Remember those wonderful neighbors of ours who moved down to Austin, Texas this past May? They had a baby this summer (the impetus for their move) and we managed to squeeze in a Thanksgiving week trip to head down for a visit and to meet the little guy.
I had visited Austin five years ago on a work trip, but my husband and kiddo had never been before. Our old neighbor grew up in the city though, so we got more of a “locals” type of week there, though we still did hit up some of the bigger touristy attractions as well.
We flew down Friday and arrived late that evening and then traveled home early on Thanksgiving morning to be home for the holiday with our family. I had never traveled by plane on Thanksgiving Day before, and it was quite smooth (though we also took a very early flight).
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Definitely preferable to traveling the day before or after, and the plane tickets were also cheaper – and offset by what Chase Sapphire Ultimate Rewards points we had leftover from our Iceland trip costs. Beyond that, we had no travel expenses because we stayed with them in their home, and he borrowed his father’s SUV so all six of us could fit in one vehicle for the week.
Friday’s Frugal Five
1. We packed food for the plane flight out to Austin, especially since we had a long layover so would have to eat both lunch and dinner on the go. We made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, packed them in some Tupperware, and brought some other snacks to go with. Bringing a container on a trip is great to use for leftovers as well without needing single use plastic, and we made more sandwiches for the flight home (and cooked up some breakfast sausages as well).
My mother in law drove us to the airport (in her new electric car!) and our friend picked us up in Austin. On the way home, we did call a Lyft for the way to the airport since it was 4AM on Thanksgiving Day, but then took the light rail and bus home. Round trip, our airport travel was particularly cheap, and low emission, mostly due to planning ahead as well as some great friends and family.
2. Saturday we spent the day walking around 6th Street in downtown Austin, both in the sunshine during the day and then back after dark to experience the popular area on a weeknight. There was live music in almost every bar, and we ended up with one where this gal was playing with a long set list of covers and original songs.
The kiddo requested a ton of songs, for which we tipped well, but we each just had a beer and hung out. The musician was great and played songs for him even if she had to look them up online for the lyrics and cords first. For a relaxed evening with live music on demand, it was a really reasonable price, with no cover. We then walked the mile and a half or so to Rainey Street, where we checked out the clusters of food trucks and got a snack of a Nutella and banana crepe.
We then stopped at Banger’s Sausage House to get dinner and took a variety of sausages home after snacking on a pretzel and more beer while we waiting. Clearly, eating out isn’t cheap, but we did a lot of take out during the week, limited the cost of a tip (still tipping a little for pick up) and drinks, which are a lot cheaper bought from the grocery store and consumed at home.
With a four year old and our friends’ four month old, it was also just easier to spend a leisurely meal at home. Austin is a serious foodie spot though, so we did spend extra on some tasty, tasty food. And we absolutely didn’t regret it.
What we did regret at the end of the night though was choosing to hop in one of the cool looking all-electric cabs (think stretched, enclosed golf cart) with lights and a speaker for music. The kiddo had a blast rocking out to his favorite song of the trip and we enjoyed ourselves as well, but we were more than a little shocked at the $40 price tag when we got out less than two miles later.
It turned out that there was a tiny little sign on the inside of the cab in the window of the passenger seat up front (that couldn’t be seen if you weren’t sitting up front, which we weren’t) that announced a minimum charge of $10 per person. With four of us (baby and mom stayed home from the night out after a busy day), we were on the hook for $40 for a ride we could have walked. Fun, but a learning experience and one we for sure won’t repeat.
3. We had talked up the bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge to the kiddo before the trip, so Sunday we headed back downtown after a side trip to Luckenbach and walked down to the riverfront trail below the bridge just before sunset. We showed up ahead of time, so I took off for a ten minute run along the river path. I’d worn running shoes and yoga capris, so I couldn’t help myself when we had some time down by the river (Lady Bird Lake, really).
I ran that trail five years ago when I was in Austin for a work trip when I was pregnant with the kiddo, and it was one of the things I most remembered about that experience because it’s such a great trail. Then, I’d run five miles in the morning and ended up back at the bridge just when the bats were flying home for the night, so getting to see them take off in droves was pretty darn cool.
In the peak summer time, there are 1.5 million bats that live under the bridge. Even in late November though, the bats streamed out from under the bridge for a good twenty minutes. I can’t even imagine what it’s like when they are all there, but it was well worth it even in off season. And of course, it’s completely free to hang out by the water and watch bats take off for the night. There are river cruises that you can pay for though to watch from the water, and I was surprised running by the signs that they were actually quite affordable.
4. The temperature Monday soared into the mid eighties, so we went for a hike earlier in the day at the Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail. Our friends talked up the river and the waterfall, and while it was beautiful, it ended up being completely dry. Even so, it was a lovely shaded hike, which was nice as it got quite warm by the end. Looking at pictures online, the place looks so different with water and full of green foliage.
After that, which picked up Tacodeli for lunch and took it home, which was worth the hype as one of the best small chain spots in Austin. We ate back at the house, and then went to swim at a pool that our friend’s parents belong to.
Dinner that night was homemade pizza, which is a tradition that we’ve had with them since they lived just a few houses down from us. We used to make them at their house once or twice a month (and for the kiddo’s birthday), and it was great getting to replicate the meal together again. We added some leftover brisket and sausages from a previous night to the pizzas, and they were awesome. Unless you’ve made homemade pizza with dough made the day before, you’re missing out.
5. After running around to different spots over the long weekend, we decided to have a car free day on Tuesday. After I went for a run in the late afternoon after a leisurely breakfast at the house, we headed out for happy hour a moderate walk from their house.
We stopped at the HEB grocery store after that to pick up a few miscellaneous things to pad out our dinner with the last of our leftovers from previous meals during the week. They had a ton of different wine and beer tastings at the store as well, and we got to try some beer from Mississippi for the first time, which was great, and I bought a bottle of local Texas wine.
We went back to their house, ate dinner, and watched Coco for the first time. Really, we just had a day where we did life together, which was just fabulous. They are a family where we definitely don’t seem to have a limit for home much time we can spend together, which is really special and wonderful.
6. I couldn’t quite fit in the week to a limited Frugal Five, so I decided to share a sixth this week. I had considered actually skipping this post because of the Thanksgiving Holiday and our travel home, but after our meal ended (and a long nap before then), I decided I wanted to write the post for today after all. Really, I love these Frugal Five recollections for me, because they are memories I can read back on later on.
For this trip especially, I wanted to remember the magic of the trip. Of the kiddo loving meeting the new baby (which he named Blue Shoes early on in the pregnancy), holding him, feeding him, and generally being nearby and helpful. They are a very special family to us, and the kiddo’s announcement Wednesday night that he was Blue Shoes’ “Far Away Cousin” feels accurate.
Wednesday we went out to Lake Austin, and due to some miscommunication at the coffee shop, I ended up with a disposable cup, which a bird promptly pooped in. The coffee was great though (once I got a redo in my favorite coffee mug) and I bought some to take home as well.
We then walked along the shops on South Congress with their family, doing some geocaching with his cousin while I snapped Now Hiring signs for Jobspotter (though there were really few along the whole stretch – very different from home).
After that, we were welcomed to his parents’ home along with his sister’s family and his cousin for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. It was great getting to meet more of their family and we were welcomed in like a natural extension of the group. While it was sad that our trip ended after that night, it was a wonderful way to cap it off.
As much as it was so fun exploring with them and getting to know Austin a bit better, the true highlight of the trip was just getting to do life with them again, even for just a week. Breakfasts at their house, playing with the dog and the kids, doing laundry and dishes and generally just living in the same space. My heart ached having to leave them again, but they will continue to be special to us and we will make these snippets of time together really count whenever we can make them happen.
Saturday we went on a hike to the river down at the Roy G Guerrero Colorado River Metropolitan Park, and then walked around downtown Austin in the evening. Sunday was a walk to the Congress Bridge to see the bats take off with ten minute run squeezed in beforehand.
Monday was the creek hike, and then Tuesday I went for a twenty five minute run around their neighborhood, which is one of my favorite ways to explore a new area. Wednesday the kiddo, our friend, and his dog went for a fifteen minute run together, and then we wandered around South Congress.
Thanks to all the time we got outside during the week, I had no trouble hitting my steps each day. Thursday was hardest due to Thanksgiving and travel, but I still got in my 12,000 thanks to walking around the airport and to and from the bus.
Have you ever been to Austin? What’s your favorite thing to do there?