Our Guide On How To Plan a Trip To The USA

A Trip to the USA Planning Guide

Our Guide on How To Plan a Trip To The USA

Travel planning at the best of times can be daunting, so we have assisted you by compiling our guide on how to plan a trip to the USA.  The United States of America is vast, where do you start, where do you fly into, where to stay, what to do and what to eat. Do you need a US visa? What about the currency, credit cards and ATMs?  These are just some of the queries that our community reaches out to us for assistance on.  Our step to step guide will help you plan your trip effortlessly.  First, you may like to read our article on things you should consider when choosing the right travel destination.

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Your Most Important Two Steps Before You Even Book Your Flights or Accommodation to the USA

A trip to the USA

Valid Passports and ESTA Visas are required

Passports

Before you start planning your trip to the USA you need to make sure that your passport has at least six months validity on it from the date of your departure.

Will I Need A Visa for The USA?

To enter the USA you need to show valid travel documents which include your passport, a visa or an ESTA visa.

An ESTA is a travel authorisation document that allows you to travel to the USA without a visa. Even if you are transitting the USA you are required to apply for an ESTA Visa.

The ESTA Visa is a way for the American Government to check the suitability of the traveller entering the country.

At check-in for travel to the USA, you will be asked to show your ESTA Visa.

When Should You Apply For Your ESTA Visa

We recommend that you should apply for your ESTA Visa as early as possible. The ESTA Visa is valid for 2 years from the date of issue.  Do not leave your application to the last moment. The ESTA Visa gives you a stay of up to 90 consecutive days in any given period.

How Do You Apply For Your ESTA Visa Online

Applying for your ESTA Visa is an easy online process. The form should only take you 5 minutes to complete.  You will need to give details of your hotel accommodation or if you are visiting family or friends their contact details.

You can pay for your ESTA Visa safely online through Visa, Mastercard, American Express and even by Paypal.

As soon as the ESTA Visa has been granted you will receive an email or SMS.  You will need to print a copy of the Visa to take with you on your travels.

Currency, Credit Cards and ATMs

A trip to the USA

A mix of Currency and Credit Cards is recommended

There are ATMs everywhere in the US but you can be charged fees of approximately USD3.00 per transaction. Some banks may charge higher or lower. It is worth checking with your own bank whether they have an agreement overseas with another bank.

Credit cards are accepted everywhere.  We recommend that you take USD cash with you. If you are tipping it will normally be in cash. There will be fees associated with using your credit cards, we recommend that you check with your credit card company what fees are associated with using their cards apart from the currency exchange rate conversion fee. A 4 digit PIN is required for your credit card especially if you are using your card for cash withdrawal.

You may want to consider a Travel Money Card where you load up USD in your home country before you leave at the rate of the day.

We also ensure that we have a mix of cards – a debit card, a credit card and a travel money card as a backup.  It is also recommended to keep your cards split between the two of you if you are travelling as a couple.

Tour America With A Specialist Company

If you prefer travelling on a tour where flights, hotels and tours are included there are many USA tour packages available check with your local travel agency. We have had great feedback from travellers who have used Intrepid Travel.

The advantages of booking a tour are:

  • flights, accommodation and tours are arranged for you
  • most transfers are included
  • meals can be included
  • one point of contact
  • licensed and experienced guides

Independent USA Travel Bookings

You can easily organise your own travel bookings to explore the USA.

Flights to the USA

A trip to the USA

Many international and domestic carriers serve the USA

There are major airport hubs for flights into the USA depending on where you are travelling from:

  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • New York – two airports John F Kennedy Airport (JFK) or Newark (EWR) both handle International Flights and La Guardia (LGA) handles domestic flights.

When comparing the latest airfare deals on travel to the USA we use Skyscanner and CheapoAir.

Pro-Tip

If you are transferring from an international flight to a domestic flight we would recommend that you allow at least 3 hours.  After exiting Immigration you will be asked to collect your luggage and go through security again.

Domestic Flights

There are many airlines to choose from to fly internally in the USA. It depends on your travel destinations.  We have found that domestic flights are more expensive than what we are used to in Australia or Europe.  We recommend researching the destinations that you want to travel to and find out which airlines serve the routes, then sign up for their email alerts on airfare specials. We have had some great specials with Jet Blue and South West Airlines.

Accommodation in the USA

A trip to the USA

Accommodation in hotels, apartments, camping grounds and more

There are so many accommodation options in the USA. Whether you are booking a hotel, an apartment, motel or Airbnb you will be spoilt for choice.

You may even want to consider travelling the USA in an RV. Road trips around the USA are very popular.  One of the top road trips to do is a California road trip with spectacular scenery, wineries, beaches and more.

To compare the latest hotel deals in the USA we use Hotels Combined who access over 100+ hotel accommodation sites to provide the latest deals.

In our travels throughout the USA, we have stayed in some amazing Airbnb properties. If you have not tried Airbnb for your accommodation needs yet we can offer you a $$$ discount off your first booking.

Pro-Tip

Most resort-style properties in the USA  charge resort fees which sometimes can be quite high.  Check with the resort on what these are prior to confirming your booking.

Driving Around The USA – Budget Accommodation Outside Towns

If you have decided to hire a car and drive in the USA there are a range of budget accommodation hotel chains such as Days Inn, Red Roof Inns, Comfort Inn & Suites etc.  Parking is usually available outside your hotel room and they usually offer a basic breakfast of cereal, coffee and toast.

Petrol in the US is much cheaper than it is in Europe or Australia.

Beware of high parking fees if you are staying in hotels in cities.

Pro-Tip

Don’t pay for a GPS in your car rental booking – Google Maps or Maps.Me do the same job as long as you have a SIM card.

Check Travel Reviews on TripAdvisor

A trip to the USA Mickey Mouse

Disneyland Theme Parks in California and Florida

When booking accommodation, eating at restaurants or undertaking a tour we always check what other travellers have written about the experience.

E.g: Best Places to Stay in Los Angeles

Top Restaurants in New York 

Top Theme Parks in Orlando

Top Theme Parks in Orlando

Related Post: 7 Top Things to do in San Francisco

Related Post: How To Spend 48 Hours in Buffalo City New York

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance is highly recommended and the best time to take out travel insurance is when you pay for your flights, tours or accommodation.

If you are from Australia click here for the latest deals and policy guidelines.

If you are from elsewhere click here for the latest deals and policy guidelines.

WiFi Access

We purchased a SIM card for our travels in the USA.  As we were on a road trip from Texas to Florida having access to the internet for Google Maps was invaluable.

Safe Travel USA

One question that we are always asked is how safe is it to travel in the USA. Our answer, as always, is anywhere you travel these days whether you are in Europe, Australia, USA or Asia you have to use your common sense.  As we have been travelling full time since 2013 here are our top tips for keeping safe whilst travelling:

  • Check your country’s state department and sign up for their updates on countries that you are travelling to
  • Take out travel insurance that includes medical and theft
  • Know the top travel scams for the countries that you are visiting
  • Don’t take expensive jewellery with you, keep them at home and travel with costume jewellery
  • Let your bank and credit card company the countries you are travelling to
  • Have some emergency cash hidden – we normally have USD in small notes
  • Take photocopies of your passports, visas, health documents and credit cards and email them to yourself and leave copies with family
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with family members
  • Always withdraw money from an ATM that is inside a bank
  • Carry a First Aid Kit with you
  • Carry a business card of the hotel that you are staying in
  • Avoid non-tourist areas at night
  • Know the local emergency number

How Much Will A Trip To The USA Cost

On our past experiences of how much it costs to travel in the USA we would budget between USD 125 and USD200 per day. If you are on a backpacking budget you would expect to pay from USD 75 to USD 110.  It depends on the type of accommodation that you prefer to stay in and whether you are visiting locations such as:

  • Cities such New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Chicago etc
  • Parks such as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Canyon National Park
  • Beach locations such as Miami or Hawaii

where prices could be higher than say smaller cities.

Pro Tips:

We would highly recommend researching the costs of the major tourist attractions and theme parks in the USA. Booking in advance can save you $$$.

In Orlando, you could book in advance an Orlando Flexi Pass which is great for families. Enhance the magic of your adventure to Orlando with a sightseeing flexi pass! With your pass, enjoy savings of up to 50% on local thrills, experiences, and restaurants, including 7-day access to the hop-on hop-off trolley tour on International Drive.

 

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20 Comments

  • Summer says:

    Even though I live in the USA there is still so much for me to see. It’s a great place to see a huge variety of attractions, from major cities like NYC to beautiful state parks in Utah and wonderful beaches in Hawaii and Florida. I like your tip of renting an RV. There are also a lot of camper van rentals lately. Unfortunately, unlike Europe it’s very expensive to fly even just a few states away, so it’s much better to drive if you want to see a lot of the US!

    • Hi Summer
      Thanks for your comments. We can’t understand why airfares are so expensive with so much competition in the USA. Driving is a way to go at least you can stop wherever and whenever.
      Cheers Jane and Duncan

  • I have travelled to the US five times already and plan to return again next year, thanks to the 10-year tourist visa that I have, which is so much more convenient than the short duration Schengen visa that I get when I have to travel to Europe. What I haven’t done yet but plan to do next year is an RV trip, probably somewhere in Alaska! I do not really like organised tours and travel companies so I prefer booking things on my own, completely agree with reading the reviews on some of the best sites you’ve listed!

    • Hi Medha
      Thanks for your comments. Lucky that you have a 10-year tourist visa for the USA, that certainly saves time. We have to abide my the Schengen Visa 90 days as well, maybe this will change in the near future.
      Cheers Jane and Duncan

  • Lisa says:

    We’re regularly in the US as I’ve plenty of family dotted around the states, and we have an apartment in New York. Getting my ESTA months in advance is a must, I always get nervous it won’t be accepted in time! And I’ve not yet tried a tour company while there, but would consider it.

  • Adele Gee says:

    Its a good hint to check the visa and entry requirements before buying the ticket to USA. I had to apply for a visa which took a few weeks which could have been rejected. Good tips in here about how to get around. USA has so many options and like you said its best to plan beforehand in order to get the best out of the trip.

    • Hi Adele
      Thanks for your comments. We even mistook the expiry date on our ESTA visa once thinking it was our english date format when it was actually the USA’s format which meant we had to quickly get a new one.
      Cheers Jane and Duncan

  • Anda says:

    Very useful information, Jane. It seems a six months valid passport is required for most of the countries around the world these days, not only the USA. I didn’t realize that as an Australian you’ll need to get a visa ahead of time for entering the US.

  • The ESTA is a new thing in the recently years. For Europeans it makes biz trips to USA more complicated. Before Europeans didn’t need any visa to USA. But nevertheless, it can be done online as so is also less complicated than it would be.

    • Hi Mijia
      Thanks for your comments. Luckily we can do ESTA online otherwise there are always queue at Visa Sections of different countries.
      Cheers Jane and Duncan

  • Val says:

    What a useful article guys! ESTA is probably the most stressful part – or maybe it’s just me! It’s great that you included also practical tips on budget, as it’s not always easy to plan the right amount.

    • HI Val
      Thanks for your comments. All visas are time-consuming these days but they are a matter of face when travelling. Hope our visa section has helped.
      Cheers Jane and Duncan

  • Ami Bhat says:

    The biggest headache for me would be the visas. The documentation kills me everytime I plan for USA. But I guess, what is required is required. Well done with the other times for this country. Will definitely aid a new visitor

  • Suma says:

    So great to have come across this post! I am planning a trip to USA and was getting overwhelmed with all the options and places. Thanks for sharing all the important tips. Not much of a organised tour person, but I do agree it sometimes makes travelling easier and hassle free!

  • Piotrek says:

    If so, I would love to hear all about your experiences, tips and tales. I think it is great when we as a travel community can share our first-hand experiences to help others have a great holiday.

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