Hi to all in the Live The Adventure Club family!
I’m Eleanor, born and bred in Dublin, Ireland and currently coming to the end of what felt like the shortest year EVER in America. I moved to Boston last Summer to work before travelling around as much of the country as I could. I’m a travel and lifestyle blogger and instagrammer @eleanorcos, and I’m launching my new blog eleanorcostello.com at the end of the month!
Sitting in Washington D.C. with only a couple of weeks left in the U.S. I am currently reminiscing over the past year and thinking about all I’ve learned. America is a big country. Coming from Ireland, an island that could probably fit about 8 times in the state of Texas alone, it seems even bigger! But what’s so great about that is the diversity in environments, culture and people across states.
Travelling solo anywhere can be daunting, so my trip down the west coast and back east by train means I’ve got some tips and tricks to share! Hopefully the following will help you feel comfortable making exploring any American city and encourage you to make your way through the states to see as much of the wonderful varied places as possible! A few of these tips can be applied to other countries, so hopefully some American readers will find this useful, or maybe you’ll be surprised by something you didn’t know! Let me know if I missed anything, and give me your own tips, and remember to go out and live the adventure!
- TIP YOUR SERVERS!
Tipping in bars and restaurants is something I’m still getting used to. Somewhat mathematically challenged, more than often I struggling figuring out how much to add on at the end of a meal. I tend to tip a dollar a drink in bars, more if I’m drinking fancier cocktails! Generally, 15-20% is a good tip, but I’ve still been known to whip out a calculator. Regardless of the quality of service, tipping is expected, and a friend of mine was once questioned about why her tip was so low. Tourists often forget people in the service industry in America live off tips, so please keep it in mind! And note at the bottom of receipts where it informs you of suggested tips amounts – they do the work for you.
- Research Museums and Galleries
One of my favorite things to do is plug my earphones in and spend hours in an art gallery. I’ve noticed, in comparison to in Europe, people often avoid major institutions in America, because of extortionate ticket prices, and inconvenient hours. Many are closed on Mondays, so do try to avoid making your visit at the start of the week. Search the ticket prices before you go online, small print not available at ticket counters often tell you that the listed price on entrance is only a “suggested donation” so you can make up your own. Take note of late night Thursdays and Fridays – many galleries stay open till 9pm or later and often for free after a certain time. Research is key! (May I suggest you add The Broad in L.A. (free entry), The San Francisco MOMA (late nights on Thursday) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston (who let everyone names Isabella in for free) to your art themed bucket list. They’re all incredible!)
- Drink local
For those over 21, (and they ARE strict about that, friends) make sure to embrace the craft beer trend that’s been sweeping the nation. Ask around and research local breweries that often include free tasting with tours, and make sure to talk to bartenders about what they recommend! I’ve found that Independent liquor stores usually stock weird and wonderful U.S. drinks brands you’ll have to dust off when taking them down from the shelf. Cities like Boston, Seattle and Portland are known for their beers and not to be missed if you’re a drinker. Dive bars in big cities are great social spots so hit them up to make new friends and bond over the brew. It’s always good to support local, independent businesses!
- App-solutely take advantage of your smartphone
Travelling around America can be expensive so I like to make the most of price comparison sites. Wanderru is a great one for buses and trains, and Skyscanner is my go-to for flights. If you drive, look into Zipcar as it can work out cheaper than renting from bigger names. Finding cheap places to stay can be tricky, and after years using Hostelworld, I do trust their reviews. When it comes down to things to do and places to eat, Foursquare is my favorite. It’s quite similar to Yelp, but with a more user-friendly App. When you arrive in a new city, check and see if they have public transport/city guide apps too – they can be lifesavers!
- Don’t avoid chains!
Look, I know I just told you to enjoy local beverages, BUT, remember that massive chain corporations become those for a reason! When it comes to fast food, America knows what they’re doing and they are GOOD. I’m not telling you to go to McDonalds, but you absolutely cannot miss out on In N Out. Certain spots have yet to cross the U.S. border, so outsiders should embrace all the cheap and cheerful cuisine! As well as In N Out, I love Shake Shack, Five Guys and Cinnabon. (My mouth is literally watering right now, I swear.)
- Shop smart
With crazy retail taxes in specific states, you’re best bet if you’re buying big is to do your research! Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon have little to no sales tax and California tops the list with the highest. Hawaii and Massachusetts are also relatively low, but it can depend on what you’re buying! So if you want to shop, see where you’ll save big – it adds up. Keep in mind that tax will usually be added at registers, so prices you see on tags and barcodes might not be the final sale price.
- Get used to pickles
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PICKLES HERE? I swear, I don’t believe I had ever seen a pickles before moving to Boston. You’ll get a side of pickles with burgers, sandwiches, salads, you name it. Prepare yourself. They’ll be there.
- Talk to EVERYONE
What I’ve found to be true about American people in general is that they’re chatty, friendly people. Especially in comparison to more reserved nationalities I’m used to! Asking for help, recommendations or directions in this country has never been a problem for me and you can genuinely make friends in the line at the grocery store! Don’t be afraid to smile back at people you don’t know on the street, and make sure to introduce yourself to fellow hotel or hostel guests. Stereotypes stem from somewhere, and I’ve found southern states and those on the west coast are full of chilled out, lovely individuals, with people near the eastern side a bit more reluctant to be your new mate. One of the best things about travelling is meeting people who are totally different to you, so my top tip, no matter WHERE you are, is to make the effort to reach out to others. It’s the best part of being somewhere new, and sharing travel experiences make them twice as good, promise!
Find Eleanor here:
Blog | eleanorcostello.com
Instagram | @eleanorcos
Twitter | @eleanorcos