The USA is the second-largest country in the world and consists of a mix of large urban areas and vast, thinly populated plains with beautiful natural landscapes. The cultures in the United States are likewise very diverse. In part due to the influx of immigrants that have entered America since the 17th century, the US consists of a colourful mix of cultures from all over the world.
The country itself is also overwhelming; everything is big, bigger, biggest. For instance, the supermarkets are enormous, the food portions are large, and the skyscrapers are huge. Americans think big and everything seems possible there. There is a reason that America is known as the country of unlimited possibilities. The “American Dream” and the diversity and contrasts in nature and culture make the United States a very popular holiday destination.
Facts and numbers
|Inhabitants||328,869,759 inhabitants (2018)|
|Religion||Christian: 79.8%, Jewish: 1.4%, Muslim: 0.6%|
|Time difference||5 to 10 hours earlier|
|Travel time||7 to 8 hours from the UK or Ireland|
|Electricity||110V (travel plug recommended)|
|Life expectancy||Men: 74.4 years, women: 80.0 years|
|Obesity||66.7% of Americans suffer from obesity|
The United States used to consist of 13 states, but in the 19th and 20th centuries 37 states were added to the US, making the total number of states 50. The five largest cities are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia.
The United States is a relatively modern country, so there aren’t many old structures to be found, unlike for example Italy. This is partially due to the way America came to be. America was not ‘discovered’ by Columbus in 1492, as many people believe, but was likely discovered much earlier by Asian explorers. At the time, Native Americans already lived on the continent. When the Dutch came to the US, they called it “New Netherlands”, and New York became known as “New Amsterdam”. This is why to this day many streets and shops bear Dutch names. Likewise, many American last names sound Dutch, even though America was under Dutch occupation for a relatively short while.
On July 4, 1776 (Independence Day), thirteen British colonies declared themselves independent. England was none too pleased about this, and a war erupted between the (former) colonies and England. After many brutal years of war, the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1787, and George Washington became the first president of The United States of America.
Other Important Historical Events
Some of the most impactful events in US history are the American Civil War (1861-1865), and the Great Depression in the 30s. During the Civil War, the northern states fought against the southern states, and many bloody battles and campaigns took place. During the Great Depression, the American economy fell into a deep crisis and roughly a quarter of the total population lost their jobs.
How America got her Name
America is named after the Italian sailor Amerigo Vespucci. He was one of the first to realise that America was not in Asia, but an entirely new continent of its own. He described this in “Quator Americi navigationes” and ”Mundes Novus”. These letters spread through Europe, and eventually cartographers named it “Terra Americi” after Amerigo Vespucci. Eventually the name changed to “America”, referring to the southern half of this new part of the world.
Language and Culture
In The United States, English is the main language. Because America is big and consists of 50 different states, during your trip you might be confronted with other languages, such as Spanish, Chinese and French. Navajo, a Native American language, is still spoken by 178,000 people.
The United States have quite a number of national holidays. Take note that if a holiday takes place on Monday, this can impact activities in the preceding weekend.
|Holiday||Governments, companies, and banks open/closed|
|January 1: New Year's Day||Most institutions are closed|
|Third Monday in January: Martin Luther King Day||Most government institutions and banks are closed|
|February 14: Valentine's Day||Most institutions are open|
|Third Monday in February: Presidents day||Most government institutions and banks are closed|
|March 17: St. Patrick’s Day||Irish holiday, most institutions are open|
|A Sunday in March or April: Easter||Most institutions are open|
|Last Monday in May: Memorial day||Most government institutions and banks are closed|
|July 4: Independence Day||Most institutions are closed|
|First Monday in September: Labour day||Most institutions are closed|
|Second Monday in October: Columbus day||Most government institutions and banks are closed|
|October 31: Halloween||Most institutions are open|
|November 11: Veterans Day||Most government institutions and banks are closed|
|Fourth Thursday in November: Thanksgiving||Most institutions are closed|
|December 24: Christmas Eve||Most institutions are closed|
|December 25: Christmas Day||Most institutions are closed|
Weather and Climate
Because the USA is so large, it has a wide variety of climates: from cold tundra climates to tropical rainforest climates. The North West of America is predominantly wet, while the middle part of the USA is rather dry and warm. Be sure to check the weather and climate of the state or place you are travelling to. Adequately prepare yourself for the different weather circumstances, so that you can make the most of your trip.
Best travel period in terms of weather
Regarding the weather, it’s generally best to travel to the USA in spring or autumn. The temperatures then are pleasant in most places, and you can snag a bit of spring to boot. In the winter it rains more, while the summer can bring very high temperatures in certain states.
Hurricanes and Tornadoes
Hurricanes and tornadoes occur relatively frequently in America, although this differs from area to area. There can be hindrances during the hurricane season from October to November, when hurricanes occur much more often in areas with warm sea water (like Florida).
Inform after the weather
Because America is so large and has so many diverse climates, it can be difficult to accurately tell what the weather and climate can be in the country. Be sure to inform about the local weather before your trip. It is also important to keep in mind that the end of December up to March can be a very busy period in the United States; this too, however, differs from area to area.
In America you can travel comfortably by plane, train, bus, boat, metro, taxi, motorhome, or (rental)car. Public transport is generally well organised in the cities. However, outside of them this is not always necessarily the case. If you want to cross long distances in a short period, a plane is often the best option, as domestic flights are often cheaper than the bus or train for this purpose. The metro and taxi are mostly suited to quickly move through the cities, and the prices are often reasonable. In general, renting a car is the best option to travel in the USA; with a car you have the freedom to go and stand wherever and whenever you like.
Everyone needs a valid passport to travel to America, and it has to be valid until after the end of your trip. Children and babies are also required to possess their own passport; you cannot travel to the USA with your baby if the child is included in your own passport. If you intend to travel across a US border (in or out) with more than 10.000 euros in cash, you are required to report this to the immigration service. It is forbidden to import drugs, fruit, meat, seeds, dairy and lottery tickets.
US Visa or ESTA
If you intend to travel to the United States, you will need a US visa or an ESTA (meaning). An ESTA is an alternative to the US visa which you need to travel to the USA. British and Irish citizens can travel to the US without needing a visa, by using an ESTA (check the requirements). An ESTA can be applied for if you intend to travel to America for business or a holiday, and you plan to stay in the country for a maximum of 90 consecutive days. An ESTA can often be acquired in minutes, while a visa costs more time and money. Should you not qualify for an ESTA, then you can always apply for a US visa.
Read more about the ESTA
In the US people pay with the American dollar. The value of the dollar can fluctuate compared to other currencies such as the euro; make sure to check the exchange rate of your national currency compared to the dollar before your trip.
In general, you can use your debit card to pin at banks and stores in the US, as these cards often come with a Maestro logo. Take note that you often have to pay a small fee to be able to pay with a debit card, and to convert your money to dollars. Also take note that before departure, you might have to enable pinning abroad through your personal bank. Many banks have implemented this feature to make banking affairs abroad safer. Contact your bank for more information.
In the USA, it is considered normal to pay for everything with a credit card (or cash, of course). This also makes it so you don’t need to carry cash on you, which can make the trip and stay safer in general.
Most Americans give a healthy 15% tip in restaurants when given good service. The wages in American restaurants are often very low because it is expected that this will be compensated through tips.
America is a safe country to travel to. However, the country also has less savoury neighbourhoods which you are better off not going to, especially in the larger cities. Be sure to check on arrival where you should best travel to on your trip, and which places should be avoided. Should you stay in the wilderness, be wary of the wild animals that live here, like bears. Never leave food scraps behind.
No special warnings apply to travelling to the USA. Be sure to always keep your travel documents with you at all times (such as your driving licence and passport). Also make a digital copy of your travel documents; in case you should lose them, you can always print them again.