I've lived in New York for three years and in New England for the majority of my life before that.
I recently visited Austin and Waco, and I was surprised by my misconceptions about both places.
When touring Austin apartments, I was surprised to see just how much I could get for my money compared to NYC.
I grew up in New England and moved to New York City three years ago. I recently visited Texas for the first time.
During my trip, I spent the majority of my time in Austin. I was surprised that, despite it being a major city like New York, there were big differences between the two in terms of their culture, food scenes, and way of life. I spent five days checking out Austin's local food spots, touring apartments, and getting to know the city as well as I could in such a short period of time.
I also spent two days in Waco, Texas, a much smaller city with a small-town feel. Waco is located two hours north of Austin and has been made even more famous by the HGTV show "Fixer Upper," starring Chip and Joanna Gaines.
Texas is one of the largest states so visiting two cities over a week definitely isn't enough time to get a feel for Texan culture as a whole. However, there were a few things I noticed during my time in Austin and Waco that I thought were quite different from New York.
Here are nine things that surprised me.
I'm used to taking the subway to get around New York City, but Austin locals appear to mainly rely on cars and scooters to get from place to place.
In New York City, I mainly get around by walking or taking the subway. However, when I arrived in Austin sans car, I realized I would mainly have to rely on Uber to travel around the city.
Austin is a city of major highways, so having a car is practically a must. However, when I arrived in busier areas of Austin, I noticed a lot of people, including corporate professionals, riding around on motorized scooters.
Biking or utilizing Citi Bikes in New York City is definitely how a lot of New Yorkers get around, but scootering isn't nearly as popular. This was one thing that really surprised me about the local Austin culture.
I was also surprised by the amount of traffic on the roads in Austin — it took a while to travel from one end of the city to the other, especially during rush hour.
While traveling from my hotel in south Austin to other areas, I noticed that driving can take a while. While I can get from my apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, to midtown Manhattan in about half an hour by subway, it could often take longer to get around Austin by car if I was traveling during peak rush hour.
The highways can also get very congested, and I sat in traffic on more than a few occasions during my five-day trip.
Food trucks are a huge part of the Austin foodie scene.
Some of the best food spots in Austin are actually food trucks, I learned after arriving in the city and speaking to a few locals. I tried the Cosmic Taco food truck, which is found in a lot on E 11th with a few other food trucks and places to sit and eat your food.
I was impressed by the variety of food options I found at food trucks all across the city, from vegan food to barbecue and sweet treats.
Tex-Mex food really is all it's cracked up to be.
When I wasn't trying Austin's famous local barbecue or regional fast-food joints, I made sure to try as much Mexican and Tex-Mex food as possible during my time in the city. I found that even the most humble-looking of establishments had the best food, from tacos, queso, and homemade guacamole to margaritas.
While I definitely didn't get to try as much Tex-Mex food as I would have liked, every place I did try impressed me — and definitely beat out most of the Mexican food I've had in New York.
Getting out into nature seems to be a bigger part of city life than it is in New York, and the access to nature is better, too.
The closest thing you'll get to nature in New York City is its two main parks, Central Park and Prospect Park, or a trip out to the beach at Coney Island. However, getting out in nature is a big part of Austin's culture.
An apartment I visited was located right on the edge of the Colorado River and residents have the opportunity to kayak, walk along the trail, or simply look out at the water from their apartments. Having a water view in New York City is really unattainable, but it was more accessible in Austin.
Apartments in Austin were much larger and affordable compared to one-bedroom apartments in New York City.
While I anticipated that one-bedroom apartments in Austin would be cheaper than similarly sized apartments in New York, I was surprised by just how much larger they were, the amenities residents have access to, and the fact that I would actually be able to afford an apartment there.
I toured four one-bedroom apartments in desirable parts of Austin during my stay. They cost around $2,000 a month, with one costing as low as $1,728. The apartments had luxury amenities like pools, gyms, and large floor plans that made me question why I live in New York City.
One apartment even had a roof deck that overlooked the entire Austin skyline – to find something similar in New York City, I'd have to pay a lot more than I currently do.
There are tons of vintage pop-up markets and stores located around the city.
No matter which area I traveled to in Austin, I found cute vintage stores and pop-up markets practically at every turn. From eclectic costume stores like Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds to more streamlined vintage shops like Full Circle Vintage, there were tons of options for secondhand shopping.
Despite Austin being in a red state, I noticed a lot of pride flags and support for Black Lives Matter across the city.
Even though Austin is located in a majority Republican state, I did notice some more progressive symbols across the city. A vintage store I visited near downtown Austin had a large Black Lives Matter mural in the window, while pride flags were found outside multiple bars I visited while I was there.
The topic of the recent abortion legislation in Texas came up in a few conversations I had during my trip, which fell in October, and a majority of the people I spoke with didn't agree with the laws that their own state had passed.
However, this probably shouldn't have surprised me. After all, Austin is typically regarded as a "blue city," and 71.4% of the population of Travis County, where Austin is located, voted Democrat in the last presidential election.
Waco, which was only a two-hour bus ride from Austin, showed there's so much more to Texas than just city life.
While Austin was bustling and chock-full of things to do and see, Waco, Texas, definitely had a slower pace. Despite being there during the Magnolia Market Silobration, one of the busiest times of the year, it still felt like I was in a small town.
When speaking with locals and the vendors at the festival, I couldn't help but notice how friendly everyone was, especially compared to the notorious aloofness of New Yorkers. After arriving at the festival just before closing, suitcase in hand, multiple people stopped me to ask me where I was coming from, just to spark a conversation. I've definitely never experienced that kind of friendliness while traveling around New York.
Exploring Waco was a different experience than being in Austin or New York, a reminder that there's so much more to Texas than what I was able to experience during my short trip. I can't wait for my next venture westward, where I'll hopefully be able to explore even more of Texas, eat more mouthwatering barbecue, and chat with more friendly locals.
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