USA branch FAQ
Replies: 279 - Last Post: Apr 16, 2013 10:54 PM Last Post By: nutraxfornerves
Sep 16, 2008 12:07 PM
240NYC Hotels Under $250. (From NY Times article by Denny Lee)
Chelsea Hotel, 222 West 23rd Street (Seventh and Eighth Avenues), 212-243-3700; http://www.hotelchelsea.com/. From $195. The storied bohemian landmark.
Doubletree Metropolitan, 569 Lexington Avenue (51st Street), 212-752-7000; http://www.metropolitanhotelnyc.com/. From $159. A recently renovated Morris Lapidus landmark.
Gershwin Hotel, 7 East 27th Street (Fifth and Madison Avenues), 212-545-8000; http://www.gershwinhotel.com/. From $119. Hotel-cum-hostel popular with young Europeans.
The Jane NYC $99
Hotel QT, 125 West 45th Street (Avenue of the Americas and Seventh Avenue), 212-354-2323; http://www.hotelqt.com/. From $125. A cheap chic hotel by André Balazs.
Hotel Stanford, 43 West 32nd Street (Broadway and Fifth Avenue), 800-365-1114; http://www.hotelstanford.com/. From $189. The staff at this Koreatown hotel speaks Korean and English (and Spanish).
Hudson Hotel, 356 West 58th Street (Eighth and Ninth Avenues), 212-554-6000; http://www.hudsonhotel.com/. From $199. A former Y.W.C.A. redesigned by Philippe Starck.
Off SoHo Suites Hotel, 11 Rivington Street (Bowery and Chrystie Streets), 800-633-7646; http://www.offsoho.com/. Economy rooms from $199 (sharing kitchen and bath with another room); suites from $189. Euro-style suites between SoHo and the Lower East Side.
Stay the Night Manhattan B&B starting at $75 with shared bath or $215 for full apartment
388 Bergen House Fort Greene, Brooklyn Brownstone Apartments
One Bedroom Apts: One or two guests one bed $160.00
Two to four guests two beds $170.00
Large Studio Apts: One or two guests $150.00
Sep 19, 2008 4:36 PM
241America’s Ocean Beaches and Coastlines
I've visited 95% of the West Coast; most of the upper and mid-Atlantic Coast between Maine and the Outer Banks of North Carolina; Miami Beach, St. Petersburg, and the Florida Keys; a bit of the Gulf Coast of Alabama; Maui and Kauai in the Hawaiian islands; Alaska’s Inside Passage and its Prince William Sound. I say that to give you a sense of my base of experience. You can also read my egotistical profile if you can stand it. I have also been to some prime coastal spots in Europe, among them the French Riviera, Santorini, Venice, and a series of port cities on the Baltic.
The phrase "ocean beaches and coastlines" might seem redundant, but it is not, because the U.S. and Canada also share the world’s largest inland sea, the freshwater Great Lakes. I have extensive travel experience there, too, but I’m not going to cover it in this post because I frankly don’t think the Great Lakes are, by themselves, more than a regional attraction. Similarly, there are uncountable thousands of inland lakes, many of which are stunningly beautiful, and I am not covering them here, either.
I aim to provide a thumbnail sketch, a reference point that will inspire further research. I don’t claim to have visited every place, so if something’s missing so be it. Nor do I claim to be objective, fair, or comprehensive. For example, I don't stay in hostels so if you're looking for hostel recommendations you won't find them in this posting. I’m doing this for free, and the quid-pro-quo is that I get to inflict my opinions on you. I will do my best to disclose my biases so you can discount them.
Picking A Region
Economy: Hawaii and Alaska are likely going to be the most expensive, because they’re the farthest away from the U.S. and Europe. If you’re an Australian or an Asian, then it’s obviously a different story.
In the Water: Hawaii is best for year-‘round swimming and surfing. Florida is good for swimming, year-‘round in Miami and the Keys and its Gulf Coast. Southern California is good for summertime swimming; the surfing season is longer, depending on where in the state. The mid-Atlantic Coast, from South Carolina to New Jersey, is good for summertime swimming. People have been known to surf along some East Coast beaches during the summer.
Beachcombing: New England, Central California north to the Canadian border year-‘round, and elsewhere depending on the season and inclination.
Remote Viewing: Alaska’s Inside Passage, seen from a cruise ship or the state-operated Alaska Marine Highway.
Memorial Day to Labor Day, the first Monday in September. The border between spring and summer can be soft, owing to the tendency of schools to extend their schedules well into June in recent years. In Maine, June is typically a soft month, with summer not really getting underway until July.
Bear in mind that south of New York City, and especially south of Washington, D.C., heat will likely define your experience. Temperatures are often in the 90s (F)/30s C, with high humidity. Breezes are intermittent. Millions upon millions of people head for the shore during the summer months, so it’s certainly possible to enjoy yourself. But don’t kid yourself, it can be brutal. You can even get hot, sticky summer weather on Cape Cod. About the only place you can be virtually guaranteed of summer comfort on the East Coast is Maine.
In many places along the East Coast, the beaches will be packed. The most crowded spots are Cape Cod and the islands; Long Island, New York, where the city’s rich head for "the Hamptons," a series of towns whose names bear the suffix, -hampton; the so-called Delmarva Coast, so named because it includes parts of Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland; the Outer Banks of North Carolina; and stretches of coastline and islands in South Carolina.
Of all these spots, a 30-mile stretch between Rehoboth Beach, VA and Ocean City, MD is the most packed, with the Outer Banks taking a close second place. If you like heat ‘n humidity, the Florida beaches that are popular in winter tend to be a good deal less crammed in between June and August. If, on the other hand, you hate summer heat and humidity, then go to Maine or the West Coast.
Cruising in Alaska is strictly a summertime affair. The commercial lines don’t go at any other time, and for good reason: Come October – and often much earlier -- the Inside Passage is deluged. When it’s not rainy, it’s foggy. The Alaska Marine Highway runs shortened schedules year-‘round, but you’re a glutton for punishment if you think you’re going to take in the view in the non-summer months.
Labor Day to Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November. On Cape Cod, Massachusetts and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, a "shoulder season" has sprung up during September and October – not as crowded as summer, but gradually becoming more popular.
It’s a great time to head to Cape Cod and the islands, especially in October. Crowds will have dwindled but most places will still be open. The West Coast is glorious in September, especially between Big Sur and Point Reyes. Mid-October brings the beginning of the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest. On average, peak rainfall come between mid-November and early January.
Thanksgiving through February. It's obvious: You head to Florida or Hawaii if you need sun and sand. (Make sure to have reservations well in advance.) If you’re a beachcomber, much of California will be pleasant, although the likelihood of rain increases as you go north from Los Angeles. If you have a serious thing for the off-season like I do, then head to Provincetown, Mass. (bring warm clothes) or the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Spring Break Ideas
March. Millions of college students head to Florida. They also head to South Padre Island, TX, also known as the "redneck Riviera." Oddly enough, I haven't been there. Imagine that. I am told that they also invade some towns in Arizona, and in Mexico. Apparently the craziest parties are in Mexico, which is good news for adults who want to have some peace and quiet in Florida.
April 1 to Memorial Day, the last Monday in May. It’s pretty much an extension of winter, with traffic gradually picking up, especially in May and especially in California in May. In Hawaii, on the other hand, May is the slackest month of the year, no doubt because of competition from California.
Picks and Pans in New England & New Jersey
Monhegan Island, Maine. Located 13 miles into the ocean off of the fun little tourist town of Boothbay Harbor. Reservations are required long in advance. It's a small, car-free island that manages to be a microcosm of everything New England: Artist colony, lobster fishery, lighthouse, forest, rocky coast (with remains of shipwreck), towering cliffs, peaceful meadow. This is one of my favorite places in the whole country. But it's not for everyone. You can see the whole place, including the galleries, in a couple of days. There's nothing to do, and that's the point of going there. So bring a stack of books. If you love this place, you'll really love it. Otherwise, you'll be bored. There are day trips from Boothbay and Port Clyde on the mainland. A general note about Maine in summer: Traffic law enforcement is strict, especially if you have Masschusetts plates on the car. Never, and I do mean never, argue with a Maine cop. You'll spend the night in jail.
Cape Cod. Provincetown, Mass., something of a gay mecca (yet straight-friendly) but becoming more sedate as it goes upscale, is very crowded in the summer, so I prefer the off-season there. The place to stay is Lands End Inn. Don’t miss Cape Cod National Seashore, 5 miles out of town. There is bus and air service between Boston and P’town year-‘round, and a high-speed ferry during the summer. Traffic on Sundays back to Boston is hellish.
Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. are great, but to get enjoyable accommodations and beach, you'll spend a fortune even in the shoulder seasons let alone midsummer. I haven't been to M.V. but have been to Nantucket several times. I much prefer October. The Jared Coffin House has the least ruinous prices on Nantucket, and is quaint and genuinely friendly.
Block Island, Rhode Isand. Off the southern coast of RI, the place gets heavy traffic from New Yorkers who imagine it to be tranquil. Unfortunately, the town fathers decided to allow the rental of mopeds on the island, and that plus raucous crowds at the harbor have destroyed any ambiance the place might have once had. My visit there was an unmitigated disaster, probably the single most disappointing vacation jaunt of my life.
Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. The Jersey Shore is a cultural experience, a true American Original and all kinds of fun. I can't say enough good things about Point Pleasant Beach. It's relaxed, clean, safe, and friendly, complete with carnival rides, fortune tellers, and night life. Plus you're an easy drive from New York City if you feel like a little more action. I went there in 2005, right smack in the mid-summer on the recommendation of someone on the TT and it was fantastic. (Stayed at the Shore Point Motel, and had a nice, big room with a full kitchen that we wound up not needing.) Some people might note that I claim not to like crowds, and that the Jersey Shore is mobbed, too. That's not really the case, because the beaches there are privately owned and you pay an admission fee, which is included with your hotel room. The fee is nominal but it keeps the riff-raff out, and the result is a really pleasant time with lots of fun stuff along the boardwalk, plus good beaches. There are plenty of people, but not cheek by jowl as in Rehoboth or the Outer Banks.
For more about New England, see FAQ post 145: "Tourist’s Boston and Environs"
Picks and Pans on the Mid-Atlantic Coast and Florida
Rehoboth: I don’t like crowds, so even when I lived in the East I stayed the hell out of Rehoboth in the summer. In fact, I never liked it much at any time of year. I think its popularity is a function of geography: It’s the only coastline within an easy day’s drive of Baltimore and Washington. I find it charmless and unappealing even when no one’s there. Don't even think of going there without reservations in the summer time, and be warned that the traffic jams on Sunday afternoons returning to the Baltimore-Washington are the stuff of legend.
Chincoteague: Similarly, the Virginia spots, Chincoteague, and Assateague Island, a beach and wild horse preserve, often get good reviews. Maybe it was my mood the time I went, but I was underwhelmed. I wouldn’t even think of going during the summer due to the crowds, and in the off-season I’d go elsewhere.
Outer Banks: If you need to stay within a one-day drive of Washington, go to the Outer Banks. The beaches are beautiful. The main road takes you into Kitty Hawk. If you turn right, you get the crowds and a middle-middle class experience. The further south you go, the redder the necks. If you turn left and head toward the town of Duck, N.C., the crowds will be thinner and the prices higher. The place to stay, if you can afford it, is the Sanderling Inn. In summer you'll definitely want to book far in advance wherever you plan to stay. In fall and winter, the Outer Banks is wounderful, and the Sanderling serves a great Thanksgiving dinner spread.
South Carolina: This includes Hilton Head, some mainland coastal beaches, and other islands. It’s a part of the East Coast I have not been to; my excursion into SC didn’t take me all the way to the water. My impressions, based on what I’ve read and heard, are that Hilton Head is the equivalent of a gigantic corporate resort, with lots of golf courses and bland chain hotels. But don’t take my word for this, because I could be very wrong.
Miami Beach & Keys: I’m not a Florida lover, to put it mildly. If I had my wish, we’d give it back to Spain, with Disney World attached. I will never figure out why so many Brits come here when they can go to Spain. That said, however, I like Miami Beach in the wintertime. It has an appealing blend of art deco style and Cuban culture. The Florida Keys are appealing, although in recent decades they’ve become corporate.
Orlando and the Florida Gulf Coast: Let’s put it this way. I’m on the side of whatever hurricane blows through there. That said, if you’re in that neck of the woods, be sure to drive through the Everglades if you’re down south, and stop at Gatorland if you’re near Orlando. Tampa-St. Petersburg is a blight, and swimming on the beaches has as much appeal as taking a bath. The Alabama Gulf Coast is even worse.
For more about the East Coast see FAQ post 242: "An East Coast Tour: Montreal to Miami and Back"
Picks and Pans on the West Coast
It’s all good, except for the ugly coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest. But the coastline itself is fantastic.
The most notable difference between the East Coast and the West Coast is the population density. There is a huge difference when it comes to crowds on beaches. For starters, there are three times as many people along the Eastern Seaboard as there are on the West Coast. In the East, the population is somewhat more broadly dispersed, whereas in the West, once you get north of San Francisco, it's roughly 700 miles of small towns until you reach Portland, OR, which isn't even on the coast. Beyond that, much of the East Coast beachfront is either privately owned or effectively blocked from public access. West Coast beaches, on the other hand, are public property, and public access to those beaches is right up there with gun ownership as a cherished right. There is certainly clustering in the West, but nothing like in the East, where, for example, most of Connecticut and Rhode Island's beaches, and many in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Maine, are inaccessible to the general public.
Perhaps an anecdote will illustrate this. I once stayed in a primitive cabin near Cape Flattery, WA, the northwestern-most point in the Lower 48 states. The people next door were from central Washington State, and they were complaining about the crowds. There were, at most, 20 people on the five-mile beach laid out in front of us. At the time, I was vacationing from Washington, D.C., and said to them, "If this beach existed within 200 miles of where I live, there'd be three-quarters of a million people out there." They stared back at me like cattle. It simply didn't compute. So, if you're looking for a lonely beach even in the middle of the summer, Go West.
Anyway, on to the substance. You can basically split the West Coast in two: North of San Francisco and South of San Francisco.
If you want broad, sandy beaches with (in summer) lots of heat and sun and some swimming, rent a car and drive south toward L.A. and even San Diego. Pfeiffer Beach at Big Sur, Pismo Beach just south of San Luis Obispo (swimming), Leo Carillo Beach just north of Malibu, Venice Beach (swimming) and the famous Venice boardwalk in L.A., San Clemente State Beach toward San Diego. If you want a more wilderness feel and fewer people -- but no swimming -- drive north from San Francisco. Point Reyes National Seashore, the Redwoods, the Oregon Coast, and Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The farthest north I've heard of ordinary folks swimming on the West Coast is Santa Cruz, which is 50 miles south of San Francisco. The farthest north I've ever swum is Pismo Beach, 200 miles south of San Francisco.
A half-day's drive/ferry from Seattle, there are the San Juan Islands. It's a lovely area, but best avoided in the summer when things get frantic. I've been to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, and to a rental cottage on Orcas Island. Enjoyed quite a bit it both times, but neither experience was quite as transcendental as some of the ga-ga, blissed-out people around here make it out to be. I think people like to recommend Orcas Island because it reminds them of killer whales and makes them feel closer to nature. People are like that around here. It's a local pretense; we all have them, I suppose.
For more about the West Coast, see FAQ posts:
135: "Big Sur Diary, 2006"
156: "Washington State’s Amazing Olympic Peninsula"
182: "Willysnout’s Pacific Coast Drive From Seattle to San Diego"
Alaska & Hawaii
If you love tropical beaches and you've got the money, fly to Hawaii. I have been there twice. By far, I'd recommend the island of Kauai. It's pretty much always 25 degrees there in the day time, and the beaches are truly in a class by themselves. The best, in my opinion: "Secret Beach." Get a guidebook called "Ultimate Guides." It's in there. I was there in May 2008 and rented this house, and thoroughly enjoyed it. December through April is peak season.
The downside of Hawaii is that it's rapidly being developed. As I write, there is a big energy crisis and the result will be fewer flights and higher prices, so that might slow things down. Hawaii is brutally expensive -- the grocery prices are eye-popping -- and the people are, well, shall we say not known for their diligence? Spend a week there and you'll see why. Be sure to keep your car locked. Petty theft is common, especially in Honolulu and Maui.
Alaska, as I mentioned above, is a summertime trip. The scenic places are the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound (where Exxon spilled all that oil), and Denali National Park. The really cold places are Fairbanks and points north and west from there. Southeast Alaska is a temperate rain forest, and I do mean rain. To give you a sense of it, Seattle is cloudy about 35% of the time, and that makes it the cloudiest city in the continental United States. Juneau is cloudy more than 70% of the time.
You want to go up there between October and May? It's your funeral. If you have any brains, though, you'll take either a cruise ship or (my preference) the Alaska Marine Highway during summer. It's not a "beach" experience by any stretch, but I'm including it here because it's certainly an ocean coastal one. Prepare to say "wow" for two or three days straight. Forget about the towns along the way; other than Sitka and Juneau, they are scars on the landscape built by people who think aesthetic design is a communist plot to turn their sons gay. Oh, and if you're thinking of driving there, don't be stupid. By all accounts it's boring as all get out, not to mention expensive. And you miss the view from the boat, which is the whole point of Alaska to begin with.
Alaskans are friendly but odd, as typified by Sarah Palin, the Republican hockey mom and governor-turned-vice presidential candidate. Her hometown of Wasilla, near Anchorage, is regarded as the capital of "Upper Wingnuttia," a region known for its unique and appealing blend of evangelical Christianity, methamphetamine production, teenage pregnancy, marijuana, rape, aerial wolf hunting, snowmobile racing, and juvenile delinquency. Praise Jesus! But hey, you're just there to see some eagles and stuff. Pay no attention to that whackjob with the shotgun.
Oct 5, 2008 12:10 PM
I grew up there and like it quite a bit, yet I wouldn't call it a tourist destination on anything more than a regional scale. That said, if you find yourself with a reason to be in Milwaukee -- maybe on business? -- then I think this New York Times article does it justice.
There are a couple of other reasons to head to Milwaukee. Maybe you're in Chicago for a while and are looking for a diversion? Or maybe you've got a reason to be in Madison, Wisconsin, and are looking for a diversion? This is especially worthwhile if it's late June or early July, because Milwaukee's annual lakefront Summerfest is one of the largest popular music festivals in the country. Milwaukee has a major league baseball team and a fairly new stadium; an NBA basketball team; and a surprising array of performing arts including a nationally-regarded symphony.
Be sure to visit the art museum on the lakefront. Not just for the building, either. They've got a very good collection that you can easily take half a day to see. If you have a few bucks I'd recommend lunch or dinner at the Lake Park Bistro, which serves Provencal cuisine in a beautiful setting. Milwaukee's a much better food town than you'd expect for a city its size, and there are hot new places all the time, so do some research on line.
If you like bicycling, Milwaukee is unmatched for its paths, and you can rent bikes. In winter, the bike trails become cross-country ski trails. Milwaukee has a phenomenal collection of municipal golf courses, if that happens to be your thing. If you're there and want a diversion, there's obviously Chicago, but there's also Madison, which is 70 miles west on I-94 and a good day trip. See the state capitol building, arguably the most beautiful in the country, and have a beer on the terrace at the student union.
If you have more time and will be in the region between Memorial Day and Thanksgiving, do some research into Door County, which is the "thumb" of Wisconsin that sticks out into Lake Michigan. The place to stay up there is the White Gull Inn, in the town of Fish Creek. Reservations are a must, especially between mid-June and Labor Day.
You are best off having a car in Milwaukee, but there is a good bus system. There is regular train service from Chicago. If you're traveling cross country, there is a fast ferry, the Lake Express, between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Michigan, due east across Lake Michigan. (It is often booked months ahead for people with cars, so check in advance.) Milwaukee's airport is arguably one of the easiest. And if you have the time, go check out Usinger's sausage shop on 3rd Street. Braunschweiger and summer sausage don't get any better, and they ship.
Oct 8, 2008 4:16 PM
243The Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows eligible nationals of specific countries to forgo the requirement of obtaining a visa to enter the US, and enter visa-free for up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes.
The VWP may also be used by those eligible nationals to transit the US. Unlike airports in Europe and other parts of the world, the US has no international transit zones within its airports. All passengers are legally required to enter the country (pass though immigrations and customs) regardless of final destination, and thus must be legally eligible to enter the US upon arrival.
Additionally, you may attend classes (university, vocational, enrichment, etc.) up to a maximum of 18 hours per week while on the VWP.
If you are a national of Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland or the United Kingdom, you may be eligible to enter under the VWP.
If you are Canadian, Mexican, or Bermudan, you are not eligible to enter under the VWP, but have alternative visa-free arrangements.
If you are any other nationality, are a VWP eligible national whose visit is longer than 90 days, and/or you plan on studying more than 18 hours a week or working, you must have a visa to enter the US, including transits to international flights.
To be eligible for the VWP, you must:
-provide a valid e-Passport (passport with integrated chip) issued 26 October 2006 or later, or a machine-readable passport (with the “<<<” at the bottom of the data page) issued before that date (must also include a digitized photograph if issued between 26 October 2005 and 26 October 2006), which is valid for 6 months after the end of your visit (certain countries are exempt from the six month validity requirement; you will be admitted until the expiration date of your passport, or 90 days, whichever is shorter);
-have complied with the conditions of previous visits;
-not be ineligible for a visa;
-not have been denied entry to the US within the past five years;
-not have been arrested or convicted for a crime of moral turpitude (see here for the official list, or here for an easy to read chart);
-be coming for tourism or business purposes only (you are not allowed to work on the VWP).
If you arrive by air or sea, you must also provide an onward ticket departing within 90 days on an approved carrier to a destination outside “North America”—defined as the US, Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands (see these Customs and Border Patrol FAQs for the full list of islands as defined by law). This definition of “North America” is meant to close the “border run” loophole found in other countries, and prevents you from “resetting the clock” by hopping across the border at Niagara Falls or Tijuana. A ticket from Dallas to Mexico does not work; A ticket from Mexico to Guatemala does. Essentially all commercial airlines and cruise lines are approved carriers. Without an onward ticket, many airlines may not even let you board for departure to the US. Permanent residents of the adjacent lands are exempt from this requirement.
If you arrive overland, you are not required to provide an onward ticket, however you must pay a $6 admin fee (ordinarily included in your airline/cruise ticket).
If you have further doubts as to your eligibility, you may access the Visa Waiver Wizard to help guide you.
All entry is at the discretion of the border official you get. One may let you in, another may not. It is for them to decide, and you cannot predict which.
You waive all right to petition your denial when you enter under the VWP.
You are never “entitled” to enter any country.
When you arrive, you will receive the I-94W form to fill out. You keep the stub with you until you leave, then return it to your airline, cruiseline, or at the border if you are not returning to the US or you will exit “North America” before you return. See here if you forgot to turn yours in. Not turning in your form results in the system registering you as an overstayer. If you overstay more than 180 days, but less than a year, you will be banned from entry for three years (including transits). If you overstay by a year or more, the ban is ten years. (There are a few exceptions, such as for minors).
Starting January 2009, you will be required to register online before departure. This is similar to Australia’s program.
Now the for the catch—your 90 days includes all travel in “North America” between your first entry into the US and your first exit from “North America.” Australians, Hawaii counts, so count from the time you entered Hawaii, not when you entered LA, San Francisco, etc. after a stop in Hawaii. Some examples:
1) A German flies from Munich to DC, spends 70 days in the US, then travels in Canada for 10 days before coming back to the US. They have 10 days left to explore the US.
2) An Italian flies from Rome to Toronto via New York City, spends 30 days in Canada, then enters the US. They have 60 days left to explore the US.
3) A Belgian flies to from Brussels to Toronto, non-stop, spends 40 days in Canada, then enters the US. They have 90 days to explore the US.
4) An Australian flies from Sydney to LA with a night in Honolulu, spends 50 days in the continental US, travels to Mexico for 40 days, then comes back to the US. They have overstayed their waiver by one day, and are likely to be turned away.
5) A Briton flies to NYC, spends 40 days in the US, travels to Costa Rica for 10 days, then comes back to the US overland. They are eligible for a new 90 days. The time in Mexico does not count as they spent time there after they left “North America.”
The visa waiver cannot be extended. (Ok, it can, but only under extraordinary conditions which you almost certainly will not meet as a traveler.)
You also may not change your status while in “North America” (for example, switch to a tourism, work, student or fiancée visa). You must leave to change status.
There is no limit to the maximum number of entries per year you may make under the VWP, nor a minimum waiting period between entries. However, the more times you enter, the more likely you will be denied, as border guards become suspicious that you may be working illegally.
Border runs. According to the rules of the VWP, making a “border run” violates the terms of your entry under the VWP. However, there are some who claim to have done it, and all entry is at the discretion of the receiving official. It should never be counted on. It is possible the border guard allows you in. It is also very possible they turn you away, forcing you to find your own, often very expensive, way home that does not pass through the US. Remember, a denial makes you ineligible for the VWP for five years. In the end, it is your choice whether or not to take the risk.
Those with Canadian working holiday visas, by rule, need a visa to enter the US if their travels would cause them to spend more than 90 days within “North America” after their first entry into the US (including transiting). However, they are more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt when entering than those simply making border runs or arriving without onward tickets, since the WHV is evidence you will leave the country. As with those making border runs, entry is dependent on the official you get, and at your own risk.
One last thing: the visa waiver is not a visa. It waives the requirement for a visa, hence it's a visa “waiver.”
Oct 20, 2008 4:57 PM
244The Great Lakes
Okay, I admit this is NOT a frequently asked question (I've answered parts of this maybe three times here, in a year or so of active posting). But Willysnout said, in a post up above, "I frankly don’t think the Great Lakes are, by themselves, more than a regional attraction." Well, that bit of Willysnout snootery got my creative juices flowing. The Great Lakes are beautiful, and richly reward a visit. As I can see it, there are three reasons relatively few foreign tourists go there:
1. This country offers so much else that's ahead of the Great Lakes in line. If you're trying to decide between a week on Lake Superior and a week in the Utah national parks--what are you thinking? Go to Utah. Ditto for the east coast cities, the mountains, the California coast drive, the Grand Canyon, and all the other usual stuff. But if you've done all that, you really should consider a visit to the Midwest's crown jewels.
2. Unlike other shore areas, the Lakes are not exactly tropical. Even during high tourist season in the summer, the weather can get a little crisp. The lakes are usually too cold to swim in, unless you’re a little bit crazy. In winter they freeze over altogether.
3. Inconvenience. The Great Lake that's most worth an extended visit is Lake Superior, which isn't really near anything (although that's exactly what makes it so wonderful: no crowds, relatively little development, beautiful clear water, and thriving forests).
The name intends “great” in the sense of “enormous,” which they are. When Europeans think of a lake, they might have in mind, say, Lake Geneva. The Great Lakes are in a whole different class: Lake Superior, the largest of the five, is approximately the size of Austria. Lake Michigan, the middle Great Lake in terms of size, is a smidge larger than Croatia (and almost exactly 100 times the size of Lake Geneva). Many visitors are surprised by the fact that the Great Lakes have tides and storms, just like an ocean, and that you cannot see to the opposite side. (Can you see the Czech Republic from Slovenia?) The only thing that stops the Great Lakes from being called seas is that they are fresh water.
But the Great Lakes are also great in the sense of “pretty nifty.” You could easily structure an entire vacation around them—a great many people do. Hence this post.
The Great Lakes feature two world-class cities, in Chicago and Toronto. Ask the Canadian branch about Toronto. It’s one of my favorite cities—I enjoy it every time I’m there—but I’m not in any way qualified to discuss its merits, and it's off-topic for this branch anyway. I’ll only say that you should definitely plan on going there, if you make it to Canada. As for Chicago, it’s in many ways one of America’s most beautiful cities, with a limitless range of things to do. We have a pretty good FAQ post about Chicago; we also have several regulars who are Chicagoans. Ask away. For the purposes of this post, it should be noted that to a greater extent than any of the other Great Lakes cities, Chicago has taken tremendous advantage of its lake frontage. Thanks to a (probably accidental) notation on the original city plat, and thanks further to late-19th-century urban planner Daniel Burnham, almost the entire lakefront (23 of the 26 miles) has been preserved as parkland.
There are other large cities on and around the Great Lakes, including Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo, and some smaller centers such as Toledo, Hamilton, Rochester, and Duluth. Of these other cities, Milwaukee is the most worthy of a look; check the FAQ post about Milwaukee for details, or ask whatever questions occur to you. Cleveland boasts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but not much else of note. Despite its reputation, Cleveland is a decent place these days. Detroit’s reputation for squalor is also grossly exaggerated, but that still doesn’t mean it’s a great vacation destination; the same holds true of Buffalo. Even so, there are things to do in all three towns, if you find yourself there (again, just ask). As for the smaller cities, for the most part they’re industrial/transport centers—nice enough, perhaps, but with not much to recommend them for the traveler from far away.
The Great Lakes, on the US side, boast one National Park (Isle Royale), and four National Lakeshores (Sleeping Bear Dunes, Indiana Dunes, Apostle Islands, and Pictured Rocks). The states that border the Great Lakes (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York) all also have state parks that abut the lakes. These state parks range from short stretches of unremarkable shore to beautiful places every bit the equal of their Federal counterparts.
A loop from Chicago that takes in the five Federal units is probably the best way to experience the highlights of the Great Lakes. That way, you get the contrast between "domesticated" Lake Michigan and the much more pristine Lake Superior. There’s no reason to wear yourself out seeing all five lakes.
One other note: Each lake has a “circle tour,” marked with road signs. It's simply at all points the closest through road to the lake, in a big loop with many abrupt turns. The green signs marking the circle tours were, in many cases, placed long ago, and they are therefore sometimes hard to follow. Some of these roads are scenic, while some are . . . various degrees of not. Unless you're an obsessive, you’re better off switching back and forth, as you see fit, between the circle-tour route and the faster inland routes, so that you don’t wear yourself out trying to follow a badly-marked non-highway over hundreds of miles. There are entire guidebooks that have been published making recommendations about how to do this, but you're best off playing it by ear.
With that, here’s my three-week Great Lake itinerary. There's some lollygagging here, so this could easily be compressed into two weeks. If you have even less time than that, adjust this to suit your tastes and time constraints. You could do the Lake Superior part of this as a loop from Duluth (fly there), for example.
Best of the Lakes in (Two to) Three Weeks
Days 1-3: Chicago.
Day 4: Chicago-Milwaukee. As you leave Chicago, drive up the north shore along Sheridan Road (it’s the marked Circle Tour road, starting from the end of Lakeshore Drive) and gawk at the immense mansions. Consider, when you get to Lake-Cook Road, stopping at the Chicago Botanic Gardens just inland, one of the nicest and largest places of its kind in America. Otherwise, the balance of the day should be spent seeing Milwaukee.
Day 5. Morning in Milwaukee, then drive to Door County. Door County is the peninsula of Wisconsin that sticks into Lake Michigan. Especially on the Green Bay side of the peninsula, it’s lined with small, supposedly quaint villages (formerly for fishermen, now for tourists) with lighthouses. It’s sometimes compared to New England, but largely by people who have never been to New England. They grow cherries in Door County; they also have fish boils, which are much tastier than they sound; it’s sort of Wisconsin’s answer to the New England clambake.
Day 6. Door County.
Day 7. Door County – Bayfield, WI (for Apostle Islands). Driving day. This long drive takes you across the remoter parts of Wisconsin. Some of it will be forested. Most of it will be dull. Sorry.
Day 8. Apostle Islands NL. Rocky islands, forested, with lighthouses. Best seen by boat. Book a day cruise.
Day 9. Apostle Islands – Houghton, MI. Houghton is not of much interest on its own, but is where you need to be to catch the Isle Royale ferry and to see the Keewenauw Peninsula. Along the way you might consider throwing in a day at Michigan's Porcupine Mountains State Park, if you’re up for some wilderness hiking. (I've not been there, but I've heard it's great.)
Days 10-11: Isle Royale NP. The ferry to Isle Royale takes long enough that if you only devote one day, you’ll only be able to take a three-hour layover on the island before you have to turn around and go back. So you’re better off booking accommodation at the lodge on the island, and then spending the afternoon and the following morning hiking around this remote wilderness island. It’s the least-visited of the national parks in the lower 48 states, precisely because it’s such a pain to get to. But there are moose and other wildlife, and some great hikes.
Day 12. Keewenauw Peninsula. The peninsula north of Houghton is the Keewenauw. The drive between Houghton and Copper Harbor is, in my opinion, the most scenic drive in the entire Midwestern US (i.e., the lands between the Appalachians and the Rockies). About halfway to Copper Harbor, look for a turnout for a road called Brockway Mountain Drive, that goes up the spine of the peninsula rather than along the shore. From this road you get spectacular lake views, as well as views of the forested peninsula, with several smaller lakes. Also on the Keewenauw, there are museums and other sites preserving the remnants of the area’s mining industry (first copper, then iron). After you’re done on the Keewenauw, I’d drive on to Munising, MI and spend the night there.
Day 13. Pictured Rocks NL (from Munising). These are sandstone cliffs overlooking blue, blue Lake Superior. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the Midwest. Plan on hiking a lot, and repeatedly having your breath taken away by the scenery. You can also book a cruise, possibly a better way of appreciating some of the rock formations. There’s also a nice, secluded, and not very crowded beach you can hike to.
Day 14. Pictured Rocks – St. Ignace, via Sault Ste. Marie. Stop at the Sault to see the locks, but really just to break up the drive. The interior of the upper peninsula of Michigan is forested but flat; despite the forest it’s a boring drive. It’s recommended that you NOT spend the night on Mackinac Island (overpriced); there are hotels in all price ranges both in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. If you can afford it, the exception might be the Grand Hotel on the island, which is quite a landmark.
Day 15. Mackinac Island – Traverse City. Mackinac Island was a resort starting in the 19th Century, and it likes to pretend it hasn’t changed much since then. You can rent bikes on the island, you can buy fudge, and you can wander around. There’s an old fort there, that dates from the days when the Straits of Mackinac were of tremendous strategic importance. The Grand Hotel has a rather large porch. The whole island is pseudo-quaint, but the real beauty of it is the views of the island from the mainland, of the straits from the island, and of the whole package from the ferry. Unless you golf, that’s pretty much it. At the end of the day, drive to Traverse City, your home base for Sleeping Bear.
Day 16. Sleeping Bear Dunes NL. By far the nicest and largest of the dune beaches on the east shore of Lake Michigan. “Dune beach” doesn’t really quite cover it: we’re talking about long stretches dominated by massive hills of sand, thinly covered in lakeside vegetation. There are some great hikes among these dunes.
Day 17. Sleeping Bear – Grand Haven or thereabouts. Grand Haven is a nice sample of one of the smaller port/resort towns along the lakes, but there's nothing particularly unique about it among those towns--the suggestion is just one to break up the drive south. ( Holland, with its somewhat tacky Dutch village, is another possibility.) If you don’t mind a driving day, there’s no reason you can’t make it all the way to Indiana Dunes over this one day. (It's six hours.)
Day 18. Grand Haven – Indiana Dunes NL (stay in Chesterton, maybe). Indiana Dunes is a dunes lakeshore, like Sleeping Bear, but not as large. It was federally protected, following a grass-roots campaign, specifically to save it from being swallowed by the Northwest Indiana steel mills. It’s almost unique among the units of the National Park Service in that it is directly served by passenger rail: the South Shore Line’s Dunes Park and Beverly Shores stops are within the borders of the park. With this background, it’s a study in contrasts—beautiful sand-dunes with an urban-industrial backdrop.
Day 19. Return to Chicago.
Edited by: mrpenney
Oct 20, 2008 7:11 PM
This FAQ deals with common visas required of people coming to the US for a specific amount of time before returning home.
If you are a national of Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland or the United Kingdom, please read FAQ 252 first. You may be eligible to enter visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program.
If you are Canadian, Mexican or Bermudan, you may be be eligible for alternative visa-free arrangements.
The application process is largely the same for all visa applications. You fill out form DS-156 online only, present a passport valid for 6 months past the end of your trip (certain countries are exempt from the six month validity requirement), provide a 2”x2” (50x50mm) photo, and pay the visa application fee (see here for current fees). All males 16-45, or any person 16 and over from a designated state sponsor of terrorism, must fill out form DS-157.
You may apply at any US consulate or embassy, however the best place to do so is your country of residence, since it may be easier to support your "binding ties" to home than from another country.
If you are 14-79 years old, you must schedule an appointment for an interview with the consulate/embassy. Applicants under 14 or over 79 may apply by mail.
If you are 14-79 years old, you must also schedule an appointment for an interview with your local consulate or embassy. Applicants under 14 or 80+ may apply by mail.
A reciprocal visa issuance fee may be required depending on visa type and nationality. This is in addition to the standard application fee.
See here for consulate/embassy interview wait times. The recommended amount of time before your trip in which you should apply varies per visa type. Regardless, do not wait until the last minute.
All applicants are considered potential immigrants until they prove otherwise.
All entries are at the discretion of the official you get upon entry. Having a visa does not guarantee entry; it is more like a stamp of approval from the consulate/embassy to convince the border official you will follow the rules.
Further, not everyone is eligible for a visa. See here for the full list (specifically section 2 if you have a criminal history, and section 6 if you have ever overstayed or entered illegally), and those eligible for waivers.
Staying in the US longer than your allotted time (noted on your I-94), even by one day, voids your visa. You will then be required to apply for a new visa, generally in the country of your nationality. (For example, if you are an Indian living in Britain, you would need to apply in New Delhi, not London.) See here if you forgot to turn your form in. In addition to losing your visa privileges, not turning in your form results in the system registering you as an overstayer. If you overstay more than 180 days, but less than a year, you may be banned from entry for three years (including transits). If you overstay by a year or more, the ban is ten years. (There are a few exceptions, such as for minors).
The US does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil partnerships for immigrations purposes.
You are not allowed to work in the US with these visas.
The B Visa
The B visa is for visitors entering the US for business (B-1), tourism, or medical purposes (B-2), or a combination of both (B-1/B-2).
You must demonstrate to the consular official:
the purpose of your trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
that you plan to remain for a specific, limited period;
evidence of sufficient funds to cover expenses in the United States without working (unlike in some countries, this is not a specific number, instead dependent on the individual applicant's situation as presented to the official);
evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad; and
that you have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties that will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit (job, dependent family, property deed, utility bill, etc.).
The visa is valid for up to ten years, with the time set by the consular office. If your passport expires before the visa expires, you may continue to use your visa with your new passport.
You may enter for up to 180 days per entry with your visa, with the time set by the border official upon entry. You may also extend your stay by submitting the proper documentation to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services before your current stay expires.
There are three main advantages to a B visa over the VWP: you may stay longer than 90 days; there is no requirement for an onward ticket; and time in Mexico, Canada and adjacent islands do not count toward your time spent in the US.
However, the main disadvantages are the extra costs in time and money to obtain the visa (including getting to/from the consulate/embassy), and the extra scrutiny afforded during the process.
The C Visa
The C visa is mainly for those transiting the US from one international flight to another international flight who are not eligible under the VWP or a B visa. Unless you are transiting to the UN or are a foreign government official or family member, you will apply for a C-1 visa.
The requirements to receive a C-1 visa are exactly the same as those for a B visa, and it is also valid for up to ten years (they are not limited to a specific time period as with some other countries, like Russia and Belarus).
For the same price, a B visa offers greater flexibility than a C visa, especially for future travels. The C-1 allows entry of up to 29 days (may not be extended), while the B-2 allows entry up to 180 days (may be extended).
Those entering under a C-1 visa may leave the airport to visit friends and family or otherwise go out sightseeing, shopping, etc., so long as they do not overstay their allotted time.
The D visa is a special category of transit visa for those working on vessels or airlines that enter and depart the US, except for fishing vessels. It is often combined with a C-1, unless reciprocity issues prohibit it (thus requiring two visas, and a combined fee equal to those of each visa). If you want to work on a cruise ship, this is the visa you apply for.
Although you are “working,” you are not allowed to work in the US except aboard the vessel or aircraft.
Those wishing to study in the US (university, vocational, enrichment, etc.) for less than 18 hours per week may do so on a visitor’s visa or under the VWP.
For more than 18 hours per week, you need an F-1 visa for academic study (or M-1 for vocational).
You should apply for these early, especially if you start in fall (June-August are the busiest months). Visas may be issued up to 120 days before your planned start date, however, all applications submitted before 120 days before entry will be held until then.
In addition to the standard application procedure, you must also complete forms I-20A-B (provided by your school and showing your eligibility) and form DS-158, as well as some extra fees.
You may not enter the US more than 30 days prior to the start of your classes using the F-1. You must enter either under the VWP or a visitor’s visa.
You may stay up to 60 days past your end date (30 for M-1 holders).
You may do minimal on-campus work (less than 20 hours), and are allowed up to 40 months for practical training (internships) upon approval. No other work is allowed.
A spouse or dependent entering on an F-2 (or M-2) may not work, although children may attend public schools.
Exchange Visitor Visas
The J visa is designed for applicants planning to participate in approved programs to teach, study, research, demonstrate special skills or receive training, or to participate in a program to receive graduate medical education. It may also be used for internships or other practical training for up to 18 months.
See here for a list of approved program types.
You must be accepted into an approved program before you apply.
The requirements for applying are the same as for student visas, however the DS-2019 form is required (provided by your sponsor) rather than the I-20.
You must also show evidence that you plan to remain in the U.S. for a temporary, specific, limited period, have sufficient funds to cover expenses in the United States, show evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad, and demonstrate other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit (similar to the B visa above).
You may enter up to 30 days before your start date. You may transfer from a B to a J, though you risk missing a portion of your program awaiting approval. You may not enter earlier than your given 30 days under the VWP.
You are granted a 30 day grace period after your program for travel.
Certain conditions may require you to remain abroad for two or more years before returning to the US under certain other visas (including the H). See here for more.
Spouses entering with J-2 status may not work, but may study without changing status to an F-1.
These visas allow temporary work within the US.
The H Visa
Most likely, you will apply for one of the following types of H visas:
H-1B – workers in a specialty occupation which requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge requiring completion of a specific course of higher education. You must possess at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and state licensure, if required to practice in that field. There is a subset for Chileans and Singaporeans, the H-1B1. The visa is valid for up to six years.
H-2A – temporary and season agricultural workers.
H-2B – temporary or seasonal non-agricultural workers (ski resorts, etc.). Generally valid for up to four months.
You must have a job with an approved sponsor before you may apply, and you may only work for that sponsoring company.
Further, there are limits to the number of visas that may be sought each year.
The H-1B is limited to 65,000 visas. Those working at (but not necessarily for) universities or non-profit research centers are excepted, as are those renewing their visas. Of those 65,000, up to 1400 are carved out for Chileans, and 5400 for Singaporeans. There is an additional limit of 20,000 extra for those holding higher degrees (masters, PhD, etc.).
The H-2B is limited to 66,000 visas.
In addition to the standard application procedure, you will also need to provide the receipt number from form I-129, filed by your prospective employer or agent thereof.
Upon termination of the job, you must leave the US within a maximum of 10 days (granted at the discretion of the USCIS).
Spouses and family may apply for non-immigrant visas (the non-work visa H-4 for dependents or other visas), but may not work unless they hold a work visa themselves.
A holder of the H-1B visa may apply for permanent residency.
The L Visa
L visas are for intracompany transfers, where a worker employed with a company for a minimum of one year is assigned to a US office of that same company.
The requirements are otherwise the same as for H visas, however spouses (entering on L-2 visas) may work.
The E-3 Visa
The E-3 visa is allows Australians nationals only to come to the US to work in specialty occupations.
The requirements and benefits are the same as those for the H-1B visa. However, there is a separate cap of 10,500 visas, the visa may be renewed indefinitely in two year increments (as opposed to a single stay up to six years), spouses may work in the US without restrictions, and holders may not change their status toward permanent residency (must show intent to leave).
The TN Visa
The TN visas are NAFTA professional work visas, and only available to Canadians and Mexicans.
These visas are similar to the H-1B visas, but more limited. There are additional educational and work experience requirements. You may also only work in a NAFTA professional job.
The maximum stay is one year, but may be extended one year at a time. However, it may not be used to reside permanently.
You must have a job offer, and present a letter of employment from the employer when you apply (along with the standard forms). The letter of employment should state
the activity in which the applicant shall be engaged; purpose of entry; anticipated length of stay; educational qualifications or appropriate credentials demonstrating professional status; evidence of compliance with DHS regulations, and/or state laws; and arrangements for pay.
Other documents may also be offered, such as proof of licensure for a given profession.
Mexican applicants must also demonstrate that their visit has a finite end and intent to leave.
Canadians are not required to have a visa, but need one to allow entry for non-Canadian spouses if they reside outside Canada.
To apply without a visa, at a point of entry you must:
request for admission under TN status to Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. immigration officer;
present an employment letter;
show proof of professional qualifications, such as transcripts of grades, licenses, certificates, degrees, and/or records of previous employment;
present proof of ability to meet applicable license requirements;
present proof of Canadian citizenship (a passport, as visas are not required, or they may provide secondary evidence, such as a birth certificate, if not traveling to the US from outside the Western Hemisphere);
pay a fee of U.S. $50.
Spouses with TD status (spouse of TN holder) may not work, but may study.
Further information can be found at the State Department website, including information on other, less common non-immigrant visas not listed here.
All the information contained within this post was correct at the time of writing. However, as admission into the US is a contentious issue, visas requirements may change to suit the politics of the times. All information, especially fees, should be verified with the State Department or your local embassy well before your planned departure.
Also, the time periods stated herein are maximums unless otherwise stated. You may be allotted less time when you arrive by the border official.
Nov 6, 2008 1:46 PM
Nov 27, 2008 8:13 AM
247Effective November 17, 2008, citizens of Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. are now able to use the visa waiver program. There are certain restrictions, so you should check with the US Embassy in your country.
Fact Sheet: Visa Waiver Program Expansion
Dec 19, 2008 7:46 AM
249Important Travel information for people traveling under the VWP
From January 12th, 2009 people from countries (see below) that are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) will now have to apply for travel authorisation via the ESTA web site prior to departure. For further information about these changes please read here
Countries Eligible for the VWP
+Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom*.
In addition to these 27 countries, 7 countries recently deemed eligible for VWP were added, bringing the total number of VWP countries to 34: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovak Republic and South Korea. After May 15, 2003, citizens of Belgium must present a machine-readable passport in order to be granted admission under the VWP. This requirement also applies to citizens of Andorra, Brunei, Liechtenstein and Slovenia.+
Dec 20, 2008 11:17 AM
250Attending a game in the U.S.
Americans are quirky, sports-wise. First of all, we call the enterprise “sports,” not “sport.” The game that everyone else calls football and loves, we call “soccer,” and it bores most of us. The game we call “football” involves very little actual kicking. Cricket, to an American, is a noisy little insect.
Our national pastime is baseball, a game that also happens to be popular in the rest of North and Central America, the Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean, and east Asia. Baseball is a distant and more democratic cousin of cricket. American (gridiron) football is, modernly, more popular than baseball here; it’s a close cousin of rugby. Basketball, invented in Massachusetts (albeit by a Canadian), is an American original. The fourth team sport, in terms of popularity, has always been ice hockey. A fifth American team sport, invented by Native American tribes in the northeast (chiefly the Iroquois nations) long before European contact, is lacrosse, probably the least familiar American sport abroad. It's far more popular and common in the northeast (and in Canada) than in the rest of the country. It's a fast-paced, physical game.
We enjoy motor sports—for some reason, the stock-car circuit, NASCAR, is more popular than any form of open-wheel racing. We also follow golf and tennis, on the same international circuits that visitors from abroad are familiar with. For the rest of this post, I’m going to ignore auto racing, golf, and tennis, since we rarely get questions about those.
Because the games we play are completely different in the US, a fair number of people who post to this site plan on attending a game while they’re in America. It’s a good idea, and can be done for a fairly reasonable amount of money. Here’s the primer.
Professional and college sports
The top professional leagues for the big four team sports are Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL). It should be noted that unlike in other countries, we lack any system of promotion and relegation; the membership of these four leagues remains constant from year to year, plus or minus team relocations and expansions (both fairly rare). There are "minor leagues," notably in baseball and hockey, but these are dissimilar to second-tier football leagues in Europe. Instead, they're feeder teams for the major-league clubs. Minor-league teams are mostly located in cities too small to support a major-league team; and are an inexpensive, fun alternative, particularly in baseball. Minor League Baseball.
Many of the team sports Americans play have roots in contests between teams fielded by colleges and universities. Neighboring colleges' teams would play each other; the rules were refined as these games became more common. As early as the mid-19th century, these intercollegiate matches began to draw spectators from the surrounding communities. This college sports tradition has continued to this day. Despite the fact that the athletes are not (strictly speaking) professionals, and the skill level of the players is probably lower, the players play with more passion and love of the game, and the crowd (with lots of students and alumni of the two colleges) is also usually more passionate and involved. The governing body for nearly all college sports is called the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association); they sponsor programs in a wide variety of sports.
Baseball: Traditionally, Opening Day is around the first weekend of April, and the regular season ends the last weekend of September, with the playoffs occupying the month of October. “Spring training,” the pre-season (i.e., the schedule of warm-up games that don’t count towards the championship standings), takes place in March, in Florida and Arizona exclusively.
Football: For professional football, the pre-season games are in August. The regular season is roughly the last weekend in August through the last weekend in December, with the playoffs following into January; the Super Bowl is the first Sunday in February. In college football, the regular season runs from the last weekend in August through roughly the first weekend in December; there are then post-season “bowl games,” mostly in warm places, in December and early January.
Basketball and hockey: These two sports’ schedules are somewhat yoked together. At the professional level, the pre-season is mid-September through October; the regular season runs November through about mid-April, with the (seemingly interminable) playoffs lasting into June. College-level basketball begins in mid- to late November and lasts through early March, with the famous “March madness” post-season NCAA basketball tournament extending to the first weekend of April. College hockey is similarly scheduled.
Baseball: stadium oddness.
One unique feature of baseball is that there is no single regulation size for the field. The infield has regulated dimensions; the outfield has minimum dimensions but no more than that. The result is that every stadium is different—and the quirks have extended well beyond the size of the field, from a big green wall in Boston, to ivy in Chicago, to hard-hit home runs landing in San Francisco Bay. In part because of these quirks, and in part because of the long tradition of the game, baseball is probably the most interesting spectator-sport experience for a foreign tourist. All thirty Major League parks are worth visiting, because the game is so sinuous and beautiful, but some of them are also worth visiting for the stadium itself, regardless of what happens on the field. A quick summary of the best major-league baseball stadiums as of this writing (off-season 2008-9, with the jury definitely still out on the new stadia in New York):
Old and tradition-rich: Fenway Park, Boston (Red Sox); Wrigley Field, Chicago (Cubs).
New (or new-ish) and delightful: Camden Yards, Baltimore (Orioles); PNC Park, Pittsburgh (Pirates); AT&T Park, San Francisco (Giants).
Seating at baseball games
There are three factors affecting the quality of the seat you get: its distance from home plate, the level of the stadium (i.e., how high up you are), and whether or not there is an obstructed view (generally only an issue in older parks). The distance from home plate is by far the most important factor.
All thirty Major League Baseball teams have websites; all thirty websites have seating charts. If you click on the seating chart in the section where your seat might be, you get a view of the field from that section.
The best seats in the house are directly behind home plate, and these will be priced accordingly. In most ballparks, there’s a significant price drop for sitting in the outfield part of the baseline seating as opposed to the infield. Thus, if you can get a seat on the first- or third-base lines that is just on the outfield side of the base, you can get a lower price bracket without really impacting your view much. There’s a slight, but only very slight, preference for sitting on the first-base side rather than the third—this is because most batters are right-handed (think about this, and you’ll see why).
The cheapest seats in the house are usually in the deep outfield, past the home-run fences. These will often be designated as “bleacher” seats. Bleacher seats are often benches rather than seats, and may be general-admission—show up well before the game to ensure a decent seat. Due to the nature of baseball, bleacher seats put you very far from the action. If this is your first baseball game, you’re better off paying a bit more to sit closer. If you’re specifically looking at the cheap seats, you’re better off with the upper deck than you are in the outfield. You’ll be way above the action, but you’ll be able to see it more clearly, probably. On the other hand, the atmosphere in the outfield at many parks is more fun—that’s where the hard-drinking regular-guy “real fans” can be found. This varies; ask for specifics.
The rip-off at baseball games (or really at any other sport) is the second tier of the stadium, the so-called “club level” seating. These are basically bad seats, which you nevertheless overpay for because they have waiters to bring you your refreshment order. Pay less, sit in a better seat, and stand in line for your hot dog like a normal person. Baseball is democratic.
The best and most expensive seats are on the sides, between the twenty-yard lines, high enough up that you can see the whole field but not too high. It goes down in price from there. The worst seats are in the high corners. The end-zone sections are also bad seats; football is hard to follow when viewed end-on. As with baseball, seats in the second tier or “club level” are a rip-off.
An NFL game is (probably) on the expensive side for a casual attendee, and it’s an open secret that pro games (with a few exceptions) are better experienced on TV anyway. The exceptions are the teams with long traditions of insane fans—the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, and Cleveland Browns spring to mind.
The college-level sport is probably a better choice for a visitor. Almost every college and university in the country has a football team of some form, and the experience at each college is as different as the colleges themselves. A good rule of thumb is that the big state-run universities in the Southeast and Midwest take their football the most seriously. Tennessee (Knoxville), Michigan (Ann Arbor), Penn State (State College), and Ohio State (Columbus) all have stadiums that seat 100,000. Louisiana State (Baton Rouge), Nebraska (Lincoln), Oklahoma (Norman), Florida State (Tallahassee), and most Southeastern Conference schools have very rabid fan bases. That's just a starting point, and there are many others that would be a great experience. On the other hand, if you go to a game at a college or university where football is less of a big deal, there will probably still be a fun atmosphere, and possibly also lower ticket prices.
Football games, particularly professionally but also to varying extent in the college ranks, are preceded by a ritual called tailgating, in which spectators gather in groups in the parking lot before the game and have barbecues, basically. These can range from simple to very elaborate. Depending on local customs, how your cooking skills rate, and how gregarious you are, tailgating before the game might be a good way of meeting some fellow fans. Some people also tailgate baseball or even basketball games, but this is rarer.
If you’ve chosen to go to a college game, in most places it’ll be fun to hang around town after the game. College towns are a lot of fun, and that becomes amplified on game days.
Basketball and hockey
Seating is as you’d expect—in hockey, you’ll want to be between the blue lines, and in basketball, you’ll want to be alongside the court rather than end-on. In hockey, there’s some difference of opinion as to exactly how high up you really want to sit—assuming you can’t be right up against the glass, are you better off being higher up so you can follow the action better? But in general, in both sports you get what you pay for—as ever, with the exception that “club level” is a ripoff. It’s not true that basketball/hockey arenas are indistinguishable from one another, but on the other hand none of them exactly stand out as attractions in their own right.
College basketball, like college football, is a big deal. Many people find that they enjoy watching the college game more—it’s more intense, and more people care about the game. Big-time college basketball is a slightly larger universe than college football is (basketball teams are cheaper to run, and more colleges and universities therefore find that a basketball team fits with their educational mission). The strongest college teams tend to be on the east coast.
For professional hockey (NHL), you should try and attend a game of one of the “Original Six” teams if you can. These (Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, and the New York Rangers) are the oldest teams in hockey and have the richest tradition.
College hockey exists, mostly in the Northeast and upper Midwest (i.e., the parts of the country where ponds freeze over solid enough to skate on), and is probably the most under-rated sports attraction in North America. The games are spirited—and extremely inexpensive.
There are two professional lacrosse leagues (playing indoor in the winter and outdoor in the summer, respectively). But you're better off finding a college game; the best teams are in the northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest regions. College lacrosse's season is in the spring, with championships held over Memorial Day weekend (the weekend containing the last Monday in May).
A word or two on association football
We have it: Major League Soccer is the league. But why would you want to spend your vacation time watching a third-rate soccer league?
All teams have websites; all such websites sell tickets, either directly or through a third-party broker such as Ticketmaster. The team’s website is always the best place to start your search for tickets. For college games, you’ll want to be looking at the website for the university’s athletic department. (For example, if you’re interested in a UT game, you would Google “University of Texas,” then follow the link on the main site for “Athletics” and then one more click gets you here. )
Season tickets always go on sale before single-game tickets do; the teams sell as many season tickets as they can and then sell single-game tickets out of their stock of unsold seats. If you’re buying more than a month or two before the start of the season, you may find that only season tickets are available. In that case, you should wait until closer to game time.
Sometimes single-game tickets simply aren’t to be had this way. For some college games (particularly for big rivalries), the entire pool of single-game tickets are reserved for alumni and donors, and the general public basically can’t get seats. In some pro football markets, the entire season is sold out to season-ticket holders. For those situations (and for others, such as when you’ve waited too long to buy), you need to hit the resale market. Websites such as StubHub or the ever-useful Craigslist are common clearinghouses for ticket resales. Always be careful when you buy tickets from a non-official source, however. In some places, the secondary market in tickets is heavily regulated, so you should be careful about that too. Be particularly careful about this if you decide to buy from a stranger that approaches you near the stadium (“scalping”), because these are frequently scams—check the tickets carefully before you buy them; if the seller isn’t willing to let you examine the tickets, don’t buy them. Scalping is, in some places, outright illegal.
Getting there and away
Parking is a pain, will not be cheap, and will often involve very long walks. Most sensible stadiums are now served by public transportation—buses in some form, if nothing else—but this is not yet universal. The best way to find out is to check the team’s or stadium’s website.
At most games at which alcohol is available, the concessions stop serving alcohol approximately 3/4 of the way through the game (at the seventh-inning stretch at baseball games, at the end of the third quarter for football and basketball, and at the second intermission at hockey games). This is a blatant attempt to sober you up. Even so, don’t drink and drive; the penalties are stiff, and the police have a tendency to patrol particularly carefully as games are letting out. Yet another reason to take public transit if it’s available.
One more extremely useful link
ESPN began its career as America's first all-sports cable TV network, and has morphed from there into the country's largest sports media outlet in almost all media. Their website is a comprehensive source for all of the sports discussed here; they have schedules for any U.S. professional or college team you can think of. They also have the league standings, if you actually care whether the team you're going to see is good or bad.
Edited by: mrpenney
Jan 27, 2009 1:48 PM
251Came across another good site for travelers with links to all the essentials - hotel and flight searches, travel requirements, and online guidebooks (lonely planet and others)
Jan 29, 2009 1:41 AM
252Arlington House - my girlfriend and I stayed here in Nov 2008 and 3 out of 3 rooms had bed bugs! Really really hungry ones, and the roof in the 3rd room leaked into the closest.
We complained and got a nights reduction on the bill.
Its a great location very close to some great bars, but the itchy bed bug bites distract a little during the heat of the day.
Chicago is a great city to visit, really easy to get around, check out the free internet at the library!
Mar 22, 2009 3:30 PM
Trip of a lifetime, or a waste of time? This is an oft debated topic on this branch, and no discussion better goes into the pros and cons of the trip than this thread. Some posts are positive, much are negative, but more importantly, the discussion revolves around the realities of the trip, peeling away the glamor of pop culture and the effects of time to fully prepare those who truly wish to drive the entire 2,451 mi (3,945 km) route from Chicago to LA.
Also included in the thread are some resources to help those make the trip. Unlike FAQ posts, where only the writer or moderators may make changes, anyone may contribute to the thread. I highly encourage those who have made the trip to post their experiences--worthwhile stops, traps to avoid, places to sleep, etc--to do so. However, I do ask that you not reignite the debate by responding to other posts, except to only update previous information (in other words, what is said is said; there no need to beat a dead horse).
To those about to make the journey: good luck, and happy trails.
Mar 23, 2009 6:29 PM
254Here are some thoughts on our recent trip to Hawaii & Caifornia
USA Family Trip – Planning Advice
1. Research, Research, Research
Research where you want to go, what the conditions will be like, how much it will cost etc. Travel forums give the best advice as it is from travellers discussing their experiences rather then agents pushing their angle. Other good forums are Tripadvisor.com. Remember you will probably never come back to this area as a family so you want to get the most out of your stay.
2. Use On-line booking sites like hotwire, expedia, priceline etc.
We used Hotwire a lot and got good quality hotels like Sheraton and car hire from majors like Hertz for a fraction of the list price. We used expedia to book internal US flights, as the airlines won’t book direct without a US address.
3. Get Into Shape and look after your self
Get fit !! You want to get the most out of your days. This usually involves a lot of walking and time on your feet. Try and get everyone in your party in good shape and you will enjoy things more. Make sure you are careful about food and water. The last thing you want is a funny tummy walking around LA.
Plan breaks for kids, give them a swim in the afternoon and it will freshen them up for the evening
4. Get the Kids eating a variety of food
If you kids will only eat nuggets and hash browns you will be eating at fast food places only. If you can get them eating more variety you will find many more options when it comes to restaurant choices. This can be invaluable when you arrive in a town at 7 pm after driving all afternoon.
We bought bowls and cereal and ate breakfasts in our room. Most rooms didn’t have a toaster or kettle. Next time we would buy these locally and leave them behind at the end. We found the more stars a hotel had the less facilities they give you. Buy a cheap insulated cooler bag and use the ice machine to keep milk and drinks cool.
5. Check all bookings and receipts
Be careful of all your bookings and payments. Make sure there are no add ons before you sign off. We paid a pizza restaurant 15% tip after they had automatically put in on the tab. Look after your credit cards and try and use cash where possible.
6. Get a good camera and have some back ups
We bought a digital SLR for this trip. This was excellent for areas where there was no flash allowed. They also allow continuous shots to be taken. We bought the kids cheap digitals, which gave them a lot of interest. They photographed all the animal tracks at Yosemite then went to the ranger and identified all the animals.
7. Try and organise alternate hire car insurance
Our hire car insurance was as expensive as the car ! Full cover with the majors is about $36 a day. Some credit cards cover hire car insurance and locals seem to have it as part of their own private car insurance. This adds up if you hire a car for a few weeks.
8. Find the local tourist info office
These people are great. They will tell you the easiest way to get around, what current events are on, where to eat, where to go and not to go and so on. The will give you maps for public transport and city guides.
9. Use Public Transport
We used public transport in San Francisco (buy a muni pass for $11/day), LA (bus day pass for $5) and Hawaii. They are all great. Leave the car at the hotel unless you are travelling somewhere difficult to get to.
10. Consider taking a small notebook computer
Most hotels have wifi. Some for free. This is an easy and safe way of doing research and booking things. One hire car company knocked $20 off the rate they quoted me over the phone when I told them the rate I saw on the net ! Alternatively set yourself up with a net based email like yahoo or hotmail so people can keep in touch.
11. Consider buying a local mobile
These are super cheap and if you are making a lot of calls or texts this may work out cheaper than roaming.
12. Get a GPS if you are going to drive
These are essential if you are driving. The exits on the freeways come up very quick at 60 mph. Also have someone on the ball navigating. Get to know the major freeways to where you are going. Be sure to put the exact street name, as there is often more than one. eg Pico St & Pico Blvd
We bought our tickets online and got good deals. Use fastpass at disneyland. Go midweek if possible, crowds much smaller. Take some snacks and water into the park. Wear an easily recognisable top so the kids can find you. eg rugby jersey. Eat a big breakfast and then just snack till dinner. Stay nearby, along Harbour Blvd so you can walk to the park. There are some ok restaurants along there for dinner. Wear comfortable shoes, eg. runners and take a spare top for the kids if they get wet.
We had a great time, we saw heaps of California and Hawaii and didn’t have any problems at all. People were super friendly.
Edited by: flaggycreek
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