It wasn’t easy, but we’ve put together a list of our top things to do while you’re travelling around the US
With 9.857 million km² of surface area, that’s a whole lotta of ground you could cover. From polar bears in Alaska to the lights of Las Vegas, the US is so huge and varied it’s hard to know how to get the best out of your trip.
If you're lacking the funds to take a trip around the US in between term times, then don't forget that you may be entitled to a tax refund! Remember, it's a good idea to keep your US bank account open, even when you leave the country, because it will be easier for you to get your refund transferred directly to your bank account, although you still have the option to get your refund in the form of a cheque!
Once you get your refund, here are our top things to do in the US:
This gaping, two-sided deep canyon has been carved out by the Earth’s geological history and has been part of the Colorado River basin for millions of years. Around 5 million people visit the 1-mile deep Grand Canyon each year, many of them taking in the views from the South Rim which can be easily accessed by tour buses and private cars.
You can drive up to the South Rim yourself or book a place on one of the many tours that visit this jaw-dropping slice of Earth. The North Rim, while more elevated than the South, is much more inaccessible and will take you a lot longer to reach.
2. Discount Outlet Stores
One thing you simply MUST NOT miss on a trip to the US is a visit to one of the many discount outlet stores, where you'll find hundreds of shops selling designer clothing, shoes, and other items at much lower prices than the high street.
Pay a visit to Woodbury Common for more than 250 outlet stores, or take a trip to a Westfield Shopping Center with stores across the US. Get the latest fashions at Nordstrom Rock, Union Square and don't forget to pick up your Macy's discount pass, which entitles international visitors to a 10% for 30 days!
A mountain homeland to grizzlies, wolves, and herds of bison and elk, Yellowstone is mostly located in Wyoming, but also extends into parts of Montana and Idaho. You can trek through its various ecosystems and take a breather at the Old Faithful Geyser, one of the most popular attractions in the park.
The park offers lots of activities including camping, boating, bicycling, hiking, and guided tours where you’ll get the chance to view some of the 330 bird species, 66 mammals, four types of amphibians and six different types of reptiles who live here.
The average US tax back we get for J1 students is $800
Formerly Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland is a mansion in the community of Whitehaven that was turned into a museum of Elvis’ life. It has become one of the most visited private homes ever in the US.
The Colonial Revival style house has a total of 23 rooms where you can take an interactive iPad tour and hear all about Elvis’ life while you explore.
If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco, make sure you visit Alcatraz Island, the former location of a notorious Federal prison until 1963. The island is now a historical landmark and you can visit all year round and hear about its prison and military history, former in-mates, and the American Indian occupation.
Plan your visit a few weeks in advance to avoid disappointment as tickets can book out quickly.
6. New York Skyline
Truly awe-inspiring, the New York Skyline deserves to be in the top 10 with its breath-taking views. With the construction of new skyscrapers rapidly transforming Manhattan, it’s worth the trip to see these dramatic new changes. View humanity from above and scan the skyline from the tallest skyscraper in the city, One World Trade Center. You will not be disappointed; just check out the views in this video taken by a base jumper.
7. Las Vegas, Nevada
You will not get bored in Las Vegas if you like gambling, nightlife, theatrical shows, and endless entertainment. Also billed as Sin City, it’s the perfect place to let your hair down after working hard all summer.
Many of the world’s largest hotels and casinos are located on the Las Vegas strip and you can try anything from indoor skydiving, scuba diving with sharks to catching a dancing fountain show at the Bellagio.
Frenchmen Street in New Orleans is home to some of the city’s best live music venues, including Snug Harbour and The Spotted Cat. The most famous quarter is the Fauberg Marigny neighbourhood, originally the location of a plantation owned by the Creole Bernard de Marigny.
Many of the houses in the area are over 100 hundred years old with many genuine Creole Cottages lining the street. Come here to find the real New Orleans and acquire a taste for its authentic music and food.
9. Polar Bears, Alaska
Want to see one of these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat? You can catch sight of these magnificent animals in either Kaktovic or Barrow in the state of Alaska. Kaktovic has a small number of places where you can stay and an Arctic Refuge with authorized guides to take you to see the polar bears. Be aware that the town has few facilities for tourists.
Barrow is located above the Arctic Circle and is the northernmost city in the US. The best time to view Polar Bears is from late September to October, when the sea ice begins forming.
If you want to visit these places, then you should carefully plan your visit in advance and read the guidelines before you go.
The average US tax back we get for J1 students is $800
Join the free celebration of Jazz in Chicago during Labor Day Weekend in September when a variety of local and international jazz artists gather to play a festival. Throughout the years, the city festival has hosted all the greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, BB King, and Miles Davis among many more. Admission is free, so you simply bring along a blanket and enjoy.
11. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Even if you weren’t a die-hard fan of Dawson’s Creek, a TV series set in the area of Cape Cod, you’ll still appreciate the beauty of this peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic. The Cape and its islands are home to stunning stretches of beach and is steeped in a rich maritime history.
You can rest your feet up in the dunes or explore the rich cultural heritage of any of the 15 towns or villages. Come here if you want to relax beachside and get away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. You’ll find plenty of excellent fresh seafood and a number of festivals taking place throughout the year.
Remember, if you don't a file a tax return, it might affect your visa status and whether or not you can return to the US! Find out more here.
Travelling on a budget? Then check out our top free things to do in the US here.