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USA

Weather

America’s size plays to the traveler’s advantage when it comes to weather: it’s always perfect somewhere in the US and just shy of Hades somewhere else.

In other words, either your destination or your trip’s timing may need tweaking depending on the season. For current forecasts, visit www.weather.com.

The main holiday season is, naturally, summer, which typically begins on Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) and ends on Labor Day (the first Monday in September). But Americans take their holidays mainly in summer because schools are closed, not because the weather’s uniformly ideal: yes, hit the beaches in August, because Manhattan is a shimmering sweat bath and the deserts are frying pans.

The seasons don’t arrive uniformly either. Spring (typically March to May) and fall (usually September to November) are often the best travel times, but ‘spring’ in parts of the Rockies and Sierras may not come till June. By then it’s only a sweet memory in Austin, while in Seattle, spring often means rain, rain, rain.

And winter? It’s expensive high-season at ski resorts and in parts of the southern US (blame migrating snowbirds), but planned well, winter can mean you have the riches of America’s landscape virtually all to yourself.

Whether you’re planning to join them or avoid them, holidays and festivals are another thing to consider.

DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT…

Checking current US visa and passport requirements.

Adequate travel and medical insurance

Up-to-date medical vaccinations

Hotel reservations, particularly for your first night and near national parks.

Your driver’s license and adequate liability insurance. Not driving? Do it anyway – you might change your mind once you see how big this place is.

A handful of credit cards – they’re easier and safer than cash.

An open mind. You’ll find elites in the Ozarks and hicks in Manhattan, and everything in between.

Festivals & events

January

Chinese New Year Late January or early February. Celebrated with parades, fireworks and lots of food; San Francisco’s Chinatown is a fantastic place to be.

FEBRUARY

Black History Month African American heritage is celebrated nationwide.

Valentine’s Day The 14th. For some reason, St Valentine is associated with romance; shops sell out of boxes of chocolate candy, flowers and cards.

Mardi Gras In late February or early March, the day before Ash Wednesday. Parades, revelry and abandonment accompany the finale of Carnival; New Orleans’s celebrations are legendary.

MARCH

St Patrick’s Day The 17th. The patron saint of Ireland is honored; huge celebrations occur in New York, Boston and Chicago. Wear green – if you don’t, you could get pinched.

Easter In late March or April, on the Sunday following Good Friday (which is not a public holiday); after morning church services, kids hunt for eggs hidden by the Easter bunny.

MAY

Cinco de Mayo The 5th. The day the Mexicans won the Battle of Puebla against the French in 1862; especially in the South and West, communities celebrate their Mexican heritage with parades.

Mother's Day The second Sunday. Children send cards and call their mothers (or feel guilty for a whole year).

JUNE

Father’s Day The third Sunday. Same idea as Mother’s Day, different parent, less guilt.

Gay Pride Month (www.interpride.org) In some cities, gay pride celebrations last a week, but in San Francisco, it’s a month-long party, where the last weekend in June sees giant parades.

JULY

Independence Day The 4th. The historic anniversary of the US becoming independent inspires parades and fireworks; Chicago pulls out all the stops with fireworks on the 3rd.

OCTOBER

Halloween The 31st. Kids dress in costumes and go door-to-door trick-or-treating for candy; adults dress in costumes and act out alter egos at parties – New York and San Francisco are the wildest.

NOVEMBER

Day of the Dead The 2nd. Areas with Mexican communities honor deceased relatives with candlelit memorials; candy skulls and skeletons are popular.

Thanksgiving The fourth Thursday. A latter-day harvest festival: family and friends gather for daylong feasts, traditionally involving roast turkey. New York City hosts a huge parade.

DECEMBER

Chanukkah Date determined by the Hebrew calendar, but usually begins before Christmas. This eight-day Jewish holiday is also called the Festival of Lights.

Christmas The 25th. Christ’s birth inspires midnight church services, tree-lighting ceremonies, caroling in the streets and of course, a visit from Santa.

Kwanzaa (www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org) From December 26th to January 1st. This African American celebration is a time to give thanks and honor the seven principles.