7 free and cheap ways to enjoy a staycation

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If you're looking for ways to pare down summer vacation expenses, consider planning a staycation on a three-day weekend or when you can take a few days off to enjoy a summer break. You don't have to spend a lot of money to make the most of your surroundings, and summertime is a great season to get out and enjoy a variety of free and low-cost events in your area. Playing tourist in your own town can open you up to new experiences and give you a chance to mingle with locals in a whole new way.

So go ahead and put the phone away, turn off the computers and enjoy some quality time with friends and family without venturing too far away from the neighborhood for that much-needed break.

Here are seven free and low-cost ways to enjoy a staycation this summer.

1. Self-guided tours

You'll need to be a little creative with this one, but if you have an hour or two to spare for mapping out an itinerary, put together a self-guided tour map of local attractions and sights. Whether you plan to do this on foot, by bike or by car, you can hop from one landmark or site to another within a few hours to explore the area. Use Google Maps or another mapping tool to pinpoint locales and print out a map for the road.

2. Free music events

Check the local newspaper, community calendar and chamber of commerce website for any upcoming live music performances and festivals in the area. Lakeside and waterfront concerts are especially popular during the summer months and can be the perfect excuse to escape from the house on the weekend. Just plot your calendar with a few acts making their way to your town or city this season.

3. Museum tours

Many museums in the area offer complimentary tours and events for local residents throughout the year. If you're in the mood for a fun educational experience, take a tour of the children's museum or natural history museum in the area. Spending a few hours at these cultural attractions can be a great way to learn something new and walk away with a fresh perspective.

4. National park visit

Spend an entire day at a national park to explore some natural sites, take a tour with a park ranger, snap some pictures of wildlife and just relax outdoors. You will only have to pay a nominal fee to enter and park in the park, and you may even be able to take advantage of free admission days on select days of the week or holidays.

5. Movie marathon

If you're looking for a low-cost activity to enjoy with friends and family – or just want to relax and unwind for a weekend solo – put together a list of movies you want to watch back to back. Binge watching a few movies can brighten up your mood or be the perfect activity on a rainy summer's day.

6. Geocaching

Geocaching has become increasingly popular over the years. It's a fun game for treasure-hunting aficionados where the goal is to find a geocache in a hidden location using a GPS-enabled device. You may be able to find some geocaching groups in your local area to coordinate a group hunt, or sign up on one of several websites like geocaching.com to try it on your own.

7. Local brewery and factory tours

Another fun and educational experience, a tour of a local brewery or factory can give you a chance to sample some new foods and drinks, get to know locals and learn about the business from an insider's perspective. Check daily deal sites for coupons and deals on admission tickets to save some extra money.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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