Sometimes, it seems like everyone has become so involved with their devices that they are cut off from the reality. But technology doesn’t have to detain you behind a computer, tablet or phone screen. Used well, tech can actually help you get out and engage with the world around you.
We bring you some of our favorite websites and apps to make your free time as meaningful and rewarding as possible—and not spent sitting behind a screen.
AllTrails (App & Website): AllTrails helps you find the nearest trails for all types of outdoor recreation, including biking, hiking, horseback riding and skiing. With over 50,000 trails, you’re bound to find fun and exciting adventures, wherever you are. And given the app’s ability to help you navigate even when it’s in offline mode, you’re sure to find your way through safely. – Free
Geocaching (App & Website): Kind of a quirky scavenger hunt, this is another great way to get out and explore. If you like treasure hunts and have a youthful sense of adventure, geocaching could be right up your alley.
Geocaches are little packages hidden where you’d least expect them (under a mailbox, in Central Park, in countries all over the world, and probably also on your block). You find them using GPS coordinates and some sleuthing ingenuity, and their contents can range from tokens left by geocachers past to mini lists you can sign to say, “I was here, too!”
To get started, create an account online or download the app, choose your geocache location and difficulty level, and get on your way. Better yet, it’s a great activity to do with kids. – Free, with premium upgrade available
Star Walk (App): This app is a mobile guide to the starry firmament up above. You just point your smartphone camera skyward and this app will identify the planets and constellations visible at that location in that moment. And if you point it toward the ground, it will tell you what you’d see in the sky on the other side of the world! – Free
Learn New Skills
Craftsy (App & Website): If you’ve always wanted to learn a craft, Craftsy is the app for you. Classes are often only about $20 each and include high-quality video lessons and instructors who will actually answer your questions. Plus, they come with supply lists and extra resources like reference sheets, recipes or patterns (depending on what you’re learning).
If you like this sort of thing, you might also try out Ravelry, a free website for knitters, crocheters and the more experienced crafty types to search, store, and share project ideas. – Free, with additional costs for classes and patterns
Yummly (App & Website): This recipe recommendation site has a lot to offer aspiring chefs. Find meals and shopping lists that suit your preferences, or simply plug in what’s in your cupboard right now for ideas on what you can make. Save and organize recipes in a digital recipe box, and share your favorites with your friends. – Free
Duolingo (App & Website): Whether you’re finally taking that long-awaited European vacation or want to realize your life-long dream of learning Japanese, Duolingo is a fun way to learn a second (or third) language. The app offers reading, listening and speaking components for 13 different languages; one independent study concluded that 34 hours on Duolingo is as effective as a whole college semester.
And, of course, if you’re learning a new language because you’re planning to travel, then there are plenty of apps to travel smarter, too. – Free
Meetup (App & Website): Meetup is a place where you can find local social groups who you can bond with over just about any interest, from fitness and meditation to book clubs and whiskey. You name it, you can probably find a group of people eager to get together to learn, gab, or do. Don’t see a group you want to join? You can create one, and lead the pack! – Free for joiners, fee required for organizers
Eventbrite (App & Website): In addition to helping you coordinate events and run ticketing for programs, Eventbrite can help you find out what’s going on in your area on any given day. You can purchase and print tickets, or pull up those tickets on a handy app when you arrive at your event. Eventbrite is used in 187 countries, so no matter where you are, you’re sure to find something going on. – Free
Meet My Dog (App): For all those dog lovers out there, this is the app for you to get out and socialize (and get your dogs to socialize). Based on your—and your dog’s—preferences, personality, and location, this app can help you connect for play dates with other dog owners in the area. This app takes “must love dogs” to the next level. – Free
Whether you’re approaching retirement, simply imagining what your life would be like if you were a person of leisure, or just trying to maximize the few free hours you have in a week, these resources can help you put that time to good use. As much as technology can isolate some people—who check their phones all the time and weaken their connections to the world around them—it can also enrich life in meaningful ways.
Keep Reading: The Apps Your Kids Are Using…That You Should, Too