With many different names like The States, America, US, and USA, this North American country is home to a diverse collection of 50 states and one capital. The country is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, Canada, and Mexico.
The climate widely changes based on location, but all four seasons are active throughout the country. What makes the country unique is the fact that tourists have the opportunity to visit 51 different locations that each have their own local traditions, culture, and accent.
The population of over 372 million people is largely diverse, racially and ethnically. Often called the Melting Pot, the United States of America has become home to people from all over the world.
Welcome to the United States of America
Washington D.C. is the capital for the entire country and was once called the District of Columbia. The city is home to the country’s federal government. Most famously, the White House is located in Washington D.C. and is where the country’s president resides.
However, Capitol Hill is where the official Capitol Building sits alongside the National Mall. Washington D.C. is known for having numerous monuments, museums, and historic buildings. You can explore the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
If we’re discussing capitals, it’s important to understand that there is a total of 51 capitals in the United States. Alongside Washington D.C., which is the head of the country, each US state has their own capital.
Some states capitals are popular amongst the tourist crowd and others are visited less frequently. However, the US is a large country and the capital cities are just some of the places you can explore.
- Culture and Language
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
The United States is a relatively young country that became independent from Great Britain on July 4th, 1776. The young age also means that the USA lacks the extensive history of European countries. However, the country’s shorter historical timeline is still filled with important events and figures.
United States History
The country was originally inhabited by Native American tribes who were then colonized by the Europeans. First contact with the Native Americans was peaceful, but as more and more pilgrims came to the “New World”, relationships disintegrated.
The colonies were at war with Native Americans and eventually they won the land and started to settle the United States’ East Coast. There were originally 13 colonies, which became states and the colonial people became those who would declare independence from Great Britain in the later years.
Since colonial times, the US had their next great war from 1861 to 1865, which was the Civil War. Originally, the American Civil War started over the debate of slavery of black people, where it turned into the Northern States against the Southern States.
President Abraham Lincoln became well known for abolishing slavery and for being assassinated at the Ford’s Theater in 1865. However, the Civil War is one just part of American history and the US has been involved in World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Iraq War, among countless other squabbles and interjections into world conflict.
Each of these key historical events has helped shape the country into the world leader it is today. Americans are proud of their country and are resilient people. They are eager to celebrate holidays and have been known to be friendly and welcoming to visitors. Often thought of as loud, Americans are energetic and lively, which is central to American culture.
The diversity of its people has also made the country a blend of cultures. There are plenty of mixes between American and foreign cultures, which only make American more unique in their character. This also means that multiple languages are spoken throughout the country.
Except, American English dominates as it is the most widely spoken and is the official language in 31 of the 50 states. Federally, there is not a single language declared to be the official language, but the government in both individual states and Washington D.C. speaks English.
Nearly everyone living longterm in the United States speaks English. Spanish is the second most popular language, thanks to the influx of immigrants from Latin American countries, including Mexico and further south.
For tourists who are interested in visiting the United States, they will need to be given a B-1 or B-2 tourist visa to be allowed entry into the country. US visas can be notoriously difficult to get and will require that you have a valid passport from your home country, apply online using the application, pay the fee, and complete an interview at a US Embassy or Consulate.
Due to the process, obtaining a US visitor visa is not done quickly and can take up to a year or longer to be approved. So it’s important that before you plan any other parts of your trip like flight or accommodation, you’ve already been issued a visitor visa.
The US does have a Visa Waiver Program that allows specific people to enter and visit the US for less than 90 days without having to apply for a visitor visa. This is done before they arrive at a port of entry. The program does have an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) that needs to be completed before your arrival to the United States.
People who have a valid e-passport (the document is machine readable) from countries like Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.
However, the United States is notoriously strict with allowing entry to foreign persons and it’s best that you do not ever try to enter without the proper documents. Canadian citizens are also usually exempt from needing a visitor visa beforehand and can visit the US with a valid passport for less than 90 days.
Now that you understand the visa requirements, it’s important to consider your spending budget as you plan your trip. The US is an expensive country to visit and those who are looking to travel will find that the massive land size can also make it difficult. The most important parts of your budget will be the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
It’s also important to understand that due to the variety of US states and cities, some locations are more expensive to visit than others.
New York City is notoriously expensive to visit and a hotel for a single night costs about $260 US dollars. Maui is an island in Hawaii, which is the second most expensive place to visit in the country. Other expensive cities include Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu.
Flights are also expensive to the US, depending on where you are traveling from. Any flights from Australia, Asia or Europe will cost upwards of $1,000 US dollars. Even if you are flying from Canada or Mexico, expect to pay about $500 US dollars for a plane ticket.
Some airlines may have deals that will lower the price of the ticket, but due to the popularity of many cities in the US, there isn’t a specific tourist season. You’ll find that tourists will visit around the holidays like Christmas and in the summer.
The busiest cities, like New York City, tend to have a steady stream of tourism throughout the year, though it does decline after the New Year before revving back up come Memorial Day weekend at the end of May. Booking your flight early can help you save money, or you may be able to find better deals.
Accommodation is also necessary and can be expensive when you’re staying for multiple days. Budget accommodation will cost anywhere from $40-$80 US dollars per night in smaller hotels or motels, but these tend to be in out of the way spots that aren’t a big hit with tourists.
A hotel in a more touristy area will cost anywhere from $100-$200 US dollars per night and will be a nicer quality. If you’re looking for higher end or planning a luxury vacation, be ready to spend more than $350 US dollars per night.
Americans are also known for their food and have an international reputation for being fat and eating unhealthy, yay. Whether you’re dining on true American cuisine or tasting America’s take on another culture’s dish, people are eager to eat and taste the local grub.
Cheeseburgers are one of the most American foods you can try, and they are often completed with a side of fries and a cold soda or milkshake. American cheese is melted on the beef patty and they are a staple at barbecues, diners, and even fancy restaurants.
Hot dogs are another American staple that reminds people of outdoor celebrations or sports events. The most famous hot dogs are made in Chicago, called Chicago Dogs. Buffalo wings, barbeque ribs, New England clam chowder, macaroni and cheese, and meatloaf are other traditional meal items that different states have perfected.
For dessert, apple pie and chocolate chip cookies are tasty treats, which are even better when homemade. Or rather, any type of pie makes for a good American dish. Cheesecake is famous and the best is in New York City. Doughnuts are also very American and have moved beyond traditional into gourmet cuisine.
While American food is everywhere, it does come at a price. Most travelers will spend about $50 US dollars per day to eat at inexpensive restaurants or fast food locations. A nice restaurant can easily cost $25 US dollars per plate and the best restaurants with Michelin starts will cost $200-$400 US dollars for a plate. Other restaurants in New York City or Los Angeles can cost even more.
And although the food is already expensive, you need to be prepared to pay extra because tipping your waiter is custom throughout the country. Most tips are 20% of the total purchase and are expected at the end of the meal.
While food is pricey, food and drinks can also be very pricey in bars out on the town. A drink in Los Angeles or New York can easily cost $10 US dollars or more, depending on your choice of alcohol.
Beer can be found rather inexpensively with Coors and Budweiser amongst the affordable domestic brands. There are endless bars throughout all the cities and towns, many with happy hour each afternoon/evening, so your cup should never run dry.
When you put all the parts of your budget together, including transportation (which we will cover in the next section), you should expect to spend a minimum of $250 US dollars per day. Budget travelers may be able to lower the cost by eating out less, finding alternative accommodation, and traveling on buses.
Most people who visit will have a moderate budget. As with any trip, you could easily spend thousands of dollars per day if you wanted.
United States Trip Planning Tools
National Parks Pass – This $80 annual pass is good 12 months from the month of purchase at over 2,000 federal sites. It’s called the “America the Beautiful” pass because it grants access to all the national parks, monuments and recreation areas that charge a day use fee. They are some of America’s most sought after gems. It’s a necessary pass to have if you’re exploring the U.S.A. by road trip.
Ridesharing – Many countries around the world utilize Uber and Lyft driver services. Both usually offer better rates than taxi cabs, plus you know how much in advance. America uses Uber and Lyft heavily, as it’s generally always cheaper than a cab. In a new country it’s often smart to check the local ride sharing service for pricing, so you can compare to taxi rates.
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How to Get Around
The United States is big. Really big and getting around can be difficult. Most people don’t dare dream of visiting all 50 states in one trip because it would take you a long time, be expensive, and is quite the epic adventure. Most American haven’t visited all 50 states, let alone road trip through them all.
That doesn’t mean that people aren’t curious to travel in specific regions and see a few different states on one trip. One of the most popular ways to travel if you want to go the distance is to rent a car.
In certain cities, it can be a nightmare to drive, but in other areas it can be a great way to see more of the landscape. A car will cost about $50 US dollars per day and the gas price will depend on what state you are driving through.
If cars aren’t the best for your location, maybe try taking a train. Along the East Coast of the United States, Amtrak is the top way to travel. Since the states are closer together on the east, it can take you less time to take the train than to drive a car.
Most train tickets will cost about $100 US dollars between cities on the East Coast, but you can spend up to $400 US dollars if you go further. Short train rides can be really affordable with tickets costing about $20 US dollars.
You can also take the Amtrak across the country. Amtrak’s California Zephyr leads you 2,438 miles between Chicago, Illinois and Emeryville, California. There 35 stops along the way, showcasing so much of the country’s great landscapes, including the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
If you want to travel from one state to the other and the distance is quite large, flying would be the best way to go. Flights are expensive and a ticket for a domestic flight costs about $400 US dollars, although there are a lot of deals through the major airlines that can lower the price.
For local travel, some cities have excellent public transportation like a subway, bus, or light rail system that can be the most affordable way to explore a specific city. New York City is known for their subway and it is the best way to travel that won’t break the bank or force you to deal with chaotic traffic.
Taxis and Ride Sharing
If you need to get from the hotel to the airport, many hotels have a shuttle that you can book, or you could take a taxi. Taxis can be expensive, but for short rides they are affordable. Uber and Lyft are also widely available with prices that are lower than a taxi.
Walking is another great way to explore a city. In places like San Francisco, walking will be great exercise because of the hills, while other cities may be relatively flat. Many cities have concentrated tourist areas so you can easily walk and explore the streets.
Top Cities to Visit
With 50 states, there are thousands of cities that you can visit in the United States. Here, we will give a brief overview of the most popular tourist cities to explore.
As the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. is known for having tourist attractions like the Lincoln Memorial, Reflection Pool, Washington Monument, Smithsonian Institution, and the White House. Travelers who visit the city are eager to learn more about the country’s past and see its achievements. The National Mall is where most of the attractions are located.
Another popular place in Washington D.C., which picks up a lot of tourism is Georgetown. The historical town is filled with cobblestone streets and has a beautiful waterfront that offers fine dining and shopping.
New York City, New York
New York City is one of the United States’ most famous cities. It’s where tourists flock to visit the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Time Square, Broadway, the Rockefeller Center, Empire State Building, and One World Trade Center.
The city has become a mega hub for the arts, culture, food, dining, and shopping. The impressive skyline boasts a broad history and has plenty to offer for entertainment with endless museums, parks, and neighborhoods awaiting urban explorers.
Los Angeles, California
Home to Hollywood, Los Angeles has cemented its reputation in the United States as being the nation’s film and television star. Many world-famous studios call the city home and they offer behind-the-scenes tours.
The Chinese Theatre displays celebrity handprints, or you may catch a glimpse of an A-lister on Rodeo Drive. Plus, the location between pristine beaches and towering mountains means that you can get active and surf or ski in the same day.
Often called the Windy City, Chicago rests on the banks of Lake Michigan where it is home to the iconic Sears Tower. The city is well-known for their museums, sports, and food. The Navy Pier is a popular location, which has family fun entertainment.
The Art Institute of Chicago holds world-renowned pieces of art and is one of the oldest museums in the US. But after you’re done exploring and are ready for a bite to eat, you’ll have to try the city’s famous deep dish pizza.
For families, Orlando is the ultimate destination because it’s home to Disney World, Universal Orlando, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Located in the tropical state of Florida, high summer temperatures don’t stop families from flocking to the world-famous theme parks to catch a glimpse of their favorite characters and go for a spin on a thrilling ride.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Often called Sin City, Las Vegas is home to the famous Las Vegas Strip with endless casinos, entertainment shows, and family friendly activities. While gambling is the major draw, numerous resorts have now made the city a fun place for the entire family. Go see a show, float on a lazy river and maybe even get out into the desert to explore the surroundings.
For the outdoor enthusiasts, Denver gives them a taste of the city while being a short distance from the best hikes, ski slopes, and mountain adventures. The bold downtown skyline is backdropped by the Rocky Mountains and gives visitors a glimpse of some of the best sunsets. Shopping, dining, museums, and the zoo are major attractions in the city, which provide fun for the whole family.
Points of Interest
Sometimes there may be a point of interest that draws your attention instead. The US has plenty of points of interest, both natural and man-made.
The US is well-known for having a National Park System which devotes large pieces of land to nature preservation. The Grand Canyon in Arizona, which is a tourist attraction in itself was made into a national park and others are located throughout the various states. The national parks are the best way to view the changing natural landscape in the US and have plenty of outdoor activities and tours that you can experience.
Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountain, Zion, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Arches are some of the National Parks which are all unique in their beauty.
French Quarter in New Orleans
New Orleans has a unique culture and many tourists flock to the French Quarter to experience the nightlife, architecture, and street performers. Mardi Gras is a big celebration that happens annually in February and is a major event for the French Quarter. When it’s not Mardi Gras, tourists are still eager to taste the Cajun food and experience Creole culture. And maybe imbibe in a few hurricanes.
Shared with Canada, Niagara Falls are large waterfalls that cascade in the state of New York. The falls are commonly listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World and tourists can get up close and personal with boat tours. The Canadian side tends to be the more popular side, so make sure you bring your passport to get into Canada.
Located in O’ahu, Hawaii, Waikiki is one of the United States’ most famous beaches. The beach is popular with tourists and is lined with exquisite resorts and pristine waves for surfing. The mix of high energy and tropical bliss make Waikiki one of the top tourist locations for the United States.
Get Out and Go
With so much variety and diversity, the United States has plenty to offer tourists. Each state is individually unique and with iconic attractions, many tourists are excited to see American culture with their own eyes.
The only bummer is having to choose where to go. Nearly impossible to complete in one trip, you’ll surely be booking a return flight to explore the US even more.
Visit the United States’ official tourism website.