Living in a “Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn” in Houston

We’ve been living in short-term rentals for the past 6+ months in Austin, Tx to experience living a little more adventurously. This week-trip took us to Houston, but instead of living in a home, we got cozy in a hotel.

I’ve lived in Texas for most of the past 17 years. I explore the heck out of the Austin area, plus everything in a day-trip radius. And I do mean explore; most weekends have incorporated some form of driving until we find something cool.

When Cary and I decided we were going to spend a week in Houston during the week of SXSW (we needed to for his work, and let’s be honest, the prices for short-term rentals are off the charts in Austin during SX), I begrudgingly started having the typical attitude about Houston: you know, the sarcastic, “can’t wait!” Yeah, I probably said, “Aren’t you jealous; I’m leaving Austin during SX to live in Houston. Awesome.”

At some point during my sarcastic comments, I realized something: I actually don’t KNOW Houston. In 17 years, I’ve driven thru Houston from Austin to Tampa (school) 4 times a year for 4 years, I’ve been to a Jimmy Buffett concert, maybe two baseball games (that I should note were in the same stadium as the Buffett concert), a day trip once in college to¬†a museum, and maybe some passing thru the outskirts to hit the beautiful Texas coast (insert more sarcasm). I don’t really KNOW Houston!!!

So started my determination: I’m finding something cool in this town and actually learning what’s in the big backyard of Austin. No one said I had to come back after this. ūüėČ

HERE’S WHAT I DISCOVERED IN A WEEK: Keep in mind that I was working the entire time, so limited exploring existed:

Hotel Zaza: We weren’t able to find a lot of great short-term home rentals for the week, so Hotel Zaza it was. Darn. For me this was especially exciting: for the past 8 months or so, I have been boutique hotel researching. This is a hotel that pops up in conversations a lot from the boutique hotel world, but I’d never been. This week was one of the best visionary weeks for me this year: a hotel vision I’ve had for a while started to come to more clarity. Awesome blossom!¬†Sitting out and working by the poolside wasn’t too bad either. It was a good reminder of how thankful I am for the job I’ve created that can be done anywhere in the world with good internet.

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Alligators DO exist: I had heard rumors, but when I asked our friends who lived here, I got a response of, “nope. Not true.” Challenge excepted. We had to go :45 min out of downtown, but low and behold, alligators we found! [For those of you wanting to check out the park, it’s called Brazos Bend State Park]

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The city has a big fat green thumb: I always thought Austin was the oasis of Texas when it comes to trees. I was surprised by all the beautiful BIG trees everywhere and lush gardens! I’m not sure why, but I really remembered Houston like Dallas: flat, dry, and bla. It’s actually only two of those things.

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A mini Central Park: I was in the hotel room working on the first day after we arrived there. I had no idea what was in the area, so as lunch time approached, I used Yelp Near Me future to see what was good. Turns out only a few pins popped up in walking distance: one of them was in the middle of this massive green blog. A PARK! A restaurant in the middle of a PARK! This is my kind of Monday lunch break. photo 2 (6)

It turns out the hotel was right near Memorial Park, a 1500 acre beauty in the city. The weather was perfect, the sun was shining, and everyone seemed to be out with their kids enjoying the day. I sat under beautiful trees and ate my lunch, watching the smiling world go by.Memorial Park _ 3.jpg

During this LifeVenture experience, that is the single thing I keep noticing being different than before: I notice the green in the trees and how often people smile.

While I have no desire to live in Houston longterm, I do have more appreciation for it. It does make me wonder….what else have I brushed off in life or rolled my eyes about, that perhaps I didn’t have any justification for rolling my eyes at.¬†

After a short trip to visit my family in California, we were back to Austin for a month and half. I can’t wait to share that story with you next: bugs falling from the ceiling on my head at night and my house turned into a construction zone with no warning.

Home #10: Welcome to the Jungle … And a Barn


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When I saw a barn pop up on our Airbnb searches, I knew we had to stay here. I mean, come on, I did grow up on a farm (kind of); it would feel like home!

Plus, this #LifeVenture is all about finding unique experiences and a barn is definitely that.

LOCATION:
Zilker area off South Lamar.

LENGTH:
5 days. We would have stayed longer, but SXSW was a-knocking; we had to hightail it out of town since vacation rentals recoup a large portion of their expenses in those 10 days. Aka: expensive.

HIGHLIGHTS:
Let the light shine down: There were¬†very large windows on all sides of the house, letting in so much light during the morning, afternoon and evening. I grew up in Washington state where light was cherished. I think I still live with the mentality of “enjoy it while it lasts,” so having sun rays all day made it happy in the barnyard.

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The master bedroom had a wall-to-wall window that looked into a yard surrounded by bamboo.  One night we watched a family of bandits (raccoons) play in the trees for about an hour. They looked kind of like little monkeys. It was almost like we were in Costa Rica (ish)! Or at least our own little zoo.

This window also came in handy for Austin’s ¬†“ThunderSleet” storm at the beginning of March – surely to go down in the books as one of the most bizarre weather events in our city. 2 days of 70s and 80s and then a drop to 24 the next night, creating thunder….and sleet.

Barn home.pngGreen, green, green: This property was mostly surrounded by bamboo and trees – pretty amazing when you’re in the middle of a city. It was so peaceful, which was pretty important considering we had just moved everything and were staying for 5 days to go to Houston for a week, then on a short trip, then back to Austin. Needless to say, that peace kept me somewhat sane.

Barn home 2.jpgRoom decor – room for improvement: While some rooms (like the kitchen below) were super well remodeled, it was obvious other pieces of furniture were after thoughts – probably extra items the owners had. Like the rickety dining room table and dorm room-like 2nd bedroom decor. Overall, it definitely met the standard and was completely fine; it just could have been amazing with a little more designer love.

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 6.14.21 PMLike our old home: The kitchen was almost identical to our old kitchen in material (at the house we rented for a couple years). I think I cooked one egg for breakfast and that was the extend of my cooking for those 5 days, but that was one damn good egg.

Overall, this is absolutely a house we’d like to come back and stay for a month (with kitty – she would love the sun)! However, they were pretty booked up, so who knows if we’ll get that chance. Plus, there are so many other awesome looking places that we have to still explore.

-Cierra

Even Tinier Home # 9: The best yet! West 6th – Clarksville

I’ve never been much of a city gal. I like being near one and to take advantage of its culture, but I like grass, greenery, and seeing the horizon. So living downtown where parking blows, traffic gridlocks all day, and cement is the only thing that ever touches my shoes, wasn’t really something I sought out.

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Our mini house – To the left is the kitchen and bathroom, to the right the other half of the living room. We’re talking mini!

Now, give me the opportunity to live right on the outskirts – gaining benefits from both sides (neighborhood and city), you’ll find me with my bags already packed. Then again, I somewhat live out of a suitcase so my bags aren’t far from being already packed anyways.

LOCATION:
I’ve had my eyes on Clarksville for years. It’s a historic neighborhood on a hill with cute, relatively modest homes, and is less than a mile away from the bustling downtown. White picket fences still exist here. Even Austin’s original pharmacy and fountain shop is still taking orders. We found an adorable apt studio 1/2 block West 6th street on Blanco.

When I say studio..I’m talkin’ 400 sq ft. It’s amazing how, when a layout is designed well with cubby holes and lots of built-in cabinets, we don’t need a lot of space.

LENGTH:
1 month – extended another 2 weeks because we weren’t ready to give it up. We probably would have stayed longer if it was big enough for Kitty and SXSW didn’t raise prices for vacation rentals 3 fold in Austin. This is the longest we’ve stayed in a home since August 20th.

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Everyday I loved walking past Clark’s Oyster Bar: on sunny days with people sitting outside and enjoying themselves, it felt like the ocean should be steps away.

HIGHLIGHTS:
Walking everywhere, everyday:¬†I could walk to Whole Foods in 5 min. flat. Yes, I timed it. Rounders Pizza: 3 min. Tacos & Tequilas: 8 min. 24 Diner: 5 min. Counter Cafe: 6 min. A big park: 3 min. Sweetish Hill Bakery: less than a min. Clark’s Oyster: :30 seconds. SECONDS. I kid you not. This got me active and enjoying our 75 degree weather (or 27 degree weather dependent on the day).

Cozy: I felt super cozy and safe every time I stepped into our house. Everything was high quality – from the pillows to the throw blankets, soft and comfortable was the trend. Almost every light had a dimming feature. While studying hotels, I’ve been consistently hearing, “put $ into lighting because it changes the entire feel.” I now know first hand how that can make you feel.

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Here’s the grand tour…stand in one spot, spin around, annnnd grand tour over.

Like a hotel: We arrived to a bottle of wine, a welcome note, a personalized “in the neighborhood guide,” books on Austin, shampoo and conditioner toiletries, and paper pads with the home address stamped on them: it was little touches, but made it feel like we were on vacation in Austin. Strangely enough, those little touches gave me more appreciation for this town through the eyes of a tourist.

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Austin coasters – A neighborhood guide – A welcome note, complimentary wine, and a “honor” stash of liquor

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Alta’s Cafe on Town Lake

More walking:¬†Instead of just walking to bars and restaurants, we set out one Saturday to walk across town. We ended up at Mueller BBQ way on East 7th and Pleasant Valley (that is the same distance as walking from Mopac to 1-35 in downtown Austin), stopped at the new Alta’s cafe on the water and walked the Hike & Bike trail back. Another day we walked to Peter Pan golf! Another day to I-35 on the trail.

One very early morning, we woke up to cheer on Austin Marathon runners at the start line. We walked to the Capitol and found it smothered in fog. I’ve never been to a marathon, and I honestly wouldn’t have driven there and dealt with parking. But, it was a 15 minute walk, and it sounded like a cool, different experience. I’ll be honest, I kinda teared up at how amazing it was to see thousands upon thousands of people, of all different sizes and ages, pushing themselves ¬†to reach a goal.

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Austin Marathon – 7 am with fog engulfing the Texas Capitol

You really do see things in a different way when you walk: I think it’s easier to appreciate the details. Home # 9 stands as the one that really made me start taking notice of the day-to-day beauty in things. The joy that comes from simply smiling at people instead of looking away when you pass them on the sidewalk. Waiting that extra 2 seconds to hold the door open for someone. The beautiful sound of a small water fountain in someone’s yard. The laughing and clinking of glasses at a restaurant…even if you’re not¬†at the table.

This house experience seemed to be a turning point in how I move through my days and appreciate the little things: that’s one ah-ha I plan to always remember.

Onward to our next LifeVenture,
Cierra

Adaptation

This lifestyle has been so eye-opening to the way we, as humans, are wired. I wasn’t set out to learn about myself in this process: really, I wanted to live more in the moment¬†and bring more fun into my life, but I honestly didn’t think much about it being a “learning lesson.”

My "suitcase closet" - My aunt gave me this hanging drawer that easily fits into my suitcase for easy moving.

My “suitcase closet” – My aunt gave me this hanging drawer that easily fits into my suitcase for easy moving.

It took me until the 5th move (about 3 months in) to realize this: no matter the house and neighborhood, within about 2 hours, it started feeling similar to “home.” It didn’t have my furniture I adore; it didn’t have my framed photos I meticulously arranged on every wall; it didn’t even have my precious kitty whom I love, love, love. But it had us.

But during this particular move, I realized it wasn’t just that we had each other. It was that we were adapting to each situation together. Where we hung our jackets, put our keys, and drove home, quickly became habit.

This realization of adaption hit me hard in one funny moment of us moving into this house. I had been craving a closet to hang up my¬†clothes – all of these homes had closets, but we weren’t staying long enough to unpack everything to only repack a week later. So, we get to our new MONTH rental home (the longest in this crazy living experience) and we each have our OWN closet. Excitedly, I began unpacking right away. After about 5 minutes, I noticed I was apprehensive about something…even a little sad. There was this pull to stop unpacking and keep everything right where it was. For almost four months, it had a place after all.

I soon realized I didn’t want to unpack because I had to change! How could I uproot this process I’ve created?! After us having a good laugh about the situation, I decided on a combination of keeping some clothes in the suitcase and hanging some.

Such a silly, small example, but it really opened my eyes to how quickly change can become habit.

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I am now getting a different desire to try more things a little out of my comfort zone and see how quickly it becomes familiar. Even small stuff: driving a different way to the office a few times a week or saying “yes” to a party invite where you will not know anyone. Sometimes these uncomfortable situations allow us to experience something quite comfortable … Once we just try it.¬†

I even tried jogging Town Lake! I’ve always felt like runners were in a secret club – you know, a club where they actually like to run,and that I must be doing it wrong because I look like a complete dork. Because we are living across the road from the lake, I decided I should try out this new revelation of getting out of my comfort zone in the running department: I jogged and walked from Deep Eddy pool around to the Lamar Pedestrian Bridge, past my old High School and back to Deep Eddy again. ¬†I actually…. ¬†(Insert gasp) …enjoyed it. I am totally in the club now.¬†

I’d like to think that I’m unique and “boldly going” with our living experience, but I am pretty convinced at this point I’m simply rolling with tide. If I can share anything about this adventure so far, which might be useful to others, is that we humans are pretty damn adaptable.

Getting out of a comfort zone isn’t nearly as terrifying as it seems.

-Cierra

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My run led me to one heck of a view.

Related: Read the other blogs from our LifeVenture.