Texas is the second largest and second most populous state in the United States of America. Owing to its remarkable size, distinctive culture and politics, and colorful history, many Texans maintain a fiercely independent attitude, with Texan identity often superseding American identity. Few other American states feature their flag so prominently in businesses, on the backs of cars and in advertisements. Originally a territory of Spain and, later, Mexico, Texas rebelled in 1836 and became its own nation for 10 years before being annexed by the United States in 1845. Despite having existed under the auspices of six different nations (France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America), Texas has maintained its fascinating independent spirit, making for a unique and unrivaled exploration ground for any intrigued and intrepid adventurer.
Known for their generosity, hospitality, unusual accent, and penchant for the larger-than-life, Texans are wonderful people to meet, and the variety of cultural experiences, from feasting on bratwurst with the Germans of the Hill Country to watching Flamenco dancers with the Tejanos of the Rio Grande valley, is seemingly unlimited.
The large size of the state should not be underestimated. Texas measures over 267,000 square miles (695,673 km2) in area, making it slightly larger than France. Having a car is essential for travel between cities, and within most. The traveler should factor on long driving times between cities and destinations.
Texas is bordered by the U.S. states of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Chihuahua.
|Panhandle (Lubbock, Amarillo, Wichita Falls)|
Great plains, cotton and the Llano Estacado
|Prairies and Lakes (Dallas, Fort Worth)|
Recreational lakes and exciting nightlife
|Piney Woods (Nacogdoches, Tyler)|
Pine forests, bayous, and Civil War and Civil Rights history
|Gulf Coast (Houston, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Galveston)|
Islands, beaches and port cities
|South Texas Plains (San Antonio, Laredo)|
Border country along the Rio Grande, Spanish missions
|Hill Country (Austin, Fredericksburg)|
Edwards Plateau, rolling hills, rivers and the State capital
|Big Bend Country (El Paso, Odessa)|
Big Bend National Park, mountains, desert and canyons.
France, Spain and Mexico have all laid claim to Texas at one point or another. However, in 1836, Texas won its independence from Mexico and became the Republic of Texas. The most famous battle of the fight for independence was the stand at the Alamo. Although tragic, the sacrifice allowed the main army of Texas time enough to gather their strength and defeat the formidable Mexican army, led by General Santa Anna. Nine years later Texas agreed to be annexed by the United States and became the 28th state of the Union.
The ethnic background of Texas is extremely diverse. Fully one-third of the population has some sort of Hispanic background. There are also many German settlements (such as Fredericksburg and New Braunfels), as well as Norwegian, Polish, Czech, Swedish and French settlements. Also, a sizeable number of African-Americans (mainly in East and Southeast Texas) and Asian-Americans (often in in metropolitan areas of Texas) can be found.
Texas is a huge state and thusly experiences an extreme variety of weather. The state is very warm in the summer months, with temperatures often above 100ºF (38ºC). In West Texas and the Panhandle, summers are usually dry with fits of stormy weather. North (Dallas/Fort Worth region) and coastal (Houston region) areas have unstable climates (hence the oft-repeated saying about Texas weather: "If you don't like the weather, wait 10 minutes" - though 10 minutes later you might not like the change).
Thunderstorms are common, sometimes generating tornadoes and hailstorms. It is often warmer near the coast, though humidity can be unbearable in the summer. Conversely, the spring, autumn and winter are relatively pleasant for most of the state. It rarely dips below the freezing point in winter, except in the Panhandle region where the winters can get quite cold (Lubbock and Amarillo have suffered devastating blizzards in the past), and, though it is quite rare, even points as far south as Corpus Christi and Brownsville have seen snow.
Again, the sheer size of the state is not to be underestimated. Brewster County in West Texas is larger in land area than Rhode Island and Delaware combined; Texarkana is closer to Chicago than it is to El Paso, and Brownsville is closer to Mexico City than it is to Dallas. If you are wanting to take in the full Texas experience, you will need ample time to do so.
Texas has no official language. However, as with the rest of the United States, English is the predominant language of the state. Spanish is also widely spoken by approximately one-third of the population. (Don't assume that all people of Mexican origin speak Spanish; some families have been in Texas for longer than Texas has been part of the U.S.) Texas also has small numbers of Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese speakers as well.
Don't assume that the majority people are going to have a "Texan" accent. While you will run into many that do, the majority of Texans, especially in the cities, lack the "Texan twang" one associates with the state's residents.
Texas shares an international border with Mexico as well as a 600 mile coastline. It is bordered on the north by the state of Oklahoma, on the west by the state of New Mexico, and on the east by the states of Arkansas and Louisiana. As a state of the United States, all visa and passport rules of the USA apply.
Texas has several international airports, including the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), the largest and busiest airport in Texas and 4th busiest airport in the United States. It is a major airline hub and is relatively cheap to fly into. Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is also a major hub and has the most international connections in the state. Other major airports can be found in, Austin, and San Antonio, though almost every reasonably sized city in the state is served by some kind of air transportation.
Three Amtrak trains serve the state: The Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited, and Heartland Flyer. Fares are high and ride times are long, but the Amtrak offers a unique perspective for those who are interested.
Texas is well-served from other points in the U.S. by the United States Interstate Highway system, the quality and condition of which is generally very good. There are many roads which cross into Texas from Mexico, most notably in McAllen, Brownsville, Laredo and El Paso. Due to the enormous amount of traffic from Mexico and Central America, Laredo is the country's largest inland port, and wait times at this and all border stations can often be tremendous. In all, Texas boasts over 72,000 miles of state and federal highways.
If you are not a U.S. citizen and you are driving into the U.S. from Mexico, you must have a visa or valid permit beforehand, as they are not issued at the bridges across the Rio Grande. If you are a U.S. citizen, you must present a passport to customs at the border crossings to re-enter the United States. Otherwise, your vacation in Mexico just got longer!
For the braver, more adventurous (and more frugal) passengers, the Greyhound bus may be another option. Please take into consideration that this mode of transportation is used by those who cannot afford air travel (as well as individuals preferring overland travel) and you may be riding with migrant workers, and very low income Americans. Even so, conditions in stations and on the buses are first class. The Greyhound takes you to remote cities within Texas, and can take you as far as Mexico City and all points in Canada. Passengers on Greyhound coming from Mexico must have a valid passport.
Major ports in Texas include Houston, Corpus Christi, Galveston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and Brownsville. Both the Port of Houston and the Port of Galveston are home ports for Cruise ships.
The road system is almost universally excellent, and even the most remote points in the state can be accessed with an average sedan. Gas stations are numerous; however, in rural West Texas, do not press your luck. Texan highways are often built with parallel frontage roads and turnarounds at most exits. Speed limits are very strictly enforced in rural areas of the state; Texas state troopers will pull you over for an infraction as small as five miles per hour over the speed limit, as traffic fines are often an important source of income for many smaller towns. However, when traveling through larger cities, observing the "common speed" of traffic around you is much safer. The rural speed limit in Texas is generally 70 MPH, though it increases to 80 MPH on Interstates 10 and 20 in the sparsely populated far western portion of the state.
On the down side, Texas has one of America's worst traffic safety records and one of the highest number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in America.
Texas is home to two major airlines: American Airlines , based out of Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport; and Southwest Airlines , based out of Love Field, Dallas's secondary airport. United Airlines maintains a primary hub at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). American and United fly to many national and international destinations. Southwest is the no-frills discounter granddad and flies throughout Texas and most of the United States. Travel to any destination world-wide is quite painless from the larger Texas airports. Nonstop flights to and from Houston's IAH include London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Moscow, Dubai, Doha, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Bogota, Lagos, and Tokyo. Nonstop flights to and from Dallas/Fort Worth's DFW include London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Madrid, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Santiago, Dubai, Tokyo, Seoul, and Sydney.
Since Texas cities are geographically dispersed, travel by train is expensive and often inconvenient, though Amtrak does provide several lines. Passenger service is no longer an option for cities in the Panhandle or southern Texas. Again, the size of the state is startling; traveling across the width of Texas (from Orange, in the eastern extremity, near Houston, to El Paso in the western extremity) is roughly the same distance as one would encounter while traveling from El Paso to Los Angeles or from Houston to Jacksonville, Florida. Texarkana, in the northeast corner of the state, is closer to Chicago than it is to the extreme southern tip of Texas.
Greyhound provides intercity bus service. Other bus carriers include TNM&O, Kerrville Bus Co. & Americanos. There are increasing number of bus lines that serve Texas' Mexican population, running routes across the border to regions such as Mexico City and Chihuahua.
Texas has many cities with fabulous nightlife. Some of the more notable include:
The maximum legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit for adults is 0.08.
In early 2006, the controversial Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) program that allows for "public intoxication" arrests in any public area or business establishment, including bars, drew national attention. This was due to an unfortunate incident where people staying in a hotel were arrested for being intoxicated in that hotel's bar. There has been enough negative feedback from the public regarding the TABC program that it has been suspended for review.
Texas produces a number of famous beers, particularly German-style beers, which are available throughout the state and beyond.
There are also several important regional breweries, such as Saint Arnold and Southern Star in Houston and Real Ale near San Antonio.
The crime rate in Texas is relatively low. In the larger cities, if you stay in the tourist areas you will be generally safe (talk to your hotel concierge or manager if you aren't sure about a certain area). The rural areas have a very low crime rate. Texans have a reputation for carrying firearms or resolving disputes with gunfire, but such actions are not significantly more common here than in other parts of the US. Concerns about crime spilling over from Juarez across the border into El Paso is unjustified, as El Paso remains a very safe city. Of course, Juarez sadly remains a very unsafe city, and El Pasoans will very strongly advise that you do not cross the bridges.
Law enforcement is provided statewide. All major cities and almost all towns have a police department, and all counties maintain a sheriff's office. However, in some more sparsely populated areas of the state agencies may be more understaffed and spread out. This is especially true in West Texas, where many towns are too small to operate police departments, and county sheriff's offices may be poorly manned and spread out over enormous land areas. Just as in the rest of the United States, the number "911" should be called in the event of an emergency.
Policing on the state level is generally provided by the Texas Highway Patrol. This agency mainly enforces state traffic laws, but also provides more localized law enforcement services in areas like West Texas. The Texas Highway Patrol has an outstanding reputation in the United States for being extremely courteous and professional. Officers of this agency (called "troopers") can be easily recognized by their characteristic tan uniform and matching cowboy hat. The Texas Rangers, despite being internationally known and storied, are unlikely to be seen by the public and are not prominent in everyday police work.
Despite stories of extremely harsh and brutal justice in Texas, law is executed in the Lone Star State in just as fair a manner as in any of the other forty-nine states.
Texas is generally safe for gays and lesbians, as the laws against homosexuality were struck down by the Supreme Court (via Lawrence v. Texas court case in 2003). Some Texans do hold some negative views towards public displays of homosexuality, but this varies by where one travels, with homophobic views usually being found in the more rural parts of Texas. Regardless, violence against gays is very rare. The metro areas of Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio contain large gay scenes (Houston elected an openly gay mayor in 2009), and attitudes towards homosexuals are more accepting in those cities than in any other parts of the state.
The startling heat of a Texas summer is not to be underestimated. The state has experienced temperatures as high as 120ºF (49ºC), and though this extreme is rare, it is a good indicator of how hot things can get. Areas from north central Texas down to the coast also tend to experience stifling humidity during the spring and summer months, so pack accordingly with plenty of loose, light colored clothing.
Western portions of the state tends to experience higher temperatures and lower humidity. It is true that the Texas deserts are beautiful, but the heat can be dangerous without the proper precautions. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. If you are venturing off into the desert, it might be best to do so later in the afternoon once the sun has begun to lower in the sky. Do not go alone, and always let someone else know where you will be going and when you should return. Follow desert survival guidelines.
Be aware of the weather during hurricane season on the coast (June through November, though hurricanes move slow and provide days to weeks of warning).
The eastern and central regions of Texas are located within the infamous "tornado alley". Always maintain a vigilance of any severe weather threats while traveling through or to these regions of the state during the spring and summer months. Dangerous weather conditions can arise suddenly, and if a traveler is unprepared, dire consequences may be the result. Tornadoes in this region can be exceptionally large and deadly. If there is an eminent threat of such weather, do not stay outside to take pictures. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle. Seek immediate shelter!
Refer to the Tornado safety page for further information.