I had a brilliant plan. This is how most of our misadventures begin. After hearing that an estimated 65,000 people attended opening night of the Trail of Lights on Sunday, backing up traffic for hours, I probably should have said, “Woah, maybe we will skip it this year.” But instead, I saw it as a challenge. I was certain I could find a clever way to avoid the traffic and the crowds. So, I took the kids last night. All four of them. By myself. We parked really far away. And I forgot the stroller. It’s sounding like a good plan already, right?
Well, it was, kind of. Except for the forgotten stroller part. And possibly the part where I thought I could skip across town at 6 p.m. and not get caught in rush hour traffic. Oh, and maybe even the going on a school night part. But! It really was a lot of fun. The kids loved it, I loved it, and it was worth the effort in the end.
The City of Austin has temporarily banned public gatherings. Please stay home. The Free Fun in Austin calendar is only for live digital events at this time.
First, let me share the few things I did right, and then I’ll tell you what I should have done, so you can make your own foolproof plan:
- We parked for free in a lot under the MoPac bridge on Veteran’s Drive, which faces the pedestrian bridge to the Hike and Bike Trail. (Other parking options include: parking at Austin High for $5, parking on Veteran’s Drive for free, or parking onsite for $10. You can find the official parking info here.) The reason I avoided parking onsite was that the last time we went to the Trail of Lights, a few years ago, we had to wait in line for nearly an hour to park. The trade off for parking for free was that our walk to the trail was longer. This is where that stroller would have come in handy.
- We arrived close to the 6:30 p.m. start time. My goal was actually to be there half an hour before the trail opened, but that didn’t quite work out thanks to rush hour traffic (and possibly because I tried to take two “shortcuts”). We walked the whole trail twice and the crowd was much thinner earlier in the evening. By 8:30 p.m. the trail was pretty packed.
- We went on a weekday. I’m sure the crowds will be heavier this weekend.
And now, here are some things I wish I had thought of earlier:
- Bring a stroller! Have I mentioned that enough times? My 4 1/2 year old never uses a stroller anymore, but we spent about 2 hours walking, past his bedtime, and he was pooped.
- If you don’t need a stroller, bring a bag or backpack to carry your child’s free book! H-E-B is giving away awesome books for all reading levels, from baby through teen. You don’t want to miss these free gifts, which are distributed toward the end of the trail. But you don’t want to get stuck lugging them around with no bag either.
- Take along some snacks and drinks. I didn’t because we had just eaten dinner, but the lure of two fabulous eating areas along the trail, lined with food trailers selling hot chocolate, funnel cake, kettle corn and barbecue, is irresistible. I bought my kids one $2 treat each, but they wanted much, much more!
- Think about swinging by your local dollar store and stocking up on glow-in-the-dark necklaces and wands. They are available for sale onsite, but you could save a lot by brining your own.
- Bring flashlights. It gets dark early and the trail is not lit.
- Dress your kids in light colored or distinctive clothing. My boys were all in dark colors, which made them awfully hard to keep track of.
- B.Y.O.Purrell. There are port-o-potties at each of the two eating areas, but few of them had any hand sanitizer left last night.
- Stash some winter accessories in your bag, just in case. We were in t-shirts when we arrived but the boys were in mittens and hoodies for the walk back to the car.
- Bring your patience. There will be a lot of people there. Because, well, it is pretty darn cool. Well done, RunTex!