Traveling DIY Style: Tips for Brits Planning U.S. Holidays

It's a good idea to pack for unexpected weather but when possible, bring carry-on. (Paramount)

It’s good to pack for unexpected weather but when possible, bring carry-on. (Paramount)

It’s the New Year, a time when many of us start thinking about weekend breaks and summer holidays. For Brits in the U.S. there might be a few new things to bear in mind.

Planning and booking
You’ll notice, just walking through shopping malls and Main Streets, travel agents aren’t as ubiquitous in the U.S. Although package deals (flight plus hotel) are available, many people put them together themselves or purchase them straight from the web. Travel web sites like Travelocity, Kayak, Priceline, Orbitz and Expedia allow you to book flights, hotels and car rentals in one swift transaction, and sites like give great feedback on individual hotels and destinations. Yes, if anything goes wrong, there might not be a rep to sort it out, but let’s face it, how many of us have had a holiday from hell that was booked through a travel agent back in Blighty?

Travel insurance
Many companies offer insurance to cover cancellation or interruption of trips, as well as car rental collision, baggage loss, medical coverage and bankruptcy of the trip provider. You may already be covered for many outcomes through your credit card company and your health insurance provider. If you might need to change your plans, most airlines quote different rates for flexible tickets, and many hotels allow you to cancel within 24 or 48 hours at no charge.

Sounds obvious, but remember there are four time zones in the continental U.S. and flight times are given in local time. So, if you’re flying from Seattle (Pacific time zone) to New York (Eastern time zone) for example, it’ll be about a five-and-a-half hour direct flight but will look like eight and a half because New York is three hours ahead. Flight times in the U.S. are given in the 12-hour clock so keep your ante and post meridians straight. If you book your own connecting flights research the airport in question to ensure that you have time to get from one gate or terminal to the other.

There are often long security lines at U.S. airports. Unless you have pre-TSA clearance, you usually have to remove shoes, jackets and belts – something to bear in mind when choosing your travel outfit. The 3-1-1 liquids rule also still applies, and they will make you hand over anything that’s over this limit. Some U.S. airports are very small, with limited food and beverage stores. If you have a long layover at such an airport, think about taking food with you. This is particularly important if you’re traveling with children or babies.

Road trips
If you’re taking a great American road trip, be prepared. Make sure your vehicle is roadworthy and plan your route using a real, up-to-date map. Try to avoid traffic trouble spots, such as rush hour in big cities and extensive construction on major highways. In the summer you can often find three lane highways narrowed down to one lane for miles and miles, adding hours to your journey! Always have roadside assistance set up, but first, read the small print on your credit cards as many offer such assistance. MasterCard and Visa both offer roadside assistance depending on your card type.

As well as not being over the luggage allowance if you’re flying, make sure you’re taking the right gear. Some places that are warm or hot during the day can reach fairly low temps overnight. Yes, if you forget something you can usually buy a replacement fairly easily, but who wants to spend precious vacation time looking for a raincoat or fleece?

The U.S. has hugely diverse weather. Summer weather is often as extreme as winter weather in many areas, bringing torrential rain, thunder and dangerous lightening. If you’re flying, be prepared for weather delays and if you’re driving, make sure you are able to drive in adverse conditions.

Particularly if you’re camping, do your homework on the local critters and bigger creatures. Camping and bears, cougars and hiking, go together, and many other animals can pose a threat. Here are some great guidelines to help prevent calamities. Although smaller animals might not be able to take you down, do remember that this isn’t a rabies-free country and keep your distance. There are also teeny biting insects so make sure you have good bug spray. You will find mosquitoes in many parts of the U.S. during the summer. Even if you don’t suffer great big welts, mosquitoes carry disease, most notably West Nile. In 2011 there were 296 deaths from West Nile.

Oh, and remember to say “vacation” rather than “holiday” to avoid confusion.

What other travel tips have you picked up stateside, Brits? Tell us below:

See more:
Tips for Easy Travel During the Winter Season (from #MindTheChat)
How to Fly With Kids: A British Expat’s Guide
9 U.S. Vacation Destinations That Will Remind Brits of Home


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • DianeR

    Further suggestions for travelers, from my resident British husband: Be careful with money, the bills are all the same size and colour. Don’t bother bringing $100’s, many places won’t take them. Apart from quarters (25-cent pieces), coinage is worthless, put it in tip jars. Read up on tipping before you visit, 15-20% is expected for your restaurant server. And he mentions that you can say ‘wanker’ as much as you want, no one will know what it means.

    • MontanaRed

      Some of us know what ‘wanker’ means, it just has no emotional impact, much like ‘bugger’. 😀

      • expatmum

        I would disagree – most Americans who heard the words and had them explained and translated, would be most outraged/offended. After all, the American equivalents (and they vary by region) aren’t exactly words your grandma would countenance.
        And – I have to add, I’m a married woman with a family and home of my own but I still wouldn’t say W in public in the UK! (Bugger to me, is more acceptable for some reason.)

        • MontanaRed

          I have to bow to your expertise, Toni, since the trans-pondish lexical muddles are your field. :-) I have found personally that rude terms in foreign languages (in my case, French and Spanish) don’t affect me much, even though I know what they mean. And especially if they are being used to try to elicit a reaction. My natural perversity, I guess. Can’t give ’em the satisfaction.

  • Cyn2

    Re: Road trips. Don’t forget the US is big, as in *really* big. Make sure when checking those maps that you know the scale. Distances, particularly in the western states, are vast. No services for 100 miles or more are common, even on interstate highways. That said, the scenery in the western US is worth the effort!