When motorhoming in the USA you’ll find a warm welcome every step of the way. As a generalisation some of the friendliest and most generous people you’ll meet will be American. The American lifestyle is usually quite casual so whilst you might like to pack smart evening attire for dining out, you won’t find it a necessity.
Made up of 100 cents, the US dollar is accepted in all 50 states. All major credit cards are recognised in the USA and many cash machines accept UK issued Visa and MasterCard cards.
You must carry at least one major credit card with you in order to leave a deposit with your motorhome hire company. We recommend credit cards and travellers’ cheques as the best way to pay for your purchases.
CUSTOMS AND ENTRY REQUIREMENTS IN THE USA
The UK is a member country of the United States’ Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). VWP member countries’ citizens may travel to the US for business or pleasure for a period of less than 90 days without applying for a visa (which is a process involving several steps and that usually takes some time). For full entry requirements, including info on passport validity, visit www.gov.uk.
PROHIBITED TRAVEL ITEMS
There are extremely strict rules, regulations and laws on what may and may not be included in your carry-on baggage on airlines. It is highly recommended that you check with your airline for details of what it will and will not accept onto its aircraft, both well before and just prior to travelling.
BRINGING GOODS INTO THE UK
There are limits in place on bringing back alcohol and tobacco which you should be aware of. For more information, visit www.gov.uk/duty-free-goods.
TIME ZONES IN THE USA
The 50 states fall within six time zones. The lower 48 states plus Alaska span five of these. Below is a list of the time differences across the USA against Greenwich Mean Time:
Eastern Standard Time (EST)* incl. Florida and New England GMT -5
Central Standard Time (CST)* incl. Florida (west) GMT -6
Mountain Standard Time (MST)* GMT -7
Pacific Standard Time (PST)* incl. California GMT -8
Alaskan Standard Time (AKST) Alaska GMT -9
*These zones are shared with Canada.
WEATHER IN THE USA
Spanning the breadth of the North American continent, the USA has a very varied climate. Give yourself flexibility by taking lots of light layers of clothing with you, plus a good jacket and waterproofs for the winter or for areas at high altitude. Good walking boots or shoes are always recommended and in summer a wide-brimmed sun hat and a high factor sun screen are musts.
Alaska - South-central Alaska, including Anchorage and Prince William Sound, enjoys temperatures kept mild by the Gulf of Alaska, with north polar winds being largely blocked by the mountains. Winters are very snowy indeed (7.5 metres along Prince William Sound), so spring and summer are when to visit, with the coast usually clear of snow from early May until mid or late September.
California and the west - California has warm or hot weather all year, being warmer in the south. Many of the mountains and uplands of Colorado, Utah and Nevada are ski areas in winter, while in summer the climate is generally very hot and dry, compared to the humidity sometimes experienced on the California coast.
Florida - Known as the sunshine state, its location on the Gulf of Mexico means that Florida enjoys long, hot and fairly humid summers. Winters are mild with occasionally cool or sometimes cold air.
New England - Despite a northerly, coastal location, summer can be hot and may also be quite humid, with temperatures sometimes capable of reaching 30°C-40°C. Autumn (Fall) is still warm and pleasant, with nights not uncomfortably a little chilly. This is the most popular time to visit, with many people coming to see the spectacular fall foliage colours.
SEVERE WEATHER AND NATURAL PHENOMENA
Keep an eye on local weather reports, particularly if travelling in areas known for extreme weather, such as snow in the mountains, tornadoes in the mid-west, hurricanes on the Gulf of Mexico or even carrying over to the east coast.
The hurricane season is normally June-November. Forest and bush fires are particularly prevalent from March to November, in dry, windy weather and on the west coast, so keep up to date with regional news reports while travelling.
HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE USA
The Department of Health does not make any specific health recommendations for visitors to the USA. However, we recommend you check with your doctor before departure. The United States has no national health service and no reciprocal health agreement with the UK, so you must travel with full medical insurance. If you are planning on taking any medications with you on your holiday it is advised that you also carry a doctor’s certificate in order to avoid any problems with customs.
Worldwide Motorhoming Holidays offer fully comprehensive medical and personal holiday insurance for peace of mind while you’re away. Enquire about our insurance.
All tap water is drinkable unless marked otherwise.
The US department of Homeland Security operates a colour code system (green-blue-yellow-orange-red) for its assessment of the current terrorist threat to the country. You can see the current level and learn more about the meaning of the various alert levels by visiting the Homeland Security website. As in any other country, you should be particularly vigilant in high-profile public places and report anything suspicious immediately to the authorities.
Please remember that the above information is intended to inform rather than to alarm and applies to a country that occupies much of a continent. Around four million British visitors per year enjoy a wonderful, trouble-free stay in the USA.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office may make specific travel related recommendations for visitors to the USA.
TAXES AND CUSTOMS IN THE USA
There is no federal (national) sales tax in the United States. Most individual states apply their own taxes, but even in those that do not you may find that boroughs or municipalities apply a local tax. Local and state taxes paid by tourists in the USA cannot normally be claimed back.
SHOPPING IN THE USA
The USA has the world’s largest economy and is a shopper’s dream. There are still some famous department stores in major city centres, but, more and more, the biggest shopping centres are now in the suburbs or several miles out of town. Sears and J C Penny are famous American own-brand retailers with a reputation for quality and value for money (in much the same tradition as Marks & Spencer). Clothing sizes are different to ours so make sure you try clothes on before buying.
Electrical goods bought in the US may not work correctly in the UK. Video equipment and DVDs are manufactured for a different format to the UK, but the CD format is universal. Shops are generally open daily and often until late, especially in the cities. Shopping for food and drink is easy, with supermarkets that are very similar to the UK. You may also find that fresh produce is often sold at roadside stands in fruit and vegetable growing areas.
TIPPING IN THE USA
It is a good idea to take some currency in small bills with you to cover tips on arrival. It is also standard practice to tip tour guides - local tour guides 10%-15% of the tour price, but at least $1-$2 for a half day tour and $3-$4 for a full day tour.
Many people in service industries are paid low salaries and depend on tips to top up their earnings. If in doubt, overtip a little. In restaurants, service is almost never included in the final bill. Any amount added on is usually the sales tax, not a service charge. A good rule is to tip waiting staff 15% or 20% at table, taxi drivers 15%,
DRIVING IN THE USA
There are some rules of the road that are helpful for you to know when planning your touring holiday in the USA, below are a few pointers regarding driving licence requirements, insurance, speed limits and some of the travelling costs that you can expect to incur.
- Road travel- Vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road in the USA.
- Seat belts - The use of seat belts is governed by state, not federal, law. All states have seat belt laws for children, almost all have them for adults and the use of seat belts by all vehicle occupants is strongly recommended. Each vehicle will have a sufficient number of seatbelts for the number of people that it is designed to accommodate. The seatbelts in the front two seats of the vehicles are generally 3-point and the rear belts usually 2-point.
Please note that some vehicles in the USA are not equipped to accommodate rear-facing child seats so children under 2 years of age cannot travel in the motorhomes. We strongly recommend you check the child restraint policy for the relevant state you intend to travel to before confirming your booking.
- Traffic lights - If at traffic lights there is a “Right on red” sign, you are allowed to turn right through a red light provided that the way is clear.
- School busses - When a yellow school bus stops and its red lights are flashing, traffic travelling in both directions must stop.
- Speed limits - Highway speed limits are typically 55-75 mph but can vary from state to state, so pay attention to the black on white speed limit signs (you may also see white on black signs, headed 'NIGHT', if a different limit is imposed for night time driving).
- Tolls/National Park Entry Fees - Tolls may be payable for tunnels and bridges, or for some stretches of road also known as turnpikes. The America the Beautiful pass is worth purchasing if you intend to visit several of the National Parks. A list of the National Parks included in this scheme are listed here. The pass can be purchased when you enter the first of your National Parks.
Officially, a full UK driving licence is accepted on its own for a period of up to one year, without being backed up by an International Driving Permit (IDP) which verifies that you hold a valid driving licence in your own country.
In practice, many hire companies, as well as many police officers in the event of an accident or a routine check will not be content unless you can produce an IDP, so we strongly recommend that all drivers obtain one. This must be done before travelling. An IDP costs £5.50 and is easily available from the Post Office – click here to find out more.
On individual tailor-made holidays, depending on your rental company, your motorhome rental includes Vehicle Incident Protection (VIP). This reduces your liability to $1,000 per incident. At all times you are responsible for up to $1,000 per occurrence as a deductible excess. It also includes coverage for public liability, property damage and/or personal injuries, limited to the minimum financial limits determined by the US state (or Canada province) in which the incident occurred.
Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) can be prepaid at the time of booking and covers the difference between the underlying insurance and up to $1,000,000 against claims by a third party for bodily injury and/or property damage resulting from an accident. There is no deductible excess with the SLI. An imprint of a major credit card is required while the motorhome is rented.
Fuel is known as gasoline or gas. For motorhomes it is always unleaded and generally costs far less than fuel in the UK, being generally cheapest on the Gulf of Mexico coast and more expensive as you go further north, east and west. The price can also vary depending on whether you use a ‘full-service’ or ‘self-service’ garage. Credit cards are widely accepted. You have to pay before you fill up, which means deciding in advance how much fuel you want to buy. It is usually easiest to start off in increments of $100, until you get to know your vehicle’s fuel usage.
Click here for current fuel prices by region.
ALCOHOL WHEN DRIVING
It is a criminal offence to operate, or to be in the care or control of, a vehicle, whether in motion or not, with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of more than 0.8mg. Some studies suggest that at this level you can be up to 11 times more likely to have an accident than with a BAC of zero, which is the recommended level for driving. Driving under the influence of alcohol or non-prescription drugs is taken very seriously in the US.
The legal age for drinking or for public possession of alcohol is 21; some states specifically prohibit minors from drinking alcohol while others permit it. In many states it is illegal to carry an open alcohol container in a moving vehicle or in a public place. In some states opened alcohol may be permitted in a parked vehicle if kept away from the driving area and the driver, but check this with your campground on arrival.
See US Customs and Border Protection for full details of all prohibited items.
Looking to explore the USA by motorhome? Find out more all about what there is to do and the possible routes you can take.