14 No-Spend Vacation Activities To Save Money While Traveling This Summer

Summertime means warmer weather, longer days, and time off from work and school so you can finally take that well-deserved vacation! The only downside is that while vacation is always a fun time, it’s not always ideal for your wallet.

By Ella Carroll-Smith4 min read
Pexels/Semih Akdağ

Ahh, summertime. We’re all a little more relaxed and carefree, and that’s due in part to the fact that summertime = vacation time! Summer is the most popular time of year to take that much-needed vacation away from work and obligations and explore someplace new! 

There are so many positives to vacation: You get to make memories with your loved ones, learn about a new place, and let a little loose. The biggest downside, however, is that traveling is pretty expensive – especially if you’re traveling with kids. 

The plane tickets, meals out, and entertainment quickly add up, and if you’re not careful, it’s extremely easy to go over budget. While it’s fun to splurge on vacation every once in a while, life is all about balance, and a great way to stay on track with your budget while traveling is to balance expensive activities out with free ones. Whether you’re headed somewhere abroad or sticking stateside this summer, here’s a list of activities you can do that won’t break the bank. 

Take a Dip

If you’re traveling somewhere with access to a beach or lake, then this one might seem obvious, but swimming is typically a free activity, and it’s also the perfect way to cool off on those hot summer days! Even if you’re not vacationing at a watery destination, see if there’s a small local lake or riverfront nearby where you and your travel buddies can take a dip. A lot of cities (even landlocked ones) have a riverfront where locals and tourists alike can beat the heat. 

Go for a Bike Ride

If you’re vacationing somewhere within driving distance, then bring your bike along for the ride! Biking is one of the best ways to explore a new place because you can cover a lot of ground in less time than walking, but you still get some exercise and you’re not trapped on a tour bus or awkward Uber ride. Plus, biking gives you the opportunity to pull off quickly for photo ops or to explore any cool spots you come across. If you’re flying and can’t bring your bike with you, then it’s usually still pretty cheap to rent bikes for the day.

Have a Picnic Lunch

You have to eat lunch anyway, so why not make an event out of it? Find a scenic spot in whatever city or town you’re vacationing in and pack up a picnic lunch for the afternoon. It will likely be much cheaper than dining out at a restaurant, plus you’re guaranteed to have the best spot in the house. Search around for a nice park or scenic overlook, pack some sandwiches from a local shop, and enjoy!

Go on a Walking Tour

Every city typically has a selection of inexpensive paid walking tours, but you can also create your own walking tour for free! Simply do a little bit of research online, find some local spots and landmarks you’d like to see, and head out! If you’re the spontaneous type however, then you can even get away with not doing any research beforehand and simply wandering around and seeing where the day takes you! Walking around a new place with no itinerary or idea where you’re going is one of the best ways to stumble across new things you’d never discover otherwise. Maybe you’ll find a delicious, hole-in-the-wall restaurant or an adorable local bookshop, which brings us to our next activity…

Explore Local Bookshops and Libraries

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite weekend activities is browsing at the library or hitting up a cute local bookstore. There’s no reason you can’t recreate this same free activity when you’re traveling! Take a break from all of the tourists and find a local bookshop or library to post up in while you’re on vacation. A lot of cities have beautiful downtown libraries with interesting architecture that’s always fun to see. Plus, local libraries often have posters and flyers listing free events that are going on, so it’s a great way to find even more no-spend activities. 

Take Advantage of Free Museums

Some museums do have admissions fees, but you’d be surprised by how many you can find that are free or only ask for a donation in order to get in. Do a little bit of research to see if you can find one nearby. Even paid museums sometimes do free or discounted family days, which is great if you’re traveling with your littles! It doesn’t even matter what kind of museum – art, science, history, space – it’s free, so you have nothing to lose and only knowledge to gain!

Take a Hike

Hiking is one of the best free vacation activities ever. You can always find a trail to match your preferred level of effort (some people want a relaxing hike, while others might prefer something more challenging), and it’s a great way to take in the local flora and fauna and see some amazing views! Wherever you’re going this summer, make sure you pack some hiking boots or at least comfy walking shoes and spend an afternoon hitting the trails!

Find the Best Views

Sometimes when we’re so busy with the hustle and bustle of traveling, we forget to stop and take in the moment. Make it a priority on your next vacation to find some of the best views at your destination. Maybe it’s a scenic overlook or at the beach during sunset. Wherever you end up, take some time to slow down and be grateful that you get to experience this place. Plus, taking in the view is free!

Check Out the Local Music Scene

Nashville isn’t the only city with a great music scene! Even smaller cities and towns have local bands and performers. Check to see if any free concerts are happening in local parks or venues. Many cities have free summer concert series, but if you can’t find one happening while you’re in town, then you can also look up bars and restaurants that have live music and hit up one of those instead. Who knows, you might even discover your new favorite artist!

Browse at a Farmer’s Market

Summer is without a doubt the best season at the farmer’s market! So many fresh fruits and vegetables are in season, from tomatoes to zucchinis to strawberries to peaches and beyond. Going to the farmer’s market is such a fun way to learn more about the region you’re visiting and meet some locals. Find out where the closest farmer’s market is to where you’re staying and spend a morning wandering around the stalls, sampling some tasty local treats, and enjoying the cozy vibes. 

Go People-Watching

People-watching is an activity that you can do pretty much anywhere. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s a great way to pass the time! People-watching on vacation is especially fun because you see so many different types of people from different backgrounds, even different countries. The next time you’re on vacation looking for a way to kill an hour without spending any money, post up somewhere with a lot of foot traffic and see who happens to pass by. 

See Famous Sights

Paris has the Eiffel Tower, New York City has Times Square, London has Big Ben, and Sydney has the Opera House. But even if you’re not traveling to a big city, smaller towns and other less well-known destinations still have famous sites, statues, or historic buildings that are typically free to look at. If the place you’re visiting has a historical downtown, the old buildings might have placards on them so you can learn about their history and how long they’ve been around. 

Go Window Shopping

While you’re downtown checking out the local history, stop in some of the cute boutiques and shops that you come across while you walk. It’s always fun to find local items or ones you wouldn’t ever see in the big box stores. You can always buy something if you want, but this can easily be a free activity, and the bonus is that you won’t have to carry any heavy shopping bags with you for the rest of the day! Window shopping is easier on your wallet and your arms. 

Visit Free Zoos or Arboretums

Zoos and arboretums are a great way to pass the time, especially with little kids. Even if you’re traveling with adults, who doesn’t love seeing some exotic animals and plant life? Similar to museums, some zoos (like St. Louis and Washington D.C.) also offer free admission. If you have a membership to the zoo or arboretum in your hometown, then the one in the city you’re visiting might offer you free admission if it’s a participating location. 

The secret to finding great no-spend activities while on vacation is to get creative! When you’re traveling with the ones you love and have an open mind, you can have fun doing pretty much any activity. The next time you’re traveling and want to find something to do that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, challenge yourself to think outside the box!

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