100 Productive Ways to Spend Your Summer Vacation

By Rose Jensen

Thoughts of summer vacation may include images of time at the beach or lake, lazy days escaping the heat, and no thought of classes or the stress of the past two semesters. However, there are plenty of productive ways you can spend your summer that can be fun, relaxing, helpful for your education or career, or just downright lucrative for your pocketbook. Check out this list of 100 productive ways to spend your summer vacation for inspiration.

Volunteer Opportunities

Whether you are looking for a day-long project or one that lasts the entire vacation, these volunteer opportunities are an excellent way to spend a productive summer.

  1. Join a park clean-up day. Local parks, hiking trails, and beaches often sponsor clean-up days where the public can come out and help clean trash and make simple repairs.
  2. Become a big brother or big sister. Mentoring organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters can match you with a child who needs someone to look up to.
  3. Coach a sports team. If you love a sport, be it soccer, baseball, or tennis, and like working with kids, then there are plenty of chances for you to volunteer to coach a team.
  4. Volunteer at a retirement home. Make visits to retirement homes just to chat, offer a presentation, do art, share some music, or bring your Wii in and hold a tournament.
  5. Turn your pet into a therapy dog. Any type of dog who is good natured and loves people may qualify to become a therapy dog. Become qualified, then take your pooch on visits to children’s hospitals, retirement homes, respite care facilities, or anyplace therapy dogs are welcome and bring some joy to those who may not be able to keep pets.
  6. Deliver meals. Meals on Wheels provides meals for the elderly or infirm and is always looking for volunteers to bring those meals to the clients. This is a simple way to make a big difference.
  7. Read for the blind and dyslexic. Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic has studios around the nation available for volunteers to read and record books and texts for the blind and dyslexic. They are in short supply of volunteers who have a background in such fields as math, science, finance, computer science, and foreign languages.
  8. Find the perfect volunteer match. Companies like VolunteerMatch will help you find the perfect volunteer opportunity for you.
  9. Find existing projects for college students. Campus Compact coordinates with over 1,100 schools to offer students the chance to make a difference for others.
  10. Volunteer and be recognized. Learn & Serve America is an organization that provides students with an opportunity to use what they have learned in the classroom to help others. Volunteers through this program who go above and beyond can be recognized with community service awards.
  11. Knit or crochet for babies. Yarn arts have become very popular over the past several years. If you know how to knit or crochet, check with your local hospital. They often have a volunteer program accepting knitted or crocheted items for preemies and newborns and will often provide the yarn.


The lure of travel is appealing to many, but the cost can sometimes make it prohibitive. Travel is a productive way to spend your vacation, and below you will find plenty of ideas on how to make that happen.

  1. Be an overseas camp counselor. Travel during the summer, learn a new culture, meet some awesome kids, and get paid by being an overseas camp counselor.
  2. YMCA Study Tours. These your-round tours will take you to global destinations to learn about the region. They cost money, but for many, scholarships are available.
  3. Study abroad. Many companies and schools offer opportunities for study abroad during the summer. Travel and get college credits or work experience with these opportunities.
  4. Volunteer abroad. A great way to travel and really get to know the culture is by working right alongside the citizens. Try a volunteer abroad program to get the most of both.
  5. Work abroad. If you want to earn some money while traveling, then try working abroad. You can spend your summer saving and exploring.
  6. Take advantage of student status. Sites such as FarePlay from StudentUniverse.com offer travel just for students. Search within your budget, find destinations popular with college students, find music festivals, and much more.
  7. Book a college student tour. If you want something a little more guided, try booking a tour through an agency such as EF College Break.
  8. Opportunities for Jewish students. Hillel offers a chance for Jewish adults age 18-26 an opportunity to go to Israel for free on a peer-group trip.
  9. College visit opportunities. Some colleges encourage prospective students to visit their campus by providing travel grants such as this one. See if the schools you are interested in attending offer such options.
  10. Visit friends. Line up friends you may not have seen in a while and take a trip to see them. You can probably crash with them, so all you need to pay for is getting there and back and your food and entertainment money.
  11. Couch surf. Join a group like CouchSurfing to make contacts with others who will let you stay on their couch (or extra bed) for free–anywhere in the world.


Taking the summer to work on an internship offers many advantages to students. These tips and resources will help you find a great internship for a productive summer no matter what field you are studying.

  1. Media internships. A great way to break into TV, radio, and other media-related fields is to take an internship. You can gain experience and also test the waters to ensure you enjoy this type of work.
  2. Clerk. If you are a pre-law or law student, taking a clerkship can provide you with important resume-building skills as well as contacts for your future.
  3. Science internships. Young scientists can take advantage of plenty of available internships. Learn how to find them and how to make them work with this article.
  4. Disney. Disney offers opportunities for summer internships that can lead to paid internships or positions with the company.
  5. U.S. Department of State. If working in the government sounds appealing to you, then check out the internship opportunities available through the U.S. Department of State.
  6. Investment banking internship options. It’s no secret that if you plan to work in investment banking, the goal is to get an internship the last summer before you graduate. If you missed this opportunity, don’t despair.Here are some other ideas that will also help your chances for a career in investment banking.
  7. IBM. If you are pursuing a degree in software development or an MBA, then you may qualify for the internship opportunities available at IMB.
  8. Sports. Preparing for a career in sports may mean learning more than how to play sports. An internship opportunity like the one available at USA Track & Field is an excellent way to prepare for this career.
  9. Environmental organizing. Summer is a great time to learn about organizing others who are passionate about saving the environment. Internships like this one at Environment Minnesota can get you started.
  10. Try an internship company. There are several companies out there like this one and this one that will help you locate a summer internship, no matter what you major.

Expand your Knowledge

Take advantage of your down time to open your mind to new knowledge and experiences with these ideas that include education vacations, new hobbies, and open courseware classes.

  1. Read. Make a list of books you’ve always wanted to read or find a list of best-sellers and give yourself plenty of reading for the summer. Share your finds on websites such as Shelfari or GoodReads.
  2. Take an education vacation. Instead of just taking a vacation with no purpose, take a vacation where you can learn something. Use a site like Texas Education Vacation to plan a trip or use your own interests to seek opportunities to learn about the region, people, culture, and history of wherever you go.
  3. Take a non-academic class. Maybe you think that since classes are over for the summer you should stay away from school, but now is a great time to take informal classes to learn art, music, pottery, or any other subject that interests you.
  4. Learn to play an instrument. If you’ve always wanted to learn the guitar or play the piano, summer vacation is a perfect time to learn how to play.
  5. Learn a language. Take classes, go online, or buy some books or software to help learn a new language. Whether you go on vacation later or can use that skill for language requirements at school, you’ll be on your way to speaking the language.
  6. Take up a new hobby. If you’ve always wanted to make a model airplane, learn to knit, collect coins, or any other hobby you can imagine, while school is out is the perfect time to learn new hobbies.
  7. Learn to cook. Specialty grocery stores and high end houseware stores often offer cooking classes. You can also find instructional videos online or just purchase some cookbooks and learn by experience.
  8. Visit museums. Check out the museums in your town, then venture out to nearby towns and see what they have to offer. Exploring museums is an easy and inexpensive way to expand your knowledge.
  9. Build something. Whether a bookshelf or a birdhouse, build something. Not only will you learn a useful skill that you can put to use later when you own a home, but you can use this opportunity for a creative outlet, too.
  10. Take a geek vacation. Read this article to find eleven great vacations for geeks. You won’t be sitting at home on your computer all day with these ideas.
  11. Take an open courseware class. MIT and other universities around the world are making many of their past courses available free of charge online. These courses typically include such elements as the syllabus, course reading material, lectures, and projects.
  12. Watch a university lecture online. Choose from 17 subjects and find video lectures from professors at top-rated universities at Academic Earth.

Earn Extra Money

If you devote all your time to school work during the semester, then take advantage of your break from that responsibility to build up your bank account with these ways for making extra money.

  1. Be a camp counselor. A great summer job, these temporary positions are just for the summer and will have you outside doing fun projects while being a mentor to children.
  2. Tutor students. Whatever subject or subjects are your strong ones, use that ability to tutor students who need extra help and earn some great money in the process.
  3. Sell unused stuff. Clean out your living space and sell anything you aren’t using anymore. That old DVD player, the iPod you replaced last year, and those clothes hanging in the back of your closet can all bring in some money.
  4. Get creative. Take these examples to heart and tap into your own creativity to find unusual ways to earn money.
  5. Find a job related to your field of study. Not only can you gain important experience, but you can also save money or reduce your student loans if you find a job over the summer.
  6. Take a part time job that may carry over to the fall. Finding a great part time job during the summer can build some cash reserves and still allow you some time to have fun. If it’s something you really enjoy doing, carry it over to the fall and keep earning that extra cash.
  7. Start your own business. The possibilities are endless for starting your own summer business. From walking dogs to yard care to house sitting to web design, settle on something you can do well, line up some references, and spread the word.
  8. Get a government job for students. Studentjobs.gov offers an excellent way for students to get their foot in the door for government jobs. Find a summer job here for your future.
  9. Try an adventure job. Adventure jobs can be anything from white water rafting guide to climbing guides to outdoor educators. Search for a site like this one or this one that helps match you with these types of jobs.
  10. Become a personal shopper. If you have a knack for decorating, dressing, or know your way around technology, help others shop for clothes, household items, or computers and other technology products.
  11. Sell plasma. Plasma centers will buy your plasma, usually up to twice a week, and can be quite profitable with some donors earning over $200 a week.

For School and Beyond

Just because you aren’t in school doesn’t mean you can be taking care of school or career-related issues. From creating a resume to improving your writing skills, these suggestions will give you an advantage over those lazing around all summer.

  1. Study for admission tests. If you are heading off to college or grad school soon, use the summer to get ready for admission tests you may be facing.
  2. Take extra classes. If you need some extra classes or need help polishing up on a subject you didn’t quite grasp, take extra classes during the summer.
  3. Create a resume. It’s never too early to put together a great resume. Whether you will be in the job market soon or not, spend this time working on your resume so it is ready when you are.
  4. Apply for scholarships. This blog post from Pay for College Blog offers suggestions on applying for specific college scholarships, no matter if you are a freshman or have been in school a while.
  5. Find your focus. If you have been struggling with a direction to take in life, use this time to research, talk to others, and possibly do some volunteer work in the field of your choice to help determine what direction you want your future to take.
  6. Visit colleges or grad schools. If you are about to enter college or grad school, take this opportunity to visit schools and learn about the areas.
  7. Learn to type. If you use the hunt-and-peck method on your computer, learn to type. It can speed up the time it takes to complete school assignments and will also provide you with an additional skill for your resume.
  8. Earn credits while having an adventure. Castle Rock Institute offers students a chance to take four humanities courses while participating in outdoor adventures and living in small community groups. The college credits earned are transferable, but check with your school to make sure.
  9. Buy books early. If your professors already have their books listed, then buy your books early and get started reading them before classes start.
  10. Do research for a conference paper. Having a conference paper accepted can be a huge boost to your future, whether that be grad school or a career. Proving you can do original, valuable research is quite an accomplishment.
  11. Join a campus group. If your school offers community groups, think about joining one. There may be fewer activities during the summer, but you can still research and contact members. Being a member of campus groups can help make connections for your future and may look good on your resume.
  12. Improve your writing skills. Writing is incredibly important during school and in your career. Establish excellent writing habits and learn to communicate effectively to see improvement in school and a great skill for your resume.
  13. Get to know professors. You don’t have to get to know them personally, but do your research on the type of professor each is, their teaching style, areas of interest, and what students like and dislike about them. This way, you can choose only the best professors who will motivate you to learn and can guide you in the right direction.

Personal Challenges

If you have ever wanted to challenge yourself with difficult task such as running a marathon or need to teach yourself important techniques as destressing or getting organized, then summer vacation is an ideal time to focus on these activities.

  1. Train for a race. Whether you want to run a marathon, 5K, triathlon, or other race, use your time off during the summer to train for the race of your dreams.
  2. Research your family history. Take advantage of your down time to research your family history. Talk to the older adults in your family, check out online genealogy sites, and put together a family history your entire family can treasure.
  3. Tackle an old to-do list. If you have a to-do list that has been hanging over your head, use summer vacation to get those items checked off the list.
  4. Climb a mountain. Travel to the peak that has always piqued your interest or give something local a try if you have ever thought about climbing a mountain–a physical and mental challenge enjoyed by many throughout the ages.
  5. Reconnect with family members. Now that you aren’t so busy, take this time to reconnect or mend broken relationships with family members. Use your time off to make a visit to spend time together.
  6. Take a hike. Whether you just want a challenge of an afternoon or want to try your hand at a multi-day hiking adventure, hiking can be a great way to connect with nature and find yourself.
  7. Clear the clutter. Clean up your living space, your work space, and your computer. Clear out old files, old clothes, paperwork you no longer need, and other clutter and you will not only have a cleaner, more organized place, but you can focus more easily on what you need to do than what is stacked all around you.
  8. Destress. If the past semester (or past several semesters) has brought too much stress to your life, take this time to destress by pampering yourself, getting enough sleep, not overscheduling, taking time to focus on your breathing and meditate, getting exercise, eating right, and having fun.
  9. Get fit. Take on an exercise program, examine and change the way you are eating, and make positive changes that can help you become healthy and fit.
  10. Develop healthy habits (or stop bad ones). Quit smoking, drink alcohol in moderation, and take up positive habits such as meditation, exercise, and maintaining healthy relationships with friends.

Help the Earth

Use these ideas to have a productive vacation while helping the Earth.

  1. Plant a garden. Even if you live in a tiny apartment, you can plant tomatoes, herbs, or flowers in a container. Learn how to grow container plants that can make a difference for the environment and give you something productive to do with your time.
  2. Start a community garden. If you have mastered container gardening and want to move on to something bigger, try starting a community garden in your area.
  3. Don’t use your car. Try parking your car for the summer. Now that your schedule is more relaxed, take public transportation, walk, or ride your bike to get where you need to go.
  4. Take a bicycle tour. Why travel by car or plane this summer? Take a bicycle tour instead. Not only will you help the environment, but you will improve your fitness and can meet new people on your journey.
  5. Participate in an organized environmental project. Working or studying abroad while participating in a project such as these available through ProWorld Environmental Projects gives you the chance to do something for the Earth as well as yourself.
  6. Plant trees. Plant trees in your own yard, organize tree planting in your community, or volunteer your time with an organization like Tree Musketeers.
  7. Clean up vacant lots. If your neighborhood or community has abandoned lots that have become a nuisance to the neighborhood, organize a clean-up of the area. You may be surprised at how many neighbors volunteer to participate.
  8. Start a compost. Composting is an easy project that can make a huge impact. Learn how to start a compost for yourself and then volunteer to help others do the same.
  9. Switch to natural cleaners. It’s probably not your favorite job, but cleaning the house has to be done. Take some time to learn about natural cleaners, then make the switch to save money and the environment.
  10. Start a toner cartridge recycling effort. Set up toner cartridge recycling stations in local businesses and schools, then collect the cartridges and recycle them at the appropriate place (often for money).
  11. Work at an organic farm. Spend your summer vacation working at an organic farm and you can learn ways to grow your own food while helping local farmers.
  12. Avoid fast food. Fast food is one of the worst environmental polluters. With the massive amounts of beef raised and transported, the enormous amount of paper and plastic goods used, and other sources of fast food pollution are just part of the problem. They also push out local and small farmers and the food is just about the least healthy thing you can eat.
  13. Opt out of junk mail. As this article demonstrates, there are many places sending you junk mail–and you have to opt out of each by sending a letter, making a call, or via their website (not always available). To opt out of all these junk mail options may take up your entire summer vacation!

Personal Development

Working on personal development is not only a productive way to spend your summer, but a gift to yourself that will last forever.

  1. Create a personal website. Whether or not you think you are tech savvy enough to do this, you can create a website for yourself. If you can’t build one from scratch, use WordPress blogs or sites like WebStarts to make one, then fill it with your professional information that can help you build a career.
  2. Blog. Start a blog (there are plenty of free ones out there) and document your summer to stay in touch with friends and family or use it as a personal journal to capture your creativity.
  3. Think about goals. Setting both short-term and long-term goals for yourself ensures you will stay on track to make your future what you want it to be.
  4. Become an early riser. Give yourself a good night’s sleep by going to bed at a reasonable time, then form the habit of waking early each day. The extra time will give you an opportunity to do something for yourself before the demands of the day begin.
  5. Learn to manage your money. This skill is not only an important one, but one that will help you make it through life with fewer stresses. Go online to find plenty of personal finance sites like Mint that can help you learn how to manage your money.
  6. Learn to manage your time. Time management can help you complete assignments and projects more efficiently and is an important skill to carry over to your career.
  7. Read motivational blogs. There are several popular and inspirational blogs that can help you find your motivation if it begins to flag.
  8. Get organized. Before the next semester starts, get your papers and files organized. Set up a system so that you have a place for everything once the new semester starts.
  9. Learn to embrace failure. As many successful entrepreneurs will attest, failure can be an important teaching tool and often leads to later success. Embrace and learn from your failures so you can create a positive future.

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