USA is one country which doesn’t need any introduction. The country is huge and diverse. One of the most developed countries in the world has a lot of things to offer for visitors. I was there for 2 weeks and visited 4 cities on east coast of country so my experiences are based on these cities which may be different from smaller towns. This was the longest time I had been in any other country and thus gave me chance to understand the place better. Each city I visited had its own flavor and here are my aggregated experiences
1. For some reasons I always get a bit nervous at immigration. So immigration has to be smooth for me to have a good start for the trip. At JFK airport in New York, it was a pleasant experience. There was not much crowd as opposed to what I had expected and immigration was very quick. The officer just asked for the passport, boarding pass and my accommodation plan. For reasons known to him, he put the validity for 6 months even though I told him I was there only for 2 weeks.
2. Greetings are an important part of everyday interactions. People are really cool when you meet them. I had been greeted in past by strangers at immigration, super markets, hotels, restaurants etc like a casual hello or hi but had never experienced a stranger asking me – How are you ? How was your day ? How was your flight ?. Each and every time I felt like thank you for asking :). This doesn’t mean that every one was nice but most of the times experience was same and I loved it.
3. A developed nation is not some place where every one has luxury but a place where an effort is made to make life easier for common man. The price of food and public transport though was higher for me because of the USD/Rs. math but for someone earning in USD looked very reasonable. You have many meal options below 10 USD along with a drink. Public transport network is excellent and you can go to any point of city at very reasonable price.
4. USA is home to some of the tallest buildings in the world. Yes Burj Khalifa has taken over the number one spot followed by few other in middle east and china but skyscrapers in Chicago and New York are still an attraction.
5. It’s not a country for backpackers though as I didn’t see backpacking scene which I saw in Europe. The geography of country and infrastructure makes it difficult for long-term budget travelers. This is not in contrast to point number 3 earlier. Things are reasonable for someone who is living there but may be a costly affair for someone coming from outside. The main reason is lack of hostels and quite high rates of hotels in summer.
6. Finding vegetarian food is not difficult at all specially in cities. Yes the american breakfast and food primarily contains meat however there are restaurants from all cuisines having lots of vegetarian options. Mexican food is most commonly available which contains plenty of veg dishes. Then there are Thai, Indian and middle east food with veg choices. Breakfast in your hotel may not be vegetarian but you can always find fruits, corn flakes or bread in nearby stores. Overall you may have to put small amount of effort here and there but you will definitely not starve. Moreover I met few american people who are vegan. If they can survive in USA then you can too for just couple of days :).
7. Public transport in big cities is very organized however I heard that in smaller towns or suburbs, you need to have your own car else its difficult to commute. In all the cities I visited – Boston, NYC, Chicago and DC, the public transport is extensive and very easy to follow. The best thing about the whole setup is that a physically challenged person can commute entirely on his own. Every metro station has either arrangement of pathway/elevator for wheel chairs or information about next station where such facility is available. The buses and footpath are also designed to enable wheelchair movement. It felt so good to see these people travel independently.
8. The cafe culture is not that popular like Europe. Yes there is Starbucks and few cafes here and there but nothing compared to Europe.
9. Tipping is considered necessary in taxis and restaurants. People may have different opinion about how much to tip and also based on the service provided, but you are expected to give a good tip.
10. Pedestrians are given preference while crossing the roads and vehicles will stop for you. It’s so much fun walking on the roads for someone coming from a place where walking alongside busy roads is not pleasant experience. It made me a think a lot about my own country. May be I will write another post on this. Honking is almost non-existent and very rarely heard mostly from bus drivers.
11. There is other side to all good things in USA as well. Despite being a developed nation, there are homeless people, there are beggars in streets and there is crime in cities. Many areas in each city are not considered safe late in the evening and some areas are marked as extremely dangerous after dark.
Overall I had a great time in USA. I learnt a lot on various aspects of travel. I met few old friends and will cherish the memories. I met two strangers with whom I ended up spending entire day in NYC. The more I travel, the more I realize that it’s always about the people as it is about the place that define the overall experience. I am privileged to have such opportunities again and again.
You can find some of the pictures here