Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Visiting Austin

We spent last week on vacation in Austin, Texas, and had a great time.

Amanda's employer flew her out to San Antonio for a conference, and we took that as an opportunity to visit some friends and explore Austin. We did a lot of free activities and one of our friends hosted us, so our only expenses ended up being my air fare, a rental car, and dining (and lots of it).

Since this blog is purportedly about frugal bon vivant lifestyle I won't catalog our entire itinerary, but rather describe how we managed to have a rich travel experience without spending very much money. Our objective for the trip was to relax and catch up with our friends, but also to scout the Austin area as a potential place to live. So most of our activities were trial runs of the sorts of activities we'd do if we lived there. Before we left we compiled a list of things to do, based on recommendations from our Austinite friends as well as web pages for the city, travel bureau, and local universities.

Some specific strategies:
  • focused attention and expenditures on things we valued, in our case Texas-sized portions of cuisines we can't find at home
  • grouped activities by location so we didn't waste time or gas shuffling around
  • used local knowhow and patience to get free parking
  • ate at restaurants with live entertainment, and the Alamo Drafthouse which screens a free movie with dinner
  • attended a 4th of July festival, and watched the fireworks, in free parks
  • guided ourselves on a tour of historic neighborhoods
  • visited free museums
  • explored the state capital building and nearby college campuses
  • went canoeing on the river at nominal cost
  • traveled on a long weekend so we didn't use many vacation days
  • piggybacked on job travel to get one round trip flight for free
  • shopped online well in advance to get a good deal on the second plane ticket and the rental car
  • stayed with a friend, eliminating hotel costs
  • used small luggage so we didn't pay the overweight fee, could rent a small car, and were limited to very small souvenirs
  • packed based on a checklist so we were well prepared and didn't need to buy supplies such as sunglasses or sacrificial "lake shoes"
  • exercised moderation in staying up late, drinking, and exertion, so we didn't lose time to recuperation
We didn't explicitly set out to spend as little money as possible, but I realized on the plane ride home that our trip was very cheap yet also very memorable. I think this is an example of simple living axioms sinking in to the point where they start to become second nature.

Our general approach was to treat our time there as if we were residents on the weekend. I think this is a good mindset since it naturally steers you away from expensive tourist traps and toward things that give you a good feel of the area. Having local guides is also great because they can help point you toward the good stuff. In our case this was a two way street, as our presence nudged our guides to explore some attractions they hadn't visited yet.

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