When I was 8 years old the world was a mysterious place, and I managed to keep myself entertained for hours upon hours just sitting in the midst of blackberry bushes playing with toads and snails. With the exception of candy, ice cream and Coca Cola my primary interests were completely free.
These days my primary interests come with hefty price tags and lots of personal budgeting, but I'm happy to say that I can still keep myself entertained for hours on end and the world is still a mysterious place in which to live.
1. Photography: I don't even remember how I caught the bug, but I do remember being glued to my computer screen for weeks on end trying to learn and understand a whole new language. Apertures, focal lengths, saturation, depth of field, white balance, etc. Two starter cameras later and I purchased a Nikon D700 (my precious), and since that time I have been able to purchase a couple of lenses worthy of such a fine piece of equipment - lenses that totaled more than the camera itself! Still, it was money well spent. I don't even sell my photographs. I share them with family and friends (and sometimes gamespoters), but my experience with photography has allowed me the opportunity to look at city streets, overgrown yards, and my fellow human beings in remarkably different ways. Even ugly people are no longer ugly... they're just more interesting. That's worth more that cost of any camera or lens I can assure you.
2. Microscopy: This is another one of those hobbies where I caught the bug and couldn't let go. Unfortunately for my savings account, I learned that amateur microscopy is significantly more expensive to break into than photography, especially if you plan to photo-document your work. I researched various microscopes and microscopy methods for well over a year before I finally broke down and purchased a Nikon E200 compound microscope with a dedicated microscopy camera. I later purchased a Unitron Z850 stereo microscope to compliment the Nikon. I could have purchased two bad-ass motorcycles for the same amount of cash (that will be my next expensive hobby).
It was worth it. In my experience microscopes are just short of being fricken magical. I know that sounds hokey but let me put this in perspective for you, because that's really what it's all about... perspective! As human beings we're doomed to life of limited perspective. Be it our literal perspective, cultural perspective, religious, ideological, political, or geographical perspective... any way you look it we're highly limited. Sure, you can travel the world but it takes a lifetime or more to understand a single cultural perspective, and our biases usually limit us from seeing the world beyond our field of vision.
But wait there's even more going on in our world. As it turns out (relatively speaking) you and I are galactic monstrosities slowly making our way through the universe breathing multitudes of life into existence with every inhale and causing untold destruction with every exhale... or something like that. There's an entire world of living beings under our fingernails that macro-scopic beings have been totally unaware of for millions and millions of years! For me it comes down to this... there's nothing that a year's worth of 1000 TV channels can do that will fascinate me more than a single drop of pond water. This is a hobby worth looking into.
3. PC Gaming: Compared to photography and microscopy, PC gaming almost seems silly in comparison, but there's something to be said for scoring a headshot in California from a desk in Virginia at less than 40fps in beautiful jungle environments. I'll leave it at that.
Thanks for reading. Please share your own free, inexpensive, or account-draining hobbies. But nothing too expensive please. If I catch that bug again I'm not sure where I'll be able to find the supporting funds!