Once a week, I get up early, cross off every item on my to-do list, then spend the rest of my day alone—no spouse, no kids, no friends. Just me. It usually involves listening to a podcast before strolling my local bookstore with latte in hand. I silence my phone and simply wander.
It's a self-care ritual that's as regenerative as it gets for me. And this routine, SUNY Buffalo researchers found, likely fills the creative well, too. Another benefit? It feels indulgent, but it’s actually pretty easy on the wallet.
We rounded up seven ways to have fun and recharge by yourself without blowing your budget.
Enroll in a free class.
Learning something new isn't just fun, Harvard researchers say it can also stave off cognitive aging. Kristin McGrath, an Austin-based editor for Offers.com, says dance studios, yoga spaces and gyms are usually happy to offer up free classes to new students. (Lululemon stores also provide free yoga and other fun fitness classes.) And don’t forget to check your city’s event calendar and the schedule at your local library for more free class options, from craft-making to online language classes.
More serious students can take up in-depth instruction via sites like Skillshare and Udemy, which offer courses in everything from photography to writing to coding—many of which (though not all) come totally gratis.
Nurture your inner bibliophile.
Bookworms have plenty of ways to cash in on free reads. Amazon Prime members can snag over 1,000 digital titles with a subscription. Or if you prefer the feel of a book in your hands, most libraries let you order free titles right from your phone, then alert you when they're ready for pickup. It's a worthwhile solitary activity—reading has been shown to protect against dementia and improve social relationships.
Get out in nature.
Surrounding yourself with nature is more than a feel-good, budget-friendly activity; it also makes us feel more alive, according to University of Rochester research. Local hiking trails and nature paths are a great place to connect with the natural world.
Take advantage of your local environment. I live on Florida's Gulf Coast, so renting a kayak for a few hours is relatively inexpensive. Check out nearby state or national parks to get a bead on cool outdoor activities in your area.
Take yourself on a date.
Participating in social activities on your own can be intimidating, but researchers at the University of Maryland say that if you push past your fears, you'll likely end up enjoying yourself. Whether it's going bowling, heading to a wine tasting or dining as a party of one, the idea is to value the time you spend with yourself. Cut your costs by looking for happy hour specials, discounted matinee movie pricing and other deals.
Volunteer and score some freebies.
Volunteering for a cause that's close to your heart is no small thing. Research shows it may even be good for your mental and physical health. Even better: In some cases, you can snag some free perks that make for an awesome solo day. Volunteering as an usher at a Broadway show, for example, translates to free admission. Same goes for many music festivals, sports tournaments and entertainment events, including the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and the U.S. Open.
Do something that makes you uncomfortable (in a good way).
I'm a proud dog mom and recently joined a meetup group for nearby Dachshund owners—meaning, soon, I’ll start going to the park for a puppy play date with a bunch of strangers. In other words, I'll be completely out of my comfort zone. But that's probably a good thing: Harvard Medical School reports that cognitive and social engagement actually ups our thinking skills. Whether it's joining a new meetup group, performing at an open mic night or taking a dance workshop, think about dipping your toes into something new.
Take a solo trip.
Traveling alone doesn't have to be an epic “Eat, Pray, Love” adventure—though this type of exploring has the power to nurture us in a way that few other self-care rituals do. The possibility of feeling free, meeting new people and indulging in self-discovery are the top motivators behind solo travel, according to researchers at Queensland University of Technology. When money’s especially tight, opt for a quickie weekend getaway or even a day trip to someplace new within driving distance.