There are two types of people out there: those that like to plan every single second of their days, and those that are more prone to go with the flow.
For those of you that feel they fall more into the second category, let me introduce you to Whym, a travel company that sends their clients on a surprise vacation… literally giving meaning to “on a Whym.” Technically, you find out about three hours before you’re expected to leave, but it’s a surprise for a few weeks nonetheless.
So, it’s not entirely a blind surprise: when booking your trip, you provide key details that are expected, like who you’re traveling with, your airplane & hotel budget and the number of nights. Then from there, you’re asked to fill out an extensive survey and viola! Your destination and itinerary will be customized based on your answers. But don’t worry, they’re sure to keep you updated on the weather forecast and any key items you need to pack.
If you’re reading this and still feeling skeptical about it all, not to worry; I already tested the Whym waters for you. A few weeks ago, I was an adventurous +1 on a friend’s Whym experience. After filling out a survey of my own (each traveler fills out their own survey) and making it very clear that my ideal travel activities are eating, exploring, and more eating, we were updated with small hints leading up to our grand departure. After being told the weather would be straight sunshine and 90 degree weather, the guessing started: Arizona? Could it be California? What about maybe Florida? After many rounds of guessing and excited impatience and three hours before our 6:30 AM flight, we got our answer: Austin!
Now, I have never been to Austin, but I have always wanted to and was more than excited to get there. Once we landed, we were sent a suggested itinerary, which in no way skimped on the eats. While I snagged a pair of cowboy boots and even saw a comedy show, the main star of my travels were the wide array of eats. My first stop: tacos.
With friends that live in Austin, I have been told for years that Torchy’s Tacos is like an institution. Breakfast tacos at all times, homemade sauces, shirts that people wear IRL and don’t just hang on the walls. Being a taco lover myself, I knew I had to cross this one off of my list. Stopping at the location on Congress Street, which is known for its abundant street art, we went to town on the tacos. The queso itself was out of this world, and homemade tortillas always get me. All in all, our first stop in Austin was a great start.
For dinner, Whym made a reservation for us at a spot downtown called Lonesome Dove, owned by Chef Tim Love, where I tried rattlesnake for the first time (and loved it) and had the best pork chop of my life. I’m not joking. I’m still thinking about it. It was a meal that both reminded me of my deep love for meat & potatoes (it was my nickname growing up, after all) but also really allowed me to try new, innovative ways of using ingredients common to the area of Austin. I can’t leave out the rattlesnake and rabbit ravioli, where we were literally begging to bottle the sauce and take it home.
I want to pause here and emphasize the kindness of the people we met in Austin, from the cool speakeasy Whym made a reservation for us at called Midnight Cowboy to the waiter we had at Lonesome Dove in the same night. People took the time to explain their city, its growth throughout history but also just in the past few years alone, and even took great time and pride into explaining each and every menu item to us. It was a type of experience where we knew we were new to the city, but felt that everyone we met wanted to make sure that we fully immersed ourselves in everything the city had to offer us in the span of only three days.
For instance, the next day (honestly: hungover) we trekked about a half hour outside of the city for BBQ. And if there’s one thing to know about BBQ in Texas, it’s that everyone… and I mean everyone… has their own opinion on what their favorite is. Assuming that since we were in Austin in the middle of July, there wouldn’t be too much of a wait anywhere we went. Plus, we wanted good food. Fast. We settled on Salt Lick BBQ, a dusty, rustic spot that also had a vineyard on the premise. A smoker and winery is something that I can most certainly get with.
After settling on brisket and pulled pork with a sweet tea (and after my travel partner begged for Gatorade, in which the waiter said they did not have any but he could see if any of the staff had some lying around), I almost cried of happiness. It was everything I wanted, and then some. I have truly never enjoyed a potato salad more, and I proudly cleaned my plate. Consider the hangover completely obliterated.
Full on BBQ, we then took a trip to Barton Springs, a naturally made local pool that had amazing views of the city. I wished I could teleport it to Pittsburgh for my own selfish pool needs. And in the middle of July, it was the perfect way to control both the heat sweats and meat sweats.
Our last dinner in Austin was up to us, in which we picked Kemuri Tatsu-ya. As I spent more time in Austin, the more time I spent asking the opinions and favorites of my followers that gladly and proudly wanted to help me navigate a city they had once eaten their way through. What I loved about Kemuri, besides the rare Japanese-meets-Texan-fusion, was the fact that everything was tapas-style and meant to be shared. The style was to order a few plates at a time and then pace yourself for every order after that based on your hunger level. I feel like that’s my kind of language. Our favorite dish by far were the “Hot Pocketz,” AKA a gouda & brisket-filled pastry served with pickled jalapenos.
With only spending less than three days in Austin (and stopping at In-N-Out before we hopped on our flight) I already can’t wait to go back. But what I forgot about along the way was that we truly planned nothing and went along with the pre-planned itinerary and added things as we continued to explore an unfamiliar city. Any fear we had for what our trip would be like was erased the second we bit our first taco; Whym may plan where you go and take time to plan out an itinerary for the whole trip, but when it comes down to it, you truly have full control over what you experience and how you do it.