I spent six delightful weeks exploring India with a friend. Deducing the ins and outs of Indian travel felt like negotiating an obstacle course at times! To help eliminate some of the guesswork for Indians travelling in the United States, we thought we’d list some of the customs and regulations of U.S. travel.

AIR:

  • If you are travelling on an e-ticket, you do not need a printout of your itinerary to enter the terminal or check in. Simply presenting your passport at your airline’s counter will do the trick.
  • Most U.S. airlines charge a fee for each piece of checked baggage for domestic flights; per-person fees range from $20 to $30 for the first bag and $20 to $40 for the second. However, a few airlines, such as JetBlue and Southwest, allow passengers to check the first bag free of charge. For international flights, many airlines do not charge for the first checked bag. The weight limit for each checked bag is generally 50 pounds (22.7 kg) for domestic flights.
  • Because of the checked baggage fees, more and more people opt to put everything in their hand baggage (a.k.a “carry-on”). Each passenger is allowed two pieces of carry-on baggage. One can go in the overhead bin and the other must fit under the seat in front of yours.
  • Because of terrorism threats, liquid and gel toiletries in carry-on baggage must be travel-sized, that is, 3.4 ounces (100 ml) or less, and all of them must fit in a quart-sized zip-top plastic bag (that’s approximately equivalent to a litre sized, 20 cm square bag). However, certain U.S. airports — such as San Francisco, California, my home city — no longer enforce this rule.
  • You are not required to put an airline tag on your carry-on after it has been x-rayed.
  • Travelling on SpiceJet in India, we were surprised to discover that there was no complimentary beverage service. While most U.S. airlines no longer offer free food, even the budget airlines serve complimentary soft drinks, juices, coffee, and tea.
  • For onboard purchases of food, alcoholic beverages, and entertainment, airlines no longer accept cash; you must pay with a Visa, MasterCard, or American Express card.
  • Some newer planes have wifi on board, usually for a fee.

TAXIS, CAR RENTALS AND DRIVING:

  • Prepaid taxi counters don’t exist in U.S. airports. Instead, you will find a line (that’s the U.S. word for “queue” of taxis at the curb outside the baggage claim.
  • Taxis are typically reliable and safe, and they are metered, so you can rest assured that the driver is charging you a fair price.
  • We drive on the right side of the road in the United States. Judging from my experience driving on the left while visiting British countries, I’d say it takes a while to get used to driving on the opposite side than you’re
    accustomed to.
  • You must be 25 or older to rent a car from most rental companies. Some companies will rent to people twenty-one or older for an additional fee.
  • Similarly, most companies charge an extra per-day fee for each additional driver, although certain companies, including Enterprise and Avis, allow the renter’s spouse to be included on the rental agreement free of charge.

BUSES AND TRAINS:

  • Long-distance train and bus travel in the U.S. can be an economical option, but not always — oftentimes you can find a plane ticket for only slightly more than bus or train fare.
  • Unlike in India, we don’t have loads of independent bus carriers to choose from. Greyhound is the primary nationwide carrier, although some areas have regional carriers as well (such as Peter Pan in the northeast and LuxBus America in Southern California and Nevada). In recent years, a new breed of budget bus companies has cropped up. Here’s a rundown.
  • Thankfully, long-distance buses have toilets onboard (an hour into my ride from Goa to Pune I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that my A/C sleeper didn’t have one).
  • Amtrak is the only nationwide train carrier, but many cities have commuter lines that cover a wide radius around the city. Here is a very informative site about train travel in the U.S.:
  • Prices tend to be fixed in the U.S. Bargaining for the cost of travel expenses and merchandise is generally not an option.
  • Tipping at least 15 percent of the pre-tax total in restaurants and bars as well as taxis, beauty salons, and so on — is expected. Restaurant servers are paid very low hourly wages and depend on gratuity to survive, so it is insulting to them if people tip less than 15 percent.
  • Unlike in India, where we noticed that people commonly stand very close to one another, Americans are big on their personal space. According to body-language expert Patti Wood, Americans tend to keep a minimum of roughly 18 inches (46 cm) between themselves and others, especially strangers — even while standing in lines or in crowded travel hubs. So if you find someone stepping away from you or fidgeting uncomfortably if you’re within closer range, it’s nothing personal.

This article is from our archives. Some of the information might have changed. Please check for updates before you travel.