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|North American Information|
This tour visits the following country, details shown below.
|United States of America|
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See the individual state sections.
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Federal Republic since 1789. Gained independence from the UK in 1776. The USA has 50 States and the District of Columbia (as in 'Washington, DC'), which lies between Maryland and Virginia. It also holds a number of territories and commonwealths called "dependent areas," amongst them, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
Covering a large part of the North American continent, the USA shares borders with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. The country has coasts on the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The State of Alaska, in the northwest corner of the US, is not part of the continental US; it is separated from the rest of the USA by Canada. Similarly, Hawaii is not part of the “lower 48” states; it lies in the central Pacific Ocean.
The country's dependent territories are offshore and have distinct geographies of their own; the majority are islands. The third-largest country in the world (after the Russian Federation and Canada), the USA has an enormous diversity of geographical features, including mountains, plains, and coastal zones. Though there are many cities that are densely populated with more manmade features than natural ones, there are also vast rural areas that are far more sparsely populated. The climate ranges from subtropical to arctic, with a corresponding breadth of flora and fauna. For a more detailed description of each region's geographical characteristics, see the individual state sections.
English, with significant Spanish-speaking minorties (10.7%).
Protestant majority (51.3%) with Roman Catholic, Mormon, Jewish and many ethnic minorities. An increasing percentage of Americans are distancing themselves from formal religious affiliations; 12.1% currently declare no affiliation.
The USA is divided into six time zones: Eastern Standard Time: GMT - 5 (GMT - 4 from second Sunday in March to first Sunday in November). Central Standard Time: GMT - 6 (GMT - 5 from second Sunday in March to first Sunday in November).Mountain Standard Time: GMT - 7 (GMT - 6 from second Sunday in March to first Sunday in November. Arizona does not observe DST). Pacific Standard Time: GMT - 8 (GMT - 7 from second Sunday in March to first Sunday in November).Alaska: GMT - 9 (GMT - 8 from second Sunday in March to first Sunday in November). Hawaii: GMT - 10.
Americans are renowned for their openness and friendliness to visitors. The wide variety of national origins and the USA's relatively short history has resulted in numerous cultural and traditional customs living alongside each other. In large cities, people of the same ethnic background often live within defined communities.
Shaking hands is the usual form of greeting. A relaxed and informal atmosphere is usually the norm. As long as the fundamental rules of courtesy are observed, there need be no fear of offending anyone of any background. Gifts are appreciated if one is invited to a private home. As a rule, dress is casual. High-end restaurants, hotels and clubs may require more formal attire.
Smoking is increasingly unpopular in the US; it is essential to ask permission before lighting up. Smoking is not allowed on city transport and restricted or forbidden in public buildings in most states. There will be a posted notice where no smoking is requested. An increasing number of states (including California and New York) have banned smoking altogether in bars, restaurants and many public places.
110 volts AC, 60Hz. Plugs are of the flat two-pin type. European electrical appliances not fitted with dual-voltage capabilities will require a plug adaptor, which is best purchased before arrival in the USA.
Head of State
President Barack Obama since 2009.
National security in general is a major issue for the USA. President George W Bush secured a second term at the presidential election in November 2004 while the Republicans tightened their grip on the Senate, kept control of the House of Representatives, and also presided over the possibility of further changes in the Supreme Court. Mid-term election results in November 2006 represented a turnaround of public opinion as the Democrats gained the majority in the Senate and House of Representatives.The election of November 2008 saw a record turnout and victory to Democrat candidate Barack Obama. He took over from George W Bush as president in January 2009.
US Dollar (USD; symbol $) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of $100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1, though the $2 bill is rare and is not in high circulation. Coins are in denominations of $1, and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cents.
Hotels do not, as a rule, exchange currency and only a few major banks will exchange foreign currency, so it is advisable to arrive with US Dollars, or exchange foreign currency at the airport upon arrival.
Credit/Debit Cards and ATMs
Most major credit cards are accepted throughout the USA, including American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Visitors are advised to carry at least one major credit card, as it is common to request pre-payment or a credit card imprint for hotel rooms and car hire, even when final payment is not by credit card. Be sure to check with your card issuer for current surcharge rates imposed for use of the card outside your home country. You should also inform your issuer that you are travelling for a specified period so your card is not flagged or temporarily suspended.
Bank-issued debit cards are accepted at many businesses in the US; however, using them to pay for many travel-related expenses, such as car hire and hotel rooms, often incurs a surcharge, deposit, or a hold on your account.
Widely accepted in US Dollar cheques; Pound Sterling traveller's cheques are rarely accepted and few banks will honour them. Change is issued in US Dollars. One or two items of identification (passport, credit card, driving licence) will be required.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts in excess of US$10,000 or equivalent should be declared at customs.
Variable, but generally Mon-Fri 0830-1700. In major cities such as New York, newer banks are competing with one another and have extended hours, including weekend service.
Exchange Rate Indicators
1.00 GBP = 1.55 USD 1.00 EUR = 1.31 USD 1.00 CAD = 0.99 USD Currency conversion rates as of 9 May 2013
“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.” The beloved patriotic song “America the Beautiful” hints at some of the country's diverse, majestic landscape, which is certainly one of many reasons to visit the US but there are so many others.
From its vast plains, snow-covered mountains, deep forests and strange rock formations, to soaring skyscrapers and a thunderous cultural scene, the USA is a collage of extremes. Nothing can prepare you for your first glimpse of Manhattan's unforgettable skyline, your first ride in a yellow cab, the ubiquitous hamburger joints, yawning expanses of prairie, the sweet strains of New Orleans jazz, or the neon-lit excesses of Las Vegas.
When it comes to the natural landscape, you’re hard pressed to find an area more diverse. Marvel at the thunderous spectacle of 12,000 year old Niagara Falls in northern New York, or seek an antidote to urban chaos amidst the flat farmland of the Midwest. Then therere are the black hills of South Dakota, the dramatic mountain and ocean landscape of California's Pacific Coast Highway and of course, there's the world-famous Grand Canyon, just one of the 397 parks in the National Parks systems.
There's the manmade landscape, too, which is as impressive as the natural. Though New York City is the most densely populated with soaring skyscrapers, including the iconic Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, other cities have admirable architecture as well, including Chicago's Sears Tower, and of course, the White House in Washington DC.
And what about those people? The US has always been known as a pioneering country and it has long been a land of promise for people around the world eager to pursue “the American dream.” Generations of immigrants have made the culture of the country a unique mix of varied influences, and immigration continues to shape the national identity, from food and language to music and pastimes. In fact, the most diverse neighbourhood in the world is in New York City and almost 45% of the total population of the US is comprised of immigrants.
The USA is a huge country to explore and there truly is something here for every traveller. For lovers of the outdoors, the great American West still retains much of the allure that it did for early pioneers pushing past the Mississippi. Awe-inspiring natural formations such as the geysers of Yellowstone and the seemingly endless “Big Sky Country” of Montana make one feel as if the US goes on forever.
For those who love music, New Orleans is an obligatory visit, with its jazz, Cajun, and Zydeco tunes. The Crescent City is also known for its food, which is unique to the region-- po' boys, crawfish boils, gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, muffulettas, and beignets-- and, of course, its parties. Mardi Gras is a raucous, rocking good time.
Although the history of the US is short compared to that of Europe, there are plenty of places where you can learn more about seminal moments in the country's development. Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. all have important historic sites that commemorate the young nation's history, and battlefields, statues, and structures around the country provide additional opportunities to learn about great moments in the American story.
Though Americans may not enjoy the best reputation abroad, both cities and small towns alike are filled with friendly people who love to show off their home to visitors. Travellers to the US frequently remark on the warmth and hospitality of its people and more likely than not, you’ll return home with a better impression of Americans than before you left.
From www.worldtravelguide.net copyright Columbus Travel Publishing Ltd, May 2013.