No one was expecting a season of canceled vacations and social distancing. But that doesn’t mean you have to do nothing during the warmest (and arguably most playful) months of the year. Instead we have alternatives that will restore a little fun and happiness in the summer and banish all boredom.
If uncertainty stresses you out, you’re not alone, but even if this year’s tropical vacation turns into next year’s, it’ll be here before you know it.
To save you heartache and stress in the meantime, this list will provide you with a variety of free activities and ideas you can do this summer that are all from the comfort of home or within local reach and abide by the rules of this new reality we’re living in.
1. Find or make a walking tour of a city
Most cities have some kind of free walking tour available to download, and if you can’t find one you can easily map out some landmarks and interesting spots around your area with interesting history that you can visit. Even the tiniest towns have little-known unique spots—just grab your mask and start wandering.
2. Go for a solitary 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. Even if national and state parks aren’t open, most neighborhoods have some kind of natural area 10 to 15 minutes outside of them or have local parks you can roam around in.
3. Host a virtual movie night
While it’s not yet possible to attend movie nights in the park or block parties, you can easily host a virtual movie night with your family and friends thanks to apps like Zoom and Netflix Party. Take a vote on which movie, make sure everyone dresses in pajamas, and enjoy a movie together.
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!
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. Paddle or swim your way around a local waterway
If you’ve got the gear, taking your kayak, raft, or canoe out for a spin is a great way to spend time without being too close for comfort to others. If you don’t own any kind of watercraft, finding a local swimming hole or lazy river to go for a quick dip is equally as fun.
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.
8. Plan a creative picnic
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. You can even have a social distancing picnic with friends. Have everyone bring their own food and blankets and picnic from the backs of your cars or six feet apart in a park.
9. Bike around
Like a hike only on wheels, enjoy your city from a fresh perspective. Fast enough to cover more ground than walking but slower than driving to really take in the sights.
10. Find free online museum tours
In light of recent events, many national and worldwide museums are offering virtual tours free of charge. You’ll be able to see nearly any exhibit you’d like from your own screen at home.
11. Scavenge for cool found objects around your home and revamp them
Do you have furniture, art, frames, or other pieces of decor lying around that could use an upgrade? Now is a brilliant time to tackle those DIYs at home and upcycle your old finds into something fresh.
12. Get sporty
When’s the last time you enjoyed a game of badminton? Volleyball? Tennis? Take what gear you’ve got and set it up in your backyard to compete against your roommates or family. For more solo activities, nothing beats a refreshingly brisk walk or finding an upbeat dance class to follow along to online.
13. Volunteer for your community
While volunteer work looks a little different these days, it’s free, makes you feel good, and still possible to take part in. There are a variety of organizations who are helping deliver meals to older folks, pairing up pen pals to bring comfort to people isolated at home, and organizing solo cleanups around local neighborhoods.
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. Host a Virtual Bake Off
For those overcast and rainy summer days, call up your friends and challenge them to a bake off. Make it difficult by only being allowed to use the ingredients you already have on hand or plan ahead and make a quick grocery run. No matter if you win or lose, you get a delicious treat out of it regardless.
17. Grab existing art supplies and paint some nature
When it’s 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) 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 to pitch a tent, drag out a mattress and cook s’mores. Absolutely no judgment 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 your partner or roommates, set up some prizes, and spend an afternoon seeing whose 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 virtual Meetup group
Meetup was meant to get people hanging out, but it’s still up and running—and free to join. And there are now activities you can take part in virtually. Socializing is still possible, even if through a screen!
24. Have a date with your pet
Your sweet pet has kept you company and calm, especially through what’s happening right now 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.
25. Start a virtual book club
You can finally start on those books you’ve been meaning to read. Call up some friends and see if they’d be interested in reading the same novel and meet up once a week or so on Zoom to discuss—with a wine glass in hand of course.
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) 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. Start a fundraiser or charity event
Another one of those ideas that’s free to do and benefits people in need! You can set up a virtual dance marathon, a charity night with talented friends who can sing or do comedy, or even a virtual craft night where you can sew or make items that can be donated.
30. People watch from your patio or porch
While it’s not quite the same as people watching from a park, you can easily brew your own cup of coffee and people watch from the safety of your front porch or patio. Can you remember the last time you ever just sat and watched the world go by, instead of staring at your phone? If it feels funny, bring a book out with you to make you feel a bit less awk.
31. Play board games that usually just collect dust
Do you have some board games collecting dust somewhere in your home? Grab some snacks, your roommates, or your kids and plan to not get up until you play each and every one.
32. Window shop online 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 in your wallet and go online 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. Drop off treats to an older relative and talk from a safe distance
Do you have any older relatives that live near you? See if you can swing by with goodies and have a socially distant visit. 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 to impress your friends? (Or just entertain yourself).
36. Give yourself an at-home spa day
You don’t need a spa day at a real spa—just 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. Online open mic night
Some comedy clubs and coffee shops offer open mic nights for free and now do so online. The comedy might be cringe-worthy, or you could stumble on someone pretty funny! Perhaps even sign yourself up if you’re feeling brave for next month’s Zoom standup.
39. Attend a book virtual reading
Many favorite authors with recently released titles are swapping their physical book tours and readings for virtual ones. You can tune in from your couch and learn more about your favorite author and their newest masterpiece.
40. Learn how to make something from scratch
Try learning how to make something from scratch—especially something you like to have 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.
How will be having fun for free this summer? What are your favorite activities to do in your hometown?
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