A mini guide to USA

I have done my best to write down all the details about our trip to the U.S. in this long post, for those of you who want to experience something similar. As I said earlier, you will get to see what we have done and experienced in all upcoming pictures, but here you will get more practical information and answers to your questions.

Planning is everything, especially when making a trip like this. If you, like me, want to book most things in advance, you have to start early. I booked almost all airline tickets and hotels six months in advance. We spent a lot of time planning what cities we would visit and in what order. I even drew maps with routes, wrote advantages and disadvantages of each route, and sat a long time with Google maps and checked how long it would take to drive between cities, how long it takes to fly and so on. You simply need to spend a lot of time on Google, all of the information you are wondering about can be found on the internet.

When planning, we obviously had to find out what everything costs and make a budget. That also requires hours of researching. Check the hotels in each city and what it costs per night for the standard you are looking for (I always use booking.com). Check what all the flight costs, the rental car, gasoline, what you think you will spend on food, activities and shopping. 'Major' activities, like for example, Disneyland, or visiting Grand Canyon, should also be on the list right away because they cost a lot. Always round up and add an additional one-third of the total - a rule I always go by. We concluded that it will cost us a minimum of 30,000 SEK each without shopping and unplanned costs, so we decided to go for 40,000 SEK ($6300) - and that is about what we paid for everything in the end.

When it comes to the handling of money, we preferred to pay with credit card, it works just as well as in Sweden. This way, you don't lose a lot when exchanging large amounts of money. Our Swedish debit cards works like a credit cards in the U.S. (unless it is a Electron card). We were very worried that we would not be able to rent the car since they only accept credit cards, but as mentioned, there was never any problem.

It's always difficult to answer questions about food, it depends on what you want to eat. Generally, the food is cheaper than in Sweden, but it's still not cheap to eat out all the time, unless you eat junk food. We figured that we would spend 300 SEK ($50) each on food every day. Sometimes, we spent less and sometimes more. We didn't always eat the best food and quite often, we made a visit to a fast food chain, but you can find better food that doesn't cost too much. You also spend money on bottled water and "goodies" throughout the day.

Finding airline tickets can be total chaos. For example, it is often cheaper to buy a return trip than a one-way ticket (sometimes half as cheap which means it pays to throw a ticket - crazy!). Since I had already bought a ticket from Stockhom to New York with Norwegian, the price of a one-way ticket from Las Vegas (our last stop) to Stockholm was incredibly expensive. Therefore, I made a gamble and booked a domestic ticket from Las Vegas to New York, and then I bought a return flight with Norwegian again from New York to Stockholm, which was the cheapest and fastest option (direct flight as well). The risk when you do it this way is that if something goes wrong with the first flight, eg delays, you have no guarantee on the second, because they are not included in the same booking. So you have to get your bags and check them in again. And also make sure that you are landing at the same airport and have enough time between flights. Domestic flights are not particularly expensive in the U.S. From one coast to the other it costs about 1500 SEK ($230). From New York to San Francisco, it took six hours. We flew domestic with Delta, Virgin America and Spirit Airlines.

We chose to book the car in advance and we booked through ebilhyra.se (it stood between them and holidayautos). Before you book, on their websites you can fill in how many days you want to rent, insurance, GPS, size of the car and whether or not you will pick up and drop off at the same place. This way you can see what it will cost. Keep in mind that insurance is much more expensive if the driver is under 25, and sometimes it's more expensive if you pick up and drop off in different cities, so be sure to select everything to get the right price. It's worth renting a GPS! However, if you rent a car for several weeks, it is more worthwhile to buy one at Walmart. You must be 21 to rent a car and have had a driving license for at least one year. For one week, we paid 3000 SEK ($470), plus GPS, which costs extra.

New York is the most expensive city to stay in. For a small room where there was barely room enough for one bed, we paid more than for the Hilton in Las Vegas. It is cheaper outside of Manhattan, but it's on the other hand worth staying in Manhattan since you will spend almost all your time here. We got around on foot or subway ($30 for a 7-day MetroCard). It's very easy to get around in New York thanks to their simple street system, it is almost impossible to get lost. In New York, there's plenty to see and do that don't cost so much money, for example visit Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and all other famous sites. The things that costs are if you want to visit the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Statue of Liberty, museums and such, and if you want to take the hop-on-hop-off buses.

If you travel to San Francisco during August, expect it to be 15°C colder there than in New York (I will write more about that in the upcoming posts about SF). Here it's also quite expensive hotels. If you live centrally, however, it's no problem to get around on foot (if you can stand the up and downhills). They otherwise have very good public transport system with trains, trams and buses, but we only took the train from the airport. If you want to visit Alcatraz without buying tickets online in advance, you can only buy them together with hop-on-hop-off bus tour, which is not so bad since you can use the bus for transportation. I highly recommend renting bikes to ride across the Golden Gate.

We picked up our rental car the last day in San Francisco and drove south along Highway 1, the coastal route. We made the trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles in two days. According to Google Maps, it would take about 7 hours to drive non stop, but you need at least two days with an overnight stay on the road because you stop all the time to take pictures and enjoy the view. The road is built so you can stop by it all the time, but along most of the way there is no access to the highway or any city so be sure to fill up gas in advance. I think it's better to drive south because it's the "right" side of the road, but you can also drive north. We booked accommodation in San Simeon in advance, a small place right between SF and LA. The hotel is called Sea Breeze Inn. Make sure to arrive at the hotel before it gets dark and foggy(!), speaking from experience.

I would not recommend going to Los Angeles if you can't rent a car. The city has huge distances and is totally designed for cars and not pedestrians, and I guess it's complicated trying to get around by public transport. When you book hotel keep in mind that the distances on the map is much longer than you think, try to book near the area where you think you will be spending most of your time, and read reviews of the area, about whether is safe or not. We stayed at the Days Inn Hollywood near Universal Studios on Sunset Boulevard, which runs parallel to Hollywood Boulevard. It's a good location if you have a car since there is an underground parking. In LA, there are theme parks that are worth visiting, such as Universal Studios, Disneyland or Six Flags - which we never visited because I am a coward.

From LA we drove two hours south to San Diego. You can also take a bus or train like our friends did. Since we stayed with friends at their university campus, I have no idea about hotels in town, but I would recommend having a car here too, although public transport seems slightly better than in Los Angeles. You can get around in Downtown by walkning but if you want to get to the beaches, it's easiest by car. San Diego border with Tijuana in Mexico, we never made a visit but the possibility exists. I recommend the nightlife in the Gaslamp District, Pacific Beach and San Diego Zoo.

Since we didn't want to drive through the desert, we took the flight from San Diego to Las Vegas which took an hour. If visiting, stay along the Las Vegas Strip (the street with all the famous hotels and casinos), because you will be spending all your time only at this street. Therefore, you don't need any car either. Hotels are very cheap in Las Vegas, so you should definitely indulge in a better hotel. There is no point in staying for a longer time in Vegas if you do not intend to party every day.

We first planned to go on a full day tour by bus from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon (South Rim), which is 5-6 hours away (West Rim is located a bit closer, you can google and read about the differences if you're wondering). You can book that trip at viator.com for about 500 SEK (≈$80), but then we realized how many hours of traveling it would be in relation to staying at the canyon. Therefore, we booked a helicopter instead, which flies 45 minutes in one direction and lands in the canyon. It cost 2500 SEK (≈$400) per person. We won half of the sum at a casino, which is the reason that we booked although it's expensive. But now in retrospect, I think the experience was worth every penny, win or not, and you save almost a whole day on it. If you are going to book a helicopter ride you should do it a few days or week in advance, we were very lucky that got two seats on the same day. Helicopter tours can be booked through the hotel or at viator.com, for example.

Will you go back to the U.S.? What was the best and the worst of the U.S.?
- Yes, I will go back, especially to New York! N.Y. I liked most of all the cities, but every place has its charm. If I return to California, I would love to see more of the nature. Yosemite National Park, Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park are places I would love to see but we unfortunately didn't have time for those. The best thing about the USA is all these different environments in one big country. Incredible contrasts and incredibly much to see. The worst thing is that there is a lot that feels very... plastic. And all these contrasts are not always good, for example when it comes to the difference between rich and poor areas. Such huge differences do not exist in Sweden in the same way as in the U.S.

How can you as a student afford such a trip?.
- The answer is simply by working if you have the possibility, and save a lot. I worked extra whenever I got the chance and worked almost the entire summer until we went away. I calculated how much I needed to save every month and how much I would have to work to reach my goal.

what should you think about as a girl in the city? give tips on everything you come up with :D
- I don't really get the question of what one should think about as a girl... You live and behave just like you do in Sweden. Hope the rest of the post is filled with enough tips!

Can you show everything you bought? [...] I mean everything. Not just clothes, but goodies, small things and so on. I am curious about what they have there :)
- Sorry, but everything is unpacked (and eaten) long ago. I didn't shop as much as I thought I would. The clothes I bought you will see on the blog sooner or later, and much of what I bought were gifts for family and friends.

I also wonder how you went from town to town, and how you found all the places haha, did you use a map, gps or signs? :)
- We had a GPS in the car, otherwise we used the old fashioned maps. If there is anything I can brag about, it's that I am good at reading ordinary maps. But as mentioned, many U.S. cities have a simple street system with blocks and signs at every intersection. I always have guidebooks with maps with me, also a tip!

Hello! Must first say that I really LOVE your photos! So very beautiful and inspiring.
 I wonder where you lived in all different places and how much it cost and so on. Was it expensive to rent a car? 40,000 almost sounded too cheap for EVERYTHING . Is it really the flight , transfers, car rentals, shopping, sights , activities ? :)
- Thank you so much! I have only written the hotels I could imagine staying at again. The rental car price I have also written about. Yes, for everything, per person! But I spent a lot of time trying to find the best deal for cheap prices. The price depends on how you live, how much you shop and how much you eat. It is individual and therefore it is obviously important to find out everything yourself.


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