- Chris Tollerfield grew up in the UK and traveled 48 of the US states.
- Tollerfield noticed some big differences between the US and the UK when road-tripping.
- He learned that US residents stop at stop signs and have hot food in their gas stations.
After visiting all 48 contiguous US states in five years, a common question I get is what are the differences between the UK and the US when traveling?
There are things I know now that I wish I had known at the start of my journey, as well as tips and tricks that would have saved me so much time and money. I also could have seen and experienced so much more.
After road-tripping all over America for the past five years, these seven things were the most surprising to me.
1. Entering the US has some steps
Foreigners must have the correct travel ESTA (Electronic System of Travel Authorization). This is needed if you are entering the country not only by air but also by car. If you plan on visiting Canada or Mexico, have your passport and an up-to-date ESTA.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have this when I visited Seattle from Vancouver. I got mine at the border, and it was pretty pricey and took time to get.
2. Booking a car can be pricy
There are differences between booking a car in the USA vs. the UK, the main one being rental cars in the UK don’t offer unlimited mileage.
I also discovered that booking a rental car from the airport is pricier than renting one from outside the airport. It isn’t always possible to escape this problem. However, depending on the location, there are plenty of ways to save money.
For example, we rode a Greyhound bus from New York to Philadelphia for one portion of our road trip. This cost us $20 each, and we saved nearly $100 as we collected the car in Philadelphia and not at JFK (it was very affordable).
3. There are different rules for driving
In the UK, we drive on the opposite side of the road, and the driver sits on the right side. When I made my trip through the US, I realized it didn’t affect me much — I was able to adapt and catch on quickly.
The US has different driving rules, and it’s important to read up on them. For example, you can turn right at some (not all) red lights, and you must stop at stop signs for a few seconds. In the UK, we more commonly have junctions.
I also noticed there are many lanes in the US, especially on major highways and in places like California and Texas. This means you want to merge into your lane quickly.
Lastly, I learned not to speed. I know driving a Mustang with the rooftop down across the California coast is a dream, but the police are everywhere, and they will happily give you a nice little fine if you break these rules.
4. There are way more food options along highways and hot food at gas stations
There are way more food options along the main highways in the US than in the UK. Even the gas stations in the US offer hot food options.
When I was driving through the southwestern states, I loved stopping by Dutch Bros for drive-thru coffee. Visiting Buc-ee’s when traveling through Texas is 100% worth a visit. It’s the world’s largest gas station at 74,000 square feet and sells everything from food to clothing — it’s huge.
When it came to purchasing food, I preferred eating a decent breakfast and snacking throughout the day rather than stopping for a proper meal every time I felt hungry (this was simply to save money and time). Then, I stocedk up on water, snacks, and goodies for the journey ahead.
In the UK, we have the basic McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway along our motorways, too, but we don’t have as many other restaurants to choose from.
5. You’ll need to dress according to the state you’re in
In the summer, you can get away with wearing shorts throughout the summer in the UK, but it depends on the state in the US. I learned that even desert states like Utah and Arizona get cold at night. For example, after driving from Los Angeles to St. Louis, MO, I went from wearing shorts and a t-shirt to my winter coat when we hit Utah.
I liked stopping by places like Bass Pro Shop because they sell so much outdoor clothing at very reasonable prices and offer great deals. I picked up multiple flannels for no more than $25 each.
6. Sporting events sometimes sell out
When it comes to watching live sports in the US, some teams require booking well in advance. Almost all college games and 90% of NFL games sell out. That’s less common in the UK unless it’s for a big team.
In the US, baseball games seem to be easily accessible, and I learned you can sometimes buy tickets on the day of at cheap prices. My partner and I turned up to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates 15 minutes before the game started, and it cost us $14.
7. College towns and campuses have a fun nightlife
I found that colleges in the US are worth checking out during road trips as they have plenty of history and provide you with everything you need.
College towns usually offer reasonably priced accommodations and great food options, and most have a great night scene with many bars and party events.
Some of the most fun nights I’ve had on my travels have been in these towns, and I’ve made plenty of friends from these locations.
I also liked shopping for merchandise and apparel at the college bookstores. They usually offer super comfy, reasonably priced clothing, and I’ve collected hoodies from colleges in Colorado, West Virginia, and Texas — they’ve become a wearable memory.
The universities in the UK don’t have as much to offer, and the only ones worth checking out are Oxford and Cambridge because of their history. The campuses here provide very little in terms of entertainment and nightlife.
Chris Tollerfield is a student anesthesia associate for the UK’s National Health Service from Sheffield, England.
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