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United States of America

USA Etymology
Geography & Environment

Getting There & Getting Around
USA Attractions
Money & Costs
Facts for the Traveler

History of USA
Native Americans & European Settlers
Independence & Expansion
Civil War & Industrialization
World War I, Great Depression, & World War II
Cold War and Protest Politics
Contemporary Era

Government & Elections
Parties, Ideology, & Politics
Political Divisions of USA
Foreign Relations & Military

Economy of the United States
Income & Human Development
Science & Technology of USA
Transportation in the United States
Energy in the United States
Demographics of the United States
Language of the United States
Religion in the United States
Education in the United States
Health in the United States

Culture of the United States
Literature, Philosophy, & The Arts
Food in the United States
Sports in the United States




USA Hotels and Beach Resorts
America Travel Destinations

United States Hotels Travel and Beach Resorts

Introduction

The US claims to be the greatest success story of the modern world - a nation fashioned from an incredibly disparate population who, with little in common apart from a desire to choose their own paths to wealth or heaven, rallied around the ennobling ideals of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to forge the richest, most inventive and most powerful country on earth.

Despite polemicists who justly cite the destruction of Native American cultures, racism and imperialism at the top of a long list of wrongdoings, half the world remains in love with the idea of America. This is, after all, the country that introduced the world to the right to the pursuit of happiness, free speech, electric light, airplanes, assembly-line automobiles, the space shuttle, computers, blues, jazz, rock & roll and movies that climax at the high-school prom.

On a short trip, it can be hard work dismantling your preconceptions. So much of the country has been filmed, photographed, painted and written about that you need to peel back layers of representation to stop it from looking like a stage setting. This worldwide representation can make the country seem strangely familiar when you first encounter novelties like 24-hour shopping, bottomless cups of coffee, 'Have a nice day,' drive-thru banks, TV evangelists, cheap gasoline and newspapers tossed onto lawns. But you'd be foolish to read too much into this surface familiarity, since you only have to watch Oprah for half an hour to realize that the rituals and currents of American life are as complex, seductive and bewildering as the most alien of cultures.

Come prepared to explore the USA's unique brand of 'foreignness' rather than stay in the comfort zone of the familiar. You'll discover several of the world's most exciting cities, some truly mind-blowing landscapes, a strong sense of regionalism, a trenchant mythology, more history than the country gives itself credit for and, arguably, some of the most approachable natives in the world.

Full country name: The United States of America (USA)
Population: 285,000,000
Area: 3,618,000 sq miles (9,370,000 sq km)
Capital city: Washington, DC (pop: 570,000)
People: Caucasian (71%), African American (12%), Latino (12%), Asian (4%), Native American (0.9%)
Languages: English, plus many secondary languages, chiefly Spanish
Religion: Protestant (56%), Roman Catholic (28%), Jewish (2%), Muslim (1%)
Government: Federal republic of 50 states
President: George W Bush

GDP: US$9.3 trillion
GDP per head: US$33,900
Annual growth: 4.1%
Inflation: 2.2%
Major industries: Oil, electronics, computers, automobile manufacturing, aerospace industries, agriculture, telecommunications, chemicals, mining, processing and packaging.
Major trading partners: Canada, Japan, Mexico, the EU

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History

The continent's first inhabitants walked into North America across what is now the Bering Strait from Asia. For the next 20,000 years these pioneering settlers were essentially left alone to develop distinct and dynamic cultures. In the modern US, their descendants include the Pueblo people in what is now New Mexico; Apache in Texas; Navajo in Arizona, Colorado and Utah; Hopi in Arizona; Crow in Montana; Cherokee in North Carolina; and Mohawk and Iroquois in New York State.

The Norwegian explorer Leif Eriksson was the first USDopean to reach North America, some 500 years before a disoriented Columbus accidentally discovered 'Indians' in Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti) in 1492. By the mid-1550s, much of the Americas had been poked and prodded by a parade of explorers from Spain, Portugal, England and France. The first colonies attracted immigrants looking to get rich quickly and return home, but they were soon followed by migrants whose primary goal was to colonize.

The Spanish founded the first permanent USDopean settlement in St Augustine, Florida, in 1565; the French moved in on Maine in 1602, and Jamestown, Virginia, became the first British settlement in 1607. The first Africans arrived as 'indentured laborers' with the Brits a year prior to English Puritan pilgrims' escape of religious persecution. The pilgrims founded a colony at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, in 1620 and signed the famous Mayflower Compact - a declaration of self-government that would later be echoed in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

British attempts to assert authority in its 13 North American colonies led to the French and Indian War (1757-63). The British were victorious but were left with a nasty war debt, which they tried to recoup by imposing new taxes. The rallying cry 'no taxation without representation' united the colonies, who ceremoniously dumped caffeinated cargo overboard during the Boston Tea Party. Besieged British general Cornwallis surrendered to American commander George Washington five years later at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.

In the 19th century, America's mantra was 'Manifest Destiny.' A combination of land purchases, diplomacy and outright wars of conquest had by 1850 given the US roughly its present shape. In 1803, Napoleon dumped the entire Great Plains for a pittance, and Spain chipped in with Florida in 1819. The Battle of the Alamo during the 1835 Texan Revolution paved the way for Texan independence from Mexico, and the war with Mexico (1846-48) secured most of the southwest, including California. The systematic annihilation of the buffalo hunted by the Plains Indians, encroachment on their lands, and treaties not worth the paper they were written on led to Native Americans being herded into reservations, deprived of both their livelihoods and their spiritual connection to their land.

Nineteenth-century immigration drastically altered the cultural landscape as settlers of predominantly British stock were joined by Central USDopeans and Chinese, many attracted by the 1849 gold rush in California. The South remained firmly committed to an agrarian life heavily reliant on African American slave labor. Tensions were on the rise when abolitionist Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860. The South seceded from the Union, and the Civil War, by far the bloodiest war in America's history, began the following year. The North prevailed in 1865, freed the slaves and introduced universal adult male suffrage. Lincoln's vision for reconstruction, however, died with his assassination.

America's trouncing of the Spaniards in 1898 marked the USA's ascendancy as a superpower and woke the country out of its isolationist slumber. The US still did its best not to get its feet dirty in WWI's trenches, but finally capitulated in 1917, sending over a million troops to help sort out the pesky Germans. Postwar celebrations were cut short by Prohibition in 1920, which banned alcohol in the country. The 1929 stock-market crash signaled the start of the Great Depression and eventually brought about Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which sought to lift the country back to prosperity.

After the Japanese dropped in uninvited on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US played a major role in defeating the Axis powers. Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 not only ended the war with Japan, but ushered in the nuclear age. The end of WWII segued into the Cold War - a period of great domestic prosperity and a surface uniformity belied by paranoia and betrayal. Politicians like Senator Joe McCarthy took advantage of the climate to fan anticommunist flames, while the USSR and USA stockpiled nuclear weapons and fought wars by proxy in Korea, Africa and Southeast Asia. Tensions between the two countries reached their peak in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The 1960s was a decade of profound social change, thanks largely to the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam War protests and the discovery of sex, drugs and rock & roll. The Civil Rights movement gained momentum in 1955 with a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. As a nonviolent mass protest movement, it aimed at breaking down segregation and regaining the vote for disfranchised Southern blacks. The movement peaked in 1963 with Martin Luther King Jr's 'I have a dream speech' in Washington, DC, and the passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Meanwhile, America's youth were rejecting the conformity of the previous decade, growing their hair long and smoking lots of dope. 'Tune in, turn on, drop out' was the mantra of a generation who protested heavily (and not disinterestedly) against the war in Vietnam. Assassinations of prominent political leaders - John and Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr - took a little gloss off the party, and the American troops mired in Vietnam took off the rest. NASA's moon landing in 1969 did little to restore national pride.

In 1974 Richard Nixon became the first US president to resign from office, due to his involvement in the cover-up of the Watergate burglaries, bringing American patriotism to a new low. The 1970s and '80s were a period of technological advancement and declining industrialism. Self image took a battering at the hands of Iranian Ayatollah Khomeni.

A conservative backlash, symbolized by the election and popular two-term presidency of actor Ronald Reagan, sought to put some backbone in the country. The US then concentrated on bullying its poor neighbors in Central America and the Caribbean, meddling in the affairs of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Grenada. The collapse of the Soviet Bloc's 'Evil Empire' in 1991 left the US as the world's sole superpower, and the Gulf War in 1992 gave George Bush the opportunity to lead a coalition supposedly representing a 'new world order' into battle against Iraq.

Domestic matters, such as health reform, gun ownership, drugs, racial tension, gay rights, balancing the budget, the tenacious Whitewater scandal and the Monica Lewinsky 'Fornigate' affair tended to overshadow international concerns during the Clinton administration. In a bid to kickstart its then-ailing economy, the USA signed NAFTA, a free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1993, invaded Haiti in its role as upholder of democracy in 1994, committed thousands of troops to peacekeeping operations in Bosnia in 1995, hosted the Olympics in 1996 and enjoyed, over the next few years, the fruits of a bull market on Wall St.

The 2000 presidential election made history by being the most tightly contested race in the nation's history. The Democratic candidate, Al Gore, secured the majority of the popular vote but lost the election when all of Florida's electoral college votes went to George W Bush, who was ahead of Gore in that state by only 500 votes. Demands for recounts, a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in favor of partial recounts, and a handful of lawsuits generated by both parties were brought to a halt when the US Supreme Court split along party lines and ruled that all recounts should cease. After five tumultuous weeks, Bush was declared the winner.

The early part of Bush's presidency saw the US face international tension, with renewed violence in the Middle East, a spy-plane standoff with China and widespread global disapproval of US foreign policy with regard to the environment. On the domestic front, a considerably weakened economy provided challenges for national policymakers. Whether the US can continue to hold onto its dominant position on the world stage and rejuvenate its economy remains to be seen.

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Culture

'Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,' reads the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. And the world did, fueling the dynamism of America with waves of ambitious immigrants from every downtrodden corner of the globe. Immigration is one of the defining characteristics of America's national identity, though calling the US a 'nation of immigrants' neatly sidesteps Native Americans (already here) and African American slaves (brought against their will).

In the past 30 years, the old notion of America as a melting pot - a stew in which immigrants' individual differences are lost in uniformity - has given way to the salad-bowl model, in which the individual pieces still retain their flavor while contributing to the whole.

Americans are constitutionally guaranteed freedom of worship; dominant faiths include Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism, among others.There are plenty of indigenous faiths as well, such as Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons.

American English encompasses a multitude of regional accents of differing degrees of intelligibility. Spanish has effective dual-language status in parts of southern California, New Mexico, Texas and Miami. There are 400,000 speakers of Native American dialects.

Modern American culture is a juicy burger of mass culture garnished with 15 minutes of fame. It owes as much to marketing savvy, communications technology and mass-production techniques as it does to artists and entertainers. If you can name it, American companies have invented, packaged and disseminated it to as many consumers as cheaply and conveniently as possible.

The elusive concept of 'American-ness' is often defined by cinema and television. The advent of TV in the 1950s shook Hollywood's hegemony to its core, but both forms of media have managed to coexist, even operating synergistically. The global distribution of American movies and TV shows has shaped the world's perception of the country to a high, if not completely accurate, degree.

The American music industry is the world's most powerful and pervasive, though groundswell movements remain the driving force of American pop. African Americans' influence, including blues, jazz and hip-hop, can hardly be exaggerated.

Rap, America's inner-city sound, places an equal emphasis on an ultraheavy beat, sound montage, street cred and macho posturing. Its appeal to middle-class white America will no doubt bemuse sociologists for decades.

The US has churned out a veritable forest of literature. The illustrious lineup begins with Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, Henry James and Edith Wharton, and moves into the modern era with William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Jack 'Backpack' Kerouac, Arthur Miller, both the Williamses, Saul Bellow, John Updike and Toni Morisson.

After WWII, the focus of the international art world shifted from Paris to New York. Artists leaving war-torn USDope brought the remnants of surrealism to the Big Apple, inspiring a group of young American painters to create the first distinct American painting style, abstract expressionism.

The relentless ascendancy of mass media gave birth to pop art. Slick, surface-oriented and purposely banal paintings like Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans are now American icons.

When we think of US cities, we think of skyscrapers, those architectural testaments to market forces and American optimism. Chicago is a living museum of high-rise development. New York boasts its fair share of stunners too. Despite increasing homogenization, rural America retains its idiosyncrasies, and distinctive vernacular architectural styles persist in New England (clapboard), California (Spanish Mission) and New Mexico (adobe).

American sports developed separately from the rest of the world and, consequently, homegrown games such as baseball, football and basketball dominate the sports scene. Soccer and ice hockey are runners-up to the Big Three. Urban America also invented the great indoors: aerobics and the gym, indoor skiing and rock-climbing - examples of what can go wrong when too much disposable income hits up against too little leisure time.

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Getting There & Away

Most visitors arrive by air, and heavy competition on popular routes means that inexpensive flights are often available. The main international airports are in Boston, New York, Washington, Miami, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are connecting flights from these airports to hundreds of other US cities. Myriad departure taxes are included in the price of a ticket, though the local airport departure tax may not have been included if your ticket was purchased outside the US. There are plenty of efficient overland border crossings between the US and Canada and Mexico).

Getting Around

The number of domestic airlines, competition on popular routes and frequent discounting makes flying in the US a relatively inexpensive proposition (though fares can be high on less popular routes). For a country that owes so much to the penetration of railroads and has such a potent railroad mythology, traveling by train in the US can be surprisingly impractical and not always comfortable. Ticket prices vary in value, but the earlier you make a reservation, the cheaper the ticket. Greyhound has an extensive, cheap and efficient bus network, and traveling by bus enables you to meet the 35 other people stuck in America without a car.

America created the ultimate car culture, so don't be surprised by the fact that nearly everyone of legal driving age has a car and uses it at every possible opportunity. Anyone who has seen an American road movie will know that the country's highways are not only nifty ways to cover large distances, they are also rich in mythic resonances. A road trip along Route 66, for example, is no A to B from Chicago to Los Angeles - it's a pilgrimage along America's 'mother road,' closely bound up with the history of America's expansionist West, the Dust Bowl refugees and, of course, the sweet voice of Nat King Cole.

The ubiquity of the automobile often means that local public transportation options are few and far between, but the good news is that Americans tend to be casual with their car keys and far from stingy with their vehicles, so if you're sticking around for a while you may well find wheels easier to borrow than you think. Rental cars are plentiful and relatively cheap, though major agencies require you to be at least 25 years old. Drive-aways are a peculiarly American phenomenon. It's basically a car delivery system that unites cars that need to be delivered over long distances with willing drivers. If a car needs delivering to a place you're prepared to go, you're given insurance, a delivery date and a set of keys, and Bob's yer uncle.

In rural areas, local bus services are often less than adequate. Urban public transportation is generally much better; catching the subway in New York, the El in Chicago and a cable car in San Francisco is as integral a part of the American traveling experience as hopping on a double-decker bus in London. Cycling is an increasingly popular way to travel around small areas, since roads are good, shoulders are wide and cars generally travel at safe speeds. Walking is considered an un-American activity unless it takes place on hiking trails in national parks.

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Attractions

New York (New York Hotels & New York Resort Reservatoin Service)

They don't come any bigger than the Big Apple - king of the hill, top of the heap, New York, New York. No other city is arrogant enough to dub itself Capital of the World and no other city could carry it off. New York is a densely packed mass of humanity - seven million people in 309 sq miles (800 sq km) - and that's just Manhattan, only a part of greater New York City. All this living on top of one another makes the New Yorker a special kind of person. Although it's hard to put a finger on what makes New York buzz, it's the city's hyperactive rush that really draws people here.

In a city that is so much a part of the global subconscious, it's pretty hard to pick a few highlights - wherever you go you'll feel like you've been there before. For iconic value, you can't surpass the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park or Times Square. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's top museums, and the Museum of Modern Art isn't far behind. Bookshops, food, theater, shopping, people: it doesn't really matter what you do or where you go in New York because the city itself is an in-your-face, exhilarating experience.

New York's famous hustle and bustle was abruptly cut short on September 11, 2001, when a terrorist attack in the form of two hijacked passenger aircraft razed the gleaming twin towers of the World Trade Center. Thousands of people were killed in the worst terrorist act ever on US soil. New York is currently in a state of shock. Whether this makes way for anger, disillusionment or optimism is yet to be seen. In the meantime, this spectacular city has a great deal of work ahead of it as it tries to rebuild its business district and its confidence.

San Francisco (San Francisco Hotels & San Francisco Resort Reservatoin Service)

Even people who hate the United States love San Francisco. It has a self-effacing flutter of the eyelids so blatantly missing from brassy New York and plastic LA, an atmosphere of genteel chic mixed with offbeat innovation. This is a place that breeds alternatives: It's the home of the Beat Generation, flower power, student protest and gay pride. One of the country's most attractive cities, San Francisco boasts foggy, hilly streets that provide gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay and its famous bridges. This is a mosaic of a city, a big picture made from the colorful tiles of the Latino Mission, gay Castro, bustling Chinatown, clubby SoMa, hippie Haight-Ashbury and Italian North Beach. Fisherman's Wharf is the epicenter of tourist kitsch and the gateway to Alcatraz, while Union Square is where the classy shoppers congregate.

Los Angeles (Los Angeles Hotels & Los Angeles Resort Reservatoin Service)

It's possible that Los Angeles is a figment of its own imagination. No other city studies itself so intently - on film, television or in glossy magazines. LA is a monster of a city, a tangle of freeways and sprawling suburbs where anyone without a car is considered intellectually impaired. This is where the American Dream is manufactured, and if you're not prepared to embrace the dream you'll doubtless find LA filthy, irritating, frightening or just plain dumb. But if you long to stand in the footsteps of stars and breathe their hallowed air, you've come to the right place. In this town, chefs are household names and nobodies erect billboard shrines to themselves. LA is a feast of fame-associated sights - cruise Sunset Strip, walk Rodeo Drive or Hollywood Boulevard, be seen on Melrose or Venice Beach, gawk at babes in Malibu or poke your nose through the gates of Beverly Hills. No one does a theme park like the Angelenos: Disneyland is the mother of them all, and Universal Studios turned its back lot into a thrill ride years ago. When the glitz starts coming out your ears, head for the almost-reality of Little Tokyo and El Pueblo de Los Angeles or Pasadena's Huntington. Gardens.

Miami (Miami Hotels & Miami Resort Reservatoin Service)

Fat old people in Bermuda shorts, street stabbings, Cuban plots, drug dealers, sneakers without socks and an excess of pink - Miami is none of these things. Desperately redefining itself, Miami (and in particular, South Beach) has declared itself the Most Fabulous Spot in the US. As evidence, it cites the recently restored pastel-riot of the Deco District, a friendly neighborhood feel and a fledgling art and culture scene looking for a sunny alternative to New York. And of course there's Miami Beach itself, a glorious stretch of white sand lapped by clear blue water. The heart of all this newfound fashionableness is Ocean Drive, flanked on the east by the city's hippest beach and the west by a string of sidewalk cafes. This is where the late Gianni Versace lived, and his acolytes still throng here to pose waifishly over rocket salad. Miami also has the world's most beautiful swimming hole, the Venetian Pool, one of the world's best zoos and a bunch of expat Cuban elder statesmen playing dominoes in Máximo Gómez Park. In stark contrast with the hedonistic lightheartedness of the rest of Miami, the Holocaust Memorial is one of the most exquisite and moving monuments you'll ever visit.

New Orleans (New Orleans Hotels & New Orleans Resort Reservatoin Service)

If New York makes you nervous, you'll hate New Orleans. Others will find that the sleazy touch of danger in the air is what makes this Southern city so compelling. A steamy brew of zydeco, voodoo, gumbo and antebellum ambience, New Orleans grows on you like a strangler vine - you might as well lie back and enjoy it. Most people know New Orleans for its parties, particularly the orgiastic indulgence of Mardi Gras or the year-round bacchanal on Bourbon Street. But if crowds and alcohol poisoning aren't your thing, don't despair. Aficionados of historic architecture will exult in the crowded French Quarter and grandiose Garden District, while those with a hankering to take history home will adore the antique shops of Royal Street. New Orleans has a tendency to bring folks out in a rash of Lestatesque gothic brooding - have a wander among the city's ornate aboveground cemeteries or shed a tear for Jeff Buckley on a ferry cruise of the Mississippi River, then forget your troubles with some crawfish, cool jazz and a mint julep.

Washington DC (Washington, DC Hotels & Washington, DC Resort Reservatoin Service)

The City of Washington in the District of Columbia is a far more dynamic, attractive town than most government cities. It has overcome countless challenges, from near-abandonment by Congress after the War of 1812 to the world's highest murder rate in the 1980s, to emerge as one of the USA's top tourist attractions. Monuments to federal puissance, such as the Capitol, Supreme Court, White House and Washington Monument are designed to impress visitors, while such historical structures as the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial and Vietnam Wall are sometimes exultant, sometimes sobering reminders of the past. The nation's capital also boasts one of the world's premiere research organizations, the titanic Smithsonian Institution, all of whose museums are free to the public. And when you're ready for the real Washington, the city behind the federal city, be sure to visit the cultural and culinary attractions of such neighborhoods as Georgetown, Adams-Morgan, Dupont Circle and Shaw & the New U District.

A short drive away from the city are Mount Vernon, George Washington's manor, and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's quirky home. Area day trips include numerous Civil War sites and colonial towns, such as Williamsburg and Jamestown.

Philadelphia (Philadelphia Hotels & Philadelphia Resort Reservation Service)

Independence was declared and the Constitution signed in Philadelphia, one of the USA's most historic towns. The place to start exploring is Independence Hall, where the USA was born amid the debates of the Continental Congresses. On the grounds is the Liberty Bell, an enduring emblem that was coopted by abolitionists as an antislavery symbol. Benjamin Franklin's presence pervades the town, from his home in Old Philadelphia through Benjamin Franklin Parkway, home to several city museums, galleries and gardens, to the University of Pennsylvania, which he founded. When you're tired and hungry from all that walking around, hop a cab to South Philadelphia and grab a splendid specimen of Philadelphia's gift to the culinary world, the cheesesteak.

Boston (Boston Hotels & Boston Resort Reservatoin Service)

Eminently walkable, achingly historic and all in all a splendid town, Boston sizzles with the energy of a huge student population and a thriving local economy. Its cobblestone streets are home to the Freedom Trail, which links dozens of colonial and Revolutionary sites. The heart of the city is the expansive Boston Common, a year-round delight, abutted by the Public Garden. A short walk away are bustling Faneuil Hall and Downtown Crossing - where to get your grub on and where to empty your wallet and fill your shopping bags, respectively. To the west are Landsdowne St, the heart of Boston's nightlife scene, and storied Fenway Park, while across the river in Cambridge lie two of the USA's most famous universities: Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Money & Costs

Currency: US dollar (USD)

Meals

Budget: US$3-10
Mid-range: US$10-20
Top-end: US$20 and upward

Lodging

Budget: US$12-70
Mid-range: US$70-100
Top-end: US$100 and upward

If you camp or stay in hostels, catch buses and self-cater, you could feasibly explore the country on around US$50 a day. Staying in motels and eating at modest cafes will mean you'll hit the US$100 mark, and enjoying the convenience of a rental car will push your daily budget up to US$150. If you want to do the US in style, welcome to the world of credit and consumerism.

You'll save yourself hassle and expense if your traveler's checks are in US dollars. Restaurants, hotels and most stores accept US dollar traveler's checks as if they were cash. Major credit cards are widely accepted; you'll find it hard to perform certain transactions (such as renting a car or reserving tickets over the phone) without one. You may also be able to access your bank account using US ATMs.

Tipping is expected in restaurants and better hotels. The going rate in restaurants is 15% or more of the bill; never tip in a fast-food or self service environment. Taxi drivers, bartenders and hairdressers depend on similar-sized gratuities. Sales taxes vary from state to state but are typically 5-8%, though some states have no sales taxes at all. Top-end accommodation also often attracts a bed tax, which can be as high as 15%. It's worth checking whether quoted prices for lodging include all relevant taxes.

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Facts for the Traveler

Visas: Most visitors to the US require a visa. However, Canadians need only proof of citizenship. A reciprocal visa-waiver program allows citizens of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland to stay up to 90 days without a visa if they have an onward ticket.
Health risks: None, apart from the high cost of medical care
Time: Eastern (GMT/UTC -5), Central (-6), Mountain (-7), and Pacific Standard (-8)
Electricity: 110V, 60Hz
Weights & Measures: Imperial
Tourism: 45 million visitors per year

When to Go

The US is most popular with travelers during the summer, but this is when American families pack everything up and head out to visit Aunt Tilly. To avoid mobs (especially throughout the national-park system), it's better to go during autumn or early spring.

Autumn is an especially good time to visit New England and the upper Great Lakes because fall colors are at their best. Most of the country east of the Rockies is hot and humid during summer, especially the south. The deserts between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada are very hot and dry during the summer, especially in the southwest. California's southern coast is comfortable year-round, but if you want to experience the beach scene, it's best to visit between June and September.

Events

Americans love parades and pageantry, so there's no shortage of events and festivities. Half the country comes to a standstill during the Super Bowl, the roving American-football finale held in late January. New Orleans' Mardi Gras, in February or March, is a rowdy, touristy, bacchanalian knees-up. St Patrick's Day, in mid-March is celebrated with parades and pitchers of green beer; it's especially fervent in New York and Chicago. The Kentucky Derby is raced in Louisville in May.

Independence Day (the Fourth of July) is celebrated with lots of flag-waving patriotism, fireworks and the odd beverage. Inveterate travelers should drop into the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa, in August. Halloween (October 31st) is a big deal for kids, who go trick-or-treating around their neighborhood in even worse clothes than they normally wear; in Greenwich Village, West Hollywood and San Francisco the holiday is subversively celebrated with glam parades. Americans go home to mom and pop for a big feed on Thanksgiving, the last Thursday of November.

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United States Travel Informations and USA Travel Guides
USA Etymology - USA Geography & Environment - Getting There & Getting Around - USA Attractions
Money & Costs - USA Facts for the Traveler
History of USA : Native Americans & European Settlers - Independence & Expansion - Civil War & Industrialization
World War I, Great Depression, & World War II
- Cold War and Protest Politics - Contemporary Era
USA Government & Elections - USA Parties, Ideology, & Politics - Political Divisions of USA
USA Foreign Relations & Military - Economy of the USA - USA Income & Human Development
Science & Technology of USA - USA Transportation - Energy in the United States
Demographics of the United States - USA Language - USA Religion - USA Education - USA Healthcare
Culture of the United States - Literature, Philosophy, & The Arts - USA Cuisines - USA Sports

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