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Now that you have nearly completed the whole process, since you received your visa, secured your flight and perhaps travel insurance too, packed what you needed, brought the appropriate things on the plane with you and crossed the US border, you can now feel free to explore the USA!
While you are studying in the US, you will most likely want to travel. Not only will you see more of the country and take some spectacular photos, but you will also experience a range of cultures and customs within the US. But where to start? The East Coast states are smaller and easier to travel between, whereas the Mid-West and West Coast states are much larger. A drive through the state of California alone could take over 12 hours!
Your I-20 or DS-2019 form is one of the most important pieces of documentation while in the US because it proves you have a right to be in America. It is figuratively your gateway to studying abroad and should be treated as such. Keep it safe and make photocopies as back up. When travelling in and around the US make sure to take a copy of your I-20 or DS-2019 and passport as proof of purpose in the as you may be required to show it to an official.
Regardless of where you are, it is important to know how to get around.
AMTRAK, America’s National Railroad Passenger Corporation, offers a network covering approximately 500 cities. Similar to the Eurorail passes, AMTRAK offers regional and national USA Rail Passes to permanent residents of foreign countries as well as individual tickets. These passes are valid for either a 15 or 30 day period and must be purchased before arrival in the US.
Bus travel is the least expensive means of public transportation. Tickets are purchased upon arrival at the depot (station), and there is rarely a need to make reservations. Bus depots are not always centrally located and may be in older, run-down parts of town. Students should be cautious in these areas. You should plan to arrive at the depot at least 30 minutes before departure to get a seat.
Use companies such as Greyhound and Student Advantage to purchase student discount cards and passes (which can be ordered online or from a nearby Greyhound terminal). Bolt Bus and Mega Bus are also inexpensive and cover a large number of cities in the Northeast and Midwest.
Those more interested in urban attractions than in the landscape can usually find inexpensive airfares linking major US cities. Air shuttles run between hubs like New York City and Boston; Boston and Washington DC; and Los Angeles and San Francisco. Buses and trains likewise link cities, rendering travel from one urban centre to another relatively simple.
Below are sites for comparison/budget airlines:
Short-term study abroad students will not need an American driving license to drive in the US – your British license is valid for up to one year before you will be required to take a formal driving test. After one year, you should contact the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to find out how to apply for a state driver's license. Please note that in most instances this is a shorter and less expensive process than in the UK.
The majority of US cities and towns are car-dependent, linked by a massive system of freeways (motorways) and highways (dual carriage ways). Only the largest cities have a widely-used system of public transportation akin to what you would expect in a European capital like London. Thus many US residents rely on cars in their daily lives. Some of your classmates might be happy to drive you around. The International office may even have regular trips to grocery stores or outings that you can sign up for.
Depending on where you study/drive there are different driving rules and regulations, so be sure to research this thoroughly. For example, Americans are less familiar with roundabouts, and the US has mandatory STOP signs that we rarely see in the UK and must be adhered to even if the road is seemingly clear. Your vehicle must come to a complete stop, and you must check to make sure the road in completely clear before proceeding.
Some states also have different road rules to others, so be sure to read up on these before travelling by car; for example, New York state allows right hand turns on red traffic lights whereas other states do not. You really cannot speed while driving in the US. Strictly enforced speed limits are in place with police at roadside stands monitoring them. If you are pulled over, remain calm and polite at all times.
If you are in a car accident, do not leave the scene until the police have arrived. Even if no one is hurt, you must wait until the police have arrived and filed a report on the accident.
Many car rental companies will only rent cars to those over 25 years of age, or will charge you additional insurance fees if you are under 25 (often a surcharge of up to $25-30 extra per day). Do shop around on comparison and renting websites from various companies such as Hertz, Avis or Enterprise as prices and insurance charges vary between companies. If renting works out to be too expensive, keep in mind that many cities have transport links to other cities via national bus/train services, just make sure to allow extra time for delays and unpredictable timetables. Check transportation websites for more details and be sure to ask your new American friends as they will be more knowledgeable on transportation.
Budget accommodations and hostels are not as common in the US as in Europe yet they are on the rise in larger urban cities popular with tourists. Some options include:
As always, your international student advisor is an excellent resource when making travel plans.