It's always nice to get something for free. In Houston, there are several different sights you can enjoy for free while attending the NAFSA 2012 Annual Conference. Take a break from the conference and enjoy a podcast that provides a self-guided walking tour of downtown Houston, or hop on a boat for a tour of the Port of Houston.
Free Museum Days
To get to the Museum District, walk seven blocks from the Convention Center toward downtown Houston and take the MetroRail Red Line from Main Street. A one-way fare is $1.25. Check the Metro Web site for more information. (Prefer to bike around town? Check out Houston B-cycle, the city's bike sharing program.)
The Holocaust Museum Houston, 5401 Caroline Street, is free to the public and open 7 days a week from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Boulevard, is free and open 5 days a week. It's closed on Monday and Tuesday. Hours vary.
The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross Street, is located next to the University of Saint Thomas, about 3.5 miles from the Convention Center. They are closed on Monday and Tuesday. You can take Bus 81/82 from the Convention Center to Westheimer Road and Mulberry Street, then walk 10 minutes to the museum.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science's permanent exhibits are free to the public from 2-8 p.m. Tuesdays. The special exhibitions (Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition and Warriors, Tombs, and Temples: China's Enduring Legacy, featuring the life-size Terra Cotta Warriors) are not free. The museum is located next to Hermann Park, at 5555 Hermann Park Drive.
The biggest museum in the district, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet Street, is free on Thursdays. They currently have several exhibitions: Modern and Contemporary Masterworks from Malba-Fundaciόn Constantini, Drawings by Rembrandt, His Students, and Circle; and a collection of ceramics. Check out the museum blog for more information!
The McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science, 1515 Hermann Drive, also has free admission 2-5 p.m. Thursdays. The museum is located across the street from the Houston Garden Center at Hermann Park.
Discovery Green, site of the Opening Celebration, has many different indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy. Looking to get some exercise while in Houston? There are free fitness classes (including yoga and zumba) each morning right on Discovery Green. There's also a jogging trail.
In addition to the park itself, the Miller Outdoor Theatre, located on the grounds, features both covered (requires free tickets) and open-air seating. Some of the performances scheduled during the annual conference are Dancin' in the Street: Motown & More Revue at 8:15-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 26-27; Swing, Jive & Pop Into Dance 11 a.m.-12 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, and Sizzling Summer Dance on 8:30-10:30 p.m. Friday, June 1. Check out the links above for information on how to get tickets.
Podcast Walking Tours
The TravelTex Web site has an audio walking tour of downtown Houston (2.5 miles) and other cities in Texas. You can download the audio file and transcript for the tour on their Web site, load the audio on your iPod or other MP3 player, and head out on the tour. TravelTex also has a mobile site you can use to search for information about Houston and other Texas cities.
City Maps and Walks is a free app for the iPhone that has maps and walks for more than 470 cities created by GPSmyCity. You can download the app for free at the iTunes Store. There's even a tour of St. Louis to keep in mind for the NAFSA 2013 Annual Conference.
Free Boat Tour
If you don't have time to go on a cruise from Galveston before or after the conference, you can reserve a ride on the M/V Sam Houston for a tour of the Port of Houston. While there are no tours on Mondays, there are either one or two tours daily the rest of the week. Reservations are required, and can be made online using the link above.
Watch for updates on Twitter with the conference hashtag #nafsa12 for additional freebies or cheap deals from the Houston on the Cheap and other local businesses downtown and around the Convention Center.
Mark Powell has spent his career working in academia both at Brigham Young University and the University of Texas at Austin. He made his first study abroad trip to the Soviet Union in 1991. In addition to studying Russian, he has taught ESL in the United States, Mexico, and Russia. He has been involved in NAFSA for almost six years. He served on the Region III Team for three and a half years as the Tech SIG Liaison. He most recently was the co-organizer of the first ever Technology Fair at the NAFSA Conference in 2011 in Vancouver. He will be coordinating the Technology Fair again in Houston this year. Mark lived in Austin, TX for the past 18 years and loved it there. Currently, he is a Program Coordinator of the Intensive English Language Program in the University of New Orleans' Division of International Education.