When you take a vacation away from home, you spend enough to get there (especially with the higher gas prices this year) and to stay there (even if you camp) that you might not want to spend a whole lot on attractions. Thankfully, most areas have at least a few fun and interesting things to do that are also free. Consider looking into some of these ideas:
Factory Tours: Seeing how things are made can be fascinating, and many factories offer free tours. Large companies with devoted fans, such as Longaberger, Harley-Davidson, and Ben and Jerry’s, often have well-choreographed “destination” tours, while local family-owned businesses offer more chances to get up close and personal. Check out this site to see what kind of products you can see being made on your next vacation.
State or Local Parks: Enjoy hiking, swimming, boating, bicycling, and even educational programs at these parks. Some have fees for specific types of recreation, and some have admission fees, but many have neither. Admissions fees are typically low when they do exist. You may be surprised by how much there is to do and see in these parks; the chance to spot animals and plants that aren’t native to your home region may be enough incentive to visit a park while you are away.
Museums: Many museums charge high admissions fees, but many others are free. (The Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, D.C. are notable for their free admission; there you can see modern art, spaceships, dinosaur bones, and even Fonzie’s leather jacket.) Other museums may be free on certain days or certain hours, so you may benefit from planning your visit for those times.
Street Fairs and Similar Events: Check regional visitors’ guides for annual events; some of the more popular happenings make a resort area too crowded to visit if the event doesn’t interest you; other events may be undiscovered gems. Most have free admission and offer free outdoor concerts and entertainment.
State Capitol Buildings: Particularly if you are traveling within your own state, you may enjoy seeing your legislature’s building; even in other states, the combination of stately architecture and state government offers something interesting for a variety of people. It’s educational — and usually free — to tour these buildings.
Beaches: Many of the more popular beaches have begun requiring beach tags, but going a bit off the beaten path or at off-peak hours can get you free time on a public beach. Take a romantic stroll at sunset or stretch out and relax.
Churches: Majestic Gothic cathedrals of Europe, small chapels that were stops on the Underground Railroad, and other churches of architectural and historical significance often offer free or nearly free tours (both guided and self-guided) that even those of different faiths can enjoy.
Cemeteries: Not only genealogists can find something of interest in a historical cemetery. Gravestones can be works of art, and inscriptions can spark your imagination about what each person’s life was like. You can also visit the final resting places of historical figures — whether Jim Morrison’s much-ballyhooed grave in Paris or Mother Goose’s more obscure tomb in Boston — and think about what it would have been like to know that person.
Local Counterparts to Your Favorite At-Home Activities: If your family loves storytime at the public library, try out a new storyteller in your vacation spot. If you enjoy yard sales at home, see what’s available wherever you visit (though I can’t guarantee you’ll get away without spending money). I have heard of rebaters who visit grocery stores to find fresh deals while they are away and have a pharmacist friend who always gets her photo taken outside the local pharmacy. Whatever quirky interests you have at home can go with you on vacation.
If you’re planning a trip but don’t have specific things in mind to do for certain days, look into what free attractions are available in the area. Be sure to call ahead to confirm that admission is free (and when, if it’s only certain times). You might have so much fun that you plan your next trip specifically to see similar attractions in other places.
Image courtesy of Kaustav Bhattacharya