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Summer Ideas for Building Joy for Free!
It’s summer! I love summer adventures, but I don’t necessarily want to spend huge amounts of money on summer activities. A beach vacation is great, but it’s also expensive and there are great ways to have a good time that are free, or close to it. Here are my favorite ideas for free summer fun (or nearly free fun) for the whole family.
9 Ideas for Free Summer Fun
You’ve got to eat anyway, so why not make it special? There’s no real need for fancy stuff. Pack a spare blanket, or beach towels. There are no rules on what counts as picnic food. Pick up sushi, or pack a bunch of what we call “snacky dinner.” Snacky dinner is pretty easy. Collect all the random bits that you love to snack on and turn them into dinner. We generally include veggies, bits of fruit, hummus, chips, hard boiled eggs, cheese, crackers, little sausages or chicken wings. You get the idea. Fried chicken is always fun, with cold salad. Pack it up in whatever containers you’ve got around and use your reusable grocery bags to haul. Most of it won’t even need plates, but pack in a few compostable paper ones if you feel the need. You can picnic on your patio, in your own yard, or find a nice neighborhood park to settle down in. Just be sure to pack out everything you bring in.
I’ve written about this activity before, but a great way to see your neighborhood, town or other familiar place with new eyes is to take a photo walk. Grab your camera, or just your phone and head out. This one can be especially fun with kids. Give them each their own way of taking photos (old smartphones that are no longer good for much else are great for this, so don’t toss them) and encourage them to find things to share with everyone else. You’ll probably be surprised what beautiful or interesting things your kids find, and what good art they can make before their little inner critic has set in. You might even find yourself getting just as excited to show them what you found!
Hiking doesn’t have to be intense and you don’t need a huge backpack, or special gear for it. Try entering “hiking near me” in Google and you will get tons of options. There also tend to be regional hiking associations that post great guides on local hikes. For national resources try the American Hiking Association which lists and rates hikes all over the United States. All Trails is another great resource that covers all of the US.
For new hikers or families, chose easy trails that aren’t too long. A nice easy loop with something interesting to see along the way is a good choice. Pack a picnic lunch, slather on the sunscreen, and bring water with you. Then off you go. While hiking shoes or boots aren’t required for easy hikes it’s probably best if everyone has good sturdy footwear, no flip-flops or heels to avoid injury and misery. Bring lots of water, some bug spray, wear sunscreen and dress for your local weather. For those with real little ones or very new to hiking you can have the same sort of fun hiking your local park. Outfit yourselves and treat it as a big adventure. Let the kids “discover” points of interest and new animals and birds. Once you’ve got a few easy park walks under you belt try something a little tougher!
Hiking is very cheap and many trailheads are even free to park. But if your chosen trail is in a national or state park you’ll want a parking pass. Day passes are available but consider investing in a year pass and make it a commitment to get out more and explore your area!
Do you have a friend going out of town who needs someone to watch their house or critters? Always wanted a dog but maybe you are gone too much during the day? Pet sitting can give you a chance at some summer fun with a pet without the commitment or the cost. Dog parks, sprinkler running, long evening walks, all things that dogs enjoy and that you can too with a borrowed furry friend. Pet sitting can be a good way to test drive having a pet as well, just make sure you know enough to care for your friend’s pet properly and have all the information you might need in case of emergency!
Hit Up Local Festivals
I’ve lived in my current town for three years and for some reason have yet to actually attend any of the local festivals. I either don’t think about it until too late, or I didn’t even know they were happening until everyone else is talking about how much fun they had. So do some research and find out what local festivals are happening in your area. Then make it a date, you and your town! Most festivals are free, though food and vendors charge. It’s a great chance to people watch, get to know your neighbors, and take part in some local culture. The town where I grew up had a strawberry festival, which is about as summery as you can get. Eat some food from local vendors, window shop the craft fair, listen to local bands jamming on open air stages, take part in contests or cheer on your favorites. It’ll get you out of the house, and doing something a little different than the usual. Feel free to pack a picnic lunch if you are watching costs.
Be a Tourist At Home
If friends from out of town were to call and say they’d be around in a few weeks and wanted you to show them your town where would you go? Whether you immediately have a list in mind or wouldn’t know where to start, spend some time researching your own town. What things have you never seen, but should really explore? Maybe it’s a quirky little museum you didn’t know existed. Maybe it’s a local garden walk, or a great overlook point. Maybe it’s a little diner outside of town that makes the best pie in the state. Play tourist in your own town, wander down the streets you are so familiar with and look at them with new eyes, notice what’s different or strange or new. Pay attention to the odd shop tucked away in a corner you’ve never noticed, or the neglected statue in the park that you’ve never visited. You may just stumble on a new favorite spot that you would have never found otherwise! This one is great to pair with a photo walk!
Outdoor Movie Night
You might need a bit of equipment for this one, but you can do it with just a laptop and some close snuggling. If you have a projector hook it up to your computer or DVD player and watch a movie outside. You can project a movie onto the side of the house, or a bedsheets hung up between two trees. Make big tubs of popcorn, fill up the kiddie pool to cool your feet, and load up on bug spray. Invite friends to join you and maybe make a potluck out of the evening. Give the neighborhood kids getting a chance to hang out, run around, and burn off some of that wild summer energy. A movie under the stars is the perfect way to quiet them down, ready for a good long sleep!
Like the picnic this one doesn’t necessarily require a bunch of fancy equipment, but a tent will make you a lot more comfortable. Instead of heading off into the wilds though, pitch it in your back yard. Grab blankets and pillows and head out for a night under the stars, but still within walking distance of your fridge and bathroom. Great for kids who want a little summer adventure still close to the security of home and parents. But also fun for adults who might need some testing time before braving their first camping trip. Break out the BBQ and the fire pit for dinner and s’mores. Spend time snuggled up together in the dark telling stories. And go to sleep listening to the sounds of your neighborhood. You might be surprised how many odd creatures you can hear going about their nightly routine.
No camping fees, reservations, or long drives required, and if a sudden thunderstorm breaks out your own beds will be just a few steps away.
Kid Again Activities
Even if you don’t have kids you can follow their lead to relive a good bit of summer fun. Cool off running through the sprinkler (shrieking encouraged), make yourself an ice cream cone and try to eat it before it melts down your arm. Take a Saturday morning off from chores to eat pancakes with way too much syrup and binge watch your favorite shows in the comfort of the AC (suggested for those days when it’s just too hot to venture outside). Buy a whole watermelon and have a seed spitting contest with your beloved. Go to a You Pick berry farm and eat/pick your way through the fields. Make something delicious with those berries when you get home. Spend the day at the local beach doing absolutely nothing (but getting sandy and soggy and the good sort of tired). Take a mini road trip somewhere you’ve never been. Go to an old fashioned ice cream parlor. Blow bubbles.
What are your favorite free or cheap summer activities? Share them below!