Free USA Trip Planner: Plan a Trip to America

Austin skyline from South Congress with man in cowboy hat crossing road

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Planning a trip to the USA? The USA is a diverse and exciting destination that millions visit annually. While there are many different regions you could choose to visit throughout the nation, our USA travel guide will point you to some of the best destinations and provide details for essential planning. From visa requirements to currency, accommodation, and food, let’s get started with our USA trip planner. 

Before You Travel to the USA

The United States is located on the continent of North America, between Mexico to its south and Canada to its north.

Consisting of 50 states plus five territories, including Puerto Rico, the United States is officially a relatively “young” country.

The Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4, 1776, making the USA 243 years old. Compared with Europe and other parts of the world, the USA is a teenager. 

The contiguous United States includes the 48 adjoining states between the eastern seaboard and the west coast.

Hawaii and Alaska are not part of the contiguous United States.

Universal Studios Rides

Getting to the USA

Ready to explore the USA?

The USA has approximately 149 international airports, making it easy to plan your flight.

Travel by air is the best way to visit America from overseas.

Flights to the USA from elsewhere vary dramatically in price.

We recommend using a flight aggregator like Skyscanner to help you find the best possible rates. 

Many airlines offer direct flights from the UK to the USA, including Norwegian, American Airlines, Delta, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Air India, and Singapore Airlines. 

The USA is huge.

Think of it as a continent, with each state representing a country.

Remember this when choosing your flights.

Some city airports are the size of towns. Leave plenty of time to transfer through.

We like Southwest for its hospitality.

Consider budget airlines such as Spirit and Jet Blue to save money.

If you have the time or prefer not to fly, you might opt for a transatlantic cruise.

Several cruise lines offer this option, including Cunard, whose ships have crossed the Atlantic for over 100 years. 

Cunard currently has the Queen Mary 2 in service, which sails once a month or more between Southampton UK and New York City.

According to this article, the excursion typically does not cost much more than a business-class flight and is a relaxed and unique way to travel.

A transatlantic journey takes roughly seven days to complete. 

Portland Skyline

Visas For the USA

Do you need a visa to visit the USA?

According to the US Department of State’s travel website, “a citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the United States generally must first obtain a U.S. visa, which is placed in the traveler’s passport, a travel document issued by the traveler’s country of citizenship.” Certain visitors may qualify for visa-free travel.

Citizens or nationals of certain countries can enter the USA without a visa for tourism or business stays of under 90 days.

This is possible through the Visa Waiver Program, a.k .a. USA ESTA visa.

Current countries who participate in this program can be found here.

Visitors must also have authorisation through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before boarding a U.S. bound air or sea carrier. 

Currently, the United Kingdom participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Other restrictions apply to visitors, so check the official US State Dept. website for the most accurate and up-to-date requirements. 

You cannot trick the system by border hopping to countries such as Canada and Mexico.

Other foreign visitors to the USA must obtain a nonimmigrant visa for tourism (visa category B-2). 

USA visit visa requirements include reasonable evidence that you must return home after the visit.

For example, a business, mortgage, ties to your home country, etc.

Those looking to enter the US for business temporarily will likely apply for a category B-1 visa.

See this page for more information on a visitor visa for the United States and USA travel advice. 

Camper Van Big Bend Texas

USA Tourism

It will come as no surprise that the numbers of visitors and quality of services for tourists vary wildly depending on where and when you visit.

The most popular destinations include:

While fewer international tourists travel to areas such as New Orleans, Austin, Portland and Seattle they still enjoy a large footfall during specific events such as South By Southwest in Austin (March) and Mardi Gras in New Orleans (Easter).

Most destinations have their own marketing office responsible for online advice.

Beach Lauderdale By The Sea Florida

USA Travel Vaccinations

Currently, there are no vaccination requirements for visitors to the United States.

However, it is always advisable to consult with your GP for any questions regarding your health before travel.

USA Travel Insurance 

We unreservedly recommend obtaining reliable travel insurance for your USA vacation or any travel.

We use True Traveller.

I claimed through True Traveller when I was sick in Canada with no issues.

You can read about my experience and our comparison guide here.

Whatever insurance you choose, select a policy that will cover your needs, specifically any adventure activities in which you plan to participate while on your holiday in the US.

New Orleans beads on a gate

Currency in the USA

The currency used in the United States is the US Dollar, abbreviated as USD.

Exchange rates vary; check today’s here

Depending on where you plan to travel, you may see a sales tax included as part of the bill.

This is the case in most states, and rates vary from 2-6%. 

Black and white Bodie Island Lighthouse in the Outer Banks

Generally, all shops and restaurants in the USA accept debit/credit cards (chip and pin and tap to pay) and cash.

Cards are acceptable for most small transactions, though you may find that cash is helpful to have to hand. 

Cash machines, or ATMs, as they are generally called in the States, are abundant.

They are found in banks, city streets, and shopping plazas.

Typically, a withdrawal fee of a few dollars is assessed per transaction.

You may also be charged a currency conversion fee depending on your bank.

If this is the case, consider fee-free cards before your trip to help you maximize your budget.

Read our guide to the cheapest cities to visit in the USA.

Pile of dollars

Tipping in the USA

The United States has a strong tipping culture for workers in the service industry.

When dining at a restaurant, leaving a gratuity or tip approximately 15-20% of the total bill is customary.

For instance, if your dinner comes to USD 100, you should plan to leave your server a $20 tip.

This is expected in the US, and many customers will at least tip 10% even if the service is substandard.

This is because restaurant waitstaff are paid a low wage; most of their income comes directly from the tips left to them by customers.

(Because of this, you will also likely notice that servers are generally friendly and talkative. They want to earn their tips!) 

Tipping is common in other scenarios as well.

When ordering a drink at the bar, leave a dollar for the bartender per drink ordered. You can leave this right on the bar itself. 

Taking a taxi?

Tipping is courteous here, too, though it does not need to be 20%.

Many passengers choose to leave a small tip, perhaps a few extra dollars above the total fare.

In many taxi cabs in big cities, you can pay via a screen and card reader located in the backseat.

These will often offer you tipping options. 

Yellow taxi Central Park New York

At a hotel, it is customary to tip the person who carries your bags to your room. A dollar or two per bag is sufficient. 

Personal service providers like massage therapists, hairstylists, and nail technicians also expect a gratuity. For these workers, 10-20% is acceptable.

Exterior of The Society Hotel Portland with red lamp

Shopping the USA

The USA is a mecca for shopping fans!

From fashion week to discount stores, you can find everything from famous stores such as Macy’s in NYC to sports outlets in Orlando.

Be aware of the shopping tax!

This varies from location to location, with Portland boasting of having none!

Grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s can be found in most states.

Big Top Candy Shop So Co candy in jars in Austin

Accommodation in the USA

Accommodation in the USA varies widely by price and quality.

There are many popular hotel chains in the US that you may be familiar with.

These tend to offer a good standard of quality wherever you travel.

When choosing accommodation, selecting a hotel or motel with consistently good reviews is always recommended. 

Here are some of our recommended hotels:

Modern hotel room at Hilton Garden Inn Financial District Manhattan NYC in New York

Electrical Adapters

Electrical adapters in the USA are the two-prong plug type.

Pack a universal plug like our beloved Skross US / UK so you can charge your devices and use your hair appliances.

Skross Universal Plug USB in wall socket

Transport in the USA

Getting around in the USA may be different than in other places.

Unfortunately, the US does not have an extensive national public transportation system.

Rail travel is uncommon here.

Though there are train routes in the US, these tend to be more expensive or roughly the same price as domestic flights.

For a faster, more comfortable journey, flying is the preferred method of transport for significant distances.

For points closer, travel by car is suggested.

Renting a car is relatively affordable in the US, though you generally must be 25 or older.

Younger drivers (minimum age 20) may be accepted with the additional payment of an underage fee. 

The American highway system is extensive and well-maintained.

After all, it’s the land of the Great American Road Trip.

There is perhaps no country better suited to a road trip adventure.

Gas stations (petrol stations) are abundant and easy to access from major roadways.

Fuel prices vary.

Gas is purchased by the gallon and is generally paid for at the pump using a credit/debit card before pumping.

In select US states, you are not permitted to pump your gas.

Currently, those states are New Jersey and Oregon.

In these instances, pump attendants will come to your vehicle and fill your tank.

You can still utilize credit and debit cards for these purchases. 

Other states will sometimes give you the option of pumping yourself or being served by a station attendant.

Don’t shun some bus services!

While Greyhound is not always looked upon with respect, Bolt Bus is an efficient and affordable way to travel around the USA. Or part of it, anyway.

Look for a sign on the pump that says Full Service if you want the attendant to pump your gas. 

Visiting a big city?

Major cities do much better in the public transport department, for example, the NYC Subway System or the Boston “T.”

These are affordable and generally reliable.

Taxis and services like Lyft and Uber are also available in big cities and in most places around the United States. 

Some even have e-bikes!

Back of Flixbus parked in Miami Florida

Internet, WiFi, and 4G/5G in the USA

The USA has fast, widely accessible Internet.

You should have no trouble accessing 4G or 5G networks in most major cities and small towns.

The coverage is less reliable in rural areas, but WiFi is generally easy to find and access.

Your accommodation will likely offer free WiFi, as this is an amenity many visitors depend on in the United States.

In addition, free WiFi is provided at coffee shops, restaurants, and even in major stores like Target and Walmart.

Pro tip: You can always find free WiFi at Starbucks.

Popular attractions like Disney World offer complimentary WiFi, and many city centers also have public WiFi networks.

Finding a way to get online while traveling around the US is typically relatively easy

Upshot of Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney Orlando

Best Time to Go to the USA

When should you visit the US? The answer to this question will vary widely depending on the regions you plan to visit. 

Remember that high seasons are popular for a reason, but this also brings higher prices.

It is worth investigating the off-seasons or even the “shoulder” seasons in some destinations.

Destinations like New York City, California, and Florida are popular year-round, but these, too, have times when they are at their best.

In general, most places will be particularly lovely in the spring and fall, but warm destinations like Florida and Texas are also attractive for their mild weather in the winter months. 

Big Bend National Park Bluebonnets

Is It Safe to Travel the USA?

Are you concerned about safety in the USA?

While the United States does not make the top 10 on the list of safest countries to travel to, it does come in squarely at #32. 

The US is diverse from region to region, which may account for its mediocre safety ranking.

The United States is often in the news for a high incidence of mass shootings, however, these account for a tiny percentage of homicide deaths, and do not represent the norm. 

Gov.UK offers additional recommendations for staying safe during your trip to the USA:

Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your property against petty crime.

Don’t leave passports in rental cars, especially in the boot, as there have been a high number of thefts by gangs targeting the vehicles of those who appear to be tourists.

Violent crime, including gun crime, rarely involves tourists, but you should take care when visiting unfamiliar areas.

Avoid walking through less popular areas alone, especially at night.

You can find public advisories and information about recent incidents on the websites of local law enforcement authorities.

Red topped Wentworth Covered Bridge in Jackson, New Hampshire

Food in the USA

What’s the beauty of the USA being a new country with immigrants from all over?

The ability to eat your way around the world during one trip and even try fusion meals influenced by a couple of communities and countries.

USA Food Bucket List

  • BBQ with Mac n Cheese or chicken and waffles in the south
  • Hot dogs in New York and Boston
  • Bagels in NYC
  • Deep dish pizza in Chicago
  • Pumpkin pie in New England
  • All the pies in Alabama
  • Frito pies in Texas – Frito crisps as nacho base, served in the packet
  • Clam chowder and lobster rolls in New England
  • Tex Mex in Texas and California
  • Wine in California and Finger Lakes, NY
  • Philly cheese steak
  • Food trucks in Portland
  • Craft beer and coffee in Portland and Seattle, Starbucks’ first home was in Seattle!
  • Po’boys and Jambalaya in New Orleans
  • Avocado and acai in California
  • Californian rolls
  • Salmon in Alaska
  • Biscuits and gravy in the south. Spoiler. American gravy is not brown.
  • Tator tots all over
  • S’mores by the campfire

Portions tend to be much bigger than European standards and culturally it’s more than OK to ask for a doggy bag. It’s expected!

One of the best things about dining out in the USA is the free ‘buckets’ of water you can drink as you sit down.

One of the worst is the amount of single-use plastic used in sit-down eateries.

Pack your bamboo cutlery set US / UK.

A plate of BBQ food from Big Bob Gibson BBQ Huntsville

Drinking in the USA

You have to be over 21 to drink in the USA.

Always carry your ID with you.

Beer Flight Lazarus Austin Craft Beer Brewery_

USA Packing List 

A packing list of the USA will depend on the type of trip you are taking and when you are visiting.

Here are some of the essentials.

  • A waterproof coat like this Marmot Precip US / UK or Mountain Equipment Rupal US / UK
  • Comfortable walking shoes and hiking boots – I swear by Salomon Ellipse trek shoes US / UK
  • Camera and battery
  • Battery pack for your phone – I use Anker’s range US / UK
  • Protect electronics during the rainy season with this Osprey bag cover US / UK
  • Eco water bottles like Tree Tribe US / UK
  • Skross universal travel adaptor with USB slots US / UK
  • Pacsafe safety net US / UK
  • Hydration tablets US / UK if participating in some beverages!
  • Travel Insurance
Stunning Sand Beach in Acadia National Park in Maine

USA Winter List

  • Layers are essential!
  • Cute hat, gloves, and scarf
  • Rab Alpine down coat USA / UK
  • Merino Icebreaker tops USA / UK
  • Tote bags for Christmas shopping
  • Travel Insurance

Don’t forget your travel insurance – See True Traveller or World Nomads

Radio City with Christmas decor in NYC

Where to Go in the USA 

Wondering where to travel in the USA? Here are our top recommendations for the best US city, landscape, road, and even eloping trips!


What comes to mind when you think of Texas? Cowboys, right-wing, religion? Well, Austin is not Texas!

This hipster cool city is packed with street art, shopping, streams, and sunshine.

Austin is the official host of the buzzing music and tech festival, South By Southwest, where music acts play for badge holders in the evening but cheapos like us during the day!

We fell in love with Austin, so we returned the following year and got hitched at Lou Neff Point by Ladybird Lake.

It was a secret elopement, but here’s a sneak peek into how we rocked our wedding.

Not a white dress in sight…

Texas is hot! Escape the dry heat for the best beaches in Texas

What about a road trip from Austin to Big Bend National Park?

Barton Springs sunbathing blue skies


History, parks, and Sam Adams beer.

Boston is a great option for those who like doing daily tours and drinking while watching sports at night.

Close up n Trinity Church in Boston


Chicago is another favorite North American city of mine.

I love the accent, the parks, the ‘beach’, the people and the uber-cool Wicker Park area.

I knew I was going to like it when I arrived really late and a young guy, who had just finished his shift at the airport, walked me to the L train.

We talked the journey into downtown and it turns out he loves Scottish indie music.

We’re still friends online today!

The Beach Chicago


Oh, hello, Rocket City!

Huntsville, Alabama is home to space camp, interactive art and delicious food.

The city has street art murals, craft beer, and artisan coffee/tea makers.

Forget your preconceptions about the state; Huntsville will surprise you!

Man in space suit on NASA simulator at Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama

Las Vegas

Vegas baby!

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!

Welcome to Sin City!

Las Vegas is not only a popular Hollywood movie destination, this Nevada city famous for slots machines and musical shows also features in everyone’s west coast road trip itineraries. 

Whether you are flying by for one day or laying roots for a long weekend, our Las Vegas guide has your entertainment needs answered and your bellies!

Welcome to Las Vegas sign at night

New Orleans

I’ve visited New Orleans twice and am keen to return.

I adore losing three days of my life to this Louisiana city.

Partying by night, well by day, at the classy French Quarter and infamous Bourbon Street. Like jazz and good food?

NOLA is for you.

Bamboulas New Orleans

New England and the East Coast

Particularly lush in autumn/fall, this area of the States includes Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, making it a dream road trip for history and nature buffs.

Fall scene at Sleepy Hollow Farm in Woodstock Vermont

New York City

Skyscrapers we recognise from our favourite TV shows, shops for miles, parks a-plenty! 

What’s not to love about the Big Apple?

A hotbed for USA sightseeing activities, there are actually too many things to do in NYC, so we’ve created itineraries to help you make the most of your trip. 

Views Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights Promenade Brooklyn Bridge in NYC


Beers, bikes, and bridges – Portland is happening now.

This cute Oregon city is full of vintage wooden houses, original signs and is home to many craft beer breweries and food carts.

Portlanders are also very proud of nature close to the city.

Multnomah Falls Portland is Happening Now


Seattle is a city where the mountains sit proudly in the backdrop, and one activity is top of the agenda: food.

A visit to Seattle involved eating your way around Pike Place Market and then chilling out at an overnight spa.

Pike Place Market sign at night

San Francisco

The Golden City, SFO, Fog City, or whatever you call it – there is no denying that losing three days in San Francisco, California, is easy.

From the often hidden Golden Gate Bridge to the culinary scene in Chinatown there are many tourist attractions not to miss in San Francisco.

But why settle for just the busy attractions when you can live like a local too?

Giant red heart sculpture in in Union Square in San Francisco, California.

USA Trip Itinerary

Wondering where to visit in the USA?

The difficulty with that question is that each itinerary depends on time, budget, and the type of dream trip you are planning, so we’ve detailed some ideas that will allow you to build your itinerary.

Here’s a breakdown of the USA’s most popular cities and hidden gem road trips, including the best states to visit.

We’ve also included a time frame next to each option.

USA Road Trips and Itineraries

Since North Americans think nothing of hopping in their car and RV and driving for days there are many established road trip in the USA.

Bear in mind, some of the routes and roads are long, which means you will drive for miles with nothing but the horizon!

Don’t want to drive?

Use internal flights, tours and public transport (limited) to get around.

North Carolina Highway 12 From Car Window Kitty Hawk Outer Banks North Carolina

West Coast Classic

Las Vegas (Sin City), Palm Springs, Venice Beach (famous sign/beach), Yosemite (waterfall/hikes), LA (Hollywood/Disney), San Francisco (tram/Alcatraz Island/Golden Gate Bridge/Chinatown). (2 weeks).

Route 66

The most iconic starting in Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Santa Monica and ending in LA. (2-4 weeks).

Epic East Coast

From scenic Portland, Maine to the beaches of Miami, this 14 stop east coast route can be driven in one dream vacation or split into shorter fun weekend road trips.

Sightseeing, History, and Politics

Washington DC (Congress/Mall/Smithsonian), Philadelphia (Liberty Bell/food), NYC (skyscrapers, shows, parks, food), Boston (historical landmarks/Harvard). (1-2 weeks).

New England Fall Road Trip

Boston, Salem (witches and haunted hotels), New Hampshire (mountain), Portland, Maine (lighthouse), Vermont (foliage), Connecticut, Rhode Island (mansions). (2 weeks). Here’s our New England road trip itinerary.

Texas Road Trip

Austin for music, Lockhart BBQ, Fredericksburg aka Little Europe, Alpine throwback town, Mara for art, Terlingua Ghost Town for drinks, Big Bend National Park. (1 week). Here’s our Austin to Big Bend road trip itinerary.

Music and Culture Fans

Starting west leave San Francisco for Yosemite (waterfall), Las Vegas (Sin City), Grand Canyon (Arizona/hikes), Monument Valley (Utah/Najavo), New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns (NM/sculptures), San Antonio (Texas/Riverwalk), New Orleans (Louisiana/jazz), Sun Studio (Memphis/rock), Graceland (Memphis/rock), Huntsville (Alabama/NASA) and Nashville (Tennessee/line dancing). (3-4 weeks). This road trip was Gemma, Two Scots Abroad first trip to the states!

Fall road trip in car window near Fawn Lake, near Sheffield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts

Final Words

Two Scots Abroad are huge fans of the States. Despite its political flaws and social inequality, there are so many redeeming features that attract millions of visitors every year.

We hope that you have found this guide jam-packed with USA travel tips. If we’ve missed anything, please share below.

2 thoughts on “Free USA Trip Planner: Plan a Trip to America

  1. Jeff says:

    Epic. Seriously this is one of the most thorough guides I’ve read on any topic in a long while and I enjoyed every word of it.

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