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USA Flag[i] Some things you might want to know in the way of backpacking, budget travel country advice, tips, info and summaries for: North America - Canada, México and USA / The United States of America

» It is worth looking, if you have not already, at the example layout to see the guidelines each section of information is based on - or for other travel advice and site home head for http://travelindependent.info

Editorial..

Mexico is shown here, but is often classed by travellers as part of Central America. Both the United States summary (which was authored by Peter John), Canada (which was authored by Zamil Ansu) and the Mexico write up cover huge areas and for this reason the USA summary has been split up into various regions. Mexico and certainly the USA and Canada need a little more money to travel in that other options, but are fantastic destinations, highly varied and very rewarding. Too many closed-minded independent travellers object to American foreign policy or American mass culture, and don't bother with it. Their loss.





*   North America

 * Get your bearings.. show/hide map of the region

» Canada

  • Intro: Canada might be stereotyped as the land of beer-drinking hockey players who pass the time producing maple syrup or partaking in lumberjack activities. Some will probably think of it as adrift politically and culturally to the USA and as a second thought to it's much publicised, big-city, neighbour to the South. Where some of the stereotypes are true, there is much more to Canada. The Great White North is an outdoors paradise both in the winter and the summer and rivals the like of New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil for spectacular natural beauty. It is a popular skiing and winter sports destination with loads of possibilities and winter festivals. In the summer, there are endless hiking, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing, and camping sites. With a rich history and multi-ethnic population, any traveller will feel right at home when travelling within the country.

Canada can be considered liberal, tolerant and without doubt, very tourist-friendly. Several aspects of Canada will appeal to the independent traveller. From coast to coast, there is an extensive range of hostels and budget accommodations. There are also campsites all around that are popular among Canadians and tourists. It is also affordable and safe, especially in comparison to the US and certainly parts of Western Europe. Canada is sparsely populated outside the big cities and getting off the beaten track is not difficult at all.

Nevertheless, don't get to enthusiastic and think you can tours tour the entire length of the country at one go (unless you have about 6-8 weeks & healthy budget). Whether you visit during the summer or winter, it is guaranteed your long flight will be worth it as you meet fun Canadians who will be proud to show what the country has to offer.

  • Highlights: Vancouver Island, Whistler, Canadian Rockies (Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper), Okanagan Valley, West Edmonton Mall, Churchill (Polar bear capital of the world), Quebec’s Old City, Rideau Canal, Cape Breton Island (& other coastal areas in the Atlantic), Whale watching, outdoor activities. Extensive hosteling network, transportation (hop-on/off busses in most provinces). More adventurous travellers should head north to watch the finest Aurora Borealis or to Athabasca for sand dunning (yes there is a desert in Canada). Once the snow clears, patios come alive during the day and Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver offer some of the best nightlife.

  • Lowlights: It gets VERY cold during winters. Unless you are American, getting in is expensive and getting around is long and strenuous. While Canada is certainly rich in culture, Native history is showcased only in limited areas.



Add Note: Many thanks to Zamil Ansu for supplying this summary on Canada of a period of travel. The information here is from this author and not the site author. The views and facts expressed here are well research and good quality, but just bear in mind they should perhaps not be compared directly to other country summaries by other authors.

  • Typical tourist trail: No specific trail to follow, but there are two distinct regions. East: Halifax - Cape Breton Island- Quebec City/ Montreal- Kingston, Ottawa- Toronto & West: Vancouver- Vancouver Island, Whistler- Okanagan Valley, Kooteneys- Banff/Jasper- Calgary/Edmonton

  • Getting around: Very similar to New Zealand/Australia with many backpacker buses and cheap train tickets for students. While the tourist buses are great value, they can (as is the case with networks all over the world), be full of snobby, pretentious "backpackers”, which is a shame as moosenetwork (www.moosenetwork.ca) and saltybear (www.saltybear.ca) tours are very insightful and creative. Rent a car and share fuel costs, etc. to design your own fun. Hitchhiking to ski/hiking resorts is very common (just be sensible). Greyhound offers bus and VIA Rail offers rail travel. Travel times are long so be prepared. Air Canada Jazz and West Jet are best bets for getting around by air.

  • Guidebooks: Many, check out hostel lobbies (even if you don’t intend on staying at one). Lonely Planet useful, but don’t expect to find something that isn’t there at your hostel lobby.

  • Costs & Money: Hostels range from US$18 for dorm rooms to US$45+ for privates. Entry to campsites around US$10-15 (US$20-30 in national parks + entry fee). Food is no different from other western countries. Overall, money for value is quite fair. E.g. Montreal is far cheaper than Paris, so is Vancouver to L.A, and Banff in comparison to Aspen or Vail. Money: ATMs, Credit and Debit cards.

  • Weather & Dangers: Very cold in the winters, but can be tolerable with the right gear. It only gets extreme in the far north. Rains frequently in western Canada. Few dangers, just use common sense when in the wild or out in mountains.

  • Working: Common, many working holidays on offer, look for packages like "Ski n’ stay”. Commonwealth members can get insurance, work permits, accommodation very easily. Not uncommon to find travellers from Oz or UK who work from winter-spring and spend the earnings during the summer.

  • Communication: Pay phones and internet easily accessible.

C Comment: At first I really enjoyed this site. Its easy to read and appears to be really engaging when looking for travel info. Bu​t as a Canadian traveller I was really disappointed to see Canada being omitted almost entirely from this site or being ​grouped with the US. Its a really great site for information​on countries, places to see and travel advice. Unfortunately​, I was disappointed to see that Canada was not included nor​was it even mentioned as a place to visit. I understand that​ Canada as a country may not be as old or have many ancients ​sights to visit or seem uninteresting compared to a lot of o​thers places around the world. But I think that neglecting i​t altogether is just wrong. It's an absolutely beautiful cou​ntry that welcomes many travellers every year but doesn't ge​t the recognition it deserves. I don't think including it on​ly in the country summaries section is fair and really disap​points me as a traveller who has travelled to many places al​l around the world and in Canada. I just hope you take thi​s into consideration as this seems to be a pattern I have se​en on a number of travel sights.

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» México

* Miss at your peril: (stay away from the crowds) - 'Highlight of Independent Travel'

  • Intro: Viva México! It's huge and has tons to offer! Right across the spectrum, from the nadir of Cancún to the zenith's of Palenque, Oaxaca (Wa-ha-ka) and Porto Escondido to mention a few. México's size has two major effects on travellers. One good, one not so. Firstly [the good] the sheer size of the country and its variety means that with some effort you can find many gems and have them completely to yourself, in addition to the fact that there are many great things to see and do without even venturing off the beaten track.

MexicoThe downside from the country's size (and terrain which is far from flat) is the necessity to spend many hours on buses of which the cost of can seriously mount up - even more so if you take advantage of the better services. For example the six hour journey from México City (N.B. referred to as México City here, but really just México or México DF) to Oaxaca on a premier bus will blow the daily budget of any budget traveller and then some. It is common to hear backpackers throughout the Americas moan at just how expensive México is and wonder how locals can afford to live. It is not that México is expensive, I mean far from it when compared to the super power to the north, but in relation to the rest of Central America it is more pricey in the same way as Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina use to be to South America, and just like these countries it is transport and tourist hot spots that get you. Lets take the Yucatan for example, Cancún is nearer to Miami than México City and has many daily direct charter flights from Europe.

Such an influx of tourists, many who have considerable (by Mexican and backpacker standards), money to spread about is bound to push prices up. In addition the rapid development in México fuelled by the NAFTA agreement has brought in standards of services (such as buses of which many are excellent) that you just don't find in most other Latin American countries. For increased quality comes increased prices. Lets go back to that seemingly expensive bus journey from México City to Oaxaca. The bus will have AC, movies and the road is excellent. Much cheaper alternatives exist, of course you don't get AC and a movie, but you don't even get the same road since the good one is a toll road that the cost of using is the main contributor of the cost of your ticket. So take the cheaper bus if you want it to take twice as long. Let's be fair in the big scale of things the extra money is probably worth it. The analogy works with most things such as seemingly expensive food and accommodation.

Enjoy México for the right reasons (take touristy attractions especially the Yucatan, like the tequila - with a pinch of salt), learn some Spanish, get off the beaten track and enjoy for along with Guatemala it is a real highlight of this region and one of the world's most underrated country's.

Highlights & Lowlights:

  • MyanTypical tourist trail: The majority of tourists disregard the north of the country (above México City) which is mainly dry and harsh and not particularly rich in highlights. Unless they are making trips from America into the spectacular scenery of Baja California or to the Copper Canyon (which are both highlights). The vast majority of tourists fly into the Yucatan and spend there time there. Those with a bit more time may start in México City which is brimming with things to see and do. From there a typical path may head either directly to Oaxaca or to the coast at Acapulco (or further north) and then down along the coast to Porto Escondido and then up to Oaxaca. From Oaxaca the trail heads to Palenque, either via Villahermosa or Cristóbal de las Casas. For here on either Guatemala or the many amazing temple sites of the Yucatan will call you.

  • Costs: Costs vary hugely for México depending on where you are and what you are doing. On the two ends of scale lets use Cristóbal de las Casas and Cancún for example, the latter and around US$30 won't get you too far especially if you want a drink or two. In the former lazing around in a hammock you would be hard pressed to spend half the Yucatan amount living pretty good. There is a definite tourist economy, with high prices and sometimes, unhelpful service. To avoid this as much as possible and find places used by locals a good understanding of Spanish really makes a difference. Another certain key to budget travel in Mexico is planning a good circuit route so as to backtrack as little as possible and keep those fund killing bus trips to a minimum.

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»  United Stated of America

i Due to of the size and diversity of the United States, it has been divided up in this section into seven subsections:



» Introduction

* Miss at your peril: (okay it's well worth missing some parts) - 'Highlight of Independent Travel'



Add Note: Many thanks to Peter John for supplying this summary on mainland states and Michael Cain for information on Hawaii. The information here is from this author and not the site author. The views and facts expressed here are well research and good quality, but just bear in mind they should perhaps not be compared directly to other country summaries by other authors.

» The North-East

USAMaine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington D.C.

  • Intro: the cradle of Yankee civilisation, the most densely populated part of the country, with some of its greatest cities, and most beautiful countryside.

    • Highlights: nightlife and restaurants in New York City*, the Staten Island ferry in New York, museums in Washington D.C., New England clam chowder, fall colours in New England, Philadelphia and train travel.

    • Lowlights: industrial and suburban sprawl throughout, and disgraceful inner city poverty.

  • Typical tourist trail: Boston to Washington D.C., through Philadelphia and New York. Maybe taking in the fall colours of New England, the colonial villages of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and Cape Cod.

  • Hot/cold, wet and dry: Long punishing winters the further north you go, and hot and humid summers the further south. But even New York can be unbearably hot and sweaty in August, and Washington D.C. often gets very cold in winter. Spring and fall are pleasant throughout.

  • Getting around: the best part of America for public transportation. Trains go most places in the cities, and busses (including the nationwide Greyhound network) everywhere else. Distances are relatively small, so there's no need to fly. You CAN rent a car, but parking in New York or Boston is an expensive nightmare, and the traffic is appalling.

  • Rating: 7/10

» The South

Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas

  • Intro: the South is the region that lost the Civil War, and still remembers it. Former slave states, with the racial divide often all too evident. But the region has more than its share of places of historical interest, and "southern hospitality” is by no means a myth. The poor communications have meant that isolated peoples such as the Cajuns in Louisiana have survived for much longer in the South than elsewhere in the US, though a car is necessary to find them. Texas and Louisiana are very distinct in their own ways.

    • Highlights: beaches of South Carolina, Florida and the Gulf Coast; the Alamo; Austin, Texas; the French Quarter of New Orleans and Cajun country.

    • Lowlights: mosquitoes, deep fried diner food, Dallas and Houston.

  • Typical tourist trail: Florida, along the Gulf Coast to New Orleans or up to South Carolina, the Civil War battlefields and Washington D.C.

  • Hot/cold, wet and dry: hot and humid summers, usually mild and pleasant winters. Coastal areas often get hurricanes in the summer, and sudden downpours can occur at any time of year.

  • Getting around: "Public transportation? What's that?” A car is all but essential – relying on busses is very time consuming and frustrating. Cities like Atlanta or Houston sprawl for hundreds of square miles, but have virtually no busses. Greyhound has its usual skeletal inter-city network. Car rental places are everywhere, and gas is much cheaper than elsewhere in the US. Flying as always saves time, and Southwest and other low-cost airlines make it very affordable.

  • Rating: 7/10


» Mid-West

Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Kansas, North/South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio



» The West

New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California

  • Intro: mostly deserts and mountains and the size of western Europe. Still surprisingly empty off the Pacific coast. California alone has enough to occupy the (well-off) traveller for years: beaches, cities, forests and mountains. The desert scenery in Utah and Arizona is stunning. San Francisco is the most beautiful, liberal and cosmopolitan city in America, and Seattle and Los Angeles are definitely worth seeing.

    • Highlights: the coastal drive in California, San Francisco, Seattle, the national parks of southern Utah, the Grand Canyon*, Las Vegas, camping in the Redwoods in northern California.

    • Lowlights: Reno, Salt Lake City, the California's Central Valley and inland Washington and Oregon.

  • Typical tourist trail: LA to San Francisco up the coast of California, then inland to Vegas or Reno, and maybe taking in the national parks of Utah. Also, skiing in Colorado.

  • Hot/cold, wet and dry: hot, dry summers throughout (except coastal Washington and Oregon). Winters are punishing in Montana, but warm in Arizona or New Mexico. San Francisco has its own micro-climate where you can get four seasons in one day. Southern California is famously pleasant year-round.

  • Getting around: a car is virtually essential to explore outside San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle, and the distances are so huge that flights on low-cost airlines such as Southwest are well worth considering. Greyhound busses go between cities, but are slow. The Green Tortoise goes up the coast from LA to Seattle, and is quite cheap, but isn't nearly as frequent. Car rentals are everywhere, and often cheaper if booked in advance from abroad. LA is building a mass transit, but it is designed around commuters. Southwest's Internet specials mean that you can fly around the West for 30-70 USD.

  • Drugs, cigarettes and alcohol: Visitors to Colorado are able to purchase one quarter of an ounce of marijuana for private consumption. Public consumption is banned and this [legalisation] is still something in its infancy to be treated with respect. This is not Amsterdam. Well done Colorado for its forward thinking in this respect.

  • Rating: 8/10



» Alaska

  • Intro: mountains, fjords and glaciers and roughly twelve times the size of England, but with the population of one London suburb, of whom half (250,000) live in Anchorage. Some of the world's most dramatic mountain scenery and exotic wildlife – in fact, the grandeur of the scenery can get overwhelming at times. Great, though expensive, winter sports facilities. Alaska is, however, an extremely expensive destination to explore properly, and prices rise in high season.

    • Highlights: the wildlife, Denali (Mount McKinley), the Alaska Marine Highway, the Northern Lights.

    • Lowlights: the expense, the huge distances, Whittier.

  • Typical tourist trail: ferry up the coast from Bellingham, Washington or Vancouver to Anchorage or Seward, a cruise or three through the glaciers along the coast from Seward or Whittier, and then inland to Denali National Park with the tallest mountain in North America.

  • Hot/cold, wet and dry: four months a year of summer (June-Sept) when it can get up to 80F in Fairbanks in the interior and mosquitoes are the main problem, brief springs and autumns, then a long, cold winter. The interior and the far north are much colder in the winter. Needless to say, prices rise considerably during the tourist season.

  • Getting around: for once in America, having a car isn't everything, as roads are generally limited and in poor condition. In fact, you can't even get to the state capital, Juneau, by road. To explore the interior, be prepared to rent a plane and pilot from Anchorage or Fairbanks, though this is very expensive (200-250 USD/day). There is a railroad which goes from Seward, through Anchorage to Fairbanks, though it is so expensive that you are likely to be better off renting a car. Along the coast, there are plenty of ferries, including the state-run Alaska Marine Highway, up from Seattle through the islands and fjords to Anchorage and beyond. For non-Americans, Alaska Airlines does an airpass which will get you to the state and fly you around at discounted rates.

  • Rating: 6/10



» Hawaiian Islands

Edit Many thanks to Michael Cain for contributing the above Hawaii summary.







? Please find Central America info on that page. Info on The Great Plains is required if anyone wants to help out - the USA can always use some updating. Many thanks to Glen Risco and Michael Cain for their help on Maui and the Mid-West. Any others is more than welcomed.





Remember, this is only a take (an overview if you will); very few get the chance to see every inch of every country or have the time to get everyone's opinion (you are welcome and encouraged to mail in yours). Please, please if you have been anywhere recently send your comments to contribute and help keep all information fresh for future travellers. Or if you are about to head off remember this site when you return and put a few lines in an e-mail to let us know if things have changed.

 

'The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss'

Thomas Carlyle




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