USA Travel, Backpacking & Gap Year Guide

USA Travel, Backpacking & Gap Year Guide

The USA is one of the best destinations in the world where you can visit iconic places like New York, California, Las Vegas, Route 66 and the Grand Canyon. Get information, advice and inspiration for the best things to do if you would like to travel, go backpacking or take a gap year in the UNSA.

 
 

Activities, Experiences & Things to Do in the USA

Find inspiration for the best things to do if you would like to travel or go backpacking in United States.

Travel to the USA

If you’re looking to visit the USA, see famous locations or stay longer; go test the American dream. There is so much to see and do, from great cities, live music, amazing sights, friendly people and world famous cities - the States will not disappoint. 

View our United States guide with travel tips, ideas for the best things to see and do when backpacking or on a gap year and advice about itineraries, costs, how to save money, and more!

  • Capital: Washington DC
  • Currency: US Dollar $
  • International Calling Code: +1
  • Tourist Visa: Need to apply online in advance
  • Area: 9,830,000 km2 (approx)
  • Population: 309,000,000 (approx)
  • Language: English

 

How to Get to the USA

The USA has airports connected to international destinations so you can get there fairly easily, the easiest places to get to include New York and LA. Generally the cost of a flight from London to New York is around £400. Book in advance or check for special offers for the best deals.

 

Weather & Best Time to Visit

What time of year you visit really comes down to when you are free and what you would like to do. Summer is generally the most popular time of year to visit (around May to September). If you are planning an escape purely on the weather than the following information will help you:

Atlantic Coast: The East Coast and cities like New York have a warm humid climate. You can expect the temperature in summer to be around 18°C to 32°C and in winter around -10 to 5°C.

Southwest: The Southwest has a hot desert climate and covers cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas. The average temperature in summers would be around 40°C to 25°C; in winters it would be around 18°C to 4°C.

Southeast: Southeast USA has a warm to hot, humid climate and covers cities like Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Charleston. The average temperature in summers is around 20°C to 35°C; whilst in winter it is around 0°C to 10°C.

Midwest: Areas like The Midwest, Great Lakes, and New England have a warm climate. The average temperature in summer is around 14°C to 28°C; in winters it is around -9°C to 2°C.

Pacific Northwest: The Pacific Northwest has an oceanic climate and this region includes cities like Seattle, and Portland. The average temperature in summer is around 18°C to 30°C; in winters it is around -3°C to 5°C.

 

Visa & Entry Requirements

If you would like to visit the USA, you will need to apply in advance for a tourist visa. To enter the USA as a tourist you will need to apply for an online ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) at least 3 days before, you will need a valid passport and also pay a fee of around $14. Most Nationalities are eligble for a tourist visa but please check online to confirm if your country is on the list.

 

Essential Things to Do in the USA

  • Sightseeing in New York - see all the places made famous in films
  • Seeing the Grand Canyon in Arizona
  • Being part of mardi gras in New Orleans
  • Watching a live sport like baseball, basketball or American football
  • Travelling Route 66'
  • Getting close to the impressive Niagara Falls

 

Travelling & Backpacking in the USA

For those of you who are considering visiting a new country, the good old USA is a popular choice and for good reason. The thing about America is that although the country is huge, it is easy to get across. Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains offer deals and you can get around on little money by booking with a travel operator. So, where to begin on your American odyssey? 

Think of places you want to visit, look at a map and plot it from one coast to another; it couldn’t be easier. Start off at the city that never sleeps - New York; there’s a multitude of things to do here. Head to Broadway, see the Statue of Liberty and be dazzled by the bright lights and bustling streets in Times Square. Then visit the site of Ground Zero before walking a few miles to the Empire State Building, tasting a giant slice of pepperoni pizza on the way.

Once you’ve munched your way through the Big Apple, head over to Washington DC, America’s capital and home of the White House. The architecture of the state is renowned, with Union Station remarkably elaborate. Next, make your way through Virginia to Memphis, Tennessee. Essential viewing is Graceland, where Elvis Presley lived and is now buried. There’s also Beale Street (the birthplace of the blues), and the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.

From there, you’re not far from Florida, where there’s a strong Latin influence blending with American culture. As well as the many theme parks (Disney World being the most famous) you can see alligators in the Everglades, taste some delicious Sunshine State oranges and look around NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre. If French culture interests you, head over to the French Quarter in New Orleans. Devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, people still flock to the Big Easy, famed for jazz and Creole dishes gumbo and jambalaya. Here, you can get drunk on Bourbon Street and get around on a mule-drawn carriage. 

Once you’re finished there, it’s hard to miss Texas. Over twice the size of Great Britain, Texas is also famous for its cowboy ranches in Dallas, many of which make fantastic experiences for internationals. Other things Texas boasts are: being the birthplace of singer Beyonce Knowles; and, of course, the Alamo, a fort in San Antonio, which is considered to have provided the turning point in the Texan revolution.

Head from the second largest state to the largest, Alaska. With rugged beauty and lots of crude oil and gold, Alaska is home to the world’s biggest bears. It’s recommended you go here in June so you can see the midnight sun. Other activities include river rafting, whale watching and glacier trips. From icy scenes to mountains, welcome to Arizona. Of course, the most famous thing to see here is the Grand Canyon, which was carved by the Colorado River and is over a mile deep. The state of Arizona has vast deserts, which spread over into Nevada, where Las Vegas is located. 

Spending time exploring the West Coast of the USA will be one of the best experience of your life. If you would like to see as much as possible you might want to hire a car. You could fly into LA which is connected to a lot of worldwide airports and then travel to see places a little further afield like San Diego, Las Vegas, Monument Valley and the Yosemite National Park. Backpackers come from all over the world to visit the casinos in Sin City. Another reason for visiting is the pyramid lifts in the Luxor Hotel. Nevada is right next to California, another must-see state.

Then mingle with the rich, famous and beautiful in LA, marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and explore the amazing Yosemite National Park. Plus, wouldn’t you like to visit the state in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected as governor? After all this, you’ll probably feel you’ve earned a few days doing nothing, so spend some time relaxing and catching rays on Venice Beach, before taking your flight back home.

Each destination is different and the chances are you will pass by New York which is one of the most unique and interesting cities in the world made famous by various big blockbuster films. LA is a great stopover and home to Hollywood which attracts millions of visitors, people pay homage to their favourite stars on the walk of fame and perhaps even catch a glimpse of a few famous people.

The USA isn't just about sightseeing, there are also so many other places to check out including shopping at one of the multitude of malls and amusement is also to be found at the theme parks. You could choose to visit a specific region e.g. the West Coast like California and the Grand Canyon or even travel across country and take in the sights from LA to NYC.

If you are looking to kick back and escape the crowds you might want to make your way to Hawaii, a string of volcanic island overgrown with lush tropical vegetations in the centre of the Pacific is also a popular destination. Turquoise bays, sandy beaches, tropical palms and sunshine mean visitors consider this beautiful archipelago of soaring volcanic peaks a tropical paradise. Most international visitors focus on the six southerly islands and Hawaii is famous for Aloha and surf culture having some world famous surf breaks. 

If you want to try something a little more extreme you could try sky diving, bungee jumping or even taking a helicopter ride over places like the Grand Canyon and New York City. Some other activities include mountain climbing, white water rafting, snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking, trekking and canoeing. Booking as early as possible in advance is recommended as spaces can fill up quick. We have a selection of things to do which are perfect for students, graduates, career breaks or anyone looking to travel to the USA. 

 

USA Travel Tips

Accommodation:
Accommodation will be one of your biggest costs in the USA, generally hostels and hotels are more expensive in the most popular destinations like New York City and Chicago but in other more rural places it is cheaper. The facilities on offer make hostels in the USA up there with some of the best in the world. Throughout the USA there aren't many hostels unless you are in a big city like New York, Chicago, Boston or LA.

Accommodation can be really expensive and you will need to book in advance for the best deals, you can also find cheap motels and just pay on the day. Hostels dorm beds generally cost around $10 - $25 but in places like New York this can be as high as $50 per night. Motels generally cost around $25 - $40 per night whilst a hotel can cost around $75, but again in places like New York you can easily spend over $100 per night on a basic room. If you are travelling on a budget althernative options include Couchsurfing.

Sightseeing:
Buy city pass cards when visiting places like New York and Las Vegas - this will save you a lot of money.

Food:
Food is cheap but it isn't always that healthy. You can find cheap fast food throughout the country and meals usually cost around $4 - $8 so it is very cheap place to grab lunch or dinner. We highly recommend going to local supermarkets and buying fresh food, this will be a lot cheaper and healthier. Diners and restaurants have varying prices depending on where you are, you can expect to pay around $8 - $20 for dinner.

Transport & Geting Around the USA:
Internal flights are operated throughout the country and if you book in advance you can get great deals. An alternative is to travel by train or take a bus service like the Greyhound or Megabus. These will take longer than flying but you will save a lot of money and also get to see more places. Bus services are daily and connect the whole country. Sometimes though the distances can be daunting and a lot of destinations require overnight journeys where you might have to stop and change bus. 

Cost, Money & Budget:
The USA is quite an expensive country to visit so you will need some savings to travel here. To save money it's important to plan ahead too, make sure you book flights and accommodation well in advance so you can save money. Usually the later you leave it the higher prices are.

 

Gap Year in the USA

Researching ideas for the best things to do on a gap year in the USA? Our website will help you book an incredible experience. Find gap year programs are perfect for students, graduates, and anyone looking to learn, work or travel. 

The United States is one of the most popular gap year destinations in the world and you can find a range of programs for all interests. There are lots of gap year jobs in the USA for summer and year round which are a great way to live in the States and get paid. 

Spending your gap year working in the United States will be one of the best decisions you will ever make. There are lots of trips and programs  for internationals where you can live in amazing locations like LA, Chicago and New York just to name a few. Some companies offer flexible summer trips which are very popular with students.

With cheap flights to the States this is making traveling more affordable even if you are on a small budget, there are some great deals to be had on flights, packages deals and more.

Need some more reasons, check out our list below:

  • See new places which might have only ever previously been seen on television or in the movies, visiting in real life is a lot more exciting
  • To do something new and exciting, traveling is a way of stepping into the unknown and waking up not knowing what you will see or do that day
  • There are lots of opportunities to spend time away doing something amazing like volunteering or being more than just a tourist and working for a prolonged period
  • Make new friends
  • Get paid - there are lots of gap year work and travel programs available

 

USA Gap Year Reviews & Experiences

"If you are looking for a short term summer position then apply to work at a camp in the USA - I did and loved every minute of it" - Scott, UK

“I have gained many new skills and experiences, which will not only be good on a resume but have given me a far broader knowledge and understanding of the world.” - Hamish, New Zealand

“I decided to be an Au Pair as I felt that the job would be a very rewarding learning experience; the different culture and being away from home and family for a year, potentially two, is such a worthy way to spend time in your life.” - Emily, Cardiff, au pair in Minnesota with Cultural Care

"I did a working holiday in the States during uni, it was the best summer of my life" - Alex, Hungary

"In 2014 I signed up for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and flew off to California for ten months of nonprofit work with a team of ten other people who were strangers in the beginning, but soon became family. My team worked, lived, cooked meals, traveled and explored together. We traveled through California, Oregon and Alaska and lived in tents, apartments, cooperatives, and barns. We worked for state parks, conservation agencies, learning to help farm on communes and built tundra gardens in the Arctic. This program instilled immense growth and sense of community for my team mates. If you are aged 18–24, sign up to experience it yourself." - Cecelia Barrow, USA

“I have gained many new skills and experiences, which will not only be good on a resume but have given me a far broader knowledge and understanding of the world.” - Hamish, New Zealand