Find out how a family of three visited Austin for about $200! Thanks to a little #travelhacking.

My Family’s Almost Free Trip to Austin

The last weekend in February, I took my wife and daughter to Austin to tour and visit family and friends. We had a great trip, and thanks to travel hacking and smart planning the entire trip cost next to nothing! I had a great time and would love to share more about what I did and how I traveled on such a small budget.

The Flights and Hotels Were Free… Kind Of

We didn’t start out planning to go to Austin. The city had been on our visit list for a long while, but the plan came together thanks to a confluence of serendipitous events. I am so glad it worked out!

My wife and I had a planned trip to Mexico with my wife’s family last year, but ended up having to cancel our trip due to a hurricane nearly destroying our planned hotel and no other hotels operating due to the storm. When we cancelled, we were left with a credit for a few hundred dollars for the two of us. The credit was good for one year. My wife’s parents paid for the flights and said we could keep the credits or use them for a future family trip. Because we didn’t have a need to fly Alaska over that year, the credits were sitting in our account and ready to expire.

We talked about going to the East Coast for a visit to Baltimore, Richmond (to see my sister), Wilmington, and Amish Country in Pennsylvania, but the only flight options were red eyes and we didn’t think that sounded very fun with a one year old. We found that Alaska had a non-stop flight from LAX to Austin and booked our flights!

Next we raided our hotel points balances for free nights in Austin. We spent the first night in a free suite at the Wyndham Garden just outside of downtown and the next three nights at the swanky downtown Weston, also free thanks to Starwood Points.

Quintana Beach Suite
The “Quintana Beach” suite had a bedroom that faced the parking lot and a living room with a kitchenette and pullout couch that faces in towards the pool. Our daughter slept in a crib in the other room so we could stay up late and watch TV without bothering her.

The cost for the hotels: $0. And thanks to my new Amex Business Platinum card, I have gold status at Starwood so we got some free bonus points each night and a free bottle of water each day. The card also got me (and my wife and daughter for $27 extra) into the Alaska Boardroom lounge at LAX where I enjoyed free grown up beverages, my wife had an espresso, and we all snacked and hung out in the kids’ room and watched Frozen.

We Enjoyed Staying Downtown

The first night was nice. We stayed at a hotel with free parking and drove over to the restaurant Zocolo for dinner. We had a mish mash of appetizers and called it a night.

From that point on, we stayed downtown and it was great. We did need a rental car, which cost about $90 for the five day/four night trip. That gave us access to fun stops like Art on Fifth, a cool gallery with Dr. Seuss and Star Wars art exhibits, Zilker Park, the first Whole Foods, my cousin’s neighborhood and Kirby Lane in North Austin, and the airport.

The highlight of our trip might have been the tacos and Tex-Mex style food. I tried tacos and other Mexican style fare at Torchy’s Tacos, Magnolia Café, Juan in a Million, and Jo’s Coffee. Eating at Eureka! and the Arlo’s food cart were also great meals.

Staying downtown gave us walking access to the Farmer’s Market, riverfront walking paths, Texas State Capitol, restaurants, bars on 6th Street, and plenty more to eat, drink, and do.

Juan in a Million Breakfast Tacos
The Breakfast tacos at Juan in a Million are on my list for my next trip to Austin.

Parking in Austin is a Nightmare

The biggest downside of Austin was the parking. If you can find parking in a lot downtown, it will run $10-$20 and you have to rush over early in the morning to pay again. Parking on the street is cheaper, but finding a spot is terrible and you have to feed the meter every three hours. Technically feeding the meter is against the law, but we did it anyway to save on parking, don’t tell.

We went to visit the South Congress neighborhood on Saturday and couldn’t find a place to park, so I gave up and we left. That’s right, we didn’t go into businesses because we couldn’t find a place to park! We went back Monday morning where I got a badass wallet and had no problem finding a spot, but parking downtown was always a huge hassle.

Work and Play Makes Travel Fun and Profitable

While in Austin, I still found time to work. I wrote while my daughter napped, responded to emails on the go, and met with my friend and mastermind group member Nate Bills.

Our families got together for touring around Austin, we stopped in and walked around the Texas Star Tattoo Convention, and went for dinner and drinks at a funky joint called Spider House near the University of Texas campus.

Because I worked and we discussed work while together, some of the costs of the trip were able to go on the business credit card to write off. My family’s personal vacation costs are not tax deductible, but the expenses directly related to the business are deductible.

I’ll Be Back!

Overall it was a great trip. I highly recommend every restaurant I visited, though Juan in a Million’s breakfast tacos and dinner at the original Chuy’s might stick out as my favorites. The total cost for the trip excluding meals that we would have had to eat anyway and a little shopping was about $200.

It was a great trip. My wife and daughter had fun, I had fun, we got to see family and friends, and I even got to write off a few bucks along the way. Thanks to South by Southwest and the great tech scene in Austin, I’m sure I’ll be back. It had been 25 years since my last visit. I’m sure my next one will be far sooner.

2 thoughts on “My Family’s Almost Free Trip to Austin”

  1. Adriana @MoneyJourney

    I’m sorry your original plans were cancelled, but $200 for a trip your whole family enjoyed sounds like a dream come true!

    I love travelling a lot, so to save money I usually prefer visiting places where I have friends and family. Saves the cost for paying for a hotel + I get to enjoy time with people I love! Also, with flight companies lowering their prices like there’s no tomorrow, I was able to score some amazing deals lately!

    1. I usually fly on Southwest, so if I have to cancel or change a trip there are no extra fees or hassles. In this case, having the extra credit lying around worked out in our favor!

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