Read Before You Leave – Dallas

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May 23, 2017

by ALEX GREIG, Online Writer

You know what they say: everything’s bigger in Texas. Perhaps that’s why Dallas Fort Worth Airport covers a landmass larger than Manhattan and has the biggest car park in the world. There’s another saying – more of a state motto, really: Don’t Mess With Texas. It’s threatening and frankly a little paranoid (Welcome to Texas could be seen as more approachable), but don’t take it too seriously. Dallas folk are friendly, cosmopolitan and open-minded – and the cowboy boots and hats are few and far between. The city, located in the state’s north, is home to a lively cultural precinct, excellent museums and more barbecue restaurants than you can poke a stick at.

If this is your first rodeo (or even if it ain’t) in Dallas, read our handy tips before you leave.

Entering the US

Australia is a participant in America’s Visa Waiver Program, meaning Australians don’t need a visa for visits of 90 days or fewer. Australians must, however, obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) through the Department of Homeland Security site. Authorisation is usually granted on the spot but it’s advisable to apply at least 72 hours before you travel in case there’s an issue. ESTA-approved travellers also need a (machine-readable) ePassport.

If you overstay, the American Government could arrest, deport or even bar you from returning to the States. Your kids will never forgive you if you have promised them Disneyland.

Go to Smart Traveller for more information.

Flying in to Dallas Fort Worth

Dallas Fort Worth Airport (DFW) served a record 65,670,697 passengers in 2016. Although it’s the third-busiest airport in the world by aircraft movements, it’s been rated the best large airport in North America for passenger satisfaction for 2017.

The Skylink high-speed train connects all five terminals within Dallas Fort Worth.

It’s located 27 kilometres from downtown Dallas – a 30-minute drive. A taxi should cost approximately US$40. Alternatively, there’s a DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) light rail service operating between DFW and downtown Dallas. The trip takes between 50 minutes to an hour and costs US$2.50 for a two-hour pass.

Vaccine advice

While there aren’t any specific vaccines recommended for travel to the US, it’s worth checking the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for updates on infectious-disease outbreaks. On December 14, 2016, the CDC designated Brownsville, Texas, a cautionary area after several cases of Zika virus were identified in the area. Brownsville is 768 kilometres from Dallas.

Transport tips

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has one of the fastest-growing light rail systems in North America. DART also operates commuter rail and buses including the free city-centre D-Link bus which (theoretically) runs every 15 minutes. However, the car is still king in Dallas – and it’s got the bumper-to-bumper peak-hour traffic to prove it.

Money matters

At the time of writing, the Australian dollar was buying around 74 US cents – consult a reliable currency conversion service for up-to-date foreign-exchange rates.

Check with your bank that you won’t be hit with extra fees when using your credit card in Dallas. Your Australian bank and American ATMs will each charge you for withdrawing money from your debit card, too, so it might be worth organising a travel card (most banks have one) with low or no fees to use while you’re away.

In any case, inform your bank of your travel plans, lest overseas purchases are misconstrued as fraud and your card is cancelled.

Finally, tipping in the US is such a complex ritual that we have addressed the etiquette here.

Weather wise

Dallas has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons. It’s stinking hot in summer – with an average of 36 degrees in August – but it does snow occasionally in winter. Temperatures in spring – March, April and May – are generally mild but the weather can be volatile with heavy rainfall.

When to go

In Dallas, September and October, known to Americans as fall, are beautiful weather-wise and have the added bonus of the NFL season kick-off and the famous Texas State Fair.

Dress code

It may be tempting to pack your best 1980s power shoulder pads but Dallas has moved on from Dallas. And you won’t see locals representing for cowboys (The Cowboys is another matter). Dallasites are fashion-forward and they dress for the weather. If you’re visiting during a soupy Dallas summer, pack lightweight, breathable fabrics and a hat – but be prepared for icy aircon with a shawl or shirt you can throw on over the top. Winter is cold with lows below zero so pack boots, a woolly hat and gloves as well as a nice warm coat and scarf.

This is a shopping city, too, with malls, boutiques and department stores in abundance so leave some space in your bags.

Tap water

The tap water is drinkable in Dallas and meets all US standards.

Driving

According to the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website, thieves target rental cars in the US. If you’re planning to hit the road in a rental, don’t leave any valuables behind when you park. According to research cited by Smart Traveller, Australian drivers are almost twice as likely to be killed in a road accident in the US than at home. Remember, you’ll be driving on the right-hand side of the road.

Insurance policy

Without comprehensive travel insurance, travellers will pay through the nose for medical treatment in the US. Smart Traveller advises that a visit to the GP for a sore throat, say, will run up a bill in the hundreds of dollars – and this is before extras such as blood tests or medication.

Stay central

Dallas is a small city ringed by suburbs. Stick to central Dallas, made up of Downtown, Uptown, the Design District and Deep Ellum. Downtown offers plenty of hotels, restaurants and parks as well as the West End District where the JFK Memorial Plaza (and the infamous grassy knoll) is located and the sprawling Arts District, which covers 20 blocks of museums, performance venues and bars. For nightlife, dining and restaurants, Uptown is the place. There’s the cosmopolitan West Village, Oak Lawn, the hub of Dallas’s LGBT community, and the shopping mecca of Knox Street and Henderson Avenue. The Design District offers the wholesale arts Market Center while Deep Ellum, east of Downtown, is an historic area that’s evolved into a cool entertainment precinct with jazz and blues venues, street art and arts festivals.

Phone calls and mobile data

Before you land, disable data roaming and don’t answer incoming calls on your mobile phone if you want to keep your monthly bill in check. Invest in a prepaid travel SIM card if keeping in touch with home is important. 

If you need to make calls in Dallas, buy a US SIM card for local calls and mobile data. Remember, this will only work if your phone is not locked to your Australian carrier. Also note that Australian mobile phones operate on a GSM network. In America, both GSM and CDMA networks are in operation. This means that your Australian handset won’t work on a CDMA network such as Verizon. See WhistleOut for more in-depth information on using your mobile phone overseas.

Consider buying a cheap handset from one of the US’s many big-box stores, such as Walmart. It will come with credit preloaded but keep in mind that in America you’re charged not just for making calls and sending texts but also receiving them.

Phone home

To call Australia, dial +61 followed by the phone number – including the area code minus the zero. So, to call a Sydney landline telephone, you would dial +61 2 then the phone number. To call a mobile phone, use the same country code and dial the mobile number minus the first zero.

Gadgets

Power sockets in the US (120V) have a lower voltage than those in Australia (230V) and a higher frequency (60Hz compared with Australia’s 50Hz). Most gadgets are designed to work on a range of frequencies and voltages but double-check if you’re in doubt. Power plugs and sockets also have a different configuration so an adaptor will come in handy.

Handy apps and websites

DART or the DART GoPass app for planning your route on public transport.

Lyft or Uber for when public transport fails.

Smart Traveller for safety information.

XE for currency conversion.

Dallas Fort Worth Airport for information on flights, weather, traffic, parking, terminal locations and airport shuttles.

Gate Guru for flight status, airport information and rental cars.

Maplets allows users to download and customise maps to make getting around a cinch.