How to plan a trip to America, we’re talking the USA here, part of continental North America, not the Americas, I’m being very British in my terminology. So what do you need to consider before you start planning your holiday or vacation? We’ve had a fair bit of experience of travel in the USA, particularly road-tripping, so let’s do this thing, use the blog index below to help you find the information you need.
- How to Plan a Trip to America, the Checklist
- Finding the Best Deals on Flights to the USA
- Have You Considered Travelling by Ship?
- How to Book Accommodation and Find the Best Deals
- Have You Taken Out Travel Insurance?
- Do You Have Your USA Visa?
- Hiring a Car and Drivers’ Licenses
- Where Are You Going in the USA?
- Do You Need to Pre-Book Any Tickets or Tours?
- Think About The Weather
- Packing and Useful Gadgets
- Currency for the USA
How to Plan a Trip to America, the Checklist
Before you go you not only need to consider your destination and itinerary, there are also practicalities such as accommodation, transport, insurance, and visa eligibility. For this you can go direct to Homeland Security for your ESTA visa waiver or use a visa agency, take a look at an ESTA registration form here.
Finding the Best Deals on Flights to the USA
There are many flight comparison sites these days but our tried and tested favourite is still Skyscanner. We use Skyscanner every time and that says a lot. Use it to find your best route, dates and price but once found check with the airline, occasionally you’ll find a better price by booking direct but it’s rare. We have a full post on the best ways to use Skyscanner here including a few ninja hacks.
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Budget airlines fly into the USA from Europe, some are pretty good, for example Norwegian.
Have You Considered Travelling by Ship?
Crazy as it sounds, we once crossed the Atlantic on a brand new luxury cruise liner for less than the price of flying. That’s 10 days of food, accommodation and transport. It’s a sweet deal if you have the time. See our post on trans Atlantic relocation cruises here.
How to Book Accommodation and Find the Best Deals
Will you book all of your accommodation in advance or remain flexible and book as you go? Both options are entirely possible and both are a good idea, depending on you. Will you feel better having everything organised in advance? Would you enjoy having the option of staying longer in places you love, getting out fast if you love them not-so-much? Will you have time to arrange your accommodation as you travel or would you rather thrash it all out before you arrive and stick to your plan?
Whichever option you choose you need to make friends with the online accommodation booking engines. For finding the best possible deals we always recommend Hotels Combined. The beauty of Hotels Combined is that it checks multiple online booking engines simultaneously to find the best possible deal ( Including Priceline, Booking.com and Hotels.com. It does not check Agoda, so if, like us, you collect Agoda’s valuable credits, check them separately. Booking.com is often a good bet for finding fully refundable deals.
Have You Taken Out Travel Insurance?
The travel insurance company we use, World Nomads, provide our cover worldwide. You absolutely need travel insurance for the USA you don’t want to be caught out by obscenely high American health care costs. World Nomads may not be the best choice for you on a short trip, try a few of the many companies that exist and compare costs and coverage thoroughly. Decide if you need coverage for your possessions or not, but don’t scrimp on the health cover.
Do You Have Your USA Visa?
Getting a visa doesn’t have to be hard. In fact you can get an ESTA authorization if your stay isn’t for a long period of time and purely for the purpose of tourism. An ESTA isn’t truly a visa but is part of a visa waiver system used by many countries including Australia. These visa waivers can be done online and you must be in possession of a VWP ( Visa Waiver Program) compliant passport. This system is limited in that you have only 90 days and must leave the country after this. Both land crossings to Mexico and Canada don’t count and can’t be used as ‘visa runs’
Hiring a Car and Drivers’ Licenses
All US states recognise foreign drivers’ licences ( ref USA Gov, check here) ( in English), so no worries there. Check driving regulations and carry your passport too. You’ll see that it’s maybe preferable to get an international driver’s permit should you wish to do so. We’ve taken several driving holidays in the States, you can see our post on planning a USA road trip here.
Where Are You Going in the USA?
Beaches, history, world leading theme parks including Disney, museums, mountains, heritage and sports, America has much to offer. I can’t cover everything here, obviously, but consult with your family, what would make everyone happy? Try to do a little of everyone’s favourites.
Do You Need to Pre-Book Any Tickets or Tours?
If you’re hiring ( renting) a car it’s pretty easy to get yourselves wherever you want to be, anywhere in the States, but if not, what about tours? Plenty can be arranged and booked before you leave home using companies like our favourite, Get Your Guide. You can read more about them in our review here.
Think About The Weather
The USA is a big old place, be sure you’re not in the wrong place at the wrong time for tornadoes, hurricanes, the polar vortex or any other such holiday-spoilers. Chances are low of you encountering weather related difficulties, but just check for peace of mind.
Packing and Useful Gadgets
You’ll need a guide book and a plug adapter, otherwise what you pack is up to you. Obviously you can buy absolutely anything you need in the States, but if you’d like to take a look at some recommended travel organisers to make packing and travelling easier, check here.
Currency for the USA
The US dollar is the most traded currency in the world so it’s simple to buy it anywhere. Always travel with some hard currency, you may need it on arrival for that first taxi ride or tip. But should you take all of your holiday money in cash, use travel money cards, travellers’ cheques or simply withdraw funds from ATMs? You’ll have to check our travel money section for more on this. We generally prefer to have a mixture of options when we travel.
We hope we’ve started you on the right track to planning your trip to America, if we can help you in any other way please leave a comment below.