how to visit the united states in 4 weeks

I’m recycling a comment I made in a fun thread on google+. How would you plan such a trip, where there’s only 4 weeks to see everything? My best shot is below. It’s opinionated but meant to only be mildly controversial… Comments?


Weeks 1 and 2: start with an east coast “great cities” trip.

Fly into Boston to: learning how we beat you guys back in the day. ;) (nb, original post was from an English bloke) A proper kickoff to the rest of your trip. Regional food specialty – seafood (chowder, lobster). Stay about 2-3 days, then…

Drive south to NYC. Greatest city in the US. The things to do are too numerous to list, but it has one of the best food cultures, excellent museums, Broadway, etc. I’d budget 3-4 days as a minimum,but could easily fill 5 if so inclined.

Skip Philly (much of its charms are similar to what you’d get in Boston, read: small, old city) and drive south to DC. The monuments and museums there are truly beautiful. About 2-3 days should be enough.

A trip to the US could be completed without seeing the Southeastern states, but as a unique and weird culture, it needs to be seen to be believed. A hoot for English tourists, I’d say. But where to go and what to do? Here’s my strategy: road trip the 9 hour drive from D.C. to Atlanta. Break the trip into 2 days, experiencing Americana, southern accents, vinegar-based BBQ, and whatever roadside attractions you may find. Plan on spending 0 days in Atlanta (the drive should give you your fill of our south), and just use it as a portal to leave the east coast.

By now you’ve spent 9-12 days of your budget. I say skip Chicago (fun city, but nothing truly unique vs. Boston/NYC) and skip Texas (the southeastern road trip will be “close enough” to southern culture that a special trip to Texas doesn’t seem worth it).

Instead, fly to Denver for your gateway to our national parks. Rent another car (optimize for gas mileage and comfort, not ruggedness, as car access to the parks is actually quite good).

I recommend: Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches/Canyonlands, and Grand Canyon. It pains me to elide the Grand Tetons, but your parents aren’t here long enough to justify it and “mountains” are covered by RMNP, whereas the southwestern desert states are simply more unique.

On the way to RMNP, consider taking an extra day in Fort Collins, CO which is one of the best beer cities around. This is where you shake off that annoying inaccurate stereotype of crap American beers and see the innovation that’s happening here and nowhere else in the world.

2 days in RMNP, 2 days in Arches/Canyonlands, 1 day at the Grand Canyon is the absolute bare minimum they should spend at those places, and even then, that is kinda rushing things. It takes about a half day to drive between each of those places so by the end, they’ll have spent ~8 days seeing crazy beautiful natural wonders…

End by driving to Las Vegas and be sure they stay at least one night there. I’ve never been to anywhere else in the world like it (for better or worse) although I admit I’ve never been to Hong Kong. Be sure to gorge at a buffet, see a show (Cirque du Soleil), and wander the strip.

Next morning, fly to San Diego and experience what nice weather feels like. ;) Perhaps a beach. Some sort of R&R will be nice after a hard 10 days on the road. A side bonus, they could quickly pop across the border to Tijuana and experience some fun there as it’s only a 20 minute drive from SD.

Time’s running out, so after a day or two to unwind, fly to San Francisco, and that’s the rest of your trip. There are city activities (museums, etc.), it’s the other center of the food revolution, and there are some good 1 and 2-day trips that could use SF as a launchpad (wine country to the north, drive the Pacific Coast Highway to the south).

Fly back to Blighty from SFO, there are numerous, cheap, direct flights.

That wraps up a very fast but chock-filled 4 weeks.

You could expand to 6 weeks by doing (in order of preference):

1) spend more time at national parks. I’d either spend more time at the 3 that are recommended or tack on Yosemite (from your SF base).

1b) Add the Grand Tetons to the parks portion, but if you have to choose, I choose Yosemite over Tetons.

2) Fly to Seattle after SFO and spend ~3 days there.

3) Fly from ATL to Dallas instead and experience the weirdness of Texans (~3 days, then continue by flying to Denver).

3b) Alternatively, add a “midwest tour”. Fly from ATL to Chicago, spend ~2-3 days in Chicago, then a moderately long drive (5h) to St. Louis. A day there to see the Arch, and continue flying to Denver. The drive from Chicago to St. Louis will give a taste of how big, flat, and empty much of the interior of the country is.

Of course, this is a fairly generic itinerary, and could use some tweaking especially depending on what time of year they visit.

Finally, a plug for AirBNB. Stay at AirBNB places in the cities, not hotels. Staying at real American homes will be much more interesting than staying in sterilized, standardized hotels.