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The basics
THE USA: Essentials

Essentials: Maps, apps and finding your way around America

America's a huge country full of bustling cities - don't get lost! Read our guide to finding your way around, including America's grid system and what apps are out there to help you...

Finding your way around America

Finding your way around a new country is always going to be a daunting challenge, particularly when that country is as big as the USA, with so many states and there is a language barrier. Even if you’re the most practical person in the world, getting lost can cause all kinds of difficulty and stress.

So, in order to help you out, we’ve compiled a few tips that can make things easier and, more importantly, stress-free.



Despite all of the app and gadgets available, you just can’t beat having a physical map in your pocket or on the wall to cement your knowledge of the local area. Although reading a map isn’t as quick as using a GPS app, the way in which your brain processes information means that once the knowledge sinks in, you are more likely to retain it.

Similarly, the apps don’t always work. Did you forget to charge your phone? Has the signal cut out? If so you’re pretty much stranded.

If you do decide to purchase a map, it is also important that it is a detailed one that covers all of the local area. You can invest in a Lonely Planet Guide to many of the key cities around the world from the Lonely Planet Website or from a local book store from about $15. These will not only include maps and guides, but will also have information on the culture and lifestyle of different regions.


Online planning and apps

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should avoid apps together – far from it! They can provide up-to-the-minute, detailed information in the palm of your hand. There are a number of journey planners that will make life easier, one of which is Google Maps. This can be used either on your laptop or on your phone, and all you have to do is type in the address of your current location and where you want to be. The app will plan your journey for you.

Of course, there are other apps that offer the same services, but the benefit of the Google Maps journey planner is that it works no matter where you are in the world. However, if you own an iPhone, you may want to consider downloading iMaps instead.

Some cities will also have their own online journey planners and apps which are run by local transport providers. If this is the case, you will find out about these either from current students or from the university welcome pack which you will receive when you start your programme of study.


Local knowledge

There’s one thing you can’t beat when it comes to exploring a new area and that is local knowledge. It is also a fantastic way of making new friends. During some of your first weeks, you will meet so many people who can impart their local knowledge on you; it’s a great conversation-starter! If you’re planning on exploring, suggest to other freshman (because they’re all equally as nervous as you) that you go exploring together. Before you know it there’ll be a huge group of you which will really boost your confidence while exploring! Try not to explore areas you’re not familiar with on your own and definitely not at night – this is when you can get lost or run into trouble.

Many of the students in the years above will already have specific knowledge about the student life such as where to go to socialise or where to go to eat. Locals will take pride in their city, it is only natural. They will be more than willing to showcase its best side to enthusiastic student willing to ask questions and who have a genuine passion about getting to know the area. They will also have been born or brought up in the region and thus will have that local knowledge which you just can’t get from a book or travel guide. Plus asking questions is a great way to improve your English skills!


Start your journey to studying in America today - browse popular and highly ranked institutions, read guides and search for courses in the UK.


Read more:

‘The US higher education system... simplified’

‘Tuition fees in the USA’

‘Applying to study in the US’

‘Applying for a US student visa’

‘Student accommodation in the USA’

Study in the USA


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