If you’ve been reading for a while, you may know that I come from Sonora, Mexico, a state that borders Arizona in the USA. So I’ve been lucky enough to travel to the USA since I was really young. We would mostly go shopping to Arizona (I love love love a good sale!) but I’ve also been to California (to Anaheim and San Diego), Las Vegas (once by plane and twice by car, amazing roadtrips!), Chicago, Michigan (Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor) and New York and I mostly like book my flights through the USA. So I thought it was about time I share my top 5 travel tips for an easy-breezy vacation in the USA.
Traveling to the USA is like nothing else. Although I do need a visa as a Mexican, the process is pretty straight-forward and fast, and we get a visa for 10 years. Once you are “in the other side” like we say back home, the fun is endless. I know that for some Europeans traveling to the USA is a HUGE cultural shock though. People are super friendly (and no, it’s not fake people generally like to be helpful and provide you with great service), distances are huuuuuge, the roads and cars are BIG, as well as the food, and the weather varies a LOT from state to state and even city to city. But I can assure you, once you’ve past that, I guarantee you’ll love it and have a great time.
1| Book your hotel and other attractions/activities ahead
The USA’s online shopping culture is next level. You can plan 80% of your trip online nowadays (and it has been like this for a while), mostly every business has an updated website with a simple booking option. You can even pay with PayPal, Google Wallet or Apple Pay as well. Plus, there are always special rates and discounts if you book or buy ahead. If you are planning a vacation soon, finding a hotel in the USA is super simple. You can book now via viajemos.com, a bilingual online service with incredible hotel deals in cities like New York, Miami and Las Vegas. You can choose your language setting as well as your currency rate. Through viajemos.com you can also rent a car for your travels. And trust me, if you are not traveling to Vegas or NY, you need a car as a mode of transportation. But renting a car in the USA is much cheaper than in Europe and lots of agencies in border states have partners in Mexico, which allows you to leave the car across the border if you need to. Super handy!
2| Check which visa requirements you need before hand
Your visa requirements depend on your nationality. As a Mexican, I need a visa to enter the USA by land as well as a special permit to travel to cities further from the border. For example, I could visit Tucson with just my visa but I would need a special permit to travel all the way to Phoenix or beyond, like Vegas. It usually costs an extra $6USD. But if you are traveling by plane, you will fill that permit beforehand with the cost being included in the price of your ticket. If you are just traveling to the USA as a connection to another flight, you don’t need that permit but always fill it up when they give you the paper just in case someone asks for it. If you are European, you can enter the USA by air with your passport and ESTA (an online questionnaire that works like a visa and lasts for two years). But if you arrive to the USA by land, you also need to pay for the special permit as well on top of your ESTA. I know it sounds a bit complicated, but I just thought I would share this piece of knowledge we’ve learned the hard way during our travels (hehe).
3| Book a hotel with breakfast and/or shuttle services included
Eating out is generally expensive. I know you might be really excited to try a Starbucks for breakfast but if you are on a budget, it might be something that you won’t be able to do every day there. Booking a hotel breakfast in the USA is a must, breakfasts in the USA are not like European hotel breakfasts. You usually get unlimited amounts of coffee, waffles, hot cakes (fluffier version of pancakes), scrambled eggs, sausages, and my favorite.. hash browns! If you are staying in a hotel close to the airport, most hotels have a free shuttle service you can book before hand as well. Always ask your concierge about picking up location and times, it is a life-saver!
4| Get insurance
I know I also mention to buy insurance for your travels, but… always get insurance when you travel. You never know what might happen. We’ve always been lucky with our traveling experiences but then you hear about these stories where a kid broke his arm in Disneyland or someone dengue while on vacation and well, not having insurance increased the vacations expenditures. Viajemos.com makes it super easy for you with their aseguratravel.com partners. They let you choose among different packages, whether you are a student, traveling to several places or if you are headed to Europe as well.
5| Buy dollars closer to the border or at the bank
If you are traveling by land, always by dollars closer to the border. They are cents cheaper, but they do save you some pretty pennies in bulk. If you don’t have that option, buy some at the bank before heading to the USA. Although it is a very credit card friendly country, it is always best to carry some local currency with you. If you are using your credit card in the USA, always notify your bank because you run the chance of the bank blocking your card (hence why you sometimes need cash with you). And remember, prices usually never have taxes added on them, that is why prices will increase once at checkout. The tax rate varies from state to state and some airports will have a tax-back desk where you can prove your purchases and get the taxes back to your bank account.