By Allison Daniels
I almost hate myself for bringing it up — the end of summer, I mean. But we're better off if we see it coming rather than if we wake up halfway through September and realize the time for beach trips and picnics has passed. To help you pack the most fun possible into the rest of these sun-soaked days, here's your free-stuff-only summer bucket list. See how many you can cross off before you have to unpack that box of sweaters.
1. See an outdoor concert, play, or musical.
Most larger cities have free outdoor events in the summer. They're a chance to enjoy nature while you soak up a bit of culture. Plus, when else can you have your show with a side of picnic?
2. Spend a day (or a couple of hours) on a beach — preferably doing nothing.
If you're totally landlocked, aim for a pool with beachy vibes. Some of them even bring in sand. The point is to get into a tropical state of mind, and forget your worries for a few hours.
3. Read a book for the simple reason that you want to read it.
I know so many people who won't read a "fun" book until they've read a "serious" book, and that results in their not reading much at all. It turns out, reading fiction makes you a better person. And the more you enjoy a book, the more likely you are to finish it. (Duh.) So, let go of the guilt, and pick up a novel, dammit. (If you need a suggestion, start with Shantaram. You won't regret it.)
4. Go camping. And consider leaving your cell phone at home.
Going cell phone-free might not be feasible depending on your personal and professional obligations, but it takes the experience of communing with nature to a new level. Regardless, taking time to work with your hands (yes, pitching a tent and collecting wood for a fire count), and sleeping under the moon to wake with the sun is a wonderful way to reground yourself to the earth.
5. Do a cannonball into any eligible body of water (pools and rivers are deep enough at the edges — oceans, not so much).
It's silly, it's childlike, and it's guaranteed to make you smile.
6. Eat a meal outdoors with someone you love to talk to.
Don't rush. Start the meal off pretending you're in character as a European person. (Seriously! Even French children take 90 minute lunch breaks). You'll have so much fun once you get into it, you'll stop thinking about your character — and the time. Bonus points for choosing exotic cuisine.
7. Get on a boat.
If you can find a way to take a ride around a lake, ocean, bay, whatever — do it. Skiing or snorkeling is great, but even just riding the waves with the wind whipping your face is a quintessential summer experience and can be considered day well spent.
8. Take a hike.
Great exercise, a sense of accomplishment, and exploration of an area you'd never otherwise see: hiking comes with countless benefits.
9. Exercise outdoors.
If hiking isn't your jam, try a free exercise class. Lots of cities have free series in local parks. If you usually run on a treadmill, take the opportunity of a balmy night to run outdoors. Find a quiet spot in a park to do some self-guided yoga. Take a swim.
10. Watch the sunset, and do nothing else.
In colder months, the only certainty I have that the sun has gone down is that (a) it always has and (b) it's dark when I leave my office. Make an event of watching the sunset one evening after work. Scout out a picturesque spot with an unimpeded view of the skyline and just take it all in.
11. Have sex in a natural setting.
If you're a risk-taker, find a secluded place in a forest and bring the necessary accoutrements (blanket, maybe pillows, perhaps some liquid courage). If you're not quite so laissez-faire with your romance, take advantage of the rooftop of your apartment, or try it in your backyard. Where there's a will, you know ...
12. Get to know your city (again, or for the first time).
Make a point of visiting any local landmarks, and maybe even take yourself on a tour of the city. You can find self-guided tours of most sizable cities online. If you don't have that option, just make yourself a list of places to see and plot a course for the afternoon. Fanny pack recommended.
13. Hit an outdoor movie screening.
Like the musical/concert option, it's entertainment to which you can BYO-anything. Since outdoor screenings tend to showcase older films, they also bring together like-minded individuals who probably love The Godfather: Part II MORE than you do (no offense). Watching Die Hard with die-hard fans is bound to increase your enjoyment of the film — especially if they're in costume.
14. Take a weekend away.
A vacation doesn't have to come with months of planning, thousands of dollars, and time taken off work. While you're researching your self-guided tour, find a few quaint towns within driving distance that might suit your fancy for a couple of days. Book an airbnb, do your own cooking, and a weekend trip could set you back less than five hundred smackaroos.
15. Hone your cartwheel game.
By November, the only thing I can think about when I'm outside is how long it is until I'm inside. Revel in the gloriously unaggressive weather by doing a cartwheel every time you think about it. Just because you can. Also, because there's nothing more satisfying than being the grownup cartwheeling in the park while everyone else is eating lunch.
16. Go for a walk in the rain — sans umbrella.
On an evening or weekend when you're home and it's raining, change into clothes that you won't mind washing, leave everything but your keys (and any willing accomplices) at home, and just frolic. It doesn't matter where you go or how long you stay, as long as you surrender to the rain and bask in the wonder of that moment, for however long it lasts.
17. Take a book to the park and read.
You found a book you've been wanting to read for ages (maybe it's Shantaram, maybe it's Gone Girl), but you can't seem to find any time to actually read. Block out an hour or two on your calendar. It could be lunch time, it could be a weekend. Just make sure you have at least 60 minutes of unassailable YOU time to get started.