Long flights… They can either be viewed as the bane of your existence or an opportunity. Really, the choice is yours. Some people use long flights as an excuse to totally zone out for a few hours. That’s cool and well within reasonable expectations. However, we prefer to use the time on long flights to enrich ourselves and tackle things we might not otherwise have (or make) time for in our regular lives. I’m not saying we don’t watch the occasional movie on long flights. What I am saying is that’s how the minority, not the majority, of our time on flights is spent. For us, we’d rather catch up on some reading or podcast listening.

Jeremy and I have taken several long flights in our time traveling together. We’ve flown to/from Europe twice and we’ve also flown to/from South Africa. Jeremy also made several trans-oceanic flights before we met. In our time traveling on those long flights, we’ve come up with effective and useful strategies for passing the time. Today we’ll share those with you so that your next flight can be just a bit more enriching and comfortable than the last.

The main way I spend my time on long flights is catching up on podcast episodes or downloading a bunch of back episodes of a show I haven’t heard before. The podcast listening helps to keep me occupied as well as offers an opportunity for me to learn new things or hear interesting stories. However, for me, the biggest obstacle to battle on long flights is visual boredom. As interesting as podcasts are, I need some visual stimulation. I’m mindful to bring a proper mix of audio and visual entertainment. My two main sources for this are simple games I can play on my phone and feature film-length cartoons from the in-flight video offerings (preferably something I’ve seen already). The mindless visual stimulation balances well with the audio enrichment podcasts provide.

Thankfully, these days most international flights also come with USB ports in the chair backs. This is quite useful for making the most out of electronic device battery time. I don’t always expect to have that access, though. I combat that by bringing at least two electronic devices with me. We keep old iPhones so that we can use them as iPods or for playing games. For me, I’d rather have my audio than a game, so if I need to find something else to visually stimulate me that’s not electronic, I start perusing Sky Mall, just to keep my visual brain occupied. You could go old school and just close your eyes if needed, as well. That may provide some respite from the stream of stimulation that I’ve suggested in previous paragraphs.

Even an eight hour flight is a long time to keep yourself occupied and despite our best efforts, sometimes batteries die and there’s no way to recharge them. My next suggestion is to vary your entertainment a bit while still keeping it stimulating. Use some time to listen to podcasts or music or audio books but then use some of that time to read. Bring either a thick book that you’ve been wanting to tackle but haven’t gotten around to (I’m bringing Bolaño’s “2666” on my next long flight) or perhaps a few high quality magazines to pass the time (for you foodies, “Lucky Peach” is an interesting and dense publication). Of course, if you bring your Kindle or Kobo, you have the opportunity to have unlimited reading material in the palm of your hand. My main tip here is to make sure that the reading material your bring is something you look forward to diving into. Nothing passes time better than getting sucked into great reading material.

While we have endless ways to enrich and entertain ourselves on long flights, something else to try to do is just get some sleep. For all the mental edification I’ve suggested here, sometimes what you need is a little shut-eye. Sometimes flights aren’t quiet enough to actually sleep on but many times, they are… Especially flights that leave at night. Eventually, on these night flights, the overhead lights are turned out and most people naturally fall asleep. If you need or want some sleep, take advantage of these moments. It’s only a few hours on each flight, at most, so just go with the flow of the cabin. If you can’t sleep, just close your eyes and rest. This may sound funny, but it’s true: it takes a lot of energy to sit in one place for many consecutive hours. Listen to what your body needs. If it’s sleep, sleep.

It’s my hope that the strategies and tactics I’ve presented here will help you make the best use of the time you have on your next long flight. Mixing up the ways you keep yourself occupied is one of the keys to prevent boredom from setting in or at least putting off that boredom longer. Long flights can be tiresome, but they are necessary for us to efficiently travel to new and interesting locations. The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to make the most of your time in captivity!