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Dos and Don'ts for USA Travel

Advice for Foreign Travelers in the USA


Despite what difficult procedures you may have endured to get to the U.S., including visa troubles, airport security screenings, and the like, the United States is a rather relaxed place once you arrive. But we do have a few rules that foreign visitors may not know about. Following are basic tips about traveling in the USA, which I have gleaned from polling a variety of travel experts and foreign tourists in the USA.

DON'T Try to See and Do Too Much

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The continental United States is larger than Europe, so the most important advice I can give foreign travelers to the United States is: don't try to see and do too much. Many foreign visitors to the United States try to see New York, Washington, DC, Miami, and Los Angeles all in one trip. That kind of touring can leave a traveler very tired and it can contribute to sensory overload.

The best way to see the United Stats is to focus on a region and travel more deeply. Many first-time travelers opt to do an itinerary of East Coast destinations like New York City and Washington, DC, while others may want to focus on a few West Coast destinations, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Other regions for consideration include the Southeast, the Southwest, the Northwest, and the Midwest.

DO Tip for Good Service

Figuring out when and where to tip is an issue that stymies many travelers in the USA, particularly international ones. Many of you are so confused by the convention of tipping that you don't tip at all. Please don't do that. Tipping is customary in the United States and the wages make up a large percentage of some service employees' salary, particularly servers at restaurants. Use this handy guide to tipping to figure out where and when to tip on your travels.

DON'T Assume You Can Smoke Anywhere

Anti-smoking measures have been implemented in several countries, but certain city and states in the USA have some of the strictest measures against smoking in the world. In cities like New York City, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and others, smoking is banned in bars, clubs, restaurants, and most indoor spaces, like malls. In fact, as of December 2012, there are 28 states that have statewide indoor smoking bans. In California, which has some of the strictest anti-smoking measures in the world, it is illegal to smoke at the beach or in public parks.

DO Be on Time

"Island time" and other fluid concepts of time do not go over well in the United States. If someone in the United States tells you to meet them 8 p.m., you should meet them at 8 p.m. - or arrive a few minutes early. Americans take punctuality very seriously and it is considered rude to be late. This blog post on being on time in America is a helpful guide.

DON'T Use American Slang

Despite what you may have heard in American movies and music, it is best not to try to use American slang when traveling in the United States. Using certain curse words and derogatory terms for various races and ethnic groups will not only make you look like an idiot, but it will, in most cases, be offensive to the locals that you encounter. Read travel writer Sean McLachlan's "The N-word, the G-word and the Hidden Perils of Travel" for a little more perspective.

DO Obey Traffic Signs and Laws

Traveling outside of the United States, I have noticed that stop lights and "No Parking" signs in some parts of the world are mere suggestions for drivers. Not in America. Traffic and parking laws are well-enforced in most jurisdictions in the United States. For example, drivers must come to a full stop at a red light and remain stopped until the light turns green; drivers should obey the speed limit; etc. That said, states and municipalities devise the traffic and parking codes so check out the traffic laws of the jurisdiction you will be visiting if you plan to drive a vehicle.

DON'T Skip This Other Advice

There are a host of other dos and don'ts for traveling in the United States, all of which are tailored to the customs of the visitor. In this fun piece in The Atlantic about What Foreign Guidebooks Tell Visitors to the U.S., you can read up on the other pleasures and pitfalls of travel in America from the foreign perspective.

DO Be Kind, Smile, and Enjoy Yourself

The unwritten rule of travel anywhere in the world is the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." While traveling in the United States, DO be sure to smile, ask questions, say "please" and "thank you," and be patient. In almost all cases, your kindness will be rewarded by locals who want to show you the best of their cities and towns.
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