Here’s a few tips for the bush-walker friends who wish to explore the USA in a unique way, or a least away from marked trails.
This is thus NOT a touristic guide and the information you will find here is very broad. This article is for smart travelers and the goal is simply to help you get ready, that’s it. Once you are in the country, you’re an adventurer: figure it out yourself!
USA for adventurers in 6 key points (plus 2 bonus points)
– Hitchhiking: (1.5 / 5) – Hard and unsafe depending on the State
– General transportation: (3 / 5) – Limited transportation, car is recommended
– Camping: (4 / 5) – Wild Camping is allowed in most place
– General cost: (3 / 5) – Slightly expensive country
1. Transportation in USA
Transportation is THE dead-weight of this country.
Distances from a city to another are extremely long and everything is spread out in this huge country. It’s hard to even get to a supermarket located on the other side of the road*. The USA is a car country.
(*True story. Even if a building is across the road, in most cases you’ll have to do a huge walking detour just to get there)
- Hitchhiking in USA
Not necessarily the best solution, as it can be done only in certain places, and that still remains very limited. A few states have banned hitchhiking and you’ll get arrested before being picked up.
For states that allow it, drivers will either be too scared to take strangers or it is you who should be scared of getting into a vehicle where most of the population is armed.
It remains doable nonetheless, though mostly in the North-East and Western states. Rumor has it that truck drivers are the ones most likely to pick you up.
So unlike most other countries, hitchhiking in the USA isn’t necessarily reliable.
ARTICLE: How to succeed at Hitchhiking.
- Traveling by train in USA
Doable but complicated depending on your location. Trains are relatively developed on the North-East coast, but the journey usually takes as long than driving, in addition to being limited with destinations. Big cities such as Boston, NYC or Washington DC are of course easily accessible.
Aside from that, trains are not very frequent in the USA
Although doable, it remains complicated to travel from East to West (and the other way around), while North-South lines are simply nonexistent (coast lines aside).
- Traveling by bus in USA
Probably the most affordable form of travel, but definitely not the easiest. And it is only affordable if you cross the idea of making day stops along the way.
There are a few bus companies (such as Greyhound) but the reliability of the timetable is low and you’ll probably miss your transfer if you have any (and customer service won’t do anything for you). Be ready not to get to your destination on time.
Contrary to other countries where buses are for everyone, buses in the US are almost exclusively for people who can’t afford planes yet must travel or by people on plane blacklist.
- Traveling by car in USA
It is unfortunately THE simplest way to travel in the USA, and allows you to reach any place you want in such a wide country. It will however be very expensive, especially if you don’t drop your rental car at the same place you took it. On top of that, you’ll have to add insurance price, which is very expensive and not included in quotes you are given. Do check you credit card insurance policies.
If you travel with other people, it can be a good option.
Gas is cheap and gas stations are everywhere.
- Traveling by bicycle in USA
Unless if you have multiple months ahead of you, stick to specific parts of the USA.
That aside, cycling in the USA is totally doable. Roads are usually wide enough so that people can overtake you without issues. In towns, you might have to cycle either on the roads or the sidewalks. Rules and laws change from one city to another and on State to another so check it out..
- Traveling by plane in USA
An excellent way to cover long distance. Prices can be very competitive -unless you’re traveling in group in which case stick with a car.
2. Food in USA
There’s something for everyone, regardless of taste and budget.
Usually, the cheaper the nastier (specially fast food chains).
If you want to eat good for a low budget, hit the Latino restaurants. The food is filling and not that expensive.
On the North-East coast you can also go for very good pizza, but once you cross the PA State border towards the south and west, it become a fast food dish again.
For very small budgets, there are supermarkets everywhere open from early to late. Just avoid places such as Wall-Mart which only offers frozen food.
3. Water in USA
You shouldn’t have problems with this.
Tap water is drinkable almost everywhere, though scandals the last few years pointed out the presence of lead in some water reserve.
To fill up your water bottle, hit the nearest gas station and look for the soda machine. There’s always a water tap on it. Just ask before you use it.
A lot of city parks also have water fountains.
4. Sleeping / Camping in USA
You’ll find hostels, motels and hotels in any town. Prices vary a lot and do not include the local tax either.
For those who which to camp, freedom is just a fingertip away. Most lands belong to the Bureau of Land Management.
These spaces, along with regional park and forests allow you to camp on them as long as you are 100 feet away from a major road and water source.
Some parks even have free designated camping spots (to avoid you from destroying the rest of the park). There are also paid spots.
If you are in a National Park you’ll probably have to pay in order to camp in it.
The local wildlife varies a lot. Bears, grizzlies, puma, snakes, crocodiles, panthers, can all be around you depending on where you camp. Just be careful.
Remember: Never ever put your tent on someone’s property! This is non-negotiable. Chances are you’ll get woken up by the sound of a shotgun being loaded.
5. Locals / Communication in USA
No surprises, the main language in the USA is English. A good chunk of the population also speaks Spanish.
Locals are usually very welcoming and they’ll help you the best they can. If you’re French and you go to a heavily Republican state, be ready to be made fun of. I suggest you stay out of any political debate.
Cultural Clash: In the USA it is very easy to start a conversation with strangers. The way you interact with them will give you the feel you just became best friends. It isn’t necessarily the case. Locals are simply very open and like to chat. Don’t be offended if they don’t recognize you an hour after.
You might also be surprised to shake hands and exchange first names only at the end of the conversation.
6. Places to see in USA.
There’s plenty to see.
Fan of architecture? Go to any big city, they all have skyscrapers.
Fan of nature? There are 250 national parks in the USA. All better than each other.
Choose based on the season. It’s cold and snowy in the entire Northern part of the country during winter.
You like hiking? So do locals. There are trails almost everywhere.
A useful link will be shared at the end of this article to help you plan your hikes.
7. Useful links for USA
- A good App to help you plan your local hikes:
8. The author’s review of USA
I highly recommend you to rent a vehicle and to travel in group to prevent your budget from exploding. It will give you all the freedom you need to reach any place you want.
The size of the USA and the fact everything is spread around makes it almost impossible not to have a car.
It will also give you the opportunity to reach free camping spots in remote places (not reachable otherwise)
When you travel, you are an ambassador to your country. So for all your fellow citizens, be nice: don’t behave like an asshole.
Don’t get mad, don’t complain of cultural difference, don’t complain at all, and don’t mock locals. Are you a traveler? An adventurer? Then adapt!