When it’s cold and miserable here in Sussex, the draw of sunshine is never stronger. Brighton University’s Bena Jones threw in the towel and went to California. And yes, we’re jealous as hell!
On December 26th I flew out to the great US of A for the first time in my life. I was so unprepared that it wasn’t even funny. I stayed in a friend’s house for two weeks, had multiple Disneyland trips, one Universal Studios adventure, and subsequently had to take three trips to the bank to get more money. I learnt a lot, fast.
Here’s five top tips for making a trip to California – I’ve done the research so you don’t have to…
1 Everything is expensive
I had been told by trusted sources (or so I thought), that the prices in America are great, nothing is super pricey, especially the clothing stores. Given this information, I took $350 with me, fully believing that this would be sufficient for the two weeks, especially as I had pre-purchased my Disney and Universal park tickets at home.
Well, what I failed to be told, was that tax is NOT INCLUDED in the prices on anything. This is a fact that tripped me up multiple times throughout my holiday. Idly shopping thinking I was getting things for a reasonable price, only to be hit with an extra $40 in tax at the till point. I actually ended up spending a total of $705, which covered me for food and a small bit of shopping. So yes, America stung my bank account big time.
2 Tipping is obligatory
Staying on the subject of money, this is worth a mention. Tipping in America is essential. Whereas in the UK tipping is a – mostly optional – sign of gratitude for excellent service, in the US, if you don’t tip the full 20% (10% extra than the UK too) then you had better never darken their doors again, as your card will be marked, and heavens only knows what they’ll do to your food and drink when you’re not looking! Tipping is just a part of their culture; their wages aren’t enough to keep them afloat, so staff rely on those tips. Remember this when you’re factoring in the cost of your dinner or drinks etc.
3 ‘LA traffic’ is real
I had heard stories of the nightmare that is driving in Los Angeles, and I thought these were just myths, made to deter tourists from driving there, or that they were scare stories simply to create dramatic effect (it is California, after all). Boy, I was wrong. Those tales of roads being in standstill for miles and miles, with the sun beaming down onto you, as you sit and wonder how a 20 minute journey has turned into an hour> They are very, very real.
The only advice I can offer here is to plan ahead. Take your estimated drive time, and add another 30 minutes on top, just to be safe. There is also a ‘car pool’ lane, which is reserved for cars carrying two or more people. This lane is usually emptier due to most LA drivers going SOLO, so stay in these as often as you can. And car sharing is better for the planet, so double winner.
4 Flight times matter
When I flew out, I left my house at 4am to get to Heathrow for 5am, giving me enough time to get through security, eat some breakfast and do some duty free shopping before the flight left at 9am. So far, so good. After an 11 hour flight, I landed at 12pm local time. The next challenge was to stay awake until at least 8pm to beat the jetlag.
Unfortunately, after already being awake for 16 hours at the time of landing, staying awake for a further eight hours was impossible. The jetlag beat me, and it beat me good. If you can get a flight which lands late in the day at local time, book those seats and book them quick, because landing times really do make a huge difference to the impact of jetlag on your body.
5 Don’t panic when the weather presenter says there is a ‘storm’ coming
Unlike Californians, we Brits know the meaning of bad weather. We live and breathe it. Los Angeles is sunny basically all the time. So, much like when it snows in the UK, when it rains there, no one knows what to do.
There were multiple times throughout my holiday where the TV weather report howled that there was going to be a ‘blustery storm with wild winds and horrendous downpour’, which, it turns out, means there will be a slight blow in the air with a small shower at midday. I had nearly cancelled plans because of weather predictions, only to find out that they are just grossly exaggerating because to them, this is a storm, bless them.
Overall California is everything I expected, and more. It’s larger than life, warm and sunny, and the studio tours were amazing. Shop around for good flight prices during the week days, and take heed of point 4 above – try to land later in the day local time. And take more money than you were thinking of. Not only is tipping obligatory, the prices you see on the menus are ex tax. So that gets shoved on at the till too. Have a good day y’all!