Friday, July 04, 2014

Stuff I learned and observed on my USA road trip - general

Two months ago, I went for my longest vacation on my own. I spent seventeen days in Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, Yosemite National Park and San Francisco, with part of the journey driving on the Pacific Coast Highway. I'm not going to write a typical holiday blog, showing where I've been and sharing photos. Ever the practical person, I'm going to write about what I've learned and observed on this trip.

There were a lot of Indians flying to and from San Francisco
Perhaps due to the number of Indians working in Silicon Valley, the Cathay Pacific flight I was flying on was 60-70% filled with Indians, most elderly people. They were probably going to the States to visit their relatives. I'm just surprised they were using Cathay Pacific as their airline. Surely Air India should be laying down more flights to capitalize on the number of Indians flying to USA.

If you are going to get a SIM card for your phone, best buy beforehand and have the card delivered to your home address
I was trying to get a pay-as-you-go micro SIM card for my smartphone to use while on holiday. I forgot to look at the airport when I arrived and I found it difficult thereafter to find my requirements afterwards. People said to try the major pharmacy stores such as Walgreens and CVS but they only stock normal pay-as-you-go SIM cards and normal pay-as-you-go phones.

I later tried major stores but for some inexplicable reason, the mobile phone rates in USA are preposterously high. Even pay-as-you-go SIM cards are expensive. You will get better prices if you search on the internet and get the card delivered to your home.

However if you are just going to use data, it's not worth buying a SIM card. Just use the free Wi-Fi
Like London, most of the major cities in USA have pretty good free Wi-Fi . Most of the Las Vegas hotels, fast food outlets, Starbucks and major department stores have free Wi-Fi which you can connect to without jumping through too many hoops. This practice should be learnt by Hong Kong businesses, which has pitiful free Wi-Fi. US & UK businesses have learnt that free Wi-Fi keeps people on their premises and more likely to spend money at their businesses

When paying for something in USA, remember the additional costs...
There are a lot of added-on items when you pay for stuff in USA. Anything retail will get a sales tax added on to the price. As each state has its own different sales tax, it's not always included in the displayed price. I understand if the business operates in several states and has to quote one price for one product but for individual businesses which just operate in one state or in one place, I wish they include this in the mentioned amount. This will avoid the situation of having to calculate the amount and accumulating tons of change.

The other big add-on is service charge in restaurants. I was astonished to find the amount required to tip is 18-20%. In UK and Hong Kong, the usual amount is 10% and is added on to the price afterwards. This is something which should be included in the price itself, and not just in USA. If you don't offer takeaway service, the prices in restaurant should include everything, from taxes to service charge. That is a better reflection of the overall price of a meal.

Remember to bring photo ID with you everywhere
Photo ID is required for two main reasons: 1. To prove your age and 2. To prove your identity when using a credit card.

Even if you look 33, you will get carded if you want to buy alcohol. I found this out while trying to buy frozen margaritas in Las Vegas. It wasn't the staff's fault, since there were security cameras all around the premises noting every action.

The US must have a lot of credit card fraud cases or situations where somebody uses a stolen credit card quite often. Whenever you use a credit card for a large amount, they will always ask for photo ID to prove you are the owner of that credit card.

I didn't know if US businesses would accept my Hong Kong ID card or my international driver's license as a form of photo ID, so I played it safe and used my passport.

Your iPhone uses the GPS to tag locations for your photos and not your phone signal
The iPhone tags the nearest town/city to your photos. So if you look back at your pictures in the future, at least the location can jog your memory as to where you taken the photo. Probably good for drunken nights out.

If you have an iPhone but no SIM card, a useful app is to help you navigate around major cities is City Maps 2Go
This app is from a company called Ulmon. The map is quite detailed, covering major attractions, shops and transport links. The best feature is that it uses the GPS to help you navigate on the map, so if doesn't matter if you don't have a SIM card in your iPhone.

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