The United States is still the country we visited the most during our travels on the road, passionate as we are of legendary metropolises and incomparable natural landscapes. Even the honesty of truly welcoming and super friendly people, who have always made us feel at home, helped to root the love for this country more and more in our hearts. So our American visits have continued, year after year, and have led us to an ever deeper knowledge of how to organize a trip to the USA do it yourself. Maybe a road trip to the United States it’s your dream too, but you don’t know where to start. Don’t worry, a DIY trip to the USA is an experience for everyone, easy and safe. But if you have doubts and questions, or want to make sure you don’t forget or miss anything, this is the right article for you!
CHOOSE WHEN TO GO
For a trip to the USA, the perfect time is definitely… all year round! The United States is such a vast territory that each season can be combined with an itinerary, and most of the areas with great tourist attractions can be visited in August as in January. The only things you will need to consider are:
- If you go in the peak season (for example August, or during the holiday season) forget the freedom to decide your itinerary and accommodation from day today. The availability of beds in the parks and near the most popular attractions, notoriously expensive, runs out months in advance!
- If you are leaving in the middle of winter, make sure you do not have to cross areas (such as mountain passes) that may be closed due to snow, such as the Tioga Pass, the scenic route in Yosemite park in California (3031 m. Asl), on which we found ice and snow even in June!
GET AN ESTA ON YOUR OWN
Please don’t let the agency do it! Getting a visa for the United States is really a very simple operation, and it is useless to pay an intermediary to have it prepared for you. The only thing you have to pay attention to is not to happen on unofficial sites, which would ask you for an unnecessary surcharge.
PLANE IN FLIGHT
Follow the official link, read all the questions carefully, and pay directly online by credit card. Then print the confirmation and always carry it with you during the trip!
The ESTA is valid for 2 years from its issue date, but if your passport expires earlier, it is no longer valid from the passport expiration date. And if the questions seemed strange to you… get ready: even on the plane, you will be asked to fill in a small form and with very similar questions!
INFORM ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL LICENSE
We also asked ourselves this the first time we organized a road trip in the USA: is an international driving license needed or not? Is it requested during the rental phase, or at checkpoints? Our answer is: NO! If you want to be quiet, do it; but you can save money. After countless rentals, dozens of American states crossed, several checkpoints, and checks passed, we can confirm this. It is sufficient to have an Italian driving license. Essential to rent a car in the USA, however, is to have a valid credit card: pay attention because rechargeable cards and debit cards are not accepted in most cases.
BEWARE OF SALES TAX
You will certainly do some shopping during your trip to the USA, but you should know that there is no VAT in the United States. However, there is the Sales Tax, an extra tax on purchases, similar to our VAT (even if it is absolutely not an equivalent of VAT) that is managed locally by the individual states. It means that depending on what you will buy and where it could happen that when you arrive at the cashier you are asked to pay more than the price you saw on the tag.
This is a tax that varies between 0% and 12% depending on the state, which is applied to the price of the good or service sold. In fact, it doesn’t happen that often that taxes are excluded: for example, in the case of food, the price you see is already over. However, when you happen to buy something, and on the tag, you will see the words + TAX, remember that you will have to calculate a slightly higher expense (maximum 12%).
FIND OUT HOW IT WORKS AT CROSSROADS
Although the road rules are the same in the US as in Italy, there are small differences to be aware of, such as how to behave at intersections. In fact, at intersections not regulated by traffic lights, you will find the stop in all directions and the rule is that whoever arrives first, passes first. Only if you arrive exactly at the same time, the right has priority. But the most important thing to know is that at traffic lights in most cases, turning to the right is allowed despite the red!
ALWAYS RESPECT THE RULES
Americans are very taxing with laws, bans, and speed limits – try not to find out for yourself! Always stick to the limits, even if you feel like you’re alone on the road, and you don’t see patrols on the horizon.
The speed limits are indicated in miles (1 mile corresponds approximately to 1.6 km), on average slightly lower than those we have in Italy and are different from state to state. If you want to be sure you are not making a mistake, adjust to the average of other drivers. And do not rush into overtaking or zigzagging between cars: in the USA it is considered a dangerous attitude! The same goes for parking: if you are not sure if you can leave your car in a particular parking lot, avoid it: the fines are very high!
CHECK THE DISTANCES OF YOUR TRIP TO THE USA
Sometimes when planning a tour of the USA there is a tendency to want to enter dozens and dozens of stops, wanting to see practically… everything! Here, get it in your head right away that you will have to make a painful selection of the places you dream of seeing, and organize your tour logically and sensibly. Even if driving in the USA is an experience that alone is worth the trip, because the roads are large, relaxing, and scenic, you must consider the real travel times, so as not to risk spending whole days driving, and not having time to visit the attractions. To understand how extensive the United States is, try looking at this map!
If you are still undecided how much time to dedicate to your stops, perhaps the article American metropolises: how many days to dedicate to it may be useful to you?
DON’T FORGET THE TIP
I know that many turn up their noses at the word tip, but the wage system in the US is different from ours. And, like it or not, the minimum wage of many categories of workers, unfortunately, depends significantly on tips. In fact, employers can pay less than the minimum wage for workers such as waiters, bartenders, and bellhops! Under this system, it is the customer who pays the workers’ wages with his tips. To understand how much to give, take into account that usually 15-20% is calculated if you are satisfied with the service. To remove any doubt, however, give the restaurants some time to put the tip already in the receipt.
You may also like to read, Treat Your Family to a Summer Vacation Without Breaking the Bank