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Top 10 ways to socialize for free

Ideas to spend time with your friends without spending any money.

Looking up at the stars is one of those activities you can do in conversation and just as easily in silence. Relax in the fresh air on a clear night with a friend and bathe in silence.
Looking up at the stars is one of those activities you can do in conversation and just as easily in silence. Relax in the fresh air on a clear night with a friend and bathe in silence.

It’s a classic college conundrum — fostering new and old friendships often includes buying food, tickets or other items. For me, it feels like there’s an expectation to spend money every time I hang out with people and I can’t always afford to spend money each week to maintain my relationships. Besides, real friendships should be built on more than just costly outings. Here are some ways I’ve found to spend time with friends without spending money and making priceless memories at the same time.

1. Start a book club or discussion circle

This is my favorite option because it’s the most versatile and can fulfill lots of social needs at once. Check out a book online or through the library and set a time to discuss it consistently. Not sure what book to pick? I recommend the novels “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir “Between the World and Me.” Not into reading? Pick a podcast or a TV show and discuss after each episode. I’m listening to “This American Lifewhich covers various human interest stories, and I am convincing a friend to tune in as well. We’re at two different universities, so we’re going to discuss virtually every week.   

2. Volunteer for a cause you’re both passionate about

There are opportunities to engage in community service all around Charlottesville — lots of which are accessible through Madison House and CIOs.  Find a shared passion with a friend, it could be anything from helping the elderly, the environment or kids. One of my friends suggested we both volunteer with Charlottesville Area Riding Therapy on a consistent basis since we both love horses and the outdoors. You’re sure to gain more than you give, and could possibly lead to a long-term relationship with the community or organization you choose to serve.

3. Throwback movie night

Plan a night at someone’s place, and pick a movie to watch together. A perfect way to make a movie night more socially engaging is to pick a throwback you haven’t seen in a long time. I tend to go for Disney Channel Original Movies because as corny as they can be, usually everyone has seen them at some point. You’ll start the movie and find yourselves bursting out in laughter over the scenes you never realized were this funny until now. Or, see how watching a timeless childhood movie with a friend facilitates conversation about your memories. 

4. Let the games begin

There are plenty of games you can play as a group online, with no added costs or materials such as or Code Names. You can even make your own Kahoot! or a Jeopardy game about your friend group. Find friends that already own card games like We’re Not Really Strangers, Stir the Pot and Hot Seat. They’re great group games to both get to know each other better and create a fun and competitive night that everyone enjoys. Recently, my friends and I played a new game called Business Walrus, a clever cross-breed between Apples to Apples and “Shark Tank”, and I can’t wait to play again. 

5. Show up to a club event you’re not a part of

Escape your comfort zone and attend a club event you have absolutely zero ties to. I once attended Filipino Food Night hosted by the Organization of Young Filipino Americans, and I found myself sitting next to another student who came for the same reason I did. I ended up having a great time, and it was freeing to attend an event where no one knew me or had any expectations of me. I engaged with new people and did something new.  Look at chalk notices and fliers around Grounds and find an event to invite a friend to attend with you as long as the event is open for non-members.

6. Play a sport — or learn a new one

Getting back into playing and learning sports has been a goal for me this semester, and luckily my friends have been doing so with me. It also helps that none of us are pro athletes, so we don’t mind looking silly in front of each other. We just enjoy playing around with a competitive spirit. I’ve had some great memories tossing a football on the Lawn, playing volleyball in Memorial Gym, doing yoga with a friend in my dorm or laughing at myself as my friend patiently teaches me to serve the ball during my first exposure to tennis. 

7. Visit The Fralin Museum of Art

I find myself at The Fralin Museum of Art a few times a semester, and I always feel relaxed and reinspired when I leave. The Fralin is the University’s very own entirely free art museum. They have a few permanent exhibits, but my favorites are the exhibits that cycle through — currently, my favorite is the Processing Abstraction exhibit. Even if you or your friends don’t consider yourselves to be artsy or interested in art, give the Fralin a try. It’s just the right size to get a full look around in under an hour, and you’re sure to learn something new or at least get a break from your daily routine.

8. Take to the skies

Grab a picnic blanket and lay out on the Lawn, the Observatory Hill field or parks around Charlottesville with friends. Take a trip up to the McCormick Observatory to stargaze through a real telescope and explore the mini museum that accompanies it. Looking up at the stars is one of those activities you can do in conversation and just as easily in silence. Relax in the fresh air on a clear night with a friend and bathe in silence.

9. Soak in the sunrise or sunset

Here in Charlottesville, the vibrancy of the sunrises and sunsets is pretty magical. Some of my favorite memories with friends have been while watching the sunset from the Lawn or the top of Culbreth Parking Garage, which is a very popular vantage point. If a friend has a car, drive to your chosen spot and park with the trunk facing the sunset or sunrise. Fill the back with pillows, blankets and snacks from home while you have a cozy spot to watch the sky from. My camera roll is filled with sunsets I’ve captured with friends. The photos end up chronicling the year in a precious way that I love to reflect on.

10. Take a stroll down a path less traveled

The University is known as one of the most beautiful university campuses in the country, and it’s easy to take the scenery for granted when we’re rushing between classes. On a nice day, try walking and talking with a friend. Get both fresh air and quality conversation at once with this super simple solution. Charlottesville is filled with nature trails, including the Observatory Hill trails we have right here on Grounds. There are also plenty of hiking opportunities around Charlottesville if you’re looking for something more adventurous.


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