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What to expect when visiting the USA?

Educational travel is all about cultivating new experiences. It gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in different cultures, meet new people and broaden your perspective on the world — what better way to learn? However, whilst visiting a new country is exciting, it can also be tricky, particularly if you’re not accustomed to their way of doing things.

The USA might not seem that different from us, but there are lots of customs and unwritten rules that could fly under the radar for a first time visitor. No need to worry though, if you’re heading on a sixth form, college or university tour to America, we’ve got a handy cheat sheet for the local rules.

If you are travelling to the USA, you may require visas.  For British citizens an ESTA (Electronic System for travel Authorisation) form needs completing online. All other nationalities must check with the necessary authorities for passport/visa requirements.

 

Transportation

Before we dive into the do’s and don’ts of a US trip, we need to get there first. Travel in large groups can be arduous at the best of times, and when it comes to US transport systems, preparation is key. Every flight arriving to and leaving America has a minimum check-in time of three hours, so make sure you and your group get to the airport in plenty of time.

Once you’ve landed safe and sound, it’s time to face up against the worst part of long haul travel: jet-lag. The USA has six different time zones, and you’ll be five hours behind UK time in New York, Washington or Florida. Once you’ve had a restorative nap (or 8 shots of espresso) it’s time to explore, but how do you get about?

If you’re visiting New York, the iconic subway system is a great way to see the city and makes Manhattan a much smaller place. The subway is pretty easy to use but remember to factor it into your budget. A 7-day unlimited travel pass offers fantastic value at around $30 per person.

If you happen to be travelling by bus, it’s worth remembering that some local, state and federal laws require that the front seats on buses are left free for the elderly and disabled. Tips are discretionary, but if you would like to tip your driver, it’s generally $5-$10 for round trips and $50 for all day charters.

 

Food and Accommodation

Renowned for spectacle, American food is a delicious mixture of all the different cuisines that make up the country’s diverse cultural footprint. Accommodation wise, you can expect to be well taken care of as well, but there are a couple things you should try to remember when using hotels and restaurants on your USA student tour.

Tipping culture is customary in restaurants and hotels, usually around 15-20%. This is at your discretion of course but it’s worth remembering to keep a few spare dollar bills on you.

Much like in the UK, smoking is strictly prohibited in restaurants and bars. It’s also worth remembering that the drinking age in the US is 21, so even if you’re travelling with college or university age students, they still may not be of age to purchase alcohol in America. Whether you’re taking your class to a Broadway show in NYC, or a live studio showcase in LA, they may have to make do with a round of soft drinks.

Tax rates in the US can also make budgeting a little tricky. Different states have different tax rates, but you can generally expect to pay around 10% above what you see on the price tag.

Finally, American hotels work on a bed share basis. This means that when travelling with a group of students, remember that they will most likely have to share beds, unless it’s been previously negotiated that they won’t have to.

 

Parks and Recreation

From Central Park to the sunny Hollywood Sign, there are plenty picturesque spots in the USA to kick back, relax and take in your surroundings. Your days will be packed with trips and excursions, and keeping a meticulous schedule is the best way to make sure things run seamlessly.

If you’re heading out on a trip with an allotted time-slot, whether it’s with History or Science & Technology students, it’s important to make sure you arrive 10 minutes earlier than the time stated on your ticket. This ensures there’s adequate time for your group to get checked in and prepared.

 

Safety

Adventure and discovery never comes without a little risk, and when travelling in large groups it’s always important to consider safety above all else. At FHT, we are committed to making sure every aspect of your trip is as safe as possible, but there are still some points worth noting as you go about your day to day itinerary.

Should any member of your party require medical attention, remember that the number for emergency services in the States is 911. To keep your belongings secure, it’s also worth purchasing a TSA (Transportation Security Association) official lock. This avoids any damage being done to your luggage during inspections. TSA locks can be opened with a master key, which saves time when inspections are carried out.

Traffic can be pretty hectic especially in built up areas of New York and Boston. When crossing the street, you should always use dedicated crossings, not just for safety reasons, but also to avoid jaywalking fines.

Finally, be sure to stock up on electrical adapters! The standard electricity in the US is 110 volts, so appliances brought from Europe will require a voltage transformer.

 

New York & Washington D.C.

From their iconic skylines to their role as cultural touchstones for art and politics, New York City and Washington D.C. are two of the most instantly recognisable locations not just in America, but the world. They are also two of our most popular US tour destinations, with trips spanning a range of subjects including Law & Politics, Art & Design, Fashion and Performing Arts. If you’re planning a sixth form, college or university trip to either of these iconic cities, some local know how will go a long way to making your stay run smoothly.

 

New York

It may seem obvious, but don’t leave your bags unattended. If you have to go to the bathroom, just take everything with you and don’t be tempted to leave bags on the counter or near the door. Pickpockets exist in every city but in a densely populated area like New York large groups of tourists stand out, so remember to be vigilant and keep an eye on your essentials.

On the subject of tourism, visitors to New York can purchase The New York City pass, a discount card that includes admission to several of the city’s most popular attractions, definitely worth checking out!

As far as getting about is concerned, taxis are generally very expensive in NYC. If you need one, make sure you never get in an unmarked cab. Look out for the iconic New York cabs, the yellow ones you’ve seen cruising about in blockbuster movies for decades.

In NYC, everyone has somewhere to be, so try not to clog up the sidewalk in busy areas by taking photos or loitering about — the locals won’t thank you for it. Let fast people keep to the middle of the pavement and stick to the edges if you’re planning on taking a leisurely stroll.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to have cash on you in NYC as a number of restaurants in the city are cash only, particularly the small independent ones that cater more to locals.

 

Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. has something for everyone. It’s an extremely walkable city, so comfortable footwear is a must, as you’ll most likely find yourselves spending a whole lot of time on your feet.

If you’re looking to travel by bus, light rail, metro or other popular transit lines in D.C. it’s best to get hold of a Smartrip card. These refillable cards give you access to just about every transit provider, perfect if you want to visit any of D.C.’s popular suburbs like Virginia or Maryland.

D.C. is not a cheap city, but there are plenty of attractions you can visit for free including 40 museums, monuments, zoos, galleries, botanic gardens, libraries and concerts. We recommend the Smithsonian Museums some of which can be found on The Mall. The city can be incredibly busy, particularly on Saturdays, so if you’re looking to take your students to visit any monuments it’s probably best to go in the early morning or late night. Monuments are open 24 hours so this will not be a problem.

At FHT, our travel specialists guarantee you unrivalled expertise in educational trips for sixth forms, colleges and universities. If you’d like to find out more or enquire about booking your own trip to America, or any of our other destinations, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.