For an INFJ personality type like me, “having” to stay home is rather a dream come true. Though this time, I really hate the reason behind it. Not only does the nasty virus wreak havoc on our physical safety, its corresponding shelter-in-place directives come with stiff financial consequences. But I’m not one to dwell on unhappy thoughts (which is why I write such light and fluffy fiction), so let’s talk about how to distract the ol’ brain cells without spending ANY money.
As an introvert, a notorious miser, and a skilled time-waster, I feel uniquely qualified to offer advice on this topic. We all know reading books already on our shelves or getting outside for a solitary walk, run, or bike ride are fantastic ways to spend free time (for free), so in this post, I’ll share less obvious ways to keep your brain humming.
Ready? Here are 10 novel ways to amuse yourself and exercise a bit of brain matter without spending a dime (except for whatever you pay for internet, which you’re already paying for if you’re reading this, so…)
1) Learn a New Language
Sounds daunting, right? But with the amazing FREE Duolingo app & website, it’s both fun and easy. Yo uso Duolingo para un año por estudiar español, y yo aprendo mucho. Impressed? Well, you shouldn’t be because there are definitely grammatical errors in there, but I made my point, yes? Lessons are simple with enough variety to keep them engaging.
You decide how much time you want to commit each day. I’ve only been doing my Spanish lessons for 10-15 minutes a day for the last year or so, and though I’m far from proficient, I feel confident I’ll be able to effectively communicate in Spanish-speaking countries (you know, when travel becomes a thing again).
Duo offers lessons in 35 different languages, (3 in beta), including High Valyrian!
2) Curate a Virtual Mix Tape
I suppose I’m exposing myself as a die-hard Gen Xer with this one. But anyone who came of age during the glorious 1980s knows that everything is better with a mix tape. When you create a free account at websites & apps like YouTube & Spotify, you can create “playlists”—that’s the 2020 way of saying “mix tapes.”
Just find the songs you want to add to your mix, then look for the option that says “add to playlist,” click it, name your mix, and then go find more songs to add to it. I don’t meant to brag, but facts are facts, and I happen to have superb taste in music. Don’t believe me? Have a listen to my latest:
The mix features the never more appropriate “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” followed by everyone’s favorite directive: “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” Then I thought I’d throw in a little “Disease” since it is “Armagideon Time.” Lately, it seems like “Dead Iis the New Alive” and “Trouble Is a Friend,” so please don’t be offended when I tell you to “Stay Away” and do your “Safety Dance.” But even though “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” we “Can’t Stop“!
3) Visit Animal Cams
Most, if not all, zoos are closed right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see what’s up in the animal kingdom. The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have live cams set up in many of their habitats. See s’up with penguins, baboons, giraffes & rhinos, and many more.
Or visit your favorite local zoo or museum’s website to see what kind of interesting videos they’ve posted throughout the site. Many zoo and museum sites are treasure troves of information that we usually don’t have time to explore. Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is one of my favorites. For quick fixes, follow your favorite zoos & museums on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (that link goes to Brookfield Zoo, where every day Mon-Fri at 11:00 am they post a live animal chat).
Come on now, you didn’t think I’d get through a whole list without at least one semi-self-serving suggestion, did you? But you don’t have to review my books. Just think about what you’ve read lately and enjoyed—or didn’t enjoy—then pop onto Amazon or Goodreads, find those books, and share your thoughts about them in a review.
If you’re new to book reviewing, don’t be intimidated. You’re only expressing your opinion—and judging by my Twitter feed, everyone enjoys spouting their personal point of view. Why not direct those opinions toward something useful like helping others find books they’ll enjoy?
5) Get a Daily Dose of Europe
Just because we can’t travel right now doesn’t mean we have to stop daydreaming about it. Each day at Rick Steves’ Travel blog, an iconic travel writer digs into his archives to share a richly textured snippet of his European adventures. As Rick says, “while many of us are stuck at home, I believe a daily dose of travel dreaming can actually be good medicine.”
Rick Steves is a personal hero to me for making Europe accessible for thrifty travelers who aren’t part of the youth hostel/backpacker crowd.
6) Make Hilarious Memes
Or go ahead and be all inspirational, if that’s how you roll. Click on one of the many images at Make a Meme (scroll to below the pop-up ad that might look like a login), type in your text, and “Make the Meme.” At imgflip you have the option to upload your own image. When you’re done creating, click “Generate Meme” and either right click to save it or share directly on social media or through email.
I only ask (plead) that you don’t use the words “Hold my beer” in your memes—that joke was fun while it lasted, but it is done, done, done.
7) Go on an Amazing Race
Okay, so technically this one’s not free, but it IS free if you already have Amazon Prime, which I figure most people do by now. So, if you have Amazon Prime, travel all around the world via the first 29 seasons of The Amazing Race. With 81 Emmy nominations and 15 Emmy wins, it’s one of the best shows on TV. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “reality TV person,” The Amazing Race is sure to whet your travel whistle whilst we’re all homebound.
But don’t just sit there and watch—get in on the action! I find the show so energizing that I keep my twisty board and 5 lb. dumbbells under the coffee table for easy access, so I can burn calories along with the racers while I watch. The show would also work well with a stationery bike, treadmill, or your own personal routine of lunges, twists, and running in place.
8) There’s a Podcast for That
I’m going to guess that most of us already have a favorite podcast. But having more time than usual to ourselves is the perfect time to discover new ones. No matter how introverted one is, we all crave some degree of human connection. I find that I connect with podcasters in a more personal way than I do with characters on TV shows. Podcasts don’t have the bells and whistles that movies and TV have; they’re usually just somebody sitting there talking to you, like a friend. And that’s what my favorite podcasters are to me—friends.
You can find a podcast for virtually any interest. Go ahead—Google your interest and then add “podcast” to the search, and there you go. I’m a huge Survivor fan, so Rob Has a Podcast is my go-to with a whole menu of podcasts to choose from, including for other shows. If you want to meet the sweetest, funniest man in the world, The Purple Pants Podcast with Brice Izyah is a must-listen for his encouraging words and hilarious recaps (most of the shows I don’t even watch, but I still enjoy his take). My daughter just recommended this long-running advice podcast called My Brother, My Brother and Me that I’m going to give a shot.
Most podcasts are available to listen to for free on Spotify and Apple Podcasts or even directly from their own websites or places like Stitcher. Another wonderful feature of podcasts is that you can easily listen while going for a walk or a run or cleaning your house. I often find the only reason I do any of those things is because I want to connect with my podcaster friends.
9) Master Slide Puzzles
Remember slide puzzles? If you’re a fan of Survivor, you’ve never forgotten them because they often pop up in a challenge. But even if you’re not preparing to one day play the queen mother of social games, slide puzzles are fun, and they help improve memory and focus.
If you don’t just happen to have any slide puzzles lying around your house, you’re in luck. Helpful Games offers a whole library of free online slide puzzles at varying levels of difficulty. And the artwork is beautiful. If these don’t steam your tea, you can Google to find other resources for all kinds of online puzzles and get solving them!
If you’ve never been good at slide puzzles, that’s just because you have’t learned the “secret.” Initiate yourself into slide puzzle nerdom by studying this wikiHow on solving slide puzzles. Once you get the basics down, you’ll develop your own style for becoming a slide puzzle master.
10) Learn More About Yourself
What’s everyone’s favorite subject? Me, myself, and I. Or in your case, you, yourself, and you. Did you know there’s a website that’s all about YOU? And me? It’s called 16 Personalities. Take a personality test to find out which of the 16 personality types you are.
The site claims its results are “freakishly accurate,” and I have to say, I totally agree. When you get your result, you also get a long write-up about your personality and how you relate to others and the world. Learn what motivates you, your strengths and weaknesses; find out which career paths best suit you. Not every single detail in my write-up struck home, but the further I read, the more I thought, “Holy crap. These people know me.”
16 Personalities will follow up with occasional (non-SPAMy) emails that give further insight into you, and you’re free to visit the site at any time to dig deeper.
I hope you found at least a few activities in this post that’ll make your Coronapocolypse 2020 shelter-in-place more enjoyable and productive. Now get on out there— Er, I mean, stay on in there, and do some stuff!