The struggle to choose how to spend a summer. This photo shows two different ways to occupy the excess time that the summer vacation provides. Image by Clara Johnk.

Sweet, sweet summer. After months of waking up to deal with everything from deadlines to lunch lines, freedom can’t seem to come soon enough for students surviving the waning school year. Yet once that last bell rings and students can finally relish in waking up during what would be second period, a new dilemma may arise: without school, what’s left to spend your time on?

As nice as it is to relax, summer’s lack of responsibilities can also leave people without structure or motivation. For anyone like me, a lack of structure often means a lack of action or urgency, something that typically manifests as extended periods glued to a couch and TV. I don’t always know how I end up there, stuck in my house with nothing to do, right in the midst of what ought to be super fun summertime, but it happens. Luckily it’s avoidable, and for those who seek something to break up that monotony, I offer a breakdown of my best ways to spice up a summer.

Some of summer’s planning comes before that first day of freedom. Of course, any big trips you plan to take require plenty of earlier coordination, but there’s also lots of little things to fill up your days that become much easier when planned for. The most common of those is group events, where the combined activities of different schedules can reduce what seems like a wide open summer down to one or two weekends of availability among everyone. Still, something like a couple days at the coast can be more than just a fun idea to muse over, if you take the initiative to make the reservations and work out dates beforehand. In that same vein, camping (though it will already be scarce during May in Oregon), most tours, or nights out for a fancier dinner, are all achievable with a little forethought.

Day to day, it’s helpful to find a balance between routine and spontaneity. If you’re losing half of every day waking up at noon, bringing back a morning alarm may help smooth out your schedule. Similarly, having some form of calendar documenting what’s to come each day and week allows you to pinpoint the times that are free, and choose what you might do with them. 

However, once you have that baseline organization, I encourage you to occupy those idle times with whatever your heart desires in the moment. Summer presents an ideal opportunity to do those things you could never quite get around to in the school year. Whether it’s learning to skateboard or watching a director’s entire filmography, there’s no better time to indulge your little curiosities and wishes. 

Finally, and more specifically, my favorite recommendation for any surplus of time is to explore Portland like it’s a new city. Whether it’s trying to find streets you’ve never walked down before in familiar neighborhoods, discovering new cafes and stores, or just people-watching, sometimes it’s refreshing to treat the place around you like a vacation destination and see what there is to find. Or, if you need a more concrete starting place, I find myself returning each summer to Sauvie Island for a hike, swim, or berry-picking outing. The Portland Art Museum or OMSI are also favored destinations of mine, as are the many food cart pods that dot the city. 

In the end, summer is still free time, and an opportunity to recharge. There seems to be a general attitude that it’s best to fill every moment of your precious time with thrills and memories, but if doing absolutely nothing for a little while is what you need, no one can stop you. What’s most important, rather than keeping busy, is spending summer doing what makes you happy.