Zion Canyon in winter, USA. Photo by Douglas Dietiker
Why visit the US?
The US embraces so much to see and do that tourists need to focus and not try to see everything in one holiday. The bucket-list cities of New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas are just an urban starting point, while the great outdoors offers similarly iconic destinations, such as the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Arches NP (our favourite), Yosemite NP, Florida beaches, Yellowstone NP. Then there is a massive variety of outdoor pursuits available from simple spectacular hiking to brilliant skiing to cycling the Sonoma vineyards in California (with wine tasting but no fear of drunk-driving! ), swimming with dolphins in Florida or riding a Harley to Sturgis in the summertime, or even experiencing zero gravity in Florida in a NASA training 727.
America is not as gun-happy as movies would have us believe, but if you’re nervous stay on the well trodden tourist path and you won’t see any weaponry. The worst thing about the USA is probably airport arrival, the routine lengthy wait at immigration and the incredibly unpleasant customs officials. Do not joke with them, even if they ask – as they did me on my way to Peru – if I was carrying cocaine. . . to Peru? !
US climate: the country is so huge that the weather depends on both holiday destination and time of year.
Simply the Southern States are generally good October-March, but unbearably hot and sticky June-September while Northern States such as Washington, New York and Massachusetts will be very cold in winter but pleasantly warm in the summer. And then there’s Alaska and Hawaii. . .
British/Europeans travelling to the USA: ESTA
You will be required to complete an online/electronic Travel Authorisation (ESTA) form 72-hours before you fly. However, you will not have to specify precisely when you are on the move and the authorisation you receive will last for two years. This system applies to those using the Visa Waiver Program which allows British passport holders to stay in America for less than 90 days without a visa.