Labor Day, the unofficial end to summer (sniff), also offers a great opportunity for an adventure-oriented getaway. But, if you can't afford (or stomach) shelling out for an evermore expensive airline ticket, or are stressing over spending too much on travel in general, don't fret. Here are a few timely tips on how you can still score an affordable adventure this Labor Day – or any other time of year.
Hit up a state park. Many of the country's most popular national parks, such as Yosemite and Great Smoky Mountains, are mobbed over long weekends, but there are scores of state parks that receive a fraction of the crowds and offer excellent programming and events over holiday weekends. For example, activities over Labor Day at various Tennessee State Parks, which will mark their 75th anniversary this year, include a 5K/10K run, ecology and nature hikes, and a Camper’s Night Light Contest for the most well-decorate nighttime campsite. Some states, such as California, also offer a handy link that shows campsite availability over Labor Day.Check out sports and outdoor stores for end-of-season sales. With retailers making room for winter gear, now is the ideal time to snatch up summer stuff at a fraction of the price. Depending on where you live, you can use it year-round, or look forward to breaking in your brand new gear on next year’s trip.
Such sales also offer a great chance to make the necessary investments for larger purchases at a lower cost. For example, I just scored a fantastic three-person tent – in the same color scheme as my alma mater, no less – for 15% off at Sports Basement in San Francisco. I had a hard time resisting the lure of discounts all over the store, which included Northface hiking pants, Columbia fleeces, and all sorts of other outdoor goodies.
Many stores (as well as local climbing gyms) also offer guided hikes, camping trips, and other excursions, especially over long weekends. Check bulletin boards and websites for info.
Save cash by camping. What better incentive to sleep under the stars than with the brand-new, kick-ass tent you just scored on sale? Camping has long been an affordable way to see the world for budget-minded travelers, as campsites rarely cost more than $35 per night, (split among several people, that’s less than the cost of lunch). You save even more money by bringing in your own food and drinks (check ahead of time that the campsite allows alcohol ahead, and, if you are imbibing, make sure that you’re respectful of fellow campers who head to bed earlier.)
In addition, campsites are usually nestled within an abundance of free outdoor offerings, including hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking.
Hit the road with friends. There’s no better way to take advantage of the freedom of a long weekend than with a road trip – to ratchet up the fun factor even higher, invite some like-minded (read: low-maintenance) friends along for a four-wheeled adventure. You don't even have to have a firm destination (or reservations, for that matter) ahead of time. Just pick a point or landmark that's within a few hours drive, and get going – perhaps with your new tent packed just in case lodging is hard to come by. You can compile gear and split the cost of camping fees and gas, and who knows – perhaps just start a Labor Day tradition for years to come.