I’m gonna be really honest with you: I haven’t taken many “real” summer vacations in the last few years. When you’re budgeting carefully or saving for big goals, a For Real vacation where you fly somewhere to have a woman wearing strategically placed coconuts bring you margaritas on the beach probably isn’t in the cards.
And that’s OK! Don’t fret. You can stay close to home this summer and still fill your calendar with fun things.
Whaaaaaat? Yes. The boring old town you live in actually has fun things to do. Dust off your tourist hats and go on some low-budget adventures instead.
Create a “Fun Do List” of cheap local entertainment.
Price: Varies, but typically between $20 and totally free.
This year, my Dude and I started keeping a shared “Fun Do List” in Google Drive. Just like a to-do list, but it’s full of fun, reasonably inexpensive things that neither of us has ever done. Every time we come up with something new that sounds like an awesome way to spend a day, it goes on the list along with a link to it, if it has a website.
Our current Fun Do List includes making our own pretzels, visiting the Pretzel Hut (these are separate things – we like pretzels), going on this chocolate walk, riding the Strasburg Railroad, taking a riverboat cruise and hanging out with tiny horses, just to name a few.
When we have a free Saturday, we have a ready-made list of things to do!
Price: 100% free
I could write pages about how much fun Geocaching is (I won’t) but the gist of it is this: It’s an at-your-own-pace scavenger hunt. You can Geocache solo, with a partner, in groups or with kids (we’ve encountered whole families geocaching together).
Here’s how it works: People hide “geocaches” – containers ranging from tiny 1-inch tubes to something the size of a shoebox. The app works just like any other mapping app on your phone – it’ll show the general area of the geocache, and you navigate your way there. Then it’s just a matter of searching using any clues left by the owner of the cache (they’re in the app) and your own eagle eyes and sleuthing skills.
When you find a cache, there may be small trinkets inside that you can take or leave, but the important thing is to sign the logbook to say you were there. Then log your find in the app so it gets added to your “score”. If you’re a competitive person (Oh, hi.) it’s super easy to lose an entire day scouring for geocaches.
There are millions of caches hidden worldwide, so you can pop open the app anytime and see what’s nearby. Even in your own town, you’ll probably see so much that you never would have otherwise.
My name is scattered across geocache logbooks up and down the East Coast, but there’s one a block away from my home that we still haven’t been able to find. Hrmph.
Stay in an Airbnb that’s only an hour or two away.
Price: $50 – $150 per night
When most people think of vacation, they probably picture beautiful beaches, but there are so many other places to consider that might be closer and so, so much cheaper.
Are there mountains near you? A scenic lake or canyon? Maybe just a treehouse or a cabin in a nearby forest where you could hole up for the weekend, build campfires and listen to the crickets?
Jump on Airbnb, search for your own zip code, and then just start moving the map around to nearby areas. You’d be surprised how many gems you can find that are close enough for just a weekend or overnight trip!
We spent a long weekend in this charming cottage surrounded by gorgeous pine forest, only two hours away from home.
Want a discount on your first Airbnb stay? If you use this link when you sign up, you and I both get a $25 Airbnb credit!
Find a local boardgame night, trivia night or paint night.
Price: Typically free, plus optional drinks + food. Paint nights are pricier.
Local businesses love to run theme nights to bring in new customers. Look for local game shops, book or comic stores that have open board gaming nights. Bars and restaurants like to put on paint nights where you can get your art on (and let’s be serious, it’s more fun if you’re a terrible artist) while sipping some wine and nomming on appetizers. Ditto with trivia nights.
Game nights in particular are something you can drop into solo or with friends. Look for language like “beginners welcome!” or “learn to play XYZ” to find groups that are open to teaching games to newbies. But don’t be afraid! Game enthusiasts usually love sharing their favorite games (and a chance to show off their know-how) with a new player.
Jump on Google and search for “game night <your town and state>”.
Go actually do the things tourists do
Price: Free to a very small admission fee, usually under $15.
Seriously. Go get the tourist experience and see what people do when they visit your area for the first time. Google “<Your town> tourism” to find those things, or if your town has a Welcome Center, go check it out. They’re usually filled with brochures for all kinds of things to do nearby, and I’ll bet you’ve never even heard of half of them.
If you live in a city that has guided bus tours, go take one! A go-at-your-own-pace walking tour of the historical district? Do it! A tour of whatever the Big Deal business is in your town? Why not? (Ours is a chocolate factory. Mmm.) Maybe even a ghost tour?
Find a state park and go hiking. If there’s a lake or river nearby, rent kayaks or paddleboats for a few hours and go exploring. On one of our first dates, my Dude and I rented kayaks at a local lake and spent the day paddling around, looking at the flora and fauna and making up funny stories about our fellow lake-goers. It’s a great way to spend a day. Bring sunscreen!
So what I’m saying is…
I hope you get to jaunt off to a fancy resort this summer, if that’s what you’re into. But if not, there’s no reason to sulk around bingeing on Netflix till September. Get out there and do stuff. Cheap stuff, and lots of it.
What are your summer plans? Are you winging off to an exotic destination or staying close to home?
Got any tips for cheap summer entertainment that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear about it!