The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we socialize. By now, you know the drill: You need to stay at least 6 feet from other people when you’re out and about and limit the amount of contact you have with others, including family members who don’t live in the same household as you. When you do go out, you and the people you’re with should wear face masks to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Even as vaccines against COVID have become available, it will be a while before we reach herd immunity with enough people vaccinated so it’s safe to put away our masks and get close to each other once again. Until that time, socially distanced activities are still the safest options for getting in quality time with the people you love.
Affordable Ways to Spend Time With Family & Friends While Social Distancing
Although great news for public health, social distancing can be challenging for your mental health. Whether you live alone or with others, not being able to see the people you’re close to as often as before can have a negative effect on your overall wellness.
But social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. There are plenty of ways to spend time with friends and extended family while you’re physically apart. Even better, many socially distant social activities are much more affordable than going out to restaurants or bars or seeing a live performance.
If you’re starting to miss your friends and family, get creative and try a safe and fun way to enjoy a get-together from a distance.
1. Get Fit Over Zoom
A few weeks before Philadelphia (where I live) issued the stay-home order, I’d started going to a hot yoga class with a friend. Staying home meant no more hot yoga, but my friend quickly suggested something new. She and a few other people started working out four times per week, meeting up over Zoom. I soon joined in, doing a circuit training workout with them at the start of the week and at-home yoga sessions on Fridays.
Even as gyms and yoga studios have started to reopen in my area, I’ve kept up the twice-a-week Zoom workout sessions. The number of cases might be down, but the virus is still circulating in my local area and it’s better to stay in and play it safe than return to studio classes.
If you have trouble motivating yourself to workout at home, get a few friends to join you. You feel accountable to others and are less likely to skip your sessions together. Plus, you can spend a few minutes before and after the workout session catching up with them and talking about the day’s events.
Circuit training is easy to do over Zoom (or similar video conferencing software), as you don’t need much in the way of equipment or space. If you have a mat and weights, you’re all set. You can also substitute heavy objects like gallon water jugs or canned soup for the weights.
Yoga also works well if you’re all relatively familiar with the poses or have someone in your group who can guide you through a sequence.
2. Hold a Pantry Challenge Cooking Competition
If you and your social circle enjoy cooking, you can put a creative spin on a pantry challenge by holding a “Chopped”-style quarantine challenge cooking competition. Pick one friend to be the host of the contest and three others to be the cooks. Everyone else can be a judge. A few days before the competition, the three cooks should send the host a list of what they have in their pantries.
The host compares the lists and chooses a few ingredients each person has for each course. For example, if every cook has dried lentils, an onion, and a lemon, the host can choose those as the ingredients for the first course.
The cooks then have 30 minutes or so to make a dish, using at least three ingredients selected by the host. Everyone participating in the challenge can connect by video. As the cooks work, the host and judges can provide commentary to keep themselves entertained.
Since the judges can’t taste the final results (unless they happen to live with a cook), they can assess the recipe’s quality based on looks, so the presentation really matters.
3. Host a Netflix Party
Although you can’t go to a friend’s house to watch a movie or binge-watch your new favorite show with them, you can stream together from a safe distance. The Netflix Party extension works on Chrome browsers and lets you chat while watching a program over the streaming service. Disney+ also introduced a GroupWatch feature to let you catch up with friends and stream a movie or show together while following public health recommendations.
If one of your friends doesn’t use Chrome, doesn’t want to install the extension, or doesn’t have access to Netflix or Disney+, you can still watch something together but apart. You can watch the same movie or show on your own TVs while holding a video chat over Zoom, Google Meet, or Skype. Or you can text each other comments and thoughts while watching.
Even if you’re miles away from your loved ones, texting or chatting while you watch together can make you feel like you’re in the same room. Of course, for any of this to work, you have to agree on what to watch.
4. Host a Virtual Game Night
Some classic board games work surprisingly well when translated to digital. An online Scattergories list generator makes it easy to hold a board game session over video. It provides you with category ideas and a letter and also counts down the time for you. If you’re connecting with friends over Zoom or Google Meet, you can share your screen so everyone can see the categories.
Trivia games also work well when held online. Zoom can be the ideal app for a trivia game, as it gives you the option of using “break-out rooms” for each team. The host of the game can ask a question, then send participants to separate “rooms” to discuss answers.
If you and your social circle are up for downloading another app, Houseparty has a few game options built-in, including a trivia game and a drawing game. If you’re a gamer, video games or online games offer plenty of opportunity for social interaction without having to be in the same physical location as other people.
5. Read & Discuss a Book
A book club is another social activity that also works well when social distancing. If you’re already in a book club, you know how it works. You pick a book with members of your group, read it, then talk about it.
The two book clubs I’m in have adjusted the format somewhat to work better online. You can’t have a free-wheeling discussion where everyone talks over each other, nor can you have people split off into separate conversations (unless you send everyone to separate rooms). What works best is to have people share their thoughts on the book, one-by-one. You can then ask a discussion question to open things up a bit, but people still have to take turns speaking.
It’s also helpful if people remember to mute themselves when they aren’t talking so you can all hear the person whose turn it is.
6. Head Out for a Socially Distanced Hike
When the weather is beautiful, you don’t have to stay indoors. Throughout the pandemic, the CDC has recommended going outside for fresh air and vitamin D and to reduce stress.
Even in the cold, a walk outside can be refreshing and rejuvenating. You know what they say: There’s no such thing as bad weather — only bad clothing choices. Bundle up and get outside no matter what the thermometer says.
You can go for a hike with friends or family. But it’s essential you keep some ground rules in mind.
First, limit the number of people you’re around — ideally, to just you and one other person. It’s also vital you wear cloth masks as you hike, as there may be times when you’re closer than 6 feet. Although masks aren’t perfect, they can catch droplets produced when you talk or breathe, offering some protection, according to the CDC.
It’s also smart to choose to hike in an area that’s not crowded. Some trails or parks tend to be hot spots, and people are more likely to visit them than other areas. In Philadelphia, for example, the Schuylkill River Trail is usually full of people, making it difficult to distance yourself from others. Other trails in the city have fewer people or are bigger, allowing for more space between individuals.
Before you head out on your hike, do a quick search online to see if the place you’re planning to go to is a hot spot. If it is, look for other options.
Another option is to go out for your hike during a less popular time. Weekends and after work might be busy. Try going in the middle of the weekday instead.
7. Go for a Bike Ride
If you think life is better on two wheels, biking, like hiking, is a relatively safe outdoor activity to do while social distancing. Now isn’t the time for group rides, though. As with hiking, limit your bike rides to one other person unless you’re riding with people you live with. As you ride, wear a mask and keep at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others.
Plan your route carefully before you head out to avoid crowds and the risk of getting stuck in a situation where you might be in a crush of people. For example, some trails can be pretty narrow, making it difficult to pass other riders or pedestrians with adequate space between you.
Depending on the traffic in your area, it’s sometimes easier to ride on the street and keep your distance from others. According to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, streets and bike lanes were less crowded by cyclists than trails during the pandemic. If you’re interested in minimizing contact with others, sticking to the road or a bike lane on a street can be your best bet.
Of course, all the other bicycling safety basics apply here. Make sure your bike fits you, wear a helmet, and install lights on the front and back of your bike, especially if you’re riding around dusk.
8. Enjoy a Bring-Your-Own-Food Picnic
According to NPR, an outdoor backyard gathering with one other household is a low- to medium-risk activity during social distancing. If you’re going to someone else’s home, keep activities outside and remember to stay 6 feet away from everyone else.
Ideally, bring your own food to the gathering if you plan to eat while there. There is little risk of the virus spreading through food, according to the CDC. But you don’t want to run the risk of an asymptomatic person double-dipping their chips or coughing on a salad. Another option is to get takeout and have each person order their own meal.
Another option is to picnic with one other household in a local park. In some cities, such as San Francisco and Brooklyn, officials painted big circles in parks to make it easier for people to keep the appropriate distance apart. The circles are wide enough to set up a picnic and far enough apart to allow for social distancing.
Whether you end up going to a friend’s house or a local park, you need to bring some additional gear to a socially distant picnic. Don’t forget your mask, for one thing. It’s also a good idea to bring along hand sanitizer or a bottle of soap and water for handwashing. Bring all your utensils and a container to securely carry everything, including your trash, back home with you.
Months of staying home and limiting contact with others might have taken a toll on you, emotionally and mentally. While it may be some time yet before the world returns to “normal” and social distancing is a thing of the past, there are ways to connect to the people you love and to enjoy quality time with them.
Whether you decide to keep your social gatherings virtual or meet with one other individual or household in an outdoor setting, remember that staying connected with your loved ones is key to helping you get through this time. You’ll get to hug your friends and family again at some point, but for now, your best bet is to be social from a distance.