There’s no doubt about it — vacations take money. The price of airline tickets and gas are up this year and when you throw in the cost of lodging and meals, your trip budget can feel very tight. You can also spend a bundle on admissions to various attractions, especially if you fall for tourist traps that are long on cost but short on quality.
I recall a camping trip to Colorado several years ago where at the campground one evening, our neighbor listed the places his family visited that day. Then he mentioned how much money he dropped. I mentally tallied up how much we spent on our own activities, zero except for the gas it took to get to the parks and other free venues the family visited. The lesson: Fun doesn’t have to be expensive. We were sure our kids had at least as much fun as his did that day.
Free attractions and events abound across the country and are a great way to save money while traveling. Take festivals: Many are still free and offer quality entertainment, sometimes by nationally known musicians. You can find festivals on many themes from autos to various foods to different types of music. Heck, there’s even a festival celebrating, believe it or not, duct tape.
Planning your vacation around a festival is a great way to have fun on a budget. Here’s a sampling of free festivals happening around the country this summer:
- Artscape, Baltimore, July 19-21. Artscape has been described as America’s largest free arts festival. It features the works of more than 150 fine artists, fashion designers and craftspeople and includes visual art exhibits, concerts, dance performances, opera, theater, film, experimental music and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The festival has something for the whole family with hands-on projects, demonstrations, competitions, children’s entertainers and street theater.
- Chinatown-International District Dragon Fest, Seattle, July 14-16. The annual event is billed as the the largest Pan-Asian American street fair in the Pacific Northwest. Dragon Fest includes more than 30 cultural performances including Chinese lion and dragon dances, martial arts demonstrations and Japanese Taiko drumming, activities for kids and families, a karaoke contest and more than 100 vendor booths.
- Duct Tape Festival, Avon, Ohio, June 14-16. If you love duct tape, you’ll love this festival. Where else would this festival be held but in Avon, Ohio, the self-proclaimed “Duct Tape capital of the world?” (Avon is the home of Duck Tape® brand duct tape.) The three-day event “celebrates duct tape, its enthusiasts and its wacky and fun uses” and features sculptures, fashions, games and a parade — all revolving around duct tape.
- Fillmore Jazz Festival, San Francisco, July 6-7. Billed as the largest free jazz festival on the West Coast, the Fillmore Jazz Festival features concerts on several stages and some 12 blocks of fine arts and crafts. Featured acts include “up-and-coming jazz fusion and Latin-flavored acts to seasoned crooners belting out jazz standards.”
- Hills Alive 2013, Rapid City, S.D., July 19-21. This free Christian music festival takes place at Main Street Square on Friday and in Memorial Park on Saturday and Sunday. The lineup includes Audio Adrenaline, Jeremy Camp, Big Daddy Weave, Bebo Norman, Building 429, Plumb, Selah and For King and Country.
- National Cherry Festival, Traverse City, Mich., June 29-July 6. Traverse City celebrates its role as America’s Cherry Capital with the National Cherry Festival, an eight-day party featuring more than 150 family activities: air shows, fireworks, parades (including the nation’s largest all-children parade) games, races, midway rides, demonstrations, nightly outdoor concerts and lots of chances to taste cherry products. “Everything is located conveniently within walking distance, and since almost all the events are free, it offers more than a week of affordable family fun,” says Mike Norton of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau.
- River-to-River Festival, Manhattan (yes, a free arts festival in NYC), June 15-July 14. This festival includes more than 60 projects “by artists working across disciplines and responding to the architecture of some of New York City’s most iconic locations and hidden gems, as well as timely social issues and interests.”
- Shakespeare Festival, St. Louis, May 24-June 16. Outside of Washington, D.C., St. Louis boasts more free attractions than any other U.S. city, and has many free festivals throughout the year. One of the best is Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, during which a cast of professionals performs one of the Bard’s best in Forest Park, the city’s large urban park. This year’s performance: Twelfth Night. Attendees are encouraged to come early for the “Green Show,” nightly pre-performance entertainment featuring the 20-minute “Quick Delight 12th Night” and a rotating lineup of local entertainers.
- Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington, D.C., June 26-30 and July 3-7. In a city of many free attractions, this festival on the National Mall is a true bonus. Highlighting cultural traditions around the world and sponsored by the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the festival features music and dance performances, crafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling, activities for kids and discussions of cultural issues. This year’s themes: Hungarian Heritage: Roots to Revival; One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage and Will to Adorn: African-American Identity and the Aesthetics of Dress.
- Yarmouth Clam Festival, Yarmouth, Maine, July 19-21. The festival features a clam-shucking contest, a night parade, a karaoke party, fireworks, road and bike races, Firefighters’ Muster, Diaper Derby and an expanded art show.