people on swings carousel having fun things to do on vacation

Things to do on Vacation – Free, Fun, Unique!

The whole reason many of us want to take a vacation is to explore a new place, relax, and have some fun. The last thing we want is to feel bored during a trip. So there’s no doubt that as you are planning your trip you are researching all types of things to do on your vacation that will be fun and memorable. While every destination is different, there are many things that are common among destinations that you can incorporate into your travel itinerary. From free things to do on vacation, to cheap things to do. There are also many exciting and fun things to do on vacation, as well as unique things to do that you may not have considered. Check out our big list below of all the things to do on vacation!

Free Things to do on Vacation


When you are searching for things to do on your next vacation, you’ve probably stumbled across all kinds of fun stuff! While there are so many things to do, most of us don’t have an unlimited vacation budget.  So in order to help maximize your travel budget and get the most out of it, you will likely be looking to find some free things to do on vacation that are fun and won’t empty your wallet. Here are some of our picks for free things to do on your next trip.

Wander Around on Foot (aka take a walk)

Going for a walk is one of my favorite things to do during a vacation. It’s a wonderful way to get to know the area and have a little fun exploring on your own.  Whether you go for a walk near your hotel, or go for a stroll through the downtown neighborhoods or other scenic areas. I love being able to wander around and just enjoy the sights, sounds, smells. Of course, you should always be mindful of your location and keep safety in mind. 

Liz walking in a park Sydney Australia, great free thing to do on vacation

Take Photos (and turn it into a game)

Most of us take a ton of photos during our trip. So this is a given really, but how about kicking it up a notch and turning your photo taking into an adventure. There are a number of photo scavenger hunts that you can find online or you can just make up your own for yourself, or even with your travel partners. I enjoy taking photos, but I like it even more when I feel like I’m on a mission hunting for something. It makes me look with a more careful eye, and I will zoom in and take the photos differently and from different angles rather than just a plain boring shot of the landscape.

Free Attractions or Museums

Even though a lot of the things we want to do on our vacation may cost money, I promise you that if you dig around you will find some local attractions and even museums that are free. For example, the famous (and massive) Smithsonian Museum complex throughout Washington D.C. is completely free to visit!  And there are other museums I’ve visited around the world where just 1 day a week is free, which is great if you can plan your travel itinerary around that!

Visit Local Parks

In many travel destinations you can find local parks to hang out and enjoy. There are some truly beautiful and iconic parks to be explored, such as Central Park in New York City, but there are also small parks to enjoy. Many cities around Europe are known to have some wonderful parks to enjoy. And for me, some of my favorite experiences in places such as London and Paris was just sitting in the local parks and soaking up local life. But even here in the States, we’ve found some wonderful parks even in small towns to enjoy. And if our dog, Hana, is traveling with us then we are always on the lookout for a good dog park as well. Over the years we’ve found some pretty amazing dog parks here in the USA where we’ve had a lovely day!

many people picnicking on grass under the Eiffel Tower in Paris on sunny day - a great free thing to do during a vacation
My napping spot in Paris, not a bad view of the Eiffel Tower!

Visit a Beach (Doesn’t Have to be the Ocean)

If you are lucky enough to be vacationing to a destination with a great beach, then I’m sure you will be enjoying the beach as a part of your trip. Beaches are a wonderful free thing to do on vacation. We love hanging out at the beach for a whole day, or even just for the morning or evening sunset. However, you don’t have to be on a tropical island or near the ocean to enjoy a good beach.  Many places you might visit could have a lake with a beach area that you can enjoy. Places such as Lake Tahoe, Chicago, and so many more! Maybe it’s even a river and there is a beach area or walking paths along the river banks that you can enjoy. 

Go on a Hike (Doesn’t Have to be Strenuous)

Hiking is a wonderful free activity on vacation! It’s really great to find a trail and just take a long walk, exploring along the way. If you are fit and enjoy a good hike, then you can do a bit more strenuous hike for a bit of exercise too. However, don’t worry if you aren’t a big hiker!  Going for a hike can really just be going on a leisurely stroll on a trail through a scenic place. We’ve found some nice hiking trails in local parks and in open areas near lakes and rivers where we can just pull off and go explore for a couple hours. Hiking is a lovely way to breathe in some fresh air, relax and enjoy your surroundings.

Josh looking at famous orange arch at Arches National Park in Utah after hiking to it

People Watching

Ok I have to admit, people watching is probably one of my favorite things to do — especially when I’m on vacation. I really just enjoy seeing different people from various walks of life, how they interact and what they do. It’s interesting to see how people are similar, yet different all across the US but especially when I travel to other countries. People watching goes well with many of the other free things I like to do on vacation, such as going for a walk, visiting parks and beaches. 

 

Cheap Things to Do on Vacation


Even if we are keeping a budget in mind for our trip, not everything is going to be free. However, there are many things to do on vacation that may cost only a little. Here are some of the cheap things to do during a trip that we enjoy.

Geocaching / Scavenger hunt (free or cheap)

If you haven’t noticed already, we have a whole Geocaching section on our website because it’s an activity that we really enjoy when we are traveling for many reasons. One of the reasons is that it is cheap! In fact, it can be free for some people who just want to use the free version. However, we have an upgraded account which gives us access to a lot more geocaches for a relatively low price. If you don’t know what it is, Geocaching is basically a scavenger hunt that uses GPS coordinates. People hide these caches all around the world and enter them in the system, then you can choose to follow the clues and go find them! Most of them are actually physical caches that you can open. Others are virtual. Some are gadgets or puzzles you have to solve too. You can play the game different ways, but the reason we enjoy it is that it gives us something cheap to do when we are on a trip and it allows us to have fun and explore!

Josh smiling while using his phone as a GPS to find a Geocache in a local park - a great free thing to do on vacation

Explore Markets & Shops 

I absolutely LOVE finding a local Farmers Market or other local markets in town where I can just wander around and look at things. Or if there is a charming downtown area with little shops then I’ll walk around and do a bit of window-shopping too. Possibly I’ll buy something, but oftentimes I find that I just enjoy the experience of walking around and looking. Which by itself, is technically a cheap activity. However, if you are a bit of a shopaholic, then perhaps this isn’t a good option for your budget! 

Historic Sights & Museums

When you are traveling you are likely to find various historic sights and even some museums that have small fees to enter. While they are not technically free, we’ve found that they are still worth the small fee for the enjoyment that we get out of them. For example, just last week we visited Koreshan Historic Site here in Florida. The admission was just a couple bucks and we really enjoyed wandering around on some of the trails through the bamboo and learning about some of the old buildings on the historic site. 

Explore a State Park

One of our favorite things to do outside during a vacation is explore a State Park. Here in the US we are lucky that there are so many beautiful State Parks to experience. And since we enjoy RVing and Camping, it makes perfect sense for us to include these parks during our vacations. We’ve found State Parks to have wonderful walking or hiking trails, lakes and rivers to enjoy, interesting exhibits and more. For just a few bucks entrance fee, we always have a nice time at a State Park. 

Have a Picnic

A great way to enjoy yourself on vacation and not spend a ton of money is to have a picnic. Visit a local market and pick up some unique items to the area, and perhaps just some snacks or deli goods to make sandwiches and find a great spot to park it. Local parks and state parks are great places to have picnics. In fact, one of the best things I did during all my visits to Paris was to relax and have a picnic under the Eiffel Tower. There’s just something nice about laying down a blanket and relaxing with some food and snacks. Bring some games with you to make it even more fun. 

Go for a Drive or a Ride

Another top favorite of mine whenever I’m on vacation and looking for something to do that is cheap is to hop in the car and go for a drive! I love a good road trip anyway, but it doesn’t have to be a long road trip. Just driving around town or the nearby area to explore can be fun. Oftentimes Josh and I will spend time driving around whenever we arrive at a new destination. It helps us see what is all around gives us a good “lay of the land” for our time visiting.

Josh sitting in driver's seat smiling while driving a convertible in the florida keys with water in the background
One of the most beautiful drives in the world.

We also like to take day drives up in the mountains and other places nearby that we might like to see. It’s great just to kick back with some music and look out the window. If you don’t have a car, you can always rent one for a day. Or maybe you can ride your bike around to explore, or even just hop on a local bus! I’ve definitely just hopped on a bus before in a new city just to ride it around and see where it went! It was a super cheap way to get a little tour of the city!

 

Fun Things to Do on Vacation


Not everything is free or cheap on vacation. Here are some of the fun things you can do on vacation if you have a little more cash available in your vacation budget. 

Book a Day Tour or Excursion

Depending on the destination, we sometimes really enjoy booking a day trip or excursion with a guide. We tend to do these more often when we are on cruises, because they are a really easy way to explore and not have to worry about any details ourselves. But even when we are taking a normal vacation we might occasionally book a day tour. For example, NYC has some great group tours you can take around town and even some cool bus tours. In Italy my friend and I booked a day tour from Rome down to Pompeii for the day. It was really nice because for one price they took care of the transportation, entrance fees, tour guides and even lunch. It was nice to relax and not have to stress about any of it ourselves. 

Visit Theme Parks / Water Parks

A very popular activity to do when on vacation is to visit a theme park or water park. In fact, this is what my family lived for growing up on our vacations. From Disney, Universal, Sea World, Six Flags, Cedar Point and more! It seems that many vacation destinations have some type theme park or water park that you can spend the day at. Theme parks are always a lot of fun for us and are always a big part of our vacations.

Josh and Liz happy couple smiling and thumbs up in front of hong kong disneyland resort sign

Play Some Games: Laser Tag, Mini Golf, GoKarts, etc.

We like to play games in our family. And that doesn’t end when we go on vacation. Many of the popular travel destinations will have some types of games and other activities that you can do together. Things such as Laser Tag can be a lot of fun, and even having a GoKart race. However for us, Mini Golf is a staple in our vacations. It’s something that everyone in the family can do, whether it’s just Josh and myself or if we have other family members with us too – young and old. Everyone seems to enjoy a nice game of mini golf when on vacation.

Zoos / Aquarium / Botanical Gardens

We love animals. So when we travel we find that we really enjoy ourselves when we visit a zoo, aquarium or any other type of wildlife park. Local zoos tend to be inexpensive and can be a very enjoyable way to spend the day. While bigger zoos and aquariums might be more expensive and have a larger variety of things to see. In particular, the Atlanta Zoo is a lot of fun as well as the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. The Seattle Aquarium brings back fond memories of when I was a kid. And recently we visited the Homosassa Wildlife Park in Florida and really enjoyed their exhibits of rescued animals and manatees! Another option to consider are botanical gardens too. We’ve gone to some nice botanical gardens over the years, which can be really interesting to see the different plants and a relaxing way to spend the day.

Tasting Local / Popular Foods (Maybe Even a Tour?)

If you are a foodie or just are interested in sampling varieties of foods, then why not do this as a part of your vacation! We enjoy sampling different flavors with our meals or trying out different types of snacks that we see. Here in the States, people visiting Philadelphia might be on the hunt for the best Philly Cheesesteak or some Clam Chowder up in New England. If you are really into food, then you might even consider doing a food tour. Many destinations offer food tours and they are a great way to learn more about the food you are eating, and have fun meeting other food-lovers on the tour with you.

josh sitting on side of road in Cozumel eating at taco truck, tasting local food is a fun thing to do on vacation
Josh sitting on side of road in Cozumel eating the best dollar tacos from a taco truck with the locals!

Find Some Thrills! 

If you are looking to add some thrilling experiences to your vacation, then definitely check out some of the tickets you can buy for various thrill rides and activities in your vacation destination. Activities such as zip-lining are quite popular and can be a fun and scenic way to explore. I know we’ve done zip lines in many locations, from Georgia to Tennessee and beyond. Whitewater rafting is a popular activity for tourists up in my home state of Idaho, although the first time I ever went whitewater rafting was in Austria. If you are near the water then you may see if there are some thrilling activities you can do near the water, such as parasailing or renting jet skis or going on a sunset cruise. For example, once in Hawaii we went snorkeling with the manta rays at night and it was one of the most amazing experiences we ever had!

Josh goes by fast on a zip line in Georgia yelling with excitement and giving hang loose hand signal - a fun thing to do on vacation
Great shot of Josh riding the “Skimmer” Zip Line at Historic Banning Mills!

 

Unique Things to Do on Vacation You May Not Have Considered


When people travel to a new destination, they might just focus on the typical tourist sights.  Running around snapping photos of iconic scenes, breezing through museums, or performing “tourist” obligations, like a picture holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa (yes, I have that shot too).  And while there is nothing wrong with checking off your “must do” list, there are some of you who might enjoy doing something totally different during your vacation.

Hire a Local Guide

From our experience, the best way to see a destination is with a local.  There are a number of websites and organizations and websites, such as With Locals, that will link travelers up with local guides who will give you the inside scoop on the destination.  In a way, it’s better than a tour guide; it’s like visiting one of your friends who takes you not only to the main sights, but also the hidden gems that most tourists don’t know about.  They can also help you plan your itinerary, and if there is a language barrier, having a local guide can be a HUGE help.

image of with locals homepage of website, a great resource to find things to do on vacation that are unique with local guides

Attend a Performance

Another thing you may enjoy on your trip is to attend a performance.  Depending on the destination, the options vary; so you may want to do some research in advance.  Regardless of the amount of time you are visiting, this is a great way to peer into the soul of the culture.

To find these opportunities, we recommend starting with the tourism boards or a similar local organization.  For example, in Hawaii attending a Luau is an extremely popular thing to do. And in New York City, we had a great time when we went to see the famous Radio City Rockettes! But it’s not just in the big cities, smaller destinations host a number of entertaining performances as well. It could just be going to a local music festival or show hall. For example, one of our favorite things to do in Asheville, North Carolina is going out to local venues and watching bands play or going to one of the many breweries around town where they often have live music playing.

If you are traveling abroad, we also highly recommend attending a performance. Once in China, we attended an amazing show in Chengdu where we watched them do a whole traditional Sichuan opera – including breathing fire and the famous face-mask changers! In Thailand we even went through the local tourism office to attend a traditional Kantoke dinner and show. And in Cambodia one evening we went out to a restaurant that included a dinner show of traditional Apsara Dancers — it was honestly one of my favorite experiences while in Cambodia.

Enjoying traditional Khmer Apsara dancing in Cambodia is a fun thing to do on vacation
Enjoying traditional Khmer dancing in Cambodia

Take a Class

Another unique thing to do on vacation that you might not have considered before is taking a class. I know the word “class” sounds like work, but it really can be a lot of fun. Even if you are traveling here in the States you can find local classes to attend. Things like pottery or painting and other local arts and crafts. It might not seem very “touristy” but that’s ok! Because it’s really just about being in the moment and enjoying yourself, no matter what you are doing. And taking a class to learn something new is a fun way to challenge yourself, meet other people, and have a fun day out.

If you are going on vacation to another country, then I definitely recommend looking into taking some local classes. Taking a class when you are traveling abroad is a wonderful thing to do because you can learn so much about the local culture and meet some wonderful people! For us, these have been some of the best memories of our overseas adventures. For example, in Hong Kong many years ago I took a Fung Shui class from a master. And years later in Hong Kong I also took a Tai Chi class! We’ve also taken cooking classes in Thailand which we absolutely LOVED! You can also take meditation classes in Thailand at local temples too and throughout Central America you can volunteer for a day of teaching children English while also practicing your Spanish.

unique travel, travel experiences, travel infographic

Dine With a Local

As many travelers know, one of the best ways to connect with a new culture or destination is to experience the food.  It is even more enjoyable when you can chat with a local who can give you recommendations, and perhaps even a bit of explanation or history behind the food you are tasting. There are a number of organizations and websites (such as Eat With) that will connect travelers to locals who enjoy showing visitors their food culture. Whether it is dining out at a restaurant, taking a cooking class, or throwing a dinner party at their house for you and their friends (yes, that exists)!

 

Liz dining out with a local she met in Hong Kong - a fun thing to do on vacation to sample foods and meet people
Dinner in rural Hong Kong with a new friend

Another option is to strike up a conversation with a local during your sightseeing activities, and then offer to buy them a meal in exchange for further conversation.  I’ve spoken to a number of travelers who have done this and had a wonderful time!  It’s a great way to make new friends and connect with the locals.

screenshot of eat with home page of website, a unique thing to do on vacation where you can eat with locals and have events too

Stay in Alternate Accommodations, Rather than Hotels

While Josh and I love a good luxury hotel for pure relaxation, when we really want a unique experience on our trip, we set out to find somewhere to stay that’s different than a normal hotel. These unique places to stay actually make it a fun experience, sometimes even provide us with fun activities to do while we are staying there.

We have stumbled across a few budget hotel gems over the years, but we most often end up searching for places such as boutique hotels, bed & breakfasts and even hostels.  We love staying in places where we can not only have a unique hotel room, charm or overall experience, but also a place where we can meet other travelers and chat. 

sign up and save money on airbnb beach house overlooking sunset with palm trees

Renting your own apartment or house can also a great way to go!  There are a number of websites out there that rent out apartments for short stays or even longer, such as Airbnb.  We enjoy using Airbnb in particular if we are on a longer trip and really want to feel like we are living there like a local.

Another option if you want to feel like a local but don’t want to be by yourself is to look into a homestay (where you stay with a family).  This allows you to feel a part of the local culture by staying in a neighborhood, visiting their shops and restaurants, local markets, and even doing a bit of your own cooking (which can save you money too).

Josh sitting in traditionally decorated Scottish Bed and Breakfast common room reading a book with fireplace in background
Josh enjoying the library of this charming bed & breakfast in the Scottish Highlands! So much character, and amazing food!

Work for It!

If your vacation budget is tight or if you are interested in doing something very unique, you can choose to stay in accommodation where you can work in exchange for some (or all) of your room and board.  This is an awesome opportunity and a very unique travel experience that’s quite popular with younger people especially.  Websites connect travelers with people who offer work in exchange.  Many of these jobs will be physical in nature, such as helping out around a farm or even helping with household duties, but we have stumbled across opportunities where you can put unique skills to work, like helping someone build a website!

In Italy, agriturismos are also popular.  These are basically family farms that offer room and board in exchange for help around the farm.  The experience gives you an opportunity to form a friendship with the owners and other people staying there, as well as a way to connect with the region through life’s daily activities.

workaway website homepage

 

Challenge Yourself to Find Different Things to Do on Vacation!

In the end, it comes down to the vacation experience that you are looking for.  Every traveler is different; however, it’s important to realize that there is more to exploring a new destination than just what is written in a guidebook.  When you plan a trip, take time to look beyond the obvious.  You may be able to find fun and creative things to do on your trip that are free, quite cheap, or even unique! Find ways to connect with the people and experience their culture. Learn, taste, try, grow. Doing these types of things on a trip can give you a much deeper experience that you will cherish for years to come. 

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