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The USA is a big place with so many things to see and do, it can get a little overwhelming. Guest author and frequent flyer Jenny Latto has made a number of trips there over the last few years and shares her tips here in the hope that what she has learnt will help make your trip a little easier.
6 Tips for a Relaxing USA Holiday
Tip #1: Travel Documents, Insurance & Data
Make sure your passport is up to date (preferably with a minimum of 6 months validity) and that you apply for an ESTA visa.
Travel insurance is an absolute must for the USA – you especially need good cover for medical and personal liability. Read more about travel insurance and get a quote here.
Always inform the bank of your travel arrangements or you may find your credit card is cancelled for suspected fraudulent activity.
Previously when travelling to the USA we have bought a sim card once we landed, however it pays to shop around before you leave. If your mobile company has a good roaming package it will save you having to change your number while you’re away.
Tip #2: Packing for the Flight
There are several things that can make air travel more comfortable – especially on that 12-hour flight from Auckland to LA! This is a list of what goes in my carry-on bag:
- Compression stockings – these help increase circulation and reduce the risk of swelling or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and clotting that can occur from a long flight.
- Neck Pillow – I don’t find the plane seats to be very comfy for sleeping, a great neck pillow can help somewhat
- Eye mask – great for blocking out the light when trying to sleep.
- Headphones – I’m not one of those people who can sleep anywhere and find that having noise cancelling head phones great for helping. Along with some music or rain sounds via an app on my phone.
- Change of clothes – I generally have some tracksuit pants and some thick socks for when heading to sleep. This is also handy in case your main bags are mislaid.
- Sleeping tablets – personal choice but I always use these on the flight to ensure I get some sleep while on the plane.
- Snacks – packaged foods for snacking or for when you get off the plane. Just make sure you dispose of them before you go through customs!
- Reading material – I use the kindle app on my phone and ensure I’ve downloaded a few books before heading away.
- If you travel with your phone and/or laptop don’t forget associated chargers plus an adaptor that can be plugged into USA power sockets. It’s not just about the shape of the plug, make sure you check the voltage as well.
- Drink bottle – you can take an empty bottle through security and fill it up before getting on the plane.
- Medication – pack your medication. Always make sure you keep it in the original packaging so it’s easily identifiable, and if necessary get a letter from the Doctor outlining what medications you are taking. If you’re going to be away for an extended period of time it may pay to get an advance supply. Doctors in the USA are expensive!
Tip #3: Accommodation
We book our accommodation before we leave New Zealand. I find that either Wyndham Group or Choice hotels suit our needs. Both offer a variety of accommodation types and I often seek out ones with breakfast included in the room price, and rooms that have a microwave and fridge.
If you’re shopping around and comparing prices on the likes of Expedia etc, make sure you are aware of extra costs like taxes and resort fees. I read the reviews on the hotel’s website and on Trip Advisor before making my final decision. Keep in mind that some people complain about the smallest thing.
Read more pro-traveller tips on booking accommodation here.
Tip #4: Driving in the USA
If you plan on hiring a car in the USA don’t forget your NZ driver’s license, and remember that they drive on the right side of the road! Roundabouts are becoming more common, but they are called Traffic Circles – and of course you head right instead of left around the circle. Often there are 4 way stops which can be a little confusing. Just remember that who ever got to the stop first, goes first.
A lot of roads in the USA have tolls. We chose to use the device on our rental car where you pay a one-off fee for the duration of the rental, which saves having to worry about carrying cash with you. Ask the attendant about toll options when you pick up your hire car.
When you are filling up your vehicle with petrol be aware that the colours are different to those in New Zealand. Pay at the pump is starting to become more common place but often you need to pay in the store first before filling.
If you look like you are about to step out onto the road as a pedestrian – especially in parking areas – cars will often stop and wait for you to cross. We encountered this a lot in Colorado. If you are driving be mindful of pedestrians too.
Tip #5: Shopping in the USA
My number one tip for shopping in the USA is to remember to add sales tax in to your calculations when buying anything. Don’t get caught short at the counter!
If you want bargains check out the outlet malls. Two brands I know of are Premium and Tanger, which can be found across the USA. A store Ross – Dress for Less often has brand names at reduced prices. Some department stores will give you a foreigner’s discount if you show your boarding pass or passport – just ask the salesperson.
Be aware that store opening hours vary with many opening later than in New Zealand.
Organise your spending money well in advance – the rates are often better when ordered via your bank rather than purchasing at the airport. We take cash and put funds on to a Loaded for Travel card. We haven’t had any issues using the cards in the USA and with pin numbers being more widely accepted it make shopping easier and safer.
If you like to prepare your own food while travelling there are plenty of supermarkets to choose from. We make sure to take advantage of the store cards offered as these give you discounts.
Image credit: Jenny Latto
Visiting Beaches & National Parks in the USA
There are a variety of amazing places to visit in the USA – like the Grand Canyon, The Hoover Dam, Lake Tahoe, Bonneville Salt Flats, and so much more. Be aware that access to these are not always free. On a trip in August 2018 (from Reno to Salt Lake City – read about it here) we found that beach access to Incline Village at Lake Tahoe was restricted to residents only, so we had to drive further south to find a publicly accessible beach. Also, at Mono Lake in California we had to pay a fee to enter.
A pass to most National Parks can be purchased online or at the Park information centre.
Finally, do lots of research before heading to the USA, especially around the places you wish to visit. Check out travelling times – we use google maps a lot! Look for ways to maximise your time and minimise your expenses – one of my favourites is the CityPASS – which bundles up all the main attractions in bigger cities like San Francisco, New York and Denver for a discounted rate. They’re great value, will often include freebies like a sunset cruise, and are especially handy if you’re short on time.
Jenny | Jenny Latto Art & Design
Waiuku-based artist Jenny Latto loves exploring beautiful destinations around New Zealand and the world, seeking out the hidden gems and collecting souvenirs that tell the tale of her travels. You can find a selection of her art work at www.jennylatto.com – and maybe take away a little souvenir of your own.
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