Although states have started gradually reopening, social distancing is here to stay for the foreseeable future. In the absence of safe face-to-face interactions, our very human need to socialize is going to have to adapt.

Enter: Technological connections. By now, we're all familiar with Skype, FaceTime and the like for work meetings and family group chats. But if you’re looking for ideas that go beyond the Zoom happy hour, try one of these outside-the-box and budget-friendly ways to stay social while social distancing.

  1. COZY UP FOR MOVIE NIGHT
    For lifestyle vlogger Stephie Nics, the free Google Chrome extension Netflix Party keeps movie nights with her friends going strong. The platform allows you to watch Netflix together while a group chat streams on the side.

    “Before quarantine, I would stay in touch with my friends between hangouts and texting in our group chat, but without being able to see them in person," Nics says. “Now, I’ve had to find new ways during quarantine to virtually hang out with them.”

    Drive-in movie theaters are also having a moment right now. But if there isn’t one near you, consider an intimate, at-home watch party. This creative mom made a pop-up home theater with a 12-foot screen in front of her house, then invited neighbors and friends to watch from their cars.

  2. TRY AN ONLINE ESCAPE ROOM
    Playing this adventure game in real life is off the table right now, but many are offering virtual experiences. Nics and a friend recently tried a free two-player room through Enchambered, which turned out to be a lot of fun.

    “It was cool to have the escape room experience while we couldn’t go out to an actual one,” Nics says. “Plus, the added dimension of having to communicate and solve the clues solely through describing it to each other was a fun new twist.”

    Other online escape rooms include Mystery Escape Room ($75 to $85 per event for between four to eight players) and Puzzle Break ($25 per player). If you’re after a kid-friendly option, check out this free Harry Potter-themed Hogwarts digital escape room.

  3. HOST A VIRTUAL GAME NIGHT
    Nics has hosted several virtual game nights, but one crowd-pleaser was doing her own version of a trivia night with a friend. Each picked through online trivia questions and kept score as they went.

    There are also many free or low-cost online versions of popular board games. “Some games have gone more smoothly than others,” Nics says. “Battleship, Uno and Monopoly all went great, but the online version of Codenames ended up being too difficult for us to figure out, so we gave up and just talked instead.”

    Not sure what kind of online game suits you and your friends? Browse digital games offered through apps like QuizUp or JackBox, which make it easy to link up and play together online.

  4. CREATE A BOOK CLUB
    The pandemic has caused lots of authors to cancel their book tours. To stay connected to readers, many are hosting free virtual book clubs. In May, writer Sue Monk Kidd released scheduled readings of her latest book online. She gathered reader questions via social media and then addressed them during a weekly Instagram Live.

    Look to your favorite authors and bookstores for virtual book clubs you and your friends can join. Barnes & Noble's author interviews are centered around new releases. You can also host an old-fashioned book club on video chat. Goodreads has a list of book club favorites for inspiration.

  5. LEARN A NEW SKILL AS A GROUP
    Bond over learning a new language with a friend via Duolingo. Or, gather a group of friends to join Skillshare (starting from $99 a year to access its full catalog), which offers thousands of classes taught by subject matter experts, or MasterClass ($180 a year) to learn anything from fiction writing with Judy Blume to cooking with Gordon Ramsay. The kicker is that each course has a connectivity component where students can share what they’re learning, ask questions and celebrate milestones.

  6. TAKE AN ONLINE FITNESS CLASS TOGETHER
    At-home workouts may already be a part of your routine, but you were probably more motivated when you could attend a class with a friend (or at least, that’s what research shows). Round up your pals and try something new, like an online barre class with BarreCoast or a 20-minute bodyweight challenge with CITYROW.

    Check in with your local gym to see what’s available online. Orangetheory is hosting free virtual daily workouts that don’t require any special equipment to participate, while those with a Crunch membership can access free online classes.

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