TRAVEL | Experience Austin like a True Texas Local

Your ten-gallon hat is calling y'all down

Texas livin' has gotten a lot of good publicity in the past several years. Millennials are flocking to its wide-open spaces, barbecue food trucks, and burgeoning music scene. Pockets of hipster-friendly neighborhoods are popping up all over the state – but none so much as in Austin.

I can always remember that Austin is the cool Texas city (sorry, Dallas) by the way it sounds like awesome" Lame, but effective. And it's true. Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, in part due to the soaring cost of living in other big cities like San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Would-be West Coasters are donning spurs and 10-gallon hats (okay, Toms and skinny jeans), and moving down south in droves. It's not hard to see why. The sprawling city of Austin has a lot to offer: cultural activities (Chicken Shit Bingo!), food trucks dishing out lip-smacking Mexican food, hiking opportunities, river fun, and weather that doesn't require a balaclava in the winter. That's not to say there's no extreme weather - it does get hot enough to cook up an omelet on the sidewalk in the summer. While there's a ton of activities to choose from, here are some guaranteed wins to help separate the wheat from the chaff.

Outdoor Excursions

Austin offers a wide variety of activities for those who enjoy the great outdoors. While it does occasionally snow in the winter, most of the year it's either quite pleasant outside or downright hot AF.

Hike the desert trails

Austin's sprawl and wide-open territory means that you're never too far from a trail. You'll find plenty of opportunities to go trail biking, trail running, or flat out hiking in multiple parks and trails that are within a two-hour drive from the city center. The River Place Trail is a favorite for many locals. The trail is easily accessible with street parking, and leads down into a canyon. If there's no one else around, you'll hear nothing but the whoosh of the wind gently rustling the leaves, or as you get closer to the bottom, the soft gurgle of a creek. Pro tip: go in the late afternoon so you can watch the sun set over the hills. It turns everything a shade of gold found only in Texas. Other trails like Walnut Creek and Turkey Creek are also surefire hits. Just make sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen!

Splash around in the Colorado River

Enjoy this warm weather activity while you can. The Colorado River, which flows from the Rockies all the way into the Gulf of California in Mexico, has been slowly shrinking as ever-expanding cities use it for their water supply. But for now, the river is a hotbed of activities including kayaking, paddle-boarding, swimming, and just plain hanging out. If relaxing in an inner tube on a hot day with a refreshing cold drink doesn't sound like heaven, I don't know what does.

Culinary Scene

You gotta eat, right?

Eat an entire roast chicken at Julio's

Julio's restaurant is a casual, under-the-radar joint that serves up the juiciest bird in Texas. Its no-frills environment belies the fact that it's one of Austin's tastiest establishments, and if it's warm out, you can up the ambience by sitting outside. Choose from authentic Mexican dishes like Carne Guisada (kind of like a Mexican beef stew with a tomato base) and just-made-five-minutes-ago guacamole. The real star of the show is the roast chicken. It's so tender you don't even need a knife (or a fork really) to pull the meat from the bones. Slap some meat on a flour tortilla and drizzle it with guac and housemade salsa—add a beer for the perfect gastronomic ensemble.

Feed your sugar and caffeine addiction

Quack's 43rd Street Bakery creates some of the most tantalizingly delicious desserts on the planet. The odd moniker is derived from one of its original incarnation as Captain Quackenbushes' Intergalactic Dessert Company and Espresso Café. Do yourself a favor and dig into a slice of their Vegan Double Chocolate Muffin while they're still available, or try and stop yourself from devouring an entire slice of Peanut Butter Fudge Cake. Their menu is ridiculously comprehensive, offering virtually every confection you can imagine.

Boozin' it up

You're in Texas, so prepare to start drinking like a cowboy.

Drink like royalty at The Roosevelt Room

The Roosevelt Room is a swank spot to try all those cocktails that sound so debonair but that you're too intimidated to order. They go all out with over 60 classic and newly invented cocktails, all served at cozy tables by knowledgeable staff. Ever wanted to try eating some silver? Here's your chance. Order The Black Pearl: Johnnie Walker Black Label, Smith & Cross Rum, and Talisker Storm served in a clove-smoked treasure chest and tipped with, you guessed it, edible liquid silver. If you're feeling peckish, definitely order the Strawberry-Mezcal Cheesecake. It'll have even the most ardent tequila haters clamoring for more.

Go for a dive – It's impossible to go wrong at Ego's Bar. Just slip behind a gas station and under an office building and you'll be all set to karaoke your heart out from 9 pm – 2 am nightly. Drinks are cheap and singing talent is passionate, making Ego's the perfect place to let loose. They're open every day from 11:30 am – 2 am, and with no windows, it's easy to spend all day getting tipsy and playing pinball while you decide what hits you're going to belt out later that evening.

A little culture, anyone?

For days when you feel like getting some intellectual stimulation.

Admire some art at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum

You'll be amazed by the life-like sculptures dotted amongst the beautifully landscaped gardens at Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Take some photos with a whimsical hippopotamus or high five the dancing baby. When you get tired of the heat, cool off indoors with their ever-changing exhibits of Charles Umlauf's magnetic works.

Shop til you drop (or feel like having a drink)

Get ready to spend some dough – Second Street District is what every suburban mall aspires to be. Filled with one-of-a-kind brands like Eliza Page, a jeweler that contracts local artisans and uses sustainably sourced materials, and League of Rebels Menswear (seriously), a sartorial version of Disney World, this is one shopping establishment that prides itself on individuality. If you're the type of person who likes to wear makeup while working out, or just happen to live in a crazy sweaty part of the world, hotfoot on over to Rae Cosmetics. Their line is specifically crafted for women who need makeup that can withstand some serious perspiration.

Austin is a great place to live, and possibly a better place to visit, depending on your tolerance for heat. It has everything you could possibly want in a city: outdoor activities, exceptional food and drinks, and shopping galore. All this, and the cost of living there is still pretty affordable. So put on your cowboy boots and get goin'!

Subscribe now

Related Posts

It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).


You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker