1. "Don't forget about time zones. Even if you account for the time it will take to travel from one area of the country to another, check that you aren't switching a time zone or two along the way. It could mess with your plans."
2. "Prepare for the fact that public transportation is absolutely terrible or nonexistent unless you’re in a big ticket area like New York, Seattle etc. It’s shocking how hard it is to get places sometimes without your own car. You can’t just take a train to the next town over and catch a bus to your house like you can in other places."
3. "Don't think the laws are the same everywhere. You can walk with an open alcohol container in Vegas, but not necessarily in other places. Alcohol laws, marijuana laws, firearm laws — they can be very different depending on the state and city you're in."
4. "Don't underestimate distances. When I was a tour guide, far too many customers asked how many HOURS the train to New York was [while in Seattle] and I had to put their jaw back in when I said five days."
"Greater Los Angeles (LA, Long Beach, Anaheim) covers an area larger than Belgium. It takes 6.5 hours to drive from Orlando to Key West. The infamous 'cannonball run' drive from New York to LA covers 4,677 km — a full 100 km further than driving from Lisbon to Moscow on the M1. Things in the US are far apart."
"Along those lines, make sure you know where your next gas station is when driving in rural states. I planned poorly crossing Wyoming in the past and ended up sleeping in a gas station parking lot, waiting for it to open the next morning."
5. "Don’t assume that the price shown on an item for sale is the price you'll pay for said item. There are almost always taxes that are added to the price when you go to pay."
6. "If you get pulled over by a cop, NEVER step out of your vehicle before the cop comes to you. Never go to the cop. A cop will freak out. Also, it is a tactic people use when they don't want the cop to see something in their vehicle and cops are very aware of it. It will put them on edge. Stay in your car with your empty hands on the steering wheel (where the cop can see them) and wait for the cop to walk up to your window. Step out of your vehicle if the cop asks/orders you to do so. Don't reach for anything without asking/telling the cop what you are reaching for. Cops can freak out when someone reaches for something automatically. They think it might be a gun."
"Don't give the cops permission to search your car without a warrant. If it's a rental, you don't know what's been in there. If they have probable cause, they don't need your permission. So, if they're asking for permission, they're just fishing for a reason."
7. "Don’t underestimate how big the personal space bubbles of Americans are, especially if you come from a culture where people are more packed together. Americans have pretty big personal space bubbles and getting too close can make people uncomfortable here. Also, be prepared for how loud and conversational Americans are. Because of those personal space bubbles, they speak loudly to cover the space. If you’re from a culture where people speak in low tones generally, this may be a bit of a culture shock."
8. "If you go to a department store, Kohls, Target, or even Home Depot, they often try to get people to sign up for credit cards. Absolutely don’t do this. Tell your non-English speaking friends this. The short time I worked at Target, I often saw people who were clearly just visiting the US get signed up for credit cards. It may not always work since the lack of a social security number, but it is a major time-suck for sure."
10. "Don't take pictures with the people dressed up in costumes in Los Angeles or New York City."
"They'll immediately expect payment for it. This only applies to photos where you pose directly with them. Taking photos of them from a distance is fine."
11. "When visiting our national parks, please take out any trash that you carry in. Our parks are becoming more and more trashed by people who just don't care. Also, be very, VERY careful with any open flames. Even a discarded cigarette butt can start a major wildfire given the right conditions. Much of the western US is in a severe drought."
12. "National parks are not zoos. Stay away from wild animals. Do not feed the animals. Do not approach the animals. Do not encourage your toddler to waddle up and PET the animals. It's not just for your safety; it is also for the safety of the animals. Human food can absolutely destroy wild animal digestive tracks and cause them to become hopelessly dependent on humans."
13. "If you find yourself in Florida, absolutely do not swim in the lakes, ditches, or channels. Any standing body of water can (and does) have alligators in it. Also, possibly water moccasins. And maybe even diseases."
"Same advice goes for any fresh or brackish water near the Gulf of Mexico (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama) and for coastal Georgia and South Carolina. Parts of North Carolina near Wilmington could be sketchy as well."
14. "If a raccoon seems friendly and comes up to you (and acts like a house cat or dog), there is a good possibility it has rabies. Advice: Stay away. Alert authorities."
15. "If you're visiting Las Vegas, do not engage with anyone that asks if you'll be in town tomorrow night. They're trying to rope you into a timeshare presentation. Even though they'll offer free show tickets, meal vouchers, and even cash, it's not worth it! The tour and 'short' presentation will be way longer (and obnoxiously higher pressure) than you'd expect and they know damn well after you've invested a few hours you're not going to leave without the promised reward that they only give you at the very end. These people are most often found at the entrances of malls or casinos at what can be easily mistaken for information booths. Just say no or flat-out ignore them."
16. "Visiting the southwestern United States such as California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, etc.? DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE HEAT. All too often, people try a hike in 113°F and end up needing rescue. And that's no good for anyone."
18. "Do not come without travel insurance. No matter how short of a time you're visiting. God forbid you scrape a knee in the US; you’ll be out $10k."
20. "If you are driving, always let the pedestrians have first priority. If anything happens, it's always your fault. Vehicles will always yield to pedestrians, even bikes."
22. Finally: "Don’t smoke outside the approved public smoking areas. Everywhere has them. If you’re not sure where to smoke, ask someone. Proximity smoking laws here are pretty strict, and it’s considered very rude to ignore them, especially in public places where there might be kids."
What else should first-time travelers to the US keep in mind? Share your tips in the comments.
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.