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10 Free (or Cheap) Things to Do While You're Shut In by COVID-19

By Selena Maranjian – Apr 14, 2020 at 7:40AM

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Being stuck at home because of the coronavirus doesn't have to be such a drag. Here are loads of fun, useful, or interesting things you can do.

Many of us are on Day 9 or Day 16 or Day 22 of being locked down in our homes waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to ease. We're working from home all or much of the time, and we're lonely -- or starting to get a little stir crazy from being cooped up with our families so much. Fortunately, there are more options and opportunities than ever for people bored at home.

Here are a bunch of free (or inexpensive) things you can do while you're shut-in. See how many appeal to you and give them a try.

A woman in a scarf behind a window, looking bored, with her palms against the glass.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. De-stress

First off, consider working to reduce any stress or anxiety you may be feeling due to the ongoing pandemic. Meditation is a great option. No less an authority than the National Institutes of Health has noted that, "Many studies have investigated meditation for different conditions, and there's evidence that it may reduce blood pressure as well as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and flare-ups in people who have had ulcerative colitis. It may ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and may help people with insomnia." Check out meditation smartphone apps such as Calm, Headspace, and Ten Percent Happier. Breathing exercises can also help, so look into apps such as Breathe2Relax, Breathing Zone, and Stop, Breathe & Think.

2. Exercise

Exercise is also a great way to relieve stress and improve your health at the same time. It may be more of a challenge, with gyms closed and many public parks and spaces closed, too, but you still have options. ClassPass Live is an app that offers many home workouts -- and it has made its classes free while its locations are closed. The 7 Minute workout app, Yoga Collective, Nike Training Club, and Pilates Anytime are other apps that can also help -- and there are many, many more. Some, like Nike, are not taking payments for some in-app features for the time being.

3. Garden

Gardening is a great way to spend some time outdoors, and if you have the ability to grow vegetables, you might be able to not only save money on food in the coming months but also have a less-risky produce source. Many online plant and seed companies are taking and delivering orders, though some are apologizing for delays as they try to keep up with demand. You might be able to get some soil from local garden or home improvement shops if they offer curbside pick-up or home deliveries.

4. Travel -- virtually

Those who love to travel might be feeling frustrated right now, but you can still scratch that itch a bit via lots of travel videos. Heck, you might even get to enjoy some places you were waiting to see in retirement. For example, traipse through Britain's Stonehenge, New York City's Central Park, the Grand Canyon, or other national parks. You can watch any of hundreds of Rick Steves' travel shows, where he introduces you to various countries and cities. The AirPano.com site offers lots of 360-degree visits to places around the world, some for free and some for a charge. Everest VR is a virtual reality Mt. Everest-climbing experience you can access on Sony's PlayStation, Valve's Steam, and some other video game services. With a virtual reality headset, Alphabet's Google Earth VR will take you almost anywhere. And there are many other opportunities online. Your kids might especially enjoy virtual visits to zoos, and many, such as the San Diego Zoo and the Dallas Zoo, have entertaining webcams available to watch.

5. Watch TV

Obviously, there's an endless stream of video content on your TV set, whether it's via cable and/or streaming services. Some content providers are offering special deals these days. AT&T's HBO, for example, is offering a lot of its content for free during the month of April. You needn't limit yourself to TV shows and movies, either. Check out BroadwayHD.com, a service that streams high-quality theater. You can try it for free for a week and watch lots of shows that have been big hits or critical darlings on and off-Broadway -- and if you choose to subscribe, it's very reasonable.

Two hands playing a guitar.

Image source: Getty Images.

6. Learn or improve skills

The possibilities here are myriad. You might work on learning or improving your mastery of a language via Duolingo, Babbel, or Rosetta Stone. You might take up a musical instrument and look up lessons on Alphabet's YouTube. You can work on your cooking skills, too -- Saveur magazine has listed a bunch of lessons being offered by noteworthy folks in the cooking world, such as Samin Nosrat and Massimo Bottura. You could even add some skills that could help you at work, such as learning programming or working on a professional certification.

7. Broaden your mind

Now more than ever, you can visit museums digitally, such as Paris's Louvre and London's British Museum. Visit the websites of museums you've always wanted to check out -- and perhaps try Google's Arts & Culture app as well, as it lets you enter many cultural Meccas and wander around, zooming in and out and reading about what you're seeing. For enlightenment via lectures taught by top professors, check out One Day University, which offers numerous streamable lectures (on topics such as Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, Einstein, medicine, cinema, and business strategy) for just $8 per month. The Great Courses goes a step beyond, offering multi-lecture courses for a bit more per month.

8. Listen to podcasts

This period of lockdowns and quarantines and social distancing can be a great time to get into podcasts. The selection is almost limitless. For starters, there are several Motley Fool podcasts on personal finance, industries, Rule Breaker investing, and stock market news. Beyond that, though, just to give you a taste of what's out there, here are some well-regarded ones you might lookup:

  • "Bedside Rounds" -- interesting medical stories
  • "Criminal" -- about true crimes and criminals
  • "You Must Remember This" -- Hollywood history
  • "99% Invisible" -- about architecture and design
  • "Spectacular Failures" -- about failed businesses and corporations
  • "Witness History" -- eyewitness accounts of history
  • "BackStory" -- historians explain things
  • "Pod Save America" -- politics
  • "Reply All" -- storytelling in the digital age
  • "Nice Try!" -- about failed utopian communities
  • "Song Exploder" -- deconstructing songs
  • "Decoder Ring" -- pop culture
  • "Small Town Dicks" -- about crimes in small towns
  • "Where Should We Begin?" -- couples in counseling

9. Go to church

If you're missing going to religious services, don't assume that you can't. Many houses of worship, possibly including yours, are offering video services and other streamable content. If yours doesn't, look up the websites of other churches, temples, or mosques of interest, and you'll likely find some offerings. Or head to YouTube and search for the kind of content you want.

10. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great mood booster, and it's helpful to society as well. You don't even necessarily have to leave your home to volunteer. Many cities and states are requiring or asking people to wear masks when they have to be outdoors, so if you're crafty, you might make masks for your friends and neighbors. At CareerVillage.org, you can volunteer to talk with students who have questions for professionals in all kinds of careers. At LearnToBe.org, you might volunteer to tutor kids in grades K-12. You can be a translator for TranslatorsWithoutBorders.org or sign up for any of the scores of online volunteering opportunities with the United Nations. Or write letters to the elderly who are isolated in nursing homes and elsewhere.

All these ideas are really just the tip of the iceberg. Think about your interests and dreams and goals and then spend a little time digging around online. You're sure to find even more ways to spend your time productively -- or at least to be entertained -- in this temporary new normal we're all living in.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Selena Maranjian owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and AT&T. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares) and Alphabet (C shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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