Things to do in Austin for foreigners short on time

An older post from my newsletter, but probably still helpful.

Breakfast tacos at tamalehouse

I navigate life, mostly, though food, rather, eating. Thus, my suggestions for things to do in Austin are primarily about things to eat. Also, I have a nine year old and have lived in Amsterdam for a year. So, my knowledge of “the hot spots” is about a decade out of date. Some of the places I recommend below may even be closed!

Nonetheless, here’s what I would do, and try to do, when I go back:

  • Eat breakfast tacos in the morning – the breakfast taco is a tortilla with scrambled eggs, cheese, and other things, usually bacon. If you’re vegan, get potatoes and beans, maybe gucamole. I would start with the basic, which is both the benchmark and the standard: eggs, cheese, bacon. Breakfast tacos must be served in a flour tortilla, white flour preferably. Breakfast tacos on corn tortillas are a fraud and should be stomped on. As a bonus round, try a migas breakfast taco. In fact, I would suggest pairing a standard breakfast taco with a migas one: eat the standard first, and then the migas one. If you’ve never had a migas breakfast taco, you want to prime your mouth with the standard, a sort of palet cleansing. Order these at aa Taco Deli, a Torchy’s, or any restaurant with a Spanish word and a number in it’s name, e.g., “Arranda’s #4.” If you can go a little out of the way, got to Tamale House or Mi Madre’s. I would recommend ordering extra salsa to put on the tacos (see below).
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🗂 Link: Developers schetsen gitzwart beeld van Booking.com

De Volkskrant spoke with fifteen (former) employees of the company in recent months. In the piece ‘ Bookings burn-out machine’ from the Saturday supplement, which can also be found online – the developers complain about programming language Perl, which forms the basis of the online platform and which they believe is being held too rigidly. According to an anonymous source, criticism of Perl may even be dismissed.

The developers understand that a company that originated at the end of the 1990s carries a certain legacy , but according to the ex-employees there is a ‘barely untangled tangle of millions of lines of code’, the newspaper summarizes

Source: Developers schetsen gitzwart beeld van Booking.com

Link: How Booking.com A/B Tests Ten Novenonagintillion Versions of its Site

“According to research by Evercore Group L.L.C., Booking.com’s “testing drives conversions across the whole platform at 2–3 times the industry average.” That means massive increases to their revenue and bottom line.”

How Booking.com A/B Tests Ten Novenonagintillion Versions of its Site
https://blog.usejournal.com/how-booking-com-a-b-tests-ten-novenonagintillion-versions-of-its-site-25fc3a9e875b
via Instapaper

Source: How Booking.com A/B Tests Ten Novenonagintillion Versions of its Site

Link: We Need to Talk About Mental Health and Travel

Taking some time out of your day to reflect on the good things you have in your life can be very beneficial to your mental health. Sometimes when we get caught in our downward spiral of negative thinking, we forget that there are a lot of great things to be thankful for. Jotting down 10 things, big or small, that you are grateful for each day can be a real help to get you out of that negative mindset that is so prevalent with anxiety and depression. This is not a cure, but it is a small and useful tool to help you manage your mental health on a daily basis.

Source: We Need to Talk About Mental Health and Travel

Link: The problem with being a long-term expat

Karen, a British citizen now in Malaysia, who prefers to be known only by her first name because her husband works for a large multinational, recalls their 22 years on the road became more difficult as their children got older. Both are now at university in the UK. Having never lived in Malaysia, they don’t see it as home, and their actual home in Europe is rented out. “Their home is out of a suitcase,” Karen says.

Source: The problem with being a long-term expat

Link: Why Did WOW Air Fail?

For one, there’s tons of competition on transatlantic routes. Not only from ultra low cost carriers, but the reality is that nowadays even legacy airlines have incredibly low transatlantic fares, because they know they have to compete. $400-500 roundtrip fares on major carriers are the norm in the off season.

When fares are that low, it really makes you wonder what the point is of flying an airline like WOW Air. Even if they charged $200 roundtrip (which is way lower than their usual fares), you’d end up paying more by the time you paid for baggage, food, drinks, seat assignments, etc.

How are other airlines able to charge these fares? Because the major airlines aren’t making money off economy transatlantic fares in the off season. Think of those cheap fares as paying a bit of gas money, but the reality is that airlines make their money off the handful of people on each flight who are spending $10,000 for a full fare business class ticket. That’s where the money is, and the rest is only working towards breaking even. Ultra low cost carriers don’t have those lucrative passengers.

Source: Why Did WOW Air Fail?

Link: When Concorde was the future

“Concorde was pitched at the business set of the 1970s, with all of its 106 seats priced at first-class levels. With its own dedicated lounge at the airports it served, even the check-in and waiting experience was luxurious: possibly more so than the aircraft itself, which despite its leather seating had tiny windows, a low cabin ceiling and similar knee room to today’s economy class. Pop stars were frequent flyers: Concorde famously (or infamously) allowed Phil Collins to play both the London and Philadelphia sites of Live Aid on the same day in 1985.”
Original source: When Concorde was the future

Link: Here are five hidden trends in corporate America’s travel and expenses as online services take over

Spending in the $1.4 trillion business travel market, of the non-travel type:

“Starbucks is clearly not just for coffee, according to corporate expense receipts. On average, employees spent $13.21 per visit to Starbucks in 2017, up nearly 40 percent since 2013. That means people are buying more than just coffee, which costs about $4, depending on your order. Certify CEO Bob Neveu credits spending on Starbucks’ increasing variety of food options, in addition to rising prices, for the increase.”
Original source: Here are five hidden trends in corporate America’s travel and expenses as online services take over

Link: The Travel Industry’s Data Dilemma: Turning Insights into Action

“Further complicating matters, a large amount of customer data still lives in departmental silos, with sales, marketing, and customer service each supplying separate customer experiences. Those databases can easily grow stale or become inconsistent, since customer information owned by one department is often not shared with others. Keeping it up to date is an even more formidable task –– even a monthly update isn’t always frequent enough to keep up with the important life changes that can impact marketing decisions.”
Original source: The Travel Industry’s Data Dilemma: Turning Insights into Action

Link: My advice for a Paris visit

“If you want to spend forty euros for a very good but not revelatory lunch, find a “cool” area with lots of restaurants and poke your head in at their opening, at 12:30, to ask for a table. By 12:45 it is too late and you are screwed and back to your favorite cheese shop. By the way, I don’t think Paris is the best city in which to spend $200 on a meal.”

Exiled to your favorite cheese shop. Tragic!
Original source: My advice for a Paris visit

Print media doesn’t translate well to online, still – a travel magazine case study

After all these years, print media still struggles versus the Internet. This long piece on how the travel magazine industry has been suffering covers many great topics. I suspect much of the analysis is the same for all of print media.

One of the problems is the new set of demands on writers in that field:

There is the pain point of figuring out an internal work flow that functions across platforms. Journalists, writers, and content creators often have specialized skillsets, so asking one to write a story, create a listicle, take photos, and film compelling videos about a trip is a major challenge.

“We just started working more efficiently that way and it really, it’s painful to integrate digital and print,” said Guzmán. “The plays are different, the workloads are different, the story ideation is different. In doing this, there’s this huge cultural shift that is exciting and difficult.”

And, then, even after suffering through all that “cultural shift,” the results are often disappointing:

“The iPad was just going to be this Jesus of magazines and I never really quite believed that because I knew how challenging it was was to rejigger the content to fit that format,” said Frank, who oversaw Travel + Leisure’s digital strategy in the early 2010s. “Having just gone through the process of signing up and downloading a magazine, it took forever and was buggy and it just wasn’t necessarily a great solution. I was never really bought the gospel that the tablet was going to be our savior. But we did it. I mean, we created a great app and it was beautiful. It won awards, but that was knowing what the usership was is a little disheartening.”

And, as ever, there’s the tense line between blaming “most reader are dumb” and “rivals are evil” when it comes to what’s to blame:

“I could have written the greatest travel story ever known, and it would not have gotten on the cover of the traffic oriented site because a Swedish bikini teen saved a kitten from a tree; which is going to be more popular?”

Let them watch cats.

Still, as the article opens up with, it’s the old Curse of Web 2.0 – former readers, now just travelers – writing the useful content in the form of reviews on TripAdvisor and such:

“In general, people don’t read a review and make a decision,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer of TripAdvisor. “Consumers will read six to eight reviews. They might dig in a certain characteristic that they are interested in, maybe they really are interested in what the quality of the beach is, or maybe they are really interested in whether it’s kid friendly or not kid friendly. In general, people will hone in on the characteristics of something that’s most important to them, find that answer on TripAdvisor, get that most recent insights, check out the photos, check the forums, and really be able to make an informed decision of whether something is right for them. I think that the notion that people could rely on the wisdom of the crowd and the wisdom of individuals to their detriment, I just think that’s false, and I don’t think the reality is that is going to happen.”

There’s also some M&A history of trading various assets like Lonely Planet, Zagat, and Frommer’s back and forth as different management figures out what to do with them.

As ever, I’m no expert on the media industry. It seems like the core issue is that “the Internet” is so much more efficient at the Job to be Done for travel (as outlined by the TripAdvisor exec above) that the cost structure and business process from print magazines is not only inefficient, but unneeded. Those magazines are now over-serving (and thus, over-spending) with a worse product. 

While the quality of TripAdvisor (and Yelp, for example) reviews is infinitely worse than glossy magazines, since there’s an infinite amount of more crappy reviews, with the occasional helpful ones…it sort of more than evens out in favor of Sweedish bikini cat rescuers. Plus, digital advertising has so much more spend (and overall, industry profit, if only by sheer volume if not margin) – it must be because it’s better at making the advertisers money and because it creates a larger market:

Link

Ode to Airports

An airport is a time pause. It’s an excuse to not stress or try. You’re trapped in the system and will eventually get there. You can’t leave or you’ll have to re-humiliate yourself through security. Airports are even powerful enough to make you cancel meetings if your flight is late, canceled…or you pretend it is. Your wedding could be delayed because of the airport and no one would really fault you.

Everyone is transiting, coming and going, and while the entry fee might exclude the very poor (and the super rich fly their own), you see everyone.

At a major hub, you’ll see people from all over: the guy with the “Ragin’ Cajun” hat, domestic and international grandmas, the harried big city lawyer, the dad-jeans set, and the local staff. People dress in all manners of business-business or super casual for comfort.

The mix of experienced and novice travels creates a crackly dynamic, paired with either overly friendly or direct gate agents. While some can escape to airline lounges, even those environments are little different than the actual terminal: you just get much friendly staff and free drinks and peanuts.

Airports can be calming if you look at them as escapes and the sort of delightful, enforced boredom that I understand meditation to be.

They can be toxic if you stress out about delays, lines, other people, overhead bin space, and how flight delays effect your plans outside the airport. And they can be distracting like an opium den if you let their peaceful hum shut-out your real life.

Don’t ruin your time at the airport. If you let it, it’ll make sure you get back out right where you wanted to go.

Frequent flyer programs drive billions(?!) in revenue

Delta Air Lines Inc., the world’s second-largest carrier, said it expects that its American Express partnership will yield $4 billion in revenue per year by 2021, rising by more than $300 million annually until then. Those sums translate to a very high margin of profit, Delta executives have acknowledged, but they’ve decline to specify further. At an investor presentation on March 29, Alaska Air Group Inc. said its Mileage Plan relationship with Bank of America will account for $900 million in annual cash flow, once the airline has fully combined with Virgin America Inc.

Billions per year seems crazy, but I assume they’re not lying.

Link

Keeping sane at the airport

After 10 years of business travel, this is how I cope at the airport:

  • You’ll get there, even if you’re late.
  • Don’t worry about lines, just wait in them.
  • Few people know what they’re doing here, don’t let their stress stress you out.
  • There are no special snowflakes, unless you have a doctor’s note.
  • The word of airline staff is law, you can’t argue against the agent of the FAA.
  • Relax and walk slow.
  • If you want a better experience, pay more or pay your dues.

When in doubt, and even if it contradicts the above, you can always:

  • Move fast and get out of the way.

AirBnB lowers hotel prices 8-10%, effects low end hotel more


There’s all sorts of fun findings and theories in this study of AirBnB’s effect in the hotel market in Austin and Dallas. The easiest one is that it lowers pricing by 8-10% for the non-business traveler segment:

As Airbnb has its roots in casual stays, including those involving shared accommodations, we expect it to be a more attractive option for travelers on a budget. Conversely, business travelers and vacationers who frequent high-end hotels are two examples of consumers we argue are less likely to substitute a hotel stay with an Airbnb stay.

There’s also some interesting commentary on the very fixed assets of traditional hotel companies verses the agility of AirBnB:
– It’s impossible to rapidly increase the supply of hotel rooms to meet demand: it takes an average of 4 years to build new hotels, so you can’t really meet rising demand even on an annual basis.
– In contrast, the AirBnB supply can expand and contract on a daily basis as people decided to list and delist their rooms and houses.
– Of course, AirBnB demand is cap’ed to the number of fixed houses and apartments in an areas…but companies to hotel rooms, that supply seems infinite. (There’s an interesting analogy to public cloud here.)

Flexibility, short TSA lines, and smooth travel – survey on business travel

Millennials want choice when making a booking, Generation Xers want control over their trip, and Boomers don’t really care about the booking process — they just want a smooth travel experience while staying connected with friends and family.

“Although the major themes are the same for Millennials and Gen Xers, the key variables that make up the themes are different,” the report states. “Millennial business travelers want a variety of suppliers from which you can choose to book and prefer booking travel on a third party website. Meanwhile for Gen Xers, it’s all about the ease of making changes to their travel plans. Gen Xers place a value on the ease of making changes and booking directly on a supplier’s website. Gen Xers value this over having more booking choices. Conversely booking was not an important theme for Boomers.”

Source: What Makes Millennial, Gen X, and Boomer Business Travelers Most Satisfied?

New AAdvantage Flyer Mileage Rewards Rate

AAdvantage Executive Platinum members now will receive 11 miles for every dollar spent. Platinum members will earn eight miles per dollar and gold members will earn seven miles.

The new rewards rate goes into effect on Aug. 1.

They gots to get that paper!

Source: American Airlines Shrinks Its AAdvantage Flyer Mileage Rewards Rate – Fortune

You’re on a trip

If you are traveling by car, there is a good chance it’s a trip. If you have packed one or more “throw-up bags,” clearly, it’s a trip. If you packed a training potty, not a vacation. A trip if ever there was one. If you break into a complete sweat loading the car and/or overhead storage compartment you spent a small fortune on because you thought it was kinda cool, well, that’s a trip. If packing the car leads to a fight with your spouse about who has a better “system”… you, my friend, are going on a trip.

If your final destination is a tent, you are not on a vacation. You are not even on a trip. You are on a camping trip. There will be tears. Mostly yours. Camping, for obvious reasons, gets its own classification. If you have to walk outside to a bathroom and/or shower, you are on a camping trip. If you need coins to get a hot shower, you are soooo not on a vacation… I don’t even know what to tell you.

It’s all good stuff.

Source: “Vacation or Trip? A Helpful Guide for Parents”

Link: Usage of Apple Watch by British Airways Passengers

“Apple watches now account for more than five per cent of app usage, giving customers access to real-time flight status, gate information, a countdown to the departure time and the weather at their destination.”

Source: Usage of Apple Watch by British Airways Passengers

The Shoe Dilemma

Loafers

What kind of shoes should you wear when you’re traveling? Most frequent travels like slip-on shoes, sandals, or something else that’s easy to put on and take off. I’ve begun to question that theory, though I still operate under it.

The Defining Moment of Frequent Travel

There’s one, small moment in every trip that defines what you can take with you: the security gate. As mentioned in reference to the 3 oz liquid limit here, there’s something absurd about the whole security gate deal at the airport. Of course, one never really knows how well something is working; it’s much easier to know how well it’s breaking. But, let’s set aside the usual TSA griping for people who do it better. As ever, our job here is to simply help make frequent travel easier, not boil the oceans.

Ever since that guy tried to blow up a plane with his shoe, in the States we’ve had to remove our shoes when going through the security gate. You have to X-ray them, you see.

Slipping Off

Now, your goal at the security gate is to get through as fast as possible. Not only because you don’t want to spend time there, but because the longer you take the longer everyone else behind you has to wait. Being courteous is the rule for me when it comes to travel: most everyone else is either clueless or being a dick at airports, which aren’t two roles I relish playing.

To speed up your security gating then, you’ll probably want shoes without laces. “Slip-on shoes.” This way, you can quickly take them off and quickly put them on. Also, this minimizes the amount of time you have to walk around in socks, which is sort of the ultimate symbol of what we’ve let ourselves become at the airport, not to mention “dirty” for people who worry about that kind of thing.

I’ve had two pairs of these slip-on shoes: a casual-fancy pair of Doc Martin’s and a dark brown pair of Steve Madden shoes. It’s easy to find good looking slip on shoes that you can wear through the rest of your trip. They’re actually good for at-home use too: they’re so quick to put on and take off! (Who has time for laces?!)

Shoeless Luxury

Additionally, there are some who enjoy taking their shoes off on the plane. Indeed, if you sit in business class on American Airlines (and above, I guess), they give you a little bag to put your shoes in and a pair of socks to wear.

Personally, I’m a little wary of people taking off their shoes. I’m at the top of that list. I can see how it’d be great, but one often can’t smell their own stink, so how am I to do if my unsheathed feet are stinking up the aisle? Nonetheless, taking off your shoes on the plane is a sort of easy luxury for many, and I don’t hold it against them.

Can you Run in Slip-ons?

Of course, if you’re going to be going to the gym while you’re travel (a recent practice of mine that I highly recommend), you’ll need another pair of shoes, some sneakers. Packing sneakers in a carry-on bag is a bit tough, though certainly possible. And you might also be tempted to wear your lace-up sneakers while traveling and put the slimmer, slip-on shoes in your bag.

Of course, it’s easy enough to setup your lace-on shoe to be a slip-on one: you just keep the laces loose enough. This works well with Converse and skate-shoes, maybe not so much “real” tennis shoes.

My fashion consultant wears a uniform and latex gloves!

All of these considerations aside, I’ve been thinking of late: I don’t want to drive my shoe choice by the dictates of the security line. In reality, most shoes I wear, even with laces, I tend to fix up so I can slip them on and off rather than lace them up each time. But there’s other options, like boots. Boots are not easy to just slip on and slip off, you sort of have to be sitting to remove and put them back on.

At the moment, I’m perfectly happy with my slip-on shoes – like I said above, I wear them all the time, traveling or no. But next time I look around for shoes, I don’t think I’ll let travel considerations enter my mind. It’s too weird – maybe too disempowering in a rich-and-privlegaged way – to think that any of my decisions is driven by such a small moment in time as the security gate.