This is an english article by lars-schlageter.com. You can find the German version at USA Reisevorbereitung [Tipps!]
On this page you will find the most important tips for your travel to the USA. Update: The article was written in the Pre-Trump-Area 2011. It is possible that not all informations are correct.
If you want to go to Canada / Alaska, please also read my article Kanada / Alaska 2015 [Wichtige Tipps für deine Reise nach Kanada / Yukon / Alaska] – at the moment only in German.
Table of Contents USA Travel Preparation
- ESTA / Visa
- Credit card
- Power Connector / USA Power Connector / Alternative Power Supply
- time zones
- jet lag
- Luggage / TSA lock
- Health / Health Insurance
- Mobile / Internet
- Motorcycle rental in the USA
- Rent a car in the USA (Convertible)
- Motorcycle tour operators
- Motorcycle Tours Forums
- Further links and sources
If you are travelling for yourself, you should be able to speak English quite well in order to get along everywhere. Every American simply assumes you can speak English. Especially foreigners living in the USA sometimes have a really hard slang and then it can becomes difficult. I wanted to order a pizza by phone in a motel and couldn’t understand a word of my counterpart. Luckily, the lady at the motel understood me, then she ordered me the pizza.
ESTA / Visa
Nothing works without ESTA. You’ll need your passport anyway. ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. You must apply for a visa electronically, i.e. via the Internet. The application must be received at least 72 hours before arrival. The personal data is checked against a security database. You will then receive online confirmation or refusal of entry. You pay at least 4 US$ handling fee and 10US$ approval fee if approved.
Make sure to fill in ESTA at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta. There are several other sites on the Internet where you can apply for permission, but they charge much higher fees! I am always contacted to link well-done, reputable looking pages, which then link to the wrong visa page.
You don’t have to have the exact dates of entry, you can also add them later online. The approval is valid for 2 years.
No ESTA is required for Canada.
You should have a credit card for your USA travel. The fees for ESTA can only be paid by credit card. It is also necessary during your stay in the USA. You are always asked „Credit or Debit?“. Here you answer „credit“. Debit cards are similar to EC or bank cards, although you cannot pay with a European credit card in the USA.
Power Connector / USA Power Connector / Alternative Power Supply
USA have 110 volts. What do I have to do to make my devices work?
In Germany, Switzerland and practically all other European countries 230V with 50 Hz comes out of the socket. In the USA it is 110 volts and 60 Hz. A simple adapter is only sufficient if your device can handle both 230V and 110V. You should check in advance which devices you want to take with you and buy suitable adapters.
Even with the Euro plug (which works in practically all countries of Europe) you can’t connect in the USA.
As shown in the picture below, the USA plugs looks like a power plug without a protective conductor. It is also used in Canada, Central and South America and some Asian countries.
Power adapter USA / Canada
In simple terms, the protective conductor is the third connection, via which, for example, a
metal housing is „earthed“. Appropriate attention should be paid to the protective conductor. If there is a short circuit in the device and you accidentally touch a metal housing, you would receive a potentially fatal current surge if there is no protective conductor. Therefore, never connect devices equipped with three connections via an adapter that has only two. However, anything that does not have a protective earth conductor at the factory and can tolerate 110 V can be safely connected via such an adapter as shown in the picture above. Euro plugs do not have a protective earth conductor either, as they have two poles.
The distance between the two main conductors of the USA power plug is approx. 13 mm. Many travel reports write that it is better to buy suitable adapters at home, because in the USA they are only available at the airport. Matching adapters are available at Amazon, for example:
USB chargers are also available with a suitable adapter. These should be the most practical, as they can be used to charge today’s necessary electronic gadgets. However, this should also be tested at home, as not all USB chargers offer enough power to charge certain devices.
In order to be able to power my smartphone sufficiently on the planned motorcycle section and to operate it as a navigation device, I bought a power bank:
The smartphone solution as a navigation device actually worked quite well. The problem was that the motorcycle rental company EAGLERIDER forbids the use of tank bags. Something like this helps:
The high temperatures in the car was a problem for my smartphone. After some time it stopped working regularly, but after cooling down it worked perfectly again. By the way, cars have the well-known 12V socket, so that the navigation device brought along can be supplied with electricity without any problems. But remember to buy and install the appropriate maps for your software in advance.
Since July 2014 you are apparently not allowed to enter the country with inoperative smartphones, PDAs, notebooks. So please charge your devices before.
The time zones range from Eastern Standard Time with -6 hours to Hawaiian Standard Time with up to -11 hours. Remember to change the time on all devices. I forgot my cameras, which caused some confusion whith the taken photos.
I found the flight annoying. If you can afford it, take a direct flight (or business class, of course). Changing planes can be very stressful. Take enough clothes on board (during one flight we were really deep-frozen and only after several reminders the temperature was set slightly higher).
A neck pillow also makes sense. And of course take enough entertainment (book, film…) with you. The entertainment programme on board is of varying quality.
I found it essential to try to stay awake until it gets dark. On my first trip I went to bed at 3:00 pm on arrival, with the result that I woke up in the middle of the night.
Passport is required.
Already in 2011 this was quite frightening. Armed officers with dogs walked through the ranks. So prepare yourself inside for the fact that it is a little different as driving quickly from Germany to France.
It was much more relaxed later with my entry over country from Canada to the USA / Alaska. A picture was taken and the passport checked, but otherwise it went very quickly. It was also one of the smallest and northernmost border crossings.
Luggage / TSA lock
Don’t take too much. You can shop very cheap in America. Secure your suitcase with a so-called TSA lock. Such locks can be opened by the immigration authorities for inspection without destroying the lock. I had noticed that my suitcase had been checked when I left the country.
I met only friendly, very helpful people. You just have to speak English. It’s easy to get into conversation with people. People loved that we visited their country and were happy that we were on the road with Harley and Mustang.
Health / Health Insurance
Fortunately, we had no problems during our holidays. You should check with your insurance company in advance to ensure that you are adequately insured in the event of an emergency or take out supplementary insurance if necessary. When visiting a doctor as a tourist, you are considered a private patient and must pay the bill yourself. And it could be very high.
It is easy to catch a cold, because some of the restaurants, department stores and hotel rooms are extremely cold. Therefore, it is best to always take a jacket with you. In most stores there are various very good combined preparations (with paracetamol, aspirin…) which help quickly if you do catch a cold.
Luggage and motorcycle
At EAGLERIDER you can repack and deposit the cases at the rental company. ATTENTION AT SPORTSTER. The bags on the Sportster are very small. Accordingly, they are suitable for the evening purchase of 1-2 beverage cans and a few sandwiches. Fortunately I had a luggage net and a roll of luggage with me, which proved to be the ideal solution. Offers a lot of space for luggage. Takes up little space in the suitcase, which was important for us, since we were still on the road with the car.
Thanks to the luggage net, the whole thing can also be neatly attached to the mini luggage rack. Larger Harleys also have some topcases.
For reasons I cannot understand, Eagle-Rider does not want to give out the delivery report (not even copies) at the time of delivery. If you want to be on the safe side, just take a picture. NND is No New Damage, so we’re OK.
See also USA-Reisebericht 2011 – currently only in German.
Mobile / Internet
Making phone calls or using the Internet with your own mobile phone or smartphone can be very expensive. My prices per minute were around 3 Swiss francs, even with the foreign option previously booked.
In almost every motel we were able to use free Wi-Fi, which alleviates the internet problem. However, we often had to go to the lobby to surf, as there was hardly any reception in the room. For 20 US dollars you can buy a mobile phone with a prepaid tarif. It only works in USA. You buy a calling card for the destination country. Attention! Not all countries are working with every card.
The principle of the telephone card: You call the telephone number indicated on the card with the prepaid mobile phone and are connected to a computer. Then type in the PIN (printed on the phone card) and then the number you want to call. Only complicated the first time, then it works quite well. Thus one reduces the minute prices on approx. 4-8 cent.
Alternatively, you can download the Skype app to your smartphone and top it up with credit to call landlines from your Skype account. However, this only works with a reasonably good and free WLAN connection.
Motorcycle rental in the USA
EagleRider is unavoidable, because they are the hiring company for motorbikesd in the USA. The transaction was correct. Strangely enough, it was a little cheaper via a German travel agency than directly booked with EagleRider. Except that the suspension was set much too soft and the clutch came much too early, the machines were correctly maintained. On return, the boys do not release the acceptance protocol, which I would have liked because of bad experience with a car rental company in Spain. Maybe just take a picture here.
Rent a car in the USA (Convertible)
The cheapest way was from Germany via ADAC. We ordered a convertible. The standard convertible in 2011 was a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder. It is still a mystery to me how one wants to store one’s suitcases on the very small back seat. In the end, this brought us to our Ford Mustang. The hiring company was Hertz. The transaction was flawless.
If you are on the road yourself, the traffic can cause you some headaches.
At least in California it don’t seem, that the speed limits are as closely as you always hear. At the beginning we were always at the speed limit, but were almost always overtaken. Other road users seem to be about 10 miles over the limit. However, this should not be understood as an invitation to exceed the speed limit!
As you may know, you can also overtake on the right on multi-lane roads (which in my personal opinion should also be introduced here for the permanent left-hand drivers in Germany and Switzerland). In some countries „keep the lane“ even applies. This means that you stay in the lane in which you are at the moment. For me it was very strange, because I couldn’t get rid of the feeling of having to return to the old lane immediately after overtaking. When going back onto the old track, you always make sure that no one arrives faster from behind. If you take the shoulder look you’ve learned here, that’s actually no problem.
There are crossings with 4 stops. Who gets to drive first? Actually quite simple: You continue in the order in which you arrive. Sounds complicated or unusual, but you actually get used to it.
Traffic lights are always behind the intersections. If one has red straight ahead and wants to turn right and there is no traffic coming from there, you can drive.
There are numerous travel guides on the market. Of course you can also find them on site, but it may be worthwhile to get them in advance. Here, for example:
Motorcycle tour operators
Motorcycle Tours Forums