7 Cheap “Friend Dates” That Aren’t Coffee

The text from a good friend pops up on my phone late on Thursday, asking if I want to hang out this weekend. It’s on the tip of my tongue (or rather, my fingers) to name the coffee shop where she and I typically meet. But before I mindlessly suggest the same activity yet again, I pause. When did getting coffee become my immediate go-to for friendship hangouts? Staring at each other over styrofoam cups can sometimes feel like an imperative to fill the space with deep, meaningful conversation, when maybe we’d rather just have fun. Between the two of us, couldn’t we think of something more, well, interesting to do? Something that doesn’t cost a lot?

There’s no shortage of inexpensive activities that inject a bit of novelty into time spent with friends. Research shows we feel more bonded with others when we experience something exciting together. Plus, creativity tends to build upon itself. The more time we spend engaged in unique pursuits with a friend, the more likely we are to see imagination blossom in other areas of life. There’s really no downside to thinking outside the coffee shop.

Next time you get together with a friend, why not choose an activity that’s a little more exciting and a little less routine? Liven things up with these seven inexpensive friend dates.


Getting outdoors and exercising together is a near-perfect boost for mental and physical health. When I hike with a friend, I often find the conversation and the accountability keep me going further than I might alone. Don’t live near mountains? Any outdoor space can serve as the backdrop for your refreshing jaunt through nature. Try a walk through a forest preserve or explore local park trails.

Check out a local festival:

My best friend and I don’t have a speck of Japanese heritage, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a Japanese cultural festival in our town a few years back. A day spent exploring booths about bonsai trees, sushi rolling, and anime cartooning proved both fun and educational (we have the pictures with the samurai to prove it). Even if you have no particular connection to a culture, a festival showcasing its highlights can provide a delightful few hours with a friend. Alternatively, in the absence of a nearby cultural event, check out a sidewalk art show or farmer’s market for a similar experience.

Play a game:

When you were a kid, the only natural thing to do with a friend was to play. Adult friendships aren’t so far removed from those days. Get a friend, put away your phones, and immerse yourselves in a good old-fashioned board game, like Life or Scrabble. You may be surprised at how fun such a basic pastime can be.

Test drive a cool car:

Perhaps you’re curious about the appeal of a Tesla, or always wanted to drive a Porsche but never had the means. There’s no harm in trying one out! (No one has to know you’re not actually in the market to buy—and showing up with a friend may take the edge off of any potential self-consciousness.) Make an appointment for a test drive at a dealership. See who’s the better driver by switching off with your pal.

Visit a museum:

Play tourist in your own town and refine your cultural appreciation by checking out a local museum with a friend. Putting yourselves in front of a unique art exhibit may spark conversation that leads to new revelations about each other.

Scavenger hunt:

If you can come up with a list of random items, you can have a scavenger hunt pretty much anywhere. In the age of smartphones, some of the best scavenger hunts simply involve snapping photos of funny scenarios. I’ve challenged friends to search for common (and uncommon) finds and photo ops at the mall, big box stores, and even my own neighborhood. It never fails to be time well spent, with plenty of laughs about the awkwardness of asking a stranger for their greasy napkin, or the pic of your BFF dancing with a mannequin.

Get crafty:

Even if you’re not usually crafty, making something by hand with a friend can bring out the fun in creating. You don’t have to make a masterpiece. The sillier, the better, in fact! Draw cartoon portraits of each other. Buy some modeling clay at a craft store and make goofy animals.  

Over the years, as my best friend and I have established our relationship around creativity and fun, I have come to count on our get-togethers to inspire these values. We’ve scripted and filmed a Halloween movie together. We’ve made the Lincoln Memorial out of mashed potatoes. We’ve put on fancy dresses and staged ridiculous photo shoots. And I don’t think we’ve ever spent more than $20 doing any of it. You can keep a good thing going, too—without breaking the bank—by choosing hangouts that are fresh, interesting, and inexpensive.

Originally published on May 2, 2018.

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