Have you ever heard of the Katy Perry song, Hot N Cold?”Now, I may or may not be listening to that song right now…… but if you can remember that song title, that’s all you need to remember when packing for a trip to the United States. (Kidding… kind of)
Let’s face it, packing for a trip to the United States can be annoying, especially if you are planning to visit more than one place. By square mileage, we are the 3rd biggest country in the world (losing out to Russia and Canada) if you include coastal waters. But even without the coastal waters, we are still the 4th largest! (China would be 3rd).
With a country this large, the temperature/weather/climate varies by region. From New England and the Atlantic to the red canyons of Utah, no other country has this many diverse ecosystems. We have rainforests, swamps, the hottest place on earth (Death Valley), the highest point in North America (Denali), and everything in-between!
Of course, my biggest suggestion would be to pack for your destination! But this can be difficult for road trips or multi-city visits. So, here is my “general” America packing list!
Getting a visa to the United States is extremely difficult, and if you lack the proper paperwork, you will be denied admission. I’m not proud of this, and I have had many friends that have poor experiences with the U.S. visa process.
How to apply for a visa: More than likely, you are going to apply for a B-2 visa, and this process takes time. It requires an interview, visa photo, and filling out Form DS-160!
Again, you will be denied admission if your passport expires within six months. Just plan ahead!
3. Passport Photos
It is smart to always carry extra passport photos when you are traveling, and the United States is no exception. However, get this done before you travel to the United States as they get expensive! The last time I checked, the price was 10 USD for two photos!
Like I recommended in America Road Trip Advice for Solo Traveler, do not over pack. If you need something, you can always pick it up at the local Walmart.
4. 2 or 3 Pair of Pants
Alright, honesty time. Americans love denim, and it’s no secret that we had a weird denim jacket with jeans phase back in the 1990s. (Now it’s back.) So, I recommend packing at least one pair of jeans for your pant option. Also, we DO NOT always wear cowboy boots with our jeans. I lived in a cowboy town for 18 years, and I never owned a pair of cowboy boots.
I do not recommend wearing hiking pants when you travel to the United States. Sure, they look epic (and I own 2 pairs) but nobody wears them. (unless you go on a trail.)
5. One (waterproof) jacket
I have never understood weather patterns in the United States as the rain can travel in any direction. I always use a waterproof Under Armour hoodie, but anything will work. Even with this, I still recommend taking something else. Maybe an umbrella? Or poncho?
6. 5 T-Shirts
You can always wear t-shirts in the United States, and most Americans wear t-shirts everywhere. 5 is not nearly as many as some think.
7. 3 pair of shorts
I can’t think of anywhere that you can’t wear shorts… especially during the summer. I always wear them, and the United States can get ridiculously hot. Just plan for your location.
You can always find a place to swim in the United States. From surfing in San Diego to the night raves as South Beach, there will always be a place you need a swimsuit.
9. 6 pair of socks
Buy socks you will wear and socks that are comfortable. I always pack a few extra in case my feet get wet. I hate wet feet.
There are numerous shoe options for your U.S visit. However, the best idea is to bring 1 pair of tennis shoes and 1 pair of sandals/flip-flops. (Yes, you can bring your Chacos.) I don’t recommend hiking boots, as those get extremely heavy on long trips. Bring shoes you will wear and shoes that are comfortable.
11. A winter coat
Packing a winter coat is a seasonal packing item, but this is your friendly reminder that the northern United States is very cold during winter! The temperatures can reach -30 Fahrenheit (34 centigrade), and I don’t even want to know the temperatures in Alaska.
12. Dress Clothing
If you think you need it, pack it. I’m not going to recommend it for any vacation/holiday, but you do you. Purchasing after arrival is always an option.
Other travel necessities
You can bring whatever you want, but you don’t need to bring extra. The U.S. has plenty of options.
Here’s where it gets weird… again. If you need something simple like ibuprofen, you can purchase it here. However, always bring your prescription medicine and extra (if you can). The U.S. is not a cheap place to buy prescription medicine, which is frustrating as people need it to survive. Some Americans actually drive up to Canada, purchase the medicine they need, and smuggle it back in! Our healthcare system is messed up and expensive. That’s why you will also need…
15. Trip Insurance
Traveling with trip insurance provides peace of mind, which is why I always recommend purchasing it. Also, any hospital expense in the United States is extremely expensive. It’s absolutely ridiculous… and I believe we are in major need of healthcare reform. Now that I am done complaining… just buy travel insurance.
16. Reusable Water bottle
Tap water in the United States is safe to drink, with a few exceptions that we must fix. Please help save the world by bringing a reusable water bottle or buying one after arrival; you can find them everywhere. This will also help you save money overall as tap water is mostly free, even in restaurants and convenience stores! We also have numerous public water fountains at every attraction, large or small. So, it saves you and saves the world. Be a superhero and drink water with a reusable water bottle.
You will need sunscreen. No place is exempt from harmful ultraviolet rays, and the United States is one of the sunniest places in the world! I recommend buying sunscreen after you arrive, as it can be found everywhere.
Also, please use eco-friendly sunscreen. Lately, there has been some startling research in the scientific community about sunscreen and its effect on marine life.
18. Insect Repellant
Deer flies in the north. Mosquitoes in the south. Less of a bug problem in the west, but there is the occasional issue… especially ticks.
If you have read any of my earlier entries, you will remember that I am a huge fan of Swiss Gear backpacks. In my experience, they are durable and reasonably priced. My current Swiss Gear backpack has lasted through 1 year of high school, 4 years of college, and beyond!
Of course, you can use whatever daypack you want for your U.S. trip, but I always recommend a backpack. Most everyone in the U.S. carries one at some point, so there is no need to worry about targeting.
My one warning about backpacks: Sometimes in large amusement parks or museums (i.e. Disney World or the Smithsonian), you will need to go through extra security. Also, most large stadiums have instituted a clear bag policy. It’s a trade-off but do your research for each location you are visiting.
20. Electric Adapter
There are 2 types of electrical adapters you will need for your trip to the United States: the 220-110 volt and the type-A plug. Unlike the rest of the world, the United States runs solely on the 110-volt system. I won’t get into the details, but it’s like the U.S. still using the imperial system… a combination of a long history and U.S. stubbornness. The good thing? Electric adapters are cheap as long as you don’t purchase them at the airport.
The obvious one, right? The U.S. is filled with jaw-dropping scenery, and you will want to capture every moment that you can. The one on your phone will work perfectly, but if you want to upgrade, I won’t stop you.
The only currency accepted in the United States is the U.S. Dollar ($). I highly recommend converting your currency before you travel to the United States. Why?
- The conversion rates are probably better where you live… especially as the dollar is currently the world’s reserve currency.
- It can be extremely difficult to find a place to convert currency in the United States. Most Americans convert their currency at their local bank before extended trips, but this is reserved for bank customers.
- If you do find a place to convert your currency, there are strict limits and an occasional wait time.
This is also your friendly reminder to never convert currency at the airport. They have awful rates…
The bright side? Most major credit cards are accepted within the United States. (Visa, American Express, Mastercard, and Discover) Also, there are ATMs everywhere.
The U.S is filled with electronics, and we are actually one of the cheapest places to buy electronics worldwide. So, you should be safe to bring your laptop, cellphone, and tablets.
24. Travel lock
A little preparation goes a long way. You don’t necessarily need a travel lock for your trip, but it provides a sense of security.
For road trips
I have previously written about what solo travelers need to know when road tripping across the United States, but here are a few packing items.
25. GasBuddy App (Available on iOS and Android)
I use GasBuddy every time I need gas (petrol). Until the United States begins to accelerate the electrical vehicle process, we are going to rely solely on gasoline. GasBuddy is an easy-to-use app for Android, iOS, and Blackberry that shows the cheapest price of gas in a specific area. For example, my location in NYC shows that the cheapest gas options within a few miles. This app is also free!
26. National Park Pass
If you plan on visiting at least 3 National Parks for the United States, I highly recommend purchasing the National Park Pass. The average entrance fee for one national park is $20. However, the America the Beautiful Pass will allow you to enter any National Park for an entire year for just $80. You can purchase them at your first national park, or pre-order online.
27. About that vehicle
Sadly, we do not have great electrical vehicle infrastructure, nor do we have an extensive rail network. But there are a lot of places you can rent a vehicle in the United States, but I highly recommend finding someplace at least 5 miles away from the airport. It may be inconvenient to take an Uber for a 15-minute drive, but you would be astonished by the amount of money you will save. As always, I also recommend renting a small, compact car for two reasons.
- You will save A LOT of money
- You are saving the environment.
The only I can think of is either a) metro or b) bus system. These are typically only available in cities, so it takes out the idea of a road trip.
The best piece of advice I can give for any trip to the United States is to avoid overpacking. You will have a lot of different options to purchase everything you forget. If Walmart doesn’t have it, then Amazon will. Plus, you don’t even need a physical address if you decide to buy something from Amazon! At the shipping option, you can choose a local pick-up spot and have it shipped there. Every Whole Foods nationwide is a pick-up spot which means you can order something while you are even on the road and have it delivered in a few days!
What do you think, did I miss anything in the U.S. Packing List? What do you suggest bringing here?