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By Plane

Several airports have commercial service in Texas. The state's major airports are Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW), El Paso International (ELP), George Bush Intercontinental (IAH) and William P. Hobby (HOU) in Houston, and San Antonio International (SAT).

Immigration & Customs Clearance -- International visitors arriving by air, no matter what the port of entry, should cultivate patience and resignation before setting foot on U.S. soil. U.S. airports have considerably beefed up security clearances in the years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and clearing Customs and Immigration can take as long as 2 hours.

By Car

If you're planning a road trip, it's a good idea to join the American Automobile Association (tel. 800/336-4357; www.aaa.com). In Texas, AAA regional headquarters is at 6555 N. State Hwy. 161, Irving (tel. 469/221-6006); there are also offices in many other cities, including Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio. Members can get excellent maps, tour guides, and emergency road service; they'll also help you plan an itinerary. Members can get free emergency road service by calling AAA's emergency number (tel. 800/AAA-HELP [222-4357]).

More than 3,000 miles of interstate highways crisscross this huge state, connecting four major urban areas to each other and to cities in nearby states. Some relevant mileages: Houston to New Orleans, 350 miles; Houston to Phoenix, 1,180 miles; Dallas to Little Rock, 320 miles; Dallas to Kansas City, 550 miles; and Dallas to Denver, 880 miles.

By Train

Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL [872-7245]; www.amtrak.com) has several routes through Texas. The Sunset Limited has stops at Beaumont/Port Arthur, Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, Sanderson, Alpine, and El Paso on its New Orleans-to-Los Angeles run; the Heartland Flyer travels from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth (where it connects with the Texas Eagle); and the Texas Eagle runs from Los Angeles to San Antonio (where you can connect with the Sunset Limited) and on to Chicago, with stops at El Paso, Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth.

Texas: Gateway to Mexico

Many travelers believe that a vacation in western or southern Texas would not be complete without an excursion across the border into Mexico, to visit the picturesque shops, dicker for colorful pottery and inexpensive jewelry, and sample genuine Mexican food. In our experience, the shopping is especially enjoyable -- you really can get some bargains -- and the food is great, though we generally stay away from street vendors and patronize only the well-established restaurants. Mexican border towns welcome tourists and almost universally accept U.S. currency -- in fact, for many of these communities, tourism is their primary source of income.

However, remember that a trip across the border, even if you just walk across for the afternoon, is in fact a trip to a foreign country, and the laws of Mexico, not the United States, apply. In addition, these border towns are often hotbeds of drug smuggling, so stick to the main tourist areas, and don't let anyone try to convince you to carry anything across the border for them.

U.S. and Canadian citizens must carry a passport if they plan on crossing back into the U.S. A Mexican tourist card (available from Mexican officials at the border) is required for those going beyond the border towns into Mexico's interior, or those planning to stay in the border towns for more than 72 hours. Other foreign nationals will need a passport and the appropriate visas.

Travelers driving cars beyond the border towns will need vehicle permits, available from Mexican officials at the border, and those driving cars across the border for any distance at all should first buy insurance from a Mexican insurance company (short-term insurance is available at the border and at travel clubs such as AAA). If you're only planning to cross the border, visit a few shops, maybe sample the Mexican food, and then cross back into Texas, consider leaving your car on U.S. soil and walking. This will save the hassles of getting Mexican car insurance and the red tape if you are involved in an accident; of course, then you'll end up having to carry any purchases you make.

Warning: It is a felony to take any type of firearm or ammunition into Mexico (you could easily end up in jail and have your car confiscated). In addition, there are a number of regulations regarding taking pets across the border, plus fees, so it is usually best to board pets on the U.S. side.

When reentering the United States from Mexico, you will be stopped and questioned by U.S. Customs officials, and your car may be searched. U.S. citizens may bring back up to $800 in purchases duty-free every 30 days, including 1 liter of liquor, 100 cigars (except Cuban cigars, which are prohibited), and one carton of cigarettes. Duty fees are charged above those amounts, and Texas charges a tax of about $1 per liter on all alcoholic beverages. Items that may not be brought into the United States, or which require special permits, include most fruits and vegetables, plants, animals, and meat.

The above is just a brief summary of the complex laws related to traveling between the U.S. and Mexico. There are more details in the official state vacation guide available from the Texas Department of Transportation, and for complete information contact U.S. Customs (tel. 202/354-1000; www.cbp.gov) and the Mexican Government Tourism Office (tel. 800/446-3942 or 713/722-2581; mgtotx@ix.netcom.com). A good online source of information is www.mexonline.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.