5 Virtual Hangouts to Keep You Connected

The coronavirus pandemic has brought some unique challenges, from toilet paper scavenger hunts to fielding Zoom calls in pajamas. One thing we all learned from this experience: Staying connected with friends is remarkably easy when everything’s virtual. All you need is a smartphone and Wi-Fi!

But what do you actually do on those calls when you’re bored and stuck home? That’s where the virtual hangout comes in. Here are five creative ways to pass the time and boost your friendships when you can’t meet in person.

1. Hop on the Netflix Party Bus

When we look back at 2020 years from now, two things will stick out: coronavirus and Tiger King. The bizarre murder mystery docu-series broke records with over 34 million views in its first ten days. One good thing that came out of the stay-at-home order is the rise of Netflix Party, a Chrome plugin that lets you watch Tiger King — or any other Netflix show or movie — with your best buds.

You’ll each need Netflix access, of course. Simply download the extension, open a Google Chrome browser window and navigate to your favorite show. Click the red “NP” icon in the top right to get the party started. Share the link that Netflix serves up with your friends, and they can join the party. Once logged in, you’ll pick an avatar and a chat window will open so you can dish about Joe Exotic’s disturbing ‘80s mullet… or whatever.

Need to take a break? Just pause your NP flick and it will stop for everyone while you grab a snack or take a pit-stop. Now nuke some popcorn, stab a straw in your boxed wine and prepare to be awed by this trainwreck of a show.

2. Play a Picture Game

Unlike a lot of traditional board games, Pictionary is one classic that can be easily adapted for virtual play. To start, you’ll need words or phrases to draw. You can either use a physical copy of the game, or come up with your own prompts and randomly distribute them to players in advance. Zoom’s whiteboard feature, which allows everyone on a session to draw on a single board, works perfectly for picture-drawing games. Simply click Share Screen -> Whiteboard -> Share. Click Stop Share when you’re done.

Terrible at drawing? Try Drawful 2, a Jackbox party game that works similar to Pictionary, but with silly drawing prompts such as “angry tiger” or “spiced potatoes.” The pro: Jackbox is an inexpensive game platform that only requires the host to purchase the game. Once the host signs on, they can provide their friends with a unique Jackbox.TV access link for mobile or desktop. The con: You’ll also need to open up a Zoom-type session and have the host share their screen to be able to fully enjoy the experience.

3. Host a Virtual Book Club

Book clubs have come a long way since your mother’s snooze-worthy lit sessions. Think plenty of wine (or craft beer), snacks, laughter, and more gabbing about relationships or family issues than walking chapter-by-chapter through Reese Witherspoon’s latest book pick. Luckily, all of this can be easily accomplished in the privacy of your own home, aided by video calling apps like Zoom or Google Hangouts.

It’s a win-win: You can still see each other and enjoy chatting about books you love or hate, just without the annoying latecomers and inevitable potluck germs. For an even more cohesive club experience, pair the book with easy snacks that relate to the theme, like Swedish meatballs and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or pecan pie plus Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

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Pro Tip: Tag the author on social media before you host. Some authors will respond with thoughtful discussion questions — or even offer to make a quick guest appearance!

4. Do a Zoom Scavenger Hunt

This one’s great when you’ve run out of games to play, or you have friends who aren’t interested in downloading an app or paying to play. It’s easy, fun, and you don’t need to buy anything new. Use the free version of Zoom for a 40-minute version, or try Skype or another platform for longer hangout times.

As the host, it’s your responsibility to make up or download a list of things that could be found around the house. It doesn’t have to be all dish sponges and vitamins, either. Think creatively; for example, “something lime green,” “a picture of your first pet,” or “a movie ticket stub from the last two years.”

Hold onto the list until hangout time. Then, when your social circle is online, share your digital list with the group. Set a timer, and have everyone go fetch the items they can find on the list. When the timer runs out, go through each item on the list and have everyone show the item they were able to find. The most laughs usually happen when items are in contention — does that stuffed animal really count as your first pet?

5. Have a Karaoke Night

Don’t be scared. Yes, you certainly could download some free background tracks and take turns crooning your favorite tunes with your pals. If that makes you happy, go for it! But if the idea of your friends hearing your off-key rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” makes you want to crawl in a hole, here’s an easy alternative: Download Houseparty free on Google Play or the App Store and try Heads Up — Karaoke Night.

This twist on the classic family game contains cards with the names of popular karaoke songs on them. Gameplay is simple. You draw a card with a song title and hum the tune while your team tries to guess the name of the song. Bonus points if you can actually whistle it.

The days of quarantine and work-at-home will end, but there will always be times when you can’t get together in person. Maybe your friend moves out of state. Or you unexpectedly have to stay home and watch the kids. Whatever the reason you can’t get together physically, virtual hangouts are the perfect way to keep connected in the comfort of home — and your pajamas.

The material presented here is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be used as financial, investment, or legal advice.