United States

Where will your dreams take you?

Difficult to describe in brief, the United States varies hugely in terrain, cultures, traditions and history. After declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776, today it comprises 50 states and a total size of nearly 3.8 million square miles. England is about the size of Louisiana in the south, while Japan is about the size of California. Water hugs the east, south and west, while there are three major mountain ranges, while more than 30 percent of the country is air and desert-like. Whatever you seek, you will likely find in the United States. Use our stories to plan your trip.

Entry Requirements (Passports and Visas) – PASSPORTS: Citizens of the United States must only show a valid passport upon entry (or a passport card for non-air travel to and from Canada, Mexico, Caribbean and Bermuda). As a rule, citizens of any other country seeking to enter the United States will need a passport that is valid for at least six months from the planned date of exit, but agreements have waived that extended validity requirement for some country, so be sure to check requirements with Customs & Border Protection. VISAS: Citizens of many countries outside the United States may need a visa to visit; however, a visa waiver program exempts a number of countries so verify your needs with the Department of Homeland Security. Before planning travel, use the iVisa search function below to verify requirements.


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By Plane – Non-stop international flights may enter a variety of cities, depending on the origin, including New York (2 of 3 airports); Boston; Denver; Chicago; Miami; Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; Seattle; San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, with transfers, you can get to any variety of cities in any state.

By Train – Rail travel is not as well-developed in the United States as in some countries. The East Coast corridors are the most convenient, and certain routes along the West Coast, as well as some cross-country lines. However, only the Acela Express in the Northeast is high speed. Sometimes buses run by the rail company connect some areas. Go to the Amtrak website here and be sure to look for regular specials (“deals”).

By Bus – Bus travel used to be the way to go in the United States, but these days can be very time-consuming, with many stops and transfers. Greyhound is the leading provider. Alternatives Megabus, founded in the United Kingdom, and FlixBus, established in Germany, are two options that can offer great prices and good connections IF you are going to the places they serve (primarily in higher population areas in the west, south and east).

By Car – For better or for worse, the best way to see the United States, other than large cities, is by car, partly because the distances are so large. You can rent a car starting at age 21, but anyone under 25 will pay an additional fee. Plus, you may need to acquire your own insurance and get an  an International Driving Permit in your home country since some states require it (as well as a license in your home country). Driving in the United States is on the right side, and you can turn right on red only in SOME states! Speed limits are generally posted but do also vary slightly by state; however, in general, urban areas are 30 mph, four-lane roads are 65, and interstate highways are 70. If you are stopped, stay in the car and await instructions. Do not reach for anything without being asked.

Language – The main language in the United States is, yes, English. You will certainly hear and see Spanish in southern border areas or in the west. In addition, there are numerous accents, some quite heavy, that may sometimes sound like a new language to non-English speakers. Knowing some English will make travels in the United States much easier since only about a fifth of residents speak any amount of a second language.

Learn to speak a bit of English so you can get around more easily and don’t stand out as a tourist! Read our story Start to learn languages – Top language learning apps and websites.

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Health – Make sure of course that all of your routine immunizations are up to date before coming to the United States, including protective shots such as Tetanus. If you plan to be outdoors in forests or field, hiking or walking, be sure to watch out for ticks since they are particularly prevalent in the northeast, upper Midwest and west, but certain ticks can be found everywhere. Consider insect repellent clothing and normal precautions for outdoor outings. Ask your doctor about needing a tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) vaccination if you plan to spend significant time outdoors in tick-prone areas.

Non-prescription medications (“over the counter”) are widely available in drugstores and even supermarkets (such as cough suppressants, anti-inflammatories, aspirin…). For prescription medicines, you will need to find a pharmacy, which are located in many supermarkets and other large stores, too; however, no pharmacies will fill a foreign prescription so you would need to find a physician to have it re-written. If you need emergency care, try to find what is called an “urgent care clinic” (slang: “doc in a box”), which are often open evenings and weekends and can help walk-ins. They are also a little less expensive that going to a hospital’s emergency room, where you might also have very long waits. Be sure your home health insurance will cover you internationally — and at what level. We strongly advise purchasing travel insurance that has emergency medical coverage sufficient enough to cover you in the event of an emergency.

Vaccinations – Always check vaccination requirements for tourists with your local health agency. In general, you will need to have had basic vaccines such as rabies, mumps, measles, hepatitis, etc.

Travel Advisories – Before you travel, we recommend checking with your home country’s foreign affairs ministry (Department of State in the United States) or other agency to determine if there are any travel advisories.  

Emergencies – To reach the police, fire department or ambulance service, dial 911. Calling 911 is free from any landline or mobile phone; however, if a landline is available use it since dispatchers can better track your location. Be sure to read our travel advice story on medical emergencies from our own experience.

 

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Managing Money — The United States Dollar is the only currency. It is broken down into 100 cents per one dollar. Commonly circulating are bills in 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar increments (although 100s may be harder to use in some stores), while coins are 1 cent (penny), 5 cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime), and 25 cents (quarter). Compared to many other countries, the United States relies heavily on credit cards, which can be used for most purchases including quite small ones.  Many U.S. Banks have small counters in some large supermarkets these days, too. Be sure to read our advice on getting or managing foreign currency before travel.

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Best seasons to visit — With 2,800 miles from east to west, and 1,600 miles north to south in the 48 contiguous states, not to mention Hawaii and Alaska, you can find the weather you seek almost all year round. Many people head to the likes of Florida, Arizona or Southern California in the winter for year-round T-shirt wear, but head to Colorado, Wyoming or Illinois and the winters will be freezing. The south and southeast promises very hot and humid weather in the summer, and the west’s weather generally speaking may be hot in the summer but dry.

To check the latest weather for any destination you are thinking of heading to in the United States, visit our weather page complete with weather radar and minute-by-minute forecasting.

What to do in Presidio San Francisco: adventure, views, history, dining

What to do in Presidio San Francisco: adventure, views, history, dining

The Presidio of San Francisco was once a military base and is now a 1,500-acre urban park. The Presidio is now a major recreation destination with miles of hiking trails, bike routes, and numerous scenic overlooks. Crissy Field, Fort Point, Baker Beach and numerous historic buildings housing restaurants, businesses and museums make a visit to the Presidio a must.

Discover San Francisco secret gardens, rooftop parks and open spaces

Discover San Francisco secret gardens, rooftop parks and open spaces

POPOS may sound like a funny name for something you’d munch on during happy hour, but that is so wrong. POPOS stands for “Privately Owned Public Open Spaces,” a.k.a. San Francisco secret gardens, urban parks, and city open spaces. Whether you as a traveler call them POPOS, secret gardens, or rooftop parks, they are ideal respites and secluded open spaces when wandering and touring cities for anyone who just needs to rest weary feet or simply take in the surroundings or do a little people-watching – for free, and often in a really pleasant venue.

A Noyo River kayak tour plus dinner with a view

A Noyo River kayak tour plus dinner with a view

A Noyo River kayak tour with Liquid Fusion Kayaks is a slow-paced 1½-hour easy kayak tour designed for all ages and abilities. Expect to see river otters, sea lions, seals, osprey, loons and a host of other wildlife, not to mention enjoy a peaceful outing on the water.

Houmas House: a luxurious plantation country estate

Houmas House: a luxurious plantation country estate

Houmas House estate is a New Orleans area attraction located in Louisiana’s River Parishes. Once one of the biggest and richest plantations in Louisiana’s plantation country, it’s now a destination for lovers of architecture, gardens and fine dining, as well as an entertainment venue.

Plan a trip to coastal Maine: A MidCoast Maine travel planner

Plan a trip to coastal Maine: A MidCoast Maine travel planner

Explore MidCoast Maine on a coastal Maine road trip. Sit in a classic Adirondack chair and enjoy coastal breezes, eat fresh lobster while taking in ocean views, visit with local craftsmen, and explore back roads winding through quaint Maine towns. Our MidCoast Maine travel planner will help you organize your vacation.

What to do in Fresno on a Highway 99 road trip in California

What to do in Fresno on a Highway 99 road trip in California

Located along Highway 99 in the Central Valley, Fresno doesn’t immediately grab you as a place worth spending much more than a night. But appearances can be deceiving. There are quite a few historical, cultural and culinary gems waiting to be explored in California’s fifth-largest city. Read on to know what to do in Fresno.

Dining at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant on the Louisiana Oyster Trail

Dining at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant on the Louisiana Oyster Trail

We were following the Louisiana Oyster Trail in the town of Metairie just outside New Orleans. Our first stop was at the door of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, home of the charbroiled oyster. Oysters were on the menu, and Michael was eagerly looking forward to sampling the promised charbroiled oyster dish. Drago’s offers so much more than oysters though, as we were to discover.

A sacred place: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

A sacred place: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

To visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is like stepping into a real-life Jurassic Park. The Gwich’in people call the Arctic Refuge, “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” You have to see the Arctic Refuge for yourself to believe it. This story was awarded a Silver Medal for travel writing by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

Newseum: Washington DC museum for news, politics & history buffs

Newseum: Washington DC museum for news, politics & history buffs

Whether you are a history enthusiast, news and politics buff, or a student or fan of media and first-amendment rights, the Newseum is a must-go museum in Washington, D.C. Even though the spectacular Newseum is not free, it offers an insider look at all things news, current events, past history and First Amendment. There is something for everyone, not to mention great lessons for students visiting Washington, D.C.

Dutch Flat 4th of July water hijinks and parade

Dutch Flat 4th of July water hijinks and parade

Dutch Flat 4th of July celebration is a parade with water hijinks and loads of fun! Historic Dutch Flat in California boasts a population today of about 200 (“If everybody’s home,” a local adds) but the numbers swell on July 4 for good reason — the town is FUN!!!

Forestiere Underground Gardens: Fresno stop for curious travelers

Forestiere Underground Gardens: Fresno stop for curious travelers

The Underground Gardens tourist destination offers an intriguing tale for all ages that is well worth a stop. The Underground Gardens is what it sounds like: A weaving labyrinth of caverns, rooms and passages all dug underground and filled with fruit trees, vines and plants in spaces that open to the sky. This oddity was built – or shall we say, dug – by Italian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere for about 38 years starting in 1906.

9 tips to guide your visit to Arlington National Cemetery

9 tips to guide your visit to Arlington National Cemetery

The first time I visited Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., was when my Uncle Ara Mooradian, MIA in the Korean War, received a memorial service in 2004 with full military honors – horse-drawn caisson, soldiers on horses, 21-gun salute, Missing Man Formation, the whole deal. I have a tie to Arlington that may be different than many, but that doesn’t mean your visit to Arlington National Cemetery will be any less memorable.

Six things to do in Washington DC that are often overlooked

If you have a trip to Washington, DC, coming up soon, the Smithsonian Museums are a standard to fill time. How about a change of pace? Here are six things to do in DC that many visitors overlook – including The George Mason Memorial, The National Gallery of Art free concerts, the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Air Force Memorial, and the National Archives.

Rose Hill Cemetery at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

Rose Hill Cemetery at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

The San Francisco Bay Area hills are spotted with numerous parks where one can hike or picnic, often with great views of the rolling countryside or even the ocean. Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve east of San Francisco has another secret worth a traveler’s exploration: the Rose Hill Cemetery dating back to the Gold Rush.

The gold panning world championships – not just about panning for gold

The gold panning world championships – not just about panning for gold

Since HI Travel Tales is based in California’s so-called Gold Country, we naively thought that this was the center of the panning for gold world. You know, Sierra Nevada gold rush, gold discovery at Sutter’s Mill, gold miners, ‘49ers, and all that jazz. Boy did we learn a thing or two, like gold panning is a world-wide pursuit and there is even a world championships each year.

Creative, tasty meals at Basque Ogi Deli in Elko, Nevada

When you’re driving along Interstate 80 across frequently spectacular yet periodically desolate Nevada desert, eatery choices can be, well, less than inviting. So when we first found this amazing deli in Elko – now called Basque Ogi Deli, but it was “2 Dames and a Deli” when we discovered it – we were utterly delighted.

Historic Gold Rush town Michigan Bluff off beaten path

Historic Gold Rush town Michigan Bluff off beaten path

Situated at about the halfway point of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, Michigan Bluff is a California Gold Rush town so tiny nobody even bothers to count how many people live there. Could be about 20. Give or take. An old mining hamlet that once teemed with thousands of gold-seeking pioneers, this is what they call in true Old West cowboy slang a “one-horse town.” No, there’s not much there, but that’s what makes it charming and worth a stop for a hike or a walk when in the Sierra Nevada Gold Country.

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve – Wildflowers and waterfalls

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve – Wildflowers and waterfalls

Table Mountain reserve boasts one of the most spectacular waterfalls in California and an amazing display of California wildflowers in the spring, yet the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve (just “Table Mountain” reserve to locals) is surprisingly unknown. If you want blankets of colorful wildflowers, including periodic super blooms, Table Mountain delivers.

Table Mountain California full of wildflowers and waterfalls

Table Mountain California full of wildflowers and waterfalls

Located in the foothills of the northern Sierra Nevada, just 7 miles north of Oroville (approximately one hour drive north of Sacramento), the 3,315-acre Table Mountain preserve looks rather non-descript from afar. From Oroville, you can see the dark basalt (volcanic) cliffs and a hint of a flat plateau above, but little more. But get closer and you will experience spectacular wildflowers and amazing waterfalls.

Florida’s hidden gems: 10 more reasons to visit

Florida’s hidden gems: 10 more reasons to visit

There are plenty quiet and magical places sans crowds in Florida if you know where to look — places we like to refer to as Florida’s hidden gems. Rest assured that when Ponce de León first arrived in Florida in 1513 he wasn’t greeted by Walt Disney or Mickey Mouse. You too can get to Florida and not just find theme parks or senior citizens’ specials. The Sunshine State has hidden gems that whisk you way beyond the expected.

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