Spend Less, Play On! 5 Free Family Adventures For Summer.

Summer break is still weeks away and your family has already said “adios!” to copious amounts of cash for airline tickets, accommodations, kid’s camps and new summer threads.  You’re wondering what will be left in the bank by the time you’re ready to go. Fear not fellow travelers!  Money can take a backseat for these fun, fabulous and free family outings.  You can still get the most out of your summer and enjoy meaningful family experiences whether you’re on the road or staying home.  Spend less and play on!

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1. Letterboxing –   Let your kids unleash their inner Indiana Jones! Letterboxing, or “low-tech geo-caching” for kids, blends clue decoding, mapping, journaling and treasure hunting.  The best part?  The leg-work is already done! Here is what to do: 1. Visit  Letterboxing.org.  2. Find your location on their website (locations include the entire US and worldwide) 3. Your destination will likely show several clue trails you can choose from. Click on the trail of clues you’d like to follow & print them.  4.  Head outside on your hunt.

What you will need:  a journal, a rubber stamp & ink pad and a ballpoint pen (weather proof). And of course any other fun treasure hunting equipment you want to bring (compass, canteen, fancy crumpled hat)

So what’s the treasure? Once you’ve followed your trail of clues to the end, you will uncover a box that has a journal with a stamp inside.   Stamp your journal with their stamp and vice versa.  Your Letterboxing journal will become something of an explorer’s passport.  Keep in mind: Letterboxing members create these scavenger hunts for the public, so once you’ve conquered a few hunts of your own, you may consider designing one for future letterboxers.

My friend, and fellow blogger, Dianne (Random History and Offbeat Trivia) introduced our family to Letterboxing a few years back when she invited us on a hike up Mt. Blue Job in southern NH. Armed with a trail of clues, sense of adventure and some delicious snacks, Dianne had us ALL hooked!  The hike went from “just hiking up a hot, giant hill” to “hey, check out this cool tree (or flower, or animal track).” Letterboxing is a great activity to incorporate on a day hike or family picnic.

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2. Local Outdoor Markets– I love markets and our family frequents them both at home and when we travel.  We could spend hours roaming through tented rows of vendors checking out the local foods, crafts and music.  From squawking chickens to vibrant flowers  or spicy garlic wafting through the air, local markets are a feast for the senses and  a savory slice of local culture.

When we visited the Saturday market in Uzes, France a few summers ago, our kids talked futbol with locals, sampled local cheese, danced to folk music, played with kids and dogs and had an authentic connection to their surroundings.  Plus we filled up on some tasty (and very affordable) street food and brought home some lovely olive wood spoons.

Do your research!  Near and far, community markets are easy to find and enjoy. Find out if your destination has a standing market day or if there are any craft fairs or flea markets being held while you are visiting.  Search local event calendars, blogs and even trip planning websites (such as Trip Advisor) for up-to-date information and reviews.

Olives at the Saturday market in Uzes, France

Olives at the Saturday market in Uzes, France

 

Visiting the candy stand.

Visiting the candy stand.

3. Historic Sites – So this may not sound super thrilling for kids but in can be; especially if you dot it around a hike, picnic, trip to a playground, etc.  It’s also a great way to connect with their school curriculum or great books themed around your location. Do your research before your adventure and find out what places of significance or historical importance are at your destination.  Whether it’s a colonial meeting house, place of worship, lighthouse, battlefield, or geographic point, historical landmarks abound as do the stories they hold.

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Driving through Wyoming

We were driving through Wyoming last summer and stumbled (clumsily) upon Sacajawea’s grave in the Wind River Reservation.  Our son had just completed a unit on Native Americans in third grade, and our daughter was about to start.  Because of their class work and several Lewis & Clark books we had read together, finding her grave site gave a touch of reality to a vast and vague history and they forged a deep connection. The unexpected detour became one of the highlights of the drive and a significant learning opportunity for both the kids and my husband and me.

Kids viewing Sacajawea's grave.

Kids viewing Sacajawea’s grave.

 

Color and spirit dot the dry and windswept landscape in this Wind River Reservation cemetery  - the site of Sacajawea's grave.

Color and spirit dot the dry and windswept landscape in this Wind River Reservation cemetery – the site of Sacajawea’s grave.

4. Artist Studios and Studio Tours– Have you ever seen a glass blower create a wineglass from a blob of molten glass or watched a potter magically transform a hunk of clay into a beautiful vase?  Have your kids seen paint splattered studios, heard violins being tuned, or watched the heavy but delicate hand of a blacksmith shaping beauty from a chunk of red-hot metal?   Witnessing art in action is captivating and energizing.  There are talented artists everywhere  happy to demonstrate their technique and inspire budding artists.  Check listings for artist co-ops that house several (or many) artists renting space or source out individual studios.  This is also a great opportunity to buy a one-of-a-kind treasure from your adventure and a great way to support a local arts economy.   We’ve been fortunate to find beautiful pieces of functional and decorative art at very affordable prices.  Art studios have become our favorite destination for buying gifts and souvenirs.

Watching a blacksmith create his art.

Watching a blacksmith create his art.

5. Museums – Yes, they can be free (or at least cheap)! Whether you are on the road or wandering out your back door, most cities or regions have museums that offer periodic free admission (or great discounts) throughout the year.  Specifically, many offer “Free Fridays” on the first of the month, or after school free hours.  Plus, if you are visiting a museum close to home, check your local library for free passes. Museum web sites will post deals and discounts, but take note – sometimes the deal dates are tricky to find.  Check the museums calendar of events or make a call!

Museum memberships have their perks. If you purchase a family membership at an ASTC (Association of Science – Technology Centers), AZA (Associations of Zoos and Aquariums) or ACM (Association of Children’s Museums) associated museum, your membership will get you into hundreds of reciprocating museums nationwide.

Check out the links at the bottom of this post for a few sources to get you started on a budget friendly museum stop.

American Museum of Natural History, NYC

American Museum of Natural History, NYC

So, don’t let the burden of expense wear you down on your next family trip!  There are loads of free or inexpensive opportunities at your fingertips.  Have fun, spend less and play on! 

HELPFUL MUSEUM LINKS:

US – Nationwide:  If you are a Bank of America customer, check out this link to find free admission to over 150 museums nationwide during the first full weekend of each month.  A perk indeed.  http://museums.bankofamerica.com/

Also, check out Target’s sponsored museum days.  They offer free or reduced admission to different museums and theaters nationwide.  Check here for details

New York:

http://www.ny.com/museums/free.html

http://freemuseumday.org/nyc.html

http://gonyc.about.com/od/museums/ss/Free-Admission-And-Discounted-Admission-At-New-York-City-Museums.htm

Chicago:

http://thelocaltourist.com/chicagofreemuseums#

London:

http://www.eurocheapo.com/blog/london-budget-survival-guide-20-free-museums.html http://golondon.about.com/od/londonforfree/tp/Best_Free_Museums.htm

Paris:

http://www.parislogue.com/free-paris (great round-up of “always free”, “sometimes free” and “almost free” listings).

Rome:

http://www.activitaly.com/inglese/home_ing.html (this website gives great tips for visiting Rome’s sites as well as contact info for the museums to find out if any deals are being offered).

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