This document is meant to be an introductory guide for a typical trip to the Western US, including cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle and natural landmarks such as the Grand Canyon, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Other sources for more detailed information include the World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/ith/precautions/en/) US State Department https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/tourism-visit.html , and Lonely Planet or similar country guides. Be sure to determine whether you will need a visa in order to enter the United States, also available on the State Department website. In terms of packing, be mindful of what you usually need while traveling to evaluate whether you need everything on this list or if you may need to bring items not on this list.
Even in most big cities, common sense will keep most travelers from being a victim of crime:
- Pay attention to your surroundings. If something doesn’t feel right, leave the area. Head into a shop or restaurant if you feel uncomfortable.
- Ask your hotel about safety of walking neighborhood at night, as well as any areas that should be avoided in general.
- Use hotel safe for storing valuables, including passports.
- Be mindful as a pedestrian crossing streets. Although American drivers are generally compliant with things like streetlights, don’t assume they will.
- Don’t carry large quantities of cash. Keep your wallet in a secure area.
- Most visitors to California in particular comment on the high numbers of homeless individuals we have on our city streets. Generally they cause no problems to passers by, but you may see explicit drug use, sexual acts or have someone yelling at or near you. Don’t make eye contact and give plenty of space if someone seems out of sorts or dangerous.
- If you need to see a doctor, there are walk-in, urgent care clinics in most cities and larger towns. If it is an emergency, call 911 for an ambulance, or head to the nearest hospital with an emergency room. Your hotel should be able to assist with finding the nearest location if needed.
- While we don’t have pharmacies in the same way most of the world does, we do have drug stores with pharmacies in them. For minor issues, you can check with a pharmacist, though they may be able to only make limited recommendations.
- Tap water is drinkable throughout the Western US.
- 911 is also our emergency number for police and fire services.
- The currency in the US is the dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted, though some smaller places may still deal only in cash.
- You do not need to exchange money ahead of time. ATMs are readily available almost everywhere, though you can expect to pay about $5-7 average for a withdrawal. Find out if your bank has partner banks in the USA that allow you to take out money without charging a fee.
- Contact your bank(s) prior to travel to notify them of your travel plans. Many banks offer this service through their app or online.
- Bring your bank contact information (non-toll free numbers) in case you need assistance while traveling. Consider leaving a document with these numbers and your credit card numbers with someone at home in case you lose this information during travel and need it.
- Taxes are seldom included in posted prices. Most goods and services have an additional tax of up to 18% that will be added. The tax percentage is specific to the city and state.
- Tipping is expected in a number of contexts. Here are some guidelines for tipping:
- Bellhop – $1-3 per bag
- Taxi – approximately 10% of the fare
- Restaurant – If you are seated by a host/hostess and waited on by a waiter/waitress, a minimum of 15% tip is expected, unless gratuity is already included (sometimes restaurants do this with large parties of 6 or more). If it is a more casual restaurant in which you order at a counter, no tip is necessary.
- Tour guide – 5-10% of value of tour
The Western US is so large that it is nearly impossible to communicate all of the complexities of the weather here. I am including some generalizations (not always reliable) below, but please feel free to ask for more specifics based on your itinerary.
- California is mostly dry from mid-May until early November.
- Due to its size and geography, winter in California has highly varied weather. We have bouts of cold, wind, rain, snow (in the mountains), but also warm stretches of highs up to 27 degrees. Southern California is usually warmer than Northern California throughout the year.
- The first snow of the year in the mountains is usually around late November, though we have had years without reliable snow until January or beyond.
- The western part of the Pacific Northwest (Western Washington and Oregon) have mild summers without a dry season and wet winters. The eastern part of these states have more extreme weather with warmer temperatures in the summer and colder temperatures and more snow in the winter.
- Arizona has very hot summers and cold winters.
- Passport (with photocopies, I also suggest leaving a photocopy with someone at home or even scanning a picture for me to have on file)
- Visas if needed
- Flight confirmation email/e-tickets
- Itinerary* (printed) including flight info, lodging, activities, transport
- Travel Insurance info* (printed)
- If you are traveling solo with your child(ren), you may be asked to provide a notarized letter from their other parent that it is OK to take them out of the country
- Driver’s license
*Available in Pocket Travel Consultant App
If you are traveling for more than a week, I recommend packing for approximately 5-7 days. Laundry services in hotels and in major tourist areas are common.
- Footwear – sturdy sneakers or walking shoes, sandals/flip flops, casual footwear
- Water-/windproof shell, thicker jacket if traveling in the winter
- Sun hat
- 4-6 pants, skirts, shorts
- 4-6 tops
- Fleece top, sweatshirt or sweater
- 1-2 casual nice outfits (simple dress, polo/button down shirt, etc.) for dining out or going to a show
- 5-7 pair underwear, 5 pair socks
- 1 swimsuit
- Sunscreen and lip balm with sunscreen
- Wet wipes/antibacterial gel
- Travel-sized first-aid kit (including bandaids, tape, antiseptic cream among other useful items)
- Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, or other fever reducer/pain reliever (adult and child/infant)
- Cortisone cream
- Feminine products
- Shaving supplies
- Nail clipper
- Hairbrush, hair supplies
- Contact lens supplies
- Prescription drugs as needed
- Cell phone, cell phone charger (and plan for use in USA: roaming data plan)
- Camera (With extra memory cards and batteries)
- Battery power pack/portable charger (for recharging phones on long travel days)
- Watch or travel clock if you don’t carry a cell phone.
- Moneybelt (I personally don’t use a moneybelt for most travel, but know many travelers do)
- Day pack (for hikes/walks/excursions)
- Plug adapter and/or voltage converter for US outlets
- Ear plugs
- Personal entertainment for each family member (Reading and writing materials, cards, small toys, sticker books, headphones, etc..)
- Reusable water bottle
- Handwashing laundry detergent (Woolite or Tide), sink drain cover and portable drying line
- Gallon-sized ziploc bags or similar, 2 per person (for all sorts of uses while traveling – from storing your electronics to separating clothes.
- Carseat (or a plan to rent if using rental cars or private transportation )
- Portable high-chair seat (Amazon has My Little Seat Travel High Chair)
- Diapering supplies for first few days (and plan to stock up when in larger cities)
- Lightweight travel stroller and/or baby carrier
- Formula & 2 bottles, washing liquid
- Sippy cup
- Travel crib (or plan for using hotel cribs/beds)
- Goggles, packable pool/beach toys (if you are staying at hotels with pool)
- Food pouches, granola bars, other individually packaged snacks