With 74 million visitors to its shores every year, the United States of America is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. It’s renowned as the land of opportunity. The home of the burger, rodeo, and baseball. The place where diverse cultures and ethnicities intertwine. A country so big that it covers six different time zones. A patchwork of 50 states that do things just a little bigger and better than anywhere else on the planet.
With American culture so prevalent the world over, you’d think there’d be little to learn in advance for first-time visitors. The United States, however, still has some surprises up its sleeve. To make sure you’re prepared for your big trip, we’re letting you know the best – and worst – of them, below:
1. Their Breakfast Buffets Will Make You Put on Weight
Hotels in the US take the approach that “more is more” when it comes to the breakfast buffet. Bacon, fruit, muffins, cereals – you name it, it’s on the menu. While waking up to the sight and smells of a seemingly endless row of serving dishes is certainly not a bad way to start the day, it will eventually take its toll on your waistband.
2. The Country’s National Parks are Jaw-Droppingly Beautiful
There are few words you can write that do justice to the beauty of some of the United States’ national parks. You can go from the dry, sandstone gorges of the Death Valley National Park to the lush, green pastures of the nearby Yosemite National Park in just a matter of hours. In Kentucky, the aptly named Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s longest cave system, while a trip to New Mexico is not complete without a visit to the dunes of the White Sands National Monument.
3. You’ll be Bombarded by Drug Advertising
If you sit down to watch any television during your vacation in the States, the first thing that will strike you is the number of ad breaks. There’s a lot. After you’ve gotten over this phenomenon, the next thing to contend with is the sheer quantity of ads selling some sort of pain relief. Whatever you do, make sure you stick around till the end of every pain relief ad – the sound of the voiceover artist reeling off an endless list of potential side effects as quickly as possible is sure to raise a smile.
4. Red Doesn’t Always Mean Stop
Coming across a roundabout, or a “rotary” as locals call them, on your visit to the States is about as likely as seeing a unicorn. In their place is the simple – but terrifying – four-way junction. To make sure traffic continues to flow smoothly, drivers in the US are allowed to turn right on a red light as long as the junction is clear. Just to confuse matters slightly further, the turn right on a red rule doesn’t apply in New York City, due in large part to the number of one-way streets in Manhattan.
5. You Might Need an ESTA to Get into the Country
Passengers travelling from certain parts of the world to the United States are required to complete and pay for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation – you can do this at https://www.esta-visa.org.uk/. An ESTA is an online system that’s been designed by the US government to make passengers aware in advance if they’re eligible to travel to the country under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Not doing so could result in you being denied boarding at your departure airport or worse, sent back home as soon as you land. It’s also worth noting that your ESTA runs out every two years, so even if you’ve paid for one previously, you’ll have to stump up again.
6. Americans are Incredibly Friendly
You’re never far away from a friendly face in the States, particularly when you venture outside the big cities. Tourists are nearly always made welcome, and the locals will often go out of their way to make sure you’re comfortable in your surroundings. If that wasn’t enough, they also have impeccable manners, so make sure you brush up on your “please” and “thank you’s” before you visit.
7. It’s Wise to Put Some of Your Daily Budget Aside for Tipping
In some US states, waiters and waitresses are only legally required to be paid $2.13 an hour by their employer. So, while paying an extra 15-20% on top of your food fill can be a hard pill to swallow, you can take some comfort from the fact that it does make a big difference to a person’s take-home pay. If you still don’t feel like tipping, we’ll offer you one piece of advice: don’t ever eat at the same restaurant more than once.