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If you’re travelling to the US for the first time from a different part of the world, there is a bit of homework to do. Coming from Australia with a baby, our family was both nervous and excited flying halfway across the globe to one of the greatest countries in the world.
In our home country Australia, we don’t need to add tax on top of bills as they’re generally presented inclusive of GST. We don’t really have a tipping culture and we drive on the left side of the road. Our ‘r’ sounds more like ‘ah’ and fries = chips. See how much we have to rewire our brain when we’re travelling to the US?
In this post, we’ll go over the essential information you must know before you travel to the US, including visa requirements, getting around the USA, tipping and more.
Let us know if we’ve missed anything important that you would like to know.
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Getting a Visa (ESTA)
If your country falls under the Visa Waiver Program, all you need is an authorisation – Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) when travelling to the USA for 90 days or less.
- Infants require a visa too
- Price Guide: US$14 per person
Getting an international sim card
There are more and more international sim cards popping up these days. Our preferred providers are SimCorner and DrimSim.
SimCorner offers free shipping to Australia, New Zealand and Canada and charges a small fee for the rest of the world. We used SimCorner for our trip to the US. You can find their current data plans here.
Our experience? I received an SMS as soon as I landed in Hawaii notifying me the sim was automatically activated and ready to go. During our 2-week road trip along the West Coast of California, the signal was strong and 4G was fast and reliable. I couldn’t be happier!
Before the pandemic, we were able to pick up the sim at Sydney International Airport. The pop-up shop was near Gate 54, so if your Gate number is between 8-37, you’ll have to walk all the way back to your gate again after picking up your sim. Please call SimCorner to check whether they still have the pick-up option now.
© Photos by Kida
US Power Plug Adapter
The US power plug looks like this.
If you’re a frequent traveller, we recommend using a Worldwide Compact Universal Adapter.
Get the one with 2 USB ports for convenience.
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How to get extra legroom on the plane and tips on flying with a baby
After travelling around 30 countries, we find the custom security in the US is very strict. Expect to answer detailed and personal questions upon arrival.
For families travelling with a stroller, the US domestic airlines allow Gate check-in for strollers. You can use your own stroller right up until you board the plane, and collect it as soon as you get off the plane! Best of all, families with kids have priority boarding at all airports.
Getting Around the US
Some shuttles require booking in advance, but most of them are happy to take you onboard for cash. Affordable fares and air-conditioned, an excellent option for solo or couple travellers.
Price Guide: ~$15-20 per person. Some charge for infants too.
Taxi is never the cheapest, but it’s a great option if you have a group of friends or a family. Most drivers are happy to chat, you can gain some insights into the local culture. Ideally, bring your own child seat. Some drivers will still take you but remember it’s not safe nor legal.
Price Guide: ~$40-50 from airport to downtown.
Travelling by metro in the US is relaxing, scenic, and fast. However, if you’re travelling with kids, they may need extra entertainment to sit through long rides. Nonetheless, travelling by Metro is a great choice if there’s a Metro line within walking distance.
Remember, you can top up Tap cards, so keep them safe.
Price Guide: $1 for a Tap card. ~$1.75+ for rides.
© Photos by Kida
Buses are a great choice to sightsee and the buses in major cities are generally very convenient. The only thing to consider is whether your itinerary allows for extra waiting times.
For families: If you’re travelling with a stroller, kindly ask the driver to put the ramp down.
Price Guide: ~$1.25
Always have the exact change for the bus fare.
We hired a car with Hertz in Los Angeles for parts of our trip up the coast.
Price Guide: US$46.24 per day, US$275.22 per week, US$60 for a child seat + petrol and insurance
- Drive on the right side of the road.
- Keep an eye on petrol prices, they vary a lot depending on your location.
In the US, there’s an uber carpool option, which we didn’t have in Australia at the time of writing. Usually, it’s cheaper than uberX, and it doesn’t cause any more inconvenience dropping off or picking up someone else along the way. The waiting time for Uber is minimal in most major cities and if you’re travelling with a child, you need to bring your own child seat. Ubering is our favourite way to travelling around the US so far. Travel essay writer
We did experience a few disputes during our vacation but Uber managed to resolve them promptly and provided refunds without any issues.
Price Guide: ~$6-8 minimum fare, fares are calculated at the time of your booking.
Don’t forget to update the phone number to your local number, so you can communicate with the driver.
Don’t have uber yet? Get Onboard here.
Hiring a bike or an eBike is the fun way to explore the US. Bike hires are available at most tourist destinations, so keep an eye out for them and go for a ride.
The US is known for its tipping culture and the prices usually exclude tax and tips. This is one thing to keep reminding yourself when travelling to the US, especially if you’re coming from a country like Australia where you don’t need to add tax and tips on top of a bill. Do your calculation beforehand to avoid getting a bill shock or worse, short of change (yup, it’s happened to us). You can get away without tipping for most takeaways and food courts, but the common practice is around 15-20%.
© Photos by Kida
These are the most essential information I can share with you when travelling to the US. If you’re travelling from Canada or South America, you probably adjust right away. However, for visitors from the UK, Europe or Australia and New Zealand, you might need some time to adjust, especially if you plan to hire a car. It wasn’t fun getting honked at the roundabout when I lost my bearing for a second and forgot which side I was meant to be on!
Hope you have a wonderful vacation to the US and as always, we’d love to hear your travel stories!
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