Today’s guest post comes from Chris Stillwell, a writer for holiday insurance comparison site Confused.com. Chris regularly holidays in the US but San Francisco is his personal favourite destination.
The USA means so many different things to so many different people. Being such a vast country, the range of iconic destinations, places to visit and must-see attractions is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in the world.
If you find yourself lucky enough to be visiting the home of the stars and stripes, take note of this handy checklist before you leave and your trip will be off to a flying start.
Psst… Need a place to stay? Check out these cheap hostels and hotels in the USA.
If you’re travelling to the US for less than 90 days under the Visa Waiver Programme, registering for authorisation via Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) before you travel is a must if you don’t want to face being turned away by US immigration. Applications must be made at least 72 hours before you travel and will cost you $14.
Make sure you use the official ESTA website, there are lots of fake sites that copy the look and feel of the official ESTA website to charge you more than the standard $14 dollars to apply on your behalf (or worse: fraudulently use your credit card and personal information.)
Arranging travel or holiday insurance before you leave should be high on your to-do list. You might think you can get away without it and nothing bad will happen but is it really worth taking the risk?
Travel insurance can cover (be sure to check your policy small print!) a multitude of potential problems you might run in to whether that’s:
- Lost luggage,
- Delayed or cancelled flights,
- Lost or stolen property
- Expensive medical costs.
In the US it’s an especially important part of your planning due to the potentially high medical costs you can incur if you need medical attention whilst in the country.
This travel advice is backed up by insurance claims data from Confused.com’s holiday insurance provider Columbus Direct who revealed that in 2012, claims for medical costs outside the US average around £1,200 whilst those for America were almost 3 times higher at a whopping £3,500.
Whether you’re staying for just a couple of days or the full duration of the 90 days allowed under the visa programme you’ll need some US dollars. The maximum amount of cash you’re allowed to bring into the country is $10,000. Any more than that and you’re required to declare how much you’re bringing in which involves some lengthy paperwork and questioning from border control.
Deciding to take cash, travellers’ cheques, credit cards or pre-paid cards can be a bit of a dilemma, but your best bet might be to use a combination of all of them. If you plan on using your credit/debit card out there, don’t forget to notify your bank that you will be away in case they put a block on your card when you try to use it (as it might flag up as fraudulent activity).
Although it’s not recommended to carry as much as $10,000 on you, if you do insist on carrying large amounts, at least split it into smaller amounts and stash them around your luggage, just don’t forget where you’ve hidden it.
If your mental arithmetic isn’t up to scratch, you can keep tabs on how much you’re actually spending by downloading an app for your phone that will update daily based on the current rate of exchange.
Unless you’re only planning on staying centrally in a city or visiting friends and family, the likelihood is you’ll want to go out and about exploring. Most locations aren’t designed to be navigated on foot; instead the car is the favoured mode of transport.
Hire cars can be booked well in advance and often work out cheaper by doing so, but even if you leave it till your arrival, the big hire firms have service desks and offices located at the major airports.
Whether you opt for a small car, a big SUV or convertible for cruising, is purely down to personal preference, how many people and how much luggage your party has, and of course your budget!
With parts of the US subject to extreme weather (tropical storms and heavy snow storms in winter) and natural disasters like 2005’s hurricane Katrina and more recently in 2012 Super Storm Sandy, it’s becoming increasingly important to keep track of developments in the weather and follow travel advice for your destination before you leave.
If you’re planning on visiting attractions whilst you’re in the country, it’s sometimes cheaper to book in advance online. Though this requires some planning on your part, some of the more popular attractions book up quickly so it’s worth looking into.
A mobile can come in handy, not only allowing you to stay in touch but if you have a smart phone you can browse emails, websites and navigate your way around using map features or apps. Keep a look out for free Wi-Fi in coffee shops, hotels and other spots as it’s a great way to avoid paying for using your own data allowance.
To avoid those hefty charges from your mobile network, make sure to turn off 3G and data roaming so the handset doesn’t send and receive data and switch off the voicemail feature as many networks will charge you for listening to voicemail messages.
You shouldn’t have issues using most modern smartphone handsets in the US, but to be certain, check that your phone is a quad band phone compatible with US networks.
Speak to your network provider before your trip as they’ll be able to advise on charges, a short term package that might be more cost-effective for your time away or even just ensure you have the correct settings on your phone for your time away.
If you’re planning on using your phone quite a lot, it’s worthwhile buying a Sim card that works in a number of different countries or buying a US specific card once you’re in the country.