16 things to know before visiting the USA

Amy C. Balfour

Oct 4, 2023 • 9 min read

Two young women sitting on top of camper van in remote mountain landscape with arms raised in celebration © Tony Anderson / Getty Images

Ready to plan a trip to the USA? Here are a few tips to know before you go © Tony Anderson / Getty Images

The United States is supersized, from its sprawling big cities to its epic natural splendors. And its citizens? When it comes to friendliness and national pride, we can be a little “extra” too.

Yes, the political rhetoric these days could be described as divisive, but political views don’t typically seep into small talk or day-to-day interactions. Take my city, a college town in the South. Pickup trucks with gun racks are parked beside ecofriendly cars with "Coexist" bumper stickers, and their owners are getting coffee at the same coffee shop and grumbling about the heat.

If you’re planning a trip to the USA , we’ve provided a few pointers to help you navigate planning, etiquette, and health and safety issues on your visit.

1. Pick a region – don't do it all

With 50 states, 63 national parks and 4 million miles of highways, the USA can feel like a beast to be tamed when it comes to trip planning and getting around . One solution? A deep dive into one region.

The continental USA – which stretches 3000 miles from coast to coast – is loosely broken into about nine areas: New England , the Mid-Atlantic , the South , the Midwest, the Southwest and the West , which can be further broken into the Rocky Mountains , the Pacific Northwest and California .

Beyond the continental US, you’ve got Alaska and Hawaii . Seemingly refusing to join a category is  Texas , which is diverse enough – or maybe stubborn enough – to defy regional stereotypes.

2. How long do you need to visit the US?

Exploring a major metropolitan area like New York City , Chicago , Los Angeles or Washington, DC  could easily fill a week, especially if you include day trips to outlying parks and beaches. You may be able to cover a small state, like Vermont or West Virginia , in a week too.

To really dig into a region, however, you’ll want at least 10 days, especially if you’re flying in from overseas. With a week and a half, you can visit two or more cities and a handful of outlying attractions. It’s also enough time to explore a couple of national parks in one region, particularly in California or the Southwest.

3. Don’t overplan your days

It is tempting to look at a map, calculate your mileage and assume you can make four or five different stops in a day. But be careful with this thought and always expect delays.

Two-lane roads are common in and around national parks, and Winnebagos, wildlife and gorgeous scenery will slow you down. Smaller roads are also the norm in mountains and rural areas, and passing slowpokes can be stressful.

You may find yourself wanting to extend your stay at one of your destinations – leave room for serendipity in your itinerary.

A hiker enjoys the view from Angels Landing in Zion National Park, Utah

4. Sometimes getting outdoors requires a reservation

You have to prebook your hike? Unfortunately, the answer is sometimes yes.

With enormous jumps in visitation, several  national parks now require reservations to hike their most popular trails. You need a reservation to hike Half Dome in Yosemite , Angels Landing in Zion , and Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah .

Some national parks require reservations for park entry or popular activities. You need a reservation to drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park , for example. Arches National Park  and Rocky Mountain National Park  require reservations for entry during their busy seasons. You need a permit to watch the sunset at Haleakalā National Park on Maui .

Yosemite and Glacier have run pilot reservation programs – for entry into Yosemite and for travel in certain regions in Glacier. Check park websites for details well before your trip.

5. Museums might need a reservation too

It’s not just national parks that are crowded. Temporary exhibits at large metropolitan museums can be extremely popular, and many have timed entry requirements, which are secured by reservations.

Small, niche museums in busy tourist areas may also require prebooking. Tickets for the  Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe , for example, can sell out daily.

Cavern tours often fill up a day or two in advance. Check the reservation system on the website to be safe, especially in summer when families are traveling.

6. Mondays can be quiet

Many restaurants and small museums are closed on Mondays. Because of staffing shortages, many are also closed on Tuesdays, especially in small towns. Closures can be even more bedeviling in remote tourist towns, with restaurants and attractions not opening until midweek.

If you want to dine and explore to the fullest in Bisbee, Arizona, or Marfa, Texas, plan to visit Thursday through Sunday.

7. Pack layers for hikes

If hiking is on your itinerary, pack layers, even in summer. High-elevation deserts and most mountains, even those in the South, see cooler temperatures at night. You’ll be glad you have a pullover. Most hikers pack three layers: a base layer next to the skin, an insulating layer and an outer shell layer for protection from wind and rain.

Running shoes are fine for easy trails, but wear hiking boots that you’ve broken in for anything more strenuous. If you’re not backpacking, low-ankle hiking boots should be fine.

Sun protection (hat and sunscreen) and a daypack for storing food, water and a small first aid kit are also recommended.

8. Use friendly greetings and be on time 

Don’t be overly physical when meeting or greeting someone. Some Americans may hug, and urbanites may exchange cheek kisses, but most – especially men – shake hands. It’s also standard to greet the staff when entering and leaving a shop ("hello" and "have a nice day" are commonplace).

Americans tend to smile a lot, which is typically an easy expression of welcome or politeness. If you’re meeting someone, be on time. Many folks in the US consider it rude to be kept waiting.

9. Public restrooms aren't always easy to find

It can be surprisingly challenging to track down public restrooms. In downtown areas, your best bets are visitor centers, libraries, indoor malls and larger city parks. You may have to buy a coffee or snack to get the restroom key in coffee shops in heavily trafficked urban areas.

In the suburbs, try larger gas stations and fast-food restaurants. Along interstates, you’ll typically find rest areas with restrooms, picnic areas for picnics and space for dog walking about every 60 miles or so. The best option for those with small bladders? When you see a restroom, use it!

Group of friends sharing drinks in busy bar in Washington state, USA

10. Expect small talk, but don't delve into politics

Americans can be chatty, especially in small towns. Chitchatting about the weather or your immediate surroundings is typical, but don’t be surprised if someone eventually asks, “What do you do?” – which typically means, “What’s your job?” Yes, it’s nosy, and why should they care? Share as much or as little as you wish.

Political conversations can get dicey quickly, especially in today's polarized US, so it is prudent to keep your opinion to yourself. Don’t assume you know someone’s political views based on your location in the US or how someone talks or dresses.

On occasion, someone may toss out a live-wire topic just to get a reaction or show off. In that case, it's best to smile or change the topic. Discretion is the better part of a future bar fight.

11. Don't worry too much about what you wear

In the US, just about anything goes, and you’ll rarely feel uncomfortable because of what you’re wearing. That said, it’s worth bringing along dressier attire (smart casual) for dining at nice restaurants or going to upscale bars and clubs.

12. USA tipping culture: how much should you tip?

With coffee shops and casual restaurants now offering a tipping option on electronic transactions, tipping protocols in the US have gotten increasingly confusing.

In sit-down restaurants and at bars, tipping is not optional, and tips should only be withheld when service is outrageously bad. Even then, a small tip and a chat with the manager may be best. 

What about coffee shops? If you serve yourself, tipping is discretionary, or you can leave your change. A dollar is always appreciated. For more complicated coffee orders, consider a tip of 15% to 20%.

A 20% tip is the norm for restaurant servers unless gratuity is already included in the bill. For bartenders, it’s 15% to 20% per round or a minimum of $1 per drink.

For airport and hotel porters, $2 per bag is the norm or a minimum of $5 per cart.

Pay a valet at least $2 upon the return of your keys. For taxi drivers, it’s 10% to 15%, rounded up to the next dollar. Leave a few dollars under the pillow for hotel housekeepers daily.

13. Smoking is usually a no-no

Don’t assume you can smoke, even if you’re outside. Most people in the US have little tolerance for smokers, and smoking has even been banned from many outdoor areas, such as parks, boardwalks and beaches.

Two sisters wrapped in Navajo blankets stand at the edge of a rock in Monument Valley Tribal Park in the Navajo Nation

14. Check the rules before you visit Native American reservations and pueblos

When visiting a reservation or pueblo, ask about and follow any specific rules. Almost all tribes ban alcohol, and some do not allow pets and restrict cameras. All require permits for camping, fishing and other activities. If rules are not posted at the entrance, check the reservation website.

When you visit a reservation, you’re experiencing a unique culture with customs that may be unfamiliar to you. Always be courteous, respectful and open-minded. Don’t expect locals to share every detail of their lives.

The pandemic severely affected many tribes, so carry a mask and be prepared to wear it if required.

15. Purchase travel insurance

Healthcare costs in the USA are extremely high. All travelers are advised to carry a health insurance policy that covers medical visits.

Without insurance, you may be billed the full cost of any care you receive, which can easily run into the thousands of dollars, especially for emergency room visits.

16. Is the US safe to visit?

For most visitors to the US, petty theft is a bigger concern than violent crime. To avoid being robbed, withdraw money from ATMs during the day or in well-lit, busy areas at night.

When loading or unloading your car, keep an eye on all your bags, especially if crowds are around. Lock valuables in the trunk of your car and put them there before you hit the road for the day. It’s becoming more common for thieves to smash your car window and snatch items left in view.

Read our trip-planning articles for San Francisco , Seattle , New York City and other major urban areas for city-specific tips on crime prevention.

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  • Fact Sheets

Frequently Asked Questions: Guidance for Travelers to Enter the U.S.

Updated Date: April 21, 2022

Since January 22, 2022, DHS has required non-U.S. individuals seeking to enter the United States via land ports of entry and ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide proof of vaccination upon request.  On April 21, 2022, DHS announced that it would extend these requirements. In determining whether and when to rescind this order, DHS anticipates that it will take account of whether the vaccination requirement for non-U.S. air travelers remains in place.

These requirements apply to non-U.S. individuals who are traveling for essential or non-essential reasons. They do not apply to U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, or U.S. nationals.

Effective November 8, 2021, new air travel requirements applied to many noncitizens who are visiting the United States temporarily. These travelers are also required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. All air travelers, including U.S. persons, must test negative for COVID-19 prior to departure. Limited exceptions apply. See  CDC guidance  for more details regarding air travel requirements.

Below is more information about what to know before you go, and answers to Frequently Asked Questions about cross-border travel.

Entering the U.S. Through a Land Port of Entry or Ferry Terminal

Q. what are the requirements for travelers entering the united states through land poes.

A:  Before embarking on a trip to the United States, non-U.S. travelers should be prepared for the following:

  • Possess proof of an approved COVID-19 vaccination as outlined on the  CDC  website.
  • During border inspection, verbally attest to their COVID-19 vaccination status. 
  • Bring a  Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative  compliant border crossing document, such as a valid passport (and visa if required), Trusted Traveler Program card, a Department of State-issued Border Crossing Card, Enhanced Driver’s License or Enhanced Tribal Card when entering the country. Travelers (including U.S. citizens) should be prepared to present the WHTI-compliant document and any other documents requested by the CBP officer.

 Q. What are the requirements to enter the United States for children under the age of 18 who can't be vaccinated?

A:  Children under 18 years of age are excepted from the vaccination requirement at land and ferry POEs.

Q: Which vaccines/combination of vaccines will be accepted?

A:  Per CDC guidelines, all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved and authorized vaccines, as well as all vaccines that have an Emergency Use Listing (EUL) from the World Health Organization (WHO), will be accepted.

Accepted Vaccines:

  • More details are available in CDC guidance  here .
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your dose of an accepted single-dose COVID-19 vaccine;
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your second dose of an accepted 2-dose series;
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after you received the full series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine (not placebo) in a clinical trial;
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after you received 2 doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of accepted COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart.

Q. Is the United States requiring travelers to have a booster dose to be considered fully vaccinated for border entry purposes?

A:  No. The CDC guidance for “full vaccination” can be found here.

Q: Do U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents need proof of vaccination to return to the United States via land POEs and ferry terminals?

A:  No. Vaccination requirements do not apply to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs). Travelers that exhibit signs or symptoms of illness will be referred to CDC for additional medical evaluation.

Q: Is pre- or at-arrival COVID testing required to enter the United States via land POEs or ferry terminals?

A: No, there is no COVID testing requirement to enter the United States via land POE or ferry terminals. In this respect, the requirement for entering by a land POE or ferry terminal differs from arrival via air, where there is a requirement to have a negative test result before departure.

Processing Changes Announced on January 22, 2022 

Q: new changes were recently announced. what changed on january 22.

A:  Since January 22, 2022, non-citizens who are not U.S. nationals or Lawful Permanent Residents have been required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the United States at land ports of entry and ferry terminals, whether for essential or nonessential purposes. Previously, DHS required that non-U.S. persons be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the United States for nonessential purposes.  Effective January 22, all non-U.S. individuals, to include essential travelers, must be prepared to attest to vaccination status and present proof of vaccination to a CBP officer upon request. DHS announced an extension of this policy on April 21, 2022.

Q: Who is affected by the changes announced on January 22?

A: This requirement does not apply to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents. It applies to other noncitizens, such as a citizen of Mexico, Canada, or any other country seeking to enter the United States through a land port of entry or ferry terminal.

Q: Do U.S. citizens need proof of vaccination to return to the United States via land port of entry or ferry terminals?

A: Vaccination requirements do not apply to U.S. Citizens, U.S. nationals or U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents. Travelers that exhibit signs or symptoms of illness will be referred to CDC for additional medical evaluation. 

Q: What is essential travel?

A:  Under the prior policy, there was an exception from temporary travel restrictions for “essential travel.” Essential travel included travel to attend educational institutions, travel to work in the United States, travel for emergency response and public health purposes, and travel for lawful cross-border trade (e.g., commercial truckers). Under current policy, there is no exception for essential travel.

Q: Will there be any exemptions? 

A: While most non-U.S. individuals seeking to enter the United States will need to be vaccinated, there is a narrow list of exemptions consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Order in the air travel context.

  • Certain categories of individuals on diplomatic or official foreign government travel as specified in the CDC Order
  • Children under 18 years of age;
  • Certain participants in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials as specified in the CDC Order;   
  • Individuals with medical contraindications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine as specified in the CDC Order;
  • Individuals issued a humanitarian or emergency exception by the Secretary of Homeland Security;
  • Individuals with valid nonimmigrant visas (excluding B-1 [business] or B-2 [tourism] visas) who are citizens of a country with limited COVID-19 vaccine availability, as specified in the CDC Order
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces or their spouses or children (under 18 years of age) as specified in the CDC Order; and
  • Individuals whose entry would be in the U.S. national interest, as determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Q: What documentation will be required to show vaccination status?

A:  Non-U.S. individuals are required to be prepared to attest to vaccination status and present proof of vaccination to a CBP officer upon request regardless of the purpose of travel.

The current documentation requirement remains the same and is available on the CDC website . Documentation requirements for entry at land ports of entry and ferry terminals mirror those for entry by air.

Q: What happens if someone doesn’t have proof of vaccine status?

A: If non-U.S. individuals cannot present proof of vaccination upon request, they will not be admitted into the United States and will either be subject to removal or be allowed to withdraw their application for entry.

Q: Will incoming travelers be required to present COVID-19 test results?

A: There is no COVID-19 testing requirement for travelers at land border ports of entry, including ferry terminals.

Q: What does this mean for those who can't be vaccinated, either due to age or other health considerations? 

A: See CDC guidance for additional information on this topic. Note that the vaccine requirement does not apply to children under 18 years of age.

Q: Does this requirement apply to amateur and professional athletes?

A: Yes, unless they qualify for one of the narrow CDC exemptions.

Q: Are commercial truckers required to be vaccinated?

A: Yes, unless they qualify for one of the narrow CDC exemptions. These requirements also apply to bus drivers as well as rail and ferry operators.

Q. Do you expect border wait times to increase?

A:  As travelers navigate these new travel requirements, wait times may increase. Travelers should account for the possibility of longer than normal wait times and lines at U.S. land border crossings when planning their trip and are kindly encouraged to exercise patience.

To help reduce wait times and long lines, travelers can take advantage of innovative technology, such as facial biometrics and the CBP OneTM mobile application, which serves as a single portal for individuals to access CBP mobile applications and services.

Q: How is Customs and Border Protection staffing the ports of entry? 

A: CBP’s current staffing levels at ports of entry throughout the United States are commensurate with pre-pandemic levels. CBP has continued to hire and train new employees throughout the pandemic. CBP expects some travelers to be non-compliant with the proof of vaccination requirements, which may at times lead to an increase in border wait times. Although trade and travel facilitation remain a priority, we cannot compromise national security, which is our primary mission. CBP Office of Field Operations will continue to dedicate its finite resources to the processing of arriving traffic with emphasis on trade facilitation to ensure economic recovery.

Q: What happens if a vaccinated individual is traveling with an unvaccinated individual?  

A:  The unvaccinated individual (if 18 or over) would not be eligible for admission.

Q: If I am traveling for an essential reason but am not vaccinated can I still enter?

A:  No, if you are a non-U.S. individual. The policy announced on January 22, 2022 applies to both essential and non-essential travel by non-U.S. individual travelers. Since January 22, DHS has required that all inbound non-U.S. individuals crossing U.S. land or ferry POEs – whether for essential or non-essential reasons – be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination upon request.

Q: Are sea crew members on vessels required to have a COVID vaccine to disembark?

A:  Sea crew members traveling pursuant to a C-1 or D nonimmigrant visa are not excepted from COVID-19 vaccine requirements at the land border. This is a difference from the international air transportation context.

Entering the U.S. via Air Travel

Q: what are the covid vaccination requirements for air passengers to the united states  .

A:  According to CDC requirements [www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/noncitizens-US-air-travel.html | Link no longer valid], most noncitizens who are visiting the United States temporarily must be fully vaccinated prior to boarding a flight to the United States. These travelers are required to show proof of vaccination. A list of covered individuals is available on the CDC website.  

Q: What are the COVID testing requirements for air passengers to the United States?  

A:  Effective Sunday, June 12 at 12:01 a.m. ET, CDC will no longer require pre-departure COVID-19 testing for U.S.-bound air travelers.

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  • Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

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USA Travel Tips: 30 Things to Know Before Visiting the United States

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USA Travel Tips: Things to Know Before Visiting America

There is no doubt the United States is a vast land full of amazing destinations. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the dense forests of California and Oregon , the wetlands in Florida , the spectacular mountains in Alaska and Colorado , and the beautiful Hawaiian beaches . Then, there are also all the National Parks , monuments, forests, and of course, amazing cities like New York, San Francisco, Austin, and Portland . No doubt there is a US destination for all types of travelers!

If you’re planning a trip to the United States but wondering where to go, what to expect, and how to prepare, then check out our list of the most important things we think you should know prior to your trip. This guide will help ensure that you’ll be prepared for anything and everything!

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).

A Quick Overview of the USA

travelling usa

The United States of America is often shortened to the USA, the US, or simply America. It is comprised of 50 states, 48 of which are contiguous, plus Alaska to the west of Canada and Hawaii out in the Pacific Ocean. We also have Washington DC which is a federal district and 5 territories which include American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The USA is 3.8 million square miles with a population of over 327 million people.

30 Tips for Traveling in the USA

1. you may need an esta.

Many countries are a part of the USA’s visa waiver program, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore , Taiwan , Chile, and pretty much all of Europe. You can check to see if your country is on the list on the website of the Department of Homeland Security .

Even if you’re from one of the 40 countries that do not require a visa to travel to the USA, chances are you’ll still need an ESTA. Now you’re probably wondering, “What is an ESTA?” It stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization and is basically a pre-approval to enter the USA without a visa. It’s actually very similar to the e-Visa programs that many other countries around the world have implemented.

Luckily, it’s quite easy to apply online for an ESTA visa through various travel agencies or directly through the website of the Department of Homeland Security. You’ll just need to upload a photo of your passport and fill out some basic information about your travel plans. And once you have been granted an ESTA, it is valid for two years (unless your passport expires before the two years).

Make sure you apply for your ESTA at least 72 hours before you’re scheduled to depart for the USA. The approval process is generally very quick, but if you don’t have your ESTA, you likely won’t be allowed to board your flight.

2. The USA is Really, Really Big

It is 3.8 million square miles to be exact. It’s so big, in fact, that it would take you about 40 hours to drive the 2,800 miles from Los Angeles to New York without stopping! And a good bit of that drive would be unbelievably boring. If you only have a short time to visit the US, flying is probably the way to go.

And if you want to do a cross-country road trip , just be sure you factor in how much driving you will be doing on a daily basis.

3. Luckily, There are plenty of Affordable Flights

Virgin America, Frontier, Spirit, Southwest, and Jetblue are all budget carriers that operate domestic flights in the US. Be sure to add luggage if you need it since it’s usually not included in the budget fare. And seats on Southwest aren’t assigned so you’ll need to check in early to get priority and arrive early to pick your seat.

We recommend Skyscanner.com for finding the best deals on flights in the USA.

Check Flight Prices on Skyscanner

4. And a Few Decent Trains and Buses

USA Travel Tips (Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America): Amtrak

Depending on where you are in the US and where you are headed, there are some good options for long-distance transportation – both Amtrak and Bolt Bus are great affordable options for traveling around the USA.

Amtrak has 30 train routes to 500 destinations so you’d be surprised how far you can get with a ticket. When we take weekend trips from Portland to Seattle, we love taking Amtrak so we don’t have to deal with traffic.

Bolt Bus covers a more limited area – they are mainly on the West Coast and the Northeast – but the buses are super reliable, fast, and have really comfortable seats. They also have nice amenities like Wi-Fi and individual power outlets that make it possible to catch up on work during your bus ride or just binge-watch your favorite Netflix show.

5. Most of our Cities Have Poor Public Transportation Systems

It’s no secret that cities in the USA don’t typically offer a lot of public transportation options. So if you’re not planning on renting a car, you’ll likely wind up taking a lot of taxis or Uber to get around town.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Several major cities like New York, Chicago , Boston, and Portland have very efficient metro systems and lots of bus routes. But other places like Atlanta , Los Angeles, Miami, and Las Vegas don’t offer much in terms of public transportation.

6. Uber and Lyft are Everywhere

Taxis are a thing of the past. Download the Uber and Lyft apps and you can get a reasonably priced ride in most of the larger cities in America. Uber drivers tend to have nicer cars and they often provide snacks and/or water. And Lyft tends to be a bit cheaper with more talkative drivers. Just depends on what you’re in the mood for.

7. Expect to Encounter a Lot of Diversity

When we travel, we often have people say “but you don’t LOOK like Americans”. To which we laugh and ask what Americans look like. Technically, we all immigrated to the US from somewhere.

Native Americans came first, thousands of years ago. The widely accepted theory is that they migrated from Asia across a land bridge that connected the continents at the point that is now the Bering Strait. Europeans descended in 1492 to colonize the Americas which led to an immense population decline in Native Americans due to disease, war, and slavery. Today, there are over 500 federally recognized Native American tribes still living in the US.

The rest of us have parents or grandparents that came from other parts of the world. My great grandfather on my mother’s side immigrated from Norway, and my great grandparents on my father’s side immigrated from Sweden. So technically I’m Swedish/Norwegian but I’ve never been to either place, don’t speak the language, and don’t know anything about the customs or traditions.

So America is a mixing pot of a variety of ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, and backgrounds. English is the most widely spoken language, although not everyone who lives here speaks it and many people speak multiple languages. There’s not really one single thing that constitutes someone being “American”.

8. Still, We Often Live up to our Stereotypes

You’ve seen American movies and no doubt have developed some stereotypes. Yes, we have bleach-blonde surfer dudes in California. Hipsters in Portland … You bet! Cowboys in Texas? Check! Tanned-up muscley Jersey Shore dwellers – sure, you’ll encounter a few. And yes, “Southern hospitality” is a real thing. Not all American stereotypes are true, but some still are!

9. A Road Trip is a Great Way to See the USA

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): Valley of Fire

Rent a car, buy some camping gear , and hit the open road!

10. You Must be 25 Years Old to Rent a Car

Sorry, rental company rules, not mine.

11. If you Take a Road Trip, There are Plenty of Rest Stops

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): Colorado

The US has incredibly long stretches of highways with very few amenities for many miles. But you’ll frequently see signs for rest stops in these remote areas. Rest stops have free, reasonably clean bathrooms and usually offer free coffee to help you stay awake while you’re driving. They are conveniently located just off of major highways and interstates so you don’t have to go far to find one.

Most rest stops will also allow you to park overnight for free so if you really need to get some sleep but don’t want to pay for a hotel room try to find a rest stop.

12. There is a lot of Public Land (and Free Camping!)

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): Canyonlands National Park

As we mentioned, the United States is really really big. And that means that there are a lot of public lands to go around. This land is meant to be used by the American people and is maintained by federal and state governments. We have national parks (although these generally have an entrance fee), national monuments, state parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, state forests, and wilderness areas to name a few.

Most of this state and federally managed land is available for recreational use. Generally, the national parks and monuments are very controlled while the forest and wilderness areas are a bit of a free-for-all. And most of this public land is in the western half of the US.

The national forests are managed by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and it accounts for about 8% of the total land area in the United States. They have trails and roads of varying conditions and you can usually camp anywhere in these areas for free .

13. The Best Places to Visit Aren’t the Ones You Think

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): The Wave, Arizona

When people from across the world dream about visiting the United States, there are a few specific places that they usually have in mind – New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and Las Vegas. They think of impressive skylines, bright lights, and big cities.

But as we mentioned above, much of the public land in the US is in the Western half of the US. States that you normally wouldn’t give a second thought. Utah, Arizona , Oregon , and Washington (state, not DC) have spectacularly beautiful parks filled with waterfalls, lakes, rivers, wildlife, and lush greenery. Or interesting rock formations that will make you think you’re walking on Mars .

You can rent a car or a campervan and set off on the open road to explore the beauty that the western United States has to offer!

14. The Weather Varies Drastically

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): White Sands National Monument

Again, the US is BIG. Meaning that it might be 120° F in Arizona and 2° F in Montana at the same time. Check the weather and the road conditions before planning your trip.

15. Remember, We’re Not on the Metric System

We use miles instead of kilometers to measure distance, feet to measure height, and Fahrenheit for temperature. Why can’t we align ourselves with the rest of the world, you ask? I wish I knew.

16. If you Need a Bathroom or Wi-fi, Head to Starbucks

Starbucks has always been a great place to go for free internet and mediocre coffee. But after a recent publicity fiasco where an African American man was accused of trespassing while he was waiting for friends at a Starbucks and hadn’t yet purchased anything, they have adopted a new, even more, lenient ordering policy . It states that “ any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes, and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase. “

So if you need to use the toilet, need access to Wi-Fi, or just want a place to hang out for a bit, Starbucks is a great place to go. You don’t even have to be sneaky about not ordering anything!

17. You Have to be 21 to Consume Alcohol

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): Drinking Age

You only have to be 18 to enlist in the military, smoke cigarettes, and vote, but you can’t consume alcohol until you’re 21 years old in the US. Sounds silly, we know.

18. You’ll Need to Show Proof of Age

There is also really strict alcohol enforcement in the states. You’ll need to show identification that proves your age in order to purchase alcohol at a store or drink it in a restaurant or bar.

And most bars won’t access non-US-resident driver’s licenses or ID cards. So, as crazy as it sounds, you’ll probably need to keep your passport on you if you’re heading out to the bars or nightclubs in the USA.

19. Food Portions are HUGE

Let’s be honest, America has a problem with obesity. It could be because we dine on “animal-style cheeseburgers”, giant cinnamon rolls slathered with frosting, and extra-large pepperoni pizzas that have a crust that is also stuffed with cheese and pepperoni.

Or it could be because the portion size in the US is absolutely massive. Everything is super-sized. And your big cut of sirloin steak probably comes with a side of macaroni and cheese and an entire baked potato. Look at the plate sizes around you before ordering and plan on splitting or taking a to-go box home with you.

20. Tipping at the End is Expected

The US has developed a tipping custom that has gotten a bit out of hand. Many states in the US have a minimum wage for servers that is far under the federal minimum wage – as low as $2.13/hour – because they expect that servers will be tipped handsomely.

A 20% tip on top of your total meal cost (not including sales tax) is commonly expected. Even at coffee shops, hair and nail salons, massage parlors, and restaurants where you get your own water and silverware. It’s an unfortunate extra cost to pass on to the consumer, and it’s also pretty unfair to the servers. Always consider that extra expense when dining out.

21. Sales Tax Isn’t Included in Prices

Each state has its own individual sales tax rate (although some, like Oregon, have no sales tax). If you buy a burger for $10 in San Francisco, when you go to pay, you’ll have an 8.5% sales tax added to that. Then add a ~20% tip and that $10 burger becomes ~$12.85. It may not seem like that big of a deal but it will if you go out for a fancy dinner. Or if you make any big retail purchases.

22. State Laws Differ

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): Marijuana Sign in the Portland Airport

You can’t throw your excrement out of a moving vehicle in Oregon, but you can salvage and consume your roadkill . Each state in the USA has its own laws that you must abide by when you visit. You can walk around with an open container of alcohol in cities, such as Las Vegas or New Orleans , but not in most others.

You are required to wear a seatbelt in every state except New Hampshire. Some require all occupants to wear belts, and some require only those in the front seat to wear them. And state laws differ regarding the use of a cell phone while driving (best to go hands-free all the time, just in case). Laws regarding helmets differ by state as well.

Marijuana is legal to purchase in states like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado but you still can’t smoke it in public.

If you want to stay safe no matter where you are, wear your seatbelt, don’t consume alcoholic beverages on the street or in your vehicle, don’t do drugs, stay off your phone while driving, drive at or under the speed limit, don’t pee in public, keep those nipples covered ladies, and don’t eat your roadkill. Boring…

23. How to Dress in the USA

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): Three Forks, Oregon

You can dress however you please in the US, as long as you’re not naked. In most states, it is illegal to expose your genitals and your nipples (but only if you’re a female). So ladies need to keep their tops on, even at the beach, unless the nudity is specifically allowed.

24. For Cheap Prices, Stock up at Walmart

A lot of people in the USA don’t approve of the Walmart Corporation because they moved into rural areas, offered everything you could ever want at super cheap prices, and put a lot of small businesses out of business.

If you choose to look past all of that, Walmart really is the place to go for anything and everything you need, at rock-bottom prices. From groceries to camping gear to clothing to electronics, and everything in between. Plus, they have a great return policy. AND you can camp in the Walmart parking lot ! It’s not the most pleasant experience, but most Walmarts allow overnight parking in their lot just in case you find yourself on a road trip with no campground options around.

If you’re not into supporting Walmart, check out Target instead. They are like a more upscale Walmart and they have a better reputation.

25. Utilize Amazon Lockers

If Walmart doesn’t have it, or you just prefer Amazon, why not have it shipped to an Amazon Locker ? There are lockers located all over the USA. They accept both deliveries and returns, are super easy to use, are totally free, and they are open early and late for your convenience.

26. Craigslist Also has Everything

And if you’d prefer to go the second-hand route, if you need to find rideshare to a new destination, or if you love the US so much that you want to find a job, or get tickets to a show, Craigslist.org has it all. It’s managed to stay simple and ad-free over the years so it’s easy to search and find exactly what you’re looking for.

But beware of scams! And take precautions if you actually need to meet a stranger in order to purchase something.

27. Americans LOVE Football

Not to be confused with futbol (aka soccer). Football is a sport where beefy men in spandex throw a pointy ball around while others jump into big cuddle piles and try to touch each other’s butts. Now that you understand the game perfectly, head to a local sports bar on any given day during football season. You’re bound to see a bunch of grown men guzzling beer and high-fiving each other as though they did anything remotely noteworthy other than consuming an entire plate of nachos.

28. And we Love Festivals

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): Burning Man

Americans love their festivals. They love to dress up like fair maidens for renaissance festivals, sample strange treats at garlic festivals, snap photos at tulip festivals, and have one too many drinks at seafood and wine festivals. Plus, we have popular music festivals like Coachella, Bonaroo, and Austin City Limits.

And we have the strangest festival of all – Burning Man – where rich people go into the desert to gyrate naked, covered in dust to EDM music while surviving off of peanut butter sandwiches and cocaine.

No doubt you can find a festival to attend no matter where or when you find yourself in the US!

29. A Hospital Visit will Cost You

The healthcare system in the US is incredibly confusing, complicated, and complex. We have lived there for most of our lives and don’t even understand how it works. If God forbid, you have to take a trip to the doctor or an emergency room during your trip to the US, you’ll leave with a big bill. Our medical care is not free for us, or for tourists. In fact, medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US.

Luckily, there are some low-cost medical providers available for people who need them. Planned Parenthood is nationwide and there are other regional clinics as well. Hopefully, you’ll never need one!

If you’re planning on traveling to the USA, you may want to invest in travel health insurance like SafetyWing to make sure you don’t get stuck with a big medical bill during your trip.

30. The Country is Very Divided Politically

Things to Know Before Visiting the United States of America (USA): Anti-NRA Sign

The political center of the US is in Washington DC. That’s our capital, it’s where our President resides, and all three branches of our federal government are centered there. It is also a city that tends to attract young, liberal-minded people. As do other large cities on the East Coast and on the West Coast. These tend to be Democratic-leaning (blue) areas of the country.

Then you’ve got the south. An area that is primarily dominated by Republicans. Not just in the south, but Republicans tend to favor rural areas of the country, while Democrats tend to flock to larger cities.

Democrats are considered to be more progressive. They support women’s rights and equality, LGBTQ+ rights (that stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and more), universal healthcare for all, and generally see immigration in a favorable light. Republicans tend to be religious and anti-abortion, they generally don’t want equal rights for the LGBTQ+ population, and they see immigration as people “stealing their jobs”.

If you are visiting the USA and you could see yourself feeling uncomfortable being in an area that is dominated by one of these groups or another, best research the political leanings of your destination ahead of time. Or just don’t bring up politics while you’re there.

Enjoy your trip to the beautiful United States of America!

Planning a trip to the USA? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!

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USA Travel Tips: Things to Know Before Visiting the United States

Val grew up in Portland, Oregon but moved to Oahu on a whim back in 2013. She sold her house and all of her belongings and bought a one-way ticket. Since then she’s taken two around-the-world trips and has visited 60-ish countries while living out of a duffel bag. Val started documenting the Wandering Wheatleys travels back in 2013 as a way to update friends and family about her whereabouts and to relay humorous daily interactions. The only readers were her mom and her mother-in-law but that didn’t stop her! These days you’ll find Val dreaming up future trips, creating new travel content, managing a team of amazing travel enthusiasts, and chasing around her two adorable but naughty kids.

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11 thoughts on “usa travel tips: 30 things to know before visiting the united states”.

travelling usa

We warned. A liberal wrote this.

travelling usa

Yes we are liberals and proud of it! Thanks for pointing that out for our readers if they couldn’t already tell from following along our world travels. And I’m guessing you mean *be* warned?

Yes, “Be” not “We.” Sorry for the typo. God save the Electoral College!

travelling usa

I don’t think you know many Republicans from the south, you make some assumptions on your last point.

I’m pretty sure I do, I live in the south…

travelling usa

Hello. Thank you so much for your blog and the information your provide here, it’s very helpful. I would like to ask you if you have any advice about the best way to pay in the US. Do you recommend a credit or a debit card? And which would your recommend? I am coming from Europe and I will make a 3 month trip. Thank you so much in advance. Best Regards Ana

travelling usa

some amazing information know before travelling to USA.. Thank you for sharing knowledge keep it up… Regards

travelling usa

important information know before travelling to United States of America..  Regards regards

travelling usa

good to know all this…………….

good to know all this…………….Thank You

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Nomadic Matt: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Better

My 31 Favorite Places to Visit in the USA

The colorful rocks of the Grand Canyon during sunset

From sea to shining sea, the United States is home to a diverse landscape — both culturally and physically. Spending months traveling across it gave me a deep appreciation for all my country has to offer.

After traveling across the continental United States as part of multiple cross-country road trips (you never really realize how big Texas is until you drive through it. Damn that state is big!), I wanted to share some of my favorite places in the United States with you. I’ve already talked about my favorite restaurants and lessons learned , so it only seems proper to give you a list of the best places to visit in the USA when you come and travel here!

To help you get started, here’s a quick overview of some of the highlights:

Best destination for foodies: New Orleans Best destination for partying: Miami or Las Vegas Best destination for hiking/nature: Glacier National Park Best destination for history: Natchez Best destination for museums: Washington, D.C. or New York City Best destination for families: The Grand Canyon

In no particular order, here’s my detailed list of the best places to visit in the USA:

( Note: This list is based only on where I myself have been. There are a lot more incredibly breathtaking places I haven’t explored yet, which is why you don’t see them on this list!)  

The restaurants of Memphis, Tennessee lit up at night

WHERE TO STAY IN MEMPHIS : Hostel Memphis – A hip hostel in a century-old building with a fully-equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. The hostel is also a non-profit that donates 100% of its profit to social justice causes around the city.  

Austin, Texas skyline at dusk shining over the water

Thanks to everything from the growing food truck population to the flagship Whole Foods store with the incredible salad bar (grilled pineapple!), I eat — and eat well — nonstop. The Austin campus of the University of Texas provides a youthful vigor to the city, and its liberal attitude attracts a diverse and eclectic population. In short, you can’t skip Austin, because if you do, I’ll find you and drag you there.

WHERE TO STAY IN AUSTIN : Firehouse Hostel – This centrally-located hostel is located in an old firehall from 1885. They have fast Wi-Fi, plenty of chill common areas, and an amazing on-site bar that serves top-notch craft cocktails.

For more travel tips on Austin, check out these posts:

  • My Complete Guide to Austin
  • My Guide to Eating in Austin

3. New Orleans

The beautiful and historic buildings of New Orleans, USA at night

WHERE TO STAY IN NOLA : HI New Orleans – An award-winning hostel with spacious dorms, comfy beds, privacy curtains, and fast Wi-Fi. Everything a budget traveler needs!

For more travel tips on traveling New Orleans, check out my suggested itinerary on how to spend 4 days there !  

4. Asheville

A massive old mansion surrounded by visitors in Asheville, North Carolina

If you’ve ever seen Downton Abbey, that’s what the house is like! (And, if you haven’t, you should! The show is addicting!)

WHERE TO STAY IN ASHEVILLE : Bon Paul & Sharky’s – A laid-back hsotel with a spacious front and back porch for relaxing. There’s free parking, free Wi-Fi, and plenty of nearby restaurants and cafes.  

5. The Pacific Coastal Drive

A scenic view of the Pacific Ocean from the Pacific Coastal Drive

WHERE TO STAY ON THE PACFIC COAST HIGHWAY : Airbnb – Airbnb is your best bet here, unless you have camping gear and want to camp in one of the many parks. There are also lots of cheap motels along the highway too.  

6. Redwood National Park

Towering redwood trees in the Redwood National Park, California during the day

WHERE TO STAY IN REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK : View Crest Lodge – Located on the coast in Trinidad, this rustic budget-friendly lodge has basic amenities like free Wi-Fi and TV, and some of their rooms also have full kitchens. It’s a clean, comfy no-frills place to crash for a night.  

7. Glacier National Park

Calm waters and snow-capped mountains in Glacier National Park

WHERE TO STAY IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK : Camping – Pack (or rent) a tent and cozy up for a few nights under the stars. You won’t be disappointed.  

The downtown Denver, Colorado skyline lit up at night

WHERE TO STAY IN DENVER : Ember Hostel – This boutique hostel is rated one of the best in the country, offering a swank interior, free jacuzzi, outdoor firepit, comfy beds with blackout curtains, free parking, and more.  

The famous bean sculpture in Chicago, Illinois shining at night

And once the winter deep freeze is over, Chicagoans burst out of their homes to enjoy the summer weather, so there’s a positive, happy vibe emanating through the city. Take advantage of it.

WHERE TO STAY IN CHICAGO : HI Chicago – A spacious, clean hostel with female-only dorms, free Wi-Fi, and a great location. The beds are comfy and the common area is huge so it’s easy to meet people.

For more travel tips on Chicago, check out this detailed planning guide !  

10. New York City

The iconic skyline of NYC on a bright summer day

WHERE TO STAY IN NYC : Jazz on the Park – Located near Central Park on the Upper West Side, this no-frills hostel is close to the train and is one of the more affordable places in the city. The dorms are basic and the beds aren’t winning any awards but it’s cheap (for NYC at least!).

For more travel tips on New York City, check out these posts:

  • The Complete Guide to New York City
  • The Best Walking Tours of New York City
  • 21 Delicious Places to Eat in NYC
  • How to Spend 4 Days in New York City

11. Natchez

A bright orange sunset over the water near Natchez, Mississippi

Now, they are historic monuments, and you can tour them while enjoying a view of the Mississippi River. It’s far off the beaten path — and my favorite discovery from my last road trip.

WHERE TO STAY IN NATCHEZ : The Guest House Historic Mansion – If you want to splash out, this 19th-century mansion includes free breakfast and spacious historic rooms as well as modern amenities like Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, and flatscreen TVs.

For more travel tips on Natchez,  check out this post on my visit there .  

12. Savannah

A black and white photo of an antebellum mansion in Savannah, Georgia

WHERE TO STAY IN SAVANNAH : Thunderbird Inn – This affordable three-star motel is just a short 5-minute walk from downtown. Boasting a retro vibe, there’s free coffee and juice every morning, as well as free donuts and popcorn available in the lobby.  

13. The Grand Canyon

A sweeping view from the top of the Grand Canyon on a sunny day in Arizona

WHERE TO STAY IN THE GRAND CANYON : Camp – Pack (or rent) a tent and cozy up for a few nights under the stars. You’ll need to reserve a spot early though as they disappear fast!

For more travel tips on the Grand Canyon, read this post on hiking the canyon .  

14. Nashville

A lively street of music bars in Nashville, Tennessee at night

There’s not a lot of “touristy stuff” to do here, but what makes this city one of my favorites are the music, the food, the wildly friendly and happy people, and the positive energy the city seems to exude. When you’re here, plan to spend a few hours at the Tennessee State Museum. It goes into great (though sometimes very one-sided) detail about the state’s history, but it’s more exciting than you might think.

WHERE TO STAY IN NASHVILLE : Red Roof Inn – While it’s not centrally located, this is one of the city’s few affordable two-star options. A quick 13-minute drive from the Grand Ole Opry, this budget-friendly joint boasts an outdoor pool, free Wi-Fi, and free coffee.  

15. San Francisco

Looking up at the Golden Gate Bridge from the San Francisco Beach in the summer

WHERE TO STAY IN SAN FRANCISCO : Green Tortoise – As one of the oldest in town, this hostel is an institution in San Francisco. It offers free breakfast, free dinners multiple times per week, and even a free sauna! It has a huge common room so it’s easy to meet people and has a very fun, social atmosphere.

For more travel tips on San Francisco, read these posts:

  • The Complete Guide to San Francisco
  • San Francisco Itinerary: Things to See & Do in 3 Days
  • The Best Hostels in San Francisco

Wide and spacious beach on the coast of Miami, Florida

WHERE TO STAY IN MIAMI : Generator Miami – This hostel has a pool, two restaurants, a bar, and is just minutes away from the beach. It’s massive (there are 8 floors), the beds are more comfortable than the cheap ones you’ll find at the party hostels.

For more travel tips on Miami, check out this detailed planning guide !  

17. San Diego

A tall wooden pier on the San Diego beach during sunset

The downtown Gaslamp area — as well as the famous Pacific Beach — is full of trendy seafood restaurants, bustling bars, and some seriously life-changing taco stalls. I love San Diego .

WHERE TO STAY IN SAN DIEGO : ITH Adventure Hostel – With a focus on sustainable travel (there’s a vegetable garden and backyard chickens), this chill hostel is very friendly and social. It’s clean, and the water pressure in the showers is decent, and the beds are comfy too.  

19. Lake Tahoe

A sweeping view of the forests around Lake Tahoe in California

WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE TAHOE : Camping – Pack (or rent) a tent and cozy up for a few nights under the stars. You won’t be disappointed.  

20. Anywhere in Montana

A flat, sparse farmyard in rural Montana during the summer

WHERE TO STAY IN MONTANA : Treasure State Hostel – Located in downtown Bozeman, this hotel is quiet, clean, and is home to friendly staff. They organize all kinds of events too, like pub crawls and movie nights, so it’s easy to hang out and meet people.  

21. Washington D.C.

The White House in Washington, D.C

WHERE TO STAY IN WASHINGTON : Highroad Hostel – Offering pod-style bunks, this cool hostel is located in an old Victorian mansion. The beds have memory foam mattresses, there’s a fully-equipped kitchen, and the common area has a fireplace.

For more travel tips on Washington D.C., here are some other articles I’ve written:

  • Travel guide to Washington D.C.
  • Free Things to do in Washington D.C. in 2019

22. Cape Cod

Waves crashing against a sunny beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts

WHERE TO STAY IN CAPE COD : Cape Sands Inn – Just a short walk from the beach in West Yarmouth, this three-star property has all the standard amenities (TV, coffee/tea, free Wi-Fi), as well as free parking and a relaxing sauna and hot tub.  

A historic statue surrounded by flowers in Boston, Massachusetts

It’s home to a ton of activities, like the Freedom Trail and Faneuil Hall, the JFK Museum, and the Boston Commons and Public Garden, as well as some of the best Italian and seafood restaurants in the country. Be sure to eat at Zaftigs for the best brunch in the city! It’s wicked!

WHERE TO STAY IN BOSTON : HI Boston – This spacious and clean hostel is just a short walk from pretty much everything in the city. They have female-only dorms, free Wi-Fi, and several chill common areas where you can meet other travelers.

For more travel tips on Boston, check out these posts:

  • Travel guide to Boston
  • Boston Itinerary
  • Free Things to do in Boston

24. Las Vegas

The glamorous hotels and casinos of the Las Vegas strip lit up at night

Get off the Strip, explore the real Vegas (because technically the Strip is located in Paradise, NV, not Las Vegas), and see why people decide to live here.

WHERE TO STAY IN LAS VEGAS : Sin City Hostel – Just a short walk from the (in)famous Fremont Street, this is a social hostel that hosts all kinds of events (such as bar crawls, pasta & wine nights, BBQs, casino nights, and more). It’s a great place to connect with other travelers.

For more travel tips on Las Vegas, these articles can help:

  • Travel guide to Las Vegas
  • 12 Things to do in Vegas That Don’t Involve a Casino
  • How to be a High-Roller in Vegas on a Low-Roller Budget

25. Portland

A sunny public plaza in Portland, Oregon with people walking around

Portland is just an awesome city, especially in the summer when the weather is perfect and there are festivals and events galore, like the World Domination Summit and the Portland International Beerfest.

WHERE TO STAY IN PORTLAND : HI Portland – Northwest – Rated one of the best hostels in the world, this centrally-located HI hostel offers free breakfast, in-house made craft beer, an outdoor courtyard with a firepit, regular live music, and much more. It’s a lively, social, and fun place to stay!

For more travel tips on Portland, read this post on the city .  

26. Seattle

Neon Public Market sign lit up at night in Seattle, Washington

WHERE TO STAY IN SEATTLE : Green Tortoise – Located right across from the iconic Pike Place Market, this social hostel organizes all kinds of activities so it’s easy to meet people. They also offer free breakfast — a rare perk in the US!

For more travel tips on Seattle, read this detailed planning guide !  

27. Deadwood

The snowy main street of the historic town of Deadwood, South Dakota

WHERE TO STAY IN DEADWOOD : Gold Country Inn – This kitschy hotel is one of the cheapest places in town. Located right downtown, they have a mini gambling hall on-site, free Wi-Fi, and free parking. It’s nothing fancy but it won’t break the bank either.  

28. Kansas City

The exterior of Joe's BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri

WHERE TO STAY IN KANSAS CITY : Home2 Suites Downtown – With a fitness center, pool, and a decent breakfast spread, this three-star hotel in downtown KC is one of the more affordable places to crash in the city.  

29. Louisville

An old steamboat docked on the river in Louisville, USA

Louseiville has a laid-back, artsy vibe to it. It feels much more like an Austin or a Portland than your traditional southern/midwest city. In the past, it was considered a fly-over city and was skipped by most people. It’s definitely not now.

WHERE TO STAY IN LOUISVILLE : Microtel Inn – While it may be 20 minutes from downtown, this budget-friendly inn is affordable, includes free breakfast and free parking, and has free Wi-Fi. It’s a no-frills choice but clean and comfy.  

30. Charleston

A quiet sidestreet lined by trees in Charleston, USA

WHERE TO STAY IN CHARLESTON : Charlestons NotSo Hostel – Located in a historic neighborhood, this laid-back hostel includes free coffee/tea and oatmeal and free Wi-Fi. The rooms are small but the beds are perfectly comfy.  

31. Franklin

Downtown in Franklin, Tennessee, USA

WHERE TO STAY IN FRANKLIN : The Harpeth Hotel – This upscale property features a restaurant on-site, fitness center, bar, and terrace. If you don’t want to splash out, check Booking.com for other options.

The United States is filled with too many “must-sees” places to visit to list in a single blog post. After all, the country is home to over 329 million people and covers 3.8 million square miles.

But for those looking for a starting point for where to go, what to see, and the places to visit, this list should point you in the right direction and fill your time!

Just be sure to turn off the highways, head to the small towns, and discover some favorites of your own. The best of the USA is always away from the major highways in the little no-name towns with little diners, quirky shops, and friendly people!

For more travel tips on traveling the USA, read these other blog posts:

  • How to Travel Across the USA on $50 A Day
  • 19 Amazing Restaurants from My Road-Trip Across the U.S.
  • 9 Things I Learned While Driving Across the U.S.
  • Detailed Travel Planning Guide on The United States

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner . It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld . If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • SafetyWing (best for everyone)
  • Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
  • Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Want to Travel for Free? Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.

Need Help Finding Activities for Your Trip? Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace where you can find cool walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more.

Ready to Book Your Trip? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

Got a comment on this article? Join the conversation on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free.

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Here’s how you know

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Official websites use .gov A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS A lock ( Lock A locked padlock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

CBP Seal, U.S. Customs and Border Protection:  U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Links to CBP.gov homepage

  • For U.S. Citizens/Lawful Permanent Residents
  • Know Before You Go

Before Your Trip

Booking your tickets.

Match Names on Tickets and Documents

Purchase your travel tickets in the exact same name that appears on your passport or official ID. Ensure that all travel documents match that name precisely.

If the names don't match, your travel carrier or the Transportation Security Administration may require additional documents to verify your identity before allowing you to board.

Each Country is Different

Learn the required travel documents for each country you will visit. Find out about specific travel warnings, U.S. import restrictions, and other rules that apply to the countries on your itinerary by visiting www.state.gov/travelers .

Find the latest on making your return to the United States problem free - go to www.cbp.gov/travel .

Documents You Will Need

Carry - do not pack - all travel documents.

  • All U.S. citizens need U.S. passport books if re-entering by air. Land and sea border crossings accept additional travel documents, such as U.S. Passport cards and Trusted Traveler cards. Child travelers have additional options - see the Traveling with Children section.
  • Green card (Form I-551), or document for lawful permanent residents, or advance parole (Form I-512) if your Form I-551 is pending.
  • A visa or other entry document for the countries you will visit.
  • Receipts or registration ( CBP Form 4457 ) for new electronics, such as a camera or laptop, that you are taking abroad. (Only suggested if the goods are less than six months old.)
  • Proof of rabies vaccination for dogs traveling abroad. Check the requirements for other pets at www.aphis.usda.gov .
  • Valid license for driving overseas and for use as a second form of photo ID.
  • Permits and/or certificates if bringing restricted animal or plant products - go to www.aphis.usda.gov .
  • Medications in their original packages. Bring only the amount of medication you will need. Prescription medications have to be under the traveler's name.
  • Envelope to hold the receipts of your purchases abroad.

Traveling with Children

When U.S. citizen children under the age of 16 arrive by land or sea from Canada or Mexico they may present an original or copy of their birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Naturalization Certificate.

Groups of Children: U.S. citizen children under the age of 19 arriving by land or sea from Canada or Mexico and traveling with a school group, religious group, social or cultural organization or sports team, may present an original or copy of their birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Naturalization Certificate. The group should have a letter on organizational letterhead with:

  • The name of the group and supervising adult(s).
  • The names of the children on the trip and their primary address, phone number, date and place of birth, and name of at least one parent or legal guardian for each child.
  • A written and signed statement of the supervising adult certifying that he or she has parental or legal guardian consent for each child.

Clear water of Lake Tahoe California in summer with snowcapped mountains in the background--one of the best places to visit in the USA bucket list

USA Bucket List: 50 Best Places to Visit in the US

From snowcapped mountains to tropical beaches, from some of the world’s most iconic cities to some of its most incredible deserts, from the east coast to the west, one thing is incredibly certain: there is absolutely no shortage of awe-inspiring, utterly diverse, and incredibly beautiful places to visit in the USA.

Our home country boasts one of the most incredible national park systems on the planet, along with a huge variety of cities, small towns, and other gorgeous places that ensure that a lifetime would not be long enough to see all of the best travel destinations in the USA.

… But that won’t stop us from trying to enjoy as many of the most amazing vacations in the United States as we can.

We teamed up with several other travel bloggers to put together this giant USA bucket list, and definitely added a few new spots to our personal list of places to see in the US in the process!

From coast to coast, city to countryside, here are the best places to visit in the USA.

Table of Contents

Best Cities to Visit in the USA

National parks + other beautiful places for a us vacation, beaches + islands for your usa bucket list, other beautiful places in the usa to visit.

antelope canyon in arizona with a beam of light streaming into the canyon

Some links in this post may be affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please see our disclosure policy for more detail.

New York, New York

From Disha of Disha Discovers

New York is one of the most iconic and beautiful cities in the United States and even the world.

It truly is a city that everyone should visit at least once in their lives even if it’s just for a quick weekend in NYC !

The tall buildings are mesmerizing and awe-inspiring, it’s home to some of the most exquisite museums and galleries in the world, and New York City is brimming with so much to explore and see.

Plus, NYC is a foodie’s heaven with cuisines from all over the world.

… And, these are only a few of the many reasons to visit this magnificent city.

kate storm standing at a magnifying glass on liberty island overlooking financial district manhattan

Some bucket-list-worthy things to do in New York City are to watch a play on Broadway, see the Statue of Liberty, hang out in Time Square, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and take a stroll around Central Park.

A few museums to visit are the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Guggenheim, and the American Museum of Natural History.

Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue, Empire State Building, and Chelsea Market are must-sees as well.

Whatever you decide to do in New York City , you’re in for a real treat!

This city will leave you feeling inspired and you’ll want to book another trip to come back!

kate storm spinning in front of manhattan bridge in brooklyn, a must see duing 4 days in nyc

Miami, Florida

From Veronika of Travel Geekery

Vibrant and colorful Miami is, without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in the US.

The downtown area merges into wonderfully diverse neighborhoods from Little Havana to Coral Gables.

However, most visitors to the vibrant yet laid-back city head to its beaches located on a long stretch of a barrier island.

South Beach especially is where the glamor’s at, topped by stylish Ocean Drive, which is lined with elegant Art Deco houses including Versace’s mansion, trendy restaurants, and nightclubs… the scene is pretty lively there.

Kate in a pink dress next to a blue Vespa on Ocean Avenue.

The beach itself features uniquely colored watchtowers spread around nice light sand. The waves are mostly mild. Pelicans like it here too and often float on the water near people.

Watching a sunrise on the beach belongs to one of the best experiences one can have in the area.

Miami City and its beaches can easily be visited  even without a car .

The public transport network and the ample ride/bike-sharing services make it an easy destination for any type of traveler.

Blue and yellor art deco lifeguard stand on South Beach in Miami, which is a must-see beach for your USA bucket list!

San Diego, California

From Maria of San Diego Explorer

San Diego is the perfect California beach city and a must on any USA bucket list.

Also known as America’s Finest City, San Diego has a lot to offer, whether you are looking for a beach getaway at one of the many beach resorts in San Diego , a fun time in the city, or a mix of both.

Here are some of the best things to do in San Diego!

In Downtown San Diego, there is something for everyone: from eating delicious Italian fare in Little Italy to visiting the Midway Museum to strolling through Seaport Village, and having a fun night out in the Gaslamp Quarter.

If you love the outdoors and animals, visit Balboa Park and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.  

cityscape of san diego california on a sunny day

And then, there are the beaches: San Diego has some of the best beaches in Southern California.

Some of the most popular ones are Mission Beach, Coronado, and the beaches in La Jolla.

You can relax on the sand, take surfing lessons, or ride your bike along the boardwalk for a fun day on the beach.  

San Diego has so much to offer and is simply a fun city, no matter what you are in the mood for. 

San Diego CA harbor with rows of sailboats in the foreground and the skyline in the back right of the photo

Austin, Texas

The Live Music Capital of the World and capital of the state of Texas is located in the heart of Texas Hill Country and offers a fantastic combination of excellent nightlife, plenty of outdoor activities and day trip opportunities, and truly phenomenal food.

Don’t leave without having at least one giant meal each worth of TexMex and barbecue!

While in Austin, be sure to visit trendy South Congress Avenue, watch the bats fly out from under the South Congress Bridge (if you’re visiting at the right time of year, that is), see a show, and go for a hike (or if it’s too hot, hit the lake!).

Want to get out of town?

Austin is within an easy day trip of natural swimming holes, Texas’ wine country, and adorable small towns.

Austin TX skyline with the South Congress Bridge in the foreground

New Orleans, Louisiana

Good food, good music, and good times: of all the best places to visit in the USA, NOLA definitely ranks toward the top of the list for places to go to simply have an amazing time.

There’s far more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, and beignets, though.

With a dark and complex history heavily impacted by slavery and a constantly evolving modern culture, New Orleans deserves more than just partying during your visit–though there’s plenty of time for that, too.

While in New Orleans, be sure to listen to some jazz, learn a bit about the city’s history, visit the famous Jackson Square, head to the Garden District, check out the beautiful oak trees in City Park, and–this is very important–eat your heart out.

NOLA is indisputably home to some of the best food in the country–so good, in fact, that the food alone would be a good enough reason to add New Orleans to your USA bucket list.

For those interested in New Orleans’ spooky legends, a ghost tour through the French Quarter at night is also worth adding to your to-do list!

Street in NOLA French Quarter at night with neon lights from the bars lighting it up--don't miss a chance to experience the legendary New Orleans nightlife during your 3 days in NOLA itinerary!

Washington, DC

From Jordan of The Solo Life

One of the best travel destinations in the United States is the nation’s capital, Washington, DC.

With everything from museums to monuments to the White House and Capitol Building, DC has something for everyone .

In addition, DC’s public transportation and numerous free attractions make it a surprising destination for the budget-friendly traveler.

Kid-friendly options include the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum.

Art lovers will enjoy the National Gallery of Art or the Hirshhorn Museum for modern and contemporary art.

sunset on the national mall in washington dc facing the washington monument, one of the best places to visit on the east coast america

History buffs should check out the Library of Congress and the National Archives Museum.

Besides museums, the National Mall and Tidal Basin are must-visit locations to see the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial, among others.

The best times to visit DC include early summer before it gets too hot or in the fall once summer break is over.

Although extremely crowded due to the Cherry Blossoms, springtime is also a gorgeous time to visit.

No matter what time of year, Washington, DC is one of the best destinations to visit in the US.

Washington Monument in Washington DC framed by cherry blossoms in the foreground. Washington DC is one of the best places to visit in the United States

San Francisco, California

The city of hills, ocean views, and the famous Golden Gate Bridge is at the top of many people’s lists of bucket lists for the United States.

And, with an endless list of things to do that cater to all interests, why not?

Be sure to pay a visit to the touristed highlights that most interest you–Fisherman’s Wharf (and its adorable sea lions!), Alcatraz, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, visiting the Painted Ladies (of Full House fame), and checking out Lombard Street.

Once you cross those highlights off your list, though, make time for a few less-obvious attractions, like San Francisco’s Japanese Garden, the Land’s End Labyrinth, and Fort Point.

And, of course, you can’t forget to go for a walk in the woods while visiting San Francisco!

Visiting the Muir Woods is an unforgettable experience worthy of your time on any weekend trip to the area.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco CA shot from above on a clear day

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia has been one of the coolest US cities to visit for centuries, and–like Boston–it features strong ties to the American Revolution.

This is where the Declaration of Independence and the Consitution were signed, touring Independence Hall and visiting the nearby Liberty Bell are among the best things to do in Philadelphia today as a result!

You can’t miss Philly’s food scene when visiting, either–from whoopie pies to Philly cheesesteaks, the city has a (literal) flavor all its own.

elfreths alley in philadelphia, one of the best places to vacation in usa

Start–but don’t finish–exploring Philadelphia’s food scene at the historic Reading Terminal Market.

Be sure to also make time to visit some of Philadelphia’s incredible museums during your visit, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of the American Revolution (we loved this one), and touring the dark but fascinating Eastern State Penitentiary.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is also home to another essential stop in this iconic East Coast City: the Rocky Steps.

And, if you’re willing to work up a sweat, definitely consider running up them yourself during your classic American vacation in Philadelphia!

independence hall in philadelphia on a sunny day with red and pink flowers in the foreground. attractions in usa things to do

Chicago, Illinois

From Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan

Chicago is the third-largest city in the US, and also one of the most ethnically diverse.

Its skyline reflecting off the waters of Lake Michigan is a sight to behold.

No matter what your interests are, whether it’s music, shopping, culture, art, or dining, you could spend months exploring all that Chicago has to offer.

On a shorter USA vacation, though, you can still see quite a few of the best sights in Chicago!

The city’s top museums include the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Don’t forget to check out the many outdoor sculptures and other public works of art around the Loop, either.

View of Chicago IL skyline from willis tower skydeck, a must-see during a 3 day Chicago vacation

A walk along the Magnificent Mile will take you past upscale department stores and through Millennium Park, home of the famous sculpture known as The Bean.

A visit to Bronzeville, also known as “the Black Metropolis”, is a must to learn about the city’s rich African-American history.

Architecture buffs will be interested to know that this is where Frank Lloyd Wright established the Prairie School architectural style. You can find some of his earliest buildings here in Chicago.

You’ll work up an appetite walking the streets of this massive city. This is a good thing, because the restaurant scene here is amazing!

You can find pretty much any cuisine you could imagine, from stylish Japanese to homestyle soul food, and there are even lots of vegetarian and  vegan restaurants in Chicago .

Photo of Chicago train traveling on a bridge over car traffic--using Chicago's public transportation is the best way to get around on a Chicago weekend getaway!

Houston, Texas

From Thanh of The Traveling Asian

Houston, Texas is one of the coolest places to visit in the United States, and while an unexpected vacation option, certainly one that will impress.

After all, it is the 4th largest city in the USA and is often ranked as the most diverse city in the country!

Because of this size, you can expect there to be all kinds of things for you to see and do here in this city.

One of the most iconic places you must visit in the city is Space Center Houston.

There you can learn about NASA and space travel as well as take a tour around the famous mission control center. If you love space, then this place is for you.

sunset over houston texas skyline with pond in the foreground, one of the unexpected places for vacation in usa

Houston is also home to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo which is the biggest rodeo of its kind in the country.

There, you’ll be able to eat some delicious rodeo foods, pet some livestock, learn about animals, play at the amusement park, and even watch a concert by famous celebrities.

But aside from the attractions, Houston is known for its food. Since it is the most diverse city in the country, you can find just about everything available here in this city.

For instance, you can find Tex-Mex, Chinese, Ethiopian, Greek, and many other ethnic cuisines available all around the area.

So if you love food and all things fun, then Houston is definitely the place for you.

Skyline of Houston Texas as seen on a sunny day with a park in the foreground, Houston is one of the best weekend getaways in Texas

Las Vegas, Nevada

From Kimberley of Two Travelling Toques

If you’re looking for a cool place to visit in the USA, you can’t get much cooler than Las Vegas .

This well-known city has been depicted in numerous movies such as The Hangover and Ocean’s Thirteen as party central.

And if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll definitely find it in Vegas.

Long known as both the wedding capital for a quick place to get married, or the perfect spot to hold a bachelor or bachelorette party, either way, it’s the spot to bring your friends, let loose, and have fun!

Gambling has been a big draw to Las Vegas since the early 1930s, and there is no shortage of showy and extravagant casinos to choose from.

view of venice st marks square in las vegas, one of the best attractions long weekend in vegas getaway

Nightlife also takes center stage here.

From world-class musicians to top-notch magical acts, to dependable artists like Wayne Newton who have had a residency here for years. 

During the day, you can grab a fancy drink and chill by the pool. Or hit up one of the pool parties and listen to the headlining DJ.

Either way, be sure to bring lots of money for the high-end shops, ever-flowing drinks, and dazzling casinos looking to draw you in. 

Welcome to Las Vegas sign, one of the most popular weekend getaways in the USA

Savannah, Georgia

Without a doubt, the small but stunning city of Savannah, Georgia is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the USA.

Featuring absolutely stunning architecture, 22 of its original 24 town squares, endless oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and some of the best food in the country, spending a few days in Savannah is bound to be a delight.

While you’re there, be sure to meander down beautiful Jones Street, check out Forsyth Park, hear some of the city’s most enduring legends on a ghost tour, enjoy views from River Street, and take in some of Savannah’s complex history at its various house museums and houses of worship.

Don’t forget to set aside plenty of time to eat!

Kate Storm in a black dress in front of a brick home on Jones Street during a long weekend in Savannah GA

While there are dozens of incredible  restaurants in Savannah , favorites include The Olde Pink House and The Grey for special occasions, The Collins Quarter for their legendary lavender mocha latte, and Leopold’s Ice Cream for a scoop of their famous Tutti Frutti ice cream.

Have enough time for a quick  day trip ?

Tybee Island –also known as “Savannah’s Beach”–is less than a 30-minute drive away, and while you certainly won’t want to swim in the summer, strolling along the sand and climbing the lighthouse are a treat.

Jones Street in Savannh GA with a green house in the left foreground and an oak tree on the right. Jones Street is one of the best Savannah photo spots

Los Angeles, California

From Trijit of Budget Travel Buff

Looking for the coolest place to visit in the United States?

Visit Los Angeles; a unique combination of the entertainment industry, gorgeous beaches, great food, and vibrant nightlife.

It is certainly not the cheapest place in California , but for the right travelers, LA is definitely worth the price tag.

Los Angeles is a large city full of tourist attractions that won’t let you stay idle.

If you are a beach lover, LA won’t disappoint you with its stunning beaches that include Malibu, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach, Hermosa Beach, and so on.

There are several fantastic museums in LA. LACMA is the most popular one for its diverse art collections and special exhibits.

Skyline of Los Angeles CA with palm trees in the forground, one of the best places to visit in the US

Some other renowned museums are the Grammy Museum, Natural History Museum, and Museum of Broken Relationships.

While visiting LA, you will notice entertainment at every corner of the city. You can see a concert or enjoy a ride at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.

If you rent a car in Los Angeles, go for a scenic drive along the Pacific Coast Highway that carves through the mountains of Malibu.

Los Angeles has some of the best restaurants in the US.

Once you are done with LA sightseeing, have lunch at any of these food spots – Diakokuya for ramen, Langer’s for a pastrami sandwich, Guisados for tacos, or pizza at Mozza.

aerial view of santa monica beach near los angeles, one of the best places to vacation in the united states

Seattle, Washington

Set right on the water with the dramatic backdrop of Mount Rainier, it’s no wonder that busy and beautiful Seattle is one of the best USA travel destinations.

When visiting Seattle, be sure to eat your way through Pike Place Market, head to the top of the Space Needle, visit the famous Chihuly Museum, and check out the fun and interesting Museum of Pop Culture.

Looking for interesting neighborhoods?

Head to Fremont, where the self-proclaimed unofficial motto is “des libertas quirkas”, aka “the freedom to be quirky”.

Hoping to spend some time outside?

Nestled in the heart of the magnificent Pacific Northwest, endless waterfalls, trails, and mountains–even Mount Rainier itself–are located within day-tripping distance from Seattle.

Seattle Waterfront with space needle visible through the ferris wheel

Charleston, South Carolina

Located just a couple of hours north of Savannah, Charleston shares a lot of similarities with its neighbor to the south.

Fantastic Lowcountry food, Spanish moss dripping from the trees, beautiful architecture, and lots of history to uncover are wonderful to appreciate in both Charleston and Savannah –but Charleston absolutely has its own distinct personality as well.

On your Charleston vacation, be sure to visit the beautiful and photogenic Rainbow Row, check out the tea-making process at the Charleston Tea Garden, visit the gorgeous and interesting Angel Oak Tree, stroll through Waterfront Park and Battery Park, and check out City Market.

Photo of Rainbow Row in Charleston SC, a must see during a 3 day weekend in Charleston SC

If you’d like to do some shopping while in Charleston, King Street is the place to go.

Those interested in US military history will no doubt want to visit Patriots Point to tour the former US naval ships docked there and Fort Sumter for its history (and views).

Beach lovers, don’t miss the chance to check out nearby Folly Beach and/or Sullivan’s Island!

Kate Storm sitting in front of the pineapple fountain in Charleston SC--choosing whether to visit Savannah or Charleston is no easy task, but we wrote this guide to help!

Orlando, Florida

As the theme park capital of the world, Orlando is one of the most popular places to visit in the USA for both domestic and international visitors, mostly on behalf of one iconic mouse.

As home to Walt Disney World , Orlando is a must-see USA bucket list item for many families across the world, and with four amazing Disney parks packed with rides, experiences, and intense amounts of nostalgia, it’s no wonder why.

Disney isn’t the only theme park game in town, though!

Universal Studios Orlando, home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, is also a fantastic theme park to visit, and big roller coaster fans may even want to take a day trip to Tampa Bay to experience Busch Gardens.

Though the parks are a big draw for people visiting Orlando with kids and kids at heart alike, theme parks aren’t the only places to visit in and around Orlando.

The Kennedy Space Center, plenty of beaches, and even cool swimming holes like Wekiva Springs are within day-trip distance of Orlando.

Lake Eola Park in Orlando Florida with swams in the water and a skyline visible in the background. Orlando belongs on a bucket list for the United States

Portland, Oregon

Much like Austin, Portland proudly embraces its weirdness, celebrating the eclectic and bizarre in all possible ways–and that makes it endlessly fun to visit!

Bookworms like me will immediately head to Powell’s City of Books–I still think it’s the biggest bookstore I’ve ever visited–while foodies will want to head directly to the local ice cream obsession, Salt & Straw. 

Voodoo Doughnuts, now with a few locations nationally, also originated here and remains popular with tourists (though depending on who you ask, not locals–for what it’s worth, we’d rate the doughnuts 7/10).

During your weekend trip to Portland, make time to visit the Japanese Garden and the International Rose Garden, especially if you visit when everything is in bloom.

Plenty of incredible parts of the Columbia River Gorge, including famous Multnomah Falls, are also within easy reach of Portland and deserve to feature on your USA bucket list!

Photo of steal sign stating "portland oregon" in front of a blue sky, a must-see during 3 days in portland or

Nashville, Tennessee

From Apryl of Southern Traveling Gal

No doubt about it, there’s something about Nashville, that casts a long-lasting spell on travelers.

For travelers visiting Nashville, it’s not unheard of to plan a return trip as soon as the current one is over!

Only in “The Music City” is it possible to catch the latest exhibit at the Frist Art Museum, see a replica of the Parthenon and enjoy live music at venues along the Honky Tonk Highway.

For first-timers, touring country music icons like the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame is a must-do.

Don’t overlook artist-specific museums such as the Johnny Cash Museum and Glen Campbell Museum that provides a closer look at these music giants, either.

Much of Nashville’s allure lies within its distinctive neighborhoods, like the Gulch, filled with shops and restaurants.

Skyline of Nashville Tennessee at sunset overlooking the river, one of the most romantic getaways in the United States

It isn’t unusual to spot a long line or two here, typically featuring either people waiting in line to take a photo with the “What Lifts You” mural or getting into Biscuit Love.

Save some room for some barbecue from Peg Leg Porker!

12thSouth offers locally-owned boutiques, stores, and eateries. Also found here is Draper James, the flagship store of Reese Witherspoon’s clothing line.

Be sure to take home some cookies from Christie’s Cookie Company and snap a photo with the “I Believe in Nashville” mural.

Across the Cumberland River is the eclectic East Nashville. Don’t miss out on the mini doughnuts at Donut Distillery.

Depending on time, consider visiting Cheekwood Estates and Gardens, a 55-acre botanical garden, as part of your Nashville getaway.

Of course, no trip to Nashville is complete without hot chicken from Prince’s Hot Chicken or biscuits from Loveless Cafe, located near the Natchez Trace Parkway.

country band playing banjois in nashville tennessee

Boston, Massachusetts

From Linn of Brainy Backpackers

Boston is such a cool city to visit in the USA, rich in history, architecture, and food.

Along the waterfront, you can walk the 43-mile-long Harbor Walk.

But there is so much more to add to see during your trip to Boston, like the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile-long path taking you to 16 significant places in American history.

It is well marked and technically be walked in as little as 90 minutes, though you can download the app and visit each place which will take at least a whole day to complete.

Boston is home to the oldest public park in the United States, Boston Common, which is situated next to Boston Public Garden.

boston public garden in the summer, one of the best things to do in boston ma

You can wander the parks and enjoy a ride in the Boston Public Garden’s historic paddleboats.

Nearby, you’ll find the Boston Public Library at Copley Square, which is an incredibly beautiful Renaissance Revival structure from 1895 that you should visit.

You’ll also find the beautiful neighborhood of Beacon Hill nearby, as well as the trendy neighborhood of Back Bay.

For the best views of the city during your Boston itinerary , visit the Skywalk Observatory.

2 Days in Boston Itinerary: Beacon Hill

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

From Melissa of Parenthood and Passports

Yellowstone National Park is the oldest national park in the United States and one of the best places to visit in the entire country.

Known for its geothermal activity, more than half of the earth’s geysers are located in the national park which straddles the borders of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. 

Old Faithful is one of the most popular things to see in Yellowstone National Park .

The active and predictable geyser erupts approximately 20 times each day.

Visitors to the park gather around to watch the geyser blast hot water and steam into the sky.

Although quite impressive, Old Faithful is just one of many must-see geothermal features found in the park.

View of Grand Prism in Yellowstone National Park, one of the best places to visit in USA

One of the largest hot springs in the world, the Grand Prismatic Spring, is another popular attraction in Yellowstone.

Visitors can get an up-close view of the spring or take a short hike for a stunning overview of Grand Prismatic’s vibrant colors.  

Beyond all of its geothermal features, Yellowstone National Park also boasts beautiful waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes, rivers, and more than 200 species of animals.

Bison, deer, moose, wolves, and even bears live in the park.

Because of all the wildlife in Yellowstone, visitors are strongly encouraged to use caution when hiking or camping and to carry bear spray to protect themselves in the event of an encounter.

herd of bison crossing the road and causing a traffic jam in yellowstone national park, one of the best places to vacation usa

Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

From Allison of She Dreams of Alpine

Idaho is often overlooked when it comes to cool places to visit in the US, but the tiny town of Stanley serves as the gateway to an abundance of outdoor adventures in the stunning Sawtooth Mountain range and along the swift Salmon River.

Although it has a population of less than 100, Stanley is easily accessible in a 3-hour drive from the main airport in Boise or about a 1-hour drive if you’re coming from Sun Valley.

The best way to explore the Sawtooth Mountains is on one of the many hiking trails.

The hike to Alice Lake is a perfect introduction to the area, and you can either do a 12-mile day hike or backpack the longer Alice/Toxaway Loop over the course of a few days.

sawtooth mountains idaho on sunny day with lake in the foreground, one of the best places to vacation usa

Whichever option you choose, you’ll discover gorgeous views of Alice Lake framed by the “Dragon’s Back” peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains, including Idaho’s own “El Capitan.”

For fun on the water, you can go fishing along the Salmon River or swim in Redfish Lake.

When you need some rejuvenation after your adventures, you can reward yourself with great food and drinks at the Stanley Supper Club and take a dip in the hot springs at the Mountain Village Resort.

Once you head home, you’ll surely find yourself raving to your friends about this hidden gem of a mountain town – unless you want to keep the Sawtooth Mountains and Stanley a secret for yourself!

Sawtooth Mountains Idaho with a lake visible on the left of the photo and mountain peaks in the background. These mountains definitely belong on your USA bucket list!

Oregon Coast

From Kay of The Awkward Traveller

The Oregon Coast is one of the most underrated travel destinations in the USA, but for those who love moody, dramatic scenery, it is the best place to be.

Although the actual coast isn’t very long (338 or so miles, about a 7.5-hour drive without stopping), it makes for a great weekend or longer trip with added stops.

Starting at the north end, about 2 hours outside of Portland, the city of Astoria will serve as your jumping-off point with picturesque bridges and locations from The Goonies.

Heading south, take a pitstop at the cheese capital of the state  –  Tillamook , Oregon.

One car driving along the oregon coast as shot from above

Visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory and gorge yourself on all things dairy before continuing on to stunning Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area.

The highlight of the coast will be Yachats, Oregon, with incredible farm-to-table restaurants that are dedicated to sourcing local sustainable fish, meat, and produce providers.

On the southern end of the coast, you can find sand dunes in Florence, and natural rock arches among the cliffs in Brookings.

If your tolerance for rain is low, summer will be the best season to visit weather-wise, while winter and spring will have smaller crowds and lower prices.

Oregon Coast at sunset looking toward Haystack Rock, one of the prettiest places in Oregon

Acadia National Park, Maine

From Ale of Sea Salt & Fog

Acadia National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in the eastern United States, perfectly showcasing the beauty of the Maine coast.

Acadia has miles of hiking and biking trails, as well as easy coastal access for kayaking and sailing. 

When visiting, plan to spend at least  2 days in Acadia National Park  so you can make the most of your time there.

One of the best things to do includes watching the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, where you’ll get stunning views of the islands that dot the coast.

Things to Do in Acadia National Park

Drive Park Loop Road to enjoy some of the park’s most famous attractions, including Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Jordan Pond (don’t forget to stop for popovers at Jordan Pond House!).

For hiking, choose a paved Carriage Road to take you down to one of the many picturesque ponds and lakes in the park.

Plan your visit in the fall to see the famous New England fall foliage in full display, or in the summer to enjoy long, sunny days perfect for hiking.

If you love the outdoors, add Acadia to your list of places to visit in the US – you won’t be disappointed.

Things to Do in Acadia National Park

Joshua Tree National Park, California

From Monica of This Rare Earth

Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California is an incredible destination in the United States. 

This desert ecosystem became a national park as recently as 1994, and it’s easy to see why it was chosen!

The Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert meet in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park, which means that you will see two very different landscapes depending on which half of the park you are in.  

The Mojave Desert is home to the famous Joshua Tree – a tall and spindly yucca – as well as giant boulders popular with climbers and hikers. 

The majority of the park’s hiking trails are found in this region.

desert landscape at sunrise in joshua tree national park, an excellent part of several of the best west coast road trips usa

However,  while planning your Joshua Tree National Park itinerary , it would be a mistake to skip the Colorado Desert at the southern end of the park.  

The Colorado Desert is hotter, lower in elevation, and flatter, but holds gorgeous landscapes full of cacti and, at the right time of year, wildflowers. 

 In the summer months, avoid strenuous hikes or leave early in the morning as temperatures can reach over 100 degrees.

Joshua Tree National Park is a designated Dark Sky Park, perfect for stargazing and well outside the bright light of the city.  

Joshua Tree is roughly 2.5 hours outside of Los Angeles.

Joshua Tree NP in California with a Joshua tree on the right side of the photo

From Chris of Called to Wander

Alaska is known as the Last Frontier, evoking adventure for those looking to travel to a truly unique place.

Because the state is massive, at over twice the size of Texas, you could spend as much or as little time exploring it as you have.

Many people take cruises through the Inside Passage and make stops in places like Ketchikan, Haines, and Seward.

Others fly into the main cities of Anchorage or Fairbanks and then rent vehicles and head off on their own adventures.

By far the best way to make the most of an Alaska vacation (though it requires a steep time commitment) is by driving to Alaska and spending as much time as you’d like wandering from one place to the next.

glacier in glacier np in alaska with water in the foreground and a mountain in the background

You can drive to the Arctic Ocean along the Dalton Highway, view North America’s largest mountain (Mt. Denali), or observe wildlife like caribou, grizzly bear, and moose.

Or, catch a flight out to a handful of the most remote national parks, or drive up to and hike out to massive, ancient glaciers.

If you enjoy fishing, go after halibut in Homer or salmon in the famous Russian River.

Regardless of what kind of travel you prefer, Alaska offers adventure for everyone and should definitely be on your travel bucket list!

Train along an Alaska mountainside with wildflowers in the foreground and a mountain in the background. Alaska is one of the most beautiful places in the us

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

From Dan of Cabin Critic

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most popular national park in the US, hosting over 10 million annual visitors, and it definitely belongs on your bucket list for the USA.

Located in Tennessee and North Carolina, the park has diverse animal life, plants, and natural attractions. There are tons to do and see. 

If you are feeling adventurous you can go zoom down zip lines, go white water rafting, or go mountain biking. 

For a more relaxed trip, you can go on hikes, see beautiful waterfalls, or simply go for a scenic drive.

sunrise of great smoky mountains, one of the most beautiful national parks in the us

Cades Cove, for example, is a broad valley surrounded by mountains you can drive through that is well known for providing the best opportunities for seeing wildlife like white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, and more.

When you aren’t enjoying the outdoors there are numerous mountain towns to enjoy like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or Asheville .

Stay in  one of the cabins with a view  of the mountainsides and check out the local attractions like Dollywood in Pigeon Forge or the Biltmore Estate in Asheville . 

View of the Great Smoky Mountains during fall foliage season in the southern USA

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

From Michele of Adventures Abound

Just a 2-hour drive from both Portland and Seattle rest the foothills of the towering volcano Mount Rainier.

Known to the Indigenous since time immemorial, Mount Tahoma is covered in unimaginable beauty and can be enjoyed year-round. 

Visit in the summertime for hiking through meadows strewn with wildflowers of every color, and in the fall for ripening berries and a better chance to catch the trails and lakes free of ice and snowmelt on a variety of great day hikes just outside of Seattle .

To extend your visit overnight, pitch a tent in an established campground, stay in a rustic lodge in the national park, or backpack along the Wonderland trail that circumvents the park.

Not feeling up to a lengthy hike?

hiker in a field of wildflowers in mount rainier np with mount rainier visible in the background

Just driving through Mount Rainier National Park will afford endless views of waterfalls, glaciers, lakes, and even the chance to spot wildlife. 

For those thrill-seekers looking for a more challenging adventure, apply for a permit to climb more than 8,000 feet to the summit, but be aware this is only for experienced mountaineers.

Mount Rainier National Park can also be enjoyed in the winter when the park sees an average of 55 feet of snowfall or more.

Head to the Crystal Mountain gondola to catch a great view of the peak while skiing and snowboarding down the slopes, or pick one of many great locations to snowshoe and backcountry ski along the mountain.

Whatever the choice for season and activity, Mount Rainier National Park is sure to be full of memories and adventure in one of the most beautiful destinations in the United States.

Snowcapped Mount Rainier with wildflowers in the foreground, one of the most beautiful places in usa

Arches National Park, Utah

Home to over 2,000 naturally-occurring sandstone arches, Arches National Park in Utah is one of the most uniquely beautiful places in the USA.

Whether you’re hiking to the incredible Delicate Arch (so iconic that it’s featured on Utah’s license plates), wandering through the Devil’s Garden, or taking one of the shorter hikes to visit some of the most impressive arches in the park, there’s no shortage of things to do.

Even one day in Arches National Park is well worth your time, but more would certainly be better.

Arches National Park is also home to internationally-recognized dark skies and some of the best stargazing in the United States–in order to see the best of the park, be sure to visit at least once after dark!

And, while Arches National Park is easily one of the best places to vacation in the US in its own right, the nearby town of Moab also makes an excellent launching pad to visit Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park.

Double Arch in Arches National Park Utah

Olympic National Park, Washington

From Sophie and Adam of We Dream of Travel

Not only does Olympic National Park cover nearly a million acres, but it is also the most biodiverse of all the US national parks.

It has it all, from glaciated mountains to breathtaking coastlines, crashing waterfalls, ancient rainforests, enchanting hot springs, and plentiful wildlife.

With such a treasure trove of natural landscapes, Olympic National Park is easily one of the best places to visit in the US.

Mountain lovers should budget plenty of time to hike the trails of Hurricane Ridge.

Here you will discover stunning views above the clouds, as well as an abundance of wildlife.

Rocky Beach in Olympic National Park washington at sunset, a fantastic view along a west coast usa road trip destination

A great way to explore the park is on foot, particularly as much of the park is roadless. There are numerous multi-day hikes to choose from and it’s popular with backpackers.

The 17.4 miles Hoh River Trail is one of the most impressive, taking you through a flourishing rainforest to the base of Mount Olympus.

For coastal visitors, Second Beach is one of the best Olympic Park photography  locations and a perfect spot for sunset. 

However, with 73 miles of wild coastline, there’s plenty to explore!

There are endless options for the waterfall, forest, and nature lovers too.

In Sol Duc forest you can watch crystal water plunge into the lush greenery.

Or, you can choose to explore the vibrant green mosses of the Hoh Rainforest.  

No matter which part of Olympic National Park you visit, you will not be disappointed.

Forested trail in Olympic National Park with a river flowing across the photo. Olympic National Park definitely belongs on your USA bucket list!

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Stretching over a mile deep, the Grand Canyon in northwest Arizona is one of the largest–and most impressive–canyons on the planet, and one of the most popular places to visit in the USA!

Come to Grand Canyon National Park to admire views from the rim, hike into the canyon , watch the sunrise and sunset, and perhaps even hike all the way down to the Colorado River.

If you do want to hike to the river, though, be warned: doing so is a 2-day commitment!

Anyone taking a southwest road trip in the USA should consider adding a visit to the majestic Grand Canyon to their list: it’s truly a sight that you’ll never forget.

View of the Grand Canyon from the south rim near sunset. The Grand Canyon is one of the best USA travel destinations

Death Valley National Park, California

From Michelle of The Wandering Queen

One of the best places to visit in California is Death Valley National Park .

This park is filled with bright white salt flats, mountains splashed with pastel colors, and eerie rocks that move on their own.

This park is such a strange yet unique environment which makes it perfect for avid photographers.

One of the best things to do is to watch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point. The views are glorious as the sun slowly sets on the unique colorful mountains.

Afterward, make sure to hike the Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, and Badlands Loop Hike. The trailhead is right next to Zabriskie Point.

mesquite dunes in death valley national park during a pink sunrise

Another popular activity is visiting Badwater Basin. The basin stands at 282 feet below sea level and is filled with white salt.

This is a great spot to take pictures of the salt in contrast with the tall, dark mountains in the distance.

Nearby the salt flats, you can visit the devil’s golf course where spikey salt formations cover the ground.

The next outstanding area to visit is the Artists Drive. The mountain is sprinkled with pastel colors like yellow, pink, purple, and green.

It truly is a spectacular thing to see!

Rocky Mountain National Park

From Jyoti of Story At Every Corner

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most gorgeous parks in the US.

It’s also easily reachable from Denver, Colorado, which has many flights from across the country, making it fairly simple to access and one of the most popular places to vacation in America!

The best place to stay is in Estes Park , a quaint little tourist town in the mountains.

There are many small towns all around the park and many choices for all price points. 

white and green shop in downtown estes park. shopping downtown is one of the best things to do in estes park colorado

The easiest way to visit RMNP park is by car.

You can then enjoy the park by making stops at each vista point and taking hikes from there.

Most stops have short and long hikes; easy and challenging hikes.

There is a hike for everyone, but there is also spectacular scenery right at the vista points, even without a hike.

Keep in mind that the popularity of Rocky Mountain National Park means that certain places, like Bear Lake Road, must be accessed via reservation.

Kate Storm standing in front of Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the best places to visit in colorado

The most popular road that goes across the park is the scenic Trail Ridge Road.

If you don’t have time to visit anything else, I recommend driving Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park to the town of Grand Lake.

Other major attractions include Sprague Lake and Bear Lake, to the south of the trail ridge road.

They offer absolutely stunning views and many wildlife viewing opportunities along with the drives. 

There is so much to do around Denver that RMNP can be part of a week-long itinerary visiting Colorado  or a trip just for RMNP. 

jeremy storm in a gray backpack hiking in rocky mountain national park

Set in the Sierra Nevada Mountains along the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is easily one of the most beautiful places in the US.

With crystal-clear water and plenty of activities in and out of the water, from hiking to SUP to swimming, there is no shortage of ways to appreciate the otherworldly beauty of Lake Tahoe .

To enjoy the views of the lake itself, summer is definitely the best time to visit–but winter has its charms, too, including plenty of skiing and incredible views of the lake framed by bright white snow.

From romantic couples’ retreats to fun getaways to Lake Tahoe with kids , all kinds of travelers will find something to love about Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe from above during the summer, one of the best USA travel destinations

Havasu Falls, Arizona

Located on Havasupai tribal lands not far from the Grand Canyon, Havasu Falls is simultaneously one of the most famous waterfalls in the USA and one of the hardest to access.

In order to visit Havasu Falls, you’ll need to secure an extremely competitive permit (they sell out months in advance) and complete a 10-mile hike in each direction.

You’ll also need to spend the night nearby, as it’s one of the permit requirements set out by the Havasupai people.

If you manage to swing both the logistics and the hike, though, the rewards are pretty spectacular.

Havasu Falls in Arizona, one of the most beautiful places in USA. Turquoise waterfall with orange walls surrounding it

Zion National Park, Utah

Home to some of what are quite possibly the best hikes in the country, Utah’s most-visited national park is absolutely one of the best places to see in the US.

Test your fear of heights (if you have one, that is) by hiking the incredible Angel’s Landing, and be rewarded with stunning views of Zion Canyon.

Venture deep into the Virgin River by hiking The Narrows , a hike that takes place literally in the river!

Seek out incredible views along Observation Point, the Canyon Overlook Trail , and the Watchman Trail.

Try to score a permit to hike the Subway, but if you can’t get one, don’t worry: there’s more to see in Zion National Park than you can cover in one vacation.

No matter how you spend your days at Zion National Park, there’s no doubt that you’ll be experiencing something worthy of a bucket list!

Kate Storm at the viewpoint at the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park Utah

Texas Bluebonnet Trail

California’s magnificent wildflowers may be a bit better known outside of the country, but Texas’ phenomenal spread of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes that decorate the countryside each spring absolutely belong on anyone’s USA bucket list.

Whether you choose to visit the official Texas Bluebonnet Trail near Ennis (not far from Dallas) or head to the Texas Hill Country , there is no shortage of places to admire bluebonnets in Texas.

Though the blooming times can of course vary a bit depending on the weather, late March and early April are generally the best times to experience the beauty of Texas’ bluebonnets.

Wooden cart parked in a Texas field surrounded by bluebonnets. Beautiful countryside like this close by many of the best weekend getaways in Texas!

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

From Emily of Em’s on the Road

If you’re looking for unforgettable outdoor experiences without the price tag of popular destinations out west, then the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the place for you.

One reason the Upper Peninsula (or U.P.) is really unique is that it is an ideal place for adventure seekers all year long. 

In the warmer months, the U.P is a great beach destination in the Midwest thanks to its location with beachfront on Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron.

In the fall, pack your hiking boots and tackle rocky hiking trails for colorful views you’d never expect in the Midwest.

With an unobstructed panoramic view of Lake Superior, the hike up  Sugar Loaf mountain in Marquette, Michigan  is one of the most popular in the region.

Thanks to some serious snowfall, there’s so much to do in the U.P. in the winter months.

There are cross-country ski trails, snowmobiling trails, downhill skiing, dog sledding, ice climbing, and more. 

View of Lake Superior with a rainbow over it during fall foliage season on Sugarloaf Mountain in Michigan

Redwood National Forest

From Dhara of Roadtripping California

Most visitors to the Golden State put   California’s national parks at the top of their itineraries because they are just so spectacular.

Redwood National and State Parks, in the northern part of the state, offer you the chance to stroll among giant redwoods, some of the tallest and oldest trees on the planet.

A group of five parks, Redwood National and State Parks feature not just the towering redwoods, but also epic coastal views, beautiful prairies filled with wildflowers in season, and the chance to see birds and wildlife.

Enjoy some of the scenic drives in the parks: Howland Hill Drive, Coastal Drive, and the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway are all great choices.

Two people walking through a doorway in a fallen redwood tree in california usa

Do some of the trails through the redwood groves to see the giant trees up close: the Big Tree Wayside Walk, the Stout Memorial Grove Trail, and Lady Bird Johnson Grove are all super scenic and relatively easy walks.

Gaze up at the trees, and enjoy the ferns and rhododendrons in the understory.

You can also go biking in the parks, and camp if you plan to stay for a few days.

Redwood National and State Parks are about 5.5 hours north of San Francisco by road, and you can visit all year, although you will have the best weather in the summer.

Man standing in front of enormous Redwood trees with a sunflare in the top left corner of the photo

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

From Jase of Roaming Vegans

A little-known gem in the north of Wisconsin is the Apostle Islands.

This island archipelago on Lake Superior looks like it belongs in Southeast Asia – not on the shoreline of a humble midwestern town.

However, its tucked-away location makes it all the more special for visitors.

While the lake freezes in winter, the islands come to life in summer with many activities like  sea kayaking , island hopping, and cliff jumping.

There is even an island home to one of the largest concentrations of bears in the Midwest–yes, bears!

The largest and most populated island is Madeline Island which makes for a great base to explore the nearby smaller islands.

sea caves as seen from the water at apostle islands, one of the best places to visit in the us

Maui, Hawaii

From Jessica of I’m Jess Traveling

Famed for her elegant beaches,  world-class resorts , and next-level surf, Maui attracts visitors from all over the world. 

It’s no surprise that Maui was named Condé Nast Traveler’s best island in the U.S. for 23 consecutive years. 

There are countless things to see and do in Maui depending on your travel style. 

For outdoor enthusiasts, hike through a majestic bamboo forest ending at a 400-foot waterfall.  

Ocean lovers can test their skills at surfing or set sail on a sunset cruise.

Bright blue water as seen along the Road to Hana in Maui, one of the best USA road trip itinerary ideas

There won’t be a shortage of exotic beaches to explore, no matter what your travel style is.

The adventure seekers have their pick among plunging the popular Road to Hana or watching the sunrise above the clouds at 10,000 feet inside Haleakala National Park. 

Whatever your draw, sunsets, beaches, luxury, or adventure, Maui has it all. 

Not only is Maui one of the best USA travel destinations but it’s one of the best places to take a tropical vacation in the world. 

Couple walking along Kaanapali Beach in Maui, shaded by a palm tree. Kaanapali Beach is one of the best beaches in America

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

For adorable beach towns, sandy beaches, and some of the best seafood you’ve ever eaten in your life, head to the classic New England summer getaway of Cape Cod.

While you’re in Cape Cod (or as New Englanders say, “on the Cape”), hit one of the beautiful trails, visit a lighthouse or two, stick your toes in the sand, and eat lots and lots of lobster.

While Cape Cod’s swimming season is much shorter than popular beach destinations elsewhere in the country, it’s still well worth visiting.

Just be sure to plan ahead, because rental houses for summer on the Cape tend to book up before winter even wraps up!

Provincetown Massachusetts on Cape Cod as seen from the water

Nā Pali Coast, Kauai

Towering cliffs covered in dense jungle, dramatic waterfalls, small valleys, and views of the Pacific Ocean far below: welcome to the Nā Pali   Coast.

Without a doubt, the Nā Pali   Coast on Kauai is one of the most beautiful travel destinations in the US.

Stretching 17 miles along the northwest portion of Kauai, the Nā Pali   Coast is best admired from air–usually via a helicopter tour–or from a boat on the sea.

Whichever option you choose, there’s no doubt that what is arguably the most beautiful corner of The Garden Island is bound to impress.

Na Pali Coast of Kauai Hawaii. Kauai is one of the best road trips in USA.

Florida Keys

For a taste of the Caribbean without leaving the USA, head to the Florida Keys!

Not only is the overseas drive from Miami to Key West one of the most scenic road trips in the USA, but the Keys themselves are also fantastic, home to beautiful beaches, colorful architecture, great food, and plenty of things to do.

While you’re there, be sure to hit the water via snorkeling or scuba diving, go for a swim, enjoy the famous Duval Street, tour the Ernest Hemingway House, and eat several slices of the region’s famous Key Lime pie!

Highway over the Caribbean Sea leading the to Floriday Keys as shot with a drone. The Florida Keys are one of the best places to visit in USA

Big Island, Hawaii

From Patricia of Travel Fam Life

The biggest of the Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii (also known as the Big Island) is a cool place to visit.

That starts with the weather: you’ll experience a lot of sunshine temperatures ranging from 85°- 90° in the summer months and 79°- 83 in the winter months, making it the perfect place to escape year-round. 

Hawaii is going to impress anyone that decides to visit.

The food is phenomenal and the choices are vast with plenty of history and cultural backgrounds.

The array of activities ranges from land to sea, from memorable ancient sites to beautiful folklore traditions. 

Some of the best things to do when taking a vacation to the Big Island include:

woman snorkeling in hawaii with orange fish in the foreground

Zip Lining over waterfalls is an activity that can be very exhilarating if you are an adrenaline junkie.

This can also be enjoyed as a family activity, some companies allow kids as young as 5 years old to participate.

Volcano National Park is a breathtaking experience with its majestic hikes, thrilling ride down to the Chain of Craters, and some spectacular scenery and photo opportunities.

Papakolea or Green Sand Beach is one of 4 green sand beaches in the world.

The hike to this remote beach is very worthwhile, and the backdrop of the Hawaiian blue ocean that keeps you company makes the whole experience priceless.

And the list goes on, you can check it out here .

Helicopter tour of Volcano National Park in Hawaii shot from inside the helicopter with lava visible through the windshield

Outer Banks, North Carolina

With sandy beaches framed by sand dunes and rolling waves, the Outer Banks of North Carolina may not boast the bright water of the Florida Keys or the tropical beauty of Hawaii, but they are stunning all the same, and absolutely one of the best places to visit in the USA.

Come for the small beach towns, the history of the Wright Brothers taking their first flight here, the southern food, the historic forts, and the beautiful lighthouses. 

Come for the sunken pirate ships, for the wild horses that live on some of the islands, for the great places to swim, and for the great day trip opportunities.

If you’re looking for a classic, all-American vacation, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina that make up the magnificent Outer Banks.

2 wild horses on a beach in North Carolina. Both horses are brown and they are standing near sand dunes

Oahu, Hawaii

From Sydney of A World in Reach

While visitors sometimes think of Oahu as just being a stopping point before visiting Hawaii’s other islands, the island has so much to offer than overcrowded beaches and tourist attractions.

Oahu is home to delicious food, beautiful scenery, and captivating history and is one of the best travel destinations in the United States.

Most visitors to Oahu will base themselves in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital and largest city.

Guidebooks often recommend spending little time in Honolulu; however, this city is a melting pot of culture and is home to some of the best food on the island.

Whether you’re looking for a traditional Hawaiian meal or some of the best Asian food in the United States, you can easily find a delicious meal in Honolulu.

Start your visit to Oahu off by exploring Honolulu, seeing the sights, and eating all of the delicious food.

oahu hawaii beach at sunset with palm trees in the foreground

Spend a day at Waikiki Beach – it might be touristy, but it’s still worth a visit.

Plan a visit to Pearl Harbor, where you can learn more about one of the darkest days in US History, and spend a morning hiking Diamond Head, one of the best hikes on Oahu .

Spend the rest of your time on the island exploring the North Shore, visiting the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, and indulging in shave ice from Matsumoto.

Visit the beaches along the North Shore, where you might see some surfers catching waves, and hike through a botanical garden to a beautiful waterfall at Waimea Valley.

Lanikai beach in Oahu Hawaii as seen from above. One of the best beaches in USA

Napa Valley, California

Northern California’s wine country is definitely among the most beautiful–and for wine lovers, tastiest, places to visit in the USA.

With beautiful small towns, great boutiques, and rolling hills filled with vineyards that almost feel like being in Tuscany, both Napa Valley and Sonoma County have plenty to offer those looking for a laid-back, wine-filled getaway.

Vineyard in Napa Valley CA with a wood barn visible in the background, one of the best honeymoon destinations in usa

Door County, Wisconsin

From Paulina of Paulina on the Road

Wisconsin often isn’t the first US state that people think of visiting, but from beautiful beaches to quirky attractions like House on the Rock , it has plenty to offer.

One of the most beautiful USA landmarks, Door Country, Wisconsin welcomes you on board with 300 miles of stretched shoreline and an awestruck sunset over the water, you could not leave without a witness. 

It allows your soul to breathe and relax. Wisconsin lets you explore aesthetic art galleries, and thousands of miles of stretched orchards, cherish the local brews and wines, paddle along the beautiful lakes, and devour the cheery pies.

winding road through fall foliage in door county wisconsin, one of the best hidden usa secret vacation spots

Moreover, Green Bay, the capital of the region, is an underrated city that eventually captivates its visitors.

Though it’s a small city, the vibrant culture offers amazing  things to do in Green Bay .

Green Bay entertains visitors with prominent wineries. They produce their wines right up there which adds up to be a vital part of their culture. The landscape and heritage inspire the artists.

Walleye fishermen have the best water. It’s clean and portrays immense beauty. The botanical gardens and zoological parks play their role in charming travelers. 

Green Bay is an enchanting place that charms visitors with its intriguing features. 

Lakeshore at golden hour in Door County Wisconsin with evergreen trees on the right side of the photo

Route 66 isn’t technically just one place, but as one of the most iconic travel destinations in the United States, I couldn’t bear to leave it off this USA bucket list!

Stretching from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is America’s best-known road trip and the perfect place to find not-quite-forgotten slices of Americana, from quirky roadside attractions like Cadillac Ranch and the Catoosa Whale to beloved diners and 50s-era-inspired motels.

Route 66 passes through nine states in total (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California), and is a fantastic way to experience some of the best of what traveling in the US has to offer, all in one large trip.

jeremy storm sitting on top of a car at cadillac ranch in amarillo

Big cities, small towns, incredibly diverse landscapes, and beloved national parks are all featured heavily on Route 66.

Though it’s not technically on the route, even the Grand Canyon is accessible as an incredible side journey when road-tripping Route 66.

Whether you want to find a quirky campsite in Oklahoma or go hiking in Arizona, there’s no doubt that Route 66 is a classic US travel destination.

Route 66 in California with Joshua trees on either side. Route 66 is one of the absolute best road trips in USA

Big Sur, California

From Lauren of Ready, Set, PTO

Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places in the US and should definitely be on your bucket list.

Cruising along the winding Pacific Coast Highway with sweeping views of the Pacific is a magical experience.

This rugged area is located in Central California, about 5 hours north of Los Angeles.

If you aren’t able to find available lodging within Big Sur, check out nearby towns of Carmel and Monterey for more options, or try car camping with an epic view!

mcway falls as seen on big sur from above, one of the best places to visit in california

There are plenty of amazing  things to do in Big Sur .

I definitely recommend checking out the iconic Bixby Bridge (as seen in HBO’s Big Little Lies), admiring McWay Falls, hiking in Andrew Molera State Park, and Limekiln State Park, having a drink with a view at Nepenthe and watching the sunset at Pfeiffer Beach!

There’s not much cell service in Big Sur, so be prepared for an off-the-grid weekend of relaxation and gorgeous views.

Pacific Coast Highway California shot from above, one of the best romantic vacations for couples in the United States

Page, Arizona

The small town of Page, Arizona may seem like no more than a small town worthy of a brief stop on a road trip at first blush–but this small, unassuming town is home to some of the most incredible sights in the entire southwest, and it definitely belongs on your USA bucket list!

Page is where you can find the famous Antelope Canyon, as well as Horseshoe Bend , the Instagram darling of the Colorado River (for very good reason).

Just outside of Page, you can also find the remarkable Glen Canyon Dam, one of the largest dams in the US, as well as Lake Powell–but to see the best of Lake Powell, you’ll actually need to cross into Utah!

That’s not hard to do, though: Page is located right next to the Arizona/Utah border.

With such an outsized list of fun attractions, there’s no doubt that Page is one of the coolest places to vacation in the USA.

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2 photos of the USA, first from a train ride in Alaska and one from a geothermic spring in Yellow. Black and red text reads "50 bucket list usa travel destinations"

About Kate Storm

Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

3 thoughts on “USA Bucket List: 50 Best Places to Visit in the US”

Great info. I know its great because I have been to most of the beaches you mention!

Thank you – will also look at your Italian small towns to see which ones we should visit and maybe retire to.

Thank you so much, Laura!

Retiring to Italy–sounds like quite the dream! 🙂

Absolutely amazing article, just loved it.

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Your guide to united states road trips, plan your own road trip itinerary, utah road trip itineraries, arizona road trip itineraries, california road trip itineraries.

No road is as famous or as fascinating as Route 66. Why is this legendary road so famous? Where is it? How do you plan a trip on the Mother Road that includes all its most important stops? Here you’ll find all the information you need to organize the most fascinating road trip in the US. What is Route 66? …

Discover the Most Beautiful Parks


Yosemite National Park Travel Guide: how to plan a trip?


Grand Canyon Trip Planner: a Travel Guide to the Arizona Natural Wonder


Death Valley National Park: Travel Guide and Road Trip Tips

Monument Valley Tribal Park

Monument Valley Tribal Park


Yellowstone National Park Travel Guide

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Niagara Falls

In our section about American parks, you will find many other guides dedicated to the most beautiful parks in the United States of America!

USA Parks Travel Guide and Map

USA Parks Travel Guide and Map Among the wonders of America, the U.S. national parks are certainly a must-visit. If you’re in search of vast, mysterious, and astonishing natural landscapes, a tour of the American parks will amaze you with unique views. Most of the natural beauty in the United States is concentrated in the West, but in reality, the …

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We are a group of friends fascinated by the beauties of the United States. We love to explore them far and wide, always seeking out the most stunning and surprising attractions that this vast country has to offer. Our favorite way to explore them is through road trips , for the sense of freedom and adventure it provides, and because it enables us to discover new destinations and hidden gems, often far from the most popular tourist spots and mass tourism.

However, we also don’t shy away from more traditional and focused trips, perhaps centered around visiting individual cities or more specific areas. Our mission is to explore all of the United States… and then start all over again! An impossible mission, an endless journey that, precisely because of the unattainable goal, motivates us every day to ask ourselves: what is there to discover anew today?

The main contributors to Travel in USA are Lorenzo Puliti , Filippo Nardelli , and Bernardo Pacini (currently partners at the Evenit company), but there are many other tireless travelers who assist us in this adventure, contributing firsthand with their travel accounts . To learn more, explore our editorial team . To find out more about our history and how to contact us, click the button below:

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Travel tips for a Fourth of July that's set to break records

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Luke Garrett

Airports around the United States are preparing for what could be the busiest Fourth of July travel season on record. The nation's roads are no different. Traffic could reach never-before-seen volumes over the Independence Day holiday.

“With summer vacations in full swing and the flexibility of remote work, more Americans are taking extended trips around Independence Day,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a press release. “We anticipate this July 4th week will be the busiest ever.”  

Nearly 71 million people are expected to make trips for the Independence Day travel period, AAA predicts.

Here's what to know about traveling for the holiday this week.

The TSA sets a new record and readies for another

Last week, a record-breaking 2.99 million passengers went through U.S. airports in a single day, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The agency said it's expecting a new travel record this week.

At Philadelphia International Airport, Gerardo Spero, the TSA’s federal security director for the airport, is dealing with an 8% passenger increase this year and is cautioning travelers to give themselves extra time.

“The best advice that I can offer is to get to the airport well before your ticketed departure time,” Spero said in a news release . “Now more than ever it is vital to give yourself plenty of time to park or return a rental car, check in with your airline to check bags and prepare for the security checkpoint."

There's usually no need to panic when planes make emergency landings. Here's why

There's usually no need to panic when planes make emergency landings. Here's why

Spero also said travelers can help each other out by being "efficient" in the security lines: take off shoes and belts preemptively, empty your pockets into your carry-on, and grab a bin early.

Over at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — where travel volumes are up 5% — the TSA wants travelers to double-check their carry-on bags before they get to the airport.

“We are asking travelers to be good partners with TSA and ensure that they are prepared for the screening process," TSA Federal Security Director for Washington Greg Hawko said in a release . "Please don’t bring prohibited items in your carry-on luggage."

The busiest airport days are expected to be July 3, 7 and 8, according to flight website Hopper . The company projects Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver airports to be the ones with the most travelers.

This rise in summer air travel comes amid heightened attention on aircraft maker Boeing's quality control practices after a door plug blew out on a 737 Max jet in midair at the start of the year. Still, flying is the safest way to travel .

On the road

Nearly one in five Americans are set to drive more than 50 miles this Fourth of July travel season, according to an AAA forecast .

If you want to beat the traffic, drive early. INRIX, a transportation data provider, said driving on Monday should save travelers time. Any day after that, the best time to drive is before 10 a.m.

“Drivers in large metro areas can expect the worst traffic delays on Wednesday, July 3, as they leave town, and Sunday, July 7, as they return,” Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX , said in a statement. “Road trips over the holiday week could take up to 67% longer than normal.” 

The state put the first diverging diamond at a notoriously traffic-clogged intersection in Springfield where it could often take as long as 20 minutes to make a left turn.

When driving on the wrong side of the road is the right way to speed up traffic

If you are preparing for a longer road trip with family and friends, AAA recommends running through this checklist: check kids' car seats, bring an emergency pack (first aid, jumper cables, snacks and water) and map the route.

At the pump, drivers can expect lower gas prices than last year with a gallon costing an average of $3.50. In 2023, gas cost $3.53 per gallon and in 2022, it cost nearly $5.

This year, the states with the most expensive gas are California ($4.80), Hawaii ($4.71), Washington ($4.21), Oregon ($4.07), Nevada ($4.04), Alaska ($3.90), Illinois ($3.88), Michigan ($3.70), Washington, D.C. ($3.66), and Indiana ($3.65).

Another cost to consider is tolls. Not all states have them, but check your route on Toll Guru to see how much change you might need on hand or how much money to have loaded on the E-ZPass.

The weather factor

High temperatures and a few thunderstorms are in the forecast for much of the country, according to AccuWeather . Both can cause travel delays.

The worst heat is expected in California.

Wyatt Seymore pours the last drops of liquid from a water bottle into his mouth on June 17 as he takes a break from unloading a stiflingly hot trailer of fireworks outside Powder Monkey Fireworks ahead of the opening of the stand in Weldon Spring, Mo.

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"It's going to be downright hot across the Southwest, especially in California and the Desert Southwest where record highs will be challenged," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Joseph Bauer told the website.

The Southern Plains and Southeast regions are also expected to feel the heat over the Independence Day weekend with higher than average temperatures.

High temperatures can slow down travel. When temperatures get too high, railway tracks can start to bend — forcing trains to slow down or stop completely. And planes may face weight restrictions during severe heat.

Traveling during the morning or evening can help offset the risk of heat-related delays.

While much of the country will face high temperatures on the Fourth of July, the Northern Plains, Midwest and portions of the Northeast may see thunderstorms, according to AccuWeather.

Flight delays and cancellations

As a rule, airlines are required to offer travelers a refund or book them another flight if they cancel a passenger's flight. The rules surrounding flight delays are more complicated.

Airlines are ordered to give full refunds instead of vouchers and to stop hiding fees

Airlines are ordered to give full refunds instead of vouchers and to stop hiding fees

This U.S. Department of Transportation chart offers a full list of specific airline cancellation and delay policies.


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If You Test Positive for Covid, Can You Still Travel?

With coronavirus cases on the rise, summer travelers are once again facing difficult questions. Here’s the latest travel guidance from health experts.

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By Shannon Sims

As new coronavirus variants gain traction across the United States, summer travelers are facing a familiar and tiresome question: How will the ever-mutating virus affect travel plans?

In light of updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , the answers may be slightly different from those in previous years.

Here’s what to know about traveling this summer if you’re worried about — or think you might have — Covid-19.

What’s going on with Covid?

Recent C.D.C. data show that Covid infections are rising or most likely rising in more than 40 states. Hospitalization rates and deaths, while low compared with the peaks seen in previous years, are also on the rise.

The uptick is tied to a handful of variants — named KP.2, KP.3 and LB.1 — that now account for a majority of new cases .

At the same time, record numbers of people are expected to travel over July 4 and the holiday weekend.

I’d planned to travel, but I’m sick with Covid. What should I do?

In short: You should probably delay or cancel your trip.

If you tested positive or are experiencing Covid symptoms, which include fever, chills, fatigue, a cough, a runny nose, body aches and a headache, the C.D.C. recommends that you stay home and keep away from others.

According to its latest guidelines, the agency advises waiting until at least 24 hours after you are fever-free and your overall symptoms are improving before going back to normal activities, including travel.

What are the isolation rules?

New C.D.C. guidelines issued in March made significant changes to the recommended isolation period for people with Covid.

The agency now says that you can resume daily activities if you meet two requirements : You have been fever-free for at least 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medications) and your symptoms are improving overall. Previously, the agency recommended isolating for at least five days, plus a period of post-isolation precautions.

Even after your isolation period, you may still be able to spread the virus to others, which is why the C.D.C. encourages you to continue to take precautions for the next five days: Use masks, wash your hands frequently, practice physical distancing, clean your air by opening windows or purifying it, and continue testing yourself before gathering around others.

Are there any lingering testing or vaccine requirements?

Travelers no longer need to show proof of being vaccinated against Covid or take a Covid test to enter the U.S. (This applies to both U.S. citizens and noncitizens.)

The same is true in Europe and most other countries.

How can I prepare before traveling?

First, make sure you stay up-to-date with Covid vaccines .

Next, plan to bring any items that would be helpful should you become sick while traveling.

“Make sure to take a good first aid or medication kit with you,” said Vicki Sowards, the director of nursing resources for Passport Health , which provides travel medical services. Ms. Sowards recommended that your kit include medications that you usually take when you are ill, as well as Covid tests.

You may want to consider packing medications that can help alleviate the symptoms of Covid, like painkillers, cold and flu medicines, and fever reducers. Bringing along some electrolyte tablets (or powdered Gatorade) can also help if you get sick.

Ms. Sowards also suggested speaking with your physician before traveling, particularly if you’re in a vulnerable or high-risk group. Some doctors might prescribe the antiviral Paxlovid as a precautionary measure, she said, to be taken in the event of a Covid infection.

How can I stay safe while traveling?

Wearing a mask on a plane or in crowded areas is still a good idea, said Ms. Sowards. “Respiratory droplets are the main carrier of Covid, so protecting yourself is paramount, especially if you are immunocompromised or have chronic health conditions.”

If you do get sick, start wearing a mask and using over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever or joint aches, Ms. Sowards advised.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2024 .

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Planning on traveling for the Fourth of July holiday? Here’s how to avoid the rush


FILE - Motorists head southbound in the local and express lanes on Interstates 90-94 in slow and thickening traffic as a CTA train enters a station on the first day of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, July 1, 2022, in Chicago. Millions of Americans are preparing to get out of town sometime in the coming Fourth of July holiday week, which will likely mean busy roads as well as packed airports and train stations. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

FILE - Travelers walk with their luggage through Union Station in Washington ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, July 1, 2023. Millions of Americans are preparing to get out of town sometime in the coming Fourth of July holiday week, which will likely mean busy roads as well as packed airports and train stations. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough, File)

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Fourth of July is right around the corner, and the travel rush is already heating up.

Millions of Americans are preparing to get out of town sometime in the coming holiday week. That will likely mean busy roads, as well as packed airports and train stations.

Motor club AAA projects that some 70.9 million travelers will head 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more from their homes over a nine-day Independence Day travel period — surpassing pre-pandemic numbers for the U.S. holiday. And the Transportation Security Administration expects to screen over 32 million individuals in airports from this Thursday through July 8, up 5.4% from last year’s numbers.

Are you traveling for the Fourth? Here’s a rundown of what you need to know.

When is the best time to hit the road for July Fourth?

Smooth sailing for travel around any holiday is never a given. But avoiding the most hectic times, when others are rushing out of town, is a good way to start.

If you’re traveling by car for the Fourth of July, it’s best to hit the road in the morning, according to transportation data and insights provider INRIX. Peak traffic congestion varies by location, INRIX data published by AAA shows, but the worst times to drive on, or leading up to, the holiday are generally between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Either way, be prepared for the roads to be jammed.


“Road trips over the holiday week could take up to 67% longer than normal,” Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a prepared statement.

This story is featured in our One Notable Number series , which spotlights the key numbers leading our coverage.

Take a look at more Notable Numbers here.

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July Fourth falls on a Thursday this year, and many travelers will likely take Friday July 5th off to extend their trip into a four-day weekend. Drivers in large metro areas can expect the biggest delays on Wednesday July 3 and Sunday July 7 — as travelers leave and return to town, Pishue added.

And if you’re renting a car ahead of July Fourth, the busiest pickup days will be Friday, Saturday and Wednesday before the holiday, AAA notes.

When will airports be busiest?

Airports will also likely be packed all week long — but the TSA expects most people will take to the skies on Friday.

It anticipates that it will screen more than 3 million individuals Friday. That would surpass the agency’s current record for most people screened on a single day, which reached just under 3 million last Sunday.

“We expect this summer to be our busiest ever,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said, adding that travel typical peaks around Independence Day.

Last year, the busiest day for Fourth of July air travel was also the Friday ahead of the holiday, TSA data shows. If past trends hold, travel will likely be higher on the days before and after the Fourth — particularly closer to the weekend. In 2023, for example, more than 2 million people were screened on the Fourth, which landed on a Tuesday last year, down from 2.88 million the Friday before.

What should I do if my flight is delayed or canceled?

Flights can be delayed or canceled for an array of reasons — from plane-specific mechanical problems to major storms impacting popular travel paths.

If your flight is canceled, airlines are required to provide refunds for customers, even if the cancellation is due to weather . Delays are trickier, because they typically have to meet certain criteria for relief, such as refunds or compensation — but carriers will often give customers to chance to switch to alternative flights, if available, at no cost.

In April, the Biden administration issued final rules that include requiring airlines to provide automatic cash refunds within a few days for canceled flights and “significant” delays. Those rules are set to take effect over the next two years, but the Department of Transportation has a site that lets consumers see the commitments each airline has made for refunds and covering other expenses when flights are canceled or significantly delayed.

Always check your itinerary before leaving home

It’s better to be stuck at home than locked in hourslong traffic or stranded in an airport terminal. Before heading out the door this holiday week, do yourself a favor and check the status of your travel plans.

Was your flight, train or bus ride delayed? Are there are traffic incidents set to disrupt your drive? And what about the weather? A quick look through your itinerary — such as trip updates on a carrier’s website — checking weather forecasts and monitoring traffic safety through services like the 511 hotline or your phone’s navigation apps can go a long way toward avoiding travel misery.

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:

— Leave early: There are more people everywhere during a holiday week, so lines will be longer and roads will be busier. Give yourself more time to get to your destination or to make your way through airport security.

— Keep an eye on the weather — and not just for your destination: Look at the weather for your entire travel path. Even if it’s sunny skies both at home and the place you’re headed, it’s important to keep an eye out for any storms in between. You may need to do some rerouting.

— Be kind: A trip delay or cancellation can be really frustrating — but if you’re running into disruptions, chances are others are too. Customer service agents have a lot on their plate at this time of year, and it’s important to be patient and respectful as they try to help you.

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Summer Travel 2024: Record Air Travel, Fewer Cancellations, Better Airports, More Passenger Protections

Year-to-date flight cancellation rate is just 1.4% during a record-breaking summer travel season​​​​​

WASHINGTON – Despite record-breaking levels of air travel this year, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) numbers show that the flight cancellation rate for the first half of 2024 was just 1.4% – nearly the lowest rate in over a decade. The latest data from airlines reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that weather continues to be the leading cause of flight cancellations.

Percent of Scheduled Flights Cancelled from 2015 to 2024

On June 23, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened more than 2.99 million individuals in a single day at U.S. airports – the most airline passengers the agency has screened in its history. TSA expects to screen more than 32 million individuals this Independence Day travel season, which is a 5.4% increase over last year. At the same time, airfares are down 6% over the last year and below pre-pandemic prices.

“This year’s record-breaking air travel is another good sign for our economy as more Americans take to the skies than ever before,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “To help avoid travel headaches, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken historic action to modernize airports and expand passenger protections for a smoother travel experience.” 

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $25 billion in U.S. airport infrastructure over five years. This unprecedented investment is not only improving runways and air traffic control towers but also adding gates and adding flight capacity, modernizing baggage systems, replacing passenger boarding bridges, reconfiguring security screening areas, improving safety, and more to finally deliver world-class airports in the U.S. and meet anticipated demand in the decades to come. Just this week, the Federal Aviation Administration announced $289 million in airport infrastructure grants in 40 states and an additional $1 billion in available funding to modernize airport terminals. Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, nearly 200 terminal projects are already under construction to modernize America’s airports and make air travel safer and smoother. 

The Biden-Harris Administration has taken historic action to improve airline passenger rights and oversight of the airline industry: 

  • The rule makes clear that airline passengers are entitled to a refund when their flight is canceled or significantly changed and they no longer wish to take that flight or be rebooked, when their checked baggage is significantly delayed, or when extra services they paid for – like Wi-Fi – are not provided. The rule also requires refunds to be automatic, prompt, in the original form of payment, and in the full amount paid. Airlines must comply with the rule by late October.  
  • Provisions of the final rule on airline refunds were fortified through the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024 that President Biden signed into law on May 16, 2024. 
  • The rule creates a more competitive airline market by requiring airlines to disclose critical extra fees – like change fees and baggage fees – upfront to ensure consumers can better understand the true cost of air travel. The rule also bans “bait-and-switch” advertising tactics and requires airlines to clearly tell passengers upfront that a seat is included with the cost of their ticket. This rule is expected to save consumers over half a billion dollars every year.  
  • Launched the flightrights.gov dashboard, after which all 10 major U.S. airlines guaranteed free rebooking and meals when an airline issue causes a significant delay or cancellation. These are new commitments the airlines added to their customer service plans that DOT can legally ensure they adhere to through enforcement action.  
  • Secured nearly $4 billion in refunds and reimbursements owed to airline passengers – including over $600 million to passengers affected by the Southwest Airlines holiday meltdown in 2022.  
  • Issued nearly $170 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations since President Biden took office. In comparison, between 1996 and 2020, DOT collectively issued less than $71 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations.  
  • Set up a system to expand the Department’s capacity to review air travel service complaints by partnering with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general , which will help hold airlines accountable and protect the rights of the traveling public.

President Biden blames overseas travel for disastrous debate: 'I nearly fell asleep on stage'

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday blamed jet lag from his recent travels overseas for his disastrous debate performance last week, even though he returned to the United States 12 days before taking the stage with former President Donald Trump.

Biden, facing immense pressure from Democrats following his poor debate showing, made the excuse while addressing donors at a campaign fundraiser in McLean, Virginia outside Washington.

"I didn't have my best night," Biden told supporters. "I wasn't very smart. I decided to travel around the world a couple of times, going through I don't how many times zones.

"I didn't listen to my staff. And then I came back and I nearly fell asleep on stage," Biden said, prompting laughs from some of the donors. “It’s not an excuse but an explanation."

Biden then apologized to supporters, saying he was sorry for his June 27 debate performance, but stressed it was “critical” to win the election against Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Prep for the polls: See who is running for president and compare where they stand on key issues in our Voter Guide

Biden's remarks could invite even more scrutiny over whether the 81-year-old president is up to the rigorous traveling, packed schedules and other demands of a second term in the White House.

Leading up to the debate, Biden spent six days at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland preparing with White House aides. He arrived there on the night of June 20 and left the morning of June 27 for Atlanta, the site of the debate.

Biden was in Italy from June 12 to 14 to attend the Group of Seven nations summit, returned back to the U.S. early in the morning June 15, and immediately took Air Force One to Los Angeles to attend a glitzy Hollywood fundraiser. Biden returned to the White House on June 16, made a quick stop at his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware home on June 18, and then went on to Camp David.

Biden was in France from June 5 to 9 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of D-day with allies and meet with French President  Emmanuel Macron .

Biden has vowed he's not bowing out of the race despite growing concerns from Democrats, including on Tuesday from the first Democrat in Congress to call for him to withdraw, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas.

Reach Joey Garrison on X @joeygarrison.

U.S. Embassy issues travel warning to these Caribbean islands in the path of a ‘devastating’ hurricane

  • Updated: Jul. 03, 2024, 12:28 p.m. |
  • Published: Jul. 03, 2024, 12:17 p.m.

Caribbean travel warning 2024

The U.S. is issuing a "travel warning" for Americans traveling to several Caribbean islands this week because they're in the path of Hurricane Beryl, a Category 5 hurricane. Canva

  • Katherine Rodriguez | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The U.S. is issuing a “travel warning” for Americans traveling to several Caribbean islands this week because they may be hit by a Category 5 hurricane.

The U.S. Embassy warned Americans visiting countries in the path of Hurricane Beryl — Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — to check the weather forecasts and monitor changes in conditions.

“Beryl will likely bring devastating impacts to Jamaica Wednesday,” The Weather Channel said .

Beryl, which became the earliest Category 5 storm to form in the Atlantic Ocean, is a Category 4 storm that is currently churning toward Jamaica, according to The Weather Channel. It is expected to hit the Cayman Islands on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, followed by Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Friday and potentially the western Gulf Coast, from Texas to Mexico, on Sunday or early Monday.

The U.S. Embassy is also urging citizens to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) , a free service for Americans traveling or living overseas to register their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

This program allows Americans to receive important information about what is going on in their country for safety reasons, and gives the U.S. Embassy as well as family and friends a way to contact you in case of an emergency.

Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com .

Katherine Rodriguez can be reached at [email protected] . Have a tip? Tell us at nj.com/tips .

If you purchase a product or register for an account through a link on our site, we may receive compensation. By using this site, you consent to our User Agreement and agree that your clicks, interactions, and personal information may be collected, recorded, and/or stored by us and social media and other third-party partners in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

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Visit the USAGov homepage

Entering the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda

Learn what travel documents you need to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda.

To strengthen U.S. border security, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) sets standards for proving identity and citizenship for citizens of the U.S., Canada, and Bermuda crossing U.S. borders. These standards determine what travel documents U.S. and non-U.S. citizens need to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Travelers who enter from Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other U.S. territories are not affected by WHTI standards.

Visit the Department of Homeland Security's WHTI FAQ page to find the specific travel documents you will need to enter the U.S. from these locations by air, land, and sea.

LAST UPDATED: May 24, 2024

Have a question?

Ask a real person any government-related question for free. They will get you the answer or let you know where to find it.

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    Get Inspired: Itineraries and Travel Ideas. VisitTheUSA is the USA official guide for traveling the United States of America. Discover here all the information you need for your American holidays.

  2. Visit the U.S. as a tourist

    Entering the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. See what travel documents you need to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda. To visit the U.S. as a tourist, learn about tourist visas, ESTA, I-94, and visa waivers. Learn how to extend your stay in the U.S.

  3. 16 things to know before going to the USA

    15. Purchase travel insurance. Healthcare costs in the USA are extremely high. All travelers are advised to carry a health insurance policy that covers medical visits. Without insurance, you may be billed the full cost of any care you receive, which can easily run into the thousands of dollars, especially for emergency room visits. 16.

  4. Best Places to Visit in the USA for 2023-2024

    Glacier National Park. #1 in Best Places to Visit in the USA for 2023-2024. Glaciers are the main draw of this Montana national park, but its more than 700 lakes, two mountain ranges and multiple ...

  5. US Entry Requirements & Other FAQs To travel To The US

    Whether you prefer staying in a resort or camping under the stars, we've included the details you need to be safe and happy on your USA trip. While you'll find many of the things you already love, and discover new ones, there are a few things that are different here. Take for example our units of measurement, our electricity, our business ...

  6. Travel to or within the U.S.

    Driving in the U.S. if you are not a citizen. Depending on the U.S. states you will visit, you may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) as well as a driver's license your country. Learn how to get a U.S. visitor visa through an ESTA authorization. Find out if you can get an I-94 visa waiver. See if you need an IDP to drive in the U.S.

  7. Frequently Asked Questions: Guidance for Travelers to Enter the U.S

    Frequently Asked Questions: Guidance for Travelers to Enter the U.S. Updated Date: April 21, 2022. Since January 22, 2022, DHS has required non-U.S. individuals seeking to enter the United States via land ports of entry and ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide proof of ...

  8. U.S. Visas

    A citizen of a foreign country who seeks to travel to the United States generally must first obtain a U.S. visa. Visas are placed in the traveler's passport, a travel document issued by the traveler's country of citizenship. Certain international travelers may be eligible to travel to the United States without a visa if they meet the ...

  9. Know Before You Visit

    Almost a million individuals enter the U.S. daily. Everyone arriving at a port of entry to the U.S. is subject to inspection by Customs and Border Protection officers for compliance with immigration, customs and agriculture regulations. The more international travelers know about what to expect, the easier and quicker the process becomes. Last ...

  10. What travelers need to know about the new US travel requirements

    USA TODAY. The U.S. is launching a new travel system on Nov. 8. Vaccinated foreign air travelers will need to show proof of full vaccination and test for COVID-19. The new travel system also adds ...

  11. Travel

    As a non-citizen U.S. resident, learn what documents you need to return to the U.S. if you leave. Looking for something else? Explore all topics and services. Learn how to get or renew a passport. Get tips for traveling outside the U.S. Foreign visitors: understand tourist visas and other documents to enter the U.S.

  12. Travel

    You are about to leave travel.state.gov for an external website that is not maintained by the U.S. Department of State. Links to external websites are provided as a convenience and should not be construed as an endorsement by the U.S. Department of State of the views or products contained therein.

  13. United States travel rules: Here's what you need to know

    CNN —. The United States' new international travel policies are set to go into effect on Monday, November 8. New rules around air, land and ferry travel into the US will replace a patchwork of ...

  14. USA Travel Tips: 30 Things to Know Before Visiting the United States

    30 Tips for Traveling in the USA. 1. You May Need an ESTA. Many countries are a part of the USA's visa waiver program, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Chile, and pretty much all of Europe. You can check to see if your country is on the list on the website of the Department of Homeland Security.

  15. My 31 Favorite Places to Visit in the USA

    For more travel tips on traveling the USA, read these other blog posts: How to Travel Across the USA on $50 A Day; 19 Amazing Restaurants from My Road-Trip Across the U.S. 9 Things I Learned While Driving Across the U.S. Detailed Travel Planning Guide on The United States .

  16. Before Your Trip

    Documents You Will Need. Carry - do not pack - all travel documents. All U.S. citizens need U.S. passport books if re-entering by air. Land and sea border crossings accept additional travel documents, such as U.S. Passport cards and Trusted Traveler cards. Child travelers have additional options - see the Traveling with Children section.

  17. USA Bucket List: 50 Best Places to Visit in the US

    From Maria of San Diego Explorer. San Diego is the perfect California beach city and a must on any USA bucket list. Also known as America's Finest City, San Diego has a lot to offer, whether you are looking for a beach getaway at one of the many beach resorts in San Diego, a fun time in the city, or a mix of both.

  18. Travel in USA: Guide to Best Places to visit in USA. Road Trips, Parks

    USA Parks Travel Guide and Map Among the wonders of America, the U.S. national parks are certainly a must-visit. If you're in search of vast, mysterious, and astonishing natural landscapes, a tour of the American parks will amaze you with unique views. Most of the natural beauty in the United States is concentrated in the West, but in reality ...

  19. USTravelDocs

    Apply for a U.S. Visa. At this website, you can learn about obtaining a visa, as well as applying for your visa. How to apply for your nonimmigrant visa for travel to the United States. What documents, photos and information you need to apply for your visa. How to access visa application forms and instructions.

  20. COVID-19 international travel advisories

    U.S. citizens traveling to a country outside the U.S. Find country-specific travel advisories, including COVID-19 restrictions, from the Department of State. See the CDC's COVID-19 guidance for safer international travel to learn: If you can travel if you recently had COVID-19. What you can do to help prevent COVID-19.

  21. International Travel

    International Travel. The highest priority of the Bureau of Consular Affairs is to protect the lives and serve the interests of U.S. citizens abroad. Across the globe, we serve our fellow citizens during some of their most important moments - births, adoptions, medical emergencies, deaths, arrests, and disasters.

  22. Fourth of July travel is set to break records : NPR

    Here's what to know about traveling for the holiday this week. The TSA sets a new record and readies for another. Last week, a record-breaking 2.99 million passengers went through U.S. airports in ...

  23. If You Test Positive for Covid, Can You Still Travel?

    The uptick is tied to a handful of variants — named KP.2, KP.3 and LB.1 — that now account for a majority of new cases.. At the same time, record numbers of people are expected to travel over ...

  24. Planning on traveling for the Fourth of July? Here's how to avoid the

    GOP US Rep. Spartz, of Indiana, charged with bringing gun through airport security, officials say Senators want limits on the government's use of facial recognition technology for airport screening "Road trips over the holiday week could take up to 67% longer than normal," Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a prepared ...

  25. Summer Travel 2024: Record Air Travel, Fewer Cancellations, Better

    Year-to-date flight cancellation rate is just 1.4% during a record-breaking summer travel season WASHINGTON - Despite record-breaking levels of air travel this year, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) numbers show that the flight cancellation rate for the first half of 2024 was just 1.4% - nearly the lowest rate in over a decade.

  26. They left the US for Ecuador for a better life. Then the country was

    They relocated from the US to Ecuador two years ago. But Ruth Harrison and Dan Phillips' new life took an unexpected turn earlier this year when a nationwide state of emergency was declared.

  27. U.S. citizens traveling abroad

    Authenticate an official document for use outside the U.S. Apostilles and authentication certificates show U.S. documents are genuine. Learn when to use each. Make traveling abroad easier: learn about visas, Trusted Traveler Programs, driving, and emergencies. Also, learn to authenticate documents with apostilles.

  28. Biden blames overseas travel for poor debate: 'I nearly fell asleep'

    President Biden blamed recent travels overseas for his rough debate, even though he returned to the US 12 days before taking the stage against Trump.

  29. U.S. Embassy issues travel warning to these Caribbean islands in the

    The U.S. is issuing a "travel warning" for Americans traveling to several Caribbean islands this week because they may be hit by a Category 5 hurricane. The U.S. Embassy warned Americans ...

  30. Entering the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda

    These standards determine what travel documents U.S. and non-U.S. citizens need to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Travelers who enter from Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other U.S. territories are not affected by WHTI standards. Visit the Department of Homeland Security's WHTI FAQ page to find the ...