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If there’s one part of my monthly budget that always gets out of hand, it’s my “fun fund.”
You know what I mean. Going to restaurants. Grabbing drinks at bars. Seeing movies in theaters.
That’s why I’ve been making an effort to have fun in a different, more affordable way: spending time outside.
Numerous outdoor activities are affordable, if not free. You can go for a hike, stargaze, bird-watch or sunbathe on a beach. As added bonuses, spending time outside is good for your mental health and can be a cheaper alternative to joining a gym.
There are countless resources for people who want to introduce themselves to the outdoors. However, some of them cost a pretty penny. For example, MapMyHike is a great app that tracks the mileage of your hikes and provides maps… but it costs $5.99 per month.
Thankfully, for every outdoor app that requires a monthly or one-time fee, there is another great one that is free. This way, you can enjoy a low-cost (or free) activity and free resources! Talk about being a successful Penny Hoarder.
Here are eight free phone apps that will help you have fun in the great outdoors.
AllTrails is my favorite app right now. It uses the GPS on your phone to find trails near you. Then it provides you with relevant information, such as trail distances and difficulty levels. It tells you if there is water nearby and if you can bring your dog.
You can also search for specific parks or for trails near a different area if you’re traveling.
AllTrails is available for iOS and Android devices.
If you want to get into hiking, cycling or long-distance running but are worried about staying safe, Cairn has your back.
Set up Cairn before you head outdoors and lose cell reception. With Cairn, you can still use your phone if you lose service. This is comforting because you never know when you’ll need to call someone for a ride home or ask for directions if you’re lost.
You can also set up a list of emergency contacts. These people receive updates about where you are. If you were supposed to be home from your kayaking trip six hours ago, your contacts can know exactly where you are so they can find you.
Cairn is available for your iPhone, but the company plans on releasing the app for Android phones soon.
3. Chimani National Parks Guides
Most U.S. National Parks require an entry fee. If you’re a Penny Hoarder, though, you know that there are ways to get into these parks at no cost. And with a free app, a weekend outside just got super affordable.
I love visiting national parks, but I get overwhelmed with all there is to do and see. I have serious FOMO, thinking I’m going to miss out on a great hike or view. Enter Chimani National Parks Guides.
Chimani breaks down all the activities you can enjoy at a national park, depending on your interests. It is basically your trip planner.
This app is available for iOS and Android devices.
4. Mountain Hub
Mountain Hub has two primary functions: to keep you updated about weather conditions and to connect you to an outdoor community.
People in the community post weather updates while they’re outdoors. Maybe you’re debating whether you should hike Pike’s Peak even though it’s snowing. If the Mountain Hub group is at Pike’s Peak and a member says it’s really dangerous, you know to stay inside with a cup of hot cocoa instead.
Mountain Hub is available for both iPhones and Android phones.
5. Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder
Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder is the ultimate app for any aspiring outdoorsman. This app lists every national and state park in the U.S. Search for parks near you and the app tells you which activities are allowed at each park and what services are available.
Or you can filter through activities rather than locations. Want to go bird-watching? Search for the best places to look at birds, then choose the park closest to you.
Other activities you can filter for include fishing, caving and rock climbing, to name just a few.
Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder is available for iOS and Android devices.
6. SAS Survival Guide – Lite
For all you folks wanting to get into hiking, backpacking and camping, this app is a fantastic free guide to prepare yourself and stay safe.
SAS Survival Guide – Lite is the free version of the complete SAS Survival Guide. This free version includes information about how to build fires and find water, a video demonstrating knife skills, a survival checklist and a quiz to make sure you’re equipped for the great outdoors.
Download SAS Survival Guide – Lite onto your iPhone or Android phone.
7. Sky Map
Stargazing is my husband’s favorite outdoor activity. It’s a much more relaxing (and cheaper) way to unwind at the end of a long day than going out for beer at a loud bar.
Learning about the night sky doesn’t require a fancy telescope. Sky Map is a free app that describes itself as a “hand-held planetarium.” Use it to identify stars and constellations in the night sky.
Sky Map is available for Android phones.
Anyone interested in learning about plants should download Leafsnap. This app uses recognition software to tell you what kind of tree you’re looking at simply from a picture of a leaf. You can also identify trees through pictures of seeds, flowers and bark.
Whether you’re seriously interested in nature walks and botany or just want to be educated on your hikes, Leafsnap is a nifty tool to have on hand.
Leafsnap is available for iOS devices.
Now you know that as long as you have a phone, you can safely and successfully enjoy the outdoors. Get ready to count all the money you save by changing the habits behind your “fun fund.”
Laura Grace Tarpley is a teacher and freelance writer in Athens, Georgia. She spends all her free time playing with her new corgi puppy, Tuna.
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