I thought I would put together my thoughts on my recent travels around the US…
Driving: You quickly get used to driving on the right-hand side of the road. Actually, after a while, it felt more logical and sensible than the UK, particularly with the stop signs system. The American’s I found to be very conscientious drivers. When you come to a stop sign, you take it in turns to move off so you have to keep a check on order of arrival so you know when it’s your turn to pull away. You can turn right on a red light, but you have to give way to on-coming traffic on your left and pedestrians crossing. Interstate highways and Freeways are another experience altogether, with often 8 to 10 lanes criss crossing each other. Brilliant fun. 🙂
Coffee: The US has a very big coffee culture, particularly first thing in the mornings. Most people can be seen carrying cups of coffee as they head to work. I soon learned early on to buy myself a thermal cup and pay refill prices instead of full price. Refills tended to cost $1 whereas the full price tends to be around $1.95. Every shop, gas station and supermarket has coffee on tap, with a minimum of 3 varieties/strengths including decaf. In the morning’s cars can be seen queuing outside places like Starbucks drive-through for morning coffee. I love this part of the culture as I myself drink several coffees during the day, particularly strong coffee which the Americans love. In the afternoon the trend is to have iced coffee/teas such as mochas, lattes, frappucinos, chai with whipped cream amongst many other toppings. A new trend (not sure if they have this in the UK yet) is they have nitro coffee, which is super cold coffee on tap, it looks like guinness the beer when pored and has a head and everything Click here to see.
Food: The food in the US is amazing. It’s very much a consumer market with endless choice. Everywhere you go theirs food being advertised, on the TV, radio, billboards, and shops. You have endless choice’s, if you like food done in a particular way, you can have it, nothing is to much trouble. The portion sizes are immense. I had a greek omelet one day at a dinner I went to. It said “three egg omelet”, I’m not kidding you it was enormous, they must have used Ostrich eggs. Unbelievably It should have come with toast, oatmeal, and fruit which I declined. Whilst eating my omelet, I was watching a girl demolish four oval plate size blubbery pancakes with bacon of all things. So I thought for tea the next day I will ask for a small portion, no bacon, obviously (weird). They bought me two, very large oval plate size, pancakes, topped with blueberries, and ice cream. I managed one, and that was tough going. I think they thought I didn’t like them or something was wrong because they offered me a replacement or to make them again. 🙂 It didn’t help that every time I took a mouthful of coffee they came over and topped it up, I thought I’m never going to get out of here alive, I’m going to need a crane to lift my stomach up to walk out the place. To order anything it’s 20 questions. Be aware they ask you to repeat your order. In the UK you order a burrito you get a burrito, you have no choice, it comes as it comes. Here you can have it any way you want, with whatever you want. One time I was in a queue there was a girl ordering a burrito in front of me. Her boyfriend had obviously texted her his order because she was reading it from her phone. She was telling the lad, she didn’t want this and she didn’t want that etc. He eventually said “so basically you just want a Burrito with just meat in it” and she said yes !!!! Brilliant. Only in America. All three of us just couldn’t stop laughing. Do not buy pre-packaged sandwiches (often they are frozen because they keep them in the freezer). Most shops, gas stations and supermarkets make sandwiches to order. My favorite sandwich is cheese, tomato and avocado on wheat with mustard. And boy do the Americans know how to make a sandwich. They are immense, very reasonably priced and obviously fresh.
Gas and Hotel: The gas stations do not accept the UK or any other country debit/credit card payments at the pumps. Instead, you have to go to the kiosk and pre-pay. Which means you have to guess, how much to pre-pay, to fill your tank or never fill it. If you should overpay, the difference is automatically refunded to your card, but be aware this can take up to 30 days (I found it was usually within a couple of days with one exception which took 14days). Hotels take a deposit (sometimes per day!!!) along with payment for your room. The deposit can be more than the cost of the room. These deposits mount up particularly when traveling and can again take up to 30 days to be refunded. This I found on average took longer to refund, usually about 10 working days (at one point In my journey I was awaiting $1400 to be refunded). If you use Hotels.com for booking your hotel, I found it better to wait until after 5pm to get the best deals.
Coast to Coast: The east coast is way cheaper than the west coast. To fill my rental car in Chicago I was spending approx $20 with hotels costing around $60 per night. As I drove westward the gas and hotel prices increased to $40 for gas and $130 for a hotel. The exception being hotels around Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Monterey Bay where prices doubled/trebled for a basic hotel. When I mentioned this price increase to people in LA they say “it’s the price you pay to live in California”. My favorite cities have to be Chicago (loved it) Lodi and LA. Lodi is a city located in San Joaquin County, California, in the northern portion of California’s Central Valley. You could tell from speaking to the people in the town center, they loved their town and were extremely proud of it. At night the town center was all lit up and had a really amazing vibe even though it was midweek, people were out and about enjoying themselves, it was such an amazing atmosphere.
Favorite States: I love Illinois obviously because of Chicago, route 66 memorabilia, and just some of the most scenic towns. Although I only drove through a small part of Texas I found the people to be incredibly friendly and had a really great time talking to all sorts of interesting people. So much so It will definitely be on my list to visit again and spend more time in southern Texas. My number one state has to be Califonia. Wow, California just has everything. It has the contrast of Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks, amazing coastline and beaches, the huge sequoia and redwood forests, mountains and fruit and vegetable groves. It has makeshift stalls on the roadside by the groves selling fresh fruit and nuts which was amazing, nothing was to much trouble and you could taste anything. Places Like Lodi, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, San Jose, Monterey, Carmel, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Santa Monica, LA, Long Beach, San Diego to mention a few.
Expensive: The US is expensive. The GBP to USD exchange rate is currently 1.32 (I remember when it was $2). I found food, drink and eating out to be very expensive although fast food outlets which there are many are extremely cheap. Gas is cheap but less so in LA. Electronics such as iPhones etc. were way cheaper than the UK even after tax. You need to be aware that the price you see is not the price you pay. In some states there can be upwards of 4 tax’s added on top of the price you see (till receipts can be very long), oh and don’t forget 10-15% tips even when the service is poor.
ID: I forgot to mention ID Cards. The hotels, gas stations, and many shops ask for photo ID with confirmation of your address. so even if you don’t drive or have the old style driving licence I would recommend you obtain the new style driving licence. A further querk is when asked for your zip code at an ATM or shop input 99999 (five nines) which is accepted (many shop assistants were not aware).
Overal though I absolutely love the US and cannot wait to go back….