Paradise Without a Plane Ticket

This list of activities will keep you so entertained you’ll forget that you’ve been wanting to go to Hawaii ever since you were 10.

Illustration by Marjainez

What are your summer vacation plans? Are you jetting off to some exotic beach resort with your family or friends? If so, I will be insanely jealous when I see the 467 pictures you took while there. But if not, don’t worry, I’ve become a bit of an expert at creating my own paradise on the cheap, and I also hit up my fellow Rookie staffers for tales of their own near-arrests adventures to provide you with a list of activities that will keep you so entertained that you’ll forget that you’ve been wanting to go to Hawaii ever since you were 10 and your aunt brought you back those amazing parrot earrings.

The Essentials

  • Start by setting the mood with music. The early days of summer are great for making playlists and mix CDs. You can put together a Pandora station of tropical island music—I suggest Martin Denny and Harry Belafonte. I’m having a classic-rock summer, so mine would include “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC and “Crazy on You” by Heart. Figure out a theme: every vacation needs songs to remember it by, and this will be the soundtrack to your summer 2012.
  • Nothing says paradise like icy treats. Last year I got this for my birthday. It makes slushees and snow cones and is pretty much the best thing ever. But if you have a blender, you can make smoothies, and there are lots of books like this one, so try a new concoction every single day if you want to.
  • Hit the thrift store to round out your summer wardrobe. Or, if you’re looking for a project, deconstruct some T-shirts that you already own.

Turn your home into a private resort.

1. Sometimes you don’t want to leave the comfort of your own home. For those of you who are lucky enough to have a backyard or a friend with one: it’s time to create a backyard resort. You can totally do this by yourself as long as you have a lounge chair and a baby pool, but it’s more fun if you get as many of your friends involved as possible. The person with the best yard should host. (Best might mean biggest or it might mean prettiest, depending on whether you’re going for a spa or water-park vibe.) Ransack your garage/basement/attic/storage bins for lounge chairs, sprinklers, squirt guns, pink flamingo decorations, tiki torches, etc. (If someone has an inflatable water slide, you have hit the mother lode.) Browse the dollar store for more. You may even consider checking out sales at places like Kmart for inflatable pools, coolers, umbrellas, and other summer tchotchkes. If you don’t have a backyard, you can still do these things on a smaller scale. Consider rooftops, public courtyards, patios, and parks. The water slide can’t come with, but the lawn chairs and a makeshift picnic basket can.

2. When it gets super hot, turn to the air-conditioned loveliness inside your home. Build a fort and hunker down with some classic ’80s summer movies like Dirty Dancing, Shag, and One Crazy Summer. Phoebe says starts the season with an annual viewing of Jaws, which has sequels, and anything with sequels, no matter how bad they get, can make for an awesome day. Since I don’t do well with extreme temperatures, whenever I hear about an impending heat wave, I rush to the library and check out a week’s worth of books and hole up in the coldest part of the house. I recommend Francesca Lia Block’s entire body of work. You might have heard of her by now.

3. On pleasant summer nights, build a bonfire. Sometimes local beaches or parks have fire pits for public use, or maybe you or one of your friends has one in your backyard. I have a brick patio and used some spare bricks to build one. The smell of the fire is reason enough to do it, but it gets even better when you add s’mores, games, and late-night conversations. Just be sure to practice safe fire building!

Be a local.

1. If you don’t have outdoor access, look into a nearby public pool. I used to get a summer pass and spend every sunny day at mine. Also: Super Soaker and/or water balloon wars! You can have water fights in your backyard, but it’s more fun to venture out into the neighborhood or go to a park. Then you can really sneak-attack. Just try not to hit any innocent bystanders.

2. Summer is a good opportunity for exploration. Get out there and see your town for the first time (sorta). Spend a day downtown, going in and out of all of the shops. Go off the beaten path and look for things like abandoned railroad tracks (Tara said she found some in L.A.), cemeteries (Rachael recommends headstone rubbings), or whatever it is the tourists do that you’ve maybe never done, because of all the tourists.

3. Speaking of movies, summer is the perfect time to escape into a cool theater. If you’re sunburned and suffering from heat exhaustion, watching a loooong blockbuster like The Avengers or Prometheus is a great way to kill a few hours. And there are more exotic options, too. I found a drive-in theater about an hour from my house in Illinois, and I try to get a car full of people together at least once a summer to go. Also worth investigating: free movies—or theater-in-the-park. In Chicago, they do movies by the lake, and in my suburb, you can watch movies in a nearby pool! There is really nothing like free outdoor entertainment that you can bring your own snacks to…

4. Except maybe outdoor entertainment that you and your friends personally selected. If nobody has one (and they are pretty expensive), rent a projector and use a wall or throw up a sheet somewhere and watch one of your favorite flicks on the big screen. One place you might be able to find a projector is the local library. Many of them don’t carry just books anymore. My librarian friends tell me that at some libraries, you can check out things like ice cream makers.

5. If you feel like you’ve seen everything in walking distance but you don’t have a car or a license, grab your bike and scope out your local paths and trails. There is this amazing network of bike trails near me called the Illinois Prairie Path. It stretches across more than 60 miles. See if there’s something similar in your neck of the woods.

6. Another car-free option is the Random Bus Adventure. Buy a day pass and hop on and off at random stops. Leanna did this in San Jose and ended up getting bubble tea for the first time and taking photos of colorful houses in neighborhoods she didn’t even know existed.

Seek adventures of the we’re-obligated-to-caution-you variety.

1. Sneaking into old abandoned houses was a favorite activity of mine, and Anaheed did her fair share of this as well. I liked to pretend I was ghost-hunting, she liked to rummage around in the wreckage. Of course, we have to slap a big “DO AT YOUR OWN RISK” warning on this one, because exploring abandoned places is generally illegal, and there are also sharp, broken things you can step or fall on, especially at night.

2. Another risky but insanely fun activity is night-swimming. I’m jealous of my fellow Rookie staffers who had quarries and beaches they could visit. Leeann described her Rochester, New York quarry hangouts as “pretty magical because it was like a secret beach just for you and your friends.” Lauren loved sneaking onto the lakefront in Minneapolis because “the water is so still, and it’s usually pitch black and peaceful and terrifying and thrilling all at once.” My experience wasn’t nearly as romantic. My friends and I just hopped the fence at the public pool after hours, but it was still pretty amazing to have the whole place to ourselves. Of course, the pool was right behind the fire station. After a couple of people got caught, I got too freaked to do it any more, but my town seemed to realize that this was a void that needed filling and created “teens only” nights at the pool. If you’re not feeling like a total daredevil, maybe you can find one of those.

3. Parks and playgrounds are fun places to hit after dark. The summer I got my driver’s license, my friends and I used to drive from one park to the next, swinging, sliding, climbing on things, and even having little dance parties with portable boom boxes. The cops would kick us out of one place when it closed, and we’d move on to the next park. My town had like a billion parks, so we were able to keep this up for hours. We certainly annoyed the police and sometimes ran as soon as we saw their cars, but it never led to serious trouble. It actually brought back that childhood thrill of refusing to come inside the first time your mom or dad called you.

Take a day trip.

1. Staying in or near your town can get boring, but you don’t need to fly to Jamaica to find paradise. Chances are that, within a few hours’ drive, you’ll find forests or beaches or cabins or lakes or mountains or adorable little artsy towns or neighboring big cities. For me, it was the Indiana Dunes, giant mounds of sand that made me feel like I was exploring another planet. I also found paradise on a canoe trip down a river in rural Illinois and tubing in some pretty decent rapids in Michigan. Jamie liked to visit a dam in Delaware. (She and I both recommend finding lakes and ponds with rope swings.) Leeann made a list of the all the waterfalls within a few hours’ drive of her house in New York and went on multiple trips to visit them. Sonja took a completely unplanned day trip to Vancouver Island. What you might find depends where you are. Check your local paper or websites for articles on “Things to Do This Summer” for ideas!

2. Water parks, amusement parks, fairs, and music festivals make for great day trips. I mean, water parks are like the pool but a trillion times better, and nothing, NOTHING, says summer like a roller coaster ride and funnel cakes and cheesy cover bands. I am planning to attend my very first Renaissance Faire next month in Wisconsin. Jousting! Hair-braiding! And hell yes, I am totally dressing up!

3. Now, unlike the Ren Faire, this next suggestion—camping—is not really my thing, and my fellow Rookies didn’t seem to be the most keen on it either (“Camping? WTF? Haven’t you seen The Blair Witch Project?” says Hazel), but if you are more adventurous than me and your parents are cool with your going off in the woods with your friends for a couple days, yes, you could go camping! Check out local state parks and campgrounds, compare the amenities and costs of different campsites, get your gear, plan your menu—umm, learn how to make yourself bigger in case of bears? (See, this is why I don’t camp!) Here is a guide to enjoying the wilderness and a checklist, if you are a big checklist person. But, also, backyard camping can be just as awesome! In fact, for this girl, who has the world’s teeniest bladder and is the world’s biggest fan of indoor plumbing, backyard camping is ideal. You can still grill food and pitch a tent, but if it starts to rain or you hear critters that you’re just not comfortable with, you can move all activities indoors to your bedroom or basement.

4. Finally, there is the ultimate summer adventure: the road trip. One year a few friends of mine and I lobbied our parents to let us drive from Chicago to San Francisco. Mine were pretty close to saying yes, but they ultimately sided with the other parents in thinking it was too far and our plan was, well, not really a plan and more of a We’ll drive and get there eventually and we promise to call and check in every night sorta thing. Then another friend and I found out about a feminist conference in Philly we really wanted to go to. Because of my previous experience, I knew to come up with a precise itinerary to pitch my folks. I mapped out how many miles we’d drive each day and where we’d stay—one night in Cleveland with a friend, one night in a hotel in Pennsylvania, etc. I arranged it so my parents could talk to the parents of the people I’d be staying with, and I explained how I would pay for it all and what I would get out of the experience using words like “educational” and “life-changing.” AND IT WORKED.

Now go, have fun, explore, enjoy! ♦


  • Susann June 28th, 2012 3:07 PM

    Love this! I’ll spend most of my summer in the city where I’ll go to college so exploring it will be a lot of fun and super exciting!

    Fashion in Pepperland

  • Adrienne June 28th, 2012 3:31 PM

    I’m pretty much staying home this whole summer so this is perfect!

    And by the way, Avengers was awesome!!!! The very very last scene is hilarious. I also watched Prometheus and holy crap I was not prepared for the grossness haha I covered my eyes and peeked for some of those scenes. Another movie to watch during the summer is MOONRISE KINGDOM… this movie makes me want to run away and go camping so so bad!

  • mayaautumn June 28th, 2012 3:37 PM

    i’ve just found out that i probably won’t be going on a summer holiday this year because my dad is really busy painting for his book:/ so i really needed this! i want to go to hawaii though:D

  • espressoslut June 28th, 2012 3:54 PM

    DUDE camping rocksss if you are a little uneasy you could go with different versions of glamping

  • Dayzee June 28th, 2012 4:02 PM

    i.hate. England. or where I live, at least.
    there are no drive in theaters or theaters in the park. there are no abandoned railway tracks. there are no mountains, lakes or secret beaches. there are no abandoned houses. no artsy towns no big lumps of sand and no water parks.
    enough complaints. I want to visit the US really, really bad. i really love this list, great job! :)
    i hate this city!

    Style Dynamite

    • Rae0320 June 28th, 2012 5:43 PM

      Which city do you live in?

      Trust me, England has some gems hidden away!

      • Dayzee June 29th, 2012 1:50 PM

        I live in newcastle. where do you live? i guess part of the problem is that I’m a bit too young to go out on a road trip or exploring by myself.
        @starsinyourheart you live in the north too! which city?

        • starsinyourheart July 1st, 2012 8:50 AM

          sheffield! :) i feel you though. feels like everywhere other than the north of england/england in general is wayy more fun! xo

    • starsinyourheart June 28th, 2012 7:08 PM

      there are! seriously, i’ve visited so many abandoned houses in my 17 years and me and my friends have our own little secret gardens (okay, no beaches!) and secret villages and buildings we discovered driving through our city in the north :)

    • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini June 29th, 2012 8:57 AM

      Dude. Norway. It’s freezing, nothing is happening until late August, and the few friends I have are sunbathing somewhere in Southern Europe.

    • emellie June 30th, 2012 6:50 AM

      I thought this too, but recently me and my friends have been just wandering around places that we normally walk past and we found a canal that leads on to this huge nature trail kind of place, and we literally spend hours there and when it’s like coming into the night and the canal is really still we just sit with music and feed biscuits to the ducks that live there. It’s pretty fun haha.

  • Ben June 28th, 2012 4:12 PM

    I want to sleep outside under the stars in my yard but we’ve been hearing cyotys (i think i spelt that wrong:( howling at night so it might not be very safe. I also want to spend the night in a tree using belts to keep me in place like katniss in the Hunger games but after reading an article in the paper about someone falling in a tree and dying my parents have been a bit worried about my tree climbing and maybe won’t let me do this anymore :(

    • Abby June 28th, 2012 8:07 PM

      Coyotes lol?

    • rosanoseall June 30th, 2012 12:53 AM

      Don’t worry, coyotes don’t bother people. I live out in the country and hear them all the time around my house but they never come close when I’m sleeping outside :) BTW they sound a lot closer than they are.

  • mayacolor June 28th, 2012 4:15 PM

    NIGHT SWIMMING sounds fun. But also scary, i do live near a dock though :D

  • soretudaaa June 28th, 2012 4:21 PM

    this reminds me so much of an episode of BBC’s “Beautiful People”…

  • Pashupati June 28th, 2012 4:41 PM

    I hear so much about people telling their parents it’s educational and life-changing, that I guess in their head they’re thinking: “Oh, educational. I remember using that argument when I was really desperate to go somewhere in my youth. They must really want to go there, so I’ll let them.”
    Like it’s some sort of emotion code word.

  • wallflower152 June 28th, 2012 4:55 PM

    Sneaking into abandoned houses is definitely awesome. So far I’ve only snuck into two but both were so much fun. And I found this really old key in one. I call it treasure hunting though. Also, try eyebombing. Just buy super glue and googly eyes and make inanimate objects in public look like faces. I’ve always thought it would be funny to buy lawn ornaments and stick them on people’s yards at night.

    • taste test June 29th, 2012 1:08 AM

      eyebombing sounds like the greatest idea, thank you! and it’s not really vandalism because if anyone is offended by the little eyes they can just pick ‘em off. I wouldn’t do it on, like, anything pertaining to someone’s house though.

    • Stephanie June 29th, 2012 2:22 PM

      Eyebombing sounds awesome! And my friends and I did used to rearrange/redistribute people’s lawn ornaments… Prolly not the nicest things, but um funny?

  • melmaus27 June 28th, 2012 5:20 PM

    AWESOME ideas. Here’s another one:
    A cool way to spend a summer afternoon —

    1. Raid your mom’s purse or secret stash of quarters

    2. Fill your 1981 Monte Carlo with a half a tank of gas

    3. Buy some sodas and Little Debbie Brownies

    4. Cruise the streets of your small town singing “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith. If you do this regularly enough you will know all of the words by August.

    This isn’t he most ecologically-sound means of passing time, but you might meet some hot guys along the way or explore a weird back-road you never knew about.

  • ToWhomDoesThisConcern June 28th, 2012 6:13 PM

    Another great way to spend summer is to glitter somebody. It has all of the thrill that toilet papering somebodies house does but instead it looks like a sparkle fairy vomited in their front lawn. Leave a note with an a secret name that you and your glittering friend come up with and continue to hit people’s houses. It will be like your a freaking awesome super hero but the police can’t get you because there is nothing in the law that says glittering is illegal… at least not yet ;)

  • starsinyourheart June 28th, 2012 6:39 PM

    with alllllll my heart i want to roadtrip and i’ve wanted to since i was 12! :D

  • Quinnpinn June 28th, 2012 6:57 PM

    I’m trying not to just sit in front of the computer and t.v. all day this summer, so I thank you kindly for this article. It’ll definetly come in handy :)

  • missblack June 28th, 2012 7:48 PM

    DRIVE-IN!!!!!! Just last week my whole family piled into the back of a pickup truck and went to see Brave and it was pretty much the best night ever.


    • missblack June 28th, 2012 7:56 PM

      Also Renaissance Faires are my favorite things EVER. There’s this one near me where they do theme weekends, like Pirate Weekend or Scottish Weekend and it is SO MUCH FUN. And the people are always really nice and super hilarious.

      • Abby June 29th, 2012 10:27 AM

        OMG the one in Crownsville, Maryland???

  • Abby June 28th, 2012 8:06 PM

    OMG the Renaissance Fair here in Maryland is Literally the Best Thing Ever. Seriously. But I’m not going to get to go this year because my college starts too early. :( :( :(

    • Stephanie June 29th, 2012 2:20 PM

      My best friend from college swears that faire in particular!!! I wish I could road trip it to go!

  • darksideoftherainbow June 28th, 2012 8:10 PM

    perfect and just in time…i’m on vacation from work next week!! thanks…the day trip suggestion caught my eye especially!

  • azultardis June 28th, 2012 8:41 PM

    Love this ideas,we’re not going to family vacation but I’ve been going to the movies with some friends, and we’re planing camping near a lake, we already did once and it was really great :D

  • marit June 28th, 2012 9:21 PM

    i was bored and sitting around a lot this week and looking for things to do… this will be perfect for the rest of the summer! also NIGHT SWIMMING IS AMAZING OMG I WISH I COULD DO IT CLOSER TO HOME. :)


  • Sssophiabh June 29th, 2012 12:28 AM

    Holy shit Stephanie, you always write the best articles!

  • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini June 29th, 2012 9:01 AM

    Anyone got any tips of how to entertain yourself alone, when it’s too cold to swim/wear shorts/sleep outside without getting sick?

  • Stephanie June 29th, 2012 2:19 PM

    Awww thank you! And can I just say Marjainez did the most adorable illustration ever? Seriously guys!!!!

  • lovegoodideas June 29th, 2012 6:00 PM

    first of all – AAAH REM REFERENCE!

    also – super de duper fun to get a group of friends togethere and go on a “quest”. No purpose necesarry (although if you have one, thats swell), just go around daring each other to do odd things in order to gain strange powers. If you sing on the gazebo – invisibility! super speed for asking a stranger their favorite color!

  • Kelsey June 29th, 2012 6:55 PM

    I just spent the day at the Historic Sacramento Cemetery with my friend Inga. We dressed up in old clothes (I wore my grandmother’s white graduation dress from 1956 and looked like I belonged in Jane Austen’s “Emma”) and she looked very Victorian. I also wore a straw top hat with a long black ribbon and looked like I was from Renoir’s “Boat Party.”
    We carried around flowers and put them on random people’s graves, then settled down in the shade and had a picnic, which we has packed. It wasn’t our biggest adventure, but it was definitely a lovely way to spend a Friday :D

  • Izzie June 30th, 2012 4:05 AM

    I need to do the park thing and the bonfire thing with my friends this summer, that would be amazing!

  • Bellie June 30th, 2012 4:07 AM

    Thank you, you just planned out my whole summer for me ;)

  • iambianca June 30th, 2012 7:07 AM

    I actually live in Hawaii, which believe it or not, can be extremely boring, especially since I can’t go on road trips longer than 4 hours (the time it takes to drive around the island). There aren’t many cool man made places, but there definitely are a bunch of awesome forests, beaches, and general cool outdoors adventures that i really haven’t been taking advantage of and this post has got me motivated to do something awesome this summer!

    also my friends and i are absolutely terrible at making plans and never seem to be able to do anything but plan a trip to the movies, but i’m definitely going to get them to explore the island with me before heading back to school in a month

  • Jessy June 30th, 2012 9:03 AM

    BUT SERIOUSLY anybody considering night swimming, please be careful! My friends jumped the fence of a local pool a few years ago after a few drinks, and one friend dived head first into the shallow end and is now quadraplegic (and also awesomely cool), so please please be careful with swimming at night!!

  • hehehehe44 July 1st, 2012 11:12 AM


  • aya July 27th, 2012 2:21 AM

    loved this all!
    my friends and i have spent the last two summers (and this one particularly) together, doing the most stupid stuff.
    each year were having a camping trip. all the other time we pass at the beach, the pool, watching movies, going out late. the playground is a lot of fun!

    but the best thing, the highlight of the summer is a huge public WATER FIGHT !
    best thing ever considering the temperatures where i live.

  • adnamabackwards September 27th, 2012 2:33 PM

    I’m from the outside of Chicago too, and I didn’t realize that the Illinois Prairie path runs through my city and the other surrounding cities. I go on the trail when I need to get away. It’s like a day-long vacation from people, which obviously rocks.