enforced – you will be asked to provide valid ID to purchase alcohol, even if clearly over the legal age. Laws and regulations vary from state to state, as do political leanings and acceptance of LGBT people.
As is widely known, the USA has sadly been the target of a number of terrorist attacks in recent years. When in large crowds or major tourist destinations, you should remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities.
Extreme weather, including snowstorms, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and wildfires may occur. Please ensure you take note of local weather reports and public notices and in the unlikely event, follow the advice of local authorities. When in rural and woodland areas, watch out for dangerous wildlife including bears, snakes, spiders, mountain lions and wolves. In southern coastal areas, take heed of any notices for sharks and alligators or crocodiles.
There is no national smoking restriction in the USA, legislation is decided upon per state, ranging from none to very strict. However, in general is banned in most indoor public places, but there are usually designated outdoor areas where people can smoke.
The USA is mostly Christian, with over 70% of the population belonging to the Church. Catholicism is the next largest religion.
The USA offers photo opportunities one after another. You will return with many photos that can never be repeated. Remember to pack your camera, along with the charger, spare batteries and a spare memory card!
ARRIVAL IN THE USA
Please note, standard hotel check-in is around 3pm, so should you arrive earlier than this, your room may not be available upon arrival. For those arriving early morning, we will do everything we can to work with the hotel to get you an earlier check-in subject to availability.
TOUR HOTEL INFORMATION
Please check your tour paperwork for hotel information attaining to your tour departure.
OTHER COUNTRIES ON TOUR ITINERARY
For those continuing their stay in Canada, Central America or the Caribbean, please check the relevant Travel Tip pages for information on these countries.
FLYING & TRAVEL HINTS
• Photocopy the personal information pages of your passport; leave one copy at home with a friend or family member, and take a copy with you, but pack it separately from the passport itself.
• It is advisable to carry all your travel documentation as well as valuables and essential items in your hand luggage, such as camera, toiletries, reading material etc.
• Duty-Free shopping is always tempting, but please check the current Duty-Free limits applicable in the country of your destination.
• Longer flights can be made a little more enjoyable by wearing loose clothing and good, comfortable shoes. Walking in the aisles regularly, eating sensibly and drinking plenty of fluids (not alcohol) is also advised.
• Where possible, try to get some sleep during the flight and upon arrival at your destination, most people adjust better to the local time if they wait until the evening before sleeping – this should relieve some of the effects of jet lag.
If you have any other questions that we have not covered here; then please send us an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note, the above information is provided as a guideline only. Although every effort has been made to provide complete and accurate information, The Big Journey Company makes no warranties, express or implied, or representations as to the accuracy of content on this website. The Big Journey Company assumes no liability or responsibility for any error or omissions in the information contained in the website.
Updated December 2019