Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Summer break is our time to focus on what we want to do and decide when we want to do it. The possibilities are limitless! One option is the time-honored tradition of going to camp, something I took part in season after season of summer vacay—but what if camp just isn’t in the cards?

Last summer, I aged out of the camps I’d attended since I was a kid. Every single one of my non-camper friends found ways to stay busy without a camp regimen, but I just couldn’t. Without the activities I’d grown so used to, and the friends I’d normally meet there to fill my days, I was left with nothing to do and nobody to hang out with. I ended up squandering a lot more hours than I’d like to admit sitting around and suffering through camp-activity withdrawal before I realized that there were tons of camp-like things I could do around town. As soon as I got that through my head, my summer got a whole lot better.

Take hold of your free time and use it to your advantage! Here are just a few of the many awesome camp-like activities you can indulge in in lieu of actually going to camp:

Get active.

Kayaking, canoeing, swimming, climbing—these classic “camp” activities get you moving and having fun, and there’s no reason to forgo them outside an official camp setting. Whether you join a dance class, take part in community or park district rec activities, or run around in your neighborhood, any kind of physical activity can be fantastic for clearing your mind and fighting boredom.

Take classes.

If you’re up to getting some learnin’ done this summer, look into taking classes at local colleges, universities, and libraries! The rates can vary widely, so it’s important to do your research and choose what’s best for you. Even if you decide against enrolling in courses, many schools and libraries host all kinds of awesome events, from poetry readings to movie screenings. Often, admission to these events is either free or deeply discounted for students. Make sure to take a peek at summer schedules to see if there’s anything that might interest you!

Hobbies, hobbies, hobbies!

Summer’s the season to take up anything you’ve been interested in but haven’t had time for during the school year—stuff like writing, drawing, trying out new art supplies or media, sports, yoga, or anything else you’ve always wanted to do. It’s also an opportunity to focus on the interests you’ve already got but haven’t had time to devote to during school. For example: Love cooking? Learn a whole new repertoire of recipes over your summer break!

Start a club.

Celebrate a common interest with a bunch of your friends! Three of my friends and I have a monthly book club, and it’s a fun and easy way to bring us all together when we’re usually busy leading our own lives. We’re able to reconnect and slow down a little bit by meeting regularly, and it’s comforting to know that there’s a reliable schedule we can all stick to even in the most hectic of times.

Volunteer.

Try contacting places like animal shelters, hospitals, libraries, and soup kitchens to see if they need help. Local festivals may need summer volunteers or interns, too. This guide can help you get started on your volunteering journey!

Look to your community.

If you’ve ever noticed something unique and/or intriguing in your community—a theater school, local kickboxing studio, or pottery class—but have always been too afraid or busy to give it a go, summer’s when you take the plunge! I like to search online, at least at first, to find out what kinds of cheap drop-in activities I can get into in my area. Community centers usually have packed summer schedules if you’d like to participate in some free or cheap fun.

Go to concerts by local bands.

I like to find a lot of shows in my area through Facebook recommendations, but you can also find out about them through traditional advertisements in the newspaper, announcements on the radio, band websites, and social media. Keep a look out for free or donation-only shows in particular—it’s an easy way to get to plenty of concerts without spending $$$. A lot of locally hosted shows are in unconventional venues; exploring rec center basements, back yards, and other places off the beaten path is an adventurous bonus.

Explore your neighborhood.

Hit the streets for cool shops and hangout spots you’ve never seen before. Go for a walk in a new park, or take your morning jog in a different neighborhood than your own. Just make sure you always know where you are and bring a friend!

Visit a museum.

Throughout our summer escapades, my crew and I have gone to all the summer exhibits in every museum in our area for the last two summers. Wandering through the space and taking time with each historical knick-knack and piece of art is one of my favorite ways to spend a peaceful, stress-free afternoon. And perusing with a bunch of friends fosters the infectious group energy of camp. In a way, it’s also a kind of exploration—but this one’s more mental than physical.

Go to a city festival.

There are tons of local festivals in most cities and towns, and they all focus on different things—from international foods to art to music, there are festivals for everything! My friends and I always attend both of the summer food festivals held every year in our city, along with the Works, a beautiful annual walking tour showcasing local artists and artwork, and K-Days, a week-long traveling amusement park that visits every summer. This year, we’re planning to add a local street performer festival to our roster. To find festivals in your area that don’t have astronomically high ticket prices, take a look in local newspapers and keep an ear open whenever you listen to the radio. You can also look online—Eventful and Everfest are some good starting points for finding events that might be coming up around the corner.

Check out your local theater scene.

From student-led works to professional stagings, I’d be willing to bet there’s a multitude of thespian-related activities bustling in or near your community at any given time. Zero in on them! Search for shows and one-off performances at colleges and theater houses, and if you’ve got any friends who are involved in the world of drama, ask them to let you know of any stagings they think you might enjoy. Keep an eye out for larger drama events, too—in my city, we have the Fringe, which is a big annual series of affordable shows by diverse playwrights that takes place over the course of a couple of weeks. Events like these make for an easy way to casually get into theater, so do some research to see if there’s something similar going on near you!

Make some new friends.

When you’re out and about and getting involved in allll these different activities, you have the chance to meet a whole bunch of new people you might never have crossed paths with before. Since you’ll probably meet them at a common place of interest, like while volunteering or taking a class, you’ll already have something to talk about and potentially bond over. Meeting new people and growing closer to different friend groups than you’re used to is a hidden benefit of putting yourself out there.

There’s no reason to yearn for an official camp itinerary when you can make your own. Carpe that diem! ♦