How to Stay Connected While Social Distancing

6 easy ways to share your love of the outdoors with family and friends

Editor’s note: Always adhere to state and local guidelines when traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. This may mean staying home or postponing your plans. For the most up-to-date travel guidance, check the CDC FAQ page. For information about outdoor activities wherever you go (close to home is best), read Recreate Responsibly: An Activity-Specific Guide.

Here we are, nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, further from what our lives were than ever. Some of us haven’t seen family or hugged anyone in all of this time. Loneliness and isolation are normal emotions to be experiencing right now, months into the pandemic.

Humans are innately social creatures, even the most introverted among us, like me. Our culture isn’t great about talking about loneliness and mental health, which can lead to stigmatization and feelings of personal failure. Loneliness has been linked to many health problems and can be more prevalent in marginalized groups. We get so much from eye contact, touch and laughing together in real time. Research suggests that social connections produce rewards, and when we lose those connections, we can lose sight of the bigger picture of the world and our lives.

We’ve read a lot of lists about how to stay social, distantly, during the pandemic, and I know we’re losing steam. With that in mind, I want to share with you some things that are working for me. I know creativity is a struggle right now for many of us and I hope this inspires you to connect with your loved ones as well as yourself. Nearly all of these ideas can be altered into no-cost and low-cost options. Consider these building blocks for your own strategies.

Camp out for a day at a local park

Woman reading a book by a campfire.
The writer reading by campfire.

I do this every winter. Bring all of your favorite camping elements: your warmest layers (don’t forget gloves), a thermos of a hot beverage. Invite one or two friends (keeping in mind CDC guidelines like wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart) and head to a local park. Bonus if you can find one with a fire ring for campfire fun. (State parks with day-use areas often have fire rings; be sure to check park closures and other guidelines before you head out.) Skip the tent unless you’re with your household. You can hang tarps or set up a collapsible outdoor canopy for coverage from rain or snow. If you don’t have a fire ring, a small portable BBQ or camp stove can work for roasting marshmallows and making fun camp foods. Check the weather forecast on the day of your adventure. (Learn tips on how to stay warm).

Connect with nature every day

Hiker standing in forest looking out at beautiful scenery.

Next time you get outside, whether it’s a hike, neighborhood stroll or hanging out in your outdoor shelter, make a point to intentionally notice nature. Spending time outside has been shown to provide physical and mental health benefits. Nature is always here for us and it has much to teach us about the passing of time, change and diversity. Nature shows us all of the time that everything changes. Everything has a season. Flowers bloom, fall away and bloom again. Wildfire can blow through a forest and and that same forest can eventually rebound to its greenest potential.

Plan an outing, even a short one

Photo of people standing in front of rustic cabins.
Social distancing at cabins. Photo courtesy of Jenny Bruso.

Plan a short local trip so you have something to look forward to. Recently, I surprised my partner and my best friend with an adventure within two counties of where we live. I packed our favorite snacks and foods so we wouldn’t have to make extra stops. It felt good having something to plan and look forward to with my closest people. My best friend, who doesn’t live with us, drove separately in her own car. We met up at one of our most beloved places on the Oregon coast, Cape Kiwanda, and climbed a huge sand dune while giant waves crashed. We then did a short hike to a beautiful waterfall I knew neither of them had been to. 

Create a schedule for contacting people

As an introvert, it is so easy for me to get swallowed by the comfort of my home even when not in a pandemic. And since nearly every day is exactly the same as the day before, I don’t always feel very interesting or like I have a lot to say. It doesn’t matter. Checking on our friends and family is imperative right now. Many of us need reminders that contact is close. This can be as simple as texting your sister every Wednesday, calling your best friend every Friday, etc.

Celebrate everything

Mark every milestone, every birthday, including your dog’s. Celebrate friendship or reaching a hiking or running goal. When we stop celebrating the milestones, we become even more isolated and detached from ourselves and the true richness of our lives. Video conferencing fatigue is real, so be extra with it. Suggest dress codes or themes for occasions. One idea I’ll let you borrow: Organize a virtual clubbing night with your friends. Make a playlist for everyone, wear your sassiest clothes, make your favorite drinks and dance!


Trail through wooded area.

Being of service to others is the best cure for battling feelings of helplessness. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities with little to no contact: Join a trail work crew. Look at the websites for local park services and find something that works for you and your personal abilities. It’s so satisfying to give back to the places we love to recreate. If you’re interested in advocating for voter registration or local politics, you can look into phone banking right from your home on your own schedule. (And if you need ideas, consider the Opt to Act Plan: 52 weekly challenges to reduce your impact, get active and leave the world better than you found it.)

All photos courtesy of Jenny Bruso.

Editor’s note: REI has partnered with Jenny Bruso / Unlikely Hikers. Through this partnership, the organization receives financial sponsorship, in-kind benefits and support for events the organization hosts, among other efforts.

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