Booked: A Texas Road Trip to Austin & Big Bend National Park

I don’t post industry news – and as most of the world remains closed to Americans, I’ve withdrawn inward. Instead of planes, I’ve found solace in my car during the pandemic. My last trip was to Arkansas, and that was back in July.

I’ve been mostly shut-in, but am venturing out again, feeling more empowered and eager to explore. A wandering soul needs to wander.

My next trip is to Big Bend National Park via Austin at the end of this month. Two nights in Austin at the Hyatt Place Austin-North Central, then three nights in Terlingua, TX at this cute Airbnb cabin outside the entrance to Big Bend. Then back to Dallas through Midland and Abilene.

texas road trip 2020

The lil cabin I booked in Terlingua, TX

I used Hyatt points and a free night credit from my Chase World of Hyatt card for the two nights in Austin, so they were completely free. And paid for the Airbnb with my Chase Freedom Flex via PayPal, which is a 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points category in Q4 2020.

a screenshot of a receipt

That Freedom Flex is a beast, I’m tellin’ ya

The only expenses I’ll have on the trip are gas, food, and pet fees at the Hyatt hotel. I’ve been wanting to visit Big Bend for as long as I’ve lived in Texas.

I took election week off to spend in nature and take a break from all the media and craziness. Coincidentally, I’ll be in Big Bend for Day of the Dead this year.

Texas road trip 2020

It’s also sort of my goodbye to Texas. My lease expires in February 2021 and I don’t plan to renew it. I don’t know where I’ll go, but I think I’m done here. I have no idea what that means for my FIRE journey, but I’ll figure it out. A wandering soul needs to wander.

I also want to get to Palo Duro Canyon in my final months in Dallas and by extension, Texas.

To jumpstart my travels (which will probably be domestic), I got an America the Beautiful Parks Pass, which, for only $80, gets you access to every national park and many state parks across the country for a full year. It costs $30 to access Big Bend for one week. So I figured I’d rather have full access to every park – using it two or three times would fully cover the cost. Plus when you buy from REI, they’ll donate 10% to the National Park Foundation.

a green and red card on a windshield

Can’t wait to break in this bad boy

Like many, I’m turning to outdoor exploration to satisfy my travel whims. And relying on my car to get me around. Good ol’ Nissan Versa Note.


In a broader sense, reflecting on lots of stuff and wondering what it is I really want to do with this one wild and precious life. I’ve been looking for my why. It’s a big ask!

This will be mental fodder as I drive for hours and hours.

texas road trip 2020

A road trip the size of Texas 🤠

And I’ll let my Inner Child play at Big Bend. I’m been doing a lot of work to re-parent myself this year and my Inner Child wants to play and be outside. So I’m going to give it to him. He really is so simple and sweet. The process of becoming my own “father” has been illuminating.

And being a new dad has been a really cool experience. My bio-son is currently ~15 months old and it’s been powerful to envision the world as he sees it. There’s been so much to process and think about – all of it good stuff! Very good, actually.

What does travel look like going forward?

I mean, for real. And that’s just one of the questions I have.

  • When can we fly internationally again?
  • Is tourism worth it during Covid?
  • Will our travels be mostly domestic for the time being?

And then, of course, how long will Covid last?

All of this uncertainty.

And what about cards and points?

I’m still collecting points on my purchases, but haven’t opened any new cards (I might even be 0/24 at this point!). I don’t want to open cards with annual fees (which have the best offers) to have access to travel benefits I won’t use.

I’ve always been earn and burn, but the “burn” part of the equation is missing now. Where can we go?

I have my eye on the refreshed Chase Sapphire Preferred 80K offer (which ends November 8, 2020), the Amex Gold 60K offer, and the Capital One Venture Rewards 100K offer.

a card with numbers and text

Do I need more points right now? Hmmmz

But all of those cards have annual fees. And I’m not spending as much as I normally do because I’m focused on saving cash and not booking (m)any trips right now. I’m torn between getting in on these fantastic offers and just waiting it out. I miss traveling so much.

All that said, yes, I am still maximizing bonus categories as much as I can within my current card collection. In particular, my Amex Blue Business Plus (which earns 2X Amex Membership Rewards points on up to $50,000 in purchases per calendar year with no annual fee) has been getting a workout. I love that little card so much. It normally doesn’t have a welcome offer, but you can earn 10,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months by using my referral link.

Bottom line

Last time I traveled, I wasn’t sure about the resort town experience. Up next, I’ll stay in an Airbnb wayyyy out in Terlingua, TX near Big Bend National Park. I sense a lot more outdoor travel in the future, so snagged an America the Beautiful Parks Pass for only $80 which is a screaming good deal. I highly encourage you to check it out! 🌵

This is my first trip in a season as I’m slowly warming up to more travel and finding my (domestic, for now) groove again and questioning the general future of travel (especially long-haul, international travel).

And my card collection? Scant. I can’t decide whether to get in on the great deals going on now or wait until travel is more widely open. Mostly, I don’t want to pay the annual fees because I’m cheap and would rather save cash right now than earn points toward hypothetical trips (I mean, they’re ALL hypothetical but right now they also aren’t possible, le sigh).

So what about you? Are you discovering America? Are you traveling? Are you getting new cards? Does your wandering soul need to wander?

Follow me on Instagram where I’ll be posting photo updates from the trip to Austin and Big Bend!

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Memphis, traveling, and working toward financial independence.

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  1. Totally jealous of your trip! Surprised you are moving out of state. Going to miss the meet ups although its been hard to have one with these circumstances! Looking forward to a trip report!

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