Monday, 29 July 2013

11 tips for Australian travellers to the US




1. Don't forget to apply for your visa waiver, you won't be allowed to board the plane without it.   https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

2. Fix your exchange rate before you go. Our experience is that the Aussie dollar only ever goes one way after you have left the country.  If you travel frequently to the US consider opening a US bank account, and move your holiday money across when the exchange rate is favourable. Make sure the account doesn't pay interest though unless you want to start worrying about how to navigate the US tax system. With a US bank account those horrible ATM fees are a thing of the past, just stick to ATMs for the bank you have the account with.

3. If opening a US account sounds too hard then sign up for GE Money's 28 degrees Mastercard and put the card into credit before you leave. You'll be able to access your cash and pay for stuff without getting hit with a foreign exchange conversion fee, typically 2% or more on other cards. You also seem to get close to the mid-point exchange rate, but trust me, the ATM fees will drive you nuts.   Sorry guys GE Money just changed it's rules and imposed a fee.

4. Investigate renting your car through a consolidator such as 'Driveaway Holidays' or 'Holidays.co.uk'. It will almost certainly be cheaper than renting one locally. Local car rental looks cheap until you start adding in all the extras like insurance.

5. Don't assume that renting a motorhome will be less expensive than staying in hotels. The US has an abundance of inexpensive chain hotels. Children often stay and eat free. Nearly all the chains have free breakfasts and wi-fi. Homewood Suites even offer free dinner on weeknights, although the quality of the food is a bit down market. Many chains now have kitchen facilities in the rooms.

6. Don't risk international roaming charges for smartphone data access - head to AT&T or Verizon where you can buy a local sim card and data package. Navigating the intricacies of local data packages can be a bit daunting but it is so much better than having heart failure when you get home and discover that your Australian provider has charged you a million dollars a minute for roaming.

7. If you plan on driving, buy a GPS device locally. You can get one at Walmart for about US$100; cheaper than buying US maps and downloading them to your Australian device.

8. Pack your NRMA (or other state motorists' association) card. The NRMA card has a AAA symbol on the back which gives you reciprocal rights to the American Automobile Association including road-side breakdown services, free maps and discounted hotel rates.

9. Join hotel loyalty programs. Even if you never achieve anything other than ordinary member status there are lots of intangible benefits, like better rooms. From 2014 Intercontinental will offer free wi-fi to all it's loyalty program members.

10. If you intend to visit any National Parks consider buying a yearly pass. Individual entries seem to vary between about $8 and $25. The yearly pass is $80. There are also state and municipal parks so don't confuse these with National Parks. The pass only works for National Parks.  http://www.nps.gov/index.htm  
http://www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm

11. If you find a cheap airline fare through sites like Expedia and then you can't find it again at the same price trying clearing the cookies from your computer.


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