Travelling alone is a great way to build self-confidence and be wholly immersed in your surroundings, but most importantly, it gives you the freedom to follow the sights and sounds that call your name. There’s no better place, then, to embrace this freedom than in “the land of the free” itself: the United States of America.
The USA is a huge country that encompasses a wide range of lifestyles and landscapes within its borders, and you’ll want to experience it all –from the friendly hospitality of the south and the fast-paced excitement of the northeast to the laidback creativity of the west. If you’re looking to explore this vastly diverse country on what is sure to be the solo trip of a lifetime, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Where to go
- Getting around
- Travel insurance
- National parks
- Dining out
- Talking to locals
- Travel documents
Travel to: the USA
1. There’s a lot to explore
From the rocky coastlines of the East Coast to the sandy beaches of the West Coast and everything in between, there is a lot worth seeing in the United States. You likely won’t be able to hit everything you want to see in one trip.
Even though travelling solo means less negotiation with travel companions, the sheer size of the US may feel daunting. It’s better to choose one region to thoroughly explore on your trip, and plan your itinerary that way.
If you’re having a tough time deciding where to go, here are some of the top destinations for solo travellers:
- Portland, Oregon
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Sedona, Arizona
- San Francisco, California
- Washington, D.C.
- New York City
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Maui, Hawaii
- New Orleans, Lousiana
2. Know how to get around
The USA is well-connected through an excellent highway infrastructure, which is why the road trip is such a great American tradition. You’ll need to be at least 25 years of age to rent a car here, but since you’ll be travelling alone, using bus services like Greyhound or Megabus will be more eco-friendly ways to speed down America’s Interstate highways.
If you want to cover a lot of ground and minimise your travel time, domestic flights are your best bet. A few of the country’s most popular budget airlines include JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit Airlines.
Hopping on an Amtrak train is also an option for intercity travel. You’ll find different geography, climates, and time zones in different regions, and even laws can differ from state to state. State laws don’t always match with federal regulations, so make sure you are aware of the laws surrounding drug use, personal freedoms, and arms within the states you’re travelling.
3. Leave room in your budget
When travelling to the US, there are a couple of reasons to leave room in your budget. If you’re arriving from outside of North America, the chances are that America’s tipping culture will be new to you. While it’s not officially required by law, tipping in the US is needed to help service workers make a living wage.
A 15-20% tip is customary for good service, and you’ll need to add that amount to the total on the bill. When purchasing goods, the prices listed exclude sales tax, which is calculated at checkout. Credit cards are most commonly used, so it won’t be necessary to carry around large amounts of cash.
However, you might want to keep a few quarters around, as those can come in handy for parking meters, laundromats, and toll roads that haven’t yet caught up with the technology.
4. Private accommodations are preferred
If you’ve travelled in Europe, you’ll know that hostels are a solo traveller’s best friend for affordable lodging and opportunities to meet fellow travellers. While there are some hostels to be found, shared accommodations like hostels are not as prevalent in the US as they are in Europe, as Americans tend to prefer private accommodations.
Luckily, there are more affordable options on property-sharing platforms, along with bed and breakfasts, motels, and inns. The affordability of these options might affect where you choose to go on your itinerary.
5. Be sure to buy insurance
Travel insurance is always a good idea, but when you’re travelling to the US, it becomes an essential one. While also covering trip cancellations and baggage loss, it ensures that any medical costs you may incur won’t cost you.
Healthcare services in America are some of the most expensive in the world, and their system does not cover visitors to the country. If you’re travelling solo, it can be more important than ever to have that peace of mind. Be sure also to take note of local emergency service numbers, and keep friends and family apprised of your itinerary and updated on any changes.
6. Visit America’s national parks
You would be remiss if you didn’t visit any of America’s stunning national parks on your solo trip. The American national park system is a big part of their cultural landscape, and lots of work goes into their upkeep and preservation.
The country has over 60 national parks, all of which offer spectacular sights, and refuge from the hustle and bustle of the country’s most populated cities. Like the country they inhabit, many of the parks are enormous and navigating them can be overwhelming, so you’ll need to plan your visit to any of them thoroughly.
Some of the most popular US national parks are Yellowstone, with its colourful hot springs and Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon with its impressive mesas and gorges, and Joshua Tree with its distinct desert landscape. When you visit, do your part for conservation efforts and be mindful of your impact on these beautiful parks.
7. Portions of food will be big
Trying local cuisine is always one of the most enjoyable ways to experience a new destination. The US is home to some excellent local cuisine.
Travelling to this country means you may get the opportunity to sample delicious barbecue in the South, Creole classics in Louisiana, fresh poke bowls in Hawaii, and endless metropolitan variations of crowd favourites like pizza and hot dogs. In cities like New York and Los Angeles, you’ll also find some of the most diverse restaurant scenes in the world.
When dining out in America, you might find that the portion sizes are larger than what you’re used to. If there’s anything leftover on your plate at the end of your meal, it’s common to ask for it to be packed up, which can make for a yummy snack while you’re out exploring.
Don’t forget the drinks while you’re focusing on the food! Wash your meals down with delicious coffee, local brews and innovative cocktails.
8. Americans are friendly
Many visitors remark at how friendly Americans are, and it’s true – they’re incredibly outgoing and hospitable, and mostly happy to lend a hand. It shouldn’t be hard to find someone willing to give you directions or strike up a conversation.
While they are generally friendly and helpful to visitors, it’s best to stay away from bringing overly stereotyped notions of America to the conversation. You may want to steer clear of politics too, which isn’t always a topic Americans feel comfortable discussing too openly with foreigners in casual conversation.
Many will enjoy exchanging travel stories with you, but as always while travelling alone, be careful not to divulge any sensitive information with strangers.
9. Double-check your travel documents
When entering the USA for a short visit, a visa is often not required depending on your country of origin. However, you will need an ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, to enter the country.
Check to see the requirements for entry into the USA from the country you’re departing from, and make sure all your paperwork and documentation is up-to-date to avoid snags in your travel plans or getting denied entry.
10. America is diverse
The USA calls itself a melting pot, and it is indeed. Many cultures blend within this vast country. While we feel like we know all about it from how it’s represented in films and other media, there is much more to the country than meets the eye. All of which makes it an incredibly exciting place to discover.
If you’re hoping to travel to the United States down the road, many operators on TourRadar now offer flexible booking options for your peace of mind. So if you book now but your travel plans change, you’ll receive a credit that can be used towards a future tour. Head over to TourRadar to find inspiration for your solo USA adventure!