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Dream big, travel to the United States of America

By Amy Adejokun Amy Adejokun Section editor Profile

Writing about the United States of America is an incredibly difficult exercise as although the country has one flag, the fifty states that make up the union could well be fifty nations in their own right. Whether you prefer the buzz of the big city or prefer to be isolated from the rest of humanity, USA holds the key to whatever you're looking for!

Before leaving

Geography

The term 'United States', when used in the geographical sense, means the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States shares borders with Canada and Mexico.

Diversity

New York is the jewel of the States, and probably the one place everyone wants to see before they die, and for good reason. However, the Big Apple and its residents are completely different from the deserted state of Wyoming or the Hispanic state of New Mexico. From an attractions point of view, the tourist is spoilt for choice. Up a mountain top or at the bottom of a canyon, racing down the ski slopes or surfing USA, tucking into a burger or sampling the rarest of Chinese, Mexican or native cuisine, history or modernity, the possibilities are endless.

Sports and activities

Sports are an important part of the culture of the United States. The four major professional sports leagues in the United States are Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League. You can also enjoy a range of other sports, including bowling, fishing, horseback riding, pool, golf, darts, tennis and soccer.

Transport

Most people rely on their own cars or hire out a car in the United States as public transportation can be quite poor. In large cities, you will find taxis on the street - otherwise, you need to ring a taxi company to order one. Buses, trains and taxis do operate, but are usually not very frequent and poorly connected. If there are buses or trains available in your area, you can usually get publications and maps at the local bus or train station that will provide you with information about schedules, routes, and fares.

Language

The most commonly used language is English, with 80% of the population speaking it, followed by Spanish, spoken by about 12.7%. Approximately 337 languages are spoken or signed by the population, of which 176 are native to the area.

Visa

A visa is required to enter the United States. However some countries are allowed to enter the country visa free under the Visa Waiver Program. Travellers born in the United States and those who hold dual citizenship with the United States must enter and depart the United States on U.S. passports.

Weather

Due to its immense size and geographical diversity, the USA has various climates in different locations. The south and west regions tend to be warmer and dryer while the north and east are more temperate with colder winters. Endless summers are southern California and Florida trademarks, while in the Pacific Northwest and New England states, summers are warm with cool mornings and pleasant evening conditions. Coastal regions are naturally milder than inland areas away from large bodies of water. Mountainous regions of higher altitude are colder and receive higher levels of precipitation.

Severe weather in the form of thunderstorms is a normal spring and summer occurrence. Devastating tornadoes are also common in the spring and summer months, especially in the central part of the US. Hurricanes occasionally strike the eastern coastline and Gulf of Mexico states from June through October.

Our Editorial team's advice

The United States is truly captivating for the first-time visitor. In New York, dedicate a few days to get around all the main sights of the city that never sleeps: Times Square, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the countless museums and numerous Broadway theatre venues. San Francisco is another must-visit, with a chilled-out vibe and a cosmopolitan population; it's more of an escape than the busyness of the East Coast. Large family groups will often opt for California or Florida to make the most of the countless theme parks, e.g. Disneyland, and year-round warm weather. Remember to pack for the weather and make sure you have comfortable shoes as you'll most likely be doing a lot of walking.

Tourists can travel to the United States each year and rediscover new miracles of nature, deserts, hidden forests, gigantic buildings and extraordinary towns. Multiculturalism in the streets of New York, painting scenery of the Rocky Mountains, the wealth of Los Angeles or the illuminations of the gambling capital Las Vegas: the United States will make you live unique experiences. In terms of cultural and musical history, a trip to the south of the country is the best way to go, or even to Philadelphia where you can learn about the very first origins of the states.

The best way to really soak up such a diverse country is by car. The famous Route 66 is one of the most well-known road trips in the world. If you travel to the west you will be taken aback by impressive natural landmarks like Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. These states have something for every member of the family, whatever their age they will undoubtedly return with fond memories of the madness.

Traditions

Basic rules apply in the United States such as be courteous and respect the highway code. Smoking is banned in all public places. The general greeting is a handshake and most Americans prefer their personal space not to be invaded. That said, they are less formal when it comes to addressing each other, with first names being used even in business.

Restaurants are usually fast in the USA as the employees rely on tips to make ends meet. Religion is a big part of American culture and everyday life so try to respect people's beliefs whilst travelling around the USA. Other important events in the US include prom and spring break.

Independence Day, July 4th, is an important date for Americans. It is usually celebrated with parades, marching bands, tricolor flags, fireworks, barbecues, picnics, and baseball games. Holidays such as Thanksgiving, St. Patrick's Day, and Hallowe'en are also widely celebrated.

What to see

Sierra Nevada , The Sierra Nevada , United States of America
Sierra Nevada
The Florida Keys , United States of America
The Florida Keys
Ocean Drive, Miami , United States of America
Ocean Drive, Miami
Universal Studios , Orlando, The Simpsons Ride , United States of America
Universal Studios
Biscayne National Park , Pink flamingoes in the Everglades Park , United States of America
Key Biscayne National Park
Disney-MGM studios , Orlando, Disney-MGM Studios , United States of America
Disney-MGM studios
National Parks , United States of America
National Parks
Alaska Peninsula , United States of America
Alaska Peninsula
Pearl Harbor site (Oahu) , United States of America
Pearl Harbor site (Oahu)
Mount Rainier , United States of America
Mount Rainier
Monument Valley , United States of America
Monument Valley
Yellowstone National Park , United States of America
Yellowstone National Park
Grand Canyon National Park , United States of America
Grand Canyon National Park
Arches National Park , United States of America
Arches National Park
Mont Rushmore , United States of America
Mont Rushmore
United States of America : Explore

Food

American cooking is hard to define. It is a nation of immigrants, and their cooking is as diverse as their population. Their cuisine contains a blend of influences such as Asian, Mexican, French, and Italian. Dishes such as roast beef, fried chicken, grilled steak, stuffed turkey, meatloaf, baked potato, yams, corn on the cob, potato salad, apple pie, clam chowder, hamburgers, hotdogs and hot wings would normally be considered as American cooking. Many restaurants and bars in the US serve hot wings or Nachos as snack food. On the menu for breakfast you will usually find pancakes, donuts, muffins, french toast, bagels, granola, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, bacon. You will find plenty of fast food establishments and chain restaurants in the USA, but contrary to popular belief, not everyone eats fast food every day there.

Regional Cooking is easier to define as many states have their own specialities. The northeastern part of the USA, known as the New England states, is renowned for their delicious seafood. The New England Clam Chowder is popular in all states, and the Maine lobster can usually be found in fine restaurants.

The cuisine of the southeastern states is characterized by wholesome farm-style cooking with plenty of deep fried foods, heavy sauces and sweet desserts. Pecan pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding and sweet potato pie are some favourite desserts in Eastern USA.

Although in the heart of the south, New Orleans has a distinctly European culture with its own unique cuisine. This city was greatly influenced by Spanish and French colonists and by the many African immigrants. It has developed some of the finest cuisine in the USA.

The cuisine in the southwestern states includes a great variety of dishes prepared with local ingredients and sprinkled with Mexican spices. Tex-Mex is a variant of southwestern cooking that is most popular in Texas and along the Mexican border. It includes barbeque and chili. It is also the home of salsa, nachos, tacos and burritos. California has developed a refreshingly healthy cuisine that utilizes fresh ingredients flavoured with unusual combinations of spices.

Souvenirs

A trip to the states is every shopaholic's dream. But enter at your own risk, shopping can get pretty hectic, especially during the sales. The numerous shopping malls found in every town and are open every day, especially around the Christmas period. One of the biggest can be found in Philadelphia, but if you're looking for lots together, head to New York, Miami, Chicago or Los Angeles. Tourists will revel in a trip to Bloomingdales or Macy's, which feature in many well-known American TV series. If you want to go on a real shopping spree, bring another empty suitcase so you have enough space to take all of your goodies home with you. Business people travelling to the states will often take advantage of the good exchange rate. That said, be sure to make the most of the low-cost clothing shops like Levi's or gadget shops like Apple. For a real bargain, visit Louisiana Boardwalk in New Orleans where you will find massive reductions and tax-free shopping. But what to buy for a really authentic souvenir you might ask? Cowboy clothing from Houston, an American flag or a trinket from the gift shops at the many national parks, historical monuments or museums are all gift ideas.
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