Complete North America Travel Guide

North America header

North America is probably one of the most familiar continents to most of us because of the prevalence of American media.  However, it is much more than what we see in movies and TV.  It is an incredibly diverse continent.

The North America countries range from Mexico, through the United States, out to the Bahamas and the Caribbean and up to Canada.  In fact, there are so many North America destinations worth visiting that it can be overwhelming.  This is where my North America Travel Guide can help you.

North America Travel Guide

This North America trip planner will help answer questions such as “What is North America famous for?” and will help direct you where to travel in North America, highlighting some key North America trips and vacation destinations.  North America has plenty of awe-inspiring experiences and activities to enjoy.  Also included are practical tips to help make your trip easier.

Please note that some of the links in the North America Guide may be affiliate links.  At no additional cost to you, I earn a small commission if you make a purchase. If you are ready to book your trip and would like to support this website in some way, using these links is one way to do that.  Read my Disclaimer for more information.-inspiring

Country Guides

CANADA

Canada is one of the best places in North America to visit in the summer when the weather is mild and many of Canada’s attractions spring to life.   There is incredible natural beauty (the Rockies are jaw-dropping); great wildlife (swim with beluga whales in Churchill) and world-class cities such as Vancouver and Montreal.  Winter is great for skiing in Whistler, watching the northern lights and seeing polar bears in the northern tundra.

Read Canada posts here

CARIBBEAN

One of the most popular destinations for North America vacations featuring sun and the sea.  It’s a popular cruise ship destination, which is an easy way to see the highlights and experience snorkeling and sailing on shore excursions.  You can also stay in beach resorts and relax, eat great food and shop till you drop.

Read Caribbean posts here

MEXICO

With an incredible diversity of experiences to have and things to see, Mexico has it all.  Explore ancient ruins, laze on sandy beaches, dive in cenotes, experience the culture in bustling cities, cook on remote farms … Mexico is another of the popular places in North America to travel to.  I spent two months traversing the country and loved every minute of it.  The food is delicious, the people are warm and welcoming.

Read Mexico posts here

U.S.A.

The United States is one of the best places to visit in North America if you want to hike in incredible national parks like Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Grand Tetons, Acadia or Mesa Verde.  Or visit some of the super famous cities in North America like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans or Chicago.  Or take an epic road trip.  Or try bagels in NYC, fried green tomatoes in Atlanta, alligator in Louisiana or popovers in Maine.

Read USA posts here

Best Things to Do in North America

Many of the famous places in North America are iconic cities and sights, but there are also many awesome activities to engage with the local culture and environment.

RIDE THE GRAND CANYON RIVER RAPIDS

Grand Canyon is among the most famous of the North America tourist attractions.  However, most people just see it from above.

Seeing the walls of the canyon towering above you as you speed down white water rapids in a tiny wooden boat, bailing frantically, is a unique experience.

Read more about riding the rapids of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.

HIKE THE BIGGEST TREES ON THE PLANET

Sequoia National Park and the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park in California, are home to the largest trees on earth.

The Congress Trail is one of the best hikes in the U.S. because it takes you past several trees so large that they will leave you in total awe of nature.

Read more about hiking the Congress Trail in Sequoia National Park

KAYAK PAST  TOTEM POLES & BALD EAGLES

Haida Gwaii, formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands, are some of the best places to go in North America to experience the pristine nature and first nation’s culture of the Pacific Northwest.  Bald eagles, sea lions and ancient totem poles make a multi-say sea-kayaking trip a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Read more about kayaking Haida Gwaii.

DIVE | SNORKEL WITH MANTA RAYS

Throughout the year, manta rays, with wingspans of more than 20 feet, come to feed on invisible plankton near  Kona, Hawaii, making this one of the top destinations in North America for diving.

Swimming with these gentle giants swooping and gliding through the water is incredible!

Read more about diving and snorkeling with manta rays in Hawaii

BOOK HERE

JUMP OFF THE EDGE OF 200-FOOT CLIFFS

Zion National Park is one of the top places to visit in North America for narrow slot canyons.

Canyoneering through them is not for the faint-hearted, but if you have a sense of adventure, then rappelling down a series of cliffs is guaranteed to get your blood pumping.

Read more about rappelling down slot canyons in Zion National Park

Top Ten Things to Do in North America

In addition to the five activities above, add:

6. Encounter polar bears in Canada

One of my all-time favorite North America attractions is the polar bears on Churchill, Manitoba in Canada.  This is probably the best place in the world to see polar bears.  They come through the town and the neighboring region throughout the fall especially.

Churchill is accessible only by a very long train trip from Winnipeg, or a much shorter flight.  You can take a 5-day trip that includes flights to/ from Winnipeg and two trips to see polar bears in tundra buggies, as well as other sights in the area.

BOOK POLAR BEAR TRIP

7. Learn Mexican cooking in Mexico

Mexico is one of the top travel destinations in North America for its beaches, culture, ancient ruins and food.  What better way to experience it than to take a cooking class in the local cuisine.  Oaxaca is a great place to take a cooking class.

BOOK OAXACAN COOKING CLASS

8. Enjoy the holiday season in New York City

New York City has more than its fair share of famous tourist places in North America.  Enjoy the views from the top of the Empire State Building (you can get tickets here), sail past the Statue of Liberty (buy fast track access tickets here) and watch a play or musical on Broadway.

My favorite time to visit NYC is December, when the turns into a magical holiday winter wonderland.  There is so much to do to enjoy the holidays, I wrote an entire guide about Christmas (and Hanukkah) in the New York City.

9. Ride the cable cars in San Francisco

San Francisco is another of the top North America travel destinations.  The Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf are famous, but nothing beats hopping on a cable car and riding the steep streets of the city.  If you are up for it, stand up on the edge and hang out (though not too far) as you go.

TIP: Get on at one or two stops past the start of the line.  They usually keep standing room free for additional people.

10. Enjoy jazz in New Orleans

New Orleans is one of the most popular cities in North America because of the music, the food and the vibe.  The live jazz here is sensational.  Join a jazz tour through the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, stopping off at two live jazz venues and enjoying southern cocktails.  Buy jazz tour tickets here.

Where to go in North America: Itineraries

There are so many great North America places to visit.  Visiting just one city like New York City is all you need for a great vacation.  However, if you want some other North America itinerary ideas, here are some:

  • Canada cities [2 weeks]: Quebec City – Montreal – Ottawa – Toronto
  • U.S. Southwest [1.5 weeks]: Paige (Antelope Canyon) – Monument Valley – Arches National Park – Mesa Verde National Park – Paige
  • U.S. Southwest [2 weeks]: San Francisco – Yosemite National Park – Sequoia National Park – Death Valley National Park – Las Vegas
  • U.S. Canyons [1 week]: Las Vegas – Bryce CanyonZion National Park – Las Vegas
  • U.S. Grand Canyon [1.5 weeks]: Flagstaff – rafting Grand CanyonBright Angel Trail hike – south rim – Flagstaff
  • U.S. New England [1.5 weeks]: Boston – Portland – Bar Harbor – Acadia National Park – Vermont – Boston
  • Caribbean cruise [1 week]: Miami – Bahamas – St Maarten – US Virgin Islands – Miami

Costs to Visit North America

Hotels in the United States can easily cost over $100/ night, even in basic chain hotels.  The major cities are much more expensive, of course, and hotels in New York City will most likely be one of your major expenses – the average price of a New York City hotel is about $300/ night.  Meals typically cost $15-35 and up in a restaurant.  You can get a sandwich at a deli for about $5.

Credit cards are very common in the United States, although you will occasionally encounter places that are cash only.

Tax is usually not included in the tag price or menu price.  The amount of tax varies from state to state. Always expect to pay more than the amount on the price tag.  There are exceptions such as food that you will cook at home.

Costs in the Caribbean vary from island to island.  An example is the US Virgin Islands, where the average price for a hotel is $190 for a double room and the average price of a meal is $35.  You can often get package deals with resort hotels that can save you money.

You can also travel around the Caribbean on a cruise ship.  It’s possible to get good deals on cruises, and these always include all meals (though drinks and shore excursions are extra and expensive)

The cost of a trip to Canada also varies depending on where you go and the level of comfort and luxury you have.  Some of my favorite trips are to out-of-the-way places such as Haida Gwaii and Churchill, and these are more expensive.

The average cost of a hotel is about $190, but you can stay in cheap motels for less than $100/ night and a hostel dorm bed for about $20.  Luxury hotels are over $200/ night.  Lunch (average price about $14) is cheaper than dinner (average price about $20).

Mexico is much cheaper.  You can get a bed in a dorm in a hostel for about M$200/ night.  A double room in a mid-range hotel costs about M$630 – 1,500 and in a luxury hotel approximately M$1,600 – 5,000. Lunch is cheaper than dinner and you can get a fixed price lunch (comida corrida) in a cheap restaurant for about $M60-90.  A nice dinner with drinks costs about $M250-350 and fine dining will set you back about M$360-500.

Note that cash is most common in Mexico, though credit cards are accepted in major hotels and restaurants.  ATMs are common.

As always, activities are some of my major expenses.

Essential Information about North America

The U.S. dollar (USD $) is the currency for the United States.

The USD is also widely accepted throughout the Caribbean.  Most of the islands actually have their own currency, but accept USD.  However, if you use a credit card in the Caribbean, you will usually be subject to a conversion rate.  ATMs in the Caribbean will usually give the local currency, not USD.

In Canada, there is the Canadian dollar (CAD $).  In Mexico, the currency is the peso (MXN $).  Note that the peso uses the same $ sign as the dollar, so it is easy to be confused.

Check current exchange rates here.

Visa requirements vary from country to country.

Many countries fall under the ESTA program for the United States.  If you are a citizen of one of these countries (check here), you can apply for an ESTA visa online here.  You need to do this at least 72 hours before you travel to the U.S.

If you are not from any of these countries, you will need to get a tourist visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate before you travel to the United States.  You should check your country’s U.S. embassy/ consulate page to see how long it takes to get an appointment.

The Caribbean is made up of many islands that are or belong to different countries.  Some of the islands such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands are territories of the United States.  Others belong to France, the U.K. or the Netherlands.  Some are completely independent.  Always check before you travel.

Note that Americans cannot travel to Cuba except in limited circumstances.  However, this includes the “Support the Cuban People” category, which typically involves doing cultural activities, which is what I’m all about anyway.

Canada and Mexico also have different visa requirements for different countries.  Travel to Canada is easy for Americans, Australians and Brits, and they do not need a visa.

Americans, Canadians, Australians and Brits do not need a visa for Mexico for a stay of up to 180 days.  Here is a list of websites for Mexican embassies around the world.

Always check with the country you are traveling to, as information can change rapidly.  You can also check out your home country’s official government visa websites:

For citizens of other countries, use this helpful website (though it’s best to always check with the embassy as well).

There are several major North America time zones.

  • The most well-known time zone is Eastern Standard Time (EST). This applies to the east cost of the United States and Ontario and Quebec in Canada, plus the western islands in the Caribbean.
  • A narrow part of Canada east of this (Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) is on Atlantic Time, an hour head. (EST+1) This also includes the eastern Caribbean islands.
  • Newfoundland in Canada is another half hour ahead (EST+1.5)
  • Moving west from the east coast is Central Time. (EST-1).  This includes almost all of Mexico and Saskatchewan, Manitoba and some of the Northwest Territories in Canada.
  • Moving further west again is Mountain Time (EST-2), which is basically the strip along the Rocky Mountains, most of Baja California in Mexico and north into Alberta and most of the Northwest Territories in Canada.
  • The northern part of Baja California, the west coast of the U.S. and Canada (British Columbia and Yukon) are on Pacific Time. (EST-3)
  • Alaska is another hour behind. (EST-4)
  • Hawaii is yet another hour behind that (EST-5)

Note that daylight savings is observed in many, but not all areas.  There are even parts of some states in the U.S. that don’t observe it, and some native American nations don’t observe it.  This can making driving through Arizona in summer, for example, very confusing, as you are frequently driving between central and mountain time with and without daylight savings!

English is the main language in most of North America, but there are some exceptions.  In the United States, English is the official language and you will be able to get around everywhere easily if you speak English.

In Canada, French is the main language in Quebec, and English is spoken elsewhere.  Both languages are official languages in Canada.

Many Native Americans and Canadian First Nations people have their own indigenous languages, but typically speak English as well.

In Mexico, Spanish is the official language.  English is spoken in many hotels, but if you speak even just a little Spanish, it will be helpful.

The Caribbean was colonized by several countries including Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, and their languages are still the main languages of those islands.  Check out the full list on Wikipedia here.

How to Get to North America

Getting to the North America is easy.  There are frequent flights to major airline hubs throughout the continent.

If you are flying from Australia or New Zealand,  Los Angeles or San Francisco are the major entry points, though there is now also a 17.5-hour flight between Sydney and Houston.

New York City is one of the major entry points from Europe.  There are three major airports in NYC – JFK, Newark (technically in nearby new Jersey) and LaGuardia.

Other major hub airports in the United States include Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Fort Worth, Miami International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta.

Cruise ships also go from Australia via Hawaii to the west coast if you want to make a journey of it.  My father did this from Australia to Vancouver because he doesn’t like to fly, and he loved it.

It’s helpful to be aware that when you enter the United States, you will clear through immigration and customs in the city that you land in the U.S., so if you have an onward ticket, make sure that it is for several hours after you are due to land in the U.S.  I have missed a couple of connecting flights because I got held up in long immigration lines at my port of entry city.  The airline rescheduled me easily enough, but still, it was a drag.

Note that many airports in the United States are going cashless.  At Newark Liberty Airport near NYC, for example, all of the bars and food outlets are credit card only.

If you are transiting through a city, double check that you are flying in and out for the same airport.  Keep in mind too that the larger airports have multiple terminals and you should make sure you factor in enough time to transfer between terminals if necessary.

Major hubs in Canada are Vancouver (west coast) and Toronto (east coast).

Mexico City is the main airport for Mexico, but there are also many smaller regional airports.

Miami and San Juan in Puerto Rico are the major hubs for Caribbean cruises and Vancouver, Canada is the major hub for Alaska cruises.

Check for flights on Skyscanner and Momondo to find the cheapest flights. Both of these websites search budget airlines and regular airlines to find the cheapest flights for you.

Layovers

Another great (and cheap) way to see some of the main North American cities is on a layover.  Many airlines fly via North American cities and you can arrange a short or extended layover there.  Here are some suggestions for extended layovers in North America.

NOTE: Make sure you have a valid visa for your layover.

How to Get Around North America

There is a very extensive network of flights all around North America.  Major U.S. airlines are United, American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, Jet Blue, Virgin America, Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines.  To be honest, American airline companies are not the best airlines in the world (Middle Eastern and Asian airlines are usually top of the ‘best’ lists), but they will get you where you want to go.

Be prepared for long lines at security checkpoints at times, depending on the level of security alert when you fly.  I was in an incredibly long line leaving Las Vegas and people all around me were missing their flights.  I always get to the airport with hours to spare, so I was OK, so I recommend this.

Air Canada is the major airline in Canada.  A budget competitor is West Jet.

Mexico’s national airline is Aeromexico.  Other smaller airlines in Mexico include Volaris, Interjet, TAR Aerolineas and VivaAerobus.

Check for flights on Skyscanner and Momondo.

Buses in Canada and Mexico are common, clean, air conditioned and comfortable, though the Mexican buses can have loud music or videos playing.  I took buses throughout Mexico for two months and found them comfortable and frequent – and cheap.

Bus stations are chaotic and not the safest of places though, so keep an eye on your belongings.  There are  air-conditioned buses with seat reservations on major routes.  Some of the local routes are less comfortable, with old U.S. school buses (think ‘no leg room’) and these can get very crowded.

The main bus line in the United States is Greyhound, though there are many other regional bus lines too.  There are cheaper competitors such as BoltBus that offer ridiculously cheap tickets at times.

You can use GoToBus.com to find buses from multiple companies in the United States.

After taking buses around most of Latin America very comfortably, I was shocked when I first traveled on Greyhound.  Not all of the buses are that great, the routes can be less than direct and major bus stations are often in dodgy areas of town.  I was on a night bus from Atlanta to New Orleans and we were kicked off the bus at 2:00am for an hour while they cleaned the bus.  I was not happy!

In the United States, the main rain line is Amtrak.  Train travel isn’t super popular in the U.S., and the train is usually more expensive than the bus, but it’s actually a nice way to get around the U.S.  My father hates to fly, so he traveled from New York City to Chicago, then Chicago to San Francisco, and San Francisco to Los Angeles by train and enjoyed it a lot.

The trip along the Hudson River north of New York City is beautiful.  Sit on the left side going north and the right side going south for the best views.   The cross-country train is timed to spend most of the nights in the (unexciting) prairie states and be in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierras during the day.  You can get tiny cabins with a bed that folds out and meals are included.  The train across the Rockies has a viewing car.

In Canada, the main railway company is Via Rail Canada.  I took the train across Canada from the east coast to the west coast.  It was an awesome journey.  This trip is broken into several sections by the railway company (but you can buy a Canada Rail Pass that covers it all): from Halifax – Montreal, Montreal – Toronto, Toronto-Vancouver.  I took a side trip from Winnipeg up to Churchill and back to see beluga whales, plus a spur from Jasper to Prince Rupert to kayak Haida Gwaii.

There is also the Canadian Rockies train, the Rocky Mountaineer, that includes carriages with glass ceilings for mountain views, transfers, nights in nice hotels and meals.

There is a train within Mexico City, but the rest of the rail network in Mexico is for freight.

Especially in Canada and the United States, driving is a great way to get around.  If your vacation is to one city, then you won’t need a car (don’t even THINK about driving in New York City!), but for many destinations, having a car is essential, or at the very least, beneficial.  It is almost impossible to visit many national parks without a car, for example.

I like to use rentalcars.com to find a rental car, because the website searched multiple countries to find an available car that suits your needs and price range.

Search rentalcars.com here.

Where to Stay in North America

There are many different types of accommodations in North America.  For more information on types of accommodation, check out my Accommodation Guides.

Hostels

Hostels are common throughout North America and if you are travelling alone, a bed in a dorm is definitely the cheapest option other than camping.

Hotels

Hotels are not that cheap in much of North America.  In some places like New York City, this may be one of your biggest expenses.  Quality varies and style can vary greatly, from basic, but reliable, chain hotels to gorgeous luxury hotels.

Motels

These are often a cheap option.  They are typically rows of rooms with parking in front of your room.  I sometimes choose motels when I am on the road and need somewhere to stay for a night, or when I am somewhere expensive and I want to try save money on accommodation.

Lodges

Most of the national parks in the United States have lodges.  Some of them, like the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone NP, are true classics, with multi-storeyed, aged wooden beams and huge stone fireplaces.  They are not cheap, but give you a comfortable, classic old world national park experience.  Many parks also have more modern lodges with less character but cheaper prices.  It is worth a splurge to stay in at least one classic lodge.

Resorts

Especially common in the Caribbean and the Yucatan beach areas in Mexico, they are sometimes all-inclusive, so meals (and sometimes even drinks) are all included in the price.  They have pools, nearby beaches, bars, restaurants and entertainment.  A whole vacation in one place.

Cruises

Cruises are common in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, plus other places like Baja California, Alaska, Hawaii and Bermuda.  Cruise ships can be enormous with skating rinks, ziplines, gold courses, water slides and cinemas.  I worked in a cruise ship for almost two years, so kind of had my fill in, but they are an easy way to travel, with all meals and entertainment included.  You can book shore excursions that will take you sailing, snorkeling or even swimming with stingrays.

Campsites

In national parks (and many other places), camping can save you a lot of money – and often get you more remote places in the middle of nature.  If you are willing to rough it a little, this is one way to truly get back to nature.

Tents

There are many campsites with tents that you can drive to.

Back country camping (i.e. pitching your tent in a place you can only get to by hiking, usually, but not always in a designated campsite) in national parks usually requires a special permit that you get from the National Parks office.

RVs

If you want to camp, but don’t fancy sleeping in a tent, you can rent an RV and drive around the United States or Canada.

Air BnB

Renting a house or apartment on Airbnb is very popular in North America and can save you money.

Guesthouses (hospedajes in Mexico) or Inns

These small hotels often have lots of character and usually include breakfast.  I am a huge fan.

Bed and Breakfasts (BandBs)

Can be an inn, or can be a room in someone’s house.  Gives you a chance to connect to your (usually) friendly host and earn more what there is to do in the area.

I use booking.com and Agoda for hotel bookings and AirBnB for apartments.

Unique Hotels in North America

There are plenty of unique and interesting places to stay in North America.  Just staying on these hotels is a travel experience.

  • Hôtel de Glace, Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, Quebec, This hotel is made of ice and filled with ice sculptures. Open January – March.   Check prices and availability here
  • Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas. This enormous resort complex dominates Paradise Island, which is near Nassau in the Bahamas.  They have a water park; snorkeling, scuba and snuba; a huge aquarium; and several different lagoons including one filled with stingrays and another where you can slide in a transparent inner tube through shark infested waters.  Check prices and availability here
  • Sandals Royal Caribbean, Montego Bay, Jamaica. An all-inclusive resort with over-the-water bungalows.  Check prices and availability here
  • Quinta Real Zacatecas, Zacatecas, Mexico. A hotel in a former bullring.  The rooms are beneath the stone arches, under the grandstand of the San Pedro bullfighting ring.  Check prices and availability here
  • Hacienda Uayamon, Uayamon, Mexico. Stay in a gorgeous colonial mansion. There are 12 individually decorated rooms and an outdoor pool.   Check prices and availability here
  • The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, USA. This is the hotel that inspired The Shining. Spooky?  Maybe.  Beautiful?  Definitely.   Check prices and availability here
  • The Queen Mary, Long Beach, California, USA. You can stay in the permanently docked old-school ocean liner when you visit Los Angeles. Check prices and availability here
  • Wigwam Motel, San Bernadino, California, USA. Classic vintage kitsch. Stay in a wigwam/ teepee motel.  Check prices and availability here

Best Time to Visit North America

North America is a large continent with huge variation in climate depending on the location and season.

Winter (December – February) is the best time to visit the Caribbean, as it is not too hot.  It is the worst time to visit Canada unless you are specifically visiting for winter activities such skiing or seeing the northern lights.  New York City is magical during the December holiday season but try to avoid it in January and February when it is very cold.

Spring is delightful throughout North America.  The cherry blossoms in March-April are famous in Washington DC and wonderful throughout many cities.  Snow is melting in the north and the mountains and hiking trails are starting to open.

Summer is great in Canada, when everything is open and the weather is warm.  However, the hurricane season in the Caribbean and southern states of the United States and Mexican coasts is June – November, with August-October being the peak months when hurricanes are most likely and often most severe.  This is also the hottest time of the year, and July and August are the school break, so it is also the busiest time of year.  Try to avoid the islands and national parks in these months if you can.

Fall/ autumn is a great time to visit North America.  The fall color in Canada and the northern states of the U.S. are especially spectacular.

Travel Tips for North America

How to stay safe 

North America is mostly safe to travel in, but you should exercise basic precautions.  Tap water is fine to drink in Canada and the U.S.  In the Caribbean and Mexico, it is best to check with locals before you drink it.

Take basic safety precautions including:

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  • Be careful in taxis.  Sometimes in Mexico City taxi drivers have been known to mug their passengers.  Don’t flag down taxis on the street.  Get your hotel to call a taxi for you.
  • Don’t walk around late at night, especially if there are no other people around.  Don’t get on subway or train carriages where there are no other people.  I live in New York City and the only time I feel a little unsafe is in the extremely rare situation where there are no other people around.

My main travel tip for North America is to get travel insurance.  Things can happen anywhere, anytime, and you want to make sure that you are covered if you get sick or lose something.  Health care in the United States especially is VERY expensive and you don’t want to end up with a $100,000 hospital bill.  I have written a detailed Guide to Buying Travel Insurance, so if you have questions about travel insurance, read more here.

I recommend World Nomads insurance.  You can get a quote for your trip here:

Tipping

Tipping is essential in the United States and the Caribbean, common in Mexico (10-15% in restaurants; none in taxis) and usual for good service in Canada (10%).

If you don’t come from a tipping society, then the expectation to tip can seem unfair.  Keep in mind, however, that your tip is paying your server, etc.  Wages are low, as the establishments expect their workers to be paid primarily by tips.  So, if you don’t tip, the people helping you are working for almost free.  This is why they get upset when they work hard and don’t get a good tip.

In the United States, common tips include:

  • 15-20% in restaurants (18% is standard)
  • 15-20% in taxis
  • 20-30% in hair and nail salons
  • $1 per drink (or round) in a bar. Note: if you leave a lousy tip for the first drink, you will not necessarily get good service for subsequent drinks.

Note that the tip amount is based on the PRE-tax amount.

Best Booking Resources for North America Travel

When you are ready to book your trip, here are the resources that I use to book my trips.  Using these links helps support this website at no additional cost to you!

Best places to book your trip

For booking tours and activities

  • Viator They have great activities. You can search by categories such as Classes & Workshops and  Cultural & Theme Tours.
  • Get Your Guide My other go-to activity company. They also have subcategories you can use to filter out tours you aren’t interested in taking

For booking flights

  • Skyscanner They search a huge database of flights, including many budget airlines, to find the cheapest price
  • Momondo I always check this website too, as sometimes there can be a difference of a few dollars between the sites.

For booking trains

For finding a rental car

  • Rentalcars.com I use this website to find the cheapest cars for my trips. The U.s. and Canada are great places to drive around, as having a car gives you so much independence.

For booking accommodations

  • booking.com They have a huge selection and you can filter by price, location and type of accommodation.
  • Air BnB For longer stays in the same place, it can be nice to live like a local and stay in an apartment. They can also often be cheaper than a hotel.

For buying gear

  • Amazon A huge selection of travel goods.
  • REI They have a great mission and great products, especially for outdoors and hiking.

For travel insurance

North America Packing List

TOP THREE THINGS TO TAKE TO NORTH AMERICA
1. Universal Plug Adaptor. The electrical outlets vary from country to country and chances are they are different from your country. A simple adaptor will allow you to use your electronics anywhere in North America. If you are travelling between countries in North America, you won’t need this, but if you are coming from Europe or Australia, you will. Check prices on Amazon here.
A quick word about voltage. The United States uses 110 Volts and Europe uses 220 Volts. Always check that your electronics are OK to use with 220 volts. Most items these days are OK with both, but not everything. If you need a voltage converter, you can get one here.
2. Inflatable neck pillow with hoodie. This not only make flights more comfortable, but the built-in hoodie helps shade your eyes from the light and stop drafts from the plane’s AC. Plus, I use it for a pillow at the beach and in tents when I’m camping. It deflates to almost nothing, so it’s easy to keep in my day pack. Check prices here.
3. Water bottle. I try to reduce single-use plastics where I can these days. The tap water in the United States and Canada is quite safe to drink, so rather than buying bottled water, travel with a water bottle and fill up with tap water. In countries where you are not sure about the tap water, you can reduce the amount of plastic you use by buying one big bottle of water and filling up your water bottle from it each day. The Que bottle, is cool because it shrinks down smaller when you don’t need it. Check out different sizes for the Que bottle here.
Refer to my Essential Packing List for the basic things you should always pack on an international trip.

Best Travel Guide Books for North America

Lonely Planet has the best travel guides.  Click here for the Lonely Planet shop.  They have them for each major country, but also ones for regions and even cities, so you can narrow them down as much as possible to exactly where you are planning to go.

Click on the individual country guides to buy on Amazon:

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Suggested Reading

I love to read books about the places I am going to or have recently been to.  Books help me connect to places.  They inspire me and then help make me feel – at least a little – like I am still there.

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New York (2010), Edward Rutherford

This historic fiction novel focuses on the history of New York from the time of the Native Americans up to recent history.  It is an entertaining, easy read that helps give you an insight into New York’s history.

You can buy New York here

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Empire of the Summer Moon (2010), S.C. Gwynne

A gripping book about the forty decades that the Comanche Native Americans fought against white settlers, the railroads and the slaughter of the buffalo herds to try and protect their native lands.  It includes the fascinating story of the “white squaw” Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah, the great Comanche chief.

You can buy Empire of the Summer Moon here

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Why I Hate Canadians (2007), Will Ferguson

Written by a Canadian, this is a funny insight into various aspects of Canadian culture and country such as the beaver, Mounties and Captain Canuck.  It isn’t afraid to tackle some serious subjects – but in an often hysterical way.  A great introduction to Canada!

You can buy Why I Hate Canadians here

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Caribbean (1989), James A. Michener

Michener’s historic epics can be a bit overblown, but I enjoy them because they make history very accessible, by illustrating the history of a place through the stories of characters over the years and centuries.  If you want to know all about the Caribbean from early days, through slavery and sugar, piracy and plunder and on to tourism and travel, then this is a great way to do it.

You can buy Caribbean here

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Like Water for Chocolate (1992), Laura Equivel

This is one of my three favorite books ever.  I love magic realism, so that helps, but this is a gorgeous, sensual, sumptuous, and sometimes funny story depicting a particular time in Mexican history and imparting a strong sense of Mexican cooking and food.   There is also a (Spanish language) film that is worth seeing, but read the book.  I even had a quote from this book read during my wedding ceremony, so it has a very special place in my heart.

You can buy Like Water for Chocolate here

Book Your North America Vacation Now

Are you ready to book your trip?  Use these resources:

For booking tours and activities

  • Viator They have great activities. You can search by categories such as Classes & Workshops and  Cultural & Theme Tours.
  • Get Your Guide My other go-to activity company. They also have subcategories you can use to filter out tours you aren’t interested in taking

For booking flights

  • Skyscanner They search a huge database of flights, including many budget airlines, to find the cheapest price
  • Momondo I always check this website too, as sometimes there can be a difference of a few dollars between the sites.

For booking trains

For finding a rental car

  • Rentalcars.com I use this website to find the cheapest cars for my trips.

For booking accommodations

  • booking.com They have a huge selection and you can filter by price, location and type of accommodation.
  • Air BnB For longer stays in the same place, it can be nice to live like a local and stay in an apartment. They can also often be cheaper than a hotel.

For buying gear

  • Amazon A huge selection of travel goods.
  • REI They have a great mission and great products, especially for outdoors and hiking.

For travel insurance

What’s on your North America bucket list?  Comment below.

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North America Travel Guide

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