Hey, I get it. Sometimes taking an extended vacation and traveling somewhere just isn’t possible. Maybe you can’t travel because of financial reasons or work reasons or, like me, a family commitment. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep your nose to the grindstone and just power through until your next vacation.
Often, in between road trips, I get itchy feet. I just have to get out and do something new. Do you get this way, too? In this post, I’ll let you know my favorite ways —all of them either free or cheap— to explore my hometown when I can’t travel.
I use the term ‘hometown’ loosely. The only place I’ve lived in for longer than a year is the city of Philadelphia and, even then, I lived in three different neighborhoods within the massive city. However, I’ve learned that no matter how long you’ve lived in one place, there’s always something new to see.
Explore your hometown through new eyes.
I grew up in the Northeast section of Philadelphia, PA. My friends and I would hop on the bus or train, get off at 8th & Market and spend the whole day just walking around downtown. As soon as we could drive, we were exploring even more. I’ve seen A LOT of Philadelphia, but there’s still a lot more that I haven’t explored.
When my parents were coming into town for a visit after moving to Florida a few years ago, I knew I had to find an activity or a place that we’d never been to before. My mom is like the Energizer Bunny and would have been pissed if my idea of a good time was sitting around, eating food and enjoying each others’ presence while “catching up”.
So, we consulted the great and powerful Groupon.
Try a new activity.
My mom texted me one afternoon saying, “I signed us up for a scavenger hunt.”
Oh, god. I’m sure I rolled my eyes. My idea of a scavenger hunt was racing against other teams and solving puzzles or other questions to get to the next clue first.
Something you should know about me: I’m not a competitive human. In fact, the need to ‘win’ is something that would turn me away from an activity. While I might participate in competitive events, I’m perfectly chill about losing, haha. I knew my lack of competitiveness would lead to my team (in this case, my family) being disappointed in me for helping them lose. I was not in the mood to be yelled at by my parents who I hadn’t seen in years. Did I mention I’m also no good under pressure?
But, it’s what mom wanted, so it’s what we did.
You guys, I WAS SO WRONG.
First, each person on the team is assigned a role.
You all download an app on your phone, choose your role, and then you’re sent prompts that you have to do throughout the scavenger hunt (thankfully, we were only in search of landmarks not a wad of gum under a rock).
I was the group photographer. There was no way I could eff that up, right? Keep reading.
Between every landmark, I was given a photo assignment that had to be completed before we moved to the next landmark.
The assignments were hilarious things like ‘pretend to be looking on the ground for your contact’ or ‘get a stranger to do the Wave with you’ (we did, and it was awesome). My family HAD A BLAST looking like a bunch of idiots in front of strangers. We were forced to talk to people we didn’t know, which ended up going really well! Everyone we met thought that was we were doing was great.
Remember how I thought I couldn’t mess up being the photographer….
Quick tip: if you choose to do this scavenger hunt, TAKE THE PHOTOS ON YOUR PHONE AND THEN UPLOAD THEM TO THE APP. I took the photos straight through the app and it didn’t save any of them!
All of those incredible photo opportunities…all of those photos of my family looking like a group of fools – gone!
There was also a group Historian (my sister, the history major) who asked fun trivia questions about Philadelphia between each stop, the Navigator, and the Entertainment who was in charge of fun Philadelphia inspired tunes.
Yeah… that person was from Pittsburgh, so we pretty much rocked out to “Eye of the Tiger” all day. Cause they can’t understand our fascination with Rocky.
Some great places to look for deals on these awesome scavenger hunts:
Run a 5k
I know, I know! “Stephie, I don’t run!” Listen, me either. I’m over 200 pounds and have bad knees, but I love participating in 5Ks.
5Ks are almost like a less intimidating ComicCon…. with free pizza and beer.
I’ve done a Color Run (purple snot for days!), 80s themed races where we dressed as Pac Man characters, and Shape’s Diva Dash — an obstacle course. Each one was a ton of fun! Get some friends together, make some goofy costumes, and walk 3.1 miles in the spirit of fun…and free beer.
Word of warning: If you do a Color Run, make sure you bring a bandanna or something to wear over your nose and mouth at the after party.
Take a photo tour of your city.
Maybe you don’t live in a big city. A photo tour is a great way to see your town with new eyes!
This could be either free or cheap. There are walking photography tours that you can pay for, but they’re mostly in major cities and can vary in price. However, it is nice to walk with a guide who knows the area and facts about it. They’re usually professional photographers too, so they can give you helpful tips on how to get the perfect shot.
I’ve always been fascinated by photography. In my childhood, I would beg for those disposable cameras and run around snapping pictures of everything. In high school, I got my first digital camera.
I would dress up my best friend, make up and all, and we would run around town doing photo shoots. To this day, we freaking love all of those photos.
Now I’m not telling you to dress someone up and take their picture…unless you want to. But, as my BFF and I got older, she got pretty seriously into photography as well. We got better cameras and began taking photo journeys together. We would search for interesting shooting locations around Philadelphia and take a drive.
I shoot with a Canon Rebel T3i. This is an older model and you can get the newer version pretty cheap on Amazon. My best friend shoots with a Canon PowerShot. I’ll link both below!
You don’t have to have a fancy camera to take a photo tour. Just take your smartphone. Only reason I don’t is because I used up all the space on it and every time I try to take a picture, it yells at me! haha
Try a new restaurant.
I’m on a serious budget so I have to be pretty careful with the money I spend. That’s why I love Restaurant Week.
This famous week (that a lot of cities take part in – look into it!) is a time when I’m able to try those amazing restaurants that I wouldn’t ever be able to afford without the discount.
For $25 (prices vary), I was able to get dressed up, go to a beautiful restaurant in downtown Philly, and enjoy a delicious Italian dinner with a group of friends – complete with a bottle of wine for the table! For one night, I felt like a rock star.
Do a Google search to find a Restaurant Week near you!
Take advantage of free admission days at your local museum.
A lot of museums do this (if their admission isn’t free already). Find museums in your area and check out their websites to see if they offer this. If they don’t, I’ve scored 50% off admission by looking on Groupon.
You can also check CityPass to save up to 50% on museums and attractions if you live in one of the major cities they cover.
Find landmarks you might not know exist.
Whether you’re in a small town or big city, you might have missed something in your area that you never took the time to see.
There are two places that I like to check when I’m looking for some new sights. The first:
Open up the Roadtrippers map, either online or in the app, and click on the icons that interest you the most. You have a ton of options like “Offbeat Attractions” or “Outdoor Activities”, but also restaurants, bars, and shopping.
While living in Pittsburgh for a short time, I used this app to find all kinds of cool places like Randyland.
Roadside America is a cool place to find offbeat attractions in your area. Like the world’s largest yarn ball or my current small town’s Polka Dot House.
Meet new people
This is a fun one! I love meeting new people and experiencing new activities through their eyes as well. You really meet some interesting characters that may open you up to things you’ve never considered before. I’m not talking swinger parties or anything super weird, but writer groups, hiking groups, or a group of people looking to go to the aquarium together.
Use the Meetups app to find new activities and new friends in your area.
My husband and I have met a cool group of gamers who get together once a month to play tabletop RPGs (my LOVE Dungeons & Dragons). I’ve participated in writing groups when I lived in Pittsburgh. I’d love to get into a hiking group next! Check it out and see what kind of activities you can find in your area.
Have fun at home
If you’re really broke and can’t really get out of the house, then have fun at home. This is often what my husband and I do.
We love video games, board games, and playing cards. This is how we usually entertain ourselves when we’re stuck at home. But this isn’t a post about finding new hobbies and I don’t think I have to tell you how to enjoy your own hobbies, so let’s move on.
Marie Kondo the crap out of your house.
OMG. I used to do this for the sake of minimalism, but now it’s like a phenomenon. People watch one episode of Tidying Up on Netflix and all of a sudden they’re digging through their closets getting rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy.
This is good. You don’t need all that crap. So take a day, watch an episode of Tidying Up for inspiration, and then get to work.
A decluttered space really helps to keep a decluttered mind. And you’ll be surprised how fun and rewarding this activity can be.
Have a self-care kind of day.
Seriously, take one day and only do things that make feel good and bring happiness.
These are the days when I like to soak in the tub, read a good book, pluck my eyebrows, and try out a new face mask. Then I play Skyrim and get out all of my remaining stresses.
If your self-care day looks more like dancing around in your underwear to rock-and-roll tunes or taking yourself to a movie, then do it! These days really help to de-stress and get your mind in order.
Learn a new skill.
My husband is a self-taught woodworker, bookbinder, and computer programmer. He is obsessed with learning. When I say, “Hey, let’s make homemade sushi,” then he’s online researching how to do it best.
We started an entire bookbinding business based on skills we learned from YouTube.
Some of my favorite places to take online classes:
Creative Live has AMAZING creative business courses and have free courses every day. Skillshare offers a great free trial and classes for any topic you can think of. I’m currently taking a writing class on Udemy and loving it!
Every single day can be some kind of adventure. I try not to get bummed when I’m not able to travel anywhere. I’ll turn to this list instead and find some way to truly enjoy my time at home.
What are some of your favorite ways to explore your hometown?