Have a special someone in mind but can’t afford a $100 dinner? Are you in a long-term relationship but short of the funds to buy expensive flowers? Or are you simply lacking the time to put together a scrapbook of memories?
College students budget their time and money. The average American celebrating Valentine’s Day will spend $131 this year — bringing this year’s sales to a record-breaking $18.6 billion on gifts for their lovers.
Fortunately, college students looking for a romantic adventure can celebrate without dropping wads of cash.
Liva Jostad-Laswell, a recent graduate from the University of California – Santa Barbara, recommends ditching the flowers and seeking an interest that brings you closer to your date.
“Don’t worry about buying gifts or doing something extravagant,” she says. “Find an activity you both enjoy — preferably cheap or free — and do it together.”
Rather than wait for hours in lines to join the masses at overcrowded restaurants and movie theaters, using your creativity to find a fun-filled activity in your town can be much more rewarding.
• Outdoor ice skating
Few things are more romantic than gliding over an ice rink, holding on to your date with mitten-clad hands. A night of ice skating allows you to get closer as you try not to fall — or try to show off your talent on the ice.
But be careful not too get too risky on your skates. Nothing kills the romance like an ungraceful faceplant onto the ice or a trip to the emergency room. Your Valentine’s Day date should be there to grab on to when you notice yourself slipping away.
And at the end of the day, cozy up with your partner over a mug of hot chocolate.
• Chocolate festivals
Many U.S. towns and cities host chocolate festivals that may include chocolate-tasting events, parades, game shows, historic re-enactments and, best of all, free samples.
Chocolate is rich in antioxidants and caffeine and also contains phenethylamine — a chemical that triggers the release of endorphins, which produce a sense of well-being, happiness and peacefulness. The butterflies you might be getting after a first date are usually due to a release of endorphins.
While eating chocolate may not send you spiraling into a lovesick state of being, it can lift your spirits. Whether you want to take your cutie on a free daytrip to a chocolate festival or try tasty samples in Dallas, Fairfax,Va., or Wilmington, Del., a simple Google search could lead you to the Valentine’s Day festivals occurring near your college.
• Bike rides
Have a bike or know a place that rents them? Outdoor enthusiasts might want to hop on a bike and explore their area. California couples can bike along the beach with a cruiser, while those in the Midwest can take a mountain bike through the forests or a road bike in the city surrounding their college.
Unless there’s snow on the ground or frigid temperatures keeping you indoors, biking is both a healthy and fun way to spend the day with your crush. But if you’ve been skipping the gym, you better to stick to flat roads to avoid lagging too far behind your date.
Jostad-Laswell says her most memorable Valentine’s Day was a double-date that began with a bike ride along the beach in Santa Barbara.
“We biked on the road and then walked on the sand,” she said. “Splashed in the waves and even found a heart-shaped puddle in some rocks. We chased after each other with broken crab shells. It was all very cute and fun.”
You never know where your cycling adventure might lead you.
• Take a salsa dance class
Whether you’re an experienced dancer looking to have some fun or a beginner trying to spice things up, taking a partner dance class on Valentine’s Day is a great way to share some laughs and fiery eye contact. Latin dances such as salsa and merengue are sure to heat things up between you two, while the steps to a more European ballroom dance class can come in handy if you’re ever at a ball or a wedding.
But try to avoid stepping on your date’s feet; nothing kills the mood more than blistering pain.
Many dance studios offer drop-in classes and Valentine’s Day specials. Check Groupon and LivingSocial for deals in your area. Dance the night away with your partner or go single to find one at the studio.
• Visit a museum or take a day trip
Need handcuffs to get you closer? The National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, D.C., is offering a “Crimes of Passion” Valentine’s Day special, where on-staff wardens handcuff couples together before sending them on their way through the museum.
But you don’t have to be in the nation’s capital to take your cutie on a romantic stroll through history. Nationwide, you can find museums that have Valentine’s Day specials. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is featuring a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt for couples, while Washington state’s Museum of Glass in Tacoma is offering a romantic evening featuring bead-making workshops for couples.
Every town has something to offer. Whether you’re holding hands in George Washington’s 245-year-old Mount Vernon Estate or walking through a ghost town in the Wild West, there’s no better way to bond over history. A romantic trip to a museum allows you to show off your trivia skills and go on an adventure through time with your date.
• Cook dinner together
Sometimes, a home-cooked meal and a lazy evening in the dorms make for the best Valentine’s Day dates — especially if you have an early-morning class the next day. Rather than fight the crowds to get a noisy table and an expensive meal at an overrated restaurant, set your own mood with a candlelight dinner and a night in.
If you lack the cooking skills to put something together without burning down your campus, it might be better to order in.
But remember, sometimes the best dates are unplanned, and simply getting together with your crush, loved one or friends can lead to a spontaneous day filled with memorable adventures.
“We didn’t plan the day out at all, and just decided from moment to moment what we would do next,” said Jostad-Laswell. “It was definitely the most awesome Valentine’s Day ever.”
Forget the chocolate and roses and put that $130 back in your pocket. This year, pick up the phone and make plans to share a spontaneous adventure with your date. And if you’re single, take a friend.
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