places for shopping
Shopping malls and shopping centers. America is the birthplace of the modern enclosed "shopping mall" as well as the open-air "shopping center". In addition, American suburbs have miles and miles of small strip malls, or long rows of small shops with shared parking lots, usually built along a high-capacity road. Large cities still maintain central shopping districts that can be navigated on public transport, but pedestrian-friendly shopping streets are uncommon and usually small.
Outlet centers. The U.S. pioneered the factory outlet store, and in turn, the outlet center, a shopping mall consisting primarily of such stores. Outlet centers are found along major Interstate highways outside of most American cities.
Major retailers. American retailers tend to have some of the longest business hours in the world, with chains like Walmart often featuring stores open 24/7 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Department stores and other large retailers are usually open from 10 AM to 9 PM most days, and during the winter holiday season, may stay open as long as 8 AM to 11 PM. The U.S. does not regulate the timing of sales promotions as in other countries. U.S. retailers often announce sales during all major holidays, and also in between for any reason or no reason at all. American retail stores are gigantic compared to retail stores in other countries, and are a shoppers' dream come true.
Garage sales. On weekends, it is not uncommon to find families selling no longer needed household items in their driveway, garage, or yard. If you see a driveway full of stuff on a Saturday, it's likely a garage sale. Check it out; one person's trash may just be your treasure. Bargaining is expected and encouraged.
Flea markets. Flea markets called "swap meets" in Western states have dozens if not hundreds of vendors selling all kinds of usually inexpensive merchandise. Some flea markets are highly specialized and aimed at collectors of a particular sort; others just sell all types of items. Again, bargaining is expected.
Auctions. Americans did not invent the auction but may well have perfected it. The fast paced, sing-song cadence of a country auctioneer, selling anything from farm animals to estate furniture, is a special experience, even if you have no intention of buying. In big cities, head to the auction chambers of Christie's or Sotheby's, and watch paintings, antiques and works of art sold in a matter of minutes at prices that go into the millions.
Unless you live in Australia, Canada, Europe or Japan, the United States is generally expensive, but there are ways to limit the damage. Many Europeans come to the United States for shopping especially electronics. While prices in the United States are lower than in many European countries, keep in mind that you will be charged taxes/tariffs on goods purchased abroad. Additionally, electronics may not be compatible with standards when you return electrical, DVD region, etc.. As such, the savings you may find shopping in the United States may easily be negated upon your return. Furthermore, your U.S.-bought item may not be eligible for warranty service in your home country. A barebones budget for camping, hostels, and cooking your food could be $30-50/day, and you can double that if you stay at motels and eat at cheap cafes. Add on a rental car and hotel accommodation and you'll be looking at $150/day and up. There are regional variations too: large cities like New York and Los Angeles are expensive, while prices go down in the countryside. Most U.S. cities have suburbs with good hotels that are often much more affordable than those in the city center and enjoy lower crime rates. Thus, if you plan to rent a car and drive between several major cities on a single visit to the U.S., it is usually a better idea to stay at safe suburban hotels with free parking, as opposed to downtown hotels that charge exorbitant parking fees. Additionally, if you have generous friends from the US who will give gift cards to you for some reason, the cards can somehow help you defray some of the costs.
If you intend to visit any of the National Parks Service sites, such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park, it is worth considering the purchase of a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass (http://www.nps.gov/fees_p...). This costs $80 and gives access to almost all of the federally administered parks and recreation areas for one year. Considering the price of admission to many parks is at least $20 each, if you visit more than a few of them, the pass will be the cheaper solution. You can trade in receipts from individual entries for 14 days at the entrance to the parks to upgrade to an annual pass, if you find yourself cruising around and ending up visiting more parks than expected. (http://store.usgs.gov/pas...)
Many hotels and motels offer discounts for members of certain organizations which anyone can join, such as AAA formerly the American Automobile Association. If you're a member, or are a member of a club affiliated with AAA such as the Canadian Automobile Association, The Automobile Association in the UK, or ADAC in Germany, it's worth asking at check-in.
Tipping in America is widely used and expected. While Americans themselves often debate correct levels and exactly who deserves to be tipped, generally accepted standard rates are:
Hairdressers, other personal services: 10-15%
Bartenders: $1 per drink if inexpensive or 15-20% of total
Bellhops: $1-2 per bag $3-5 minimum regardless
Hotel doorman: $1 per bag if they assist, $1 for calling a cab
Shuttle bus drivers: $2-5 optional
Private car & limousine drivers: 15-20%
Parking valet: $1-3 for retrieving your car unless there's already a fee for parking
Housekeeping in hotels: $1-2 per day for long stays or $5 minimum for very short stays optional
Food delivery pizza, etc.: $2-5, 15-20% for larger orders
Bicycle messengers: $3-5
Tour guides / activity guides $5-$10 if he or she was particularly funny or informative.
Taxis: Tips of 10-20% are expected in both yellow cabs as well as livery cabs. A simple way of computing the tip is to add 10% of the fare and round up from there. Thus, if the meter reads $6.20, you pay $7 and if the meter reads $6.50, you pay $8. Always tip more for better service for example, if the cabbie helps you with your bags or stroller. Leave a small tip if the service is lousy for example, if the cabbie refuses to turn on the AC on a hot day. For livery cabs, tip 10-20% depending on the quality of the service but you don't need to tip at all if you hail the cab on the street and negotiate the fare in advance leave an extra dollar or two anyway!.
Full-service restaurants: 15-20%. Many restaurants include a mandatory service charge for larger groups, in which case you do not need to tip an additional amount - check the bill.
It is important to keep in mind that the legal minimum wage for restaurant waitstaff and other tip-earners is quite low just $2.13/hour before taxes, with the expectation that tips bring them up to a "normal" minimum wage. Thus, in restaurants and certain other professions a tip is not just a way to say "thank you" for service, but an essential part of a server's wages.
Remember that while it is expected for you to tip normally for adequate service, you are never obliged to tip if your service was truly awful. If you receive exceptionally poor or rude service and the manager does not correct the problem when you bring it to their attention, a deliberately small tip one or two coins will express your displeasure more clearly than leaving no tip at all.
If paying your bill by cash, leave a cash tip on the table when you leave there is no need to hand it over personally or wait until it's collected, or if paying by credit card you can add it directly to the charge slip when you sign it. Look carefully, as the slip will generally inform you whether a 15% gratuity has already been added.
Tipping is not expected at restaurants where patrons stand at a counter to place their order and receive their food such as fast-food chains. Some such restaurants may have a "tip jar" by the cash register, which may be used wholly at the customer's discretion in appreciation of good service. Some tipping at a cafeteria or buffet is expected since the wait staff often clears the table for you and provides refills of drinks and such.
The majority of jobs not mentioned here are not customarily tipped, and would likely refuse them. Retail employees, or those in service positions which require high qualifications such as doctors or dentists are good examples. Never try to offer any kind of tip to a government employee of any kind, especially police officers; this could be construed as attempted bribery a felony offense and might cause serious legal problems.