After my initial feelings of being eco-verwhelmed with the incredible presentations and conversations I was lucky enough to be a part of at SXSW Eco, I calmed down to be able to simply enjoy my experience and soak in as much as possible. This trip was chock full of lessons in sustainability, little green nuggets that I immediately stored in my mushy brain for later use. During my days of serving as a sustainability sponge, I was also practicing as much environmentally-friendly behavior as possible with my fabulous travel buddy, Richard.
I had a lot of fun exploring the amazing city of Austin, Texas without the typical green guilt I experience. I can always reduce my impact more, but this trip put a lot of my green travel goals into practice and it paid off–it was a great trip!
Reason for Travel
The first eco-decision we made was to attend this amazing conference. I feel like I learned more about myself and my field in three days than I have learned in three years of grad school. I was educated about jobs I’d never heard of before that I would be lucky to even be able to apply for in the future. I got to rub elbows with some of the leading experts in areas of sustainability (and some people who were probably there to spy… cough cough… Monsanto). It was an incredible experience. I highly encourage all you eco nerds out there to consider attending SXSW Eco next year!
Richard and I decided to go with airbnb for our three night stay in Austin. The biggest reason for this choice was definitely cost, but it also served as another commitment to traveling green. Airbnb gives users the opportunity to stay in a space they feel fits their personal needs, even more so than hotels or hostels. Apartments, condos, and houses listed on the site are located all over a given city, including central locations like downtown areas and spots that feel a little “off the beaten path” like residential areas. My favorite aspect is that I can choose the amount of space I need. I have discussed my recent desire to live a little smaller and airbnb gives me the opportunity to do so, even when I’m traveling. Richard and I didn’t need our own individual hotel rooms, nor did we need a shared suite in a hotel with a bathroom just for the two of us. Airbnb gave us the opportunity to select one bedroom in an apartment. We each got our own bed and we were sharing common spaces (kitchen, living room, bathroom, etc.) with another “roommate,” who was a lovely girl from England also in town for a conference. We totally lucked out with the apartment too. It was the perfect size. it was in a gated community in a safe area. The hosts were amazing and really helpful (thanks, Adan and Ricardo!). The best part was definitely the river walk. Right behind the apartment complex was this awesome river walk that Richard and I used for all of our commuting. It was so easy and such a beautiful walk each day. I wouldn’t have picked any other place to stay and I will definitely use airbnb again!
Even though Richard and I live really close to each other, we ended up taking two different modes of transportation to get to Austin from Atlanta (Richard) and Athens (me).
After we (finally) met up in Austin, we immediately agreed to do as much walking as possible. We both love walking and, as people who have no cars, it’s a big part of how we get around normally anyway. So we walked. A lot. Every day. It was great exercise and it was one of the best ways to get to know Austin. We took different routes every time we hit the pavement and it always took us to a new part of town. For meals, we would walk until we found something that looked good (and it was good every single time). We ran into strangers who pointed us in the direction of good live music or a good place for drinks and snacks. We saw some of the less touristy parts of Austin. We really saw a lot more on this trip than we would have if we were staying in the hotel right across from the convention center and taking cabs everywhere. Even if we didn’t get an amazing travel experience from walking around Austin, it would have been worth it environmentally. We didn’t use one car or bus or anything once we were there until we took a Lyft ride to the airport. Not bad, huh? Oh and if you’re wondering: yes our butts are awesome from all the walking we do. Totally awesome.
Food (aka the only activity we participated in outside of the conference itself)
The food in Austin should have its own blog post. Hell, I could write a book about the food in Austin after all the yummies we found in our short but delicious trip. We ate at so many local and fantastic places. Here’s what we ate. Get your credit card ready to purchase a plane ticket to Austin after you read this:
Late lunch at Uncle Julio’s: This place has an absolutely amazing patio. We ate, we drank, we people watched. We were probably responsible for a chip and salsa shortage. Sorry, not sorry.
Lunch at the Art of Tacos Food Truck: On our walk to the conference that morning, Richard and I passed this food truck area and we decided to make it our mission to go back and eat everything. The Art of Tacos was the only one open, but now I see that as a sign from the food gods. Richard and I both got a vegan burrito with homemade refried beans and… hold on. I need to stop writing about it because I’m salivating and drooling all over my computer. So please just go eat there.
Fries at Second Bar and Kitchen: To come to this decision, we literally Googled “fries austin tx” because desperate times call for desperate measures. It turned out that we were standing one block away from this gem and we saw that as a sign. We sat down and immediately informed our waiter that we would be ordering fries and beer and nothing else. He immediately hated us but YOLO and we don’t give a fry what he thought because those were the most delicious truffle fries my tastebuds have ever come into contact with. If you care about your own happiness at all, you must go to this restaurant and order (only) fries.
Lunch at Kebabalicious: By the time Richard and I walked out of the convention center for lunch, we were about two minutes away from hangry. We started walking toward a food truck Richard saw on a map on this website he was using to guide us toward more food (he barely had phone battery the whole trip, but priorities people). We kept coming across food trucks that weren’t at all equipped to handle a couple of hip vegans ordering from their window. So, we carried on, getting more and more irritable as we went. Then, we heard angels singing. And everything was sunny and it felt as though we were floating. Toward what, you ask? Toward Kebabalicious. This place, y’all. I don’t know what they’re putting in those fried balls of chickpea goodness, but those falafels are made with so much love that I felt like my mom was kissing me on the cheek the whole time I was eating this thing. The special sauce. The salad. The pita. The falafel balls. It all came together to create the most delightfully perfect falafel I have ever had.
Dinner at La Condesa: Richard and I were still floating on a cloud from our falafel frenzy earlier in the day. There was no way we could ever top that food-sperience, but we sure as Hell weren’t going to stop eating. As we were walking around the hip part of town, we decided to stop at the first (Mexican) place that felt right. Instead, we asked a kind stranger which direction we should walk in and she wisely pointed us to La Condesa. Richard and I were seated outside next to a sassy couple who clearly wanted to be our best friends. When they found out we were tourists, they were visibly upset but that didn’t stop them from giggling with us while all four of us got pretty buzzed from sangria (which was delightful). Anyway, the food here was awesome. We asked our super cool server what she recommended for a couple of vegans and she just said so many things. One of the first things out of her mouth was “salsa” and “sangria” and Richard and I were sold. We ended up with a whole table full of snacks by the end of our experience there and we walked away about 40 pounds heavier (easily). The food was a bit fancier than we were looking for, but it was definitely a unique and delicious experience. It was a much-welcomed contrast from the food-truck-and-fries-only dining that was dominating the trip up until then.
Breakfast at Royal Blue Grocery: This was a recommendation from my friend Robyn, whom I trust with my tastebuds more than almost any of my friends. Robyn mentioned breakfast tacos and Richard and I were convinced. We took our sweet time walking over there and ended up missing breakfast tacos. But don’t worry, folks. We still got some amazing burritos. Plus, we asked if they had any vegan treats and this angel of a woman pointed us in the direction of vegan chocolate bars and vegan cupcakes. STOP IT. We didn’t stop. We ate all of it. And it was just fabulous. Plus, we saw what they were setting up for a lunch buffet and that place knows what’s up.
It serves as a testament to who I am that I included a separate section for this one. Richard and I are pretty much soul mates. That means we like the same food, we like similar activities, and we both have a large portion of our heart dedicated to local beer and wine. So we made it part of our mission (second only to the conference and food) to taste some Texan beer and wine. We mostly took advantage of the free booze that the conference provided (thanks for the free buzz, SXSW Eco!). Beyond the awkward, boozy networking events at the conference, we also branched out to a couple of bars. My fave was the Continental Club. We drank, we danced, and we were the youngest people in the bar by at least 20 years. We felt like we were getting a true Austin experience and the alcohol was plentiful and delicious.
With all the food and booze we were tasting, it’s hard to believe that we actually did anything else on this trip. But we really did it all and looked great doing it. This was one of the most unique, relaxing, and spontaneous travel experiences I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to try this minimalist traveling again (hopefully with my best travel bud, Richard!). I brought less, I planned less, and I cared less about what we were doing as long as it was fun and a little boozy. And it was more fun than I’ve ever had in a new city!
Overal Austin rating: A Fucking Plus. If you haven’t visited yet, do it before it gets even more hip and awesome and the prices skyrocket. You will not regret visiting this trendy, delicious, and beautiful city.