The contemporary version of the concept that writer and historian James Truslow Adams mentioned more than eight decades ago in his famous novel, the “the american dream” is somewhat different. Aspirations for equal rights, self-liberation and the creation of a good life still exist, but today we do not have to dream of the United States via Hollywood films, we can travel to and discover this country in real.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE USA
GETTING A US VISA IS HARD!
Applying for a visa is probably the barrier that makes people worry the most. But my friends who have experience in applying for a visa to the United States agree with me that among developed countries, applying for a visa to the United States is the easiest. Why? Because they do not ask you to prove your financial ability or ask for your administrative papers prior to the visa interview. All you have to do is access their web site to fill in the visa application form, follow all the guidelines listed on the site, pay for the visa and make an appointment for your visa interview.
At the interview, visa applicants may bring documents related to housing, finance, work and marriage certificates or household registration books to provide more information, however from my experience you rarely have to use these documents during an interview.
The key here is that if you really intend to travel to the US just for a holiday and not to stay there, then do not worry. Just answer the questions of the official at the embassy confidently and sincerely. I have had a close friend applying for a visa to the United States successfully. She is single, has no fulltime job, and is just a freelancer but she was confident, sincere in the interview – same as me. When I applied for a US visa, I only said that I was currently a freelancer and a travel blogger. Having a passport with tons of stamps is also an advantage. So stay calm, sincere, and confident. Or think simply that if you cannot get a visa to the US, you will simple go to another country. Get rid of nervousness because it only makes the situation worse.
THE UNITED STATES IS FLASHY!
When you watch movies, you only get to know one corner of the United States. And this may lead to some misconceptions about this nation. New York is an example. The glittering, lavish images of New York in films can leave people feeling surprised or even slightly… disappointed when they first come here. During the first few days in the US, I went on a walk with a friend in New York. My friend laughed and asked: “What do you think? New York on films is more beautiful compared to its reality, isn’t it? I thought my friend worried that I would feel disappointed after having a first-hand view of this city that people considered a magnificent place on earth. I smiled and said that although some streets in New York were slightly … sloppy and had quite a lot of garbage, overall this city still has its own characteristics and identity, like the historical tram stations without air conditioning, the stunning streets with both old and new buildings, the flues emitting smoke from the road surface, the street corners with tired homeless people standing and sitting.
Many also think that the US is a prosperous nation. But in fact, like in any society, there are both rich and poor people. There are homeless people and beggars of all races on a lot of the streets of the United States. There are also people dressing in ragged clothes, talking out loud and sometimes they gather in groups on the street, making visitors slightly frightened. Sometimes they appear on the street, sometimes in the train station. But do not worry; they will not do anything to you. Even when they ask for money and you do not give them any, they will just turn away, and sometimes politely say: “God bless you.” Many of my friends living in the United States say that people are not encouraged to give money to beggars because in fact they are on benefits and there are food banks where they can go and eat.
A LOT OF LATENT VIOLENCE EXISTS IN THE US!
Also, when watching movies or news on TV, many people will feel startled and think that American society is not safe because of gunshots, chaos or recent terrorist attacks. But generally speaking, the United States is quite safe. Security is always guaranteed so the cases you see on the news rarely happen. Police and security forces are always on time when bad events occur. So you do not need to worry when travelling to the US.
ALL CITIES IN THE UNITED STATES ARE MODERN AND INDUSTRIAL!
If you think so then you are wrong. Most of the American middle-class people live in two-storey houses surrounded by lawns. Many traditional Americans are willing to drive to work 2-3 hours per day, as long as they can live in a spacious farmhouse in a rural area. When driving across the States, you will be surprised by the abundant landscape stretching along tens of kilometres: pine forest, rocky mountains, desert, grassland, fields or a large lake which may be artificial. The United States has 59 national parks where you can admire mountains, rocks, lakes, forests scenery and rich ecosystems that are strictly preserved.
THE UNITED STATES – UNDISCOVERED CHARMING PLACES
When speaking of the US, people will think of New York with Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square or San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge and places like the White House or Capitol Hill in Washington DC. However, like many other countries in the world, there are always interesting places where ordinary tourists or group of visitors going on tour rarely have the chance to discover. And you are lucky, if you have relatives or friends living in the US for years. They will show you small yet strange and wonderful places making you realise the US has so many places that are not famous but will reward you with memorable experiences.
In New York, I stayed at the peaceful Roosevelt Island overlooking the urbanised borough of Manhattan across the river. Roosevelt Island is full of trees and parks. The island has only one main road stretching along its length and a free bus route for residents and tourists. On sunny weekends, many families roll out their carpets on lawns for sunbathing and eating. Walking along the river to admire Manhattan’s scenery and to enjoy the fresh air is not a bad idea. Or you can take a walk on Roosevelt Island to get to know a very different corner of New York that is peaceful and not noisy. Another unique place few people know they can visit is the headquarter of the United Nations.
The East Coast of the United States is not only home to New York. You should go to Washington DC if you are already in New York as you just need to buy a bus ticket and travel 4 hours from New York to Washington DC. In Washington DC, besides the White House, there are also well-known museums such as the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum that has appeared in many Hollywood films. You should also visit Virginia to see stunning streets with houses surrounded by flowers – spring, summer, autumn, winter, these streets are beautiful during every season.
And speaking of the vast green spaces and the old streets, you cannot miss St. Louis in Missouri. During my trip to the USA, St. Louis was an unexpected destination on my journey. It all started when I arrived and stayed in Chicago for a week and connected with friends of mine. It takes only 4 hours by car or train to get to St. Louis from Chicago. Compared to those bustling cities like New York or Washington DC, the distinctive beauty of St. Louis surprised me. This city does not have many and although the flowers and grass are not as colourful as in Virginia, they are neat, clean, quiet and incredibly peaceful. These streets gave me a real sense of peace. When staying here, in the morning I would turn down a small alley by the roadside, walk to a small garden-style café, sip a cup of coffee and eat a small cake. The guests around also sat quietly and read books in the morning light. Everything was very slow andvery quiet.
But that’s not the thing I like the most about St. Louis. It’s the green space that makes the city a great place for those who want to enjoy the fresh air. This city has many parks as wide as forests. It is no coincidence that one park is named Forest Park. With an area of 5.5 square kilometres, this park is not only full of trees and green grass, but also has wide paths, lakes, water fountains and pretty bridges. This is the perfect place for running and walking. Other parks like the Missouri Botanical Gardens are very splendid. The super-wide garden that has some places designed in Japanese style attracts many tourists to visit and admire it.
And there is one thing only few people know in St. Louis, there is an ice-cream store known as the best in the world. There are a lot of guests queued up to buy and enjoy the delicious ice cream at this 100-year-old store. Opened in 1929, the Ted Drewes is famous for its logo of an upside-down ice-cream cup. In September 2016, Soolnua – a digital marketing agency in Ireland published its annual World Ice Cream Index and Ted Drewes was voted the best ice cream store in the world. Indeed, when tasting Ted Drewes ice cream, I recognised that it is not too sweet, not too fat, but soft and creamy. Looking at the scene of people lining up and waiting patiently for a glass of ice cream is enough to make you realise how famous it is.Not too far from St. Louis is Denver in Colorado State. The state is a perfect rectangular shape on a map and is a famous skiing destination in winter. But no need to wait for the snowy season, as even in the summer some places in the mountains have snow. Walking in the cool summer air, you can still see snow trails left from the winter in Colorado. When coming to this state, you should go to the town of Vail in West Denver, stroll along the town on stone-paved roads full of flowers and then take the cable car to the top of a mountain at an altitude of 3,300 metres to take in the view of the surrounding snow mountains.
And even in famous places on the West Coast like San Francisco, there are unique, poetic features. This city is not only famous for the Golden Gate Bridge full of visitors. Stunningly steep descents are also a special feature here. Try walking through the steep streets to get to know a difference corner of the city or simply to stand on the top of a slope overlooking the city and admire the shore in the distance. Between the steep descents, is the small zigzag of Lombard Street filled with trees and flowers. Dubbed the most crooked street in the world, this street has eight hairpin turns. When the cars run around the turns, amidst the clusters of flowers, you may think you are seeing the strangest and most interesting thing on the planet. The cars here run very slowly because the speed limit here is only 5 mph (8km/h). If you are bored with the Golden Gate Bridge or the steep streets, you can visit Pier 39 for a stroll in the bustling street by the port, then enjoy fresh seafood at one of the restaurants of which Fog Harbour is the best.
The United State is so big that you cannot travel to all the states on one journey, but do not worry, each state in the United States has its own identity, and only when you visit can you see that. Popular places like the Niagara Falls in the North is where you can see Canada and Cloud Gate. The old railroads of Chicago, the lively Las Vegas casinos are all worth a getaway to learn from your own experiences that the United States really has many wonderful things for those who love to explore and travel. Located at Pier 39, is a seafood restaurant that is always crowded and sometimes guests have to line up to wait for seats. The restaurant offers a spacious dining area with beautiful bay views. The seafood here is prepared skilfully. In fact, even raw or steamed seafood is delicious. Oysters or lobsters are rich in flavour without any spices. Some other seafood dishes are cooked with vegetables or noodles with tastes that make the visitors enraptured with enjoying the amazing flavours.
Applying for a US visa is not too difficult, though the process is quite complicated. See the details and follow the steps at: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/en/, the principle is to be honest in the declaration and prepare sufficient supporting documents when coming to the interview.
♦ There are many airlines flying from Vietnam to the US. The best are Taiwanese airlines like China Airlines or EVA Air, as they have reasonable prices and short transit times. If flying to cities on the West Coast of the US such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, the best option are airlines from the East Asia area like Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and China (including ANA, Asiana, Korean Air, EVA Air, China Airlines, Air China, Cathay Pacific). Another option are the Middle East’s airlines such as Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad, especially when you fly to cities on the East Coast like New York, Washington DC.
♦ Travelling in the US is quite easy. Set up the Google Maps app on your phone to look up the ways. In the US, Google Maps is integrated perfectly into the transport system. Whether travelling by train, urban bus, or long-distance coach, Google Maps always gives you the most optimal route.
♦ Taking a long-distance bus in the US is a good option if you want to save money. There are many popular bus operators like Greyhound, BoltBus and GoBuses. You can buy bus tickets online and when getting to the bus stop (as instructed in an e-mail), you only need to show the bar code or reservation number to the staff to check in.
♦ Travelling by Amtrak in the US is often more expensive than by bus, sometimes even more expensive than by airplane, but in return, you do not need to worry about traffic jams on the road or flight delays. Amtrak tickets can be purchased online, the stations are right in the city centres. No need to print the ticket, you just need to show the barcode sent via e-mail for the staff to scan.
♦ If travelling by plane to the United States, there are some notes you should remember. Most airlines in the United States have different restrictions for carrying checked baggage, carry-on baggage and personal items on board. You should note this point. For super-cheap airlines like Frontier, Spirit, only personal items such as a purse, briefcase or small bag which is small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of yours is included in the price. Other airlines charge no fee for carry-on baggage, but charge fees for checked baggage. Some airlines such as Southwest are quite generous, offering free carry-on baggage and checked baggage. Many US aircrafts have Wi-Fi so you can use it for your work or personal entertainment. Most of the wireless networks on the plane offer T-Mobile customers one-hour free internet connection so you can take advantage of this by buying a T-Mobile SIM when travelling to the US.
Hotels in the United States are more expensive than in Asian countries, so be prepared. Booking on Airbnb is a less expensive option. Joining the Couchsurfing community and staying free at locals’ homes is a way to experience authentic American life.
Food in the United States is quite diverse, you can eat all kinds of cuisine from around the world. If you stay for a long time and get tired of American and European food, you can go to Asian restaurants, including Vietnamese restaurants. Especially on the West Coast and the states where many Vietnamese people live, it is not difficult to find restaurants satisfying to your taste. Generally, food in the US is good. You should also try to eat local cheap fruit, which are rare in Vietnam. Apples, peaches, cherries and plums are all very fresh here.
In cities, to save money for sightseeing, you can buy full package tickets like a CityPass, which costs around USD100 and allows you to visit popular attractions or museums at a lower cost compared to buying separate tickets.