Welcome to First Things First! This series will help you prepare for a range of life changes. Think of each installment as an instruction guide that will either give you time to locate a safe landing spot or help you hit the ground running. Each article will contain a handy checklist you can reference so you can remain calm, cool, and in control of whatever life hands you..
Your First Texas Road Trip
The good thing about adulting is that once in while, you can take a few days off from work and just head out to wherever you want to go. And in a state like Texas, there are plenty of highways and byways to explore. After all, travel is about discovery and each part of the state has its own unique story to tell. Even better – as a grownup, you won’t have to go places your parents like (or places they think are “good” for you).
The bad thing about adulting when you decide to explore Texas, you realize that it’s big – really big. As in, there’s no way you can see everything in a week. That means you’ll have to decide where to go, the route, where to stay, and — worst of all — decide on a budget.
No worries! We’re here to help you plan your first big grownup road trip across Texas, from picking a destination and deciding on a route to setting that travel budget. You’ll have a blast. Speaking of which – we call shotgun!
Texas is divided into 4 main geographical areas: Gulf Coastal Plains (which includes East Texas), North Central Plains, Great Plains, and the Mountains and Basins region (West Texas).
Corpus Christi, Galveston, and Houston are all part of the Gulf Coast region, which extends northwards to include the East Texas Piney Woods with the cities of Huntsville, Tyler, and Texarkana. The Balcones Escarpment borders the west and is actually a fault, providing hot springs for many resorts in the area.
Abilene, Wichita Falls, Waco, Dallas, and Fort Worth are in the North Central Plains region. The Caprock Escarpment separates this region from the Great Plains, suddenly rising nearly 1,000 above. About one-third of all Texas’s 170 lakes are located in this region, providing excellent opportunities for swimming, boating, and fishing.
Cities in the Great Plains region include Austin, New Braunfels, Midland, Odessa, Lubbock, and Amarillo. There’s also the Hill Country along the Balcones Escarpment along the southeast, the Caprock Escarpment in the east, and the Texas Panhandle in the north.
El Paso, Marfa, Fort Davis, and Alpine lie in the Mountains and Basins region. The area also includes the Rio Grande’s Big Bend in the south, the Trans-Pecos area to the north and three mountain ranges, with the highest being Guadalupe Peak.
Ummm… You just listed a lot of cities. What exactly should I do?
All four regions offer a huge number of great things to do. Texas is steeped in history but there’s also food, art, and music – and it varies from city to city and region to region. As you move through the state, you’ll find ways to combine all of these at a variety of beer, wine, music and food festivals.
But since Texas is still really big, we wanted to help you plot a course.
Along the Gulf Coast, there’s the Texas Maritime Museum in Rockport, just north of Corpus Christie. If you visit in May, the museum also sponsors the annual Rockport Festival of Wine and Food. Other nautical sites include the Battleship USS Texas which saw action in both world wars. It’s moored adjacent to the San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park where an 18-minute battle produced the Republic of Texas.
Up in the North Central Region, the Dallas 6th floor Museum at Dealey Plaza offers an up-close, if not personal, view of the Kennedy assassination. Lewisville, just north of Dallas-Ft. Worth, hosts the Best Little Brewfest in Texas charity event in June.
To the west and just north of Abilene, Fort Phantom Hill conjures up life in a US Army post dating from the 1850’s among the Comanche Indians. Fort Phantom Hill is just one of 44 major posts and 100 temporary camps built in Texas by the US Army between 1848 to 1900. It’s part of the Texas Forts Trail Region, a 650-mile driving loop within a 29-county region of Central West Texas.
If you’re in the mood for something older, check out Waco’s Mammoth National Monument, as it displays fossilized bones from a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths that perished in a flash flood 67,000 years ago. Plan your visit for October 29 so you can fill your mammoth hunger at the Heart of Texas Wine and Food Festival .
In Great Plains region, there’s the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg right in the Hill Country. Austin’s Texas Memorial Museum features its Paleontology Lab where visitors can chat with scientists preparing fossils of mammoths and dinosaurs. The Austin Food and Wine Festival featuring the chance to meet and eat with culinary masters from all over the country takes off for two days in April, an event no foodie should miss. And if that won’t work, hit this year’s Gruene Music and Wine fest in New Braunfels.
Mountains and Basins region is home to the famed Marfa Lights festival featuring music and food. The Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest gets bikers pumped every February at nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park and the adjacent Big Bend National Park offers hiking and Rio Grande river trips. In El Paso, every June there’s the music and food at StreetFest and in late August, the Sun City Craft Beer Festival.
Ummm… That’s a lot. Where should I start?
Your travel route will depend on where you live, where you’re going, and how fast you need to get there. It’s a good idea to keep the trip interesting and ideally your road trip should have little stops at interesting places along the way to your ultimate destination.
Unfortunately, work schedules don’t always allow for this (I mean, you are an adult, remember?), so you’ll want to find a route to and from your destination that gets you back home and back to work on time. Trip planners, such as TripHobo, RoadTrippers, and Rand McNally’s Tripmaker can give you great insights into what’s the most efficient route that still lets you see fun stuff along the way.
Ummm… This sounds potentially expensive. What should I do?
The cost of your road trip is going to be a major factor in what you do. Apart from food and gas, lodging typically eats a sizable chunk of your travel money. But trying to organize your expenses on the fly can be a little bewildering, especially since costs can pile up quickly if you didn’t plan in advance.
Fortunately, there’s some websites that do this for you – both when planning your trip and on the road. Practical Money Skills has its basic Travel Budget Tool, while Budget Worksheets offers something more exhaustively detailed.
Long story short – there’s so much to see in the Lone Star State that you have no excuse to NOT have a good time on your first grownup road trip!