Thursday, July 23, 2009

Travel Tip Thursday

I visited Pseduo today and got another lovely tour of Honolulu. While I was there I not only discovered that the Foster Botanical Gardens are amazing, but that she hosts Travel Tip Thursday where fellow bloggers are encouraged to write their own travel posts and share them.

I got to thinking that maybe this was something that I could do. I like to travel, though I rarely get to do so, and I really enjoy planning trips. In fact, it's one of the prime skills I learned from my tenure as a Girl Scout leader.

Trip planning is essential to a fun-filled and enjoyable trip, especially if you're taking a big group. I've used the skills I learned herding 10 Girl Scouts and 5 leaders in 2 minivans to Savannah, Ga. in planning trips for my family and thought I'd share them.

First of all, and really it's the only thing you need to know, the interwebs are your friend. You can find a wealth of information about your destination using the internet. In fact, I just discovered a really cool website when I started researching this post. it's called Wikitravel. More about it in a moment.

If your trip includes travel by air, I suggest Mobissimo. My husband travels a bit for business and this is the site he uses. It picks up the airfares from the major sites, like Orbitz and others, and collects them in one place. Be warned though. It can take quite some time for the searches to load on a dial-up connection.

Now, on to Wikitravel. I discovered it by Googling "Austin travel". (Never ever be afraid to use teh Google.) You can use this site as a starting point if you're not sure where you want to visit. It has a nifty Random Page link. You can also narrow your search by clicking through the geographic regions beginning on the home page in the upper right under the title bar.

Let's begin with North America since that's where most of you are located. On the next page I can choose from either regions, countries or territories. Let's go with USA. From there I can choose from either regions, states or cities. Let's see where Texas (it's own region) takes us.

Once on the Texas page, I can again choose from regions or cities. I'm going to chose Austin, just to see what they have. There are a wide variety of links on this page that will lead to me the city webpage, the city newspaper (it's not free, by the way. $1.50 on Sundays and 75¢ during the week, I think. I don't read it.) local restaurants and more.

Let's say you've heard of this little shindig we throw every year called SXSW (South by Southwest). Austin bills itself as the live music capitol of the world and this event is the showcase. Every March there is both a film and music festival. If you're interested in attending, plan ahead. Hotels sell out in the downtown area far in advance of the festival dates. The venues are often crowded and even if you have one of the coveted wrist bands, you may be turned away. Arriving early and paying the cover fee is usually the best way in. Be warned, passes for the event are not cheap. Last year's passes ran from $300 to $1145 depending on the level of activities and how late you waited to register. Early registration for 2010 opens in August.

If you're traveling to Austin by air, be prepared to transfer planes at least once. Only a few airlines have direct flights to Austin. If you're staying in one of the larger downtown hotels, there should be a shuttle bus at the airport or you can take the Airport Flyer for 50¢ one way. As long as you're staying in the downtown/University of Texas area, Capitol Metro is the cheap way to get around. You can use Dadnab, a text messaging service that can give you Metro routes when you text them your location and destination. If you're planning on going anywhere outside of the city center, renting a car is your best bet.

Weather in March can be unpredictable. While rarely very hot, you can expect anything from warm, muggy days to cool, rainy nights. Weather Underground or the local cable news site, News 8 Austin, are both good resources for planning your wardrobe.

If you have time, visit the University of Texas campus. There are several museums on campus, including the LBJ presidential library. All are free. The Texas Capitol also has a free tour. Another free sight will be a sunset visit to the Congress street bridge over the Colorado River (also known as Lady Bird Lake) in downtown. There you'll get to witness the largest urban bat colony in the world leave for its nightly feeding. From my experience, it can take up to half an hour for the colony to exit. In March, the colony will still be small. These are maternal colonies (there's another large one in Round Rock where I live) and don't reach their full "capacity" until around July-August. Anywhere along the Town Lake hike and bike trail will work to view the bats. Shoreline Grill on San Jacinto is another great location but reservations are recommended to reserve seats on the patio if you want to dine while you watch.

Austin is a worthwhile place to visit at other times of the year as well. The Wikitravel page lists several festivals that range in price. Austin is also a good place to use as a jumping off point to a variety of nearby locales. Within a 100 miles of Austin is the nation's best waterpark, two caverns, a Sea World, Fiesta Texas (part of the Six Flags chain) and numerous state parks. During the spring, Texas roadsides are covered in wildflowers. The timing will varying depending on rainfall and temperature variants. Check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website for more information. News8Austin also keeps track of wildflower blooming in the spring. The best places to see bluebonnets, indian paintbrush or the other 5,000 species of wildflowers will be on the smaller roads. Be prepared to wander.

A word of caution in regards to central Texas weather. From late May through September you can expect to see temperatures between 80 and 100. June, July and August are generally the hottest months. Even when the temperatures are below 100, the humidity is often high. This summer has been one of the hottest on record, with almost a solid month of 100+ degree highs. If you come to central Texas in the summer months, respect the heat and wear lots of sunscreen. And visit Barton Springs pool! Where at least once a season someone gets pulled out with hypothermia.

That's it. I could go on, but I'll let you explore. And if you should decide to visit Austin, drop me a line.

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Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

You have many great tips in this one post True Blue. I have never been to Texas, but my paternal grandmother was from Texas and I grew up hearing stories.

Austin and San Antonio are two cities I've always wanted to visit.

BTW I hope you don't mind, but I added you to the widget for bloggers who joined in TTT.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Oh goodness, I thought you forgot about Mr. Linky. Well, it is my first week at this.

Pouty Lips said...

I lived in Weslaco Texas and I used to break out in a sweat at 7:30 in the morning just walking to my car. It's so humid there. I love the University of Texas though.