9 Things to Do on Vacation That Don’t Require Spending Money

because travel is already expensive enough
written by MICHELLE LEMA
free things to do on vacation"
free things to do on vacation
Source: @theluxilook
Source: @theluxilook

During a busy season of life, there’s no better feeling than knowing you’re about to take a much-needed vacation. Your body and mind are probably already craving time to recharge, explore, and change up your routine. While vacations can be relaxing, of course, they can also come with the anxiety of figuring out what to pack, planning activities, and budgeting for the entire trip. I find it particularly difficult not to get caught up in how much everything costs, especially since the expenses don’t stop when you arrive at your destination. However, when I think about the best moments I’ve ever had on vacation, they’ve almost always been the days when I spent the least amount of money. These were the times that I felt most present and simply let the day lead me.

While I’ll always be a fan of trying new restaurants and visiting tourist attractions, it’s often the inexpensive experiences that make us feel most satisfied with the time and money we spend. If you want to try out some no-spend activities on your next trip, here are some free things to do on vacation that feel just as fulfilling as an expensive dinner out or a pricey museum visit:

free things to do
Source: Dupe Photos | Cora Pursley

1. Find a local bookstore or library

I absolutely adore bookstores and libraries because they remind me of lazy childhood days poring over stacks of books. Even if you’re not looking for a book on vacation, bookstores and libraries often have beautiful architecture, free events, and relaxing spaces to hang out in while you peruse pages. Wherever you’re going, look up the local library and see if anyone is doing a book or poetry reading. You never know what kind of inspiration you can get by hearing an author read the words they’ve written. If you’re feeling retrospective, see if there’s a local used bookstore and seek out some of your favorite old covers. Whatever you do, take your time.

2. Walk through a picturesque neighborhood

If you could spend hours scrolling through houses on Zillow, this activity is for you. Every vacation destination has its own unique vibe, and meandering through local neighborhoods is a great way to get a sense of it. If your destination is known for a particular architectural style, find a neighborhood that showcases it and take a walk. Grab your travel buddy and chat as you stroll. Or, if you’re traveling solo, put on a favorite soundtrack and enjoy the moment. You’ll get a sense of what it feels like to be a local and experience your destination beyond the more touristy areas.

3. Enjoy free museum days

Museum tickets can be pricey, but you don’t always have to spend a bunch of money to enjoy some art and culture. You can often find small local museums that are free to enter, while other larger museums might have specific days of the week that they’re free to the public. Make sure to look up the times and offerings of all the museums you’re interested in visiting—you might be surprised how many of them have great free opportunities. There might also be educational events that coincide with free museum days, so you’ll have even more experiences to choose from.

free things to do
Source: Dupe Photos | Ula Kaniuch

4. Explore a hiking trail

Nature offers so many places to explore, and—unless you visit a park with an entrance fee—it’s absolutely free. One of the easiest ways to seek out nature on vacation is to find a local hiking trail, whether that’s in the mountains, along a beach, or through a city. Decide what type of hike you’re looking for, then seek out trails that match your desired difficulty level or ask a local about their favorite spots. Make sure to bring sunscreen, snacks, and plenty of water, just in case you decide to go further than planned. Many hikes even lead to a specific destination, like a waterfall or a scenic outlook, which feels like a bit of an accomplishment when you find it. But whether you make it to the destination or not, the experience is all that matters.

Especially if you’re traveling far from home, people-watching can be one of the most interesting free things to do on vacation. Find a bench, grassy spot, or public space with a view, and take it all in. To help you stay present, try putting your device on “do not disturb” so your full attention is on the people around you. This activity can often be relaxing and meditative, and you can do it alone or with friends. Best of all, you’ll likely learn more about the place you’re visiting than you would if you didn’t stop to observe.

6. Find a lookout point and admire the view

Speaking of stopping to observe, if people-watching isn’t your thing, taking in a gorgeous view might be more up your alley. Ask a local where the best view in the city is (or seek out some recommendations on social media), and then go check it out. If you look beyond the typical touristy spots that can get crowded, you might just find a quiet outlook you would never have discovered otherwise. However you get to the view, give yourself time to take it all in. It may very well be the most relaxing moment of your vacation.

free things to do
Source: Dupe Photos | Grace McCuistion

7. Take in the local flora

When you’re rushing to get to the next thing on your itinerary, it’s easy to forget to notice all the small things around you. Not to be cliché, but vacation is a great time to literally stop and smell the roses. Taking a few dedicated hours to wander and see how many cool flowers or plants you can find is surprisingly relaxing and absolutely free. While you’re at it, pretend you’re a nature photographer for a day and take some snaps of your favorite discoveries. I like to do this and organize all my nature photos in one folder on my phone, so I have pictures of flora from every place I’ve ever visited. It’s a great way to slow down and recharge, and you might even feel inspired to try it outside of vacation.

8. Seek out live outdoor music

If you’re busy juggling a packed itinerary, you might just miss the local band that happens to be playing a free concert in the park or the violinist that’s performing on a street corner. Music can be found everywhere, sometimes even in places where you’d least expect it, like the subway. You could research free music events in the area before your trip, but you might also happen upon music as you’re out and about. If it’s the latter, stay and enjoy it for a while. Of course, this might be a great time to spend a little money by tipping the musician if they have a tip jar available.

9. Wander with no destination

Wandering on vacation is always free. If you typically have a busy schedule IRL, you might be tempted to keep up the pace of your home and work life while traveling, but never underestimate the power of a good wander to get your mind into vacation mode. Do some wandering as soon as you arrive at your destination, and see where the moment takes you, whether that’s past shop windows, through parks, or around residential areas. It’s a great way to get your bearings in a new-to-you city, and you might just stumble upon some hidden gems you’ll want to revisit later.