United States Hotels Travel and Beach Resorts
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)
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
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%
Major industries: Oil, electronics, computers, automobile
manufacturing, aerospace industries, agriculture, telecommunications,
chemicals, mining, processing and packaging.
Major trading partners: Canada, Japan, Mexico, the EU
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
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
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.
'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
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
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.
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).
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.
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,
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
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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
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
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.
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.
Currency: US dollar (USD)
Top-end: US$20 and upward
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.
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
Time: Eastern (GMT/UTC -5), Central (-6), Mountain (-7), and Pacific
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
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.
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
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.