The holiday season is fast approaching, and you might be planning to travel home to spend time with family – or your family could be coming to see you. Either way, travel expenses add up quickly, leaving little to no room for entertainment once you’re together. Sometimes that’s not a problem because there’s so much to do anyway. But other times, it really could put a crimp in your budget or strain your guests’ finances. That’s why it’s a great idea to have a slate of activities and events that you could substitute into your plans so that no one has to overextend just to participate.

First, be the guinea pig

There’s a lot of free stuff out there to do, and most of it is really fun – but sometimes there’s a reason something’s free too. Whatever you decide to do, it works out best if you’ve done it yourself before your guests arrive.

Father and son tourists visit the Golden Gate Bridge

For instance, my husband, Terry, was looking for something fun to do one weekend, and he came across these free walking tours in the city of San Francisco. They’re offered by the public library system and they’re absolutely excellent.

The tours are led by the librarians themselves, who’ve done a whole mess of research and know everything there is to know about each tour. Because we’ve taken several of the tours now – the Golden Gate Bridge, the Japanese tea gardens, the Victorian houses – we know exactly how to get there and which tours would be most interesting to each of our guests.

Think about logistics

Even free activities may end up costing a little. You may need to pay for parking or decide you want to leave a donation. Sporting goods stores and Parks and Rec departments often sponsor free local hikes, but it’s important to consider whether your guests will be bringing the appropriate shoes and clothing to make the trek. We like to take out-of-town guests on some of the free group bike rides offered by the Cascade Bicycle Club when we’re in Seattle. But that means we have to provide a rental bike and helmet for them too. We’re trying to build up a closet of extra gear for these occasions – jackets, gloves, helmets, and binoculars.

No shortage of free things to do

Whether it’s the holidays or any time of year, you can easily find tons of free things to do on the Internet. You just need to think outside the box a little bit, but it helps to know what your guests like to do … or what they have yet to do. Sometimes providing an educational experience such as attending a lecture on foreign affairs, a concert or play at your local university, or a tour of a local art gallery can be enlightening as well as a fun memory.

How do you entertain out-of-town guests inexpensively? What’s your favorite free thing to do in your city?

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