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7 Fun Things to Do on Black Friday Instead of Shopping


On Black Friday, millions of people will wake up early and hit the stores for a day of shopping and spending. On Thanksgiving, some people even camp out for Black Friday to be one of the first ones in the store when the doors open.

The chaos of Black Friday and frantic search for Black Friday deals have been part of our culture for decades. However, a slow shift is happening as more and more people choose to skip the weekend of holiday shopping and instead head outside or spend time at home with loved ones.

According to a September 2020 analysis by Morning Consult, 52% of consumers plan to skip in-person Black Friday shopping this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s possible Black Friday will never be the same, as many people expect permanent pandemic-related changes to society and the economy. Many people are just searching for something more meaningful to do instead.

The Shift Away From Shopping on Black Friday

In 2015, camping retailer REI made headlines when they announced they were closing their doors on Black Friday. Instead, the company gave employees a paid day off and encouraged them and their customers to enjoy the outdoors. They even closed their website’s payment processing so no online sales could go through.

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This year, the retailer is doing the same. All REI stores will be closed on Black Friday while their employees get a paid day off to go outside.

REI’s example marks a subtle shift away from shopping in person on Black Friday. According to a 2020 NRF survey, 60% of shoppers plan to purchase their holiday gifts online this year, while the Morning Consult analysis estimates that 47% will shop primarily online.

This year, retailers like Walmart, Home Depot, and Costco have announced they will close on Thanksgiving Day to give their employees a much-needed day off to spend time with their family.

Some retailers, like Target, are actively encouraging consumers to shop online for safety this holiday season. In an August 2020 press release, the retailer said, “…this isn’t the year for crowds.” And they’re right. You can find just as many — if not more — Black Friday sales online this year as you can in brick-and-mortar locations. And avoiding other holiday shoppers means keeping your loved ones safe and healthy.

Benefits of Skipping Black Friday

The benefits of skipping Black Friday are significant. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), in 2019, the average Black Friday shopper spent $361.90. While many people use the Black Friday shopping weekend to purchase holiday gifts, many take the opportunity to buy themselves a treat as well. Add in some impulse buys and too-good-to-miss deals, and stepping out for Black Friday starts to add up. Splurging on all this holiday shopping can wreak havoc on your personal budget.

Will you miss out on some great Black Friday deals if you skip it? Maybe. But there’s a good chance you’ll buy something you don’t need just because it’s a “good deal,” wasting money and adding more clutter to your home. Staying home means avoiding a huge credit card bill next month. You’ll also save money on gas and eating out.

While many people stay home and shop online during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, plenty of others commit to making it a “buy-nothing weekend” and avoid shopping entirely. Stepping away from consumerism for a little while is restorative and restful for many people, especially if they use the time for activities they enjoy or to check something off their bucket list.

Skipping all this shopping is also better for the environment. You’re not consuming products and all the packaging and bags that go along with them or using fuel to drive around.

Another benefit is getting quality time with your family. Instead of battling aggressive crowds and arriving home feeling drained and exhausted, you get to sleep in, watch a movie with your kids, eat Thanksgiving leftovers, go hiking, or play some family games. You can also take Black Friday to generate some holiday spirit by decorating your Christmas tree.

Fun Things to Do Instead of Shopping on Black Friday

From Halloween to Christmas, advertisers bombard us with commercials trying to get us to spend, spend, spend. Doesn’t taking the weekend off from all that sound like a good idea? Fortunately, there are many other ways you can spend the time.

1. Go Camping

A Thanksgiving weekend family camping trip gives you the opportunity to create lasting memories with your kids. And cooking dinner over a fire outdoors is a lot more enjoyable than roasting a turkey in the oven. Add in some s’mores, scary stories, and stargazing, and it’s sure to be more fun than the mall.

The United States has 8,565 state parks, so chances are high you live near one of them. Find a state park near you at America’s State Parks — you can even make a reservation on their site. Check your local state park’s website to see if it offers free admission or hosts special events for Black Friday.

National parks are also wonderful places to hike and camp. Because the federal government funds and manages these parks, they often contain environmentally significant sites or unique geology that inspire wonder and awe. Hiking and camping in a national park are also rewarding because, as a taxpayer, you’ve helped contribute to the protection and preservation of the land. It provides an opportunity to teach your family about the importance of stewardship. Find a national park near you at the National Park Service (NPS) website.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some local, state, or national parks might limit access or hours, and some campgrounds might close for safety reasons. Always call the park before making a reservation to ensure it’s open and to find out what safety protocols they have in place.

Another option is to find a unique or secluded camping spot using Hipcamp. The site lets you reserve cabins, surf shacks, yurts, RVs and RV campsites, treehouses, and almost anything else you can imagine. If it’s a little too cold for tent camping, you can rent an RV through Outdoorsy.

2. Visit a National Historic Site

The NPS also manages historically important sites, including:

  • National monuments
  • Battlefields
  • Trailways and parkways
  • Seashores, lakeshores, and rivers
  • Historic sites and memorials

Visiting one of these national treasures creates a memorable experience for your family and gets you outdoors, especially if you pack a picnic and make a day of it. Find a national park or historic site near you by visiting the NPS park locator page.

3. Volunteer

You can also spend Black Friday volunteering with your family at a local nonprofit. Volunteering doesn’t just help others. It’s beneficial to everyone in your family.

A 2007 research report by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that volunteers experience a rush of positive feelings, called a “helpers high,” when they help others. Researchers also found volunteers have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability — or potential — and lower rates of depression than those who do not volunteer.

Volunteering can be very beneficial for older adults and seniors as well. A 2013 study published in Psychology and Aging found that older adults who volunteered at least 200 hours per year were less likely to develop hypertension than those who didn’t. The study also found that volunteering was associated with greater rates of psychological well-being and physical activity.

Kids also learn valuable lessons through volunteering. It helps them develop empathy, build trust, and create a stronger sense of community. It can also positively affect their life in the years to come. According to Americorps, kids who volunteer are 3 times more likely to volunteer when they’re adults. Kids who volunteer steadily, even an hour per week, are 50% less likely to use drugs and alcohol and engage in destructive behaviors.

To find volunteer opportunities in your area, visit

4. Stay Home

If you don’t feel motivated to venture out, there are plenty of fun things to do at home.

By staying home, you’ll save money, avoid traffic, and get in some quality time with your family. Just make sure you have everything you need before Thanksgiving so you don’t have to venture out into the melee.

5. Visit a Museum or Zoo

Have you visited all the museums in your city? For that matter, have you visited any of them?

Most midsize to large cities have an incredible number of museums of all types: art museums, archaeology museums, history and cultural museums, and science museums. And most of these museums will be empty on Black Friday, so it’s a great chance to see exhibits without school kids and dense crowds shuffling you along.

Many small towns even have unique and interesting museums that highlight local history or a quirky niche. For example, there’s the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico, and the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana.

Find a museum near you at the American Alliance of Museums.

Visiting your local zoo or aquarium is also a fun and educational way to spend Black Friday, especially if you have kids. Find a nearby zoo or aquarium at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

6. Find a Family Fun Center

What sounds like more fun: grinding your teeth as you circle through a packed parking lot trying to find a spot or spending the day at an indoor trampoline park with your kids?

Family fun centers, or family entertainment centers, provide activities and play opportunities to thrill your kids and give you a fun way to get some exercise. Depending on where you live, there are a variety of activities available — training courses, indoor bounce houses and trampolines, bowling, indoor climbing and bouldering, indoor swings and zip lines, batting cages, and yes, traditional slides and playgrounds.

But call ahead before you show up. Some centers might have limited hours or only allow a limited number of customers in at a time due to social distancing guidelines.

7. Clean Up the Environment With #OptOutside

Since it created #OptOutside in 2015, REI has kept its promise to close its stores and website on the popular shopping holiday. By 2018, #OptOutside had grown to more than 15 million participants.

In 2019, the company took #OptOutside a step further by hosting environmental cleanup events all over the country. Events took place in over 90 major cities, including Austin, Denver, Jacksonville, and New York.

In an October 2020 letter to company employees, CEO Eric Artz announced REI would again take part in #OptOutside for 2020’s Black Friday. However, due to the pandemic, there are currently no organized cleanup events planned.

Even though there are currently no planned cleanup events for #OptOutside, you can still make a difference where you are. Choose a location to clean up with your family. There’s plenty of litter in local wildlife preserves and state parks, on beaches and lakes, and along  roadsides. But check with park or city officials to find out if you need permission or a permit to pick up litter. Bring garbage bags, protective gloves, and, if you’re working alongside a road, plenty of brightly colored safety vests for everyone so motorists can see you. Find more information on how to host a cleanup at REI.

Final Word

My family and I skip Black Friday every year, and I’ve never regretted it.

In years past, we spent the weekend after Thanksgiving holed up at home playing family games, watching movies, and going hiking. Last year, we joined the REI #OptOutside movement and headed to the beach to picnic and pick up trash with friends. This year, we’re planning to hike and pick up trash in a national park.

No matter where you live, chances are there’s a cool free activity you’ve never done before. Reader’s Digest compiled a list of free tourist activities in every state, and some of them sound like a blast. And many of them can also provide some funny pictures to share on social media.

Skipping Black Friday means missing out on the adrenaline rush of fighting the crowds. But if you commit to a buy-nothing weekend, you can save hundreds of dollars, which you can use to pad your emergency savings or put toward a family vacation. And avoiding that consumerism means keeping all that extra stuff out of your home to avoid making more clutter.

Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.