8 Creative Ways To “Hang Out” With Far-Away Friends

So, you are here and your friends / loved ones / cuddle buddies are elsewhere. Maybe they’re down the street, across town, in another state, on the other side of the world. Maybe they miss you. And maybe you miss them. And maybe you’re tired of the routine text or phone call or email — you want to connect differently, say different things, be involved in each others’ lives in ways that don’t necessarily involve “like”-ing a status.

There tons of ways to stay in contact that go above and beyond the “How are you”s and “I’m doing fine”s, if you’re willing to be creative. When I moved to New York after college, the people I loved and communicated with most were all over the country, and all over the world — Ohio, Michigan, France, Argentina, Korea and California. The locations would swap and change and overlap from time to time, but what mattered most was that even though we were Here and There, we could still do the things we used to do together — read poetry out loud to each other, share recipes, and mix drinks with each other.

Staying in touch is important. So I knocked heads with the rest of the Contributing Editor team to come up with this fantastic list of things you can do to keep in touch! You can tell people you miss the ever-loving daylights out of them in so many ways. Who knew?

8 Cool Ways To Keep In Touch With Your Friends That Aren’t Facebook

The Skype Read-around

someone please read this at their next read-around. via goodreads.com

In college, my friends and I would regularly have read-arounds hosted at peoples’ houses — these involved sitting around in a circle in someone’s living room, drinking green tea, eating finger sandwiches (cucumber and dill on rye seemed to be really prevalent) and reading poetry, fiction or non-fiction that we either read from books or wrote ourselves. We had a thing for Emily Dickinson (lovingly nicknamed EmDick) and we would read everything from Eileen Myles to excerpts from erotic novels.

Since we moved to our different parts of the world, we started semi-regularly having Skype read-arounds, where we would do a group video chat, see each other for the first time in how many weeks or months, and each take turns reading our new favorite bits of writing to each other. This works particularly well if you and/or your friends are literature geeks or writers or poets — each time you meet, assemble a stack of books you like next to your computer (if you’re old school) or bookmark all of the poems you’d like to read in your browser. Read away.

The Long-Distance Movie (or TV) Night

“Clea Duvall” as a movie night theme completely appropriate for Skype movie night. via listal.com

When I was living in New York City and my partner Jessie was in Kentucky, we would regularly watch new episodes of Mad Men together with our GChat windows open. As we watched, we would live-chat our feelings about the show (“OMG PEGGY” “OMG JOAN LOOKS HOT”) and commiserate about weird music choices (“WHY IS THE DECEMBERISTS ON MAD MEN WHY”). If typing isn’t your thing, you can also do a movie date over Skype, so you can see each others’ reactions, particularly if you’re watching a horror movie (“The Ring”) or hot ladies wearing hot pants (“Whip It”). Grab a slice of pizza and nom with each other like you’re across the couch from each other. Or do a long-distance theme night! Autostraddle has lots of suggestions for that.

Group Blogging

if you group blog, don’t be this guy. via toothpastefordinner.com

Sometimes updating Facebook constantly with life things isn’t necessarily the best, especially if you want to vent or share life details with a small group of people. Enter: group blogging! Here you can update the blog with posts on what’s going on in each of your lives, plug the blog’s RSS into your Google Reader, and stay updated on what’s happening with your circle of friends.

If you’re usually banging your head against the wall for good things to blog about, or if you’re not particularly blog-inclined, you can have regular writing prompts (“What’s the most frustrating thing that happened this week?”) or themes for your blog. I had a boss who did a group blog with friends around the country, and the blog was baking themed, and she would regularly post up pictures of tarts and bundt cakes. Other ideas? Collage blog. The Many Iterations of Stir Fry blog. Knitting blog. Aspiring DJs blog. Olde Tyme Carpentry and Woodworking blog. Etc.

You can also create a private tumblr to share with each other your thoughts and feelings and links and photos of the day.

The Long-Distance Jam Session

your skype jam session could potentially look like this. via youtube.com

If you and your friends are in any way musically inclined (and the baseline of what I mean by “musically inclined” is “can keep a tune with a kazoo”), you can play music together long-distance! I was Skyping with my brother who lives in Michigan the other day, and we both happened to be holding our guitars as we turned on the Skype screen. What happened next? We picked a key (the key of D seemed to work) and he started jamming out some rhythm guitar with his acoustic, and I soloed on my electric guitar over him. We played everything from Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” to “The General” by Dispatch.

If you have a friend who plays guitar, and your singing isn’t so shabby, try doing a duet. Or if you feel like you can keep a beat, bring a tamborine. Or if you need more of it, play some cowbell. The possibilities are endless.

Postcarding and Letter-Sending

I’d love to get a postcard from Muskegon. via http://www.billyspostcards.com

Getting a letter or postcard in the mail is awesome. I had some friends in college who were really into mailing letters to each other, and we sent a few letters back and forth after we all moved to our respective places. These letters included sketches of diners or coffee shops we were sitting in, obsessive David Foster Wallace-esque footnotes, drawings of cats, words that were written VERY BIG, and ink of various colors and pens of various types (fountain, ball, dip-and-ink).

There’s a lot of stuff goes missing when we just type messages to each other — particularly the shape of the lower-case E in your friend’s handwriting, or the way Ts are crossed, or the ever-slanting slant of your friend’s handwriting on unlined paper. My favorite thing to get is sketches on blank, unlined paper. I’ve written recipes on blank paper to send to friends, with the various parts of the recipe drawn out by hand.

Another option is using a typewriter for your letter-sending — I was really into typewriters for a while, and so we have one manual typewriter here in New York and another electric one in Michigan. Make it a treasure hunt: Go to flea markets and garage sales to find the perfect typewriter. Then type. Type type type. And stick a stamp on it.

Online Videogame Bonding

A screencap of Spiral Knights, if you want to give it a try. via ggftw.com

Video games can be used for long-distance bonding, too! And it’s not just restricted to World of Warcraft, though if that’s your thing, you do you. I regularly game on Steam, but you can check out places like Xbox Live and the Playstation Network to catch up with your gamer friends. I’ve been playing some free-to-play online video games with my brothers on Steam, and because some of our computers are slower than others, we’ve settled on a multiplayer co-op game called Spiral Knights. What we do is turn on the game and then turn on Skype audio chat so we can talk to each other or yell at each other as we go through the dungeons.

Other good co-op games you can play on Steam include Torchlight II (a Diablo-esque treasure-hunting RPG) and Portal 2, where you get to play as two adorable Portal-shooting robots. Game away!

Skype Drinking

Down the hatch! via wikipedia.com

One of my favorite long-distance staying-in-touch activities is Skype drinking. This involves opening a bottle of wine or mixing yourself a bloody Mary (or two) and turning on Skype — all that’s left is chatting over drinks like you’re in the same room with each other, even if you’re five states away.

One possibility is having a Skype drink experiment date, where you all choose a particular drink you’d like to try — maybe a homemade whiskey sour, maybe a Guinness float, maybe a flaming cinnamon martini — and make it at home. Then you can go around talking and sipping on the same drink. If your drink of the week is a dud, you can complain about it together and then mix yourself something better. This is probably my favorite long-distance activity of all.

Journal Swap

For real: Someone is going to be my journal swap buddy and we are going to use TARDIS journals. via http://lilythepink7.deviantart.com/

Get yourself a hefty notebook (Moleskines have been often suggested to me), find a buddy and journal in your journal. Write about what you had for breakfast, or how the dog licks your toes in the morning, or what kind of pizza is your favorite pizza or which constellation you like the most. Then when you’ve journaled for a month, get your buddy’s mailing address, and you both send each other your journals. Journal swap! Once you get your friend’s journal, you continue writing in your friend’s the notebook and read what they went through each day. This way you get a recap of everything you missed out on since you’ve been apart, and you get the catharsis of writing a day-to-day letter to the person you’re missing most.

Get some great notebook suggestions here and here, and get your pens at the ready.

So what are the quirky and creative things you do to stay in contact with loved ones?

Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. They are a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University, where their research focuses on queer video games and new media. They are also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out their website at whitneypow.com and follow them on Twitter @whitneypow.

Whitney has written 53 articles for us.