Bucket List: 6 Things British Expats Must Do Before Leaving America

(Photo: Fotolia)

Fourth of July fireworks. (Photo: Fotolia)

As we know, this country is huge and varied, so a real bucket list could fill a book. However, there are a few things I’d recommend all Brits in America do while they’re here. (Please feel free to add your recommendations below.)

Eat something you’d never find in the U.K.
Although many American food chains have crossed the Pond and Marks and Spencer now sell an “American style Mini Sub-Roll Platter”, there are still a lot of foods here that you either wouldn’t find, or wouldn’t try, back in Blighty. Go on, treat yourself to some State Fair food, a massive New England lobster chow down, pigs’ trotters, perhaps some Southern fried rattlesnake or Rocky Mountain oysters. It makes for great conversation at the very least!

Attend a sports event
Whether it’s baseball, (American) football, hockey or basketball, you can’t beat American sports events for pure atmosphere. They are often more of an occasion to drink bond with friends however, so Brits may find themselves unable to concentrate on the actual sport because of all the whooping, hollering and “visiting.” When my British brother attended a U.S. sporting event, I think his exact words were, “Why don’t they just sit down and watch the ball game?” And, in all the time I’ve been going to baseball games, where beer sellers walk the aisles and you can buy hard liquor along with your brats, I’ve never encountered violence. I’ve been sloshed down the back a few times as people pass the drinks along the row, I have to admit!

Visit an iconic sight or a national treasure
Obviously, your budget will dictate what you get to see in the U.S. but the good news is there are places of historic interest all over the country. This web site helps you find your nearest treasures, and there’s quite a range. From President Lincoln’s cottage in Washington D.C. to the Hotel de Paris Museum in Georgetown, Colorado, there are historical spots across the land and often off the beaten track. Alternatively, you could pick a few of the U.S.’s most iconic sights, such as the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon, the Willis Tower, the list goes on. They’re iconic for a reason and well worth a visit.

Do something “typically” American
Again, budget and personal preference dictate your choice here but options range from dude ranching (which, let’s face it, just can’t be replicated in the U.K.), attending a Macy’s parade, to July 4th fireworks. Or it could be something much simpler. Two decades ago, I worked with an Australian who wanted to eat Chinese out of a square paper carton and see steam coming out of a manhole. Whatever floats your boat; just make sure you check it off that list.

Experience the great outdoors
And not necessarily in your own state. With 49 others to choose from, there is a staggering beauty everywhere and hundreds of activities to suit everyone. Here’s a fantastic web site to give you some ideas in each state, although its suggestions for Indiana (“Enter a pie-eating contest”) and Pennsylvania (“Win a food fight”) aren’t quite what I had in mind. Colorado, for example, isn’t just a ski state; in the summer there’s also white water rafting, cycling, and hiking.

Take a road trip
Okay, so admittedly, this isn’t every Brit’s idea of a good time. We’re just not that into driving. However, as long as you don’t overdo* it, you could find yourself having fun. The key is to plan your trip rather than just driving from A to B. If possible, take a route with points of interest along the way and travel in a comfortable vehicle. There are some well-established routes, such as Route 66, or the Pacific coast route. It’s even better if you can do it in an RV, which is my personal bucket list item.

*Overdoing it is obviously very subjective. For me, it’s having to get up at silly o’ clock, driving for more than three hours without a stretch break, sitting in bucket seats or driving in extreme winter weather.

Want to discover the hidden gems of U.S. travel? Join @MindtheGap_BBCA and guest co-host @BBC_Travel on Twitter on Wednesday, September 3 from 2 to 3 pm ET for the inside information. Tweet your questions using hashtag #MindTheChat for a chance to win The Thick of It: The Complete Collection on DVD, courtesy of BBC Shop.

See more:
10 Affordable U.S. Travel Destinations – and How to Experience Them on a Budget
Traveling DIY Style: Tips for Brits Planning U.S. Holidays
Themed Vacations: Ideas for Brits in America

Toni Hargis

Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who has lived in the USA since 1990. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and children and writes about US/UK matters when not putting out domestic fires. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, (St. Martin's Press). She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV explaining British things to Americans.

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  • Scarlet

    TL;DR – a WNY tour itinerary.

    An Upstate NY sojourn along the Niagara River isn’t a long drive, but you may want to book into a motel somewhere along the way because there’s so much to see and do along this route.

    First, you must go to Niagara Falls – let’s face it, most of us aren’t headed to Venzuela or Uganda, so this is as good as it gets for massive waterfalls, and bonus, there’s 3 of them (American, Bridal Veil, and Horseshoe) in 2 different countries (US and Canada). Do Cave of the Winds, where they issue you rubber-soled sandals and guide you up stairs (reason for sandals) right up under the Bridal Veil, take the Maid of the Mist to see the Falls from the bottom (on the Niagara River), go up in the Observation Tower to see them from on high. There’s also a surprisingly good restaurant inside the NYS park, overlooking the Falls, for a spot of lunch.

    If you’re lucky, there may be a good concert series at Artpark in Lewiston. Caught Peter Frampton there a few years back, and their concerts are free. Bring a picnic hamper, a cooler, and a blanket or folding lawn chairs, as it’s an open-air venue with no seating (save for scattered benches near the food vendor area above the stage).
    Continue driving north and check out Fort Niagara, which has flown 3 flags (French, British, and US) and still has its original 1700s French Castle (officers’ HQ) standing, complete with its Haunted Well. It’s at the mouth of the Niagara overlooking Lake Ontario, the smallest, but the deepest, of the 5 Great Lakes. Period costumes, activities, and events like Warwick, only on a smaller, far less commercialized scale. Great fun if you’ve got kids along.

    Then go back to Niagara Falls (the city) and cross the Rainbow Bridge into Canada (don’t forget your passport). Ontario’s view of the Falls is superior to NYs, and it’s right out on the street in their city of Niagara Falls, as opposed to being tucked away in parkland. There’s a Hard Rock Cafe and a casino across the street, and walking up Clifton Hill presents you with a myriad of fun touristy things, anything from mini-golf to Madam Tussaud’s and everything in-between.

    Go north to Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake (formerly Newark, the first British colonial capital of Upper Canada before those honors went to York AKA Toronto), also on Lake Ontario. The Niagara is very narrow at that point and you can see where you’ve been (Fort Niagara) and realize just how close these dueling forts were in the War of 1812 and why the Niagara Frontier became one of the conflict’s primary battlegrounds. Niagara-on-the-Lake is Ontario’s vineyard country, so be sure to plan ahead for some wine-tasting or at least grab a bottle or 2. They’ve also got an excellent Shakespeare repetory company in town.

    You could take the Queen Elizabeth Highway (called after the Queen Mum) further north to Toronto from there, if you wish. It’s really a city you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in the neighborhood (about an hour’s drive from the fort).

    If not, continue south along the river and marvel at the Niagara Gorge, which is where the Niagara becomes unnavigable due to rapids (this is why you can’t get on a boat and travel the connected Great Lakes in one go). The river scenery is absolutely gorgeous. Brock’s Monument (he was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights) is along the way. Then there’s the Laura Secord House, where the Canadian heroine of the War of 1812 lived. (Not sure if they ever made it across the pond, but Laura Secord chocolates and puddings are yummy and they sell them in the gift shop there.)

    By this point you will have passed the 2nd of the 3 bridges (the Lewiston-Queenston), so continue south to the city of Fort Erie and cross back into NY via the Peace Bridge. You’ll be in Buffalo and ought to head for the Erie Basin Marina. The marina has beautiful gardens in the fully British sense of the term. At its Naval and Military Park, you can tour not just a museum, but WWII-era aircraft, a battleship (the USS Little Rock), and a submarine. There’s a tour boat called the Miss Buffalo that embarks from the park and will take you on a river cruise, or you could hire a sailboat or speedboat at the marina.

    The city of Buffalo has tons of attractions. For architecture buffs, there’s the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin-Martin House and his Fontana Boathouse, St Joseph’s Cathedral (terrifically Gothic), the Buffalo Central Terminal (restored railroad hub), and the spectacular Art Deco-style City Hall, which has a great view for miles in all direction (including across your 2nd Great Lake of the expedition, Lake Erie) if you go all the way to the observation deck. The Wilcox Mansion is a Gothic Revival house where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president after William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo by one of those pesky Eastern European immigrant anarchists.

    Two art galleries right across the street from each other, the smaller Burchfield-Penney fronting the campus of Buffalo State College, and the internationally-acclaimed Albright-Knox, and next door to the A-K is the Buffalo Historical Museum. Behind them both is the huge Delaware Park (designed by Frederick Law Olmstead), and in the summer they also have an excellent free-to-attend Shakespeare company (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been, and if they’re doing The Tempest, it was a fabulous performance). Nature enthusiasts will enjoy not just that park, but the Buffalo Botanical Gardens and the Tifft Nature Preserve (bring hiking boots for the latter).

    The Pierce-Arrow Museum, a short drive from the galleries, is a fascinating look at the history of the American automotive industry, with vehicles up to 100 years old at which to gawk. Downtown Buffalo has a great theatre district (Curtain Up, the start of the new season, happens in October). A little something for everyone to enjoy around these parts.

  • Scarlet

    TL;DR – New England places of interest.

    When I visited New England, I particulary enjoyed Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the Mayflower fetched up (though I must say Plymouth Rock was a huge disappointment). There’s a replica of the Mayflower in the harbor, and Plimoth Village, which is a replica of the Purtian settlement, with the usual period costumes, events, and activities. (Williamsburg, Virginia also has the old colonial town set up like that, and it’s a lot larger than Plimoth, takes days to really get through.) Autumn is a good time to go there because it’s all about that American holiday of Thanksgiving that time of year.

    Salem, Massachusetts is also a great place to go in New England (but don’t book a motel down the pike in Saugus!). The tourist industry there is, of course, based around the Salem Witch Trials. Loved that you could get on a bus for a whistle-stop tour, get off at whatever struck your fancy, then hop aboard the next one by and carry on.

    In Boston proper, the USS Constitution (famous for its win in the War of 1812 naval battle with the HMS Guerriere) is at dock and can be toured. It’s the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. There’s a self-guided walking tour called the Freedom Trail for those with an interest in sites pertaining to the American Revolution. Fanueil Hall’s marketplace was worth a look-in.

    Sadly, The Old Man of the Mountains fell off a few years back, but the trip up into New Hampshire to Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains is still a lovely drive. Mount Washington at 8000-ish ft is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and you can take a (rather harrowing hairpin) drive up to the top by car, for which you get rewarded with a bumper sticker for bragging rights about the accomplishment. Even if it’s high summer, take a jacket, as the temperature at the top is usually half that at the bottom, and it’s really windy. In Portsmouth, which is located on NHs 12 miles of coastline, the Isles of Shoals boat tour is a nice way to spend the afternoon.

    Ogunquit, Maine, is an art colony antique shop-filled town right on the Atlantic, with lots of fascinating finds to behold, and a lovely, sandy, public beach (not rocky as many of the UK beaches are). There are several coast towns in Maine where you can board ship for a whale-watch cruise out into the Atlantic. They’re humpbacked whales and the sightings are simply breathtaking.

    You could always travel to Bangor and try to scare up Stephen King ;-)

  • Scarlet

    Not a 4-day weekend for those who work in retail, what with Black Friday in the mix. Pretty soon Thanksgiving will no longer be a holiday as the major retailers have all been open that evening for the last few years, and keep pushing the time they do it.

  • Scarlet

    The *birthplace of America* is considered to be Jamestown, Virginia, the first (successful; Roanoke disappeared) British colony, established in 1607. Although there may be some argument on that designation regarding 16th century French and Spanish settlements, particularly the oldest city in the US, St Augustine, Florida (settled 1565). Philadelphia wasn’t founded by William Penn until 1681.