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Some advice on travel to America

Some tips and advice on planning your trip to the United States. For our international visitors: all that you need to know to be able to plan your trip to the US to take your Route 66 Road trip.
 

Start to Plan your Trip

US Visa

We will cover the following aspects:

Plan your Trip

Our website offers plenty of information so that you can plan your trip: What to see, When to come, Hotel bookings, Car rentals and more!:

The Check List

vacations Check List

Things to know before you come to the US

There are some things that you must arrange before leaving home which will ensure you a smooth trip:

Passports

Check its expiration date, you must need a valid passport to travel to the U.S., if it will expire less than 6 months after your departure date from the US you will need to renew it. Remember that it may take some time to renew your passport. Give yourself time.

Reservations and Bookings

If you are traveling during peak season, make sure you have your flight booked well in advance, those hotels booked and your Car Rented.

Credit and Debit Cards

Call your credit-card companies and your Bank to let them know that you will be traveling abroad. Get the emergency phone numbers so that you can call them in case of loss or theft or any other problem.

Get the PIN code for your cards, you will need it to draw cash from ATMs overseas.

Mobile Phone

Although the EU has applied caps to roaming charges, those who travel into the US from other countries and also Europeans should check with their mobile phone companies what are the applicable roaming charges for the US.

As a cost saving measure, when travelling abroad, turn off cellular data, 3G and roaming, and even put your cell phone in airplane mode. See which Wi-Fi options are available (in your hotel room, or cafe), and use that.

Travel Insurance
Flight disruptions

Flight disruptions can ruin your vacation: take Insurance. Credits

Check out the available options, compare prices and buy Travel Insurance. Check what coverage your existing insurance offers, and what additional coverage your credit cards may provide. But by all means, do not go overseas without Travel Insurance.

Did you know that...

49% of people don't realize that they are liable to pay their own medical bills abroad.

The average medical claim is $1, 500 and that every day, 10 British travelers are hospitalized abroad.

Documents

Our world is becoming paper free, your boarding pass may be in your smart phone, and your hotel bookings in your e-mail, but a "hard-copy" back-up is advisable: print and carry copies of your important travel documents. If you lose your original papers these will be very useful when you try to get new ones. Pack them separately from the originals.

These are the documents that you will need:

what to pack for your trip
  • Passports wiht the appropriate U.S. Visa
  • If you are one parent travel with children you may need a letter of consent from the other parent.
  • Credit Cards - do you know the numbers of your cards? Photocopy them.
  • International Student Identity Card (ISIC) provides students with discounts in stores and transportation.
  • Car Rental Reservation Contract. Copy of your valid driver's license. (You will not need an International Driving Permit in the US).
  • Travel Insurance
  • Hotel Bookings, they may be handy should a dispute arise over what you actually booked.
To Do List

Write down your itinerary with dates and locations and give a copy to your family or friends, so that they can contact you should any emergency arise.

Prescription Medicine. Visit your doctor and get a checkup. Get a prescription for your regular medicine (cover your entire journey).

Visit your dentist and check your contact lens stock too.

Your home: arrange for the bills to be paid, your mail picked up or placed on hold and your newspaper (cancel it or have somebody pick it up).

Pets: will they remain at home with a sitter or board them somewhere else?

Remember

Take your valuables and medicine with you. Do not pack them in the check-in baggage during your flight.

If you forget something at home, don't worry, you can always buy it in the US.

Check what you can and cannot carry onboard your flight (liquids, sharp instruments, lighters, etc.).

What to Bring

We have detailed a list of What to Bring Items for your trip to the US, covering guidebooks, cameras, toiletries, etc.

Things that you should not bring

Travel always entails the risk of luggage loss. So don't bring irreplaceable items with you, and definitively leave all prohibited or restricted articles at home. Some pointers:

  • Expensive jewelry and irreplaceable family objects
  • Unnecessary cards and papers that usually fill your wallet (travel lean).
  • Credit cards that will not be used during the trip. Why risk losing them?
  • Prohibited or forbidden articles (check the US government website that lists them, Here).

Driving in the U.S.

Each state has its own driving laws. So you will encounter eight different sets of traffic rules and regulations when you drive down Route 66. Fortunately they are mostly the same, but with some variations.

Check the special driving rules of the state where you rent your car. When entering a new state there are usually highway signs giving specifics. Check AAA Driving Laws or drivinglaws.org for a state by state detail.

School Buses

Children who are getting on or off school or church buses have priority over all traffic. Keep your eyes well opened for those yellow "school buses". If their lights flash yellow it means that it is going to stop. When the lights flash red, it has stopped.

All traffic must stop 20 to 25 feet (7 to 8 m) away from the bus behind it if it is in front of you, or ahead of it, if it is on the opposite side of the road. Children may cross the road. Be careful. You must remain stopped until the bus moves on or the driver indicates that you may proceed.

Never ever pass a school bus with flashing red lights, this is a serious offense you may go to jail and be fined up to $1,000.

Some General Driving Rules

Speed Limits

Speeds in general (for highways) range from 55 to 75 mph. See detailed information at this external link: State Speed Limits (Governors Highway Safety Association).

In urban areas speeds are lower than in rural ones, be aware of the speed limits within the towns, especially close to schools. Signs will indicate the maximum (and on some highways, the minimum) speeds. One should always drive at a reasonable and prudent speed based on road and weather conditions.

Route 66, the Road

Driving along Route 66, Public Domain

  • Always give cyclists a wide berth (min. 3 ft. - 1 m). Pedestrians have the right of way once they have stepped onto the crossing without traffic lights. When entering or leaving a car park yield to pedestrians.
  • A solid yellow line on your side of the road means that passing is prohibited. Two solid yellow lines prohibit passing in both directions.
  • In towns and especially near schools pay special attention to the speed limits.
  • Do not drink and drive (read more)
  • If you come to a sign stating:"Right Lane Must Turn Right" or "Exit Only", obey and do as told. Stop and Yield mean that: stop and yield.
  • Flashing traffic lights: red flashing means "Stop", yellow means "Yield".
  • In most states a red traffic (stop) light will allow you to take a right turn.
  • Don't use mobile phone or text while driving. Don't speed. Buckle up and seat children in the back seats. Use your horn sparingly.
  • Change one lane at a time and signal your intention to do so with time.
  • You can turn left by using the specially designated "center Lanes"
  • Four-way stops: Stop. The first to stop is the first to proceed. If you arrive at the same time as another driver, the one on the right has the right of way.
  • At road work zones, follow the speed limits and flagger signals.
  • Yield to emergency vehicles.
  • Remember that school buses and vehicles carrying flammable liquids MUST stop at railroad crossings.
Interstate Highways

Only stop or park on the shoulder of an Interstate Highway in an emergency. When entering, yield to those on the Interstate.

Number system: odd numbers run north to south, with I-5 on the Pacific Coast and I-95 on the Atlantic Coast. The even numbers run east to west (I-94 along the Canadian border and I-8 along the Mexican one). A third digit is added near cities: a "2" passes through a city, a "4" goes around a city, a "6" goes around a Metro Region and an "8" goes through a Metropolitan region. Odd numbered hundreds digit: A "1" and a "5" are spurs into a city and a "3" is a link between two highways.

General Tips for your USA Trip

Exchange Rate

The US currency is the American Dollar, best known as the dollar. You should carry some U.S. currency with you when you enter the United States. Although you can exchange currency at the airport, the exchange rates are usually lower there than those you may find elsewhere.

Where to Exchange Currency

The best and safest places are banks and at airports. Though exchange rates at the latter are not always the best.

Check the current exchange rates online and ask about the commission charges.

ATMs

Your major bank or credit card will allow you to withdraw U.S. dollars at ATMs. You will be charged a fee for ATM usage by the US bank and by your bank. Fees are usually fixed so a larger withdrawal is cheaper than several smaller ones.

VISA, Amex and MasterCard ATMs

You can locate your Visa or MasterCard ATMs with the following links:

Master Card / Cirrus locator

Visa ATM locator

American Express ATM locator

Smoking

Advertisement: Keeps your cash, receipts, and important documents organized and secure. Amazon.com

While in Europe and Asia, smoking is quite common; in the US smoking is not allowed in public buildings, hospitals, trains, aircraft, busses, elevators. Ask before lighting a cigarette.

Drinking

The minimum legal age for drinking alcohol is 21 in almost all states. People under that age will not be allowed into Bars or nightclubs even if they are accompanied by their parents.

Restaurants will allow underage people to enter the premises and eat, but will not serve them any alcoholic beverages.

Some states (Utah for instance) restrict the type and quantity of beverage sold in diners and restaurants.

Think twice before re-corking that bottle for you nightcaps along your journey... You cannot bring in alcoholic beverages into Utah, and that state prohibits having an open container of alcohol in the passenger compartment of a vehicle.

Closer to Route 66, the only state in which a passenger can carry an open container and ⁄ or drink from it is Missouri. In all others it is banned.

Do not Drink and Drive

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Operating Under the Influence (OUI), is a criminal offense.

Do not drink and drive. Alcohol and driving do not mix. Alcohol impairs your physical and mental faculties. So if your blood alcohol content is .08 or greater you will be in problems regardless of whether the alcohol has had any effect on you or not.

Electric Power in the USA

US electric plug

US electric plugs.

The whole country has a standard electric power supply of 110 volts and 60 cycles.

The standard electric plug is shown in the image, it has two flat blades. In some cases it may also have a third round shaped grounding pin. Make sure that you have an adaptor to be able to plug in your appliances.

Notebook, tablet, MP3 players, battery chargers and mobile phone adapters convert power covering a wide voltage range (100 - 240 V) so they should operate perfectly in the US.

Other items like electric clocks, audio equipment, hair driers, may need a power converter to work, to change the voltage from 110 to 220 volts. The US 60 Hz may also affect performance of gear designed for 50 cycles. Check that too.

Taxes

The US does not levy VAT (Value Added Tax) like European countries do. Instead there are "Sales Taxes" collected by some cities and most states with different rates.

State taxes range from 4 to 8% and city taxes are about 2%. Many items are exempt from taxation.

Buying things

Clothes have a different size scale in the US, a conversion to European metric standards can be found at: Size Chart (ebay.com)

Remember that U.S. appliances are designed to be used with a power supply of 110 volts and 60 Hz. The TV and mobile phone standards may differ from those in other countries. Check before buying electronic articles.

Sources

Image by katjung under its CC BY-SA 2.0 License

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Image by Vítězslav Válka adapted under its CC BY-SA 3.0 CZ License.