My instructions are simple: meet in the field behind the police station at 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon. My knowledge about what will happen after that is limited, though I’m wearing gym clothes as instructed. Today is my friend David’s birthday, and he’s planning some sort of scavenger hunt surprise party for his guests.

A small group of 20- and 30-somethings and an overflowing bag of thrift store accoutrements greet me when I arrive in the field. We mill around for a few minutes, introducing ourselves to each other and waiting for the remaining participants to show up. After everyone has gathered, David divides us into teams and explains the flow of the day: first, we’ll compete in a “field day” style relay race. The winning team will have a 45 second advantage in the subsequent scavenger hunt. The clues will lead us to various locations around Asheville, and the hunt will culminate at a top secret location where we will reconvene for birthday cake and merriment. There’s just one rule.

“Get a speeding ticket and you’re disqualified,” David admonishes us.

“Get a speeding ticket and you’re disqualified,” David admonishes us.

Moments later I’m stumbling blindfolded across the field, wearing a frumpy dress, an ill-fitting hat, a men’s necktie and a pair of cat eye glasses on top of my sunglasses. I’m clutching a plastic ball and straining to hear the voices of my teammates as they shout cues from across the field. It’s all very confusing, but eventually I find the basket, deposit the ball, and remove my blindfold to discover that we’re in second place.

As soon as David hands us our first clue we sprint to the car. The next couple of hours fly by as we compete in a series of high octane challenges that take us from an abandoned underpass to the Asheville botanical gardens to an outdoor amphitheatre to a discount grocery store. One challenge demands that we select from a group of children’s toys the object that David loved so much as a child that he requested it as the theme for his 9th birthday party. After wasting precious time choosing a videogame and a teenage mutant ninja turtles action figure, we home in on… a banana. A spelunking finger reveals a mushy, saran-wrapped clue.

The final clue provides us with five dollars and the instructions to purchase something sweet and something savory from our last stop, the discount food store. (We don’t comprehend that we’re selecting food for the party, and in our rush to complete the challenge we pick out… a banana and a piece of beef jerky. Yum.) Snacks in hand, we text David to tell him that we’re finished, and he texts back a picture outside “Ol’ Shakey’s,” a sketchy biker bar near the river. We jump in the car and race to get there, quickly discovering that we’re the first ones to arrive. The second place team is not far behind and soon everyone is there, drinking $2 whiskey-and-gingers, tossing horseshoes in the sun, and snacking on a strange assortment of edibles from Amazing Savings, or as the locals call it, “Amazing Stale Things”. Eventually we sing to David as he blows out his birthday candles; for some reason we choose “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” instead of the traditional “Happy Birthday.”

Just because you don’t spend large amounts of money on entertainment doesn’t mean that your social life needs to be dull. This was one of the best parties I’ve ever attended, and it was virtually free. While spending money is definitely the easy way to have a good time with your friends, it’s also the lazy way. Money may buy experiences, but creativity and a little planning are more likely to result in adventures. Which are you more likely to remember: a pricey dinner followed by a night of bar hopping at various clubs, or the time you and your friends dressed up in paper mache Bernie Sanders heads and ran around town scaring the tourists? Tickets to a football game, or that day you got snowed in and sledded down your street on trash can lids, finally stopping to make hot chocolate when your hands got too cold?

Which are you more likely to remember: a pricey dinner followed by a night of bar hopping at various clubs, or the time you and your friends dressed up in paper mache Bernie Sanders heads and ran around town scaring the tourists?

A scavenger hunt is labor intensive, but there are many ways to have fun with your friends that are simple and cheap or free. We appreciate a good theme party at my house: previous contenders have included The Great Big Blanket Fort, ‘50s Beachwear vs. Sci-Fi, and Animal Onesie Pajama Party. Singer/songwriter Carsie Blanton suggests lying on the floor, drinking wine and listening to jazz albums. Athletic and outdoorsy types might enjoy camping or backpacking trips; the travel-hungry sort can team up and plan road trips, pooling resources and utilizing economies of scale to save money on hotels and gas.

For simpler and shorter adventures, hit up the $3 movie theatre in your town, or host an art night (or “crafternoon”), or invite your friends over to play board games. Become a regular at the comedy club open mic or the local poetry slam, or find out what partner dances are popular in your town and learn them. Form a rotating supper club (or dessert club, or fancy cocktail club, or brunch club) where you and your friends take turns hosting each other. If you have access to a projector you can host a documentary night or play Republican Debate Bingo if it’s an election year. Go on a thrift shopping expedition and then rock your new duds on the dance floor. Plan a day hike to a waterfall and eat a picnic on the rocks. Get your legs in shape and bike to the sea. Get out those paper mache Bernie Sanders heads and go cause some trouble. The only limiting factor is your imagination.


(Photo courtesy of Ben Harper)

2 thoughts

  1. Great ideas for simple and cheap entertainment. Thanks for sharing! Check me out at


  2. This is so true! My dad says this all the time. Especially as a student going out can be really expensive, but a large bowl of homemade pasta and a puzzle is under $10 haha


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s