Budget Adventures: How to Experience Houston for Under $500
Two of my favorite things in life are taking trips and not going broke. Sometimes it seems like those two desires are diametrically opposed, but where there is a will, there is a way. Years ago, when my husband and I had no kids and no mortgage, we added “tiny trips” to our travel budget, which we loosely defined as short excursions that we could take for under a $1000. We managed to keep up that tradition even after having kids, but now I’ve decided to push myself to see how many trips we can take for under $500.
For this Budget Adventures series, I’m starting with what I know – good old Houston, Texas. It’s a sprawling metropolis and the fourth largest city in the United States. There’s a saying here that “Houston is an hour away from Houston,” and believe me, you will not feel it more than during the evening rush hour. Houston is brimming with culture, history and a diverse culinary scene that has earned it the title of the “Culinary and Cultural Capital of The South.”
While it would be perfectly acceptable to fill a 3-day itinerary with food, drink and merriment, there’s plenty more to do here. I’ve created a sample itinerary that will give you a real taste of Houston (see what I did there?) without breaking the bank.
Now, before you come for me – and I know you will – this itinerary does not include your airfare/bus fare/train fare or broom maintenance fees to-and-from Houston. I have no idea whether you’re coming in from Austin or Australia. I can only speak about the things you can do once you’re actually in Houston.
Some of the links below may be affiliate links. This means that I may earn a small commission for any bookings made through these links, at no extra cost to you. It’s a way for freelance writers like me to support our humble little blogs.
Book Budget-Friendly Accommodation
Where to stay is potentially the most emotionally driven decision of any trip. It’s also where the bulk of your money will go, so I like to get this out of the way first. Before booking anything, decide on what level of comfort and privacy will keep you feeling secure on your trip. This is, after all, a vacation and not a torture trial-run.
Before booking any hotel, do a quick google search on the neighborhood’s safety ratings and proximity to your choice activities. In all things, I believe that having a sound home base is foundational in a joyful experience, so in this case, follow your instincts. That being said, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
For budget-conscious travelers, hostels are a great option. I know they’ve gotten a bad rep in slasher films and wary Boomers, but they’re an underrated, affordable and eco-friendly way to experience new places. Wanderstay Houston offers affordable dorm-style sleeping arrangements starting at $33 per night. Enjoy free Wi-Fi, a shared kitchen, and easy access to all Houston has to offer.
This is an especially great option if you are the outgoing type and thrive in social environments. Expect to meet a wide variety of travelers, from soloists, to backpackers, adventure-seekers, students, and digital nomads. You can use sites like Hostelword to find similar accommodations.
Short Term Rentals
If you prefer more privacy, browse Airbnb for private rooms or entire apartments. Prices can range from $40-$80 per night, depending on location and amenities.
If you’re traveling with a family or larger group and feel more comfortable having a whole home to yourselves, browse Vrbo to find spaces available at about $70 – $120 per night, again depending on location and amenities.
Hotels and Inns
If you want the hotel experience but still want to squeeze this vacation in under $500, check out hotels.com and filter for options like the Wyndham Hotels, Holiday Inn Express and LaQuinta.
Make Food a Priority
When it comes to food options, you will not be left wanting in Houston. The city’s vast array of budget-friendly dining options showcases flavors from every continent, right in the heart of Texas. From authentic Tex-Mex and smoky Southern BBQ to aromatic Indian curries and sizzling Asian street food, Houston’s affordable eateries allow you to indulge in a culinary adventure spanning the globe.
Houston’s food truck scene is thriving, offering an array of affordable and delicious options.
Seriously, it’s a big thing here. Food is just better when it comes out of a truck, I can’t explain it. Thrillist wrote an article on The Best Foodtrucks in Houston and Where to Find Them , but you can also use the Streetfood Finder App to
stalk track down they trucks that catch your fancy.
My personal recommendations: Enjoy Tex-Mex at Tacos Tierra Caliente, Vietnamese cuisine at Oh My Gogi!, and gourmet hot dogs at Good Dog Houston. Most food trucks offer meals for under $10.
Visit Bellaire Boulevard for a diverse selection of affordable Asian cuisine. With dishes priced between $5-$15, you can sample Vietnamese pho, Chinese dumplings, and Japanese ramen without making much of a dent in your budget.
Select Immersive Activities
Houston has more budget-friendly activities available than I can put into one blog post. From guided ghost tours and dinner cruises, to aquarium visits and public parks, there’s something for everyone to get into.
Houston Museum District:
Houston is home to numerous museums, many of which offer free admission at certain times or with a Bank of America credit card. The Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Menil Collection are just a few examples. Allocate $20 for special exhibits and donations.
Buffalo Bayou Park:
This beautiful 160-acre park is free to the public and perfect for a leisurely stroll or bike ride. You’ll spot lots of runners, picnic-goers and performers unapologetically taking up space. Be sure to join in the fun. Rent a B-Cycle for $3 per 30 minutes, and explore the park’s trails, public art installations, and the scenic Buffalo Bayou.
Space Center Houston:
As the official visitor center of NASA Johnson Space Center, this attraction is a must-visit. General admission is $29.95 for adults, and you’ll have the opportunity to see spacecraft, astronaut training facilities, and even a Saturn V rocket. While the entry price is low, the cost of food and souvenirs once inside will blow your budget in the blink of an eye. Be sure to arrive with a full belly and avert your gaze as you walk past the gift shops.
Houston boasts a thriving craft beer scene, with many breweries offering free or low-cost tours. Saint Arnold Brewing Company, 8th Wonder Brewery, and Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company are popular choices, with tours typically costing between $10-$15. I would add a bit more to the budget for tastings and trophies, though. They’re hard to resist once you get there.
This 12-acre park in downtown Houston offers free events, including concerts, movie nights, and fitness classes. Check their event calendar for the latest happenings and enjoy a fun, budget-friendly evening. Don’t forget your bug-spray though. Houston mosquitoes enjoy al fresco dining a little too much in the summer and fall.
Save a Little Extra for Transportation
Ok, sounds good on paper, right? What’s the catch? Well, remember what I said about Houston being a sprawling city? There’s going to be a transportation cost to factor in. If you’re staying in the Houston Metro area, consider using public transportation during your stay, as the METRORail and local buses offer affordable and convenient options. Purchase a METRO Day Pass for $3, giving you unlimited rides for 24 hours.
Houston’s many suburbs are not exactly known for easy access to public transportation, so the further out you stay from the city, the more likely you are to have to pay for taxis, and shared rides. Those costs tend to vary wildly depending on what time of day you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B.
Because I like to make things easy, I’ve created a sample itinerary to help you take in the sights and tastes of Houston for under $500, as promised.
Sample Itinerary for Two Travelers:
Arrive in Houston and check into your chosen accommodation ($70 – $230)
Explore Buffalo Bayou Park with a B-Cycle rental ($6 – $18)
Dinner at a food truck ($20 – $30)
Visit the Museum District ($40)
Lunch in Chinatown ($20 – $30)
Space Center Houston ($60)
Dinner at a food truck ($15 – $30)
Brewery tour ($30)
Lunch in Chinatown ($20-30)
Explore Discovery Green
Dinner at a food truck ($20 – 30)
Total: $301 – $528. Hey, I tried! If you find yourself on the lower end of the budget, there’s lots of wiggle room for additional meals, souvenirs and explorations. Squeeze in the Houston Zoo, a show at the Theater District, or a Houston Dynamo’s soccer match to really fill up your time in town.
And that’s it! And easy weekend trip that hopefully won’t break the bank. Share this with someone who’s looking for a quick getaway, and be sure to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the travel guides I have lined up!
This May I’ll be talking about family friendly travel and how to stay safe while away from home. I’ll also be updating my site with some travel resources to help you travel smarter.
Leave a comment below and let me know what you thought of this article! Are there any cities you’d like to have me create itineraries for?
Hey there! I am...
A homebody with wanderlust striving to balance the thrill of travel with the comfort of home. On the road, I am a photographer and storyteller. At home, I am an interior designer and personal servant to my two kids. In all cases, I seek out good food and belly laughs.
If you're looking for ways to tap into your spirit of adventure - with or without a suitcase - you've come to the right place!