This is very important: you need to know how to tip properly in the USA. You need to add 15 to 20 per cent onto your restaurant bill, depending on the style of place you’re eating. You have to tip cab drivers, and bar staff, and even your masseuse. You have to tip the bellboy. You do not have to tip the barista at a café. Tipping in the US is a minefield, and you’ll be extremely unpopular if you don’t know how to handle it.
Just… Don’t. You’ve probably got some strong opinions. You probably think you could talk sense into most Americans about their crazy fascination with these things. But you can’t. Americans feel pretty passionately about their firearms, and you’re fighting a losing battle trying to change their minds. This one is best left alone.
There’s a funny thing about American cities. You can be walking through a perfectly safe neighbourhood, having a lovely old time, and then cross a street and suddenly find yourself in dodgyville. But it can’t be, surely? It was so nice just a few metres away. But this happens in the US, and the trick is to follow your instincts. If an area of town feels a little sketchy, then there’s every chance that it is. Get yourself out of there.
Most US states tend to be surprisingly autonomous in their law-making, which can make keeping track of what’s allowed and what’s not a little difficult when you’re travelling. Recreational marijuana use, for example, is legal in some states, decriminalised in other states, and completely illegal in others. It pays to do a little research before you go to find out what’s allowed in the states you’ll be visiting.
Want to get around a city on the local buses? That’s fine, and cheap as well. But it’s when you get to the long-distance stuff that bus travel in the US gets a bit sketchy. Particularly for those travelling alone, it can be a lot safer to do your long journeys either by rail or by air. Buses in the States are used by some pretty, shall we say, “interesting” characters, many of whom you may prefer not to be spending a long night with.
Here’s a great way to save money and keep some sort of control over your waistline: share meals. Portion sizes in the USA are almost laughably big. Seriously, they could feed a small army with a single bowl of spaghetti Bolognese. If you’re travelling with a partner and you want to save cash, just order one starter and one main meal when you dine out. It will be plenty for both of you.
Internal flights in the USA can be expensive, but there are a few ways of keeping the costs as low as possible. First, try to book as far in advance as you can. The longer you leave it, the more expensive it’s going to become. Secondly, rather than book direct through the airlines, try searching for fares with some of the aggregator websites like SkyScanner or Priceline. That’s the way to find the cheapest tickets.
This is always important, but even more so in the USA. Accidents happen, and you do not want to end up having to pay your own medical bill in the States. We’re talking tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, for the most basic care. If you buy insurance for no other reason, make it this.
While travellers often think about having their pockets picked, or being mugged, the crime they’re far more likely to become the victims of is credit card fraud. It happens quickly, and it happens frequently. To stay safe, make sure you always keep your card in sight – don’t let a shop attendant take it away into another room – watch out for ATMs that look like they might have been tampered with, and don’t enter credit card details or do any online banking while using an unsecured wifi signal.
You probably already have a lot of opinions about America, and Americans. You might think they’re loud and brash. You might love or hate their politicians. You might have ideas about their culture, their food, their sports, their music. But when you go to visit the USA, you need to forget all of those preconceived notions. America will surprise you again and again, and usually in a good way.
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