10 Ways To Take A Vacation Day for $25 or Less

I was going to title this post 10 ways to take an absolutely free vacation day, but I realize there are always costs to leaving your house. So this set of do-it-yourself vacation days will each cost you less than $25. The minimal costs are impossible to avoid such as for transportation (gas, bus, or train fare), food (try packing your own), or entry fees (when they cannot be avoided). Free Vacation Day Graphic

First let me dispel the myth that vacations have to be about travel and spending money. A vacation is time off from work and time off from life – nothing more. You can use that time, whether paid or unpaid, for any purpose. As long as you choose an activity that is enjoyable, rewarding, and enriching, you are “on vacation” even for just one day.

Now what if you don’t have any excess money after all the bills are paid and you don’t want to go into debt? You still want to take a vacation right? That is why I want to inspire you to take a vacation that costs next to nothing. Each of these top 10 vacation ideas are close to free, costing less than $25, £25, or €25. Your mileage will vary depending upon where you live and the cost of living in your area.

1. Raid the Fridge Picnic Vacation Day

This is my favorite vacation day idea since it also accomplishes the goal of cleaning out your refrigerator and cupboards. Go on a picnic at a local park, the beach, or even in your backyard. Create a basket made up of only things you have in your kitchen. If you have to cook, again use only what you have and avoid spending money on ingredients at the supermarket.

Find a picnic blanket, bring some music or board games or a good book, and depart for a vacation day out. If you are bringing your partner or entire family, make what’s in your picnic basket a surprise. Also consider packing outdoor activity gear if the weather allows so you can play games during your fun-filled escape.

2. Public Transportation Day Pass Vacation Day

Does your nearest city have a day pass for riding public transportation? Or a family pass where one low price covers an entire family on every bus, train, and perhaps ferry? Take advantage of this money-saving vacation option to explore your nearest city. Purchase a day pass and plan an itinerary that maximizes the number of places you’ll visit.

Since you can get off and on as often as you like, there are so many opportunities to see neighborhoods, tourist sites, historic places, and recreational areas. Try downloading a free city transit app to your mobile phone or just visit your local tourism office (or a name-brand hotel) to grab ready-made day itineraries and maps.

3. Free Day at the Museum Vacation Day

Many museums have a free day, such as the first Sunday of the month or specially designated days set aside for local residents. Pick out your favorite museum or one you’ve never been to before and look up their free day online. Not every museum has a free day. Otherwise you may be entitled to other discounts on certain days of the week. Also look for coupons in tourist brochures available at the tourism office and hotel lobbies.

To have the place all to yourself, arrive as close as possible to the opening time. Plan to have lunch or a snack break at the museum café (there usually is one onsite). Find out if there are scheduled talks or free guided tours scheduled throughout the day and sign up early.

Whether you enjoy art, history, science, or popular culture, there is a museum that can fulfill your low-cost vacation day goal. Don’t forget your local library as well. You can browse books, browse the Web, and do a bit of personal interest research all in one enriching day.

4. Coffee Shop Crawl Vacation Day

Better for your wallet (and your liver) than a traditional pub crawl, a coffee shop crawl is both a relaxed and caffeine-charged vacation day. Consult the list of the top coffee shops in your area using Yelp, TripAdvisor, or the advice of a local website. Map out a route to visit as many as you can fit in one day – say 4 or 5 stops. Bring your laptop or tablet to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi available in many cafes.

To make it more fun, pick a theme of comparison or variety. Either order the exact same coffee at every coffee shop to compare and rank the best, or order a different barista produced beverage each time. Find a table to people watch and surf the web or read a good book.

Another inspiring idea is to bring a stack of travel brochures and guidebooks on your crawl. With the savings you are getting from this budget-friendly vacation day, start planning your vacation week or two weeks.

5. Hit the Trails at the Park Vacation Day

Make the most of your local, state, or national parks and go hiking. Parks are a valuable natural resource which are mostly free, though you may pay a nominal entry fee or parking charge. Before the date go online to pick out a trail or two that meets your activity level.

Your vacation day at the park can be as simple as a leisurely stroll to a waterway to chill. At the other end of the extreme, hike to the summit for a picturesque view or sunset. Public parks often offer exhibits and guided walks so take advantage of what’s on the event calendar. To save on gas money, try to take public transportation to the park and for getting around to all the scenic points.

6. School Sporting Event Vacation Day

Watching opposing teams battling it out on the playing field makes for an entertaining vacation day. High school and college games aren’t called “professional sports” but they offer the same spirit of competition and athleticism. The players are giving it their all and the fans are rooting for the favorite team with great cheer. Your only major cost may be a hard to resist hot dog or if you are allowed to bring your own munchies, you’ll save and eat healthier.

Find out when high school matches are scheduled as they can often be free or almost free to attend. Try to add a bit of variety to your spectator sport day by attending several different sporting events. College games are a possibility too, especially if the sport is less popular and not televised on local TV.

Even if cannot find something officially scheduled, other pick-up matches are often happening at parks and arenas in your area to seek out, sit down, and cheer.

7. Do the Top 10 Free Things To Do in Your City

A quick search for the “Top 10 things to do in [YOUR-CITY]” or “Free things to do in [CITY-NAME]” on Google (or Bing if you must) will yield impressive results. As someone know is not normally a tourist in your own city, there are definitely things you’ve never got around to seeing or doing.

Make it your goal for the day to do everything mentioned in a top 10 (or whatever count) list in one fun-filled vacation day. Need more inspiration? Here are a few links to the top free attractions in several popular U.S. and Canadian cities:

8. Go on a Photo Safari

Have you sought out and photographed the “Big 5” or “Wonders of the World” in your own home town? A photo safari is like a real safari (OK I’m exaggerating just a bit) without the risk of being eaten by a lion. All you need is a camera (a camera phone will do brilliantly) and a good pair of walking shoes. A sunny day helps too.

Make a list of the animals, objects, people or scenery you want to photograph and head out. A few examples of a vacation day photo “Big 5” safari are birds, college campuses, public parks, street art, styles of architecture, store signs, and views of your city. It can be 5, 10, 20, or as many photo finds as you like.

Once you are done walking about and photographing specimens, post your photos online to share with friends and family. Just like you would do on a real vacation! Read our post on Going On A Photo Safari Vacation Step-By-Step for more tips.

9. Window Shop Your Way to Fashion

Before you say “window shopping isn’t as much fun as real shopping,” consider the VacationCounts approach. When you go window shopping on vacation, have a shopping goal in mind. Just leave your credit card at home to avoid the temptation to buy what you cannot afford right now. Maybe you want to find an elegant dress for an upcoming wedding, a stylish coat for the fall weather, sexy shoes for going out, or the craziest necktie.

Of course window shopping can go beyond clothing. Try a window shopping run to decorate your home. Are you wishing to replace the curtains, find the most comfortable couch, or install an over-the-top crystal chandelier? I sometimes like to window show for electronics and appliances to try out the latest brands, knowing full well that I’m not in the market to buy anything.

There is no reason to feel guilty if you forego buying anything. However do try to minimize wasting the time of helpful store clerks. At some future date you may have extra money to indulge in a few products that you had your eye on. Plus you can be a valuable resource for shopping recommendations to your friends and online followers. While you can’t always be shopping, you can go on a window shopping vacation any time you like.

10. Swim at the Beach, Lake, or Pool

Spending a lazy day by the sea is hard to resist. Not everyone can be fortunate enough to live by a large body of water. So if you are too far away from the beach, seek out a swimming pool where you can swim.

Besides public pools that charge a nominal entry fee, gyms and hotels often offer a day pass rate to use their facilities. As a local resident you may even be able to get a free trial pass for a fitness club.

Just like with the picnic idea, to save money pack your own refreshments plus some form of entertainment. To avoid spending money on one-time use beach sporting equipment, ask a friend of neighbor to borrow theirs. Look around your house for things to pack such as books, games, and hobby gear.


With a limited number of paid vacation days per year, treat each as a prize to be planned and savored. A limited budget does not mean a limited vacation. As you can see from this top 10 list which is only a starting point, there is no shortage of free and almost free vacation-in-a-day ideas.

So what is your favorite way to take a vacation day without spending more than you would on a work day? Leave your comments below to share free one-day vacation ideas. Let VacationCounts readers know about the free things to do and places to visit in the place that you live and work.

  • Wonderful post, Scott! I love how you’ve defined a vacation and your tips here. When we didn’t have as much money there’s no way we could have afforded to travel if we consistently spent money on concerts, shows, fancy dinners out, etc. We were always on the lookout for free or very bargain things to do so we could enjoy our hometown and also save for the bargain trip we had ahead.

    “School Sporting Event Vacation Day” is a great one in Boston with so many universities here. There’s no way we’ll pay $100 and up for a Boston Bruins ticket. A couple months ago we paid $20 each to see a Boston University hockey game (they’ve previously won national championships) and we were extremely impressed with the quality of the game and the venue- the Agganis Arena is very nice but not overcrowded like TD Waterhouse would be- where the Bruins and Celtics play. It was an awesome afternoon!

    And googling free things to do in a city or doing a coffee shop crawl are favorites of ours! Great work with this! 🙂

    • I’m so happy Wanderlust Marriage agrees that vacation days do not have to be expensive. It is the mindset that counts! University games are just as thrilling and perhaps an even more authentic experience than pro sports.

      Plus if you live close to any historic colleges and universities, you can use it as a reason to tour their campus as well. I’ve enjoyed exploring both the scenic Harvard and MIT campuses in Boston during visits. You can often stop inside the campus cafe or student union for a lunch break and to see what student life is all about. Definitely worthy of a (free) vacation day.

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