Travel is exciting … until it’s not. The weeks before a trip are busy and fun. You’re booking restaurants, anticipating activities, and planning your travel clothing. And then suddenly, after all the buildup, you’re on a plane with nothing to do. Air travel can be at best tedious, and at worst anxiety producing. I’ve put together a list of ideas for things to do on a plane ride that’ll make your time in the air much more pleasant.
I inherited a lot of wonderful things from my dad – his love of dogs and literature, his sense of humor – but unfortunately I also inherited his fear of flying. But, like my dad, I also loved to travel, and had to learn to overcome my fear. It took a few years and a couple of trip-of-a-lifetime opportunities, but I got over it. For me it was primarily a change in attitude and some careful flight preparation.
Begin by changing your approach to flight days. Most of us are content with spending time at a restaurant, at the mall, or at home reading on the couch, but when we’re faced with unscheduled time traveling, we become anxious or bored. Reassessing this unscheduled time will set the tone for your flight. Arrive at the airport in time for a leisurely meal or a browse through the airport bookstore. Once on board, do what you’d do at home. Imagine it’s a snow day and you have to stay home. What would you do to pass the time? Many of the things you’d do at home are the same things to do on a flight.
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What to do on a plane ride
Most airlines offer in-flight entertainment, including movies, TV shows, and games. Check your airline’s website ahead of departure to see what entertainment will be offered. And note that there may be different options for different legs of your journey. Knowing you’ve got a new release or a long-time favorite movie to enjoy will make you look forward to the trip.
But don’t rely exclusively on the in-flight entertainment. Your seatback screen may not be functioning, or the offerings might not appeal to you. And even if all goes well, anything gets boring after an hour or two. Always have backup options and take a break from time to time.
BYO Entertainment for the flight
Download movies and TV shows onto your device. Long-haul flights are the perfect opportunity to binge-watch a series, and you can often download great ones based on your streaming services. Keeping a list of recommended titles in the weeks leading up to your trip is a great way to have much-anticipated shows to watch.
Bonus: having the movies on your device means you can finish your show later if you run out of time.
Airplane Etiquette: be sure anything you decide to watch is OK for all ages.
Read a book on an ereader or kindle. I usually choose a fast-paced mystery that’ll grab my attention, but you might prefer to use that uninterrupted time to tackle a book you’ve been eager to read. Download a couple of books so you’re sure to have something you like.
Bonus: Your local library probably offers free ebooks and audiobooks, Check the website or ask a librarian for help.
Listen to music Prepare a playlist of your favorite songs that’ll inspire and/or calm you on the flight. Bring your own headphones to get the best sound quality.
Games & Puzzles
Whether you’re traveling alone or with the family, it’s a good idea to have a game or two to occupy yourself on the flight or during airport layovers. If you’ve a Nintendo Switch or similar, you’re ready to go. But for the rest of us…
Puzzle games, sudoku, and crossword puzzles are great distractions while flying. Make a photocopy of the NYT puzzle or tear a page or two out of one of your own puzzle or activity book.
Download puzzle apps to your device. There are apps for all of your favorite types of puzzles – even jigsaws! I love my crossword puzzle app and go through at least a few on every flight.
Bonus: most of the apps will offer hints if you need them!
Travel games are great if you’re traveling with a partner or family. A deck of cards is compact for packing but will keep you entertained for many hours on a flight and again during the rest of the trip.
- If you’re traveling with kids, look for magnetic game boards, or card games like Guess in 10, or Clue. Eye Found It is a great game our whole family enjoys.
- Young kids will need to have some small travel toys to keep them entertained. Bring along their favorites but add some new toys and activities for the novelty.
- Avoid anything with small pieces that’ll fall off the tray table and be impossible to retrieve.
Download games on your phone or tablet to your device. Do you enjoy action games like Subway Surfers or strategy games? Try the apps at home to see what you enjoy and how well it works on your device. If you’re traveling with someone, investigate ‘pass and play’ games. Some of our favorite board games are now available on devices:
- Scrabble Go has a pass and play mode where you can challenge your travel companions.
- Monument Valley, a great cooperative puzzle game
Creative things to do on a plane ride
Tuck coloring books or a sketch pad into your personal item. Or draw on your device if it has the capability. On a recent flight, I envied my seatmate’s artistry as she created on her Macbook. Though I’ve none of the talent she possessed, I do enjoy a sketch pad and a few colored pencils when I travel.
Create a zentangle Do you enjoy doodling? Well now it’s been elevated to an artform – zentangles! Making these intricate doodles is a calming, meditative exercise, perfect for plane travel. There are zentangle books to get you started, or just dive in on your sketchpad.
Compose your own soundtrack. If you’re musical, plug in your headphones and make music with GarageBand or BandLab.
Airplane etiquette – It’s easy to get carried away when you’re listening to music but be mindful that your fellow passengers won’t enjoy your tapping or singing out loud.
Be Crafty. Enjoy your at-home craft hobbies. Knit, crochet, or work on a virtual scrapbook. Try out some challenging origami patterns while you listen to an audio book.
Sleeping on a long flight
Sleeping the flight away is one of the best ways to pass the time but for many of us, it’s nearly impossible. Planning ahead might help:
- Book a window seat so you won’t be disturbed by your neighbor.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
- Pack a shawl or lightweight blanket that you can snuggle under in your carry-on bag.
- Bring a travel pillow (or roll your jacket to give neck support)
- Pack a few teabags of your favorite sleepy time teas. The flight attendants can give you cups of hot water for the tea.
- Consider taking melatonin or another sleep aid. TRY these before your trip to see how they affect you. Some people have adverse reactions to sleep medications.
- Optional: ear plugs, eye masks. Some people swear by these and others find them annoying. YMMV
Prepare for your destination
Photographers – Enroute to your destination, study your camera’s user manual. On the way home, review, rate, and edit photographs. This is definitely one of my favorite things to do!
Learn a bit of the local language. There are some great apps that make learning a new language fun! Some may be free from your local library and can be loaded onto your device. This is our go-to activity on an international flight. My favorites are Duolingo and TripLingo (which also has a built-in translator)
Research your destination – Map out your itineraries, and first days’ adventures. Read guidebooks, historical fiction books, or download a movie about the destination.
Bonus (again): Travel guides can be downloaded from your local library.
Journal – Work on your trip journal – write down trip hopes and ideas, create a destination bucket list, decorate with doodles and artwork.
Productive things to do on a plane ride
Listen to a podcast or take an online course – make sure to have a notebook to jot down thoughts.
Clean up your email inbox – if you have access to the plane’s wi-fi, this is the perfect time to weed through all your files.
Catch up on work – Not much fun, but getting a few hours of work in during the flight will make things easier once you’ve landed.
Remember to stay healthy during a long flight
This is the most important thing to do on a plane. A long haul flight can be tough on your circulation, your skin, and your general health.
- Try to eat well before and during the flight.
- Avoid salt and too much alcohol.
- Keep yourself hydrated. I add electrolyte powder (and sometimes Vitamin C powder) to my water bottle at the airport and sip it during the flight.
- Pack moisturizer and lip balm and apply often.
Move your body – while it’s not possible to ‘work out’ you can take a walk to the restroom, stretch and even do some chair yoga. On an especially long flight, make sure to get up every few hours and move your legs. There may be a spot mid-plane where you can even do some toe touches, lunges, etc. Ignore any stares, your body will thank you at the end of the flight.
Meditate – Sometimes a few minutes of meditation is all you need to quiet your mind. If you have a practice you use at home, do that. But if you’re new to meditation there are apps to guide you.
Take some ‘me’ time – For busy people, a flight is a great opportunity to indulge yourself. Pack a favorite snack. Bring or buy a magazine you rarely get to enjoy. Apply a face mask or try a new moisturizer.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas that’ll help you to enjoy your next flight. If you have suggestions for things to do on a plane ride, I’d love to hear them! Drop me a line or add your suggestion in the comments. Thanks!