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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 has been part of our culture for decades. However, a slow shift is happening as more and more people choose to skip the weekend of consumerism and instead head outside or spend time at home with family.

Benefits of Skipping Black Friday

The benefits of skipping Black Friday are significant. According to Forbes, in 2018, the average Black Friday shopper spent $413. 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 really starts to add up.

Will you miss out on some great 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 you’ll avoid a huge credit card bill next month. You’ll also save money on gas and eating out if you stay home.

While many people stay home and shop online during Black Friday, plenty of others commit to making it a “buy-nothing weekend” and avoid shopping entirely. Stepping away from a consumerist lifestyle for a little while is restorative and restful for many people, especially if they use the time for activities they enjoy. It’s 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 that you’ll get in some 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, go hiking, or play some board games.

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.

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 MarketWatch, online spending was up 28% in 2018 versus the year before, but foot traffic was slightly down. More people are choosing to shop online, especially on their phone, instead of getting up early to beat down the doors.

Fun Things to Do Instead of Shopping on Black Friday

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, you’re bombarded with advertisements and commercials trying to get you to spend, spend, spend. Doesn’t taking the weekend off from all that sound like a good idea? Here are some other ways you can spend the time.

1. Go Camping

Camping Campfire Outdoors Night Fall

Many state parks around the country offer free camping or free admission on Black Friday. And almost all of them now host special workshops and events to inspire people to head outdoors. For example, Missouri state parks offer free overnight camping, while Indiana state parks offer free admission along with prizes and events like ranger talks and scavenger hunts.

Going on a family camping trip during Thanksgiving weekend is a great way 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 your family will have more fun than they would at 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’s offering free admission or hosting special events for Black Friday.

National parks are also wonderful places to hike and camp. Because these parks are funded and managed by the federal government, they often contain environmentally important sites or unique geology that inspire wonder and awe. Hiking and camping in a national park is 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.

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 think of. If it’s a little too cold for tent camping, you can rent an RV through Outdoorsy.com.


2. Visit a National Historic Site

White Sands National Monument New Mexico

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

Young Adults Volunteering Packing Paper Bag Lunch Groceries

Why not spend Black Friday volunteering with your family at a local charity? 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.

Kids also learn valuable lessons through volunteering. It helps them develop empathy, build trust, and create a stronger sense of community.

To find volunteer opportunities in your area, visit VolunteerMatch.org.


4. Stay Home

Woman Diy Christmas Holiday Wreath Decorating

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

Toddler Children Visit Zoo Elephant Colorful Outfit

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

Indoor Playground Inflatable Trampoline Toddler Boy

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 that will thrill your kids and give you a fun way to get some exercise. Depending on where you live, there is a variety of activities available – ninja training courses, indoor bounce houses and trampolines, bowling, indoor climbing and bouldering, indoor swings and ziplines, batting cages, and yes, traditional slides and playgrounds.


7. Clean Up the Environment With #OptOutside

Happy Child Cleaning Garbage In Park With Family Volunteering

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 is taking #OptOutside a step further by hosting environmental cleanup events all over the country. Events are taking place in over 90 major cities, including Austin, Denver, Jacksonville, and New York. But they’re encouraging everyone to use the day to enjoy nature and leave the world a little better than they found it. There’s a list of cleanup events on the #OptOutside website.

Even if you don’t live near a city hosting an #OptOutside cleanup event, you can still make a difference where you are. Gather with friends and family and choose a location to clean up. Places like local wildlife preserves, state parks, beaches and lakes, and even roadsides are often littered with garbage. 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 games, watching movies, and going hiking. This year, we’re joining the REI #OptOutside movement and heading to the beach to picnic and pick up trash with friends.

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.

Skipping Black Friday means you’ll miss out on the adrenaline rush of fighting the crowds. But if you commit to a buy-nothing weekend, you’ll save hundreds of dollars, which you could use to pad your emergency savings or put toward a family vacation. You’ll also keep all that extra stuff out of your home and avoid making more clutter.

Are you and your family skipping Black Friday this year? If so, what do you plan to do instead?

Heather Levin
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.

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