to -8 hrs. (-9 hrs for Alaska). Most states use daylight saving, but
slightly different switching dates to Europe.
No visas necessary for EU passport holders
if you have a machine-readable passport (i.e. quite a new one). Instead you
come in the Visa Waiver programme, which limits your stay to 90 days. This
cannot be extended under any circumstances, as we discovered! They won't
issue you with a new 90-day waiver if you exit to Mexico or Canada and want
to come back into the States, you can only use the remaining time of the
original waiver. If you fly in from another continent you will get a new
90-day waiver. We were lucky, as they issued us with a new 90-day waiver
when we entered Alaska from Canada...
Incredibly cheap: Anything electronic, durable goods, cars, generic
clothing (branded clothing is often on sale very cheaply too), fast food,
soft drinks, alcohol.
Incredibly expensive: Insurance, fresh food of any type (no wonder the
locals eat fast food so much!), restaurants, services of almost any type,
movies (cinema or DVD rental, Land Rover Defenders.
Public Internet access is surprisingly sparse and expensive - some places
were charging $12/hr! Public libraries are a good bet, it is usually free,
but often busy, and there may be a registration process which can be
time-consuming. If you have a laptop with a wireless card you can access
several commercial wireless networks with various cost options (like
$10/day). Borders, Starbucks, Flying J truck stops etc. have these hotspots.
But if you have a wireless card just try scanning around in built-up areas -
usually you will find several "open" networks, and after a minute or two to
get assigned an IP address, voila! Internet access! Look for
"infrastructure" type wireless networks without encryption.
Very good roads to everywhere, but you can find interesting back roads if
you look for them. Very few toll roads, apart from some bridges, tunnels
etc. Quality of driving is similar to Europe i.e. generally good, but
variable. They don't use international-standard road signs and the signs are
not as clear as they could be, but everything works well.
Spectacular natural wonders abound in the USA, and it's almost all very
accessible. Unfortunately that does mean it can be crowded. Buy an annual
National Parks card for $50, which will allow a couple into almost all
National Parks in the USA. The first two parks we went into would have cost
us more than $50, had we paid the individual entrance fees instead.
We found the
Americans to be very friendly, interesting, and helpful people on an
individual basis. The level of service in business for which America is
famous, was notably absent, however (with some exceptions, of
course). Also, we were appalled at how inward-looking the country is. International travel for Americans generally means travel to Mexico or
Canada. The evident extreme patriotism doubtless contributes to the growing
chasm between the way world issues are seen by the USA and the rest of the
world. There is no meaningful news coverage or visible public debate of
world issues. What is unclear is whether the almost total lack of external
input is deliberate on the part of government and/or the media, or
just sloppiness or apathy. And then there is this major obsession with the
War on Terror. Instead of helping restore public confidence in the world (which
benevolent in our experience) the US government (and media?) seem
bent on nurturing and manipulating public fear. In undermining the
foundation of the American values of freedom and individual rights, the
terrorists who destroyed the Twin Towers in NYC seem to have succeeded
beyond their wildest dreams. "The need for security" now seems to
dominate and hamstring much of business and private life in the USA.
Having said all that, of course every country is a mix of people, and we met
some absolutely wonderful (and very erudite) people in the States, who made
us realize that this is almost certainly a temporary malaise.