Photo Credit: Mandy Yeh for

Photo Credit: Mandy Yeh for

Sometimes summer can get you down if you find yourself low on money or without the patience to pack and travel for weeks. But instead of being a couch potato all day long, explore your own city, backyard or home with some creative thinking.

Summer is the best time to be outdoors, even if you don’t like playing sports and getting sweaty. You can take a day trip to a local park, many of which offer free summer events like musical performances or cultural dance lessons. Check online calendars for your city or county for ideas since they will  typically list summer events in the area. For instance, Pasadena’s Levitt Pavilion has a free summer concert series, during which sharing snacks and playing games on the lawn can be a lot of fun.

Alternatively, look for your hometown’s little-known tourist gems. Ask your city hall or neighborhood library for more information, or search their respective websites.  Several years ago, my hometown mayor placed a time capsule underneath a statue of a lady and baby that I never found particularly noteworthy. However, local newspapers later revealed that the statue is one of twelve identical “Madonnas of the Trail, ” extending from California to Maryland and honoring pioneer women since 1928. I was surprised at my ignorance of such an important historical monument for years.

At night, stargazing provides a low-budget outdoor activity. Before you go, do some online research to find a good viewing spot and make sure you don’t get lost. A good place to start is Stardate Online, which has weekly stargazing tips, meteor shower dates and a beginner’s guide for the newly adventurous. If you live near mountains, map a route during the day to get familiar with the road, which can get dangerous at night. When you get to your designation, enjoy the sunset before having a competition to see who is the best at finding constellations. A contest is a sure-fire way of making a simple activity more interesting.

Don’t feel like driving? Plan a midday picnic in your own backyard. Invite friends to bake or cook and enjoy the fruits of your labor outside. Try new and interesting dishes by browsing online recipes such as these 20 picnic foods. This includes dishes like a Bucket of Mud, which promises to be a scrumptious dessert despite its deceptive name.

For those who enjoy nighttime activities, try pitching a tent in your backyard. It might sound tacky, but it can be better than dealing with the hassle of spending a night far from civilization. You’ll be distant enough from parental supervision to stay up as late as you want, but close enough so that you can walk inside the house and enjoy modern plumbing if nature calls. Plus, if the bugs start to attack or the weather takes a turn for the worse, you’ll find refuge steps away from your “campground.” If you live in a city with no backyard, revisit your childhood by camping out in your living room. Turn the lights off and use flashlights to navigate the house. Sleep in the tent as if it really is the only modern piece of furniture available, and go back in time with games like monopoly or tell ghost stories. Even if it doesn’t feel like the real deal, reveling in your cheesiness with friends can create the fondest memories.

A summer without exotic travel plans doesn’t mean you’re condemned to boredom. Challenge yourself to find new and interesting things to do, even if it means taking a cutesy idea like camping out in your living room to a whole new dimension. Look online or think creatively because, outdoors or indoors, there’s always something fun waiting for you—whether it’s exploring your hometown or throwing a low-key event in your house.