First Date with the United States” Itinerary
The route “First Date with the United States of America” is suitable for everyone who likes to explore new countries on his/her own and is not afraid of the difficulties inherent in it, such as choosing hotels, buying tickets, studying maps and travel guides, etc.
I believe that the U.S. is ideal for independent travelers because in this country:
- high level of security
- well-developed transportation infrastructure
- high concentration of both historical and natural attractions
- a wide choice of accommodations, including the cheapest options – motels and hostels, and catering – from fast food to restaurants of almost any cuisine in the world.
- Everyone speaks English:)
So, let’s go on a big trip to the States!
The proposed route is very rich – 8 cities in 2-3 weeks (the number of days in each city can vary).
Its main advantage is that for a small period of time you can see all the most interesting and most famous cities in the U.S., as well as two national parks. The route is called “First Date” because it is on the first date we get a general idea about the person and decide for ourselves whether we like him, whether it is worth it to make a second date. The same can be said about the country.
Itinerary on the map
1.New York, NY (2-3 days) + 2.Washington, DC (2 days) + 3.New Orleans, Louisiana (2 days) + 4.Austin, Texas (1-2 days) + 5.Los Angeles, California (2-3 days) + 6.San Francisco, California (1-2 days) + 7.Las Vegas, Nevada (3-4 days given that Vegas is the starting point for visiting national parks) + 8. Chicago, Illinois (1-2 days)
Total distance: 5,851 miles (9,416 kilometers)
The number of cities can be intimidating, but the route is doable. We traveled almost the same route (except for New Orleans, which was visited on our next trip) around the States in November 2012.
The U.S. is the fourth largest country in the world, so covering such large distances in 2-3 weeks by rental car, bus or train is very problematic. So the main mode of transport to move between cities is still by plane.
Note that almost all domestic airlines require an additional fee for checked luggage, while in the cabin you can take a small bag, suitcase or backpack for free. Keep this in mind, because paying 25 bucks for each flight is a tangible blow to your travel budget.
Types of transportation used
Airplane (for domestic flights) + GreyHound bus (to go from New York to Washington DC, from New Orleans to Austin) + rental car (to visit national parks) + subway (in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Chicago) + cable car (unique to San Francisco) + motor ship (water tours in San Francisco, New York, Austin and New Orleans) + cab (necessarily in New York, because this is one of its symbols!)
It’s certainly possible to travel alone, but it’s still better and more fun with friends:)
We traveled as a foursome. It’s much more cost-effective because it saves on things like renting a car, staying in hotels (a quad room is slightly more expensive than a double room, but when you divide the total amount by one person it’s cheaper), cabs, buying food, etc.
It is very important who will accompany you on the trip, which will require maximum focus and constant readiness for new knowledge and impressions. If a person is used to a beach vacation, it is unlikely to be able to withstand the high pace and lack of the usual comfort.
Now very briefly on all the cities.
1. New York .
Why is it worth a visit?
New York – the largest city in the U.S., the heart of America, the financial capital of the world, a huge cauldron where different nationalities melted into one – “American”. It’s worth starting your trek across the States from here, just as hundreds of thousands of immigrants from all over the world started it.
“The Big Apple – the lights of neon signs, skyscrapers, the famous yellow cabs, the aroma of roasted almonds and coffee, the cries of seagulls and the roar of the Atlantic Ocean nearby. You either fall in love with New York City at first sight, or you genuinely don’t understand what’s so special about it.
What to do and what to see?
- blend in with the crowd in Times Square, New York’s main square.
- See the Statue of Liberty up close and the landmarks of U.S. history at the mouth of the Hudson River on a boat tour from Battery Park (on Manhattan Island) or Liberty State Park (in New Jersey).
- Take a brisk walk down Fifth Avenue and Broadway with a cup of coffee in hand and feel like a New Yorker.
- Get your picture taken with a bull at the New York Stock Exchange.
- Take the subway and the iconic yellow cab.
- Shop (lots of boutiques in midtown and south Manhattan are waiting for you!).
- Get some fresh air in Central Park
Take a GreyHound bus from New York to Washington, DC. The travel time is 4.5 hours. Ticket price if purchased in advance online is $13.
You board the bus at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
Along the way you will pass through such states as New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
2. Washington, D.C.
Why is it worth a visit?
Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States of America. Here are all the major government buildings, as well as many museums and museum complexes, after visiting which you can safely consider that the cultural and cognitive part of the trip is “closed” completely.
In addition to the high concentration of attractions, Washington, D.C., will be interesting for the historic quarter, where restaurants and boutiques are concentrated, and the tours on the Potomac River, which are held during the warm season.
What is the easiest way to come to the U.S. for a vacation from Russia?
The large territory of the United States allows the tourist to travel through the country and find himself in almost all climates. There is an incredible mix of cultures, nature, and lifestyle. You can go sunbathing on the beach or sightseeing in the metropolis. The country is called a universal, it is suitable for absolutely everyone, thanks to the extensive choice of entertainment. What is the easiest and most correct way to come to the U.S. for a vacation from Russia?
Getting an American visa
If you decide to apply for a visa to the U.S. on your own, be prepared for the fact that this case is not easy. The country has a rather strict official immigration policy. In 2022 the problem was especially acute for the Russians. The main task of the visa officers of the US Embassy is to screen potential illegal immigrants, who want to stay in America.
Types of Visas
U.S. visas are issued at the U.S. Embassy in Russia. They come in:
- working visas;
- student visas;
- For bride and groom;
- for children under 14 years of age.
Tourist visa is probably the most popular. It is issued to those citizens who go on vacation, on personal matters, etc. Such visa has a category “B1”. For short business trips a visitor’s visa of B2 category is issued. Often visas for these purposes are combined. In this case one general document with a category B1/B2 is issued.
Self-registration of a visa
Let’s consider the step-by-step instruction for visa registration on your own. If you have decided not to go to a travel agency or other intermediary companies, the procedure is as follows:
- On the official website of the Department of State you need to fill out an application form (DS-160) on the proposed form. To do this, you must pre-register, confirm the e-mail. Carefully fill in all the fields. After that, print the form and save it. Be sure to check that all the data is entered correctly. You will be given a 10-digit barcode of the application form, and you must print it out.
- Now you need to pay the consular fee.
Attention! On the official website there is a warning that you can generate a receipt only on a computer. For tablets and other devices this function is not available.
- The next step is to sign up for an interview. During the appointment, enter the necessary information. Data will be required: the number of the fee payment receipt, passport details, and the questionnaire number. You will receive an invitation to an interview with the exact date and time to your personal e-mail.
- Come to the interview in advance. You need to have a printed confirmation of your application form, an invitation to the interview, a receipt, a standard photo, and a foreign passport (current and all previous ones). Fingerprints will need to be taken at the consulate.
- If approved, the documents will be delivered to the specified address by courier service. The delivery fee is included in the consular fee. Check the official website for more information on your application.
What to Pay Attention to
Depending on your visa type, you may need additional certificates. For example, if you have had a criminal record, you will need to provide certificates of convictions.
The consular fee must be paid before you are invited to an interview. If you refuse, the fee is not refundable. The fee depends on the type of visa. In 2022, a business or tourist visa of category B costs $160. You may pay the fee at Russian Post offices in cash at the dollar rate or by bank card. The fee is paid separately for each person, including children. The payment receipt is valid for one year.
Visa processing may take some time (from 1 week to a month), but the answer is given immediately.
The main thing at the interview is to behave calmly and confidently and give a clear and concise explanation of the purpose of your trip to the United States.
How to get to the United States
Flights to the USA are made by KLM, Delta, Aeroflot, Air France, LOT and others. You can fly direct from Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport to:
(D.C.), (New York State),
- Los Angeles (California).
From Domodedovo there are direct flights to Miami (Florida), Houston (Texas) and Washington and New York. Direct flights from Domodedovo take about 10 hours. With one or two connections you can go to Chicago, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Orlando. The cheapest ticket for an adult one way trip to New York can be had for 17,000 rubles. But at that price you’ll fly with a long overnight connection. In this case the total travel time would be about 30 hours.
The tourist may bring no more than:
- One liter of alcoholic beverages;
- 200 cigarettes;
- 2 kg of smoking tobacco;
- 50 cigars.
How much money to take on a trip
Holidays in America can cost you quite different amounts of money. It will depend on where you choose to stay.
In Los Angeles and New York, all items (food, clothing, transportation, and entertainment) cost much more than, for example, in Indianapolis or Oklahoma City. Let’s look at price levels for the most expensive states.
The price of a hotel depends on its location – the closer it is to famous places and the center, the more expensive it is. If you have limited funds, choose something more remote. Prices in hotels rise at the end of the week.
Many hotels are more profitable to book via the Internet. Even if it will be a few minutes before check-in. So if you have to book a room from the counter, still check the price online. Before traveling to the U.S., register at any well-known hotel chain. For example, very decent hotels are Hilton and Choic Hotels. Staying in chain hotels as a member guarantees you discounts and bonuses. The most affordable motels and hotels are located near the highways. As you get from your place of residence to the sights, explore the surrounding area. It makes for an interesting and free sightseeing tour.
You can save on food by buying regular groceries at the supermarket. Take advantage of a popular and fairly cheap store in America – Walmart.
McDonald’s is unhealthy and not nourishing, eat there once to brag later that you ate at a real American McDonald’s, and enough. A Bigmack here will cost you $7. For dinner for two in a cafe (main course, appetizers, taxes, tips) you will have to spend about $40. A dinner with alcohol would cost $60-70. An inexpensive lunch for one person costs about $15. To please yourself with a cup of fragrant coffee in Los Angeles, for example, will have to give $ 4, and a rest with a glass of beer will cost $ 5.
One of the most affordable types of ready-made meals are Chinese establishments. For a portion of noodles with a meat side dish you will be asked to pay 4-10 dollars.
Read reviews beforehand to find out where the food is cheaper.
Transportation, Shopping, and More
A bus ride costs $1 in provincial cities, $1.50 to $1.8 in Los Angeles, and $2.50 in New York and Boston. Buses are not the best option, as in Russia, they go quite rarely and not in all places. Cab from 30, and rent a private car from 15 dollars a day.
In any city, try to find one-price stores. Buy there a variety of products – souvenirs, food, household goods. For example, in Los Angeles, the most popular stores where everything costs $1: Dollar Store, 99 Cents Only Stores, Yarra 1 Dollar 1 Dollar StoreStore, Dollar Tree. Keep in mind the sales, too. Summer sales begin in early July and continue through September; winter sales begin in early December and end in January. Discounts at these times are up to 60%. The maximum discounts occur two weeks before the end of the sale.
The expenditures that are the hardest to plan are entertainment. There are many national parks, museums, and amusement parks in the United States. Admission to most of them, unfortunately, is not free.
To summarize: to comfortably live and travel in the U.S. for an entire month for two people, in 2022 you will need:
- for a visa – $160;
- For round-trip tickets – $600 – $800 (perhaps a little less);
- For renting a place to stay – $2,000;
- for food and travel (here it is important to consider whether you are going to use public transport or rent a car) -1000-1500 dollars;
- Entertainment and souvenirs – $600-700.
Money: credit card or cash
Almost all gas stations in the U.S. accept bank cards. When paying, vending machines often require entering a zip code. It is usually a 5-digit code. If you have a non-U.S. card you can use 90210 or 00000. If these combinations do not work, you should contact a merchant.
As a way out – you can buy a prepaid VISA card for $50 or $100 at any store or drugstore. Many stores may require you to show a photo ID when you pay with a bank card. A passport or driver’s license may be fine.
When you pay in cash, have small bills of $5, $10, or $20. This is also relevant when buying a bus ticket. Americans are accustomed to cash, so a $100 bill can lead a salesman to a standstill.
Remember that in the U.S., prices are listed everywhere without tax. So it will be very difficult to calculate the amount of purchases in the store in advance, the final amount will be known only at the cashier.
In cafes and restaurants at least 15% of tips are added to the bill.
What else you should know about vacations in the U.S.
There are many nuances of life in the U.S., which travelers simply must take into account. Here are the most important ones, in our opinion:
- Exchange your currency, Russian rubles for American dollars. This can be done both at home and in the country itself.
- The U.S. police force is the best in the world. Therefore, you should familiarize yourself with the laws in advance, so as not to spoil your vacation. On the one hand, the severity and compliance with all the rules is scary, but on the other hand, you find yourself under protection.
- Take care of medical insurance. Getting insurance is not necessary for obtaining a visa. But to travel travel insurance is definitely necessary. To see for yourself, just look at the cost of medical services in the U.S. in 2022: a visit to the doctor – $ 200-300 dollars; call an ambulance on the way to the clinic – 1500 dollars, etc.
- Charging gadgets, outlets. If you are going to America, get special plug adapters for power outlets. Without them you will not be able to use electricity. The standard Russian plug cannot be inserted into American sockets, they use rectangular holes. Buy locally will get expensive – the price ranges from 3 to 20 dollars. The standard voltage in the U.S. is 100 volts.
- Traveling around the U.S., it is important not to get confused with the time and dates. Here I write it this way – first the month, then the date and the year. The time is written according to the 12-hour system: for example, 10 AM, 3 PM. There are also several time zones in the United States.
- Communication in the U.S.. For comfortable use of smartphone we recommend to buy a local SIM-card with mobile Internet. True, the pleasure is expensive – from 40 to 70 dollars a month. Do not forget that free wi-fi is always available in Starbucks, parks and libraries.
- Navigation in the city. In American cities, it is important to distinguish the sides of the world in order to navigate properly. It is necessary to read the signs of addresses, streets and roads. For example, the straight lines – go from north to east, the avenues – from north to south. In New York City, there are signs for Uptown – heading north and Downtown – south. The same streets sometimes have different sections labeled West and East. Not all travelers may perceive this information.
- Miles and pounds. Sometimes tourists, planning a trip across America, out of habit estimate estimated distances in kilometers. In vain, because all distances in the U.S. are given in miles. A mile is 1.6 kilometers. Prices at gas stations indicate per gallon, which is 3.78 liters. Supermarket carryout food is priced in dollars per pound.
- Always smile. Smiling in America is not just polite; rather, it is part of the culture. If you smile, you will get a lot more out of your interactions than expected.
- Large portions of food. When visiting fast food restaurants, don’t forget that the portion of food and drinks will be just huge. It is common practice to order one dish for two.
America is a country of contrasts. There are bustling metropolises and small towns with lawns. To get a sense of the color and life of the country, you should come here for at least a month, and better for a year. With a sensible approach and careful observance of all the formalities to come to the U.S. from Russia is not so difficult.