Slight haggling may be possible at farmers' markets or flea markets, but it is generally not acceptable outside of these situations.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Travel, including solo travel, is generally safe in Texas. As anywhere you should exercise more vigilance in large cities than in rural areas.
- Along the border with Mexico, the large law-enforcement presence is more indicative of federal policy priorities than any reason for individual travelers to fear for safety.
- Texas does allow personal gun ownership, including the permitted carrying of concealed hand guns, and around one in three residents exercises the right (in line with national averages).
- You will see signs forbidding firearms in some public places, and that will likely be your closest encounter with a gun.
- In Texas metro areas, as in all all big cities, there are some neighborhoods that are less safe than others. Exercise a normal amount of caution. Aggravated theft (with the use of a weapon) is not common.
In wilderness areas the consequences of a getting lost or having an accident can be very serious. Off of main trails, always travel with a hiking partner. Even on established routes, if going it alone inform someone of your destination and expected return – at the very least leaving a note in your car.
Year-round in the great outdoors you may see mosquitoes that deserve inclusion in the Texas boast that 'everything is bigger here.' The best way to combat these bugs is to keep yourself covered (wear long sleeves, long pants, hats, and shoes rather than sandals) or apply a good insect repellent. (Repellents containing DEET are the best, but children under two should not be exposed to DEET and children aged two to 12 years should not be allowed to use repellent containing more than a 10% solution.)
Jellyfish can be present year-round in the mild waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Two varieties pack powerful stings: sea nettle, which is translucent and has tentacles attached to the edge of its bell-shaped central mass; and the Portuguese man-of-war, not actually a jellyfish but often confused for one, which looks like a translucent blue balloon with long black tentacles dangling from the center. Do not touch either of these – even if you see a dead one lying on the beach.
If you are stung, a mixture of supermarket-bought vinegar and unseasoned meat tenderizer can ease the pain. For serious reactions, seek medical attention.
As more people spend time in the backcountry or impinge on wildlife habitat, wildlife attacks on humans and pets are becoming more common. Black bears and cougars (mountain lions) pose the most serious hazards, but seemingly placid and innocuous beasts such as bison and mule deer are equally capable of inflicting serious injury on unsuspecting tourists. Also, some animals carry rabies. Keep your distance from all wild animals – even prairie dogs.
You're unlikely to see a mountain lion or black bear, but if you do, take the following precautions:
- Hold your ground – don't run.
- Shout and wave your arms above your head.
- Don't make eye contact.
- Stand close with the others in your group, and pick up small children.
- If the animal starts behaving aggressively, throw stones – not to hit it, but to scare it away.
In the unlikely event of a bite by a poisonous snake, the main thing to do is stay calm. No matter what you've seen in the movies, snakebites don't cause instantaneous death; but they are dangerous and you need to keep a good, clear head on your shoulders.
- If you can get to a telephone, call 911, where they can connect you with the nearest Poison Information Center or hospital. If you can, find a park ranger.
- Place a light, constricting bandage over the bite, keep the wounded part below the level of the heart, and move the wound as little as possible.
- If it's at all possible, bring along the dead snake for identification – but do not attempt to catch the snake if there's any chance of being bitten again.
- Sucking out the poison has been widely discredited as treatment for snakebites, since it causes more damage to snakebite victims than the bite itself.
- AAA Membership in the American Automobile Association provides access to hotel-room discounts, and some reduced admission as well as roadside assistance.
- Seniors If you are over the age of 65, discount rates on hotel rooms and attractions may be available. Having an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) card is not usually required.
- Students An International Student Identity Card (ISIC) or official school ID card often gets you discounts on admission to museums and other attractions.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Most, but not all, numbers require you to dial the area code, even when you are within the city.
|International dialing code||011|
|Emergency (ambulance, police & fire)||911|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering Texas as your first port of call in the US is fairly easy. A few points to consider:
Visas are not required for citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries, but you must request travel authorization from ESTA at least 72 hours in advance. Visitors not eligible for the program will require a B-2 tourism visa in advance of their arrival.
Tourism & Visit (B-2) Visa Applications
All foreign visitors who need to obtain a temporary visitor visa (B-2) must do so from a US consulate or embassy abroad. Consult that embassy's website for forms and procedures, which vary by country. In general:
- Your passport must be valid for at least six months longer than your intended stay in the USA.
- You will need to make an appointment, and likely have an interview.
- You'll need to submit a recent photo (2in by 2in) with the application.
- There is a $160 processing fee, which is sometimes required in advance.
Visa Waiver Program
Currently, under the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), visas are not required for citizens of 38 countries, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, EU countries, South Korea and Japan. VWP regulations state the following:
- You must have an e-Passport with electronic chip.
- Visa waiver is good for 90 days, no extensions.
- VWP visitors must register only with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA; https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) at least 72 hours before their trip begins. Once approved, ESTA registration is valid for up to two years.
- If you don't meet any of these requirements, even if your passport if from one of the listed countries, you'll need a visa to enter the USA.
- Note that though not a part of the VWP, citizens from Canada do not require a visa for 90-day stays.
Note that visa rules change frequently and travelers should always double-check current requirements at the Department of State (http://travel.state.gov/visa), where downloadable forms are also available.
- Greetings As throughout the US, greetings that would be construed as personal inquiries in most cultures ('How are you?') are generally meant as pleasantries rather than serious inquiries.
- Interacting with strangers Similarly, the informality of American culture makes interactions between strangers relatively common. Don't be surprised if strangers initiate conversations unexpectedly.
- Taboo topics Religion, politics, and sex are often best left for discussion with only the closest of friends in the United States.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Texas is generally conservative. The larger cities have gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, but outside of Pride days and Austin in general, you won't see sexual identities being flaunted. In rural areas, displays of affection may draw negative attention from locals; we advise not trying it.
- Gay & Lesbian Yellow Pages (www.glyp.com) Phone directories to Austin, Dallas, Galveston, Houston and San Antonio.
- National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (www.thetaskforce.org) Advocacy group with great national news coverage.
- This Week in Texas (www.thisweekintexas.com) Statewide publication with business directories and bar guide.
Free wi-fi service for your smartphone, laptop or tablet is extremely common in restaurants, bars, shopping centers and many other public places. Airports usually have hot spots, but it's not always free. Most hotels have wi-fi in the lobbies and wired or wi-fi access in the rooms.
Not traveling with your own device makes finding access trickier. Your best bet is the local library (free), or a copy center like FedEx Office (from $7 per hour).
Aside from it being against the law to milk a stranger's cow or shoot a buffalo from any 2nd-story hotel window, the laws in Texas are similar to the rest of the US.
- If you are arrested, you are assumed innocent until proven guilty; you have a right to make one phone call and you will be assigned an attorney if you cannot afford one.
- It's illegal to possess controlled substances and to drive under the influence (more than .08% blood-alcohol level).
- Possession or consumption of alcohol is prohibited for anyone under 21.
- No Texas counties permit sales before noon on Sunday, and some Texas counties ban alcohol sales entirely.
- Note that driving speed limits are often strictly enforced, especially in small towns trying to make their budget. There is no provision for on-the-spot fine payment (so don't offer!).
Border Patrol Checkpoints
The US Border Patrol claims the ability to operate immigration checkpoints within a zone of 100 miles from any international border, including the Texas Gulf Coast and Rio Grande border with Mexico. Travelers should be prepared to answer questions concerning their citizenship, and to show travel documents if requested.
As phone and tablet GPS become more widely used, maps become less necessary, but in rural areas and some small towns in Texas these GPS options are not always reliable. Maps are available at bookstores and at gas stations; you can order ahead of time at Texas Map Store (www.texasmapstore.com). Helpful maps include the following:
Delorme Texas State Atlas & Gazzetter Detailed atlas, good for rural roads.
Mapsco Indexed city maps covering all the main Texas towns.
Texas Official Travel Map Available free at many visitor centers and tourist offices across the state.
- Newspapers Major daily newspapers include the Austin-American Statesman (www.statesman.com), Dallas Morning News (www.dallasnews.com), Houston Chronicle (www.chron.com) and San Antonio Express-News (www.mysanantonio.com).
- Magazines Texas Monthly (www.texasmonthly.com), Texas Highways (www.texashighways.com) and Texas Parks & Wildlife (www.tpwmagazine.com).
- Radio National Public Radio stations in Austin (90.5FM), Dallas (90.1FM), Houston (88.7FM) and San Antonio (89.1FM) play local music and offer tips on local cultural events.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are widely accepted, and generally required for reservations and car rentals. Tipping is essential – not optional.
- Common everywhere: airports, banks, grocery stores, malls, gas station convenience stores, etc.
- Both your bank and the ATM you use will typically charge a small fee for each transaction (from $1.50 up to 5%).
- Local ATMs must display fees; check how much your bank charges before you leave home.
- MasterCard or Visa are accepted at most places of business in Texas. A few eateries and shops take cash only.
- American Express, Discover and other major cards are less universal, but still widely accepted.
- A credit card is usually required to rent a car, make hotel reservations and purchase advance tickets for transportation.
Tipping is not optional. Service employees make minimum wage and rely on tips.
- Bars 15% to 20%, at least $1 per round.
- Hotel $10 to $20 for concierges if they do a lot for you; $5 per stay for housekeeping is nice, though not as widely expected as other tips.
- Restaurants 15% to 20%, depending on level of service.
- Taxi drivers 10% to 15% of the fare.
Traveler's checks from American Express or Thomas Cook offer protection from theft or loss, but they have fallen out of use in the US. Some places may not accept the checks at all, forcing you to exchange them in a bank. Using a mix of ATM withdrawals and some cash is easier.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
The US dollar ($) is divided into 100 cents (¢). Coins come in denominations of 1¢ (penny), 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime) and 25¢ (quarter). Quarters are the most commonly used coins in vending machines, toll booths and some parking meters, so it can be handy to have a stash of them. Bills (banknotes) come in $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 denominations – $2 bills are rare, but perfectly legal. In smaller places, cashing $100 can be difficult. Carry some small bills, especially for tips.
Individual opening hours are listed in reviews; below are generalities. Sight and activity hours vary throughout the year and may decrease during the shoulder and low seasons.
Banks 9am–5pm Monday to Friday
Restaurants 11am–2pm and 5pm–10pm, or often all day
Shops 9am–6pm Monday to Saturday, 11am–6pm Sunday
Postal service in the US is generally reliable and fast. Up-to-date information on rates and office locations can be found on the USPS (www.usps.com) website.
Banks, schools, and government offices (including post offices) are closed on major holidays. Public holidays that fall on a weekend are often observed on the following Monday.
New Year's Day January 1
Confederate Heroes' Day January 19
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January
President's Day Third Monday in February
Texas Independence Day March 2
Easter Sunday March/April (varies)
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day July 4
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
- Smoking Smoking in public is legal under Texas state law, though often socially frowned upon. However, more than 100 cities in the state – including the largest metro areas – have passed smoke-free laws that limit the activity in some or all public venues. Inquire locally before lighting up.
Local prepaid SIM cards are widely available, though network reception can be spotty in rural areas. Only foreign phones that operate on tri- or quad-band frequencies will work in the USA.
With the prevalence of cell phones, pay phones have become hard to find. Airports and some gas stations may have them. Coins may sometimes be used.
For long-distance and international calls, whether at a pay phone or on a hotel's land line, use a prepaid phone card, which are sold at gas-station convenience stores and some supermarkets.
In many areas, local calls have moved to a 10-digit calling system. This means you must dial the area code even when making a local call.
- Country code 1
- International dialing code 011
For international operator assistance, dial 0. The operator can provide specific rate information and tell you which time periods are the cheapest for calling. To make an international call direct, dial 011, then the foreign country code, followed by the area code and the phone number. (An exception is to Canada, where you dial 1 + area code + number. International rates apply to Canada.)
Central Standard Time Most of Texas is an hour behind New York (Eastern time), two hours ahead of Los Angeles (Pacific time) and five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Daylight savings time In effect in the US from early spring to late fall; clocks 'spring forward' one hour in March and 'fall back' one hour in November.
Mountain Standard Time El Paso and Hudspeth Counties in far-west Texas are one hour behind Central Standard Time, and six behind GMT.
Sit-down toilets are the norm, although cleanliness isn't always guaranteed. Convenience stores, restaurants, and shopping centers often have toilets available for public use; in some cases these will be for customers only, in which case a purchase is expected.
Larger cities and towns have tourist information centers run by local convention and visitor bureaus. In smaller towns, local chambers of commerce often perform the same functions.
The Texas State Travel Guide (www.traveltexas.com) is a comprehensive glossy guidebook that lists almost every city and town in the state, issued by the state tourism board. You can request one online, where most of the information is also posted, or at the Texas Travel Centers located on major interstates near the state line.
Travel with Children
With beaches for building sandcastles, state and national parks for outdoor exploring, museums for fun and learning – and amusement parks for when your child needs a little more action – Texas is an ideal family destination. Locals love little cowpokes, so expect a warm welcome here.
Best Regions for Kids
- San Antonio & Hill Country
Historic sites with activity books, plus theme parks, make San Antonio especially family-friendly. In Hill Country, Kerrville and New Braunfels serve as launch points for river inner-tubing.
- Gulf Coast & South Texas
Beaches line the southern Gulf Coast: some have diversions, some simply star nature herself. Galveston Island, with its organized beaches, pleasure pier, water park and amusements, offers much fun. Corpus Christi is home to the USS Lexington Museum, the huge Texas State Aquarium and a lovely bayfront promenade.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science has popular hands-on exhibits on chemistry, energy and other science disciplines.
- Dallas & the Panhandle Plains
Nearby in Arlington, a theme park and water park don't hurt either.
Texas for Kids
There’s not too much to worry about when traveling in Texas with your kids – as long as you keep them covered in sunblock.
Dining It’s more than fine to bring kids along to casual restaurants, which often have high chairs and children's menus. Many places break out paper placemats and crayons for drawing.
Lodging Most motels and hotels offer rooms with two double beds, which are ideal for families. Some also have roll-away beds or cribs that can be brought into the room for an extra charge. Some hotels offer ‘kids stay free’ programs for children up to 18 years old. Note that most B&Bs do not allow children under 12 to stay.
Supplies Baby food, formula, soy and cow’s milk, disposable diapers (nappies) and other necessities are widely available in drugstores and supermarkets. Breastfeeding in public is accepted when done discreetly. Many public toilets have a baby-changing table, and gender-neutral ‘family’ bathrooms may be available at airports, museums etc.
Health & Safety
Though hopefully not needed, medical services and facilities in Texas are of a high standard. Urgent Care facilities can handle minor emergencies and cost much less than hospital emergency rooms.
For automobiles, Texas law requires that children under the age of eight, or under the height of 4ft 9in, ride in a federally approved child safety seat. Every car-rental agency should be able to provide one (usually $10 per day) if you request it when booking in advance.
Note that while Texas' beaches are great, many allow driving on the beach and children will need to be monitored closely.
Children’s discounts are available for everything from museum admission to movie tickets. The definition of a ‘child’ varies, but usually means those between two and 12. Under two is generally free.
Domestic airlines don’t charge for children under two who are carried on your lap. Others must have a seat. Southwest Airlines is one of the few that have discounted fares for children.
The four main cities – San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston – each have children's museums, public parks and many other attractions. See individual city sections for more options.
- Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston A giant new dinosaur hall, hands-on chemistry experiments, butterfly house and planetarium.
- Dallas World Aquarium, Dallas Fourteen different watery ecosystems brought to life.
- Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas Loads of interactive fun: travel through space or design your own robot in Dallas' Arts District.
- San Antonio Children’s Museum, San Antonio Two floors of dress-up, crawl-around, role-playing fun.
- USS Lexington Museum, Corpus Christi Tour a retired aircraft carrier, complete with foldable airplanes, in Corpus Christi.
- Moody Gardens, Galveston Three glass pyramids contain a greenhouse, an aquarium and science exhibits in Galveston. Outside there's a beach and a boat ride.
- Stewart Beach; Galveston Family beach with umbrella rentals, snack stands and organized activities.
- Isla Blanca County Park; South Padre Island The southernmost beach on SPI; numerous concessions and facilities plus a small aquarium facility.
- IB Magee Beach Park; Port Aransas Part of 18 miles in the coastal village on the north tip of Mustang Island; facilities available.
- Padre Island National Seashore; Corpus Christi area One of the longest stretches of undeveloped seashore in the US; limited facilities.
Parks & Rivers
- Big Bend National Park, West Texas Junior rangers have extensive trail choices here, but it's far from anything else.
- Guadalupe River, New Braunfels Take a family float down the river, then splash things up at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark.
- Hermann Park, Houston Ride paddle boats on the lake and a train around this big park; also home to the city zoo.
- Barton Springs, Austin Cool off in a spring-fed pool in the center of town.
- Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington Thirteen roller coasters are only a small sampling of rides at the state's largest amusement park; outside Dallas.
- Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels This Texas-size water park has four locations: South Padre Island, Galveston, Corpus Christi and this original in New Braunfels.
- Splashtown, San Antonio Beat the Hill Country heat in Texas' biggest wave pool at this kids' favorite on the edge of San Antonio.
When to Go
Be warned: most of Texas gets quite hot in summer, and sights and amusements will be crowded. Spring has much nicer weather. Texas schools’ spring breaks cover all the weeks in March, so book ahead during that time or – even better – avoid it completely.
What to Pack
Don't forget the sunscreen. Many of Texas' best activities for children are outdoors, and the sun can be brutal here. Count on needing mosquito spray at some point as well. If you're going to a beach or a river, be sure to bring water shoes to protect sensitive little feet .
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
- Family Travel Files (www.thefamilytravelfiles.com/locations/texas) Vacation-planning articles, tips and discounts.
- Travel Texas (www.traveltex.com/trip-ideas.aspx) Tourist-board trip planner with family-friendly ideas.
Travelers with Disabilities
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Guide dogs May legally be brought into restaurants, hotels and other businesses.
Lodging Most hotels and motels have rooms set aside for guests with disabilities.
Public buildings Hotels, restaurants, theaters, museums etc are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to be wheelchair-accessible and have accessible restroom facilities
Road crossings In major cities at main intersections there are audible crossing signals, as well as dropped curbs at busier roadway intersections.
Note that in general public transportation is not extensive or overly useful in Texas.
Airlines Will provide assistance for connecting, boarding and deplaning the flight, but you need to request when making your reservation.
Parking Disabled-parking sites with blue-colored demarcation are by permit only.
Public Transportation Both buses and trains must have wheelchair access available.
Standard car-rental companies Some standard companies have hand-controlled vehicles or vans with wheelchair lifts by reservation.
Wheelchair Accessible Vans (www.txwheelchairvans.com) Hires out vans in several Texas cities.
Braille Many ATMs and elevators have instructions in braille.
Telephone Companies are required to provide relay operators for the hearing impaired.
- Access-able Travel Source (www.access-able.com)
- Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org)
- Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (www.sath.org)
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The imperial system (feet, miles, ounces, pounds etc) is used in most situations. Temperature is presented in Fahrenheit.