"USA special tips for foreign visitors" United States of America by melosh

United States of America Travel Guide: 299,531 reviews and 710,768 photos

So you are going to visit America.

From sea to shining sea, you are invited to explore US America. Of course, if you are coming from outside the USA your greatest challenge may be obtaining the necessary tourist visa. The sluggist bureaucracy of our consulates is notorious. Remember what so many of the great dictators of the world have said, "love the people, hate the government". No one takes this more to heart than Americans themselves. Although actually the love is more in the abstract, then as a way of life. We may love America or the idea of America, but still be hateful with our fellow Americans. Avaricious/generous, materialistic/spiritual, idealistic/realistic, provincial/internationalistic, responsible for all evil or just irresponsible-- who knows? and how could you love it all?
If you think you can recognize a US American in America by his or her religion, language or accent, dress, customs, race or wealth, you do not know America yet. The single most universal characteristic of people who call themselves American is the willingness to publicly criticize and blame the government whether national or local for everything bad that happens to them.
So we share something in common with the dictators, demigods, and many poor misguided non-american peasants throughout the world who believe the US is the cause of all their suffering. The acceptance of the concept of the govenment being of the people, by the people, and for the people, is less than complete in the USA otherwise this could be called healthy self-criticism.

So your curiosity is driving you to visit America? The following commentaries and tips are dedicated to the VT members of other countries who have taken the time to share things about their country on VT.
First, recognize that you are going to need money, lots of it. This is true even if you come from a country whose currency has gained significantly against the dollar. (The cost of things at airports and travel destinations seem to outpace inflation and dollar devaluation.) Next, if you plan to visit various regions you will need more time that you might expect due to the distances involved. And lastly, you are going to need to read and plan so your travel satisfies your interests.
What people come to see: 1) Famous cities, 2) Natural wonders and countryside, 3) Cultural elements --people and special events, and 4) Made in America tourist attractions.

On the surface, America seems homogenized into one culture, one taste, one style and one big market where the franchises-chains-large companies establish a uniform cleanliness, taste and atmosphere throughout the country. Even the regional accents are fading under this pressure. Still, for a first visit, this might be all you want to experience. Some of these companies have expanded worldwide so you will already know their taste. For example, if you have eaten a MacDonald's hamburger outside the US it should taste the same as one anywhere in the US. But some other products like Coca Cola are formulated differently for different national tastes. Many do offer reasonable value for their cost.

As American as . . .

There are two places in the USA known to present this side of America in concentrated form: Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada.
In Orlando, home of Disney World and multiple other theme attractions, you probably have most every American chain restaurant represented on a single avenue (International Blvd.) Even when you enter a place that seems too unique to be part of a chain, it still is.
Las Vegas has much the same plus the over the top glitz of the big hotel-casino-show places all built in the middle of nowhere. In both Orlando and Las Vegas it would be hard to find something of authenic local flavor.

The problem with trying to visit the best known American Cities like NY, Chicago and LA is that they are all very large and expensive. They do have different flavors with different neighborhoods, and large cultural institutions, but like very large cities everywhere they require a lot of time for orientation and exploration. Other smaller large cities like San Francisco, Boston, New Orleans, Washington DC may seem more attractive because of their distinctive characters, but you could still find yourself eating at chain restaurants and shopping at chain stores if you do not forearm yourself with knowledge. A further list of American cities to visit might include: San Antonio, Miami, Honolulu, Seattle, and Charlestown. You can see the problem here is that you could spend all your time in the big known cities and miss the real country.

To visit the countryside, and the natural wonders in national or state parks pretty much requires car, van or camper travel to get there. In many of these places you can camp, hike, bike or boat on your own. National parks generally will have lodges (make reservations), drive-in campsites, and hike-in "primitive campsites". Group excursions with guides, horses, boats are often available, but there are well marked trails you can take without guides. You would need adequate gear and supplies for exploring on your own. To see the most popular places without hordes of American tourists, visit before May 30th and after the first week of September.

America, NewYork and California

If you want to see lots of Americans relaxing or 'on vacation' away from a tourist attraction try to schedule part of your visit during a local festival. Best would be a small town themed event rather than one of the large city mega-events. Though in both cases most of the people may be from out of town. Some of these events bring together rather exotic Americans like those that gather for Dayton Bike Week. Others may be of a more general family interest like a small town 4th of July picnic with fireworks. Other events like stock car races, minor league Baseball games, county fairs, college or pro football games, and music concerts may bring together odd segments of the American population not usually experienced by the average foreign visitor.

These gatherings might actually reveal some interesting regional differences in America.

Some people would advise that after you visit America and start to appreciate the regional differences, that you consider separate visits to New York City or Golden California. People of New York City kind of think of themselves as from a world unto itself. Those of California feel themselves blessed above all others. Golden California happens when the sun sets in the west or shines over golden hills of dry grass. The rest of the country actually believes all crazy things come out of California. I came out of California. My siblings, their children and my mother are back in California unless they are off to college or travelling, but if you go back a generation most of my relatives on my parents side were living in the Eastern US. At one point my parents had their three sons on three separate continents. (Asia, South America, and Africa). At least for now we are all back in the USA. That is, if you consider California part of the USA.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Great big multicultural country
  • Cons:Industrial, often impersonal, travel not cheap
  • In a nutshell:You have to leave it to really appreciate it.
  • Intro Updated Dec 30, 2006
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Reviews (45)

Comments (5)

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Jan 10, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    Hi, Bob! Thanks for your splendid and useful tips! I have saved them for my students and friends!

  • lou31's Profile Photo
    Jul 8, 2007 at 4:41 PM

    Great page. First one without pics that grabbed my attention. Good advice given here, especially about tipping. Thanks...

  • margaretvn's Profile Photo
    Mar 4, 2007 at 1:28 AM

    great page with well written good tips. I enjoyed it very much.

  • gilabrand's Profile Photo
    Jul 2, 2006 at 8:54 PM

    My father used to take us to all kinds of factories when we were small. And yes, they were fascinating!

  • Little_Lou_Lou's Profile Photo
    Jun 29, 2006 at 10:54 AM

    Here, here!

melosh Used To Live Here!


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