Package tours are simply a way to buy the airfare, accommodations, and other elements of your trip (such as car rentals, airport transfers, and sometimes even activities) at the same time and often at discounted prices.
One good source of package deals is the airlines themselves. Most major airlines offer air/land packages, including American Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/321-2121; www.aavacations.com), Delta Vacations (tel. 800/221-6666; www.deltavacations.com), Continental Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/301-3800; www.covacations.com), and United Vacations (tel. 888/854-3899; www.unitedvacations.com). Several big online travel agencies -- Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Site59, and Lastminute.com -- also do a brisk business in packages.
Travel packages are also listed in the travel section of your local Sunday newspaper. Or check ads in the national travel magazines such as Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine, Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, and Condé Nast Traveler.
Escorted General-Interest Tours
Escorted tours are structured group tours, with a group leader. The price usually includes everything from airfare to hotels, meals, tours, admission costs, and local transportation.
Gray Line Tours (tel. 800/803-5073; www.grayline.com), one of the largest tour operators in the world, organizes a number of escorted bus trips, package tours, and day trips in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston/Galveston, San Antonio, and South Padre Island -- though it's most active in Dallas and Fort Worth.
Sí Texas Tours, in Bandera, Texas (tel. 888/748-3927 or 830/460-4565; www.sitexastours.com), offers escorted tours to San Antonio, the Texas Hill Country, and South Texas.
At InfoHub (www.infohub.com/TRAVEL/SIT/sit_pages/Texas.html), you'll find links to a number of other themed trips (such as cycling the Hill Country).
Although escorted tours require big deposits and predetermined hotels, restaurants, and itineraries, many people derive security and peace of mind from the structure they offer. Escorted tours -- whether they're navigated by bus, motorcoach, train, or boat -- let travelers sit back and enjoy the trip without having to drive or worry about details. They take you to the maximum number of sights in the minimum amount of time with the least amount of hassle. They're particularly convenient for people with limited mobility, and they can be a great way to make new friends.
On the downside, you'll have little opportunity for serendipitous interactions with locals. The tours can be jampacked with activities, leaving little room for individual sightseeing, whim, or adventure -- plus they often focus on the heavily touristed sites, so you miss out on many a lesser-known gem.
Adventure Trips -- With a state as huge as Texas, you'd expect lots of outdoor adventures, and although there are lots of opportunities for outdoor activities in Texas, the state hasn't quite caught on with most of the major national adventure-travel companies. For adventure travel to Texas, check out GORPtravel (tel. 877/440-GORP [440-4677] or 303/516-1153; http://gorptravel.away.com), which offers several Texas trips, ranging from rafting or canoeing the Rio Grande to Old West dude ranch vacations, where you get to play cowboy when you're not busy fishing, swimming, or just loafing. Another good national company that offers bicycling tours, walking tours, and multisport adventures in Texas is Planet Earth Adventures (tel. 800/923-4453; www.planetearthadventures.com). Multiactivity adventures in Texas are also available from Tauck World Discovery (tel. 800/788-7885 or 203/221-6891; www.tauck.com), which features a working-ranch trip. The Audubon Society (tel. 800/967-7425; www.audubon.org) occasionally offers what it calls "nature odysseys" in Texas, with birding destinations such as Big Bend National Park.
You can obtain information on the state's outfitters, including numerous hunting and fishing guides, from the Texas Outfitters and Guides Association, P.O. Box 33141, Kerrville, TX 78029-3141 (tel. 830/238-4207).
Camping & Outdoors -- Texas is dotted with lakes and has numerous rivers, almost 700 miles of Gulf Coast, plenty of forestlands, and several mountain ranges. Its two national parks offer plentiful hiking opportunities, and there are also scenic canyons, spectacular caves, and vast areas of rugged desert.
The official state vacation guide is a good source of information for those planning outdoor recreation in the state. Information on fishing, hunting, and the numerous state parks in Texas is available from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (tel. 800/792-1112 or 512/389-8950; www.tpwd.state.tx.us). Reservations for camping at state parks can be made through the department's website or by calling tel. 512/389-8900. General outdoor recreation information is also online at www.texasoutside.com.
Both RV and tent campers will find plenty of campsites throughout Texas, although tent campers will have fewer choices, especially along the Gulf Coast where numerous RV parks cater to "Winter Texans" -- usually retired residents of northern states and Canada who spend winters in the sunny warmth of Texas and often arrive in plush motor homes or large trailers. The Texas Association of Campground Owners (tel. 800/657-6555 or 512/459-8226; www.texascampgrounds.com) offers a free booklet describing commercial campgrounds and RV parks in Texas and New Mexico. It's a generally good guide, with fairly complete information and directions, but, unfortunately, it does not include rates. However, it does include a "Texas Saver Card," for discounts of 10% or 15% at many facilities.
Food & Wine Trips -- Texas Wine Tours (tel. 877/839-9463; www.texas-wine-tours.com) takes trips to 14 Hill Country wineries, including stops in Fredericksburg and occasional events in places such as Luckenbach. Wine tours in white stretch limos are the focus of Wine Tours of Texas (tel. 877/693-0800 or 512/458-5466; www.winetoursoftexas.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.