Taking a vacation can be costly. If you're flying the whole family somewhere special, you'll likely spend a whole bunch of money on airfare, baggage fees, hotel rooms, taxis, and possibly a rental car before you've even started to explore the area. But once you're settled in, you don't have to spend more money on activities. Here are eight free and fun ideas to keep the family occupied.
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1. Free museums
Museums are not the stuffy old hangouts they used to be. Or rather, people thought they were. Today's museums have taken advantage of the latest technology, and they embrace pop culture to bring some very fun and family-friendly exhibitions to life. While many museums around the world charge an admission fee (especially for a big event like Star Wars costumes), there are a bunch that will let you get in for free at any time of the year. For example, the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., including the Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum, and the Natural History Museum, are free of charge to visit. Others are free on certain days. (See also on WiseBread.com: 5 Natural Wonders You Can See For Free)
2. Picnic in the park
Chances are, you'll find a park somewhere near the place you're visiting. Even Manhattan, which is one of the busiest cities in the world, has dozens of parks to visit. If the weather will allow it, why not spend one day of your vacation at the park? Ideally, you should pack a picnic blanket before you go on your vacation. If you didn't, or adding the blanket adds extra baggage fees, pick up a cheap one at the dollar store or drugstore when you get there. Some hotels provide extra blankets and bedding in the closets, so that's another frugal option for you.
If your hotel provides a complimentary breakfast or buffet, take advantage of it. Otherwise, check out the nearest grocery store for food, snacks, and drinks, and remember to get some recyclable plates, cups, and silverware. As always, leave the park free from any of your trash and containers when you leave.
3. Photo scavenger hunt challenge
Wherever you go on vacation, it's going to have landmarks and places of interest. Before you go, do a little research. What are some famous monuments in the area? Are there unusual street names and street signs? How about some local celebrities, or popular places to eat and drink?
Make a good list of around 20+ items, varying in difficulty from really easy to "How the heck will we get a shot of that?!" Then, pick a day to do your scavenger hunt and split into groups. If you're with children, make sure they're in a group with someone of appropriate age to help them cross the street. Give yourself a time limit, then agree to meet back at the hotel and share your results. The group with the most items checked off the list wins. And if it's a tie, the best photo is your tiebreaker. (See also: 20 Ways to Entertain Your Kids for Free)
4. Google "free events this week in..."
Denver. Boston. Santa Monica. Seattle. You name it, there are almost certainly free events happening during your stay. By far the easiest way to find out about them is to Google it. Most of the time, you'll be directed to the tourism site of that particular town or city, which will have all the information you need. If Googling doesn't bring up the best results for you, try the local free newspapers and publications. Local stores, pubs, and tourist attractions will often have bulletin boards showcasing free events in the area.
If all that fails, ask your hotel concierge. They will know the area intimately and will steer you in the right direction. Tip the concierge well at the start of your stay, and he or she will be an incredible source of information on everything from the best cheap places to eat, to how to score tickets to shows.
5. Take a free walking tour
Free tours of towns and cities are widely available. In fact, the site FreeTour.com is dedicated to them, and will help you find a free walking tour in over 100 countries around the world. Now, it's worth keeping in mind that "free" doesn't mean completely free. The tour guide that takes you and your party around the city is not getting paid a fee, but he or she will appreciate a tip. How much you tip, and how many of you tip, will vary from guide to guide, but as some people do this as a major source of income, it's nice to tip well. However, you are not obliged to tip.
These tours are safe, the guides love talking to new people and sharing the hidden delights of the city, and they can be a fun way to explore and meet new people. And it's not a bad idea to tour your own town or city when you return. You'll be amazed at the things you didn't know about the place you've been living in.
6. Collect free souvenirs
A great way to spend some time with the family (or even on your own) is to spend a few hours hunting for free keepsakes that you can take home. If you're in a spot near a beach, the most obvious keepsakes are shells, sand, and rocks; however, sea glass is also a great treasure, and very decorative. If you're near woodland areas, collect a few pine cones or chestnuts.
If you're in a more urban setting, complimentary matchbooks from bars and hotels are wonderful souvenirs. Some people even collect drink coasters, or menus. Others like to get creative and ask for free samples at candy stores, or items from the reject bin at craft stores. As long as you're not taking something of value without permission, the sky's the limit.
7. Find some free local live music
Many bars, pubs, and even restaurants will bring in a band or other performer on certain nights of the week to boost sales. The music act is paid for by the venue, and you don't have to pay a cent. The easiest way to find free live music is to Google "free live music near me" and you'll get a list of results. You can also ask the locals if they know of good places to see live music, and of course, the concierge will be happy to fill you in, as well.
SEE ALSO: Secrets to Save on Travel
8. Play some games
We get so engrossed in our work, the news, social media, bills to pay, and the other stresses of a busy life, that we don't leave a lot of time for family fun. When you're on vacation, you're escaping, both physically and mentally, from those distractions. So why not spend a few hours getting back to basics? Charades is a classic game that requires just a few eager participants and some random titles of books, movies, TV shows, and plays. You could try "two truths and a lie," and perhaps learn a few surprising facts about the people closest to you. Travel board games are cheap, popular, and will last you years, as well. Pack a few before you leave.
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This article is from Wise Bread, not the Kiplinger editorial staff.
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