As the borders are slowly opening up and the countries are slowly awakening, we definitely have some serious ants in our pants. We are looking at 2021 to be the year we achieve everything we couldn’t in 2020 plus everything we always wanted to achieve in 2021. So, no pressure – but the pressure is on, and our travel list is longer than a shopaholic’s receipt from Zara (please, replace with any location-appropriate clothing warehouse).
The complication is, it’s no longer solo travel. We are now traveling as a party of two, with my daughter, a.k.a. best fashion illustrator ever, joining the party (pan intended) to assist with documenting the journey. Add in the aftermath of the 2020 – and the consideration “value for money” becomes ever so valuable.
Making our January trip to Houston (TX), albeit a short leap from the Utah home, was a bit of a proof to ourselves that we can travel in 2021, and also a bit of an experiment in budget travel with a mission (if you do not know about our mission, please, please, read about it! It’s really important to us). This post is not about the sightseeing in Houston, although we will talk about it. This post is more about us sharing our experiences traveling in the post-COVID-19 world and hopefully encouraging some of you to travel or travel more.
Mind your quarantine
Yep, this is still important. Sorry, Houston, but you were not our first choice. Our original plan was to spend the weekend in Chicago, and get infused with the magnificent vibe of the Windy City. Yet, Chicago at the time imposed very strict regulations in the travelers. We did not feel we could fully appreciate the city vibe from a hotel window. So, Houston it was. Surely, as the time and vaccine make their rounds, some of the regulations will no longer apply. But for the time being – do check the COVID-19-related regulations at your destination, whether traveling domestically or internationally.
Photos (left to right): Houston Downtown Aquarium, Promo of the Breakfast Klub, Downtown Houston at night
The deals will make you sweat
Or rather, you will sweat looking for the deals because finding low prices for good hotels (reputable, in the right location, with WiFi and breakfast) does take time and patience; same goes for the deals on flights. We did learn about a few useful resources from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram: skyscanner.com, google.com/flights, theflightdeal.com, etc. Even with those, you have to compare not just prices but also the number of stops a flight makes between points A and B, the amount of luggage you can take (that’s a whole different story), whether or not you have to leave the airport and check-in again at any of the stops. The potential catches are a-many. We ended up using skyscanner.com for both the hotel and the flights, and managed to save over $700 against the prices quoted by expedia.com for the same trip – not a bad win for a day’s work.
Can’t take this
We promised you a story about the luggage, so here it is – we were only allowed to take 1 backpack per person on our flight, 7kg per backpack. No check-in bags, no carry-ons – both of those would bring our costs up by $200 per person. We had to get creative with our outfits. I can’t say, I carry my entire wardrobe with me when I travel, but I do like to have choices. Choices are healthy. So, we each traveled with 4 outfits and a small pouch of makeup and cosmetics essentials. We later agreed that having 1 outfit on and 2 in a backpack would also have been ok. I do have to confess though that traveling with a backpack reminded me of being in primary school – that was the last time I carried a backpack. But hey, new times require a new perspective.
Photo: Mural in Downtown Houston
Can’t stop me now
Flights and the hotel are not the only costs you can find deals for. We do recommend exploring any offers a city might have for popular tourist attractions as well as for restaurants. We used a city-pass in Istanbul, and it did encourage us to visit all of the most important attractions and even more because of the discounts widely available to the city-pass holders. Turned out, there was a similar city-pass in Houston, which allowed us to attend 5 city attractions for the price of 3 (can’t beat that!), and had money left to pay for attending several off-beaten-path experimental tours. Among the popular attractions, our favorites were Houston Museum of Natural Science and Space Center Houston. Added value – Houston Museum of Natural Science has a beautiful museum shop filled with artifacts from all over the world; it’s almost a small museum within a museum.
Photos (left to right): Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston Museum District, the Water Park
Research is a must
Any city can be boring if you do not know what to do there and where to go, and any city can be much fun if you do. Once we decided that Houston was our destination, we went online and scanned through TripAdvisor, Instagram, Facebook, Google, YouTube and any other available resource to find those special corners of Houston that we wanted to visit during our short landing. Many of the dining options we picked were not available due to COVID-19, but our graffiti tour was an absolute delight – it was a 2-hour lesson in the history of Houston and Houston art with many curiosities along the way (see our iInstagram for details). It was definitely worth the time we spent finding this tour.
Photo: Andy Warhol mural
Interestingly, the most difficult part of our research was finding local creatives. A 3-hour search of Instagram only delivered one contact - @casualcaratsjewelry (see our Instagram for details). The second contact -- @daochloedao (see our Instagram for details) – we discovered by chance just because we asked our graffiti guides about local designers in a by-the-way manner. Once we had a chance to talk to the founder of @casualcaratsjewelry, she of course knew about the times and places local creatives were getting together, which means – yes, creatives do tend to know each other, but they are not necessarily known to the public. If you want to find local creatives, all you need is time, patience and persistence – we surely were glad we had all three.
Throughout our travels, we generally find that people take pride in their countries, their cities, and their neighborhoods. We for sure take a lot of pride in the three countries we call our homes (at least part time). There is nothing better for a local person than a genuine interest of a “nonlocal” (in all the different meanings of the word) in their country and city. We genuinely wanted to see Houston through the eyes of its residents, so we challenged ourselves to approach strangers, ask questions and listen to their stories. And we saw Houston through their eyes, and loved it through their hearts. That made all the difference.
Photos (left to right): Casual Carats Jewelry, Houston Zoo, Chloe Dao boutique
For now, this is all, folks! We hope you learned something new from our little experience. We will share more as our journey through the post-COVID-19 world continues.
P.S. Here are just a few tips if you are ever in Houston:
- Have breakfast at the Breakfast Klub (enjoy the murals on the side of the building)
- Buy the City Pass
- Visit Houston Museum of Natural Science
- Get lunch at Monarch restaurant at hotel Zaza (next door to the Museum)
- Go on a graffiti tour
- Visit Sawyer Yards, a working artist community in the historic First Ward and Arts District Houston
- Buy a safe-sip mask at Chloe Dao boutique
- Add on some casual carats at Almaza shop in Rice Village
- While at it, visit Rice Village Sunday farmers market
- Have fun