Picking an Area
North America is a large region, but it only includes three countries. The United States, Canada, and Mexico are all fascinating travel destinations, and each country has its own diversity of destinations within it. In both the U.S. and Canada, national parks are impressive places to visit. Both countries also have excellent, cosmopolitan cities that are fun places to spend a few days. Many visitors go to Mexico for the beautiful, tropical beaches, but there are also Aztec ruins and interesting inland areas that should not be missed.
The U.S. West Coast:
The western coast of the United States offers dramatic scenery, excellent wildlife viewing, and some of the country's most interesting cities. You can begin your trip in either Los Angeles or San Diego and work your way north along Route 1. To make this trip it is required that you have a car. You will pass through Santa Barbara and San Francisco before heading into Oregon and on to Washington state. Portland is a wonderful, eclectic city that warrants a day or two. The trip will end in Seattle where you can dine on excellent seafood and explore some of the Pacific northwest.
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Nova Scotia and Newfoundland:
Visiting the quaint towns and island communities in this part of Canada is a wonderful way to see fishing villages that hold on to much of their charm. The area is well preserved in historic charm and it offers a glimpse into daily life in the area. The seafood is excellent, the bed and breakfasts are welcoming, and the people are friendly. You'll likely need a car to truly explore the area. Several ferry trips are required, but they are part of the experience.
Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula:
The Yucatan Peninsula, on the Caribbean side of Mexico, is the place to go for great beaches and Mayan ruins. The area that is referred to as the Mayan Riviera begins in Cancun and stretches south from there. Many people choose one city to visit, but it is possible to travel around on public transportation and see several different places. Cruises have become another popular and easy way to visit several different locations in the area.
Choosing Your Travel Style
North America can be an expensive area to travel, but if you plan ahead and make some smart decisions you can definitely cut down on your costs. Cities, particularly the larger ones, are quite expensive. A more affordable way to see the United States or Canada is to do a trip through the national parks. Buy a National Park pass which will give you access to all parks for free. There are season passes available in the United States at the entrance to any major park. Buy the pass when you arrive at the first national park and you will be able to use it throughout the entire country. It provides access to two individuals, whose names will appear on the card. If you are driving to the park, the entire car of people should be allowed entrance into the park. Canada has a similar pass available to visitors as well.
By packing a tent you can dramatically reduce the cost of your accommodation, and by camping you can cook many of your own meals. You'll also be staying in some of the most beautiful settings in the area. There are usually grocery stores inside or near many of the country's largest parks.
If you do want to visit several larger cities, consider staying at a hostel. Although there are less hostels available than you would find in Europe, most larger cities have at least a few options with kitchens where you can cook your own meals. Also, look at websites that announce free, local events. This way you can experience the true culture in the city without spending big bucks.
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Food can be expensive throughout North America. Whenever possible, cook your own meals or pack a picnic. If you're taking a long road trip there are often rest stops along the route. They usually provide picnic tables and restrooms, and are often in pleasant settings. Having a picnic at these locations is a great way to break up the drive and save a few bucks.
The United states and Canada both have some incredible national parks. Some of the most famous, like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Banff and the Grand Canyon, are breathtakingly beautiful, but they can also be quite crowded. If you're traveling around the country, try to hit some of the less frequently visited parks as well. This will help you see the country in more depth, and you'll have an all around better experience. Also, consider visiting the area during the fall months when the weather is less hot and kids are back in school so the crowds are thinner.
There are some great, diverse, and enriching cities throughout North America. Because of this region's large size, it's best to pick a small area to explore. If you're interested in doing a city tour, you might consider eastern Canada, where cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec each offer their own atmosphere and feel. In the northeastern United States, you could easily hop from Boston to New York
or Washington DC. Alternatively, you could head to the west coast and center your trip around Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver. Even within these regions you are still covering great distances. Plane flights are likely necessary, but it is a great way to see some of the most impressive cities in North America.
The coasts in North America range from dramatic cliffs to beautiful white sandy beaches. Perhaps Florida is the most famous area for sandy beaches, where places like Miami, Key West, and Destin all have beautiful beaches and warm, blue water. Less well known, but also beautiful are the beaches near Charleston, S.C. and along the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
The California coastline is unique in that the dramatic mountains rise up from the earth at the edge of the water. These beaches may be more dramatic, but the frigid water makes swimming far less comfortable. They do offer the biggest waves though, so they are some of the best bets for surfers. If you're looking for a more tropical setting head to Cancun
or Cozumel in Mexico. You can easily find some good deals on some resorts, particularly in the low season. If you're not looking to party, try to avoid the spring break holidays.
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Ski Resorts dot the Rocky Mountains up and down the United States and Canada. Skiing can be an expensive hobby, but if you plan to be a regular, consider investing in your own equipment. Also, pick a location near your home and purchase a season pass. Some of the top ski resorts in North America include Whistler, Vail, and Park City, Utah.
The United States is the land of Disney, so of course Orlando, Florida is a top tourist destination. If you're an amusement park buff, there are Six Flags Parks in many major cities. If your goal is to visit some great amusement parks, definitely visit during the summer when the parks are fully open. Most parks have a water park component which closes when the weather becomes cold.
Choosing a Destination
Choosing the right country, and locations within the country can dramatically effect the cost of your vacation. Mexico is the most affordable country in North America, but it is still quite expensive in the more touristy areas. If you're really on a tight budget, consider limiting the time you spend at the beach and instead explore some of the more inland areas where your dollar will take you a lot farther.
Canada and the United States are comparable in cost. The most affordable cities are often the least popular. If you plan to visit some of the more expensive cities, definitely build the expense into your budget and plan ahead. Also make sure you use public transportation whenever possible. Perhaps the most affordable, touristy city in the United States is Washington, DC. Most of the sites and events are free. The Smithsonian Museums are all free and there are almost always local events that you can visit for very little money. There are also many reasonably priced places to stay. In some cities you'll save a lot of money by staying just outside of the downtown. Do make sure that public transportation is convenient and accessible though, or else the cost savings isn't worth the hassle.
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To Drive or To Fly
Traveling around North America can be very expensive. Because it is such a large area, you will have to fly to cover any great distance. There is essentially no public transportation in many parts of the country, so it may be necessary to rent a car. The best way to keep transportation costs down is to pick one small region to visit and do that area in depth, particularly if you are short on time.
If you do plan to fly, look into discount airlines like Jet Blue or Southwest. Most airlines have a major hub in one city and fly from there to other places around the country. Choose an airline whose hub is conveniently located for your trip and you'll save a lot of money.