10 Useful Tips To Plan Your Next US Trip
No, you don't "have" to tip, but yes, you absolutely should.
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The U, S of A! Is there a destination more exciting, more sensational, more intoxicating than the Land of the Free? No matter the season, an American sojourn is always a fabulous idea – from coast to coast, a litany of adventure awaits.
To take the logistical load off and help you on your way, we’ve compiled a few handy hints, tips and tricks on what to get sorted and what to expect before your next big trip to Uncle Sam’s backyard.
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First up, the business: get your flight documents in order. America’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows effortless passage through US customs – to be eligible for the VWP, you’ll need to apply through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to jetting off. This is kind of a big deal, so get it sorted and do it in advance – check your eligibility here. The VWP is good for 90 days, so if you’re staying longer, you’ll need to look into a visa from your local consulate (more info on that here).
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Pack your plastic
America is a plastic-run enterprise. Unless you’re off the grid in the backend of the Appalachians – and probably even then – chances are card will be the preferred payment method. Looking for something even safer, more convenient and potentially more cost effective than your run of the mill debit or credit card? Consider Qantas Cash: the prepaid multi-currency travel money card.
No one likes a homecoming debt windfall – Qantas Cash lets you lock in exchange rates before you leave, helping you know exactly what you’ll be spending on the road. It’s good for cash withdrawals from ATMs, there are no monthly fees, it’s accepted wherever Mastercard is, and you’ll earn Qantas Points on all eligible purchases meaning you can start stashing those points to use on your next holiday before you’re even home.
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Early bird gets the flight
Security can be fairly, shall we say, ‘thorough’ at American airports, so get there early to avoid stress. As a general rule, most hubs suggest at least three hours for international flights, and two for domestic. Wear your best socks, as you’ll need to remove your shoes – it’s still a thing there.
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Don’t mess with airport security
There’s little room for dodgy humour at the American security gate. This is not the place for amateur hour: American customs officials are particularly fastidious and sensitive to things said, so leave any travel-related quips and zingers at home.
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Loosen your belt
In the land of turducken, the Luther Burger, the Quadruple Bypass burger, the Fat Darrel, the Redonkadonk, and various other sandwiches that will do their darndest to tickle your tastebuds, it’s likely that your ‘Merican jaunt and ‘no rules’ travel attitude may pop a few extra rings around the ol’ spare tyre. It’s a fact, folks: the corn syrup is ubiquitous, and no one gets out slim. Serving sizes can surprise, so if you’re not super hungry, order an ‘appetizer’; the US version of an entrée is often the size of what we’d consider a main meal. Loosen your belt, burn it if you can, and supersize in moderation for best results.
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Observe the customs
Just sayin’. Americans – like Europeans, like any nationality – have their own etiquette and unwritten rules. The short list: doggie bags are permissible; don’t jaywalk; and make sure to tip.
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The art of tipping
Seriously, don’t forget that last one. The ‘official’ line says tipping is voluntary, but with low minimum and base wages – particularly in the service industry – millions of American workers rely on tips for their livelihood. 15% to 20% in restaurants is the general norm – this goes on top of the check price, where you’ll find the additional sales tax that didn’t appear on the menu. Not good at math? A calculator is a diner’s best friend. And remember: when at the bar, slide an extra buck or two per beverage to your dutiful drink-slinger – they’ll look after you and probably shout a round for the effort. (With that in mind, stock up on a fat wad of one dollar bills).
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Sure you’re insured?
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the US health system isn’t one of the more ‘universal’. If you do yourself damage en route, you could be up for some stiff doctor’s fees. Best sort out your fully comprehensive travel insurance prior to flying.
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It’s election season
In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you’re probably aware that the US is in the thick of American election season at the moment. Fair to say, it’s one of the more politically charged events in recent memory; by all means engage in cordial politico-banter, but be sensitive to controversial topics and the locals’ opinions.
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Blessed with phenomenal landscapes, divergent climates and unique differences at every state border, the US is like 50 countries in one. It’s a big place – 9.8 million square kilometres big – so make sure you’ve packed the right gear for you where you’re headed, and sussed out how you’re planning to get around. From ski fields to tropical beaches, huge cities to empty deserts, the US and its many micro-cultures mean that whatever your preference, your perfect holiday is practically knocking at your door.
Lock in your exchange rate for US dollars with Qantas Cash – a pre-paid travel card that allows you to earn Qantas Points wherever you go, whether it’s at home or out there travelling the world.
(Lead image: Thomas Kelley / Unsplash)