“America, America, God shed his grace on thee”. This line from the patriotic song “America the Beautiful” is often confused with the US national anthem.
The reason is that this part of the lyrics completely reflects the country’s 250-year path to prosperity and power. It is not Rome where all roads lead; it is this North American continent where the fate of the world is decided. Here the best things that humanity enjoys are created - technologies, computers, automobiles, and even money.
The USA is the third populated country and the world’s superpower. It has a population of 330 million people, and its stars-and-stripes flag is the most recognizable globally. Every year, America makes the highest nominal GDP in the world.
The United States is a federation that consists of 50 states. The most populous is California with a population of 40 million whereas the least number of people - around 500,000 - live in Wyoming. There are also several unincorporated US territories like Guam, the US Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Midway, and American Samoa.
There is no official language in the United States at the federal level, however, de facto they speak two - English and Spanish, and use both of them for document management.
The currency is the US dollar (USD), one of the main means of payment in the world economy. America manufactures a lot and thus has more than 25% of the world’s GDP. But it also spends a lot, and has a public debt of $26 trillion, having occupied 34th place in the world ranking. The country is situated in the North American continent and borders Mexico to the south, Canada to the north, and Russia through the Bering Strait.
The Canada-United States border takes around 9,000 km and is considered the longest terrestrial boundary between the two countries.
Washington has been the capital city of the United States since 1800. The official name is District of Columbia, and Americans just call it D.C. Its population is 600,000 people.
New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are the biggest US cities.
The territory of the USA also borders the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Arctic Ocean to the north. There is also the other body of water here - the Gulf of Mexico - the coast of which the USA shares with Mexico and Cuba.
American climate is diverse. It is freezing cold in Alaska with its Arctic conditions. And it is boiling hot in Florida during its extreme summer temperatures.
The terrain in the USA combines mountains and plains. There are two mountain ranges - the Appalachian Mountains and the American Cordillera. The Atlantic coastal plain and the Great Plains occupy a considerable area.
A visa is needed to enter the United States, though the procedure of its obtaining is very complicated and time-consuming.
The geographical position of the USA enables people from the other countries of the planet to get there mainly by plane. However, Canadian citizens may visit the country without any problems and even without a visa.
Those who have not received the Canadian passport yet have to apply for permission to enter the US.
Canadians, especially the ones that live in cross-border regions, frequently go to the USA by car. They may also travel by plane or train if the distance is considerable. As a rule, internal flights function properly.
Flight connection from most of the countries to the United States is well-organized. Planes depart from international airports and many big cities. However, transfers may be often needed as well.
The American hospitality industry is highly developed. Clients are usually offered services of different levels, which correspond to the set prices. It may be also very cheap to travel across the USA. You just need to know about all peculiarities of booking the rooms and payment procedures:
- The room price in the price list at the reception desk may differ from the real price strikingly. In practice, it means that the official price is basic and can be twice higher than the one announced to a customer in a hotel. The secret is hidden in the discount system because everything depends on the day of the week. There may be no discounts during weekends or holidays due to the large influx of visitors. A room in a three- or four-star hotel during working days will cost $30 - $40.
- In the USA, there functions a unique online auction priceline.com where hotels offer available rooms. Those willing to make a bid and participate in an auction have to sign up and offer the sum of money they are ready to pay based on the average price in their city or state. Then a participant gets anonymous offers from managers of the hotels and chooses the most suitable option. That is impressive cost-effectiveness.
- Free breakfasts are available only for those who check in to a ‘small-star’ hotel - no more than two and a half stars. If you stay in hotels with more stars, it will be necessary to order food from local restaurants.
Apart from hotels, there are also quality hostels and motels that offer budget rooms.
- SAHARA Las Vegas is a great four-star hotel with stylish rooms and a casino. It is located in Las Vegas Strip, not far from the multitude of entertainment venues. There are a swimming pool, a SPA, and free parking.
- Camellia Budget Inn Hotel is a two-star hotel in Highlands, North Carolina. Plain and clean rooms cost $25-$30 per night. Some bathrooms are shared.
- Jazz on The Park Hostel is a cheap hostel in New York. There are comfortable double-sized beds, ironing facilities, air conditioning, and a bathroom in each room. It is located in a prestigious neighborhood - next to Lincoln Center and the American Museum of Natural History.
- West Side YMCA is also a hostel in one of the most prestigious New York neighborhoods - Upper West Side - located close to Central Park and Lincoln Center. The rooms have comfortable beds, air conditioning, and hair dryers. However, there are shared bathrooms and toilets.
- Pod 51 Hotel is a three-star hotel in New York, Turtle Bay, in Midtown Manhattan. Rooms are designed in a bright and stylish manner and have air-conditioning and bathrooms inside. The hotel’s roof makes for a great viewing spot, from which it is possible to enjoy stunning views of the city.
Apart from accommodating in hotels, hostels, and motels, visitors to the USA sometimes rent an apartment, which may be booked in advance prior to the travel via specialized American websites.
Places to See
Sightseeing attractions in the USA demand allocating a special budget when planning a trip. Most of the tours are rather pricey - starting from $18. However, there are so many places that can be visited free of charge.
A great start will be New York City, the unofficial capital of the United States.
The embodied American dream constantly offers something worth seeing - beginning with the Statue of Liberty for $18 and ending with free guided walking tours around the city.
Statue of Liberty ($18)
This American symbol was a gift to the USA made by France in 1876 to commemorate the centenary of the US Declaration of Independence. The Statue of Liberty is situated on Liberty Island in Upper New York Bay and can be accessed only by ferry, which will enable tourists to enjoy the picturesque views of the city. The viewing deck within the crown stunningly overlooks the surrounding area too. Enjoying this spectacle can be quite challenging - one will need to climb a 356-step path through a spiral staircase to reach the crown.
Empire State Building ($23)
This landmark 102-story building was built only in 410 days in 1931 in Manhattan. At present, it is a giant business center that houses 60 companies. The bravest and strongest tourists will have to climb 1,860 steps to get to the very top. Those who prefer high-speed ascending may use any of the 73 elevators available.
Metropolitan Museum of Art ($26)
The main museum of the world is located along the Museum Mile, a borough of Manhattan, not far from Central Park on its eastern side.
One will not manage to see even the smallest number of more than two million exhibits that have been gathered there during 150 years of the museum’s existence. That is why it is recommended to buy the admission ticket for a whole week instead of one day only. But even a week is not enough to see everything.
Brooklyn Brewery Tours (free)
The USA is a homeland of advertising, so manufacturers offer promotions on a constant basis. For example, Brooklyn Brewery, a major beer manufacturer, organizes a real holiday for beer lovers every weekend, from 1 pm to 5 pm. Tasting events usually take place in the company’s headquarters.
Chelsea Galleries (free)
This New York neighborhood is an entire plethora of art galleries where visitors may see all exhibits free of charge. Lifehack: on Thursdays, you may savor not only the beauty of masterpieces but also end up at the cheese- or wine-tasting event. And that immersion in bohemian New York will not cost a penny!
Guided Tours around the Country
Having spent a couple of days exploring a small part of New York - the city that never sleeps - it is high time to embark on a tour across the American attractions.
Niagara Falls ($18)
This true wonder of the world is situated on the Canada-United States border separating the American state of New York and the Canadian province of Ontario.
In fact, there are three waterfalls. The names of Canadian Falls and American Falls denote the side of the border where they are situated. There is also a beautiful and romantic Bridal Veil Falls in the state of New York. The waterfalls astonish with their unprecedented strength: tons of water uninterruptedly cascade down from the 54-meter height.
Grand Canyon ($49-$82)
The other splendorous spectacle is the Grand Canyon panoramic view in Arizona. The Canyon’s viewing deck is said to be the best place for thinking about the sense of life. Gloomy rocks and depth set one to the peculiar philosophical mood. The most spectacular and expensive tours take place across the glass-bottomed Grand Canyon Skywalk and Antelope Canyon. They are suitable for taking photos and videos.
Sequoia National Park ($12-$15)
A unique mountain reserve that comprises two parts - Sequoia Park and Kings Canyon - is situated in California, not far from Visalia. It is the third-largest national park after Yellowstone and Mackinac Island in Michigan. The most visited place in the park is a giant 110-meter-high sequoia honored as General Sherman tree.
In California, there is one more national park with a very gloomy name - Death Valley. This is the hottest reserve and desert in the world: the temperature in summer may reach 60°C.
Las Vegas (everything depends on your luck)
A legendary city for everybody fond of taking risks and adrenaline where one will not even need money. Tempting fate in every possible meaning of the word is a must in local casinos. The first bet is placed just counting on luck and without making any deposits. Experienced croupiers know so many stories when the penniless luckiest became millionaires, and the richest lost all their money in a couple of hours.
Anyway, even an ordinary walk across the neon streets of the world’s gambling capital will leave an overriding impression. If you want to see the international monuments of architecture, there is no need to book a tour to Paris or Egypt. The exact copies of the Eiffel Tower and famous Giza Pyramids have been constructed on the Las Vegas streets.
High Roller, Las Vegas observation wheel, will enable to spectate the superb vista from an aerial view.
The other must-see destination for thrill-seekers is Texas in the American Wild West. In this fourth-largest US city, Rodeo Houston takes place annually. This is the most significant event for the entire American south and it lasts 20 days.
The heart of American aeronautics, NASA, is located here and invites the city visitors to a space center tour.
All of the above-described things are a tiny part of America that welcomes its visitors from around the world. Even those who have lived here all their lives and have a keen interest in American history cannot see all country’s attractions: life will not be enough.
Fast food restaurants, fast food, and coke are the first things to remember while talking about US cuisine. Long lines at 24/7 McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Starbucks make people think that all Americans eat huge portions of French fries and burgers and drink that so typical sickly sweet beverage. However, it is not like that. American cuisine is very diverse and specialties vary by state.
Weather permitting, a typical weekend of an average American family will start with a barbecue - a family picnic where they usually grill all types of meat, fish, and vegetables.
Roast turkey stuffed with vegetables has remained the key dish on Thanksgiving Day for almost 250 years. Toothsome and flavorful meat is worth giving a try on those days when the whole country starts its long-lasting holiday season because the taste is delicious.
Somewhere in Connecticut or Maine, you will be offered clam chowder - a thick cream soup with some milk added. The second course will include corn beef with vegetables, fish, or lobsters.
The menu of the American Midwest, the heart of American agriculture, comprises a multitude of meat-based dishes cooked on charcoals. Italian cuisine with its ravioli and pizza of all types have also deeply rooted there.
Closer to Mexico, in Texas and California, local cuisine is called Tex-Mex, which means the mixture of Texas and Mexican cooking traditions. They cook food as it is conventional to Mexicans: with abundant spices, grated cheese, and tortillas. And prefer beef most of all.
Jambalaya, a dish similar to pilaff, is worth tasting while in the USA. As a rule, it is cooked with meat, fish, seafood, or simply with vegetables.
Each lunch menu will have a vegetable salad as an integral ingredient.
In the USA, they drink chilled beverages with ice. Even tea is usually iced. For a dessert, one may be treated with a brownie, a chocolate fluffy pudding. The other treat is banana bread baked on the basis of ripened bananas, nuts, raisins, or cocoa.
Every year, the land of dreams and legends welcomes not less than a million migrants who arrive in the USA to take their chances. The country is powerful and magnificent. It is the cradle of the boldest ideas and worldwide progress.
Coming here and winning your spurs means almost the same as hitting a multi-million jackpot.