Budget Travel: Toronto

With a metro area of more than 8 million people, Toronto is one of North America’s largest cities. It is the economic and cultural center of Canada and is by far the country’s most international city. Even when compared to New York and LA, it is a culturally diverse place. Nearly half of Toronto’s residents were born outside of Canada. Because all these different cultures have been absorbed into one place, Toronto is unlike anywhere else.

It is also a destination for budget travelers who want an urban vacation but do not want to deal with New York or LA prices.

Getting in

It is easy to get to Toronto by car. Highways 404, 401, 400 and 427 converge on the city. Driving is also advantageous if you plan to explore the outlying areas of this spread out metropolis.

Pearson Int’l Airport hosts a majority of the flights from the US. You might be able to hook into a cheap Air Canada flight, although it is often a better investment to fly into Buffalo and then take a bus to Toronto. Megabus runs regular service between NYC and Toronto via Buffalo. Greyhound also runs the route, as well as connecting Toronto with Chicago and Detroit.
Getting around

The subway is the way to go. Weekly passes cost $32, while daily passes are $9. Buses and street cars are also reliable, but not during high traffic times, when they, like cars, get caught in the rush. Public transit is necessary downtown and in high traffic areas, but if you plan to explore further, a car is the best option as taxis are not cheap.

Where to stay

Global Village Backpackers and the downtown Hostelling International are both good bets for those who travel light and want to keep their hotel fees light as well. Spartan accommodations are the name of the game at both these venues, but if you don’t care about noise and luxury, you’ll be good. Another hostel is Kensington Castle. It offers much more personality than the previously mentioned pair, but the accommodations are pretty much the same. You will be within walking distance of Kensington Market and downtown Toronto.

There are some good two-star inns right downtown. The Bond Place Hotel is definitely a good value as is the Best Western Primrose.

Being a large city, there are plenty of mid-range chain hotels. Holiday Inn Express and Best Western usually offer decent value for the price.

What to see

Toronto Music Garden is designed by famed cellist Yo-yo Ma. It is meant to represent Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello. It is a haven of green in the center of the city (and admission is free).

The CN Tower
is one of Canada’s iconic landmarks. It is one of the seven modern wonders of the world. Standing at 1,815.39 ft, it is the tallest free-standing structure in the Americas.

Central Toronto is also home to the Wednesday night art crawl. Unlike some cities, where art galleries open their doors to the public once a month, it is a weekly occurrence in Toronto.

Take the ferry to Toronto Island Park. There are several miles of bike trails and the shoreline offers superb views of the city skyline. Also, there is Hanlan’s Point Beach, where you don’t even have to own a swimsuit to take a dip in the lake. That’s right: clothing optional.

The Kensington neighborhood is easily accessible by public transit as it is directly adjacent to Downtown. This neighborhood offers a rather bohemian vibe. It is full of bistros and cafes serving good food for good value. There are also plenty of thrift stores, if you are looking for a bargain but weren’t able to find anything Downtown. Kensington Market offers interesting and eclectic shopping and eating options. Russian bakers, Vietnamese food stalls and vintage clothing booths sit side by side.

Toronto’s Chinatown is one of North America’s biggest. More of a pan-East Asian town, there are plenty of eating opportunities and, though most of the shops are aimed at Asian clientele, anyone can find good deals by simply wandering down the narrow market aisles.

There are beaches all along the strip of land where Toronto and Lake Ontario meet. Though a majority of the year brings cold temps and, therefore no swimming, the summer means that many locals are out taking advantage of the sun and warm weather. The lake is not the best place to swim however, so swim only in marked areas to avoid currents. Authorities test water for pollutants daily in swimming areas.

The Toronto Zoo is definitely impressive. A $20 admission might seem expensive, but there is enough to keep you busy for an entire day. This is a solid investment if you have kids.

Budget Travel: Chicago

Summary: Chicago could be a budget traveler’s dream come true. The city is conveniently located in the middle of the country, it is surrounded by several major airports, has decent rail and road links, and has tons of free and affordable things to do.

Getting in: Getting to Chicago is going to be one of the easier parts of your trip. The city is served by almost every airline in the country (except Virgin America), and flights arrive at O’Hare or Midway airports. Adventurous (and creative) fliers can also fly into Rockford or Milwaukee airports, but the ride to the city may add too much to the cost of your trip.

Chicago may not be the massive rail hub it used to be, but Amtrak still offers rail service from many US cities. A round trip from Denver to Chicago costs about $190 and takes 18 hours. A train ride from San Francisco to Chicago takes 53 hours and costs $290 round trip. These fares may be substantially lower than air travel, but you’ll lose a day (or two) just getting there.

Of course, if you are feeling like a challenge, you could go all Clark Griswald on us, and drive.

Getting around – Making your way around Chicago is pretty simple, the downtown area can be reached from O’Hare with the Blue Line CTA trains, and once you get downtown, you’ll be close to a subway or bus stop almost everywhere you go. A great place to start is the site of the Chicago Transit Authority. Fares are $2.25 each, but unlimited ride passes start at just $5.75 a day.

Where to stay : Expedia has 562 hotels listed for the greater Chicagoland area, but like many big US cities, the closer you stay to the “action”, the more you will pay.

For example; one of the cheapest hotels listed for “Chicago” is a $42/night Days Inn, located in Gurnee, IL. You’ll be quite disappointed when you arrive at this hotel and realize it’s a good 40 miles from downtown Chicago.

Downtown hotels will cost you around $90 a night, just don’t expect too much luxury at that price range.

The cheapest way to stay downtown in Chicago is usually through Priceline. Downtown hotels usually go for about $50 when you use the Priceline “name your price” feature.

A great place to check recent winning bids is betterbidding.com. If you don’t feel comfortable with making a bid for a cheap room, then I can only suggest checking the rates on your favorite hotel booking site, because cheap stays is not something Chicago is known for.

What to see: When it comes to things to do in Chicago, the question is not what to do, but how much time you actually have to see the things you are most interested in. A typical downtown Chicago tourist will usually spend their first day strolling up and down Michigan Avenue. Between all the stores are a couple of impressive landmarks.

The Chicago Water Tower was one of just a handful of buildings that survived the great Chicago fire of 1871. The Water Tower is also home to the Chicago visitors center, where you’ll be able to snag some discount coupons for local attractions. Other “must see” attractions on the budget traveler’s list are:

  • Navy Pier – the pier is the most popular tourist destination in the Midwest. This structure extends about 3,000 feet into Lake Michigan and offers everything from a (boring) food court to a massive outdoor Ferris wheel. Navy Pier is also home to an Imax theater, the Chicago Children’s Museum and a large indoor garden. Access to Navy Pier itself is free, and during the winter quite a nice place to hang out. During the summer months you’ll find plenty of outdoor seating as well as weekly outdoor events. The Children’s museum at Navy Pier offers free admission every Thursday evening from 5-8pm, and free kids (<15) admission every first Monday of the month.
  • Field Museum – The Field Museum of Natural History is a must see for anyone wanting to get up close and personal with Sue, the worlds largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex. She’s setup right in the middle of the main hall. Admission to the museum itself is sadly not very budget friendly and starts at $15 per person, up to $29 for their “platinum pass”. There are however 52 days a year when you can get free general admission.
  • Shedd Aquarium – This aquarium is one of the most impressive in the world, at one point it was the largest, and most visited aquarium in the country. A total of over 32,000 different animals are on display, from over 2,000 different species. The aquarium admission is a fairly steep $17.95 for adults, so keep an eye on their discount schedule for 2009.
  • Hancock Center / Sears Tower – Either one of these Chicago skyscrapers is a great place to relax for a bit. You’ll grab the elevator to 1,030 feet (Hancock Center) or 1,353 feet (Sears Tower). Once you are up there, there is no rush to leave, and you’ll be able to spend some time looking down at all the other fun things you can do. Admission is pretty high ($15 for the Hancock and $12.95 for the Sears Tower).
  • Millennium Park – If you are planning to visit the Windy City during the not-so-cold months, then a trip to Millennium Park is a great way to spend some time. The park has evolved into the heart of the downtown cultural area. During the summer, there is always something going on in one of the various pavilions. One of the best ways to get around the park (and the rest of the downtown area), is with a bike rental at the McDonalds cycle center. Rentals start at $8/hour. The cycle center is also where you’ll be able to participate in a guided bike tour of the lakefront.
  • Goose Island Brewery – Thirsty and in need of something to do? Check out the Goose Island Clybourn brew pub and tour. You can get a guided tour of the facility every Sunday at 3pm and 4:30pm. The $5 tour fee includes a tasting of their fantastic Chicago-born ales and lagers.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo – The Lincoln Park Zoo is located just off Lake Shore Drive, and is open 365 days a year. The best part about this zoo is that admission is free. You’ll find lions, polar bears and a fantastic kid-friendly zoo pavilion on the campus, as well as a large bird house. Because of the weather in Chicago, many of the exhibits are indoors.
  • Chicago Water Taxi – The water taxi runs from Michigan Avenue to Chinatown (and back), and rides are just $2 each. The first ride starts at 6:30am (9:45am on weekends) and the last ride is around 6pm. Their $4 “all day” pass is the best way to ride up and down the river and get some fantastic chances for some photos. Due to ice in the river, the service won’t start till March.

You’ll have noticed that most attractions in Chicago are not always very budget friendly. If you plan to visit as many things as you can, you’ll often be better off with a Chicago Citypass. $59 gets you free access to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Adler Planetarium and either the Hancock Center or Sears Tower observatory decks. The admissions usually include at least one premium exhibit and is valid for 9 days from the day of first use.

Places to eat: Chicago natives, look away. My recommendations for places to eat are mostly touristy places, but unlike some other major cities, the tourist eateries in Chicago are by no means a tourist trap.

  • Billy Goat Tavern – This legend of a restaurant has always been famous in Chicago, but it became famous worldwide thanks to a skit on SNL. Remember Cheezborger, no Pepsi, Coke! and no fries, Cheeps? Head to their original location at lower Michigan Avenue for the authentic experience.
  • The Vienna Beef factory store – No visit to Chicago is complete without at least 2 or 3 Chicago-style hot dogs…and where better to eat a dog, than the restaurant attached to the place where they are made? Vienna Beef dogs are the quintessential Chicago food. Order your dog the way it was meant to be – with neon relish, mustard, onions, slices of tomato, a pickle, sport peppers and a light sprinkle of celery salt. Make sure you pay attention to the warning on the wall – ketchup is “illegal” on hot dogs in Chicago for anyone over the age of 12.
  • The Wiener’s Circle – This eatery is a “must visit” in Chicago. Think “Soup Nazi”, but with hot dogs. Avoid going here during the day, it’s much more fun late at night on a weekend. The restaurant is currently closed due to some “minor” health code violations, but do not let that scare you away from going there once it opens again. Remember to order a chocolate milkshake!
  • Pizza – Make sure to grab a slice of authentic Chicago pizza. There are several decent restaurants serving the real thing, my personal favorites would be Lou Malnati’s (order your pizza with buttercrust) or Giordano’s. These restaurants will serve individual deep dish pizza for about $6. Make sure to put aside up to 45 minutes for your pizza to be baked.
  • Heaven on Seven – Authentic Louisiana food in downtown Chicago? You bet. Chef Jimmy Bannos makes a killer gumbo, even better jalapeno cheddar corn muffins and a Cajun ice tea that is so potent, they limit you to one. I’ll admit that the place is not the most budget friendly joint in town, but $12 will get you a cup of gumbo and a huge chicken Po’ Boy sandwich. Trust me on the gumbo though – don’t leave without ordering it. Real fans will be happy to know that will gladly sell you the stuff by the gallon.

Budget Travel: Montreal

You don’t have to dash off to Europe to soak in the sights and sounds of a different culture. Montreal is much closer, less expensive and if you’re in a jam, they’ll even break into English for you! Just 45 minutes by plane from New York or Boston, and pretty easy from just about everywhere else in the United States, you’ll have an endless amount of festivals, local attractions and hidden gems just waiting to be discovered.

Don’t let the cold discourage you. Though Montreal is nestled within our northern neighbor’s borders, the temperature in January is a seemingly unreasonable -6 degrees Fahrenheit. Don a coat and hat, though, and it’s manageable. If the empty streets surprise you, step below the surface, and explore the city’s second, underground world à RESO.

As you plan your trip up to Canada, take a close look at what’s going on in Montreal when you plan to head up there. While the basic museums and theaters will always be there, the city has a thriving festival scene that lasts through the winter and rotates quickly all year long. Every time you go, you’re likely to see something different.
Getting in: If you live in the northeast, the flights are easy. Continental has a shuttle to Montreal that can cost below $300. If you’re aiming at Montreal from farther away, Air Canada, Continental, Delta and other airlines fly in regularly. Crossing the Atlantic? You can do so non-stop from London, Paris, Amsterdam and others.

The trip into the city from Pierre Trudeau Airport (it used to be called Dorval) start at around CD$25 and can reach CD$60. Fortunately, you can solve the problem with public transportation. You’ll save plenty of cash to pour into your shot glass when you hit the bars downtown, but it can take close to a half hour to get into the city … and then you still have to get to your hotel.

Once you’re in the city, stick with public transportation. You won’t have to worry about parking, and the subway is clean, fast and efficient. It actually stops where you would want to go. Also, without a car, there’s no need to warm the vehicle up for five minutes before you pull out of your space.

Where to Stay:
You have plenty of choices. Skip the newer part of the city, and settle into one of Old Montreal’s stylish boutique hotels. You won’t accumulate any points with the hotel chains you normally call home, but your trip will be unique. If you’re going to Montreal, you have to go native.

There are plenty of hotels within walking distance of just about every attraction in Old Montreal, and downtown is only a subway ride away.

  • Step into Les Passants du Sans Soucy, and you’ll see immediately that you are not in a typical hotel. The lobby doubles as an art gallery, where you can see (and purchase) the work of Canadian artist Jacques Clement. The exposed brick throughout the property heightens the charm, and the dining room is far from institutional. This is a home away from home.
  • The Hotel St-Paul is Montreal’s design attraction. The guestrooms emphasize the property’s commitment to style, and the interlocking bathrobes demonstrate that no detail is too trivial to the staff. I’ve stayed at the Hotel St-Paul, it will be at the top of my list on my next trip north.
  • Tourisme Montreal has plenty of deals at properties across the city right now. Some have rates as low as CD$139 a night and offer a second night at half price. The “Sweet Deal Winter” program makes it clear that the locals know how hard it can be to attract southern neighbors when a warm day is above zero.
  • If you prefer the predictability of a major chain, give up Old Montreal and book a room downtown, where you’ll find major presences by Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton and other dependable brands.

What to See:

  • Montreal’s art galleries must not be missed. Skip the museums and walk up and down la rue St Paul Ouest. If you like what you see in the window, step inside. Some of the galleries are operated by the artists themselves, so you’ll have a rare opportunity to talk to the creators.
  • When the winter cold is too much for you, step into a subway station. These aren’t mere portals to the city’s public transportation system: they are gateways to a second city that lives beneath the surface when winter strikes with its characteristic ferocity. Enjoy the shops and restaurants that come to life when the world above goes quiet.
  • Get a hot dog – the best dinner under CD$5. The misnamed Pool Hall isn’t home to felt-covered tables any more, but they do have the best dogs in the city. Sound like a local: a hot dog with everything on it is “all dressed.” You’ll find this joint on la rue St Denis, but if you aren’t paying attention, you might miss it. When in doubt, ask one of the natives. They’re helpful.
  • Through the beginning of March, take advantage of the city’s festivals, such as the All-Nighter, Wine and Dine experience and Celebration of Light. If you don’t make it out to Montreal until later in the year, you’ll still find some festival in progress. July (for those who plan ahead) brings both the Fantasia film festival and the Just for Laughs comedy festival.

Stay warm; that’s your first priority. If you choose your stops wisely, Montreal can be a great city at any time of year. Don’t plan to spend too much time along the city’s harbor, but you can follow the locals to the city’s underground city. Brave the cold and enjoy the empty streets, or follow the masses below. Either way, Montreal is the best winter destination that never would have come to mind.

Budget Travel: San Juan, PR

Summary: One of the frequent knocks on the Caribbean is that many of the islands (not all) are nothing more than receptacles for tourists. That there’s no real dynamic culture and sense of place. But this statement also ignores the fact that millions of Americans head to the Caribbean each year, and many of them are looking for nothing more than a cheap vacation with a beautiful beach and a frosty drink in a coconut. I can’t say that I blame them.

That said, we’re here to tell you that San Juan, Puerto Rico is the perfect combination of all these factors – affordability, authentic local culture and beautiful, warm sandy beaches. As the capital and largest city on the island of Puerto Rico, San Juan is a city with a surprising diversity of options for visitors. It’s among the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere, having been founded in 1521 by the Spanish. The history is strongly felt wherever you might wander in San Juan, whether it’s a visit to the imposing El Morro fortress or a walk along the fading beauty of Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets.

That’s nothing to say of the glitzy nightlife and beaches of Condado, or the untouched beaches and lush rainforests within an hour’s drive of the capital. Ready to be amazed by one of the most underrated (and cheap) destinations in the Caribbean? Come along for our Budget Guide to San Juan…

Getting in: Most travelers from the contintental United States will arrive at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, the central hub for many flights into and out of the Caribbean. The airport is served by almost all major U.S. carriers, and your chances of finding a deal during peak season are fairly good. As of the time of this posting, just about every major U.S. city east of the Mississipi River was offering round trip January fares to San Juan for between $200 – $300 per person.

Once you’ve arrived, it’s easy enough to grab a taxi into the city center. Rates are typically around $10 – $20 depending on if you’re going all the way into Old San Juan or to the outlying hotels. The frugal can also take the B40 bus, which will bring you to Isla Verde or Rio Piedras, where you can connect to other buses including the A5 to the city center. Total bus cost is .50-.75 cents.
Where to stay:
San Juan offers a surprisingly diverse cluster of different neighborhoods, ranging from the glitzy and glamorous to the historic and atmospheric. It all depends on what you’re looking for out of your trip.

  • For our money’s worth, the place to stay in San Juan is in Old San Juan, a picturesque neighborhood of cobblestone streets, elegant public squares and quietly crumbling facades. It’s been experiencing a resurgence in recent years, with hordes of great restaurants, bars, galleries and shopping. The best way to go is to rent your own apartment in one of the beautiful old buildings that dot the area. If you don’t want the hassle though, Hotel Milano and Caleta Guest House have rooms starting at under $100/night.
  • Just east of Old San Juan is the glitzy neighborhood of Condado, sight of many of Puerto Rico’s best hotels and resorts. Condado is the tried and true tourist hotspot of San Juan, bordered on one side by a heavily trafficked beach and avenues lined with casinos and fancy boutiques. It’s not necessarily the most authentic part of Puerto Rico, but for non-stop action it can’t be beat. Unless you want to drop a wad of hundreds at a fancy resort, the At Wind Chimes Inn has reasonably priced rooms starting around $110/night.
  • A little closer to the airport is Isla Verde, another main tourist drag. Though Isla Verde is technically not part of San Juan, it’s conveniently situated next to the airport and close enough you can still easily head into San Juan proper if you want to soak up some culture or fine dining. It’s also got its fair share of lovely sandy beaches, Pina Coladas and casino action, so don’t despair. Rumor has it that the Holiday Inn is the place to stay. It’s nothing fancy, but still clean and a good bargain.

What to See:

  • El Morro: San Juan was originally the last stopover for Spanish galleons loaded with gold and silver bound for the mother country. As such the city founders built the imposing El Morro stone fortress at the mouth of the harbor to protect it from pirate and enemy attacks. Today the fort is a National Park and one of San Juan’s top tourist attractions. And the entrance fee? Only $3 for those over 16. On Sundays the locals flock to the vast parade grounds in front of the fortress to fly thousands of kites in San Juan’s vigorous tradewinds.
  • Old San Juan Wandering: Spend an afternoon and an evening wandering the atmospheric streets of Old San Juan. Each corner is filled with a wealth of surprises – from delicious mallorcas at La Bombonera, to sizzling live salsa music at the Nuyorican Cafe to the overflowing art galleries and restaurants of Calle Fortaleza, the area’s newest hotspot. Unless you buy a new painting for the living room, you’re sure to end your visit with a few bucks left for breakfast the next day.
  • El Yunque: If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s no better way to get a sense of the island of Puerto Rico than renting a car ($40-$50/day). Grab a GPS and head for El Yunque National Forest, one of the island’s most beautiful natural wonders and only about an hour’s drive from San Juan. As the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, El Yunque features an astonishing diversity of wildlife, plenty of hiking trails and some refreshing waterfalls where you can stop for a swim. Cost to get in? Free.
  • Hit the beach: There’s a number of beaches within the confines of San Juan if you’re looking to soak up a few rays. Condado has a strip of sand where you can kick back, throw around a frisbee and have a swim. It’s not the most picturesque beach but certainly convenient. If you really want to see the best of Puerto Rico’s beaches, take that rental car I mentioned and point it at Luquillo Beach, one of the most beautiful in all of Puerto Rico and only about an hour from San Juan. Along the edge are food vendors selling roast pork, mofongo and other Puerto Rican specialties.

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Budget Travel: Austin, Texas

Summary: Located “deep in the heart of Texas”, Austin is the capital of the Lone Star state and a center for technology and education. It is also an incredibly diverse and progressive community with a rich history and culture that makes it unlike any other place in Texas.

Originally named Waterloo when it was first founded back in the 1830’s on the banks of the Colorado River, eventually the city was made the seat of government for the newly founded Republic of Texas. Following the Republic’s war for independence with Mexico, it was renamed Austin after Stephen F. Austin, who was instrumental in the early colonization of Texas. Since that time, the city has grown into the fourth largest in the state and the 16th largest in the country.

Austin boasts an eclectic nightlife, a vibrant art and film community, more than 200 live music venues, and an interesting mix of cultures. And with an unofficial motto of “Keep Austin Weird”, you know that you’re in for a very different experience when you come to Central Texas.

Getting in: Austin-Bergstrom International is a medium sized airport that offers service by all the major airlines, and several budget carriers, including Frontier, Jet Blue, and Southwest. Cheap, non-stop flights into Austin from most major cities are plentiful and easily obtained.

Driving to Austin is also easy, as the city sits just a few hours south of Dallas and west of Houston, with major highways allowing for easy access. Having a car in Austin allows visitors to see more of the city and escape to the near by Texas Hill Country, with it’s beautiful vistas and quaint small towns.

The city is also serviced by Amtrak and Greyhound, offering two other inexpensive options for getting to Central Texas.

Where to stay: Austin has a wide range of accommodations, from large national chains to small bed and breakfasts, with pricing starting at the low end and stretching all the way up to luxury levels. But travelers on a budget don’t have to skimp on the laid-back atmosphere that Austin is so well known for. For instance, the Austin Motel is a local favorite for it’s retro-cool vibe, and location in the heart of the hip downtown area of South Congress Ave or SoCo as it’s known locally. This family owned hotel has been open since 1938, and offers affordable and unique rooms that often attract celebrity guests.

There are also several good low-budget options available as well, with the HI-Austin ranking amongst the best. This 42-bed hostel costs as little as $19 per night, and is located near Lady Bird Lake, making it a short walk or bus ride to much of the downtown area.

What to see: Austin literally has something for everyone, with a ton of activities going on at tall times of the year. But the city is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and music buffs will find plenty to love. On nearly any night, you’ll be able to find bands playing in any number of locations around the city, with places like Stubb’s Barb-B-Q and The Continental Club offering up inexpensive entertainment. Check out AustinLiveMusic.com to see who will be jamming in Austin while you’re in town.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do in and around Austin as well. The Texas Hill Country offers great hiking and mountain biking, while the local rivers and lakes are excellent for canoeing and kayaking. Head to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for great scenic views from the top of a 425 foot giant granite dome that is a favorite of local rock climbers as well.

A visit to Austin isn’t complete without dropping by the Alamo Drafthouse to take in a movie. The Drafthouse is an Austin staple and is consistently named the best movie theater in the country. Watching a newly released film while sipping on beer or wine, then ordering a pizza, sandwich or just the traditional popcorn is a real treat when you have waiters taking your order at your seat. And attending one of their unique special events will leave you wondering why there aren’t more movie theaters like this one. For instance, in the week leading up to the recent release of the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace, the Drafhouse sponsored a week long game of Assasination, culminating on premiere night where they also had a Casino Royale party featuring poker, roulette, and other games.

The list of things to do in Austin goes on and on, even when traveling on a budget. For instance, from mid-March to early November take a walk by the Congress Ave. Bridge to watch more than 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats take flight into the Texas night. Stop in to Mellow Johnny’s , Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, for a sandwich or expresso, and maybe Lance will drop by to say hello, then head over to Barton Springs to take a dip in the natural pool that is a constant 68 degrees year round. In the evening, move over to 6th Street to for drinking and dancing or stroll through the nearby Warehouse District for a more relaxed environment to enjoy a frosty beverage.

Where to eat: Austin has so many great restaurants, it’s difficult to recommend just a few. But when you visit Texas you’re generally looking for two things when it comes to culinary delights, namely barbecue and Mexican. There are a number of great places to find barbaque in Austin, but if you ask the locals where to go, more than likely they’ll recommend The Salt Lick, which has more than 30 years of experience providing delicious barbecue beef, pork, chicken, and more. You’ll get more food for your money than you thought possible, and no one leaves hungry.

For some of the best Mexican food check out Guero’s Taco Bar or Nuevo Leon. Both offer excellent, fresh food, and are well known for their margaritas, all at a very affordable price.