If your last series of date nights featured sweatpants and powering through the DVR queue, it’s probably time to switch things up (though we’re all for lazy evenings in once in a while). While shared rituals—such as splitting the penne at your favorite Italian joint every Friday—can be a fun tradition, research shows relationships need novelty too.
Keeping things fresh can increase relationship satisfaction and bring back those “butterflies” that we’ve all had on the first few dates, at the same time flooding the brain with feel-good dopamine Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Aron, A., Norman, CC., Aron, EN., et al. Department of Psychology, State University of New York, Stony Brook, N.Y. Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 2000; 78(2): 273-84.
The best part is you don’t have to look too far (or dig too deep in the wallet) to find fun and affordable date ideas. We’ve put together a list of 30 suggestions under $30 that are guaranteed to pump up the fun and romance in your life.
2. Go apple picking.
When the season’s right, hit up a local apple orchard to pick a bundle of the antioxidant-rich fall superfood. There’s something refreshing about spending time outdoors and picking your own locally-sourced produce. Plus, the loot is perfect for snacking, adding to a parfait, or whipping up healthy treats together (gluten-free apple crisp, anyone?).
3. Plan a disposable camera day.
Instead of Instagramming, give the smartphone a break and purchase a disposable camera. It's the perfect way to unplug while still capturing fun and memorable moments. The ambitious and craft-savvy among us can even turn the pics into a scrapbook to give as a holiday or anniversary present.
4. Visit a farmers’ market.
Scout out seasonal produce, take advantage of the freshest ingredients, support local businesses, and get to know exactly where your food is coming from. Arrive early for dibs on the biggest selection, or come by an hour before close to get the best deals. When you get home, whip up some healthy snacks or a romantic meal for two.
Cost: $ - $$$
5. Head to a flea market.
Scoping out the various for-sale goods can be the perfect way to score super cheap (and needed) clothes and home décor. If anything, it’s a surefire way to get some endorphin-boosting laughs at the sight of what others are trying to pawn off… anyone need a mannequin?
Cost: 0 - $$$
Break a Sweat
6. Go kayaking.
Spend the day paddling away on the nearest river or lake. Many parks offer cheap day rentals, so it’s easy to relax on the water, enjoy beautiful sights, and burn some calories.
Cost: $$ - $$$
7. Train for a race together.
Hitting the pavement to train for a race, whether it’s a fun 5K Color Run or a challenging marathon, can bring the two of you closer and help you both hold yourselves accountable for training days. Plus, a shared sweat sesh can help you get lucky in the sheets: One survey found couples that run together get it on more too.
8. Use a bike share program.
The idea started in—where else?—Portland, Oregon. But now many cities have rolled out similar programs that allow folks to cruise around on rented two-wheelers on the cheap. Grab some cruisers and explore the local scene for a few hours.
9. Take a hike.
A day trip to the trails is a great way to enjoy beautiful landscapes, chat, and sneak in some exercise while you’re at it. Plus, a couple hours in nature can boost creativity and reduce cortisol levels. And there’s no need to seek out mountains—just a walk in the park, surrounded by greenery, has been shown to have similar health perks.
10. Learn a new dance.
Yes, twerking is all the rage right now, but there are other ways to boogie together. Many dance studios, fitness centers, and even gyms offer tons of dance options, from salsa lessons and line dancing to fitness-inspired options like Bokwa, a Zumba spin off.
11. Try a new fitness class.
Always wanted to check out kickboxing or CrossFit but too shy to go solo? Do it with your significant other. Many studios offer free or discounted intro classes so you can cheer each other on. Bonus: Working out with a buddy can inspire you to push yourself harder.
Eat and Drink
15. Organize a coffee shop hop.
We love a good pub crawl, but why not switch things up and sample a few cups of joe on a weekend morning? Map out a combination of favorite and as-yet-untested coffee shops around town and do a taste testing of their most popular picks, whether it’s a cup of dark roast or a seasonal latte. Split the drinks so you’re not super high on caffeine. You’ll still get the perks—research shows coffee can be good for you, helping stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s.
16. Host a fondue night.
This pot of melted goodness can be tailored to the cheese addict or sweet tooth. Whether going sweet with chocolate fondue or savory with some Gruyere, there’s no need to purchase a special fondue pot: Many recipes sub in a saucepan or Crock Pot, like this easy s’more fondue. Pick some healthy crudités like broccoli, cauliflower, and strawberries to up the benefits.
17. Create your own craft beer tasting.
Fun fact: Many local bars offer smaller, eight-ounce brew sizes, perfect for sampling new picks. Hop around a few neighborhood spots to try out the world of lagers, stouts, ales, and IPAs and taste the healthiest of the bunch.
18. Hold a healthier cookie bakeoff.
Fresh out of the oven, dipped in milk, or crumbled on top of ice cream, cookies are the ultimate comfort dessert. Challenge each other to whip up healthier versions of this treat—try making ‘em vegan or throwing in a superfood like avocado (we promise, they’re delish!).
Stay at Home
19. Organize a game night.
Teleport to middle school—minus the braces and social awkwardness—with a night of Battleship, Checkers, or Jenga. Alcohol is optional (and slightly encouraged).
Cost: 0 - $$
20. Host a foreign movie night (with a twist).
Pop in an international film but skip the subtitles. Instead, try guessing what’s going on just by watching the plot unfold (bonus points for narration). Maybe that high school French class will come in handy?
21. Exchange DIY massages.
A session of relaxing back work is more than a nice way to #treatyoself after a stressful week at the office or a tough workout. Studies have found that massages can reduce stress, alleviate pain, and improve mood. Fortunately it’s easy to recreate a pricey spa outing with an essential oil of your choice (lavender is especially calming) and a few lit candles to set the mood. Happy kneading!
Cost: 0 - $
22. Watch a no-drive drive-in movie.
No car needed! Just rent or stream a new flick on a laptop and cozy up in the backyard, a park, or on a rooftop. Don’t forget healthy snacks like trail mix and popcorn to munch on.
23. Play bartender.
24. Discover a new museum.
Many cultural hubs offer free or discounted days so you can ponder Impressionism or dive into ancient Egypt on the cheap. Bank of America cardholders can also enjoy free general admission to more than 150 museums nationwide with the Museums on Us program.
Cost: 0 - $$
25. Act like a tourist.
When you’ve lived in one place for a while, it’s easy to forget all the attractions that lure people there in the first place. Dedicate an afternoon to checking out landmarks, parks, and other attractions you’ve never seen. You’ll gain a fresh perspective and new appreciation for what makes your hometown great.
Cost: $ - $$$
26. Volunteer together.
Dedicate a day to helping others, whether it’s serving meals at the local food pantry, hanging out with senior citizens, or cleaning up a nearby park. Getting involved for a cause not only benefits the community; it’s a scientifically proven way to score a major happiness boost Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self reported health and happiness. Borgonovi, F. The London School of Economics. Social Science and Medicine, 2008; 66(11):2321-34.. Cost: 0
27. Take a new class together.
Sign up together to try something you’ve never done before, such as cooking Thai food or nerding out with Web design. Sites like Groupon, Living Social, Feast, and Culination offer tons of classes on the cheap. Plus, research shows that learning new skills can boost brainpower.
Cost: $ - $$$
28. Go to a trivia night.
Is one of you an avid fan of Arrested Development or The Simpsons? Flaunt it! Many bars hold friendly competitions that focus on a specific genre or TV series, or just pop culture in general. Some even offer cash prizes.
Cost: $ - $$
29. Attend a book reading.
Local bars and coffee shops host readings that showcase novels, short stories, biographies, and poetry. Upcoming works may even feature the author in a lecture or Q&A afterwards. Bonus points if you stumble upon a work of literary fiction—research shows that reading them can actually help improve social skills. Cost: 0
30. Organize a scavenger hunt.
Have one person arrange clues that take you around a new neighborhood or town. Sites like Stray Boots do the dirty work for you, with pre-arranged quests in 14 cities. Cost: 0 - $$$
*Price Key (in dollars, approximate):
Originally posted February 2014. Updated January 2015.