USA travel guide

2 minute summary

We all feel that we know the USA already because of icons that have pervaded the psyche during our lifetimes. When you take your first trip to New York you just instantly feel as if you are on a movie set. Hit the deserts and ranchlands of the southwest, and its like youve entered a time machine, unable to resist the urge to whistle the theme tune from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But USA has so much more - The Gorgeous, the Beautiful and the Unforgettably Uplifting. Such as the Rocky Mountains, Alaska and the Deep South respectively. And thats just for starters, because the USA is just so big.

Americans have an obsession with telling you that their state has the longest river, tallest building or highest peak. They just cant stop themselves making everything a competition. But they dont need to. Every state has at least one star. We know that from their flag, right? Our USA travel guide shows off the stars that shine just as brightly as the icons.

What we rate & what we don't

Our best & worst of USA vacations


Deep South Blues Indigenous culture The Big Green Apple Food

Deep South Blues

Feel the blood of the Deep Souths cultural heart pumping on every street corner, bar and shoreline of the Mississippi River as you travel through iconic places like Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. Combine this with the civil rights history of Memphis and Birmingham, every stop in this region is a cultural highpoint. Throw in gumbo or jambalaya, local whisky, and you have one big party.

Indigenous culture

We associate tribal culture more with Africa or Asia, but indigenous tribes of the USA play an important role in tourism. The most politically correct term for indigenous Indian people is Native American, American Indian or the full tribal name, such as Ute Indian. In addition, there are Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians many of whom are keen to engage in tourism and have their stories told.

The Big Green Apple

More of a Big Secret than a Big Apple. Stretching all the way to Canada, New York State has a capital called Albany, is home to Niagara Falls, touches two Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean, has ski slopes an hour from the city and its Adirondack Mountains region is bigger than five of the biggest national parks combined. Manhattan is cool, but Brooklyn is the biz. And the Statue of Liberty is fab, but kayaking there feels like having freedom of the city.


Famous the world over for bringing us fast food, there is a huge movement against it in the US, with slow food, or Farm to Fork, more prevalent in New York, for example, than London, Paris or Tokyo. People wont look at you strangely if you ask whats local on the menu and many restaurants are even learning to reduce the famously American wasteful portions too.


Alaska Panoply of parks Wildlife watching Youre welcome


A land of extraordinary national parks and indigenous culture. Wrangell St-Elias National Park is the USAs largest national park, a giant of glacial gorgeousness the size of Switzerland alone. Head here for hiking on glaciers, ice climbing, kayaking through frozen fjords, and taking in the tumultuous taiga and sub-arctic tundra and its resident wildlife wonders such as orca and humpback whales, grizzly bears and wolves.

Panoply of parks

There are 59 extraordinary national parks in the USA, with superbly managed trail systems, an informative website, rangers who are all like all your favourite geography teachers ever, and great value cabin and camping offers. In addition, there are national monuments, rivers, seashores and so many more, all coming under the national park umbrella.

Wildlife watching

People forget how many vast, wild places there are in the USA. More associated with big road trips, theme parks and shopping, get off the tourist trails and onto the back trails to see the likes of elk roaming free in the Rocky Mountains, bison in Yellowstone or whales basking in Alaska. The national parks are the best places for spotting wildlife in their natural habitats.

Youre welcome

And they really mean it. At the risk of sexism, America is the hostess with the mostess. She does hospitality. It is in her genes. Once you get past the nightmare that is US immigration, they smile, they adore Europeans, they bend over backwards to help you, feed and water you and, and if you have a query, they will do everything they can to find the answer.


SeaWorld Orlando & Miami Las Vegas Los Angeles


Theme parks are a big attraction for many tourists to the USA, with Mickey Mouse being the main reason for many first time visitors. SeaWorld and Miami SeaQuarium are often part of this package, where the exploitation of captive dolphins and whales is, in our opinion, totally unethical. It is also the growing opinion of many travel companies now removing trips there from their itineraries as awareness grows.

Orlando & Miami

Why go for the theme park tourism of Florida, which are not only superficial but super humid and super crowded, when you can explore the nearby national park tourism. So near and yet they feel like separate worlds. Such as the Everglades Wetlands, home to crocodiles and manatees, or Biscayne, with emerald islands and coral reefs. You will save a fortune and gain a formidable experience.

Las Vegas

There are times when you just have to jump on that high horse and shout enough already. Gambling, over-usage of energy, prostitution (illegal in Las Vegas itself, but plenty of legal brothels in the environs), traffic congestion, the arid climate yet water costs $5 a bottle, tacky consumerism, drunken antisocial behaviour whoa, cant stop that galloping horse.

Los Angeles

The city everyone thinks they have to visit once, but much of it is actually just one big smelly traffic jam and the rest is a somewhat surreal trip into the excesses of Hollywood and hedonism. Head to San Francisco, Seattle or Portland which all offer just as much. And more, if overdosing on wild places, the ocean, mountains and nature if more of the sort of hit you need.

Food, shopping & people

Travel like a local on your USA vacation

Eating & drinking in the USA

Farm to fork, or slow food, is everywhere. They even coined the phrase locavore, meaning people who love local food.

Cajun and Creole just add to the tasty cultural mix of the Deep South.

Carnivores will go bonkers for bison and elk in the ranchland states.

Alaskan seafood is the best. And if you are game, try caribou, moose or elk.

Microbreweries and micro distilleries are unstoppable right now in the US. As are vineyards. Yet, it is still illegal to have an alcoholic drink with a picnic in the park in most states. Go figure.

Screen & scribe

There are so many books and films on the USA, but here are a few gems to seek out before you go:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012), a hiking memoir with film coming out 2015
The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America by Philip Caputo
The Wilderness World of John Muir by John Muir (2001)
American Indians and National Parks by Robert H. Keller and Michael F. Turek (1999)
True Tales of American Life by Paul Auster (2002)
The National Parks: Americas Best Idea, a six-part documentary series from acclaimed filmmakers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, available on iTunes
12 years a slave: Oscar winning film, screenplay John Ridley, Director Steve McQueen

Gifts & shopping

Cowboy hat. Cant have a vacation in the Wild West without one. A few suppliers make them bespoke but this is rare. Saddler shops are your best bet.

Seek out American Indian reservations to buy their crafts in situ not at the mall

There are a lot of farm shops in the USA with nonperishable goods such as woollens or handmade toiletries.

The USA does great gear for outdoor lovers. Lots of small towns have boutique stores for hikers, bikers and kayakers.

The locally crafted indigenous Ulu knife from Alaska is a great gift

Fast facts

New Yorks biggest industry? Not money markets, not tourism, but agriculture. And mostly from smallholdings. It has to be the hottest farm to fork state out there.

How much does it cost?

Annual pass to all national parks for two adults 50
Coast to coast Amtrak train NY San Francisco From 135

Half a day rafting trip 30
Bottle of Coloradan wine from winery 10-15
Remember restaurants and retailers always add a sales tax
to the total bill

A brief history of the USA

Americans always have a bit of a chip on their shoulder when it comes to history, especially if you are visiting from Europe. Oh, we have nothing very old or interesting here compared with you guys, many of them say. And given that the first permanent Spanish settlers arrived in 1565 in St Augustine, present day Florida, this is true in many ways. The old buildings look almost mid twentieth century modern to many Europeans. Americans should knock off that chip, however, because the history and journey of its pre and post-colonial existence is totally enlightening, and indeed often frightening, so it is really worth reading up in more detail before you spend any serious time there.Read more ▼
Photo credits: [Vermont: Joe] [jazz: Gary J. Wood] [native americans: The U.S. Army] [The Big green apple: CJW_NY] [Food: Jeff Kubina] [Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park] [Parks: Yellowstone National Park] [wildlife: Nic McPhee] [Youre welcome : Oregon Department of Transport] [seaworld: The Jacobin] [orlando: allnightavenue] [las vegas: eGuide Travel] [Meat: Isaac Wedin] [book : Heidi Elliott] [cowboy hat: Jean L.] [National park ticket: Grand Canyon National Park]
Written by Catherine Mack
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