Information on USA
Covering a large part of the North American continent,
the United States of America shares borders with Canada
to the north and Mexico to the south and has coasts
on the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, the Caribbean
Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The State of Alaska, in
the northwest corner of the continent, is separated
from the rest of the country by Canada, and Hawaii
lies in the central Pacific Ocean. One of the largest
countries in the world, the USA has an enormous diversity
of geographical features. The climate ranges from
subtropical to Arctic, with a corresponding breadth
of flora and fauna. For a more detailed description
of each region's geographical characteristics, see
the individual State sections.
Climate Of The USA
Varies from state to state. For example:
North Carolina has a moderate climate
and the average year-round temperature is 61°F
(16°C). Climate varies sharply with altitude so
the State's Atlantic coastline is naturally warmer
than the mountains in the west.
Massachusetts is warm and sunny from
May to October; cold winters. The fall is spectacular.
The climate and variety of hardwoods produce vibrant
colours, attracting visitors worldwide. Foliage season
begins in mid-to-late September, with peak colour
often coinciding with the Columbus Day weekend in
Texas is dry and warm to very hot
throughout the year. Occasional freak rainstorms.
Arizona is mostly warm and comfortable
all year round. The mountains are colder, particularly
in winter (eg. Flagstaff is at 7000ft), and in summer,
there are cool mountain breezes. Desert temperatures
range from hot during the day to cold at night. Required
clothing: Lightweight cotton clothing for all seasons,
with a wrap for cool nights. Warmer clothing is needed
in the mountains, especially in the ski areas.
New York's climate is changeable
with moderate rainfall throughout the year. During
the summer heat waves are common, with temperatures
staying at over 99°F (37°C) for several days.
California - Summers are hot, while
the winter months are mild with wetter weather. Required
clothing: Lightweight during the summer with warmer
wear for the cooler winter period.
AIR: The principal US airlines operating international
services are: American Airlines (AA), Continental
Airlines, Delta Air, Northwest Airlines, Trans World
Airlines TWA and United Airlines. Many other airlines
operate services from all over the world to the USA.
Approximate flight times: From London to Anchorage
is 8 hours 55 minutes, to Detroit is 8 hours 30 minutes,
to Los Angeles is 11 hours, to Miami is 9 hours 35
minutes, to New York is 7 hours 30 minutes (3 hours
50 minutes by Concorde), to San Francisco is 10 hours
45 minutes, to Seattle is 9 hours 40 minutes and to
Washington DC is 8 hours 5 minutes (all times are
by nonstop flight).
From Singapore to Los Angeles is 18 hours 45 minutes
and to New York is 21 hours 25 minutes.
From Sydney to Los Angeles is 17 hours 55 minutes
and to New York is 21 hours 5 minutes.
More international flight times may be found in the
individual State sections.
Note: Flights from Europe to the USA take longer
than those coming back; ie flying east to west takes
longer than west to east. Flights to Europe from the
east coast of the USA take approximately 30-40 minutes
less and from the west coast of the USA approximately
one hour less.
Around The USA
AIR: The USA may be crossed within five hours from
east to west and within two hours from north to south.
Strong competition between airlines has resulted in
a wide difference between fares. Categories of fares
include first-class, economy, excursion and discount.
Night flights are generally cheaper. Cheap fares:
Money-saving schemes for the visitor include discounts
on all internal flights offered by TWA, Delta and
other principal airlines. The traveller should buy
tickets 21 days in advance. Delta, British Airways
and Virgin Atlantic offer a Discover America Pass
which includes a minimum of three and a maximum of
12 coupons entitling the passenger to that number
of flights within the USA at a discounted fare. The
cost of the pass is according to the number of coupons
requested. The coupons must be purchased outside the
Agents are advised to contact the offices of individual
airlines once a basic itinerary has been organised.
Note: Baggage allowance is often determined by number
and size rather than weight.
SEA/LAKE/RIVER: There are extensive water communications
both along the coastline and along the great rivers
Great Lakes: The Ohio River carries more water traffic
than any other inland waterway in the world. Tour
ships and passenger and freight lines crisscross all
the Great Lakes from ports in Duluth, Sault Sainte
Marie, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Rochester,
Cleveland and Toronto.
RAIL: Nearly all the long-distance trains are operated
by Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation),
although suburban and some medium-distance services
are run by local agencies. Although the US rail network
has more than 300,000km (186,410 miles) of track,
passenger trains run over only a small part of the
system. Outside the densely populated northeast, trains
run once-daily over a handful of long-distance routes.
Amtrak's main route is the Boston–New York–Washington,
DC northeast corridor; other routes run south to Florida
and New Orleans, and between Boston, New York and
Washington, DC to Chicago. From Chicago, daily services
radiate to Seattle, Portland, Oakland (San Francisco),
Los Angeles (via Omaha–Denver–Salt Lake City–Las Vegas
or via Kansas City–Albuquerque–Flagstaff), New Orleans
and San Antonio (via St Louis and Dallas/Ft Worth).
A connection also exists between San Antonio and Los
Angeles via El Paso, Tucson and Phoenix. There is
a thrice-weekly train from Los Angeles to New Orleans.
Prices and timetables are subject to changes. Amtrak
are currently in the process of introducing 20 ACELA
Express high-speed trains capable of travelling up
to 240kph (150mph), reducing the current three-hour
trip between Washington and New York by 30 minutes
and the New York to Boston journey from four and half
hours to three hours. All 20 trains are scheduled
to be in service by September 2000.
Amtrak contact details: For up-to-date information
contact Amtrak (tel: (1 800) 872 7245 (toll free;
USA and Canada only) or (212) 582 6875 (New York)
or (213) 683 6987 (Los Angeles) or (020) 7400 7099
(Destination Marketing, London) or (0870) 750 0222
(Leisurail, UK); web-site: http://www.amtrak.com).
US travel agents can also obtain information on Amtrak
train services, schedules and travel packages through
the Western Folder Distribution Company Travel Information
Network by entering their ARC number on the internet
(web site: http://www.travelinfonetwork.com).
Tour packages: Amtrak offers 74 different tours in
34 States throughout the USA. Full details are provided
in the Amtrak brochure, which is widely available.
Nearly all trains have one-class seating and air-conditioning,
with a variety of sleeping accommodation available
on payment of a supplementary fare. All long-distance
trains have dining facilities. The railroads often
pass through fine scenery, particularly on east–west
routes. While most Americans drive or take the bus,
the passenger trains continue to attract a discerning
and ever-increasing clientèle. Indeed, rail
travel in the USA – as in many other countries – has
undergone a considerable revival in recent years,
and the signs are that this trend will continue.
Cheap fares: The USA Rail Pass is specifically designed
for international travellers and is sold only to visitors
from outside the USA or Canada. USA Rail Passes allow
for 15 or 30 days of unlimited travel either on a
national or regional basis.
The National USA Rail Pass offers travel on the whole
Amtrak network in the USA and Canada (overnight sleepers,
auto trains and the 'Metroliner' between New York
and Washington are not included). The 15-day National
USA Rail Pass costs US$440 per person in the peak
season and US$295 per person off-peak. The 30-day
National USA Rail Pass costs US$550 per person and
US$385 per person off-peak. The peak season in 2000
is from June 1 to September 5 and off-peak fares are
in effect for the remainder of the year. Children
aged 2-15 pay half the adult fare and children under
two years of age travel free. Group, family, weekend
and tour packages are all available, although fares
may still exceed combined bus and air fares. In many
cases, point-to-point tickets bought outside the USA
will be considerably cheaper.
The following Regional USA Rail Passes are also available:
the Northeast Region Pass is valid on trains from
Newport News (Virgina) north to Boston, Burlington
(Vermont) and Montreal (Canada), west from Philadelphia
to Harrisburg (Pennsylvania), west from New York to
Niagara Falls, and all stations in between; the East
Region Pass covers the region east of Chicago and
New Orleans up to Montréal; the West Region
Pass covers the region west of Chicago to New Orleans;
the Far West Pass covers the region from Seattle to
San Diego and to Salt Lake City and Flagstaff; and
the Coastal Region Pass covers the east coast and
from Seattle to San Diego on the west coast. Prices
for these passes vary between approximately US$180
for 15-day passes and US$330 for 30-day passes (with
a 20-30% reduction during off-peak season).
Passports must be presented at the time of purchase
and passes must be used within 90 days of purchase.
The passes cover coach-class travel tickets and seat
reservations on Amtrak passenger services. However,
rail passes act as a form of payment for seats only
– to guarantee a seat on any specific Amtrak train,
a reservation must be made. Travellers should contact
the nearest Amtrak station to find out whether reservations
are required on specific journeys they wish to make.
For journeys where reservations are required, train
times should be reconfirmed 24 hours prior to departure.
Travellers aiming to travel during peak times should
make reservations well in advance. Higher class and
other accommodation is available on payment of the
usual supplements. Further information on prices and
timetables is available from Amtrak (for contact details,
see above). A list of international sales representatives
can be found on Amtrak's web site (http://www.amtrak.com/trip/international.html).
The USA Rail Pass brochure is published in eight languages
is widely available.
ROAD: Driving is a marvellous way to see the USA,
although the distances between cities can be enormous.
A realistic evaluation of travel times should be made
to avoid over-strenuous itineraries. Driving conditions
are excellent and the road system reaches every town.
Petrol is cheaper than in Europe. The American Automobile
Association (AAA) offers touring services, maps, advice
and insurance policies, which are compulsory in most
States, even for hiring (tel: (407) 253 9100; fax:
(407) 253 9107; web site: http://www.aaa.com). Membership
of a visitor's own national automobile association
(eg AA or RAC membership for the UK) entitles the
traveller to AAA benefits.
Coach: Greyhound World Travel is the main national
coach carrier and covers the whole of the USA. This
service is supplemented by over 11,000 other tour
lines, covering the country with reasonably priced
and regular services. Air-conditioning, toilets and
reclining seats are available on intercity routes.
Greyhound covers the Southern States, the Southern-Central
States, the South Rockies area and also extends into
Mexico and Canada. Facilities for left luggage and
food are available, usually 24 hours a day. Once disembarked
at a bus terminal, passengers are not permitted to
wait there overnight for an onward bus (ie no sleeping
in the terminal). For information on fares and schedules,
contact Greyhound Lines (tel: (1 800) 231 2222 (toll
free; USA and Canada only).
Cheap fares: Greyhound Lines offers the Ameripass,
which gives 7, 15, 30 or 60 days unlimited travel
throughout the USA. Extensions are available, payable
by the day. The pass must be bought outside the USA
through Greyhound World Travel. Ameripass offers half-price
fares for children 2-11 years old. Unlimited stopovers
are allowed on ordinary tickets. Greyhound Lines also
offers excursion fares for point-to-point travel.
Intra and Intercity Tours (Greyhire) are run throughout
the USA. Contact Greyhound Lines at (tel: (212) 971
6300 (New York) or (tel: (213) 629 8400 (Los Angeles);
web site: http://www.greyhound.com).
Car hire: Major international companies have offices
at all gateway airports and in most cities. There
are excellent discounts available for foreign visitors.
Credit-card deposits and inclusive rates are generally
required. As a guide to car sizes an 'Economy' or
'Compact' refers to a car the size of a standard European
car, while a 'Standard' refers to a car the size of
a limousine. Minimum ages for hirers vary according
to the rental company, pick-up point and method of
payment. Agents are advised to contact the individual
companies for information on drivers under 25 years
Drive away: The AAA and Auto Driveaway provide a
service enabling the traveller to drive cars to and
from a given point, only paying the price of petrol.
A deposit is often required and time and mileage limits
are set for delivery, which leaves very little time
for sightseeing (there are heavy financial penalties
for those who exceed the limits). Details are published
under Automobile & Truck Transporting in the US
Yellow Pages. Some companies allow the driver to finish
the journey in Canada. For further information, contact
Auto Driveaway (tel: (312) 341 1900; web site: http://www.autodriveaway.com).
Campers/motorhomes: The hire of self-drive campers
or motorhomes, which are called 'recreational vehicles'
in the USA, are a good means of getting around.
Documentation: An International Driving Permit is
recommended, although it is not legally required (it
is often very useful as an additional proof of identity).
A full national driving licence is accepted for up
to one year. Insurance: All travellers intending to
rent or drive cars or motorhomes in the USA are strongly
advised to ensure that the insurance policy covers
their total requirements, covering all drivers and
passengers against injury or accidental death. A yellow
'non-resident, interstate liability insurance card'
which acts as evidence of financial responsibility
is available through motor insurance agents.
Traffic regulations: Traffic drives on the right.
Speed limit: usually 55mph (89kph) on motorways, but
varies from State to State. Speed limits are clearly
indicated along highways and are strictly enforced,
with heavy fines imposed. Note that it is illegal
to pass a school bus that has stopped to unload its
passengers (using indicators and warning lights) and
all vehicles must stop until the bus has moved back
into the traffic stream. It is illegal for drivers
not to have their licences immediately to hand. If
stopped, do not attempt to pay a driving fine on the
spot (unless it is demanded) as it may be interpreted
as an attempt to bribe.
Note: There are extremely tough laws against drinking
and driving throughout the USA. These laws are strictly
URBAN: Some US cities now have good public transport
services following a 'transit renaissance' after the
energy crises of the 1970s. There are a number of
underground train systems in operation in major cities
including New York (subway), Washington, DC (metro),
Boston ('T'), Chicago (train) and San Francisco (BART
– Bay Area Rapid Transit); others are being planned
or built, for instance a long-overdue network in Los
Angeles. There are also several tramway and trolleybus
systems, including the much-loved antique trams found
in San Francisco.