So you want to have fun this summer, but you're not exactly swimming in money or willing to blow your budget. (Relatable.) Or maybe you've already blown your budget on a big trip and looking for frugal things to do the rest of the time. Whether you use this list in your hometown or borrow these ideas on how to save money when you travel, these 40 things to do are a lot of fun (solo, with kids or with a group) and are free!
When you crave the outdoors or an adventure:
1. Find or make a walking tour of a city
A quick Google search on most large cities will yield walking tours of particularly charming local architecture in neighborhoods. If you can't find one, search for interesting destinations within walking distance of each other and craft your own (yes, bars and restaurants totally count as interesting destinations).
2. Go for a hike — anywhere
Walking is free, and walking in nature, freeing. In Japan, they have something called a Shinrin-yoku, which is a "forest bathing trip," or a quick walk in the woods. Take as many of these as you can. Depending on where you live, you might have to drive or pay park fees (which admittedly aren't free), but look for a little spot of nature (any type of nature, doesn't have to be a forest) that you can amble in that's closer to your home.
3. Check a community calendar for free events
Plenty of cities and towns hold free movie nights, block parties and more during the summer months. Check online or in a local paper whether you travel or stay closer to home.
4. Photography challenges
Love to take shots for decorating your walls or your Instagram feed? Instead of just heading out for random shooting, give yourself a photo challenge for a day. You can make up your own or search online for popular ideas.
5. Forage for free food — and make a recipe with it!
Does your city come with a climate conducive to growing food? Even if you don't have a garden, there may be free food within your reach. Look online for foraging maps of your city or ask friends if they know of any places to grab free fruit, berries, nuts, herbs and more (legally, of course) — and then search for a recipe to experiment with your free-found food.
6. Borrow a kayak or canoe to paddle your way around a local waterway
Have friends who own their own kayaks or canoes? Offer to pet or house sit for them for their next trip in exchange for borrowing their gear. But also do an online search for free kayaking in your city; some larger cities offer days where you can rent for free (or nearly free).
7. Read in a hammock
If you've got your own, put it up in your backyard or a local park, grab a great summer novel and enjoy a few hours swinging and reading.
You don't have to spend tons of dough buying food or special "picnic" things — just grab some snacks from the pantry and an old blanket and go sit and enjoy nature at a favorite park.
9. Bike around
Like a hike only on wheels, enjoy your city or a city you're visiting from a fresh perspective. Fast enough to cover more ground than walking but slower than driving to really take in the sights.
10. Indulge in a free museum day
Check to see if any museums offer free days a week or a month and go early to enjoy art and culture for free.
11. Scavenge for cool found objects and incorporate them into your home's decor
Love free things like furniture, art, frames and more? Well hop on a bike or in your car (though gas will cost you) and go looking for any items folks are trashing that could be turned into your treasure. We certainly have a wealth of Before & After posts that could inspire transformations!
12. Get sporty
When's the last time you enjoyed a game of Frisbee? Disc golf? Volleyball? Tennis? Take what gear you or your friends might have and head to a local field to get moving. Or play fun no-equipment-required games like Hide and Seek or Sardines (like the opposite of Hide and Seek) for those looking for outdoor fun without competition.
13. Visit or volunteer on a local farm
If there are any farms near you locally, go enjoy the sights and sounds of a farm if it's open to the public or volunteer to help out for a day.
14. Collect natural objects for art
Collect flowers to press to make art you can hang on the wall. Find interesting branches to incorporate into your decor. Stones, pinecones — you can look in your backyard for a lot of objects that can bring nature into your interiors.
15. Play like a kid on playground
Find a playground not currently occupied by a gaggle of kiddos and let loose. Slide with abandon. Swing like you don't have motion sickness. See if you can cross to the other side of the monkey bars without falling.
16. Watch all the fireworks shows
Find out when and where there will be fireworks this summer in your town and make it a point to see each show.
17. Grab existing art supplies and paint some nature
Framed, just about anything looks good. So don't be shy to grab whatever art supplies you have on hand (even just a pencil and paper will do) to go outside and sketch/watercolor/pencil color/oil paint nature. You could get some pretty good art out of it!
18. Camp in your backyard
Have some camping supplies in a closet somewhere that barely get any use? You don't have to trek to a far-off wilderness location to have any fun in nature. Use your own backyard (or the backyard of a house-owning friend) to pitch a tent, drag out a mattress and cook s'mores. Absolutely no judging if you sneak back into the house to sleep the rest of the night.
19. Build a sandcastle
If you're near any beaches (or even sandboxes) challenge yourself to spend an afternoon building one truly impressive sandcastle. (Youtube for video inspiration if you want to get really serious.)
20. Go on a scavenger hunt
You can find tons of scavenger hunt ideas online (or you can craft your own). Grab some friends, set up some prizes and spend an afternoon seeing which group of friends' hunting skills are the strongest.
Yes, it's still a thing! The old-school way to geocache involved a GPS unit, but now there are apps that make it easy to get started—you can sign up for a geocache account and go for a hunt. Not only is it free, you might even get something out of it if you find a particularly good treasure cache.
22. Stargaze or meteor shower gaze
Is there anything more humbling than gazing up at the heavens above? Pick a clear night, find a quiet spot away from city lights and bring a telescope or just even a blanket to gaze up. You can look online to find what stars (or planets) to pick out of your night sky. Or time your stargazing for a night when there's a meteor shower for a spectacular show.
23. Join a Meetup group
The website meant to get people hanging out is still free to join, and there's bound to be groups near where you live where you can meet some folks and partake in fun activities.
24. Have a date with your pet
Your sweet pet patiently waits for you all day while you're at work with (hardly) any complaint. Treat your pet to a day of perks doing all the things they love to do; chances are high you'll have a great time, too.
When the weather's too hot or rainy:
25. Head to the library for fun
The library will always be a reliable place for free fun. Along with looking for great new books to read, there's always the magazine section where you can page through magazines you'd never buy yourself (but love reading nonetheless). But also check to see if your local library has free activities like kid's storytimes or wine tasting book clubs.
26. Rearrange for a new look
This is probably not fun for everyone, but if you're one of the folks who absolutely loves making your home look fresh and new on the regular, spend a day wildly rearranging not just furniture and accessories, but whole rooms and art on the walls.
27. Call an old friend to catch up
Like on an actual phone. Send a text first to ask if you can call if you're phone shy (aren't we all these days?).
28. Write letters or send postcards
Grab your best stationary (or make your own DIY kind, first) and send some dear friends some correspondence. I love slipping pressed flowers from my yard to friends to send a piece of my home to them.
29. Throw a clothes, food or entertainment swap
Another one of those ideas that's free to do and potentially profitable! You can throw a clothes swap, or you can swap craft supplies, entertainment like books and DVDs or even handmade food. It doesn't have to be fancy or formal; just grab your closest friends and tell them to declutter some stuff they don't want anymore.
30. People watch
You might have to pay for a cup of coffee or tea depending on where you decide to people watch...but can you remember the last time you ever just sat and watched the world go by, instead of staring at your phone? Feel free to take notes in a paper journal to include in that novel you'll write one day.
31. Play board games that usually just collect dust
Do you have some board games collecting dust somewhere in your home? Grab some snacks, some friends or your kids and plan to not get up until you play each and everyone one.
32. Window shop for home inspiration ideas
When you don't have the budget for new home things, it can be easy to want to stay away from design stores (and even sad if you feel like you can't take anything home). But it doesn't have to be sad! Leave the credit cards at home and go window shopping for ideas and inspiration.
33. Challenge yourself to a cook-off with only the food you have in your house
There plenty of names for the phenomenon (it's just a typical weekday night for me), but check out what you have on hand—maybe even those ingredients you've had in the back of your pantry for awhile—and see if you can create a cool meal without going to the store by getting creative.
34. Visit an older relative
Do you have any older relatives that live near you? See if you can come for a visit... and ask them for fun stories from when they were growing up. You might be surprised and delighted.
35. Learn a party trick like juggling or origami
Youtube is a goldmine of videos showing you how to do and make all kinds of things. Why not spend a rainy afternoon trying to master some small trick you can whip out at parties to impress your friends? (Or just entertain yourself).
36. Give yourself an at-home spa day
If you don't have the dough to splurge on a spa day at a real spa, spend a little time transforming your own bathroom into an at-home one you can pamper yourself in.
37. Learn about your town's history
Does your town have any notable former residents? Any structures built by famous architects? Any battlefields? Any "largest in the world" things? Do a little research to find out! (And then put the items on a potential future walking tour).
38. Open comedy mic night
Some comedy clubs and coffee shops offer open mic nights for free. The comedy might be cringe-worthy, or you could stumble on someone pretty funny! Perhaps even sign yourself up if you're feeling brave?
39. Attend a book reading
Check your local bookstores to see if they have any book readings with free attendance. You could hear a favorite author in person or discover a new favorite!
40. Learn how to make something from scratch
Try learning how to make something from scratch—especially something you use a lot of, like hummus or throw pillows. It might take a bit of money on supplies to start, but then you'll be saving money the whole summer long making items instead of buying them.
Now tell us how you will be having fun for free this summer! What are your favorite activities to do in your hometown?
Re-edited from a post originally published 6.28.2015 - TW