Resolution season can be stressful. We’re encouraged to set goals and dream big, but for those of us who are currently between adventures (financially speaking), picturing all of the far-off lands we hope to explore can induce a sort of wanderlust-tinged FOMO. When we know it will be a while until that savings account climbs out of its current hole, thinking about booking flights or making hotel reservations often makes us feel stuck in place.

But exploration is as much a mindset as it is an action. In other words, while you’re patiently putting away some of each paycheck and waiting to jet off across the world once again, there’s nothing stopping you from keeping the spirit of adventure alive and seeking out new experiences closer to home. Money is always an obstacle, to be sure, but if you know where to look, you can discover a lot without breaking the bank.

Because you’re saving, all of the typical budget rules apply here. For instance, be sure to walk, bike, or use public transport whenever possible, and try to avoid eating out as much as you can. As long as you’re being cognizant of your spending, you should be back on the road in no time. And while you’re waiting, here are some ideas to kickstart your next at-home adventure.

Photo by Ana Pereira

Get Outside

A single glance around an adventure gear store is often all it takes to convince us that “the outdoors” are out of our price range. But while the equipment needed for intense endeavors like mountaineering or white-water kayaking can cost “maybe-our-kids-don’t-need-to-go-to-college” money, you don’t need a whole lot for more basic hiking and camping. And the activities themselves are generally inexpensive, if not completely free.

Start by seeking out some of the best trails in and around your city. Once you’ve settled on one, make a day of it! You’d be amazed how simply being outside, exploring the nearby natural areas, and seeing your hometown from a new perspective can fulfill your sense of adventure, making you feel like you’re in a foreign locale. And unless you need to pay a park fee, you should be able to make it through any hiking trip without taking out your wallet. Just pack your own water and snacks from home, and make sure you have any extra layers, sunscreen, or rain gear you might need so you don’t have to purchase anything before you get there. As long as it’s dry, you likely won’t even need hiking boots — a durable pair of sneakers often does the trick.

If you want to really get away for a night, camping is a great option, especially if you already have a tent and sleeping bag. The U.S. might lack the abundance and variety of hostels found in Europe, but it makes up for it in its widely accessible public grounds. Using a site like Reserve America, you can find a nearby campground and book it for well under the price of any hotel room. Or, if you’re up for the challenge, try boondocking (free camping, generally located out in secluded, rural areas, otherwise known as “the boondocks”). Our money-saving mindset often tells us to stay put, but why remain cooped up when you can spend a night under the stars without stretching your wallet?

Play Tourist For A Day

We’re conditioned to stay away from tourist traps, especially those in our hometown. People from Los Angeles don’t exactly relish the opportunity to traverse the Walk of Fame, and what self-respecting New Yorker spends their Saturday waiting in line to take the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building? Part of this is practical. Given the great demand, these sites normally have jacked-up admission fees — not to mention, they tend to be crowded beyond the point of comfortability. But there’s usually a sense of local bias at play as well. Those tourists don’t know the real city, we think. If that spot can attract throngs of selfie-stick-wielding bus-riders, how good can it really be?

But the truth is, tourist hotspots are hot for a reason. And since we avoid them so vehemently, the rare instance that we find ourselves exploring one can actually feel like a novel experience. With that in mind, try playing tourist for a day and visiting all of those sites you tend to avoid unless your parents are in town. Of course, you’ll want to stay away from anything with a hefty price tag, but there are plenty of tourist attractions that are inexpensive, or even free. Think about lookout points, local monuments, markets, museums, beaches, or famous parks and promenades. Worst case scenario, you remind yourself of why you dislike the tourist crowds so much. But who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a new spot you actually enjoy.

Photo by Books Calling

Change Your Venue

It’s natural, when we’re saving, to entertain ourselves with the media we already own. We chip away at our reading list or binge through that show we’ve always wanted to watch. It makes sense — with everything digital these days, we literally have an endless supply of stories to keep our minds busy while we wait to book that next trip. But the problem is that the more we stay inside, with our eyes glued to a screen or a paperback, the more comfortable we get, and the less likely we are to get out and explore. So, as long as we’re occupied with an activity that allows us to remain inert, why not go be inert someplace new and exciting? Pack a blanket and a picnic basket and go read in the park for a day. Or, take your laptop to that new coffee shop on the corner you’ve been meaning to check out.

Don’t be afraid to get a little creative, either. If your city has an extensive library network, for instance, make a point of checking out each book on your list from a different place — that way you’re guaranteed to venture out and see parts of the city you’ve never explored before. Or, if you’re more of a movie buff than a bookworm, see if there are any local indie theaters or outdoor movie screenings nearby. You can even invest in a theater pass so you can see new releases without going bankrupt. (Just stay away from the concession stands!) The bottom line is: the quickest way to kill the spirit of adventure is to remain stationary. So, however you plan on expanding your mind, find a way to do it away from the comfort of your apartment.

Photo by ATÖLYE

Scope Out Facebook Events

What was once the definitive social network has gradually declined in popularity over the past decade or so. But one area in which Facebook remains effective is in its capability for community organization. Any sort of public gathering is typically advertised on Facebook these days, making the site’s Events tab a sort of digital coffee shop bulletin board. A quick browse in any major urban area will reveal pages for a variety of events, such as concerts, film screenings, sports tournaments, flash mobs, art walks, merchant nights, and beer tastings, among many others. It costs nothing to scope it out, and you really never know what you might stumble upon — you could even discover a new group or locale you’d never heard of before!

Set A Unique Goal

Sometimes all you need to ignite your spirit of exploration is the right framework. Think of something simple that you’re really passionate about (e.g. coffee, reading, music), and figure out a quantifiable way to incorporate that into your daily wanderings. What do we mean by that? Let’s say that you really like ice cream. Do some research and develop a list of the best ice cream parlors in your city. Then, set a timeline and an actionable goal, such as “I want to try 25 new ice cream places within the next three months.” If you really want to have fun with it, you can even draw up a list or a map of the city with all of the locales plotted on it and check off each one after you visit.

Obviously, those sorts of ice cream bills could still add up against your savings, so be sure to keep things simple and commit to only a single scoop at each spot, or something along those lines. Alternately, you could pick something cheaper for your explorations (like “bring my dog to X new parks,” or “dip my toes in the water at every public beach in the city”). The activity itself is less important than the journey to get there. By designing a system with practical steps, you can create a simple motivation for venturing out to areas you don’t often visit.

Chicago theaters and comedy clubs.
Photo by Sawyer Bengtson

Catch A Show

Evening entertainment is generally one of the first things to cut out when saving up. After all, a lot of major sporting events and concerts run into the triple digits these days. But if you think beyond the typical venues and forgo the usual line-up of music, theatre, and athletics, you can find a lot of cheap tickets for a variety of inventive and highly entertaining performances. Again, this is where it might help to spend some time scrolling through Facebook Events or checking out flyers and calendars at local community spots. Be sure to consider any nearby schools or theaters that might offer shows to the public as well. For instance, maybe there’s an improv school near you whose various troupes test out their skills in front of live audiences. Or, perhaps a local bar or coffee shop hosts open mic nights. Cities are hubs for creativity, so there should be something thrilling and inspiring going on around every corner on any given night. Talented young voices are always presenting their works in dive bars and dimly lit cafés — you just have to get out there and figure out where it’s happening!

Looking for more ideas related to close-to-home exploration? Check out our guide to planning the perfect staycation!

Header image by Chase Davidson

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Devon Shuman
Devon Shuman is a creator, a storyteller, and a traveler from Boston, Massachusetts. He caught the travel bug at a young age when his family would take camping trips in southern Maine and New York’s Adirondack region. Since then, his adventures have taken him all across the globe. His favorite journeys include island hopping in the Galápagos, thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. He currently works as an editorial consultant for Passion Passport, helping explorers from around the world tell their stories.