Travel & Culture in The US
United States - The Ultimate Visitor Destination
Without a doubt no other travel destination in the world offers such a combination of diversity and dynamism as the United States. Yet while the United States is so varied and under constant change, it has unique characteristics that are common to the whole nation and some changes - particularly those of a social or political nature take longer here than virtually anywhere else in the world. It is these very dichotomies of dynamic conservatism and homogenous inimitability that make the U.S. such a fascinating place from all perspectives.
The United States is also the ideal travel destination because its infrastructure lends itself perfectly to travel. A large amount of this vast country can be experienced over a comparatively short period of time. An incomparable network of highways and the world's most extensive airline system make this possible. So its perfectly feasible to enjoy the urban electricity of New York City, then sample the legendary hospitality and history of the South and conclude with the casual sophistication of Southern California all within a ten day to two week time span.
Accommodations and food services are all of a high standard. While budget properties and restaurants can be lacking in character, cleanliness and hygiene are almost always of an acceptable level. The variety of geography and charming cultural quirks make this country a treasure trove for a positive travel experience. Additionally recreational opportunities are seemingly unlimited, sports of all kinds are high on the list of priorities for most Americans and this is reflected in the wide variety of available activities and sports venues. An array of cultural experiences from lounge lizard acts to world-class opera and theater.
America is so familiar to the world and because of mass media is, "in a way," home to nearly everyone. A significant proportion of the world's populace have seen movies and T.V. shows that originate in the states. And those privileged enough to be able to afford a visit to the USA certainly have been exposed to American mass media. The familiarity of America is comforting and encourages visitors to perhaps partake in activities they wouldn't feel completely safe experiencing in a less familiar place. This certainly applies to such things as high tech adventure experiences such as helicopter rides or parachute jumping.
At the same time while mass media has made American society familiar, it would be a mistake to make generalizations or assumptions. America surprises a lot of people; many visitors enjoy it far more than they thought they would based on pre-conceived notions acquired through exposure to mass media. In the USA there is always something new and different to be enjoyed and experienced.
History and Culture
Though a relatively young country by world standards, the history of the United States goes back eons before the first European settlers arrived. The Native Americans were believed to have originated in Eastern Asia and migrated across the ice flow of the Bering Strait sometime before 10,000 BC. At the time of the arrival of the first Europeans in the late 1400s and the 1500s Native American cultures were advanced in many regards. They had a sophisticated system of government and their resource and environmental management skills were far advanced compared to those of the white settlers. Sadly the remains of these cultures have been decimated by war, disease (introduced by European viruses to which they had no resistance) and political machinations. What remains of these noble people is a fraction of what could have been was it not for the European settlement. This fact should never be overlooked when documenting the unprecedented success of the European settlers.
That the origins of today's United States began less than 500 years ago to become the great world power it is today is truly remarkable. From the time Columbus "discovered" America in 1492 - he actually landed in the Caribbean, and the Mexicans landed in Mexico in 1519, settlement seemed to explode and ever since the United States has been the desired place of residence for hundreds of millions of outsiders. Initially settlers came from the great European powers of the day, and rivalry between these often manifested itself in the expansion of their American colonies and the battles fought for them. The Spanish were the first to settle what is now Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and California. The Dutch settled the area around the Hudson River in modern day New York State and the British settled in Virginia, later taking over the Dutch colonies in the North East. The French traveled down the Mississippi spreading out from their colonies in modern-day Canada.
Evidence of this early period and the various settlements can be seen in countless preserved or recreated historic sites. Though the most significant country of the 'New World' America treasures its history and has set the world standard in preserving it and making it attractive for visitors both from within and outside the country. British influence expanded as its power in Europe grew, and they took over much of the territory that was previously French or Dutch. The Revolutionary war in the late 1700s brought independence from the British.
From that time on the United States has always been a major player on the world stage. The country became increasingly a melting pot especially with the mass immigration into the country that took place in the late 1800s after the Civil War until well into the 1920s. Immigrants came from all over and in particular Italian, German, Irish, Scandinavian, Chinese and Jewish influences were indelibly added to the nation's cultural mosaic.
Always a major part of the mosaic since the nation's inceptions, after the Civil War and a painfully slow emancipation, African-Americans have played a huge role in developing the country. The contributions of the African-American have been crucial to the economic wellbeing of the U.S. since the beginning and continue to be so. Similarly the influence on music and the arts is monumental. So much of American music - from country to rock - has its roots in African America.
Enter the dawn of the 20th Century and the advent of mass communication; America could no longer remain isolated, despite thwarted attempts to remain so. These attempts ended once and for all on December 7th 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, from this date on the 'sleeping giant' was definitely awake and kicking. The United States was a major world power in an instant. Since then this has merely been compounded. The unrivalled influence of the U.S. driven mass media has enhanced this power by an immeasurable degree.
The climate of the United States varies considerably, not just from region to region but from season to season within a region. Places that can be bitterly cold in winter can be stiflingly hot in summer. Fortunately for the traveler this is very much alleviated by incredible central heating systems that are just about universal, and remarkably efficient air-conditioning - that for some works almost too well. Always bring a sweater or wrap to counter over zealous air-conditioning systems, and for those not used to efficient central heating, something sleeveless or light to wear indoors in winter may also be a good idea.
The US encompasses many variants of climate, and everything from some of the world's hottest deserts to high alpine terrain, and warm semi-tropical coastal regions to inland continental regions that endure the extremes of summer and winter. In fact practically every type of climate on earth can be experienced in the U.S.A. There is no temperature table or chart in existence that could fit here and cover all the possible variations of the U.S. climate. Therefore it is best to consult weather information for individual regions to gauge what the expected temperature or level of precipitation will be during a particular time of year there.
The United States has the most comprehensive airline network in the world. Despite consolidation and takeovers a still seemingly endless number of airlines cover the country, and incredibly low fares can be enjoyed, even if service standards have fallen. Today most major cities are directly connected to the rest of the world through international flights. Those cities serving lesser population bases are also easily reached from abroad via frequent connections to international hubs. Even the most remote places are seldom very far from a regional airport.
The network of well-engineered roads, highway, interstates and turnpikes is equally extensive. Nowhere loves or is more dependent on the automobile than America. Though it takes longer, there is no better way of getting a great perspective on life in the USA than by taking a 'road trip.' Rentals of all sorts of vehicles are available just about anywhere. Some visitors will purchase a used vehicle and undertake an extensive journey, perhaps from coast to coast, or a more intensive trip within one or several regions. At the end of their journey they will resell their vehicle.
Rail travel has undertaken somewhat of a renaissance in recent years. The controversial Amtrak has revamped an incredibly neglected system, at an incredible cost. For lovers of train travel it is worthwhile though, and a great asset to the US tourism infrastructure. While certainly not high speed - except in the heavily populated Boston to Washington D.C. corridor, Amtrak provides a high degree of comfort and affords a unique viewpoint as America rolls past the picture windows of the rail coach. A wide range of accommodation options exist on long distance trains and these include reclining coach seats and various sleeper accommodations with beds, some of these offer private facilities. Depending on the accommodations booked and the length of journey meal service is provided either at additional cost or as part of the ticket price.
Long-distance bus travel within the US is also well developed. Greyhound, along with some other companies provides service from just about anywhere, and its possible to buy a thru-ticket to any other point in the U.S. or Canada, and even certain places in Mexico. Long-distance buses are air-conditioned and equipped with comfortable reclining seats, restrooms and tinted windows. Regular stops are made for refreshments and to enable passengers to stretch their legs.
An attractive possibility for visitors to the U.S. is to purchase an Amtrak or a Greyhound pass that offers unlimited travel on their specific networks for a predetermined number of days.
Local public transportation in the United States - often referred to as "Public Transit" varies considerably. Cities such as San Francisco and many of the large centers on the Eastern Seaboard have enviable systems utilizing buses, light rapid transit, subways and even trolley cars. Washington D.C. has a remarkable subway or Metro network. Other cities have such poor transit that they leave visitors with no alternative but to rent a car. The increasing cost of fuel, parking and concern for the environment due to smog and traffic congestion are making public transit more popular and pressure on authorities to provide it is ever increasing.
The U.S. is so vast that it's not possible to see it all in one visit. It would take a great deal of time to see everything, and even few Americans have achieved this. It's probably advisable to limit an itinerary to one or two regions per visit in order to really get to experience the country in any kind of depth. Combining two regions can offer a huge contrast within one vacation, for example one could divide one's time between say New York City and Washington D.C., and then take the five hour flight across the nation and experience something totally different in Southern California.