First trip to the USA

Before my first trip to the United States, I tried to prepare for the trip as much as possible: I asked friends who had visited there, read forums, studied all kinds of travel sites, asked questions to familiar Americans - I got information in parts, crystallizing from each source something really useful in specific area.

Part 1. Preparing for the trip

Enter your article subtVisa
Obtaining a visa to the USA is not difficult at all: you need to fill out an electronic application form on the website of the United States Embassy, ​​pay 160 dollars there, wait for an invitation to an interview, and arrive at the US Embassy with the necessary documents at the indicated time. There you will need to hand over the fingerprints in electronic form and answer several questions of the embassy staff. The best part is that the decision on issuing a visa is made on the spot, so immediately after the interview you will know whether you were issued a visa or not, and if so, for how long. Most likely, you will get a visa, but there are exceptions: some applicants are interviewed again, and some are refused at all, and without explanation. They have the right, nothing can be done.

Unlike the process of obtaining a Schengen visa, applying for a visa to the United States is not accompanied by the preparation of a bunch of documents (tickets, hotel reservation, bank certificate, etc.) and requires only an invitation for an interview, confirmation of the application form, photo and passport (current and old , if they are). You can bring any “evidence of your strong ties with Russia” (documents for real estate, a certificate of employment, etc.) to the interview, but your answers to questions from an embassy employee will be much more important than pieces of paper.

Trip duration
So, the visa issue has been decided, now we plan the trip itself. If this is not a business trip or a short visit to someone on a visit, then I recommend laying at least 2 weeks on it. On the one hand, this is the standard duration of the vacation, on the other hand, this time is quite enough to visit the main interesting places.

It’s possible for 10 days, but in this case you’ll have only a week to do everything (after all, a couple of days will be spent on flights and technical movements). This is enough either for a more or less leisurely visit to a pair of cities that are not very distant from each other, or for short-term swoops back and forth. I strongly advise against the latter option: you won’t be able to get full impressions from staying in interesting places, but you will quickly exhaust yourself, which will make your overall impression crumpled and slurred.itle here

Route

An important point: before buying a ticket, you should decide on which part of the USA you want to travel to. The choice here is really small: the most interesting places are concentrated along the east and west coasts, while it makes sense to visit the central part of the country if you have significantly more than 2 weeks or you have already been to New York, California and the neighboring eastern and western states .
A compromise is to visit both coasts. True, in this case you will have to spend money on an internal flight (200-300 dollars per person) and lose almost a day: despite the fact that the time spent on the flight partially compensates for the three-hour time zone difference (if flying from east to west), fatigue from the flight does not will spend the rest of the day with significant benefit. On the other hand, the impressions of such a trip will be much more diverse, and you will know the country better, but it's worth it. Personally, I chose this option.
In two weeks I managed to visit the city of New York, its suburbs and main local attractions (it took 5 days), then Los Angeles and its surroundings - Hollywood and a couple of beaches, Disneyland, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas , Yosemite National Park and several small towns, driving a total of 3,500 kilometers by car and spending several tens of hours behind the wheel. At the same time, I did not have time to visit the planes of Boston, Washington (DC), San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Death Valley and several smaller attractions. Draw conclusions.
Buying tickets
If you have decided on the time and route - time to buy tickets. This is best done in advance, in which case you can significantly save. In general, the price of tickets depends on several factors: time of year, type of flight (direct or with change), time of departure and arrival, etc. Most will have to pay if you buy a ticket for a direct flight for June-August a couple of weeks before departure. If you buy a ticket for September or April and do it a few months before the expected departure date, you can spend half as much.If the budget is minimal, you can try to look for flights with transfers: they are often cheaper than direct flights, but in this case you need to get ready to spend much longer than the standard 10-12 hours on the way. A much more pleasant alternative to such self-torture is airline special offers. Large air carriers regularly arrange ticket sales in various directions, including the United States: as part of such an action, you can grab an inexpensive ticket, however, it will be irrevocable, that is, it will not be possible to return it after purchase under any circumstances. By the way, many services for selling airline tickets online allow you to sign up for a change in price: choose the direction you are interested in, and the system will automatically send you a message every time a ticket loses value. Very comfortably.

Luggage

So, there are tickets, it remains to collect baggage. The main advice: do not take a lot of things with you! Over the past 10 years I have visited many countries and I can say with confidence: all these ten t-shirts and five pairs of pants will turn out to be ballast. Most likely, half of what you plan to take with you will be enough for you, regardless of the length of your stay. In my case, all things fit in a small suitcase, which you could even take with you to the cabin of the aircraft, if not for toiletries and other items prohibited for carrying in hand luggage. My two-week set of clothes, which I took on a trip to New York and California, consisted of several sets of underwear, several T-shirts, shorts and light pants (one pair), a shirt, a windbreaker, a hoodie and a spare pair of light shoes. And I didn’t use part of the clothes (however, it was still worth taking it, in case of bad weather).
What to do if something is still not enough? Everything is very simple: you can always wash dirty things, and buy the missing ones. Both that, and another is done easily and relatively inexpensively (read about it in the following parts of the article). Of course, it will be somewhat more difficult for girls to shorten their list of things, but I highly recommend trying, because carrying a heavy suitcase with you, especially with frequent movements from one city to another, is a dubious pleasure. In addition, it is much more pleasant to fly away from home with a half-empty suitcase, leaving room for shopping results.
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A separate tip for girls: do not bring evening dresses and other weekend dresses. There will simply be nowhere to wear them, unless you are going to an expensive restaurant or to a reception. Better grab comfortable shoes for long walks. Jeans also can not be taken - buy on the spot.

Money

It would seem that there might be some advice: take with you more dollars - that’s all the recommendations. But in reality there are a number of nuances that you should know about before you leave. The United States is not a very cheap, but in some places a frankly expensive country, especially given the current ruble / dollar exchange rate. In particular, this applies to New York and California - the most popular states among tourists. This does not mean that you have to limit yourself in everything, but optimizing your budget will not hurt.
The most important thing you need to know about: housing and food - these are the expense items that will account for the lion's share of your costs. When planning the budget, I would recommend laying on average $ 150 a day for accommodation and about $ 100 for food (all for two, of course). These are the amounts that guarantee you comfortable housing and a more or less diverse diet. Yes, the numbers are shocking, but what can you do: finding a normal home cheaper than $ 100, especially in New York and the suburbs, is almost impossible, and the cost of one dish in a mid-range restaurant starts from $ 8-10, and this does not include taxes and gratuities.
Of course, there are ultra-low-cost options in which the cost of a roof over your head and food can be reduced to several tens of dollars a day, but this is not our choice. If you, of course, do not want to eat exclusively cheap fast food every day and live in the same room with a bunch of other thrifty travelers. About how to choose housing and where to eat - read in the following parts.
By the way, about taxes and gratuities: neither one nor the other is usually included in the visible price of goods in the USA. Whether you buy a can of cola in a store or pay for a taxi - in most cases, in addition to the amount that you see on the price tag, you will also have to pay a tax (or even a few). Since the tax rates in different states (and even cities) can be different, for the convenience of preliminary calculation, simply add another 10% to the price - the total amount will be plus or minus the amount that you have to pay.
The situation is similar with tips: when you receive an invoice in a cafe or restaurant, you will most likely see the final amount excluding tips. In the United States, it is customary to leave them in the amount of 18-22% of the amount of the check. More is possible, less is not recommended, not leaving at all is impossible. When my acquaintances compatriots were dissatisfied with the service and decided to leave the waitress without remuneration, she caught up with them at the exit and was reasonably indignant at the lack of a tip. As a result, there was a scandal that almost ended with a call to the police, which is understandable: according to local concepts, non-payment of tips is in a sense equivalent to if you didn’t pay the bill at all. Of course, such a development of events is rather an exception than a rule, but you should not experiment and take risks.
police
In some establishments, mainly located on hiking trails, tips are included in the bill. In this case, the “service fee” or something like that will appear on the check. If you have received an invoice and are uncertain whether a tip is included, ask the waiter.
Now a little about how it is worth taking money for expenses with you. The USA is the country of the long-won “plastic”: bank cards are accepted almost everywhere - from vending machines for drinks to entrances to national parks. So before leaving, I recommend putting about two-thirds of the amount spent on the card, and it is advisable that it be tied in a dollar account and belong to the Visa system - so you can avoid unnecessary currency conversion when paying. Take the remaining third with you cash, making sure that at least some of this money is in the form of small bills - 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 dollars. They will come in handy in the early days for paying tips, buying street food and paying for goods where cards and / or hundred-dollar bills are not accepted (and such places are also found).
Another important point regarding bank cards: when someone (a seller or an automatic machine) asks you which card you have - debit or credit - answer credit, even if you have a debit card. Do not ask why, just remember - in the USA, any card issued in the Russian Federation that has a magnetic strip / chip and your name is indicated is considered a credit card.

What else?

What else to take with you on a trip - everyone decides for himself, but if you are flying to the United States for the first time, listen to the following tips:
If you like taking pictures, take care in advance of the free space on your smartphone or on the camera’s map. I guarantee: you will photograph a lot, which means you will need a lot of memory.
Buy a few adapters from a European plug to an American one. This can be done both before departure (cheaper) and upon arrival (more expensive). The main thing is not to forget, otherwise you risk finding yourself with a European plug in your hands at an American outlet at the most inopportune moment. Well, grab an external battery just in case.
Do not forget to take a driver’s license with an open category “B” if you plan to rent a car. International rights - optional: their presence is necessary in some cases, but most often they are not needed. Read more about this in a post on a trip to California.
If possible, refuse roaming and just buy a local SIM card upon arrival: for about $ 30 you will receive a prepaid SIM card with a couple of gigabytes of Internet traffic - this is enough for correspondence in instant messengers, and for uploading photos to Instagram for a couple of weeks, and to search for certain information while traveling.
In advance, download an offline dictionary (Google Translate, for example) and applications for navigation, search for housing, restaurants and attractions on your smartphone. In my case, it was a set of about a dozen programs: AirBNB, Booking.com and HotelTonight came in handy for finding accommodation, Triposo, Yelp and TripAdvisor were useful in choosing restaurants and visiting interesting places, Parkopeida made it easy to find parking lots, and Citymapper suggested the best way move around the city by public transport.
If possible, budget 10-20% of the reserve for possible cost overruns: experience shows that situations are different and reinsurance will not hurt.
Go!