So you decided to stay home this summer and so far it’s been great – lots of playing in the wading pool, lazy popsicles on the porch, and wiling away long afternoons at your neighborhood pool. But as we approach those long late-summer days when the children are sick of vacation and each other, what could be better than getting out of the house for a day or an afternoon? Whether they provide educational opportunities, exercise, or just fun, a day trip is a great antidote to summertime blues. And while no day trip is completely free (unless you’re able to walk to your destination), there are lots of ways to have a fun outing without spending a lot of money.

Here are my top suggestions for free or low cost day-trip ideas:

1. A hike in a state park or a ride on a local bike path.

2. A factory tour – whether it’s pencils or pretzels, kids are fascinated by machines. Often these tours are free.


3. Nature centers or arboretums, many of which offer not only free admission but tours or activities for kids.

4. A visit to a small local museum or historical site.

5. A trip to the beach, either ocean or inland.

6. A minor-league baseball game.

Other ways to save? Pack a lunch (you might include a few special treats that the kids don’t get at home, just to spice things up). Do a little online research to scout out the parking situation and see if you can find a nearby lot or street parking that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. And when you’re driving to your destination, save gas by going the speed limit. I mean really, what’s your hurry? The whole point is take the scenic route and enjoy a mini vacation – even if it is just for the afternoon.

For more ideas, see my recent posts on fun free outings in Madison, Wisconsin and Kansas City, Missouri at The Mother of All Trips.