The USA is one of the easiest countries to travel around independently. There is no tourism ‘high season’ as such – with such a vast area encompassing almost every kind of terrain and climate, it is always the ideal time to visit at least one region. The USA has the 4th largest landmass in the world covering over 9,6 million square kilometres. America has two land boarders shared with Canada to the north and Mexico to the South. The capital of the United States of America is Washington DC and as of 2015, America had a population of 321 million people.

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In addition to visiting some of the worlds greatest cities and national parks, and obvious attractions such as Disneyland and Universal Studios, visitors can also take tours on Native American Reservations, organized by the residents themselves, with profits staying on the reservations.

As well as seeing the spectacular landscapes, particularly Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation and the mesa-top Hopi pueblos, visitors can participate in ceremonies such as sweat lodges and even vision quests. However, this is the subject of heated controversy among Native Americans, some of whom feel strongly that this is co-modifying and degrading their culture.

There are also gambling casinos (alcohol free) on some reservations, which although very profitable is likewise controversial. Some reservations, such as the Apache Reservation in Arizona, have facilities for more traditional outdoor vacation activities such as horse riding and fishing.

Although Hawaii is primarily a traditional sun, sea and sand (3-S) holiday paradise, the high-rise beachfront hotel developments are concentrated in a few areas, particularly in Honolulu on Oahu Island and the west coast of Maui. Away from these concentrations are empty landscapes where visitors can go hiking in forests, among volcanic mountains and waterfalls. There are near-deserted beaches on The Big Island, where the rainy climate deters most ‘3-S’ vacationers.

As well as youth hostels and budget hotels, there are many private homes offering bed and breakfast, which generally have excellent facilities. Public transportation is almost non-existent apart from on Oahu; but bicycles can be rented easily and fairly inexpensively elsewhere. As elsewhere in the US, car rental is relatively inexpensive (note: under-25s cannot hire cars anywhere in the US). Hawaii is where East meets West, and many independent travellers visit Hawaii to take courses in various New Age therapies and spiritualties, and to experience the native Kahuna culture. As elsewhere in the US, this selling of native culture to visitors is controversial.

According the World Tourism Organisation, international tourist arrivals increased by 4.4% in 2014, reaching a total 1,135 million visitors. This is a positive sign for tourism in the USA, with visitor numbers up from 1,087 million in 2013. When planning you journey to the states, keep in mind that the USA is gigantic and it’s nearly impossible to see it all in one go. Ensure you balance your visit with big cities and natural beauty – check out the Grand canyon, Yellowstone and Niagara falls, along with Austin, Seattle, Chicago and New York City.

Ethical Travel Issues and advice

Mass tourism & Local discontent:

1920px-Waikiki_Beach,_HonoluluIn Hawaii, for decades the concern has been about what millions of visitors might do done to its environment and its culture. Since the mid 1990s Hawaii has been one of the most tourist-drenched places in the world – the impact has been so grea that it lead one local Hawaian to say:

“To all the tourists, visitors, travellers or whatever other name you are called: I beg you, please don’t come [here]… Tourism is killing us. It is literally sucking the life out of us. We are running out of sweet water. Our lands have been sucked dry. When once there were taro fields and fishponds, today there are golf courses, hotels and urban sprawl.”

As tourists, we are lucky to see and share experiences with people whose cultures, beliefs and world views differ from our own. New cultural experiences, including dress, food and festivities, are an essential ingredient of fulfilling travel for many of us. However, all too often, those very cultures that help to make our holidays so special are being violated and exploited.

A basic lack of cultural awareness about the places we go on holiday can lead us to cause inadvertent offence to local people. Topless sunbathing on beaches and scant clothing when visiting religious sites are examples of such violations of cultural norms.

In other instances, tribal villages become showcases for visiting tourists, with little benefits shared with the communities themselves. Cultural dances and artefacts become little more than commodities for tourists, often bought very cheaply and sold by middlemen and even mass produced in factories overseas. All of this can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment amongst local people towards tourists, undermining the positive experience that should come with equitable cultural exchange.

Ethical Photography:

Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.

Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/

SeaWorld – Animal Attractions:

SeaWorld in Orlando is notorious for its marine animal performances. Before capturing cetaceans in US waters became illegal, SeaWorld was known to capture wild animals, removing them from their families to perform for tourists. Although this practice has now been prohibited, SeaWorld continues to attract international condemnation for its training practices and animal welfare standards. See more at Right Tourism:

http://right-tourism.com/2014/12/sea-change-tour-operators-make-leap-stop-selling-tickets-seaworld/#sthash.lFGWXHkc.dpbs

Rodeo:

Rodeos are a major tourist attraction in the USA, with an estimated 10,000 events held across the country each year. Marketing tactics usually imply that visitors will get to experience historical ranching practices and a little bit of the ‘old West’ heritage, however, these attractions can cause severe animal welfare problems and high risks to human participants and even spectators. See more at Right Tourism:

National Parks & Carrying Capacities:

In a study carried out during the winter of 2000 at Yellowstone national park, 76,271 people entered Yellowstone National Park on snowmobiles. This figure outnumbered the 40,727 visitors who came in cars, 10,779 in snow-coaches and 512 on skis. A survey of snowmobile impacts on natural sounds at Yellowstone found that snowmobile noise could be heard 90% of the time at 8 of the 13 sample sites. When visiting one of the most pristine and isolated national parks in the USA, sound pollution has become a very real threat.

Since 1945, visits to the 10 most popular mountainous national parks in the United States have increased twelve-fold. For example, in Yosemite National Park (US), roads and infrastructure have been increased to keep pace with the growing visitor numbers and to supply amenities and parking lots for all these tourists. These actions have caused habitat loss in the park and are accompanied by various forms of pollution, such as air pollution and waste. 

Useful Information

America has a massive landmass, ranging in altitude and latitude, which provides various climatic zones and conditions. For continental USA, summers in the central plains and southern states are hot and humid, the southwest is very hot and dry. The Pacific Northwest and New England states experience summers that are more comfortable warm with cool mornings and pleasant evenings. Winters in the southern states are mild, while winters in the north, northeast, central plains, and western mountains are cold with heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures.

The USA is also famous for severe weather such as thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes – these are common in the spring and summer months, especially in the central regions. Hurricanes can also strike the eastern coastline and Gulf of Mexico states from June through October, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which devastated many areas including New Orleans. 

The United States host some 58 National Parks. Both California and Alaska are home to 8 national parks; not all states have a national park. Like the climate, the American flora ranges dramatically, all-in-all more than 7,000 species of indigenous flora has been categorized. The U.S.A is especially famous for their vast and variable forests; the Eastern forests grow both softwoods and hardwoods including pine, oak, spruce, beech, walnut and hickory. The central hardwood forest, supports oak, hickory and ash. Southern forests found along the Gulf coast commonly grow tupelo, pecan and sycamore. However, it is the Pacific forest in the southwest which is the most spectacular due to its enormous redwoods and Douglas firs.

Forest is not the only biome found in the U.S.A. Many famous ‘western movies’ depict desert shrubs and the saguaro (giant cactus) of the southwest. Grasslands are most common in central regions, where tall grassland or prairie run for days.

Wildflowers are also a stunning sight in the states and spring bloom occurs in most areas of America. Keep an eye out for wildflowers such as forget-me-not, fringed and closed gentians, jack-in-the-pulpit, black-eyed Susan, columbine, aster, orchid, lady’s slipper, and wild rose.

More than 400 species of mammals roam the continental United States. Some of the most famous include the moose, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, American buffalo (bison), black bear and grizzly bear. Keep an eye out for a muskrat, red fox, mink, raccoon, beaver, striped skunk, cottontail and various squirrels. For the more adventurous type, be sure to understand your surroundings before going exploring; poisonous snakes (such as the rattlesnake) and Alligators populate areas of the U.S.A.

For bird watchers America is a hub for year-round and migratory birds. Loons, sandpipers, owls, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, cardinal; the list is endless. Lakes and rivers are home to trout, bass, perch, catfish. Pike, cod, snapper and flounder are common along the coasts – along with shellfish (such as lobster, shrimp, clams, oysters, and mussels).

Human encroachment has transformed numerous habitats over the past couple of centuries. Laws have been adopted throughout the United States to protect threatened and endangered flora and fauna. Endangered mammals included the red wolf, jaguar, Florida panther and Utah prairie dog. There are also various endangered species of rodents, bats and birds.

In Regards to environmental policy and renewable energy in the U.S.A, the solar sector has grown in leaps and bounds over the past decade. In 2014, a 30% increase in Photovoltaic (PV) installations occurred, including a ‘concentrating solar power’ (CSP) operation. As of the start of 2015, 600,000 residences and businesses in the U.S.A. have access to solar power, with almost 200,000 established in the year 2014 alone. California, Arizona, New Jersey, North Carolina and Nevada are the leading states for renewables.

When meeting a local, greetings are generally quite informal. Shaking hands or even a casual “Hello” or “How are you?” is common. Light handshakes are considered distasteful. Use a firm grip. Americans smile a great deal, even at strangers, they like to have their smiles returned.

Smoking has become fairly unpopular in the United States. Numerous bans have come into force and restaurants commonly have separate smoking and non-smoking sections. In many cases, smoking is banned completely in cafes, pubs and eateries. Many people do not allow smoking in their homes – don’t smoke anywhere without asking permission from everyone present.

In regards to body language, holding the middle finger up by itself is considered an insult. 

The ethnic mix in the U.S.A is 83% white (generally of European descent)12% African-American, 3% Asian and about 1% Native American. Of recent times, the biggest immigrant groups are from Latin countries. This ethnic mix is responsible for the range and variety of American food; from the New York pizza, to ribs and barbecue sauce, to a California roll, to fresh flounder from the gulf – it is tough to define American food!

Our suggestion, ask a local of what they recommend. Meals will vary depending on where you are in the U.S.A so just give it a try. If you get a chance, make sure you try a couple of these classics: a hamburgers, hot dog, mac and cheese, chicken and dumplings, apple pie, peach cobbler and cheesecake. 

English is the official language of the U.S.A. and has been exported all over the world thanks to Hollywood. However, the number of people who speak a second language (other than English) has more than doubled since 1980. According to a 2011 study, the most common languages, other than English are:

  • Italian: 723,632
  • Russian: 905,843
  • Arabic: 951,699
  • Korean: 1,141,277.
  • German: 1,083,637
  • French 1,301,443
  • Vietnamese: 1,419,539
  • Tagalog: 1,594,413 (Language from the Philippines)
  • Chinese: 2,882,497 (This includes Chinese dialects Mandarin and Cantonese)
  • Spanish: 37,579,787

Christianity is the largest religion in the United States; more than three-quarters of Americans identify as Christians. A little more than half of the Christian population are Protestants, about 23% as Catholic and about 2% as Mormon. However, there is a variety of additional religions in the U.S.A. such as Buddism, Islam, Judaism, Hindu and the Baha’i faith 

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