My Travel Diary: Travelling Around the US Using ESTA

Not long after finishing my university studies, I decided I wanted to travel somewhere exciting with a range of different experiences. I had three weeks to plan my travels into, as I would soon be starting my first full-time job. I looked at a number of travel options, including Australia but with really long flight times and the more expensive flight tickets that came with that, my budget wouldn’t stretch that far.

I had never visited the US and when I started to research the different areas of the US I could visit, I decided that it was the ideal destination for seeing as many different places as possible. I wanted to cram a bit of everything in; sightseeing in the big cities, beach holidays, American culture, as much action as possible in my three weeks.

Planning My Trip

Due to the sheer size of the US, there are so many cities to visit – I read that there are around 20.000 cities across the whole of the US! In three weeks, I could realistically only visit a few cities, so I had to whittle down my wish list to three. The first one I picked was the famous New York City, for obvious reasons. Having seen it on TV so many times and hearing people talking about the magic of NYC, it was a place I could not miss, so this was my starting point.

The other place I had always wanted to visit was LA but when I looked on the map, the two places couldn’t be much further apart, considering they were in the same country but I thought, whilst I'm in the US, I should try and do both. Internal flights worked out to be fairly reasonable from NYC to LA, so that made my mind up – LA would be my second destination.

I figured I would spend four days in NYC to fit in everything that I wanted to do. This left plenty of time to spend on the west coast of the US, starting with LA. Again, I studied the map to see where else I could tag onto my trip. San Francisco was a place that I’d heard lots of exciting things about and the drive was under eight hours. I could visit NYC, fly to LA and then drive up the coast to San Francisco before flying back to the UK in my three weeks and this would fit a whole lot of experiences into my trip.

Preparing for Travel to the US

Fortunately, my father was a frequent business flyer to the US and was able to give me some useful advice, including that I would need to apply for an ESTA for entering the US. I had previously only travelled to European destinations, where I was not required to have a visa, so I wasn't aware about US using a visa system for foreign travellers. Applying for a visa sounded complicated but because I am a British citizen and my purposes for visiting the US was for tourism, I could apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) instead.

I researched the process and saw that I needed to have a valid ESTA for entering the US and that I could apply by filling in an online form via the website. Around a month before I was due to fly, I completed my ESTA application form, which took around 20 minutes to fill in all of the required information. My passport still had three years of validity left on it, so this was more than long enough for my trip. I found out that the ESTA lasts for two years and if I wanted to, I could use it for another trip in the future.

The form was really easy to fill in and I just provided my passport details, my contact details and answered some questions. I paid a small administration fee using my visa debit card and submitted the application. I instantly received a notification email to say my application had been submitted. Then, in less than three hours, I had an email confirming that my ESTA was approved.

This meant I was ready for my trip, although I still had the small matter of arranging accommodation, booking event tickets, flights and car hire! It was really easy to book tourist attractions for New York; I bought the New York City Pass that gave me access to most of the top attractions, as well as transport such as the Hop On Hop Off bus that would take me around the attractions. I also bought Broadway tickets in advance, to avoid missing out on my favourite show – The West Side Story.

Getting car hire was pretty easy too, although because I was 22 and under 25, I had to pay the underage driver fee to hire the car that I would drive from LA to San Francisco. Because I used a large car hire company, it was fine to pick up the car in LA and leave it at the company’s office in San Francisco’s airport, where I would fly back to the UK from.

Arriving in the US

After a flight of just under 8 hours from London to NYC, we landed in JFK Airport. As I approached the CBP agent, I got my passport out ready to be checked. The ESTA was electronically linked to my passport, which the agent saw when he scanned my passport. He asked me what the purpose of my trip was and I explained I was visiting NYC for a few days before heading to LA and San Francisco for holidays. He seemed happy with my documentation and let me pass into the United States of America.

We took a yellow cab from the airport to our hotel, which was just outside of Manhattan. The next few days were spent walking around the tourist attractions such as The Empire State Building, Central Park and Times Square. My evening at Broadway was unreal, an experience I will never forget.

Time in New York flew by and it was soon time to get our flight to LA. Flying to LA took as long as flying from London to NYC but fortunately the tickets were considerably cheaper. As I already had my ESTA through https://www.estaform.org/, a very reliable service, and this gave me travel authorization across all of the US.

My time in LA involved visiting movie sets, theme parks, beaches and places like the Walk of Fame and The Chinese Theatre. After an action packed four days in LA, we started our drive to San Francisco. We could take the scenic coastal route, or the faster route on the I-5 N. We opted for the coastal route which took us through Santa Barbara and Big Sur, spending a night at Pismo Beach to break up the journey. San Francisco was so different from LA despite being just along the coast and during my time there, I visited the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. There were some really great bars and restaurants in San Francisco too, so we had a great time there.

Finally, it was time to head home back to the UK with some amazing memories of the US. It wasn’t long before I was planning my next trip to the US!

Best regards to Kirsty Harding for sharing this amazing travel diary for us. Many thanks!







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