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USA Travel Guide
General Information on USA TOP

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.

The Climate Of The USA TOP

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 mid-October.

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.

Getting To The USA TOP

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.

Travelling Around The USA TOP

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 USA.

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 and lakes.

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: 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:

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 ( 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: 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:

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 of age.

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:

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 enforced.

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.

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