I’ve been in Florida for about two weeks now and I can confidently report that the US is no longer a cheap destination for British holidaymakers. In fact, I’m not sure it ever was. Friends would come back from New York with tales of shopping triumphs but whenever I went looking - which was not often - I never found the bargains.
Was it an urban myth? Even if this retail paradise did exist, the door has now firmly shut on it, mostly due to the 20% or so drop in the value of the pound against the US dollar since the Brexit referendum. But there are other traps as well. So If you’re thinking about a holiday to America, make sure you build the following costs into your budget.
1. Tax: In shops and restaurants, prices are often displayed without the sales tax (VAT in UK) added. In Florida, it’s 6% added to the advertised price, which led to some confusion for Dear Daughter and myself at the American Eagle cash till. Sales tax can also apply to tickets for tours or rides.
2. Tips: Unlike in UK, gratuities are the norm, not just a reward for good service. The suggested amount is 18% to 22% - and in some restaurants, your bill will arrive with the amounts worked out for you. Because the tip is calculated on the meal plus the 6% sales tax, this can be really hefty. Mr Minted worked out that you are in fact paying in pounds whatever the dollar price is on the menu. For example, $100 for food plus the 6% sales tax is $106. Add 18% of that on top for service and you’re paying $125.08 which more or less equates to £100 at recent exchange rates. Ouch! Also note that tour guides need tips too.
3. Mobile phone: I find it impossible to travel without data roaming. Especially when you land at Miami airport and need to drive the rental car to the hotel with no map. Hurrah for Google Maps but thumbs down to Vodafone which charges me £5 a day here to have my normal minutes and megabytes. For 15 days on the road, that’s £75. I did see a special tourist deal advertised by T-Mobile here which was $30 for three weeks. Would’ve bitten the shop’s hand off but got distracted by cries for ice-cream…
4. Parasol: I would’ve saved myself $25 dollars for rental by shoving a beach umbrella in my suitcase. We only used it for two hours as well. I was spitting blood because we had already paid the hotel (where we stayed for two nights on arrival) a resort tax of $30 per room, per day. Plus sales tax of 6%! And not even a free bottle of water.
5. Household essentials: Either we’re the first tenants of the season or this is the way American rentals work but there is not even a glimmer of a bin-bag in this property. Hire a country cottage in UK for a week or so and you can guarantee the people before (or even the guests from last year) left behind some silver foil and a half-used bottle of soy sauce. Not here! We turned up to find the cupboard was bare apart from a tiny bottle of washing up liquid and one measure of Tide washing powder. I’m living without cling film.
Finally, because we have had some good experiences too, here’s five travel essentials which this trip have proved invaluable.
1. Swatch: Indestructible, waterproof and relatively cheap watch in fun design. Take it to a Swatch shop (such as the one on Lincoln Avenue, Miami) and they mend it or change the battery for free.
2. Anker portable charger: Many more battery hours on long-haul flight = no child breakdown.
3. Sewing kit: Button replacement on last pair of clean shorts, substitute nail scissors etc etc.
4. Fold-up small shopping bag: Groceries, beach bag, day pack, even used as a sunshade.
5. Knorr chicken stock cubes: Makes anything taste like home.
Happy holidays wherever you’re spending your Easter!