Texas is huge, so it's highly unlikely you'll want to try to see it all in one visit. Most visitors will explore either one or two cities or a relatively small section of the state. For those visiting major cities, it's easy to fly in, use public transportation, and then fly or take the train to the next city. However, those who plan to see a variety of Texas locales -- within reasonable distance -- will find that the most practical way to see Texas is by car.
Overseas visitors can take advantage of the APEX (Advance Purchase Excursion) reductions offered by all major U.S. and European carriers. In addition, some large airlines offer transatlantic or transpacific passengers special discount tickets under the name Visit USA, which allows mostly one-way travel from one U.S. destination to another at very low prices. Unavailable in the U.S., these discount tickets must be purchased abroad in conjunction with your international fare. This system is the easiest, fastest, cheapest way to see the country.
If you're visiting from abroad and plan to rent a car in the United States, keep in mind that foreign driver's licenses are usually recognized in the U.S., but you should get an international one if your home license is not in English.
Check out Breezenet.com, which offers domestic car-rental discounts with some of the most competitive rates around. Also worth visiting are Orbitz, Hotwire.com, Travelocity, and Priceline.com, all of which offer competitive online car-rental rates.
Driving is an excellent way to see Texas in small chunks -- roads are well maintained and well marked, and a car is often the most economical and convenient way to get somewhere; in fact, if you plan to explore beyond the cities -- which we highly recommend -- it's practically the only way to get to some places.
Once you leave the interstates, there is a veritable spider web of roads that will take you just about anywhere you want to go, at least until you venture into the vast emptiness of the southwest plains. This seemingly uncharted area contains two of the gems of the state, however: Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains national parks. These two places make it worth the effort of finding a way to get there.
Traffic in major cities, such as Houston, Dallas, and Austin, can be very congested and frustrating, especially at rush hour, and distances are often great. Be sure to leave extra time to get places. Away from the cities, you'll often find the roads to be practically deserted.
Because much of Texas has a relatively mild climate, snow and ice are not usually a problem. However, those traveling to or through Amarillo and other northern sections of the state in winter should check weather reports frequently -- being stranded by an ice storm is not unheard of.
Insurance -- If you hold a private auto insurance policy, you probably are covered for loss or damage to the rental car, and liability in case a passenger is injured. The credit card you used to rent the car also may provide some coverage.
Car-rental insurance probably does not cover liability if you caused the accident. Check your own auto insurance policy, the rental company policy, and your credit card coverage for the extent of coverage: Is your destination covered? Are other drivers covered? How much liability is covered if a passenger is injured? (If you rely on your credit card for coverage, you may want to bring a second credit card, as damages may be charged to your card and you may find yourself stranded with no money.)
Driving Rules -- Texas law requires all drivers to carry proof of insurance, as well as a valid driver's license. Safety belts must be worn by all front-seat occupants of cars and light trucks; children 16 and under must wear safety belts regardless of where they are in the vehicle; and children 3 and under or under 36 inches tall, regardless of where they're sitting, must be in approved child seats. The maximum speed limit on interstate highways is 70 mph; and the maximum on numbered non-interstates is 70 mph during daylight and 65 mph at night, unless otherwise posted. Motorcyclists are required to wear helmets, and radar detectors are legal.
Maps -- A good state highway map is available free at any state information center or by mail. Maps can also be purchased at bookstores, gas stations, and most supermarkets and discount stores.
Road Conditions -- Texas roads are among the best in the western United States, and the state's generally moderate weather keeps snow closures to a minimum. However, icy roads are fairly common in the northern sections of the state during winter, and hurricanes can cause flooding in late summer and early fall along the Gulf Coast. A recorded 24-hour hot line (tel. 800/452-9292) provides information on road conditions statewide, and information is also available online at www.dot.state.tx.us/travel/road_conditions.htm.
The "Drive Friendly" State -- For years the Texas Department of Transportation has been urging motorists to "drive friendly," and apparently many of them, especially in rural areas, have taken that message to heart. When you approach a vehicle from behind on a two-lane road, more often than not that vehicle will pull onto the shoulder, while maintaining speed, to let you pass without having to go into the oncoming lane. Fortunately, most Texas state highways have good, wide shoulders so there's little danger. We're not sure if this is technically legal or not, but everybody in rural Texas does it, including state troopers. However, road rage is not uncommon in Texas, and I usually think twice before sending an obscene gesture the way of a driver who has just cut me off -- especially if that driver's in a pickup toting a gun rack on the back.
More than a dozen towns and cities in Texas are linked by rail, with mostly daily service from Amtrak.
International visitors can buy a USA Rail Pass, good for 15 or 30 days of unlimited travel on Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL [872-7245]; www.amtrak.com). The pass is available online or through many overseas travel agents. See Amtrak's website for the cost of travel within the western, eastern, or northwestern United States. Reservations are generally required and should be made as early as possible. Regional rail passes are also available.
Bus travel is often the most economical form of public transit for short hops between U.S. cities, but it's certainly not an option for everyone (particularly when Amtrak, which is far more luxurious, offers similar rates). Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222; www.greyhound.com) is the sole nationwide bus line. International visitors can obtain information about the Greyhound North American Discovery Pass. The pass can be obtained from foreign travel agents or through www.discoverypass.com for unlimited travel and stopovers in the U.S. and Canada.
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.