Not Your Usual USA Travel Tips

4 April 2012

Tiffany Apatu from our Online Team recently holidayed in San Francisco. Here are Tiffany's not so usual tips for the USA.

 San Francisco

With the Aussie dollar so strong, and some really great airfare deals, now is a great time to head to the USA. This isn't a list of things to see and do, rather some practical tips that should serve you well in any major North American city.

Internet access
Your hotel will more than likely charge for Internet access, but don't despair, the interwebz is everywhere! Love or hate their coffee, famous and not so famous coffee chains usually offer free wi-fi. Think of it as $3 wi-fi with a bonus coffee (or slushy iced drink, tea or chai latte).

App-ly yourself
I use a couple of great apps when traveling to help me find everything from a breakfast burrito to a reflexologist and everything in-between. Load up with Yelp! and Foodspotting to discover more than you'll ever find in a traditional travel guide.

Get your bearings, go topless
Many major cities offer open-top, double-decker bus sightseeing tours. These generally cost about $35-40 dollars for a one day ticket. The tours run regularly stopping at many of the must-see sights and areas. Simply hop on and hop off as you please. It's a great way to cross off a bunch of photo opportunities from your list. It also allows you to get comfortable with the lay of the land. I recommend doing this on your first day and map out the places you would like to return to.

Get around like a local
Don't be afraid of public transport. It's cheap, allows you to see more of the city and its people and can be easy with just a little planning.

Aside from Googling the major public transport systems in your city of choice, Google maps can be ever so helpful. Now I know data roaming charges are hideously expensive so I don't for one second recommend using real-time streaming data. I'm an iPhone/iPad girl but I'm sure this advice will work for any smart phone or tablet user.

Load up maps wherever you have wi-fi access. Use the ‘directions' option to enter your start and end point. Google maps will present you with driving, public transport and on-foot options. The public transport route will generally show you the bus route or train number. So the important bit now is to zoom in, zoom out and swipe left and right. Whatever you view here should now be cached on your device.

Jump on your bus and keep check on the streets as you go by. Even better, if your device is GPS enabled, your little blue dot (or equivalent) will move with you even when you're offline.

Afraid of missing your stop? Well first: don't panic. If you do see your stop go flying by the window, just get off at the next one. City stops are usually fairly close together so you can backtrack on-foot with your trusty map in hand. I often get off a block or two early to stretch my jet-lagged legs and for a chance to possibly see something I otherwise may have missed. You might discover your favorite area or neighborhood by adventuring beyond downtown.

Don't supersize me
Food and drink servings in the US are just bigger: Period.

You can safely assume that one meal may in fact feed two normal Australian appetites. Now I'm not saying that I am against polishing off an oversized burger or pizza but, generally speaking, sharing can go a long way. Not to mention, many dishes will come with sides. For example, sandwiches will often be accompanied by pickles and a choice of soup, salad or [packet of] chips.

A tip about tipping
I suspect I'm not alone in finding tipping an awkward affair. For food and drink service, 15-20% is a good rule of thumb. For anything else, a couple of dollar bills will do the trick. I think the act of tipping is more natural if you can casually whip dollar bills out of your pocket. Personally, I can't help but feel a bit silly fumbling though my handbag and shuffling through notes in my wallet which, incidentally, all look the same. So be prepared and have a bunch of dollar bills folded loosely in half and within easy reach.

Tiffany Apatu

My favourite travel destinations are Japan (anywhere), New Zealand (anywhere) and San Francisco. One of the best bits about travel is eating! Fortunately, calories overseas don't count ;-). I'm a designer so vibrant, visual places get me going! Follow me @tiffanyapatu or check out www.tiffanyapatu.com