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Travel to the USA: How to Get an ESTA

All you need to know about travelling to the United States of America with ESTA

Travelling to the United States has not always been the simplest task. There are many factors that can contribute to a rather stressful experience. For example, those going on holiday to the U.S. have to pick a destination, a hotel, save up spending money, buy flights and then they have to obtain a visa, amongst other things. All-in-all, there is a lot to consider when travelling there.

In some cases obtaining a visa can take somewhere between 6-8 months. That means planning the holiday could take more than half a year. There is, however, a new resource which travellers can use when entering the U.S. At least for citizens of 38 countries that is. To find out if your country qualifies for ESTA, click here.

Introducing the ESTA

The ESTA is the perfect resource for those travelling to the US from one of the 38 countries eligible, especially for business or tourism purposes, as well as connecting flights that involve the U.S.

Unlike the longer waiting time that a visa may require, an ESTA usually takes less than 72 hours from starting the application to receiving the authorisation email, granting the applicant access into the U.S. All you need to complete the ESTA application is an electronic passport and an internet connection. The application takes no longer than 30 minutes to complete.

Once the ESTA form has been completed and the application receives a successful response, they can then travel the U.S. as many times as they like for two years. During that two year period, they should note that they must not remain in the U.S. for more than 90 days per trip!

There are certain aspects of the ESTA which applicants should take note of:

– Even if an ESTA is granted, you may not be able to enter the United States, as the officials at the border have the final say on who can or cannot enter the country.

– It is worth noting that at the border, officials may ask to see evidence of your planned journey along with evidence that you have enough money to support yourself for your proposed trip.

– If an ESTA is rejected, applicants will have to apply for a visa to enter the United States

– Once an ESTA is approved, it is valid for two years. However, if the passport of the holder expires before the two years, the ESTA will also expire. 

– The cost to apply for an ESTA is $14, if your application is rejected you will only be charged $4.

Ready to apply for you ESTA?

Click here for more information and to apply for you ESTA today!

how to get an esta

A Magical Getaway: White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument: A guide

Is that snow? Where are we??

A fluffy, cool, blinding white paradise hidden right off the US-Mexico border in New Mexico’s northern end of the Chihuahua Desert that is quite possibly the most underrated, unheard of, and unappreciated of all the parks in the USA. I had learned after my parents short lived move to the south of Utah that some of the best parks this country has to offer are the ones you may not have heard of. While the Grand Canyon is amazing in its own way, I can’t believe that the uniqueness of White Sands hasn’t skyrocketed it to fame.

My biggest recommendation if you’re going to pay a visit to White Sands National Monument is to camp at least for one night while you are here. It’s the kind of place you need to experience at every pinnacle of a 24 hour period. Early morning, high-noon, the sunset and of course middle of the night are all astonishing in their own ways, each with their very own palette of color.I’m pretty sure at sundown Grant referred to it as hell on a lollipop.

Information on White Sands:

White Sands National Park is the biggest gypsum sand field in the world, with more than 275 square miles of this magical white powder. To be more exact on it’s location it is down in the Tularosa Basin of the Chihuahua Desert (yes, like the Taco Bell dog. if you’re too young to understand what I’m talking about I’m sure the little mutt is somewhere on YouTube saying his catchphrase- Yo Quiero Taco Bell, so get with the program).

The sand dunes were formed by an ancient sea that evaporated approximately forever ago and then a day (If you’re dying to know, you know how to google, you got here didn’t you? Unless of course you clicked some link on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or wherever…. but I still believe in you, I’m sure you can google until your fingers fall off). Pair that with the fact that the Tularosa basin as no drainages, voile, you have a massive gypsum sand dune field that can’t be carried away by rainwater. And if you’re that big of a nerd (I am) you can also google how gypsum is formed in the first place. Hint: Evaporated ocean usually leads to sedimentary gypsum!

Another interesting piece of information I thought worth mentioning: The sand stays cool! Gypsum reflects light, rather than absorbing it and if I’m remembering correctly I think I read a sign saying gypsum retains moisture. So kick off your sandals and flap those bare feet around!

White Sands National Monument, white sands, new mexico

Getting There:

El Paso is the closest major airport, otherwise Albuquerque and Tucson are comparable distances from White Sands. We flew into Tucson because we found tickets for dirt cheap coming from Alaska, with that said the drive from Tucson to Las Cruces is one of the worst drives I’ve experienced in my life, an unadulterated hell. You’ll pass a neat pile of rocks rocks near the pull off for the Dragoon Mountains (it’s closed) just outside Tucson and then it’s vast, barren, nothingness until you hit Las Cruces. Next time going to White Sands I will most definitely come from a different direction, not that that should stop you if you would be coming from that direction, I’m just saying be prepared for over 200 miles of misery.

There is also a small commuter airport in Alamogordo which is about 15 minutes from the White Sands visitor center.

There is no public transport to White Sands National Monument, so if flying into one of the above places, plan on renting a car.

White Sands visitor center is located on Highway 70. If coming from Tucson you’d take I-1o East to Las Cruces, or if coming from El Paso you’d take the I-1o West to Las Cruces. From Las Cruces take Highway 70 East. You will have to go through a US border patrol station not far before reaching the park, have your IDs ready. They did search our trunk and check all our IDs. I’m guessing to make sure we weren’t smuggling any humans and anything fun like cocaine through from Mexico or something, who knows.

From Albuquerque take the I-25 South until Socorro where you will exit onto US-380 East to Alamogordo and then take Highway 70 West to the visitor center.

Once you’ve arrived at the visitor center the scenic road into the park goes for about 8 miles where it comes to an end.

Fees:

Park entrance:

$5 for adults and Free for kids under 15 years old. These passes are good for 7 days.

Backcountry camping:

$3 per person, per night (after park entrance fee is paid).

Other permits that can be purchased are:

Lake Lucero Tours:

$8 per adult, $4 per person ages 15 & under.

Full Moon Bike Ride:

$8 per adult 16 & older, $4 per person ages 15 & under.

Full Moon Hike:

$8 per adult, $4.00 per person ages 15 & under.

Sunrise Photography:

$8.00 per adult,  $4 per person ages 15 & under.

Free days/who’s eligible for free passes and closure information:

Active duty military will get a free annual pass to the park (does not include any other permits ie: backcountry, lake tour, full moon bike or hike, or photography tours.

White Sands is part of the national park service, so they do participate in ‘free days’ where the entrance fee is waived, you can read the list of free dates here.

White Sands has certain closures due to testing at the White Sands Missile Range nearby. The park is usually closed for no more than 3 hours at a time. If you plan to visit and are on limited time, call the visitor center at +1 575 479 6124 to find out closure dates and times. You can also visit this page here, for the next upcoming closure information.

White Sands National Monument, White Sands, New Mexico, milky way, tent

Camping doesn’t get better than this

Camping:

There are only 10 back country camping sites at White Sands National Monument and they can fill quickly. You cannot reserve campsites in advance, so it is first come first serve. We made sure to show up at the visitor center just before 9 am when they open to make sure we got a spot. As mentioned above the camping fee is $3 per person in addition to your park entrance permit.

The camp sites range from 0.4 miles and 1.1 miles from the trailhead parking lot. All camp sites are located in an inter-dune area (between peaks of the dunes) and the trail, along with campsites are marked with orange posts.

White Sands has a giant variance in night to day temperatures so make sure to pack accordingly. It does get quite cold at night and hot in the day. Visiting in the first week of April the day time temps were up into the mid 80ºF’s and the night-time temperature dropped into the 30ºF’s. There are creepy crawlies that live in the plants out there, so be sure to bring a tent. I’m totally fine with scorpions, spiders, snakes and the such but if one of you come crawling across my face in my sleep, prepare to die. Make sure to have a warm sleeping bag and dress in plenty of layers, the temperature drops acutely around sunset.

Pack enough food and water for your stay. People have died out here by wandering out without water. It’s the desert, bring water. The visitor center does sell snacks and drinks during their opening hours. Otherwise, food and drinks can be purchased at several stores in nearby Alamogordo. The gates to the park do get locked after sunset, so you are locked in there for the night… No sneaking off to Alamogordo at midnight from some McDonald’s.

So, what the hell do I do there?

Lotsa stuff, plenty! Sledding, hiking, climbing the dunes, picnicking.. so many activities!

White sands national monument, white sands, new mexico

Climbing sand dunes:

Pick a dune, any dune. You’re surrounded by them. We arrived on a Saturday in the late afternoon after the hellish drive from Tucson. There were tons of people out, I’m guessing mostly from nearby Alamogordo, the nearby military base and Las Cruces. Most were hanging out atop a sand dune adjacent to a parking lot with chairs and umbrellas, a cooler and a boombox while the kids slid down the dunes in saucer sleds. There were a few people scattered out to further away dunes.

Sledding:

You can buy saucer sleds at the visitor center and sled down the dunes. We never actually did this (I live in Alaska, I know sledding, like damn near luge status) but from what I hear is that they can be purchased cheaply and the visitor center will buy them back for slightly less than you paid, so essentially it seconds as a rental shop. You do have to wax these bad boys or else you’ll just be stuck in the sand. I’ve done some sandboarding, I know.

White Sands National Monument, White Sands, New Mexico

Take a hike:

There are a number of hiking trails around that are marked. You can also, wander off into the abyss if that’s what you’re dying to do, but beware: winds shift dunes and sand blows to cover your footprints quickly and you can lose your way… and you could die, or get injured, severely sunburnt, attacked by poisonous critters… so on, and so forth. Or you might live, but I figure we might as well cover all the bases so some idiot doesn’t try to sue me because they read a blog that didn’t say, hey you can do this, but you could probably die. And since we’re covering all the bases, I’ll just throw in alien abductions too, it’s not that far from Roswell after all. From many a South Park episode I do know that anal probing is not unheard of with the extraterrestrials (I think extraterrestrial is probably more politically correct than alien… you know like the little person vs midget and dwarf thing and America’s love affair with being PC), and does look quite uncomfortable.

I’m not going to type until my fingers fall off and/or the carpal tunnel sets in because the nice people at the NPS have already done that and have a nice official page on hiking set up already, read up more on each hiking trail here.

There are guided hikes with park rangers as well, so why don’t you just click that little link above, because they talk about the guided hikes there too.

white sands national monument, white sands, new mexico

Have yourself a picnic:

There is a neat little picnic area with some strange, almost artsy looking covered picnic tables. If each table had wheels and foot holes it would sorta look like some industrial version of Fred Flinstone’s car.

White Sands National Monument, White Sands, New Mexico

Watch that sunset:

One of the more mind-blowing sunsets I’ve experienced was here at White Sands. As the sun moves the sand dunes seem to change colors. Pinks, purples, oranges, blues. It’s something you gotta experience .

White Sands National Monument, White Sands, New Mexico, milky way

Stargazing:

The star gazing here is top-notch. You get some light pollution from Alamogordo and Las Cruces, but damn. I ain’t seen the milky way like that at home. Even Lex, my amazing friend albeit being blinder than a bat stumbled out of the tent sans glasses at 3:30 am and could see it.

On the note of night skies, I was informed on Instagram by a user that commented on one of my photos is that nights with a full or fuller-ish moon are quite stunning. We were there when the moon would’ve been about half full, but we never did see it rise so we did not get to experience that. But the IG commentor did say that you gotta see it with the bright moon out because it lights up the sand dunes. Thanks, as if my FOMO wasn’t already off the chain! But really though, thanks for giving me a reason to 100% go back and camp again!

Tips, warning, hate to say I told you so’s:

Bring Water!

Lots of it, don’t F around here with this. You can go a little while without food, but your ass will die pretty quick without water. You can fill water bottles/jugs at the visitor center. We brought several smaller water bottles and 3 one-gallon jugs to camp overnight.

Bring sunscreen or cover up!

The sun is intense out here, especially for the pasty. All three of us wore 50 SPF, I made it out unscathed. Lex and Grant on the other hand were burnt A.F., even after applying 50 block several times through the day. Three weeks later I think Grant is still peeling off pieces of skin large enough to make Goldmember jealous.

Know the upcoming closures!

How terrible would it be if you were on some fast forward tour of the American Southwest and only had a couple hours to check out White Sands and it happened to be during a closure? Save yourself the heartache. The more you know, ding-ding-dong.

Be ready for cold nights!

Bring warm clothes, I mean really warm clothes especially outside the dead-of-summer months. A family of campers hiking out the day we were hiking into our camp had a water bottle that was frozen solid from the night before. I wasn’t kidding when I say it gets freakin’ cold.

And be ready for really hot days!

It’s still astounding to me the temperature variance in one day in the desert. Be prepared. Please don’t have a heat stoke, and like I said above: BRING WATER! Another option is to visit in the earlier morning and then in the late afternoon to avoid the sun and heat at their strongest.

White Sands is dog friendly!
Yup, you read that right! As long as you have your furry friend on leash they are welcome. Just make sure to clean up the poop. Without opposable thumbs, dogs just can’t do it on their own.

White Sands National Monument, White Sands, New Mexico

So if you find yourself at White Sands National Monument, enjoy yourself! It’s a beautiful place.

White Sands is one of the more surreal places I’ve gotten to visit, and I’m telling you here: the photos still don’t do it justice. I actually saw some photos on Instagram of White Sands National Monument a few months ago and couldn’t stop thinking about it ever since. Then of course on my way home from Puerto Rico in February where did I fly over? White Sands, so not only did I get a nice reminder that I needed to go, but I also got to see it from above!

White Sands National Monument, White Sands, New Mexico, milky way

Have any of you been to White Sands National Monument? Who’s about to start searching for flights or mapping their road trip now?

White Sands National Monument Travel Guide

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