And while I’ve got the ‘getting there cheaply’ and ‘sleeping + eating cheaply’ stuff down, finding cheap stuff to do? That’s been a bit of a learning curve. But after years of paying $15 for museums the bored me and booking $70 day trips I could have done on my own with a map and a bike, I’ve gotten smart (and creative).
9 Ways to Have More Fun Traveling
1. Check out a local grocery store
Peanut butter mochi! Seaweed-flavored Doritos! Sweetcorn ice cream! Grocery shopping has never been this fun. I could happily spend hours pawing through the shelves of a local (non-big box) grocery store.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, buy up $15 of unidentifiable, is-this-a-dairy-product-or-meat-product stuff and then sit in the park and nibble on all of it.
2. Attend a service at a local church*
I’m Agnostic but I really enjoy attending church services in the city where I’m staying – they’re a fantastic way to learn more about the culture and meet people. If you were raised going to church, they’re also a great way to connect with home when you’re feeling homesick.
I have incredibly fond memories of attending Christmas Eve services in Taiwan + New Zealand and a Sunday service in (very devout) Suva, Fiji.*
Of course, be respectful. Don’t attend orthodox churches if you’re not orthodox and make sure you’re dressed appropriately. If you’re not sure what to wear, dress the way the local women are dressing and make sure you’ve covered all the same parts of your body.
3. Visit a cemetery
It’s fascinating to see which names were common two or three hundred years ago – Dorcas? Kesiah? Sometimes gravestones of local notables include mini-bios and (surprisingly graphic) details of their death. Cemeteries in other cultures can also be beautifully, fascinatingly different than what we’ve grown up with.
(Even though these cemeteries are extremely photogenic, it’s probably best to refrain from taking photos. I mean, I’d be less than thrilled if strangers were taking photos of my Grandpa’s grave because it was sooooo fascinating and colorful.)
4. Ask the locals if you can join their pickup game
Playing soccer, rugby or basketball with some of the locals (especially if they’re kids) is a shortcut to great memories and new friends.
If no one’s playing, you can always bring or buy a ball of your own and try to play forlornly by yourself while making puppydog eyes at passersby. You’ll probably have a whole team of soccer-playing friends within 20 minutes!
5. Dine with a local
Finding those hidden gem, holes-in-the-wall can be surprisingly hard when you’re traveling (because if it’s on Tripadvisor or in Lonely Planet, it’s no longer a hidden gem) and eating alone every night can be a bummer. Eat dinner with a local!
6. Use public transportation
Sure, taxis are easier and more air conditioned, but they’re also expensive and isolating. Brave the bus/metro/train! You’ll save money, see more of the city and the people who live there, and if you’re lucky, you’ll encounter some amazing buskers.
7. Rent bikes
Most large cities in America and Europe now offer bike sharing programs (here in MSP we love Nice Ride). For a few bucks, you can see the city at a leisurely pace, stop whenever and wherever you want, and get some fresh air and exercise. Just google ‘bike sharing [name of city]’.
8. Check out local events
Sure, Mardi Gras is awesome, but what about the Alligator Festival? Or the world’s longest garage sale? Or a fish house parade? Small towns host tons of hilarious, frequently free events that are just as much fun as the tourist-soaked, hotels-booked-months-in-advance stuff a few towns over.
9. Google ‘free’ (city name)
Oddly obviously? Yes. Something I’ve never done for my own city? Also yes. When I searched ‘free Minneapolis’ I found free tours of three breweries, a tour of the state capitol, Lego world, and several museums and art galleries I’d never heard of.
Have a google of your destination city before you go and schedule some free things in between your guided tours and day trips.
What free/cheap things do you like to do when you travel? Share ’em in the comments!
P.S. If you’re looking to save money on lodging and you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $55 towards your first booking!