Spojené státy americké – anglicky United States of America, zkratka USA – je federativní prezidentská republika v Severní Americe, rozkládající se od Atlantského po Tichý oceán. Díky exklávě Aljaška sahá území USA i k břehům Severního ledového oceánu a na některé tichomořské ostrovy (zejména Havaj). Spojené státy se skládají z 50 států, federálního území s hlavním městem a sídlem vlády a Kongresu (District of Columbia), přidružených států s vnitřní samosprávou (Portoriko, Severní Mariany a další) a samosprávných území Spojených států (Guam, Panenské ostrovy, Americká Samoa a další).
V USA žije přes 318 milionů obyvatel. Z důvodu velké imigrace se tam střetávají prakticky všechny národnosti světa.
The U.S. is difficult to characterize because of its size and diversity, both in geography and in people, but an overview will help travelers to see these differences and perhaps help to find what they are most interested in. It is not realistic to see a little of everything unless one has a very long time to spend; indeed, even lifetime residents have trouble taking it all in. Part of the States' appeal is that you can experience so much in one country.
Due to the vastness of their own country, and due to the fact that many of the neighboring countries did not require U.S. citizens to have them, fewer than a third of Americans have passports, although this number is expected to increase greatly. Recently, with the requirement of a passport to travel to its neighboring countries, Canada and Mexico, as well as to nearby Caribbean countries, there has been a surge in demand for passports.
The U.S. stretches across the midsection of North America, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, with non-contiguous states to the north west and in the Pacific. As such, its many regions are varied. Following the admission of the state of Hawaii in 1959, the United States has 50 states as well as the city of Washington D.C. (a federal district independent of any state) and a few territories which are not states, such as Puerto Rico. Below is a rough grouping of the country into regions relevant to the traveler, from the Atlantic to the Pacific:
New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont)
Home to gabled churches, rustic antiques, and steeped in American history, New England offers beaches, spectacular seafood, rugged mountains, frequent winter snows, and some of the young nation's oldest cities, in a territory small enough to reasonably cover (hastily) within a week.
Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania)
Ranging from New York in the north to Washington DC, the Mid-Atlantic is home to a number of the nation's most densely populated cities, but also rolling mountains and traditional seaside resort areas like the Long Island beaches and the Jersey Shore.
South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia)
The slow-going, friendly South is celebrated for its down-home cookin' and its blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll, and country music traditions. This lush, largely subtropical region includes verdant (and refreshingly cool) mountains, stately agricultural plantations, and vast cypress swamps.
Northern Florida is similar to the rest of the South, but head further south into the megaresorts of Orlando, retirement communities, tropical Caribbean-influenced Miami, the Everglades swamp, and 1200 miles of sandy beaches.
Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin)
The Midwest is home to rolling farmland, large forests, picturesque towns, and many bustling industrial cities. Many of these states border the Great Lakes, the largest system of freshwater lakes in the world, forming the North Coast of the U.S.
The second biggest state in the nation, it's like a whole other country (and in fact, once was). The terrain ranges from southeastern swamplands to the cattle-ranching South Plains to the miles of sandy beaches of South Texas to the mountains and deserts of West Texas.
Great Plains (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma)
Travel westward through these supposedly "flat" states, from the edge of the eastern forests through the prairies and onto the High Plains, an enormous expanse of steppes (shortgrass prairies) as desolate as in the frontier heyday.
Rocky Mountains (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)
The spectacular snow-covered Rockies offer outdoor pursuits such as hiking, rafting, and skiing on some of the greatest snow on Earth. There are also deserts and some large cities.
Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah)
Heavily influenced by Hispanic culture, the arid Southwest is home to some of the nation's most spectacular natural attractions, and a flourishing artistic culture. Although mostly empty, the region's deserts have some of the nation's largest cities.
In some ways quintessentially American, and in others completely atypical, California offers world-class cities, deserts, rain forests, snowy mountains, and a famous beach lifestyle. Northern California (centered around the Bay Area) and Southern California (centered around Los Angeles) are culturally very different.
Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon)
The pleasantly mild Pacific Northwest offers outdoor pursuits as well as cosmopolitan cities. The terrain ranges from spectacular rain forests to scenic mountains and volcanoes to sage-covered steppes and interior deserts.
One fifth as large as the rest of the United States, Alaska reaches well into the Arctic, and features expansive mountainous wilderness.
A volcanic archipelago in the tropical Pacific, 2,300 miles from California (the nearest state), laid-back Hawaii has long been a vacation paradise.
Politically, the U.S. is divided further into semi-independent states (hence the name); see list of American States for a full listing.
The United States has over 10,000 cities, towns, and villages. The following is a list of nine of the most notable. Other cities can be found in their corresponding regions.
These are some of the largest and most famous destinations outside of major cities.
See United States National Parks for a list of all national park areas.
The U.S. is one of the largest countries in the world in terms of area (at roughly 9.6 million sq km, it's about half the size of Russia and around the same size as China).
The contiguous United States (the 48 states other than Alaska and Hawaii) are bound by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, with much of the country's population living on these two coasts. Its only borders are shared with Canada to the north, and Mexico to the south.
The country has three major mountain ranges. The Appalachians extend from Canada to the state of Alabama, a few hundred miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. They are the oldest of the three mountain ranges, and are not particularly high, but offer spectacular sightseeing and excellent camping spots. The Rockies are the highest in North America, extending from Alaska to New Mexico, with many areas protected as national parks. Their natural wonders offer impressive hiking, camping, and sightseeing opportunities. The combined Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges are the youngest. The Sierras extend across the "backbone" of California, with sites such as Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, then give way to the even younger volcanic Cascade range, with some of the highest points in the country.
The Great Lakes define much of the border between the United States and Canada, also known as the North Coast. Formed by the pressure of glaciers retreating north at the end of the last Ice Age, the five lakes touch the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The lakes span hundreds of miles, and their shores vary from pristine wilderness areas to industrial "rust belt" cities. They are the second-largest body of freshwater in the world, after the shrinking polar ice caps.
The overall climate is temperate, with notable exceptions. Alaska has Arctic tundra, while Hawaii and South Florida are tropical. The Great Plains are dry, flat and grassy, turning into arid desert in the far West.
Seasons vary dramatically in the northern and mid-western major cities. In a single winter storm, as much as 2 feet (61 cm) of snow can fall, with bitterly cold temperatures. Summers are typically mild but very humid. However, temperatures over 100°F (38°C) sometimes invade the entire Midwest and Great Plains region now. Some areas in the northern plains can experience dangerously cold temperatures of -30°F (-34°C) during the winter. Temperatures below 0°F (-18°C) sometimes reach as far south as Kansas or even Oklahoma.
The climate of the South also varies, but with the extremes coming instead in "the long, hot summer", somewhat resembling tropical climates (the climate in the South is partially tropical). Humidity and high temperatures make warmer months in these states good for little but sipping iced tea and plunging into cool bodies of water. But from October through April the weather is glorious, and nuisance insects subside.
The Great Plains & Midwestern states also experience tornadoes from the late spring to early fall, earlier in the south and later in the north. See the Tornado safety article for more information. States along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico, may experience hurricanes between June and November. These intense and dangerous storms frequently miss the the U.S. mainland, but if one is forecast to hit, do not take the situation lightly. Evacuations are often ordered for areas in the direct path of the storm and should be heeded.
The Rockies are very cold and snowy. Some regions see over 500 inches (1,200 cm) of snow in a season. Some of the world's most famous ski resorts are located in Colorado and Utah. Even during the summer, temperatures are cool in the mountains, and snow can fall nearly year-round.
The Southwestern deserts are extremely arid and hot during the summer, with summer temperatures exceeding 100°F (38°C) through most of the summer. This includes such cities as Las Vegas and Phoenix. Thunderstorms can be expected in the southwest frequently from July through September because of the summer monsoon that rises from Mexico. Winters in this region are mild, and snow is unusual. Average annual precipitation is less than 10 inches (25 cm).
Cool and damp weather is common in the northwest in areas such as in Seattle or Portland. Rain is most frequent in winter, and snow is rare along the coastal regions. The Pacific coast rarely sees snow and extremes in temperature are uncommon. Rain falls almost exclusively from late fall through early spring along the coast, except in western Washington, where rain falls year-round.
America was once populated by peoples who migrated there from northeast Asia. In the United States those that remain are known as Native Americans, or American Indians. With populations once in the tens of millions, most led tribal, hunter-gatherer lifestyles, although some developed political enclaves based on agriculture, such as the Five Nations of the Northeast and the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, various parts of the region were colonized by several European nations and/or their religious missionaries, including Spain, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Russia. The British colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts were the kernel of what we now know as the United States of America. By the early 18th century, 13 colonies ranged along the Atlantic coast from Georgia to present-day Maine. Their growth drove the displacement the Native American population westward and the extinction of many others, as well as the end of the embryonic Dutch and Swedish footholds.
The southern areas, because of a longer growing season, had richer agricultural prospects, especially for cotton and tobacco. Large plantations developed with most of the labor being provided by African slaves, as was typical of most of Central and South America. The Northern colonies developed as mercantile societies modeled after the "home" country, Britain.
In the late 18th century, colonial revolutionaries declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, eventually realized by a bloody Revolutionary War. The colonies formed a federal government, with its Constitution inspired by Enlightenment-era ideas about government and human rights. In the late 18th and early 19th century, this government established itself and expanded westward, under a "Manifest Destiny" for the nation to expand to the Pacific Ocean.
Territories in the Midwest were added as new states, and the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 gave the United States nominal control of former French territory along the Mississippi River. Florida was purchased in 1813 from the Spanish; American settlers in Texas rebelled against the Mexican government, setting up a republic that was absorbed into the union. The Mexican-American War of the 1840s won the northern territories of Mexico, including such states as California, Arizona, and New Mexico, giving the continental US the rough outlines it has today. The marginalization of the Native Americans, and their concentration in the west by treaty, military force, and by the inadvertent spread of European diseases, continued apace.
By the mid-19th century the differences between North and South had become severe. Though slavery was not the only issue between the two, it was an important one. By the 1860s, the Southern states decided to secede from the Union and the American Civil War broke out. It was one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, costing hundreds of thousands of lives. With the victory of the North a single country was maintained. While slavery was abolished, the former slaves by and large remained an economic and social underclass in the South.
The late 19th century saw the U.S. cementing its power on the continent and making tentative expansions abroad. Alaska was purchased from the Russians in 1867, and Hawaii was annexed in 1898. The Spanish-American War gained the first "colonial" territories: the Philippines (later granted independence) and Puerto Rico (which remains by choice a US territory).
In the Eastern cities of the United States, an immigration boom had begun. Southern and Eastern Europeans, especially Italians, and Slavs, including many Jews fleeing Russian pogroms, joined Irish refugees to become a cheap labor force for the country's growing industrialization. Many Southern African-Americans fled rural poverty for the relative security of industrial jobs in the North. Other immigrants, including many Scandinavians and Germans, moved to the now-opened territories in the West and Midwest, where land was available for free to anyone who would develop it. A network of railroads crisscrossed the country, allowing faster movement of people and materials, and thus accelerating development.
With its entrance into World War I near the end of the conflict, the United States established itself as a world power. The creation of real wealth grew rapidly in this period. In the Roaring 20s stock speculation created an immense "bubble" which, when it burst in October of 1929, contributed to economic havoc, known as the Great Depression, across the country and around the world. This crisis exacerbated the disaffection among the working classes in the United States and around the world and led to a rise in socialist thinking that was to have a large effect on the rest of the century, particularly the mid-century.
At the end of 1941 the United States entered World War II. In Alliance with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, the U.S. helped defeat the fascist regimes in Italy, Germany, and Japan. At the end of this war of unprecedented scale, the United States, which had been mostly spared from fighting on its own soil, became the dominant economic power in the world, responsible for nearly half of the world's production. It stood as the primary opposing power to the Soviet Union, a former ally which was attempting to recover from devastation and ensure its security by asserting its influence with military backing, giving rise to what is now known as the Cold War.
Also at the end of WWII, African Americans, who had long suffered de facto disenfranchisement, demanded equal rights, with widespread demonstrations. This, and the status of women and other "overdue" societal changes that had been contained by the effort of the war, flowered into a virtual revolution. The unpopular war in Vietnam, a by-product of the Cold War, added to the social strife. Taken together these changes led to significant change in the country: the economic and political conditions for African Americans substantially improved; a majority of women entered the workplace, and this had a powerful effect on homelife, the workplace and the economy.
Because of its size and because nearly all citizens are descended from diverse immigrants, there is no single universal "American" culture. Visitors to the South will find a far different culture from those traveling to California or New York City. However, there is a culture that is said to be American, in a way a stereotype of what America wishes itself to be, a culture that people over the globe have seen in Hollywood film, and that has energized immigrants from all over the world. Like many stereotypes, there is a certain truth to it; likewise, there is a certain falsity. For example, it has been said that America is a "classless" society. This is true in the sense of class as it is traditionally known in Europe or India, where one's class at birth largely determines one's social station in life. But there is a huge disparity in the socioeconomic status of the upper and lower classes in America. The "classlessness" means that one can freely move between them by changing one's financial situation; one's outcomes, not one's origins, determine one's class.
There is an impression that American culture is more materialistic and individualistic than many other cultures. The wealth on display almost casually in large shopping malls all over the country might seem shocking to someone from a developing country. Yet it is also true that America is more religious than most other industrialized countries. So it is a mixed bag, and this should make it an interesting place to visit.
Many current trends in industrialized and developing countries began in the United States, and lots of modern inventions were either invented or first mass-produced in the United States. The dependence on cars and the national interstate system to get around has long been an American icon, and to this day the United States has one of the highest per-capita car ownership rates in the world. Other traditional elements of United States culture include Hollywood films, country music, blues, jazz, rock and roll, rap and hip-hop, baseball, American football, NASCAR racing, multiculturalism, as well as its infamously convenient fast food.
While numerous political parties exist, the system is dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties. The current Democratic party tends to be more to the left on fiscal and social issues and draws more support from urban voters, especially in the Northeast and West Coast. The Republican party is more to the right on these issues and draws more support from voters in rural areas, especially in the South and Texas. The United States political system tends to favor centrists (by American standards); far-right or far-left political movements that might take hold in other places tend to do poorly here.
The US has a number of holidays - official and/or cultural - of which the traveller should be aware (special events, closures, changed schedules, disruption, etc.) Note that holidays observed on Mondays are usually treated as weekend-long events. (A weekend consists of a Saturday and a Sunday.)
The Federal system of government in the U.S. puts the states in charge of tourism and the federal government in charge of foreign policy. The result of this is that the Federal government provides the best information about legal requirements for entry, while the most detailed information about places to visit and see will be provided by the state tourism bureaus which will be happy to send you maps and literature. Contact information is available in the individual state entries. At state borders, highway rest stops usually serve as Visitor's Centers as well and often have a plethora of travel and tourism information and material for that state. If you call or write the state Commerce department, this is often the information they will mail you. Nearly every rest stop in the country has free maps of the state in which it is located.
Citizens of the 27 countries within the Visa Waiver Program , as well as Canadians, Mexicans living in the border and Bermudans, do not require an advance visa for entry into the United States, although other conditions may apply. Most notably, a machine-readable passport (with your information on the bottom of the front page) will be required; without that a visa is required. Mexican nationals living on the border should apply for a reusable Border Crossing Card.
Passports issued after October 26, 2005 need digital photographs embedded on them, and passports issued after October 26, 2006 must be e-passports, which have a chip embedded with the user's information. Some countries, e.g. France, did not have e-passports available at that date, meaning that citizens from these countries with newer passports but not e-passport have to obtain a tourist visa, which can be a cumbersome, costly and time-consuming process. If you have a non e-passport issued after October 26, 2006 and you are from a visa waiver country, try having your government exchange it for an e-passport, explaining that you wish to travel to the U.S.
The countries under the visa waiver program are Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom. South Korea would also be joining the visa waiver program from December 2008. Under the visa waiver, you're allowed to stay for a maximum of 90 days; note that this counter is not reset by travel to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean! Visas can be waived for tourism or business visits, but work in any shape or form (including journalism, performances, etc) is forbidden.
All visitors should note that returning the card stapled in their passport on entry (green I-94W or white I-94) is their responsibility. If it is not returned at the end of your visit, you will be presumed to have never left the U.S. and then be refused entry in future. Airline or border staff will typically take this card from you on departure, but check and insist on it, and if you leave the country with it in your possession, contact U.S. officials about how to return it and update your departure records as soon as possible. US Customs and Border Protection has information about what to do if your slip is not collected. Note that it is acceptable to retain this form if you are traveling by land to Mexico or Canada and you will return to the U.S. within your allowed stay.
For the rest of the world (including Mexicans not living in the border), the visa application process is onerous, expensive, and slow. The application fee is US$131 (as of 1 January 2008; not refundable even if your application is rejected). The Immigration and Nationality Act states that all persons requesting entry into the United States as non immigrants are presumed to be immigrants until they overcome that presumption by showing evidence of "binding ties" to your home country as well as sufficient proof that your visit will be temporary. Most visa rejections are due to the fact that the applicant does not have enough binding ties to his own country to convince the counsulate officer that he or she is not planning to be an immigrant.Face-to-face interviews (where the official needs to be convinced that you are not a "potential immigrant") at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate are required for many nationalities, and waits for interview slots and visa processing can add up to several months.
The best advice for travelers today, from any country, is not to assume, but to check on documentation requirements with the United States State Department or with your nearest United States consulate. In addition, if coming to the country with a car, be sure to have documents including car insurance, rental agreements, drivers license, etc., before trying to enter the U.S., as the process has become more strict in the last few years.
Before arrival, you will receive either a form I-94 or form I-94W that is to be completed. If you are entering under the Visa Waiver Program, make certain that you satisfy all of the conditions of entry listed on the back of the card. In addition, if you are denied entry under the Visa Waiver Program, unlike with a normal visa, there is no right to appeal.
If you are not a citizen or resident of the United States, you will go through a short interview at immigration, where the official tries to determine if the traveler's stated purpose of visit is valid. This questioning is most essential for travelers entering the U.S. through the Visa Waiver Program. Since these travelers are not interviewed by the U.S. Counsulate in their home country as they would be if they required a visa, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer must essentially conduct the interview there and make on the spot determinations on your admissibility. Just as any other foreigner, you are presumed to be a potential immigrant until you can prove that your visit is temporary, and that the purpose of your visit is allowable under Visa Waiver. Be prepared to show proof. For example if you are on a business visit, it is advisable to have an invitation letter from the company you are visiting, and a return ticket. If you are a tourist, you'll probably need to show proof of hotel bookings, etc. Usually, the determination of admissibility can be made in a minute or less, however if there are any doubts, you may be referred to further questioning in a more private area. Once they decide to let you in, you are fingerprinted and a digital photograph is taken. As in most countries, assume that customs official are humorless about any kind of security threat; even the most flippant joke implying that you pose a threat can result in lengthy interrogation.
For non-residents, your entry forms will need to state the street address of the location where you will be staying; this should be arranged in advance. The name of your hotel, hostel, university, etc. may not be sufficient; you must provide the street name and number. If staying in multiple locations, provide the address where you will be spending the first night of your stay. If it is a hotel or similar, have a reservation in advance under your name. If it is a private address, make sure that the people there know that they are expecting you that day, as if your plans are doubted border control officials may phone them and ask them for the name of the guest they are expecting.
The Department of Homeland Security has now named the program of additional security measures US-VISIT  and is now piloting a measure where you need to leave your fingerprint and photograph at a kiosk even while leaving. Currently, this is applicable at a majority of land, sea, and air enty ports. Check the list, as most of the important ports of entry are covered.
Just as they should for any other country, travelers should generally avoid bringing meat or raw fruit or vegetables into the U.S., but may bring cooked nonmeats, such as bread. See APHIS for details. The U.S. customs process is fairly straightforward. Most articles that are prohibited or restricted in any other country are prohibited or restricted in the USA. The only rule that is unique to America is that it is generally prohibited to bring in goods made in countries on which the U.S. has imposed economic sanctions. These include Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Myanmar (Burma). Besides their personal effects which will go home with them, visitors are allowed to import $200 of merchandise duty free, and that includes 1 liter of alcohol (21 and older only) and 1 carton of cigarettes. If you are bringing in more that US$10,000 or its equivalent, you must declare it on your customs form and you will be given a special form to fill out. At immigration, the officer usually puts some sort of a tick mark on your customs declaration form to alert the customs officer of any potential need to search you or your luggage. After you are admitted into the U.S. and you retrive your bags, you will proceed to the secondary inspection area (customs checkpoint). You will hand your customs declaration to the officer and one of several things can happen. Most of the time, the officer will point you to the exit and that will be it. The officer may ask you some routine questions and then let you go. The officer may refer you to the x-ray to have your bags inspected, or may refer you for a manual search of your bags. Customs has the right to search your person and your bags, but any search more intrusive than a bag search is pretty rare, and is usually only indicated if some sort of probable cause has been established through questioning or during the bag search to suggest suspicious activity.
Most visitors from outside Canada and Mexico arrive in the United States by plane. While many medium sized inland cities have an international airport, there are limited flights to most of these and most travelers find themselves entering the U.S. at one of the major entry points along the coasts:
Note that the United States requires entry formalities even for international transit, and the current state of international affairs means that this is not going to change anytime soon. You must have a valid visa to enter the United States if required by your citizenship, even if you are immediately continuing on a flight to a different country. If your citizenship requires a visa to enter the U.S., avoid transiting through the U.S. unless you want to spend time and money to obtain a C-1 transit visa. Further, when booking flights to the U.S. note that you will be required to clear customs and immigration at your first U.S. stop, not at your final destination, even if you have an onward flight. Allow at least 2 hours of stop-over (ideally more than 3) at your first U.S. stop.
Warning: ALL persons wishing to enter the United States by air must now possess a valid passport or similar travel document (such as a NEXUS card or Laser Visa).
Traffic on American roads travels on the right hand side (as it does in Canada and Mexico). Entry through certain checkpoints can be slow and difficult.
If you are entering under the Visa Waiver Program, you will need to pay a US$6 fee, in cash, at the port of entry.
Warning: ALL persons wishing to enter the United States by land must now possess a valid passport or similar travel document (such as a NEXUS card or Laser Visa).
Entering the U.S. by sea, other than on a registered cruise ship, may be difficult. The most common entry points for private boats are Los Angeles and the surrounding area, Florida, and the Eastern coastal states.
Some passenger ferries exist between Canada and the U.S., notably from the Atlantic Provinces to New England, and from Victoria, British Columbia to Seattle.
Cunard offers transatlantic ship travel between the United Kingdom and New York City.
Warning: ALL persons wishing to enter the United States by sea must now possess a valid passport or similar travel document (such as a NEXUS card or Laser Visa).
Amtrak offers international service from Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal into the U.S.
The size of the U.S. and the distance separating major cities make air the dominant mode of travel for short-term travelers. If you have time, travel by car or rail can be interesting.
By far the most convenient form of intercity travel in the U.S. is air travel. Coast-to-coast travel takes about 6 hours from east to west or 5 hours from west to east (varying due to prevailing winds), compared to the days necessary for land transportation. Most cities in the US are served by one or even two airports, with many small towns also having some passenger air service, although you will often have to detour through a major hub airport to get there. Depending on where you are starting from, it can sometimes be cheaper to drive to a nearby large city and fly from there or, conversely, to fly to a large city near your destination and drive a rental car from there.
Major carriers compete vigorously for business on major routes, and bargains can be had for travelers willing to book two or more weeks in advance. However most smaller destinations are served by only one or two regional carriers, and prices there can be surprisingly expensive. There are some discount air carriers in the U.S. and they are becoming more dominant all the time. Southwest Airlines is the largest and best known.
Online travel agencies, such as Expedia Travelocity Priceline and Orbitz list most flights of all the airlines and you can pick and choose based on price, travel time, number of stops, etc. A little time spent familiarizing oneself with these websites can often save considerable money.
There are a number of ways to save money when flying domestically in the United States. See Cheap airline travel in North America.
Private jet travel within the United States is no longer the exclusive realm of the super rich; the merely rich can pull it off also. In general, the advantages of private jet travel are:
Air Charter refers to hiring a private jet for one time journey. Jet Cards are pre-paid cards entitling the owner to a specific number of flight hours on a specified aircraft. As all expenses are pre-paid on the card, you do not need to concern yourself with deadhead time, return flights, landing fees, etc.
The cost of chartering the smallest private jet can begin at around $4000 per flight hour, with the cost substantially higher for larger, longer-range aircraft. While private flying is by no means inexpensive, a family of four or more can often fly together at a cost similar to or even favorable to buying first class commercial airline tickets.
Passenger trains in the United States are surprisingly scarce and relatively expensive. The national rail system, Amtrak (1-800-USA-RAIL), provides service to many cities, concentrating more on sightseeing tours than efficient intercity travel. They have promotional discounts of 15% for students and seniors, and a 30-day U.S. Rail Pass for international travelers only. Separate from Amtrak, commuter trains carry passengers to and from the suburbs of major cities.
Amtrak offers many amenities and services that are lacking from other modes of transport. Amtrak offers many routes that traverse some of America's most beautiful areas. Travelers with limited time may not find travel by train to be convenient, simply because the country is big, and the "bigness" is particularly evident in many of the scenic areas. For those with ample time, though, train travel offers an unparalleled view of America's scenic beauty, without the trouble and long-term discomfort of a rental (hire) car or the hassle of flying.
Travellers choosing Amtrak should be prepared to pad their schedules somewhat. Since Amtrak does not own the rails on which they operate their trains stop and go at the whim of the freight operators who do own them. In general it's a good idea to pad the schedule by 25% when planning connections with other trains or other transport modes. In recent years this is especially true for those few Amtrak lines which cross the Canadian border, since customs officials seem to delight in delaying the train for as long as possible. Expect to wait two hours rather than the advertised 30 minutes.
A major Amtrak line in regular daily use by Americans themselves is the Acela Express line, running between Boston and Washington, D.C.. It stops in New York, New Haven, Philadelphia and many other cities on the way. This line is electrified, with top speeds of 150 miles per hour (though the average speed is a good deal slower). The Acela Express has first class service, but can be quite expensive. Given the difficulty and expense of getting from the center of some of the major Northeastern cities to their respective airports, trains can sometimes be more convenient than air travel. There are also frequent, slower regional trains covering the same stations along the Northeast Corridor for lower fares.
All Amtrak trains in the northeast as well as all long-distance trains now require reservations. The only routes that don't require reservations are Hiawatha trains between Chicago and Milwaukee, and Capital Corridor (Sacramento-Oakland-San Jose), and Pacific Surfliner (San Diego-Las Angeles-Santa Barbara) Trains in California. During usual American vacation times, some long-distance trains can sell out weeks or even months in advance, so it pays to book early if you plan on using the long-distance trains. Booking early also results in generally lower fares for all trains since they tend to increase as trains become fuller.
One major scenic long-distance train route, the California Zephyr, runs from Emeryville in the Bay Area of California to Chicago, via Reno, Salt Lake City and Denver. The full trip takes around 60 hours, but has incredible views of the Western deserts, the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains, things that you just cannot see if you fly. Many of the sights on this route are simply inaccessible to cars. The trains run only once per day, and they usually sell out well in advance.
Amtrak's single most popular train is the Chicago-Seattle/Portland "Empire Builder" train via Milwaukee, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Fargo, Minot, Glacier National Park, Whitefish, and Spokane. In FY2007, this train alone carried over 503,000 passengers.
Amtrak also provides reasonably speedy daily round trips between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada and several daily trips between Seattle and Eugene, Oregon on the Amtrak Cascades line.
Passengers traveling long distances on Amtrak may reserve a seat in coach (Economy class) or pay extra for an upgrade to a private sleeping compartment (there are no shared rooms), which also includes all meals in the dining car. Amtrak trains in the West feature a lounge car with floor to ceiling windows, which are perfect for sightseeing.
Bradt's USA by Rail book (ISBN 1841621277) is a guide to all Amtrak routes, with maps, station details and other practical advice.
America's love affair with the automobile is legendary, and most Americans prefer the convenience of car travel for getting to nearby cities in their state or region. Besides intercity travel, a car can be necessary even to get around in a single city (such as Phoenix). Travelers from outside the country may not sufficiently appreciate the need for an automobile here. Of course in very large cities like New York City or Chicago there are extensive in-city bus and/or train services and large numbers of cruising taxicabs, but in most medium-sized American cities, particularly in the west and south, cities are very spread out and public transportation thin. Taxis are often available, but except at airports you may have to phone for one and wait a half-hour or so to be picked up, and make similar arrangements to return. Even in some very large cities (such as Los Angeles and Atlanta), a private car is your most practical option.
A romantic appeal is attached to the idea of long-distance car travel; many Americans will tell you that you can't see the "real" America except by car. Given the dearth of public transportation within most American cities, the loss of time traveling between cities by car rather than flying, can be made up by the convenience of driving around within cities once you arrive. In addition, many of the country's major natural attractions, such as the Grand Canyon, are almost impossible to get to without an automobile. Just keep in mind that because of the distances, this kind of travel can mean many long days behind the wheel, so pay attention to the comfort of the car you use.
The United States is covered with a convenient system of U.S. and Interstate highways. Interstates are always freeways (limited access; no grade crossings), while U.S. Highways may be freeways on some sections and not on others. These roads network between major (and minor) population centers, and can make it easy to cover long distances – or get to the other side of a large city – quickly. Primary Interstates have one- or two-digit numbers, with odd ones running north-south (e.g. I-5) and even ones running east-west (e.g. I-80). Three-digit interstate numbers designate shorter, secondary freeways. An odd first digit signifies a "spur" into or away from a city; an even first digit signifies a "loop" around a large city. The second two digits remain the same as the primary Interstate that travels nearby. The U.S. Highways are generally older routes that lead through town centers. In many cases, Interstates were constructed roughly parallel to U.S. Highways to expedite traffic that wishes to bypass the city.
The vast majority of freeways do not charge tolls, but those that do are also known as turnpikes. Tolls are also frequently levied for crossing large bridges or tunnels.
American drivers tend to drive calmly in residential neighborhoods. Freeways around big cities, however, can become really crowded with a significant proportion of "hurried" drivers - who will exceed speed limits, pass unsafely, or follow other cars at unsafely close distances. Enforcement of posted speed limits is somewhat unpredictable and varies widely from state to state. Keeping pace with most local drivers will usually avoid a troublesome citation. Beware of small towns along otherwise high-speed rural roads (and medium-speed suburban roads); the reduced speed limits found while going through town are taken very seriously.
Traffic signs often depend on the ability to read English, using only words. The country is gradually adopting signs with internationally understood symbols, usually with English "translations" for locals not yet familiar with them. Signs rarely use metric units; distances and speeds will almost always be given in miles and miles/hour, without these units specified. (1 mile = 1.6 km.).
Renting a car in the U.S. usually runs anywhere from $30 and $100 per day, with some discounts for week-long rentals. The major rental agencies are Enterprise Rent-A-Car  (+1 800 RENT-A-CAR); Hertz  (+1 800 230 4898); Avis  (+1 800 230 4898); Thrifty Car Rental ; and Dollar Rent A Car . There are no large national discount car rental agencies but in each city there is usually at least one. The internet or the Yellow Pages are the easiest ways to find them. One widespread chain is Rent-A-Wreck  (+1 800 944 7501). It rents used cars at significantly lower prices. Most rental agencies have downtown offices in major cities as well as offices at major airports. Not all companies allow picking up a car in one city and dropping it off in another (the ones that do almost always charge extra for the privilege); check with the rental agency when making your reservations.
Most rental agencies accept an International Driver's Permit only when presented along with a valid driver's license from your country. You may wish to join some kind of auto club before starting a large American road trip, and having a cell phone is a very good idea. Most rental agencies have some kind of emergency road service program, but they can have spotty coverage for remote regions. The largest and most popular club in the United States is the American Automobile Association  (1-800-391-4AAA), known as "Triple A". A yearly membership runs about $60. AAA members also get discounts at many hotels, motels, restaurants and attractions; which may make it worth getting a membership even if you don't drive. Alternatively, Better World Club  (1-866-238-1137) offers similar rates and benefits as AAA with often timelier service and is a more eco-friendly choice (1% of revenue is donated to environmental cleanup programs).
Gasoline ("gas") is sold by the gallon. The American gallon is smaller than the UK gallon, and equals 3.785 liters. The U.S. octane scale is different from that used in Europe; a regular gallon of U.S. gasoline is rated at 87 octane, the equivalent of about 92 in Europe.
Despite increasing petroleum prices worldwide and some increases in gas taxes, the American consumer-voter's attachment to his automobile, combined with abundant domestic oil reserves and relatively low taxes on gasoline, has kept retail fuel prices much lower than in many parts of the world. Prices fluctuate by region and season, generally ranging from around $2.00 to $3.50/gallon ($0.50 to $0.90/liter) in recent years.
Intercity bus travel in the United States is widespread, but is not available everywhere. Many patrons use bus travel when other modes aren't readily available, as buses often connect many smaller towns with regional cities. The disadvantaged and elderly may use these bus lines, as automobile travel proves arduous or unaffordable for some. It's commonly considered a "lower class" way to travel, but is generally dependable,safe, and affordable.
Greyhound Bus Lines (+1 800 229 9424) has the predominant share of American bus travel. Steep discounts are available t o travelers who purchase their tickets 7-14days in advance of their travel date. Their North American Discovery Pass allows unlimited travel for ranges of 4 to 60 days, but you might want to try riding one or two buses first before locking yourself in to an exclusively-bus American journey.
Megabus offers inexpensive daily bus service in the Midwest from their hub in Chicago to Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, St. Louis, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Louisville.
Jefferson Bus Lines (+1 800 767 5333) is another option, with service from Minnesota to Texas, including, but not limited to, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Winnipeg, Canada.
For bus service between large East Coast cities (particularly Washington, D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston), travelers can purchase deeply discounted (below Greyhound prices) tickets from a number of small operators, typically called "Chinatown bus" operators, because they usually enter and depart from the Chinatown area of the cities they serve. These type of services are also beginning to appear on the West Coast.
Recreational Vehicles – large, sometimes bus sized vehicles that include sleeping and living quarters – are a distinctly American way to cruise the country. Some RV'ers love the convenience of being able to drive their home anywhere they like and enjoy the camaraderie that RV campgrounds offer. Other people dislike the hassles and maintenance issues that come with RVing. And don't even think about driving an RV into a huge metropolis such as New York. Still, if you want to drive extensively within the United States and are comfortable handling a big rig, renting an RV is an option you should consider.
The thrill and exhilaration of cross country travel are magnified when you go by motorcycle. Harley Davidson is the preeminent American motorcycle brand and Harley operates a motorcycle rental program  for those licensed and capable of handling a full weight motorcycle. For those unexperienced with motorcycles, Harley and other dealerships offer classes for beginners. Wearing a helmet, although not required in all states, is always a good idea.
American enthusiasm towards motorcycles has led to a motorcycling subculture. Motorcycle Clubs are exclusive clubs for members dedicated to riding a particular brand of motorcycle within a highly structured club hierarchy. Riding Clubs may or may not be organized around a specific brand of bikes and offer open membership to anyone interested in riding. Motorcycle Rallies, such as the famous one in Sturgis, South Dakota, are huge gatherings of motorcyclists from around the country. Many motorcyclists are not affiliated with any club and opt to ride independently or with friends. However you choose to ride, and whatever brand of bike you prefer, motorcycling can be a thrilling way to see the country.
A long history of hitchhiking comes out of the U.S., with record of automobile hitchhikers as early as 1911. Today, hitchhiking is nowhere near as common, but there are some nevertheless who still attempt short or cross-country trips. The laws related to hitchhiking in the U.S. are most covered by the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC), adopted with changes in wording by individual states. In general, it is legal to hitchhike throughout the majority of the country, if not standing within the boundaries of a highway (usually marked by a solid white line at the shoulder of the road) and if not on an Interstate highway prohibiting pedestrians.
In many states Interstate highways do not allow foot traffic, so hitchhikers must use the entrance ramps. In a few states it is allowed or tolerated (unless on a toll road). Oklahoma, Texas and Oregon are a few states that do allow pedestrians on the highway shoulder, although not in some metropolitan areas. Oklahoma allows foot traffic on all free interstates, but not toll roads) and Texas only bans it on toll roads - and on free Interstates within the city of El Paso. Oregon only bans it in the three counties that make up the tri-met transit district (Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington (Metro Portland).) Missouri only bans it within Kansas City and St. Louis city limits.
Hitchhiking has become much less popular due to increasing wariness of the possible dangers (fueled in part by sensational stories in the news media). International travelers to the U.S. should avoid this practice unless they have either a particularly strong sense of social adventure or extremely little money. Even many Americans themselves would only feel comfortable "thumbing a ride" if they had a good knowledge of the locale.
The U.S. has no official language at the federal level, but English is by far the standard for everyday use. Several states have declared their official state language as English. Spanish is also official in the state of New Mexico, where it is widely spoken; French is official in Louisiana and the native Hawaiian language is official in Hawaii, but neither approaches the use of English and are official for primarily historical reasons. Many other local authorities have declared Spanish an official language, particularly in the Southwest. Visitors from Commonwealth countries may get some funny looks when using certain expressions peculiar to their dialect, and may themselves be surprised by certain American English expressions, but they should otherwise get along fine. A degree of romance is attached to the accents of non-North-American anglophones, and people may be friendlier to you because of yours.
Americans seldom speak languages other than English, unless they are from an immigrant community; visitors are generally expected to speak and understand English. Even popular tourist sites might have signs and information only available in English, or perhaps one or two other languages, usually Spanish or French, though this is improving as international tourism increases.
There is something of a "standard" flat accent (native to the Midwest), popularized in the 20th century by radio, TV and movies. But in the South and Texas, in New England, in New York City, and in the upper Midwest you'll find regional accents and dialects are more common. Many Americans of whatever accent will try to approximate a "TV news" accent if they realize you have trouble understanding them, but people with strong accents unfamiliar overseas may be difficult for non-native English speakers to understand.
In many parts of the U.S., such as California, the Southwest, Texas, Florida, Chicago Metropolitan Area, and the New York Metropolitan Area, Spanish is the first language of a large minority of residents, mostly immigrants from Mexico or Latin America. In fact, the United States has the fifth largest Spanish speaking population in the world. Although it's rare to be in areas where no one speaks English, a good handle on Spanish can make communications easier in some areas. In addition to English and Spanish, French is spoken in rural areas near the border with Quebec, in some areas of Louisiana, and by immigrants from West Africa and Haiti. Hawaiian is the native language of Hawaii and in the various Chinatowns in major cities, Cantonese is common. Smaller immigrant groups also sometimes form their own pockets of shared language, including Russian, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, and others. Chicago, for instance, is home to the second largest Polish-speaking population in the world, behind Warsaw. Another pocket comprises a group that has been in the country for generations, the Amish, who live in Pennsylvania and Ohio and speak a variety of German, and some Native Americans speak their respective native languages, especially on reservations in the west.
Mid-size to large cities will often draw big ticket concerts with internationally known musicians. The summer sees a huge surge of concert tours, especially when musicians and bands can make use of large outdoor amphitheaters. Small towns will sometimes host concerts in local parks with local bands or older bands. Other options include music festivals such has San Diego's Street Scene  or South by Southwest . Classical music concerts are held year round and performed by semi-professional and professional symphonies. Boston, as an example, occasionally has free concerts for residents and visitors in the Public Park performed by amateur companies. It should also be noted that many cities and regions have unique sounds. Nashville is known as Music City because of the large number of country artists that live in the city. It's home to the Grand Ole Opry, one of the most famous music venues in the country. Seattle is known as the home of many grunge rock bands. Regardless of the regional style of music there are venues for every genre in cities.
Professional sports - The United States is one of the most sports addicted countries on Earth with a professional league for every imaginable sport, including pillow fighting. A few of the most popular leagues are:
MLB - Major League Baseball is very popular and the sport of baseball is often referred to as "America's pastime" (being one of the most widely played in the country). The league has 30 teams (29 in the US and one in Canada).
NBA - The National Basketball Association is the world's premier men's basketball league and has 30 teams (29 in the US, and one in Canada).
NFL - The National Football League is the leading promoter of American football in the world. Fans of football are often very, very loyal to their preferred team. Rivalries are promoted between teams to increase ticket sales, but also to encourage greater fan interaction. Football games are usually very safe, with fans being more obnoxious than violent. The day of the championship game, called the Super Bowl, is an unofficial national holiday.
NHL - The premier league for ice hockey in the world, drafting many players from either the United States, Canada or former Soviet Union. Originally in Northern markets, recent expansions have each major region covered with a NHL team.
MLS - Major League Soccer has 13 teams (including one in Canada) and is the top professional soccer league in