I decided to visit my relatives in the States for Christmas period. I haven’t seen them for more than 10 years so I figured what the heck since I got my visa approved (yay!), I might as well book a trip while the opportunity is still there. I’ve always wanted to know how it feels like having Christmas there. It is definitely different from the hot and humid weather of Singapore or Philippines.
The two families live in the opposite end: California and New York. The estimated round trip flight time would be 40 hours. The longest flights I have been for one way was 6 hours: Beijing and Taiwan. The coldest temperature I have been was 16 Celsius (yes, aircon temp). It is an experience to be in a 18 hour flight jump after that, not to mention the jet lag and weather adjustment of 8 to 4 Celsius. I’ll get to that exciting part.
I booked my flights and registered for frequent flyer (if I am flying long haul, I might as well grab those points for free trips).
Dates: Dec 22 to Dec 27 for San Francisco then fly over to New York till Jan 3, touchdown back to Singapore on Jan 6.
I got United and Delta Airlines as the choice airlines since (well) they got the cheapest flights (I am still not ready for 1st class flights). Total cost: USD 2196 for the round trip (peak season, what can I expect?). The flight experience is not bad as I thought it would be. The annoying part was that for the international flight, I can only check in 1 luggage with max of 23 kgs or 50 lbs for free. The second bag is chargeable and having an overweight bag will cost even more. For domestic flights, check in luggage is at a price so I had to resort to carry on luggage and be careful not to carry any large liquids.
I also took travel insurance 66 SGD with Ace for 16 days.
Need Visa? Here is the list of countries that do not need visa.
My country, Philippines, requires one so I made sure I had my visa approved before I book any flights. It is different from my other trips wherein I book my trip and then showed my flight itinerary when applying for visa. It is harder to get US visa so make sure to plan your visa application well in advance. First, find your nearest US embassy and check out the requirements as they slightly differ per country. I got mine in Singapore, prepared my documents, applied online, paid the fee (208 SGD) and scheduled my appointment. During my interview, I managed to answer the questions and immediately got 10 years visa (sweet).
Money Wise At that time, 1 USD is 1.23 SGD. My credit card charged slightly higher. Even though I converted my cash for some Benjamin, credit is king in US and it was easy to just swiped everything. Luckily, I caught myself from my shopping spree and paid cash (gasp!) All bills are of the same color so always check the money you give and receive.
Things you buy will have sales tax on top of the retail price and there is the concept of tipping for service (ex. waiter, taxi driver, etc). Tipping can be as low as USD 1 for handling coats or drinks and ranges around 15 to 20% of the total restaurant bill. Counter service or fast food do have a tip box but it is optional. Sometimes the restaurant already charge the tip inside the bill so please check before paying. Some will insist on tip even when providing bad service but if you adamant with the lack of courtesy, you can justify on not paying it at all. Most of the people in the service industry uses the tips as the take home pay due to low minimum salary.
Side note: Service charge is already incorporated in every bill in Singapore unless otherwise stated. Tipping is not common in Singapore but optional in Philippines (we usually give good service)
Clothes Shopping Before the decision to head to the US, I never had any winter clothes in my life except for sweater when I am sick and jacket for the rain. The fun wallet breaking shopping spree needs to be done before I head over for another shopping spree. It is funny how we do things. Fortunately, Singapore is a multicultural hub with residents flying off every month so there are multitude of stores that sells them. Unfortunately, stores know how to take advantage of that and charge more than 2x the cost.
Uniqlo and H&M are my 2 saviors for decently priced clothing. The key is layering while mixing and matching your outfit to still look fab. Most of your tourist pics will be your outer jacket so please find one that compliments you. Second thing, your coat and layers must be easy to take off as most buildings will be hot and taking off your clothes doesn’t have to be much of a pain. I bought most of my necessity in Singapore while save those heavy and expensive clothes (like dress, coat and boots) in US for the quality and price. A good tip is to have vacuum seal packs as they save luggage space.
- Inner wear that absorbs moisture and heat, also called as long johns.
- 2nd layer made of either wool, acrylic or cashmere (think sheep)
- 3rd wear of same material if you still feel cold (I didn’t need this in both states)
- Waterproof coat that is heat retaining, either with some hi-tech ability to do so or with down feathers inside. Some people get those heavy coats rather than those bubble types. I personally like the heavy coats since I feel fat using the bubble type, plus coat look cool :). However, I expect rain and snow while I am touring the places and heavy coats will take weight on my luggage limit. I did made sure to select a not-so-fat bubble type jacket from Columbia. I didn’t buy this in Singapore though since it was around 350 SGD vs 150 USD.
- Leggings please. If you insist on wearing jeans, by all means wear a thin leggings underneath. The weather will dry your skin and constant brushing with the jeans and legs will leave your skin red and in pain
- Accessories: scarf, wool socks, hat or ear muffs, gloves (trust me, you will thank me when you get to New York). Optional: heat warmer pads
- Waterproof boots 🙂
- Others: Lip balm and mosturizer
Communication Since I will be in contact with my relatives and friends when I arrive, I made sure to purchase a prepaid SIM card with allotted air time. Here are 3 telecos to choose from: AT&T, TMobile and Verizon. (Let me know if I missed out some) I chose AT&T for their unlimited calls and text messages per day.
Getting Oriented I got friends and relatives in California so I wasn’t concern on the transportation. If you do use the public transportation in San Francisco, check out BART, Caltrain and MUNI. BART connects to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland Airport (OAK). I used those 2 and San Jose Airport. Either you have hotel shuttle that transport you to and fro the airport or you can take Supershuttle (both in San Francisco and New York)
I am thankful I don’t have to worry when I was there. Using the public transportation in California is not easy. It is better to rent a car and use GPS. I have not seen taxis while I was there. They say public transportation is easier in the downtown area. I cannot attest since I haven’t tried it. If you have mobile internet, you can download their apps (see their website for the official apps). You can also download 511 app to help you with the best route using train or bus with the next arrival times. Travel time does eat up your time if you are staying at the outskirts of the city and using the public transportation. The interval is usually every 30 minutes and you would be lucky to have one that goes every 15 minutes. Best app for me: Google Map
In New York, I got to touch down at John F Kennedy Airport (JFK) and La Guardia Airport (LGA). New York public transportation is easier using MTA Subway and Long Island Railroad (LIRR – if you are heading to Long Island). There is a train that goes to Newark but I have not tried it and I doubt you as a traveler would want to live hours away from Manhattan. There are many Subway apps, the only thing you should be after is the complete and colored map as the arrival time are flashed on the Subway screen. Most tourist attractions are within subway reach so it is easy to navigate around. I took the Metrocard unlimited rides for 7 days for USD 30. Each ride cost about USD 2.5 so it was worth it. LIRR ride cost about USD 8 from the place I stayed (Country Life Press station). You can buy many tickets in 1 go to avoid having to purchase every time you head to the station. If you are using LIRR, I suggest to download the app that shows the arrival time or grab a brochure when you are in the main station as the intervals can be on every 45 minutes to an hour.
Some great websites when preparing for the trip:
continue the journey by clicking on these links: