How to get to and travel around the United States?

From Japan we travel to the other end of the world :) My report from a trip to the United States will get started a bit from the end, because of some essential practical information. I am convinced that all of it will be useful not only during traveling, but also during the planning. Feel free to read! :)

By car through USA
“Our” Car

Not such a terrible visa procedure

The first step in making the trip to the United States of America is getting a visa. Before I started the process of obtaining a visa myself, I’ve heard a bunch of different, third-hand-stories about how someone’s distant relative has not received a visa. It should be noted that these relatives were usually unemployed, so naturally there were suspicions, that they leave in order to work informally in US. Additionally, many doubt poses the US declaration, that having a visa does not guarantee the entry into the country. What was it like in my case?

As we were visiting the US as tourists, we applied for a B1/B2 visa (tourist and business). After making sure that I have an appropriate photograph, a valid passport, and any required application forms and confirmations, along with my husband, we agreed to talk with the consul. The talks take place in two Polish cities – Warsaw and Krakow. Although are agreed for a specific time, the process itself is quite unique… The beginning of the adventure with the USA begins in front of the Consulate 😉

The US Consulate in Krakow is placed in a very picturesque location, near the old city center. We arrived a little ahead of time. Anyway, not only do we – except us, quite a large crowd of people has gathered in front of the building. We were somewhat surprised that despite being given the specific time of the appointment, at the same time a large group of people was waiting, too. Moreover, we were all forbidden to approach the Consulate – we had to stand in the shadows across the street, while the Consulate was bathing in the warm sunshine. When the clock hit 8.00 AM, from the consulate came out two people and began handing out… numbers! As you can guess, elbows went into motion to push their owners to the front. But without any exaggeration: in the end, all gathered were adults, so scuffles were quite discreetly camouflaged.

When we got our numbers, we entered the consulate. We went through a control similar to those at airports, then we went up the stairs, to the next room. In it was a lady in a cashier-like window, who checked all applications. However, according to the window Lady my husband ought to have more exposed ears in his photograph, and, therefore, ordered him to make a new one. Fortunately, where there is a need, there is a growing business! In front of the Consulate one can find a photographer who takes visa pictures, and so my husband was rescued.

Bridges in the USA
Those bridges! :)

In the next room was a waiting room made for those, who were waiting for the conversation with the consul. Of course, in a separate room, behind armored glass in the window as in a typical Polish post office. Although our wedding was yet to come, the consul agreed to talk with me and my almost-husband in one go. He was young, nice, not picky. He had a beautiful Polish accent a la Max Kolonko, which is the accent, as he has said himself, he hated. He asked about education, work, and approved our applications. If we did not have work, most likely we would have to prove that something keeps us in our country. An example of such an anchor are loans, houses, flats.

Passports with a visa had to be collected in person at the designated points at the courier company TNT. Personally, I do not recommend this in Krakow – wit took us some time to get to the place, it is well hidden among industrial warehouses 😉

After the landing

After passing a long maze of corridors, we came to the first officer, who had to decide whether we can enter the United States, and for how long. He was dry and rather unfriendly (apparently such a standard), but gave a positive decision for our stay. Further, at the next border inspection we had to prove whether we have any goods we can not bring into the country. Yes, we had – an orange. We had to leave it there. But alcohol had aroused a positive stir.

You are Polish, aren’t you? – one of the officers asked, grinning from ear to ear.

Yes, but we live in Finland.

Oh ho ho! I see, that you are prepared to have a great day! The alcohol you would probably have for breakfast, huh? Poles are world champions! Have a pleasant breakfast and an enjoyable stay in the USA! – he said, laughing and waving as we were parting.

At this point we have to mention one important thing. Namely, at JFK Airport in New York cell phone signal is blocked until you go to the immigration control. Therefore, if the flight is late or a person encounters any further problems, then they have no chance to tell their friends about what happened.

Airplanes

The fact that the United States is best accessible by plane, is probably obvious to everyone. However, did you know that when traveling between states it is also a good idea to use planes? In the US domestic flights act a bit like buses. There are several a day, and if flights are booked early, the prices are low. What’s more, if you suddenly find that an earlier flight fits somebody more, they may arrive earlier at the airport and see if all there are any free seats. If yes and a person has a ticket for a later flight, they can fly earlier. With no extra charge :)


On the trains and more from the point of view of the American

Car rental in United States

The Americans, when they travel through their own country, use airplanes and cars. Near each airport there is a car rental. Our market research showed, that the cheapest rental at that time was Budget. Do not get fooled – people from outside of the United States in addition to standard charging must take into account the cost of insurance, which (in our case) exceeded the cost of renting the car. United States citizens do not have a problem with the insurance costs, because their insurance are constructed in a different way than in Poland. To put it bluntly, insurance is on the person, not the car, but whatever car the person drives – is insured with them. In this way, airfare and car rental is for them quite cheap, therefore it is a popular way to explore the country. At least, so we were advised by Americans with whom we hitched a ride. The first in my life, anyway 😉

Before leaving we had a chance to read, that the rental companies usually rent better models of the car than the one which was selected. However, only in the case when you are choosing the worst possible option, and it is unavailable. So it was in our case – we got a very large and comfortable Ford instead of a modest, tiny Hyundai. Except for the fact that one of the wheels had trouble maintaining tire pressure, it was all in all far above our expectations. We did not have an international driving license, but no one seemed to mind. Apparently the police also had none objections, but had no chance to check it out 😉 We gave back keys and the vehicle with no problems and questions. We gave the car back in 5 minutes, and no one wished to control us, if certainly did not damage the car or steal the radio. If you want to learn more about our road adventures, I will share them a bit later because our first goal is the city that never sleeps, that is… New York City! :)

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