From great culture to incredible musical festivals and the craziest nightlife, backpacking Austin, Texas can be a real blast! It seems that everyone is moving Austin these days and just as many are visiting so you can be sure to be in for a real treat.
Austin is a city of constant change and development. Trying to keep up with its different areas, neighbourhoods and faces can be a real struggle. One day you might think you’ve found the last slice of “real” Austin, only to have it discovered by the masses the next.
That’s why we created this Austin backpacking travel guide! Filled to the rim with travel tips on how to stick to your budget, finding the coolest hotspots in the city and so much more.
Travel to Austin with an open mind and an open heart and you’ll have the time of your life. Stick to our suggestions and little Austin-life-hacks to make the whole experience stress-free and even better!
Let’s get right to it…
What to expect from backpacking Austin?
Austin has a lot to offer. So much, that you probably won’t be able to fit everything in if you’re only staying for a short while. To make your trip as enjoyable and stress-free as possible, make sure you plan ahead!
That means checking out Austin’s different neighborhoods and areas before you pack your bags – you don’t want to end up miles away from the hotspots you want to explore simply because you haven’t done your research. But no worries, we’re here to help! In the following sections, you’ll find all the necessary information you need to not get lost in this awesome city.
We’ve listed hotspots, itineraries, the best accommodation options for backpackers, and even more to help you plan the entire trip. Use this Austin travel guide as a rough guideline (no need to stick to every single detail) and pick out whatever fits your travel needs/expectations the best!
The following is a sample 3-day itinerary for an Austin weekend trip. Most of the top destinations mentioned in this Austin travel guide are covered in this section.
Day 1: UT and Downtown
Most of Austin’s cultural attractions are around the University district and Texas Capitol Building. Visiting these in a single day is a reasonable endeavor for the first part of our Austin travel guide.
Besides, seeing all of the touristy stuff will give us more time, later on, to drink lots of beer and go to shows!
Let’s start the day off at the University of Texas – Austin campus. This is one of the largest and most populated colleges in the entire country. There are so many people walking around this institution that it can feel like a city unto itself at times! If you’d like to just sit down and people watch, then go right ahead.
UTA has a number of facilities that are more suitable for tourists though. There is the LBJ Presidential Library, Harry Ransom Center, Blanton Art Museum, and Bullock Texas History Museum, all of which are conveniently on or near the campus. These form the bulk of Austin’s landmarks and can be knocked out in a single busy afternoon.
Once you feel satisfied with the University, head south towards the Texas Capitol Building. Along the way, be sure to grab a bite to eat or a brew, perhaps at the Scholz Garten or at the amazing Song La food truck.
The Texas Capitol Building is a fairly typical example of American neoclassical architecture and is most notable for being one of the taller capitol buildings in the country. You can go for a free tour of the interior if you like, which should give you a little extra insight into the headstrong state.
After the Capitol Building, head to the Downtown area for a well-deserved drink and some food. If you feel so inclined, you can drop by Jones Center for some more culture, but at this point, I’m sure you are famished.
Day 2: South Austin
Across the river from Downtown is South Austin, which for many years was an enclave for all things alternative and vintage in the city. (Fun fact: this river is actually the Colorado River!)
Though this area is becoming increasingly gentrified, you can still will find a couple of relics of old Austin among the multiplying coffee shops, Trader Joe’s, and boutique shops.
The second day of our Austin travel guide is going to be a pretty loose one. You’re going to have lots of time to wander around and there’s a good chance you’ll just end up doing your own thing.
There are not many defined neighborhoods in South Austin – most just kind of blend together at this point. If there was one area that definitely deserved its own spotlight though, it would be South Congress.
South Congress is where all of the hippies and liberals, those intrepid folk who made Austin weird in the first place, used to hang out. Unfortunately, it’s gone the way of many of America’s once gritty neighborhoods (like Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Capitol Hill, Seattle) and most of the area’s original charm has become calcified.
While South Congress’ new identity irritates a lot of locals, it’s still a cool place to check out. Every day, new cafes, bars, and shops are opening up, most of which offer that patented Texas-hippie vibe.
South Congress doesn’t have as many “attractions” as Austin’s northern parts. Granted, you can still visit local South Austin points of interest, like the Cathedral of Junk, Uncommon Objects, or the End of an Ear, and still feel like you’re doing touristy stuff.
If you want to be around more nature, then check of the Barton Creek and Barton Hills. There are some great watering holes and trails in the area.
Day 3: The Parks
Like the previous day, the final leg of our Austin travel guide is going to be a bit open-ended. By now, we imagine that you’ve been drinking or partying heavily and are probably a little worn out.
So, to help cure your hangover (which, let’s be honest, is probably an unavoidable experience in Austin), we’ve allocated this day for relaxing in the park.
The two best parks in Austin are probably Zilker Metropolitan Park and Lady Bird Lake. Both would be great places to relax and soak up some sun, maybe with a brown bag and a bottle of wine.
Zilker can get pretty crowded, especially in the spring. Lots of students and locals swarm to this park to swim in Barton Springs, kayak in the creek, and attend one of the many annual festivals. You can also walk around the Umlauf Sculpture Garden.
Lady Bird is a bit more off the beaten path – by Austin standards – and so receives slightly fewer visitors. You can go stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking here. Be sure to soak in the views of Austin’s growing skyline while you’re here.
Regardless of which park you end up choosing to visit, you should definitely end your day at the Congress Bridge. Before sunset on warm summer nights, millions of bats emerge from under the bridge and take to the skies. It’s a slightly eerie but very iconic sight in Austin.
If you still happen to have energy and don’t really feel like going to the park, then consider visiting East Austin or North Loop neighborhoods.
These are two of the city’s most underrated districts and offer some more unique things to do in Austin. East Austin is a more international neighborhood while North Loop is kind of the last bastion of Austin’s original image.
Austin has an enormous array of accommodation. In this city, you’ll find just about everything, from swanky hotels to charming apartments to bustling hostels. Regardless of your budget and intention of stay, you’ll find something just for you while staying in Austin.
We mentioned earlier that lodging can be a little bit expensive in Austin. Hotels are of the usual sort – uninspired, sterile, and, worst of all, overly expensive. Honestly, I wouldn’t really recommend staying in hotels in Austin unless you had no other choice.
Austin’s Airbnb apartments are usually more personable, affordable, and, crucially, interesting than hotels at times.
If you want to change it up a bit, consider a stay at one of these epic treehouses in Texas. They’re pretty awesome and you’ll be surprised at just how affordable some of them are!
If you really wanted to do Austin on the cheap, then consider staying in one of the many urban campgrounds! With so many outdoor, multi-day festivals going on, the city is certainly ready and able to accommodate all sorts of campers. If you are, in fact, visiting Austin during a weekend music festival, then we highly recommend staying in a campground with other party goers! Just be sure to bring your own tent.
Campgrounds aside, hostels will always be the best deals in town. There are several excellent hostels in Austin and most will be able to meet even the most seasoned of traveler’s expectations.
Overall Best Hostel in Austin – HK Austin
HK is our pick for the top hostel in Austin for several reasons. Right off the bat, you’ll notice that this is a gorgeous lodge – the building is a renovated Victorian-era mansion and is located in the ever-eclectic East Austin.
The beds are comfortable, the pillows are copious, and there is plenty of space for everyone. But best of all, the hostel has reasonable prices that are hard to beat.
Best Party Hostel in Austin – Native Hostel Austin
Native Hostel has many faces. Located between East Austin and Downtown, it offers unparalleled options and diversity when it comes to nightlife. At the same time, this hostel is both luxurious and affordable at the same time – a feature that makes it stand out from the rest in Southwest (at least according to the owners).
What makes this lodge so great though is its commitment to “the seekers(,) the curious ones, (those) filled with youthful wanderlust…” Hang with these sorts of travelers and you’re sure to have a good time!
Best Hostel in Austin for Solo Travelers – Firehouse Hostel
For those looking to maximize their opportunities of meeting fellow travelers and seeing the top sights in Austin, the Firehouse is difficult to ignore. This is the only hostel located in Downtown Austin and is conveniently located near all of Austin’s primary points of interest.
The hostel itself is huge (the largest in Texas!) so you’ll constantly be bumping into new faces.
When you’ve found your group and are ready to explore Austin’s after dark, 6th Street is only a few blocks away.
Best Airbnb in Austin – Modern and Chic House
Snug between downtown and UT is this cottage style home waiting for you to stay here. If you like to explore cities by biking and walking, then this place is perfect for you.
It’s centrally located to everything within a few footsteps. Although there’s a full list of cafes to try in the neighborhood, this home is equipt with some of the finest appliances, a Mr. Coffee maker with Starbucks grinds (you can’t beat free coffee!), and the kitchen table is set up for gourmet meals.
Call Ubereats though it’s much easier than cooking on holiday. And if it’s not blazing hot and you’re here during winter turn that cozy fireplace on and have a hot chocolate and imagine you’re in the next state over, gazing at the mountains!
Budget Accommodation Tips for Austin
If you’re trying to the cut the costs of travel to Austin, then maybe it’s time to stay somewhere besides a hostel or apartment. If you need to save money, try one of these:
Couchsurf! – Couchsurfing is the best way to save on cash when it comes to accommodation since most of the time you’re crashing for free. Staying with a local host is also a great chance to experience a more authentic side of the city and to visit hidden Austin.
Problem is Couchsurfing is really popular (duh, it’s free) and demand often outstrips supply. Hosts are picky as well so you’ll need to impress them with an eye-catching message. Definitely, try Couchsurfing but be ready to be rejected.
Tap into your backpacker network – You never know when you have a friend in a foreign city! If you’ve traveled a lot, you may have met someone from Austin or know someone who knows someone.
Reach out to people! Ask to stay with people for a night or two in exchange for cooking dinner or a bottle of wine. If you don’t know anyone in the city, ask your friends if they do – travelers understand the struggle and are usually more helpful than you think.
Camping – Urban camping is a growing trend in many cities. These campsites are comfortable, sociable, safe, and cheap. They are often located on the outskirts of town, which means they are quieter too.
Now, if you’ve got a bit more time on your hands than just a weekend, check out these awesome places in Austin. The following things to do are our favorite hotspots and activities in (and further outside) the city. Make sure to pack some comfortable shoes if you’re planning on visiting everything on foot – your feet will thank you!
If you’re a backpacker on a budget, we’ve got your back! Scroll down to the bottom of this section to find all of the cool but free things to do in Austin.
1. Catch a flick at the best theaters in America
One of the best experiences in Austin is attending a flick at one of the legendary Alamo Drafthouses. Originally from Austin, these theaters are known for showing edgy films and providing plenty of booze too. Tarantino himself said that these are some of his favorite cinemas in the country.
2. BBQ or Mexican?
This wouldn’t be an Austin travel guide without mentioning Austin’s best eats. When it comes down to choosing where to eat in Austin, the question usually comes to whether you want BBQ or Tex-Mex. Both are among the best foods in the city and there are plenty of chances to make the decisions. At the end of the day, just know that most of the places to eat in Austin are great anyway.
3. Chill out on a rooftop
If it’s been a scorcher of a day, then one of the best things to do at night in Austin is to grab a drink at a rooftop bar. Up high, there’s more often a breeze, which will feel like heaven after the Hell you just been through.
4. Catch a show
No real night out in Austin is legit without going to a local gig. The city has claimed to be the “Live Music Show of the World,” after all, so we’d be fools not to suggest it. The whole city will be blaring music so don’t feel too pressured to find “the spot” either.
5. Discover East Austin
Much of Central Austin has been swallowed by rampant developers and there are few authentic areas left in the city, but off the beaten path East Austin still holds on to a bit of its former self.
This is the international quarter and is a great place for those who are fed up SoCo, 6th, and any other preppy part of the city for that matter.
6. Beat the heat at one of the many swimming holes
One of the best ways of cooling off around these parts is going to a local watering hole. There are plenty of spots within the city itself, but the best are achieved by taking a day trip from Austin. Some of the most beloved ones are Hamilton Pool, Pedernales Falls, and Krause Springs.
7. Wander around South Austin
There’s nothing cheaper to do in Austin than just walking around with nothing but your thoughts and lint in your pocket. In-vogue South Congress is a great place to just aimlessly wander as you’ll find lots of little coffee shops and hidden gems. Pop into whatever looks interesting and just let the day go by.
8. Catch the sunset at Mount Bonnell
One of the most popular hikes near Austin’s city limits is Mt Bonnell. Located just on the outskirts of town, this relatively straight forward hike takes you to a viewpoint that overlooks the whole city and then some.
It’s a very popular place for sunset and is often choked with romantic couples.
9. The University of Texas at Austin
UTA is one of the most recognizable sights in Austin, due to its iconic tower and the fact that just about everyone owns Longhorns shirt. You can visit the campus to get a feel for college living or to see one of the main museums, which are some of the best in the town.
10. Discover the local street art
A lot of people will claim that Austin’s best landmarks are its murals. This city is famous for its street art and there are dozens of spaces here that are dedicated just to murals.
While many of Austin’s best public graffiti sites have been relocated in recent years, new ones are popping up all the time.
Best Free Things to do in Austin
As promised, if you’re looking to save some extra cash, then try doing one of these free things in Austin while visiting!
- Pools – Being Texas, summers can become oppressively hot. Luckily, there are plenty of free pools around Austin! Try visiting one of these public pools (get ready to battle children) or drop by the Westin’s swanky, rooftop Azul at the following times.
- Museums – Many of Austin’s museums are free either on certain days of the week or every day. Check out the websites for the Contemporary Austin, Blanton Museum of Art, and the Austin Nature and Science Center for their respective free days. Although it’s not technically a historical attraction – because it’s still in use – the Austin Capitol Building also has free tours.
- Live events and shows – The only thing Austin loves more than a roaring show is a free one! There’s always some sort of free performance going on in the city, from music to comedy to poetry to more. Start at established venues like The Saxon Pub and 3TEN, or check this website for a more comprehensive list of free upcoming shows in Austin.
- Concerts and festivals – Not every festival in Austin has to cost an arm and a leg to attend – some are completely pro bono! Plan a trip to Austin during any of these free music festivals to immediately fill up your itinerary. Start with preeminent free Austin festivals like the Zilker Summer Musical, Unplugged at the Grove, Cool Summer Nights at the Bullock, and the Austin Symphony Concerts in the Park series.
- Join a line dance – If all else fails, dancing at one of Austin’s many line bars is always free, just so long as you’re game. Just be careful – Texans take this shit seriously!
Day Trips from Austin
Looking for an outdoor adventure? Check out one of these places to visit near Austin for a chance to get out of the city and see the Texan landscape!
- Swimming holes – Central Texas isn’t complete desert – located on the outskirts of Austin are some of the prettiest oases and water holes that you ever done seen. Few places can compare to the astounding Hamilton Pool (seriously, it’s one of the prettiest places in the world to swim). Nearby watering holes, like Pedernales Falls, Krause Springs, and Westcave, are no slouches either. If you’re looking for a slightly more unique place in Austin, then try Hippie Hollow Park, which is the county’s only official nude beach.
- Texas Hill Country – While certainly not the Colorado Rockies or Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Texas Hill Country is still worthy of attention. This gently hilly area, located west of Austin and stretching south to San Antonio, is most well-known for its pools (mentioned prior) and for hosting brilliant displays of Indian paintbrush, bluebonnets, and primroses. Some of the best hikes near Austin, like the one to Enchanted Rock, are also in this area. In between hikes, be sure to stop quaint little towns like Fredericksburg and Llano.
- San Antonio – Much like Austin, San Antonio goes a bit against the grain in an overwhelmingly red state. Where many Texans lean towards conservatism, San Antonio is slightly more open-minded, especially when it comes to ethnicity. San Antonio hosts one of the largest and most influential Hispanic populations in the entire nation. Cultural diversity aside, San Antonio also hosts one of the most historically significant sites in the nation (remember, the Alamo?) and a very respectable artists community as well.
Best Time of Year to Visit Austin
Austin is smack-dab in the middle of Texas, and let me tell you – Texas can get fuckin’ hot. Austin is regularly in the triple-digit Fahrenheit range (+38 C) during the summer, and even in the spring and autumn sometimes, so unless you’re used to trekking in the Sahara Desert or are already from Texas yourself, we suggest you take the heat very seriously when planning a trip to Austin.
Summers in Austin (May-September), although popular among families, are everything you’d expect – sweltering, long, and uncomfortable. While Austin does receive rainfall throughout the year, in the summer this sometimes comes in the form of a suffocating humidity.
Thankfully, Austin has a plethora of public pools and natural watering holes that provide respite for the locals. Much of Austin is actually quite green, even lush, and is a stark contrast to the desolate plains of West Texas, which dominate most people’s vision of the state.
These pools are very popular places to visit in and near Austin and will be jam-packed during the summer.
Thankfully, the rest of the year is pleasant, arguably perfect according to many locals. Temperatures drop to more “manageable” levels and rainfall is still in the forecast.
Some of Austin’s best events, like SXSW and City Limits, takes place in the autumn and spring, respectively, and these can attract enormous crowds. While Austin is relatively affordable during the shoulder seasons, it’s highly recommended you avoid visiting during these large events, unless you’re ready to pay a pretty penny.
Winters in Austin are hardly noticeable. Spring practically blends into summer and I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference between the two without the aid of a calendar. The Hills do receive a dusting of snow from time to time, but the city – not so much.
Books to Read in Austin
Check out this Austin reading list to learn more about the city! Each novel takes place in and around Austin and does a good job of exploring the city.
- The Backpacker Bible – Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building an online income.
- Next – A jaded, cookie-cutter white dude has a mid-life crisis and hops on a plane to Austin (happens all the time, I’m sure).. Full of hope and dread for the future, he spends the next 8 hours exploring the city, the likes of which will change is life.
- Famous Writers, I Have Known – A con artist poses as a long-lost, reclusive writer and, in doing so, gets drawn into a bitter rivalry with another author. The ensuing clash is an amusing, if not enlightening, journey for both of them.
- Invisible in Austin – An investigative novel about Austin’s increasing stratification. As Austin’s becomes more rich, young, and famous, more and more people are, conversely, becoming poor, abject, and forgotten.
- The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic – A more alternative guide to Austin. As written by Kinky Friedman, one of Texas’ most well-known cultural icons.
- The Midnight Assassin – A thriller about one of the first and most gruesome serial killers in American history. Great murder novel but also interesting to read about Austin in the 19th century.
Safety in Austin
By American standards, Austin is a very safe place to visit. Crime is kept well under control and not too much has happened in the city in recent years.
While you certainly still need to keep an eye on your valuables and exhibit all of the usual precautions when it comes to traveling in big cities, you can take solace in knowing that not many people are out to get you here.
Being Texas, crime is usually met with a very swift hand. Murders and violent robberies are relatively unknown in this city, which may or may not be due to the somewhat omnipresent police presence.
The police are especially watchful at night around the big bar districts, e.g. 6th Street, Red River, as people become a bit more rambunctious.
A night out in Austin usually increases your chances of running into the law. People can pretty rowdy in this city, especially the college kids and UT fans, and the police generally treat them with a zero-tolerance policy. While you may get your kicks out of the occasional bar fight or scuffle, you’ll definitely clean up after spending a night in Texas jail.
As a liberally-minded city, Austin has a decent homeless population. Granted, this group is not nearly as active or as intimidating as those in Portland, Seattle, or California, which might be due to the stern “no-bullshit” civil law.
Even though Austin receives very moderate rainfall, storms are still possible. Downpours have happened in Austin’s recent history and flash floods are becoming more common. While these are still rare and somewhat predictable, always be sure to check the weather if you’re going hiking or near the water.
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.
Get Insured before Visiting Austin
Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.
I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads. To find out why I use World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Arriving in Austin
While it is not the most accessible of all American states (it is in Texas, after all), Austin is still relatively convenient to get to. All of the usual means of arriving are present here – including train lines, buses, and an international airport – and all of these are perfectly viable. Those who want to visit Austin should have no problem arriving in this city, be it from land or air.
Bergstrom International is the main airport for Austin and is connected to the city by public bus ($1.75 fare). The airport serviced by a number of foreign carriers, such as British Airways, Air Canada, and Condor, but not too many more.
Some travelers may find themselves first arriving in the likes of San Antonio or Houston and then visiting Austin by vehicle.
Austin is conveniently located at the near-center of Texas’ three main cities – Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Although traveling in Texas is generally an arduous affair, getting to Austin from any of these will be a reasonable. Expect 2-4 hours drive time from these cities.
I-35 is the main highway that runs through Austin. While it is certainly a busy road – it connects San Antonio with Dallas – Texas is never lacking for detours. If one way doesn’t look good, there are plenty more alternatives to choose from. You may even end up driving through one of Texas’ quintessential Podunk towns, which may or may not be a worthwhile experience.
Buses and trains connect Austin with major cities both in and outside of Texas. The former is far more copious than the latter as there is only one real train line that hits Austin – this is the Amtrak Texas Eagle, which runs from San Antonio to Chicago.
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How to get around Austin
Austin may be one of the easiest cities to get around, at least, in the Southern USA. Chalk it up to the cities liberal leanings or maybe the fine weather – either way, there are few places better to wander around in than Austin, Texas.
Austin is a pretty compact city in the first place, so it’s not like you or the buses have far to travel in the first place, anyway.
Unlike many other sprawling Texan cities, e.g. Houston or Dallas, Austin actually has a decent public transit network. Buses are the undisputed kings when it comes to getting around Austin and these will transport you just about everywhere.
There are a number of commuter trains and larger buses that connect Austin to the suburbs (for a higher price) but the odds of you using these as a tourist are pretty low.
If you rented a car, then good news: traffic in Austin is not nearly as bad as most other American cities. While the Downtown area and off/on-ramps can get a little cramped at rush hour, most of the city is easy to navigate.
We suggest parking your car somewhere on the outskirts, say around South Congress or East Austin, and then exploring the city center via public transit.
If you’d like to take advantage of the sunny weather, then biking around Austin is a perfectly reasonable option!
Granted, the city can be hilly at times, but thanks to a large network of dedicated lanes though, biking in Austin is relatively painless. Just try to avoid exerting yourself too much during peak heat.
Depending on when you plan to visit, Austin can be more or less expensive. Visit during the most popular festivals i.e SXSW or City Limits and be you’d better be prepared to pay a huge premium. Visit during the shoulder or off-seasons and Austin can be done on the cheap.
Once you’ve decided on when to travel to Austin, doing it on a budget just comes down to good spending habits. At The Broke Backpacker, we have spent years traveling on a shoestring budget and have gotten pretty good at saving a penny or two.
We know that Austin can be cheap or, at least, affordable, but this is only possible with the right practices.
A lower daily budget for Austin would be around $50-$75. This will get you a dorm bed, groceries, some beer money, and bus tickets.
Lodging in Austin is a bit expensive, which could be due to high property demand. Airbnb apartments and hotels will definitely be more expensive than staying in a hostel or campground. Granted, neither of the former two will be nearly as expensive as places like San Francisco or Boston.
Food can cost as little or as much as you want it to, and really comes down to how much you eat out. Dining at restaurants and going on food tours in Austin will definitely deplete your savings quicker, so be picky about what and where you eat.
Austin loves to drink and, for that matter, drink cheaply. Beers can be found for low as a dollar at some Austin dive bars and whiskey is always cheap at the market! Just be careful not to go overboard. Avoid expensive lounges downtown as well.
Public transport is efficient and can be really cheap in Austin. Just be careful of parking tickets if you have your own car – meter maids are relentless in this city.
Below is a breakdown of a daily budget in Austin including average costs of each expense.
Guide to Austin Travel Costs
Hostel Dormitory: $25-$35
Basic room for two: $120-$150
AirBnB/temp apartment: $100-$120
Average cost of public transport: $1.25-$2.50
City-Airport transfer: $1.75
Beer at a bar: $4-6
Bottle of whiskey from the market: $18
Dinner for two: $30-$60
If you want to visit Austin on a budget, you’ll have to be strict with your spending habits. For your benefit, we’ve created a list of tips that will help limit expenses. Follow these words of advice and you’ll that Austin can be much cheaper.
- Browse the local farmer’s markets – Austin is not lacking for local markets. At any of these, you’ll find affordable ingredients, wholesome meals, and often free samples of local products. Aside from being good places to shop, these markets are also great places to watch Texans go about their daily lives. Start out at favorites like Quickie-Pickie, the Texas Farmers Market at Mueller’s, or the SFC Farmers Market.
- Pre-fade and dive bars – If you’re going to have a night out in Austin, be sure to get buzzed first at home. Buying liquor at a local shop is always cheaper than paying for full-price booze at the bars. Once you’ve hit the streets, head first to the local dives – you can find beers for as low as $1 at these!
- Cook at home as often as possible – One of the most proven ways of saving money for backpackers; buying your own groceries and cooking at home will save you heaps of cash.
- Take advantage of happy hour – Happy hour is everyone’s favorite time of day! From around 4-6 pm and sometimes late, lots of bars and restaurants have special drink/food prices. Go out during these times to find all the cheap things to do in Austin.
- Use a water bottle – Save money by investing in a good water bottle and then drink from the tap. Austin’s water is delicious and totally fine to drink.
- Go for a wander – Austin is a very easy city to walk around. Most of Austin’s real landmarks are its little eccentricities and intangibles – these are best found at a leisurely and free pace.
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Volunteering in Austin
Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in Austin whilst making a real impact on local communities look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.
In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.
Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.
Worldpackers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. We’ve tried and approved them ourselves – check out our Worldpackers in-depth review here.
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Make Money Online While Traveling Austin
Traveling in Austin long-term? Keen to make some cash when you are not exploring the city?
Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills!
It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.
In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Must-Try Experiences in Austin
Food in Austin
You could dedicate your entire trip to eating the best food in Austin, and I guarantee that you wouldn’t regret a single moment. For a city of its size, Austin’s food scene certainly overachieves and provides some of the best eats this side of the Rio Grande.
Austin is most well known for two foods: Texas BBQ and Mexican. Both inhabit a pretty special seat in the Texan identity and both are huge sources of pride for the locals.
Many will claim that either can make or know of the best BBQ in Austin and will go to great lengths to defend their claims. Some joints that you’ll hear of quite often are Franklin Barbecue, John Mueller Meat Company, and Le Barbecue.
If you find that Austin just can’t satiate your bloodthirsty barbecue appetite, then consider making a road trip outside the city. Lockhart is often considered the BBQ capital of Texas and is only a 45-minute drive from Austin.
Mexican food is the second most popular food in Austin and can be found just about everywhere – in the restaurants and on the streets. Granted, it’s most often of the Tex-Mex kind, which isn’t very authentic.
That being said, you can still find proper, delicious Mexican food scattered throughout the city. Try visiting Fonda San Miguel, El Naranjo, or Taco More to start out with.
For the budget conscious, the best places to eat in Austin will be food carts. These offer cheap and delicious food, not to mention some pretty chilled vibes.
If you’ve ever visited the food pods of Portland – those communal cafeterias where everyone gathers to eat food and hang out – then the food cart scene here will feel very familiar.
Partying in Austin
There are a seemingly endless amount of things to do at night in Austin! We’re talking dive bars, speakeasies, Podunk taverns, line dancing, live music, comedy; you name it, Austin, Texas has it.
Even the most seasoned of partygoers will be impressed by this city and I have no problem saying that is arguably the best city in the USA after dark.
Austin is often called the “Live Music Capital of the World” and while it’s not as active as it used to be – as some point out – it’s still pretty raucous in this city. You can still find a musical act on blast in just about every part of the city and on just about every day of the week.
There are so many great bars in Austin, that’s difficult to land on one as “the best.” Definitely check out the likes of The Liberty, Garage, Midnight Cowboy, and Bangers to begin with. Trust me though – you’ll find your own personal watering hole regardless of our suggestions.
If you stick to Austin’s established nightlife areas, then you’ll have no trouble finding something to do. The Dirty Sixth (6th Street) is by now legendary for its sheer offerings and wild parties.
If you’re a little overwhelmed by 6th, nearby Red River is a bit more low-key but still energetic enough. Much in the same vein is Rainey Street, which is located on the other side of the city.
While not much of Austin still retains its original character, there are some quintessential Texan joints on the outskirts. The Broken Spoke in South Austin is about as local as it gets, and we still can’t believe “chicken shit bingo” is a really a thing at the Longhorn Saloon.
Being a Responsible Traveler in Austin
Visiting Austin will bring you ample opportunities to participate in debauchery, and it is very important to have fun, let loose, and get a bit wild at times. Most trips I have been on across the world have included at least a few mornings where I wake up knowing I went too far.
But there are some things that will put you in the category of a straight up jackass if you do them. Being super loud and obnoxious in a tiny hostel at 3 AM is a classic rookie mistake. Everyone in the hostel will hate you when you wake them up.
Show your fellow travelers respect whilst traveling in Austin and anywhere else for that matter!
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends a up in a landfill or in the ocean.
Instead, pack a tough and cool travel water bottle. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, pick up a water bottle here.
For more advice, check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
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