8 fun summer activities that are cheap or free

It's amazing how much fun you can have with the help of these apps and tools.

Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Katie Teague
4 min read

Make a budget before planning your vacation.


Summer travel isn't cheap. Even if you're staying domestic, gas and plane tickets, nightly hotel or Airbnb rooms, and eating every meal out adds up fast. While there are ways to keep costs down when you go somewhere, we also have some ideas on how to have fun at home when you're on a budget and trying to save money.

We've got a list of top budget picks for summer activities that you can do anywhere -- and the tools to do them.

First, you'll want to set up an actual budget that you can stick to -- so don't make it crust-of-bread-and-water strict. Then, plan your activities and align them with your budget. Remember to account for any meals and gas you might pick up along the way. Have fun!

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Don't forget to bring your cooler when you're backyard camping.

Infinite Cooler

Camp in your own backyard

This one's a great choice for families or the young at heart. All you have to do is prop your tent up (hang up sheets if you don't have a tent), drag out one of these air mattresses (you can blow it up in the house instead of outside in the heat!), bring in some snacks and let the scary storytelling commence. It's the perfect little adventure right in your backyard.

It's virtually free but silly enough to entertain. And, don't forget to bring a cooler outside so you won't be running in and out of the house. Bring a lantern or bug zapper to keep mosquitoes and bugs at bay.


Watch a movie with your friends and family.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Host a movie night without cable TV

If you have one of the many cord-cutting services Netflix, Hulu and the Apple TV app, invite your friends and family over for a popcorn and movie-filled evening.

Want to watch outside? See if anyone has a projector screen and set it up in your backyard or garage. Or, if that's not feasible, set up a tent-like structure and place a TV monitor or a big laptop inside. You can run an extension cord to the TV and enjoy your outdoor movie theater in no time.

Extra credit if you have excellent speakers like these or high quality portable Bluetooth speakers you can take outdoors. Just make sure it's not loud enough to annoy the neighbors.

Check out your local library's events

Libraries aren't just stuffy rooms with antique books. Many libraries offer activities for people of all ages, including workout classes, art projects, reading programs and more. If you have kids, you can drop them off at a painting class while you do yoga in the room next door (check out our best yoga mat suggestions).

You can also rent books and e-books for free to take your mind on an adventure. Set a calendar reminder on your phone to return them on time so you don't rack up a late fee.

Saving money

Go swimming

If you live near the ocean, a lake, creek or pool, go swimming -- it's summer, after all. All of those places should be free, or at least cheap, so you won't be dipping too deep into that budget. And if you're tracking your swim laps, make sure your fitness tracker is waterproof.

If it's in your budget, consider getting a summer pass instead of paying for daily visits to your local swimming pool. Most places offer season passes that pay for themselves if you plan on spending your summer by the pool. You may also be able to find a private pool you can rent out for several hours (pool party!) by searching Swimply.

Be a tourist where you live

Do what tourists do and look for free concerts and festivals on sites such as Eventbrite and Thrillist that are happening in your town. You may even discover local restaurants you never knew about or the super secret speakeasy in the basement of that art gallery you always go to.

You can also check Facebook for local events happening in your area. Most places usually post their happy hour specials on Yelp, and many offer you a free appetizer or dollars off when you check in from your app.


Signing up for a free gym trial is worth the effort.

James Martin/CNET

Get in great shape with free gym trials

OK, so the gym may not sound super exciting, but trying the group fitness classes offered could be fun -- think yoga, pure barre, pilates or kickboxing. Create a goal to achieve by the end of summer and find a friend who will help you because a workout buddy is essential.

Use your FitBit or Apple Watch to see your progress and use fitness apps (check out these best fitness apps for iPhone and Android) to keep your goals on track.

Watch this: Live like a local on your vacation

Go on a scavenger hunt like a grown-up

Create a scavenger hunt list or download a list online and get a couple of groups together to start hunting down items. Use apps such as Let's Roam and GooseChase to track other players' progress. You'll have a blast with your friends as you cross out the items you've found on your list and you can celebrate with a tasty summer cocktail.

You may also be interested in geocaching where you can go on treasure hunts all over the world with friends and family. Others will hide containers with trinkets and give you hints to find these geocaches. It's like modern day hunting for treasure chests.

Master a new sport (or at least play one)

Get a group together and start a kickball, football, soccer, or baseball tournament throughout the summer. You'll just need to find an empty field to play in. If you'd prefer trying a court sport, apps like Sportido or Playo will help you find others who are interested in joining you -- you can also book areas to play.

An app such as Couch to 5k will help you meet your running goals. Sites like Golf Now can help find better deals instead of paying the usual pricey rates.