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Although it’s all one, big United States of America, there are some differences between the states to bear in mind when traveling around the country.
There are four time zones in the continental U.S. (Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern), and it’s important to know when you’re crossing those zone lines. When flying, your departure and arrival times are in local time, so calculating the flight time based on this information may catch you out. For example, a five and a half hour flight from Los Angeles to New York City (11:50 am – 8:22 pm on United) looks hours longer because you’re also crossing all four time zones.
When driving across state lines, it’s also worth knowing which time zone you’re in. The first time I drove from Chicago to Michigan, I forgot about the one-hour difference. It was early afternoon when I arrived at a very small village and all the restaurants had closed at 2 pm, (my watch was still saying 1pm), meaning I had to wait till 5 pm to calm my roaring hunger pangs.
Medical insurance and prescription filling
Check your health insurance coverage to make sure you’re covered out of state. HMOs, for example, are usually geographically restricted and may not cover medical services from a health care provider outside their network. Some HMO’s cover emergency room visits, but again, read your policy carefully to avoid having to shoulder the cost yourself.
If you take regular medication, think about what might happen should you lose it or need a refill. If you use a national chain pharmacy, it usually isn’t an issue to have a prescription refilled, and many independent pharmacies also recognize out-of-state prescriptions. If you need an emergency prescription or refill, first call your doctor to have him/her phone the prescription through to a local pharmacy. (Remember to have the pharmacy’s phone number ready for your doctor.)
Most car insurers cover you to drive in any U.S. state. If you take up residence in another state however, you will probably need in-state insurance to ensure that you meet that state’s minimum coverage requirements. (Here’s an excellent source giving the requirements in each state.) You’ll also need to obtain new license plates and possibly take a written driving test at some point.
Although the rules of the road are mainly the same around the country, there are different speed limits everywhere and some odd rules, such as not being able to pump your own gas in New Jersey, or not being able to turn against a red light in a New York (state) city with a population of over one million (unless a sign expressly allows it). Laws governing motorcycle helmets, seat belts and child restraints also vary state to state. You can find specific state road rules at the DMV web site.
Weapons and Firearms
If you’re traveling with any kind of legal weapon or firearm, it is especially important to know the laws in the states you’ll be visiting as they can vary widely, especially regarding concealed carry permits. Some states recognize permits from other states, but reciprocity is not universal. You are subject to the laws governing the state you’re in and not your state of residence.
If you like a wee dram (obviously not while driving), do some research on dry counties (of which there are over 200) and other restrictions. Although alcohol availability isn’t a vacation deal breaker for most people, not being able to buy wine or beer to go with your Sunday meal might be a mild irritant.
Weather in the U.S. can be extremely volatile in the summer, when many of us are traveling around. Tune into local weather channels if a storm is brewing, and take the advice of locals and weather reporters in the event of extreme weather. Flood conditions, in particular, can be surprisingly dangerous so don’t go driving or wading through rushing water and puddles where you don’t know the depth.
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.
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See more posts by 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.