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How to keep yourself occupied on a long-haul flight

Updated on February 21, 2012

You've done it. You've finally booked your dream holiday to Australia/South Africa/India/insert-exotic-destination-of-choice, now you've just got to get there.

Unfortunately plane travel is neither glamorous, nor even comfortable, unless you've got the funds for a first-class ticket. You're guaranteed to be exhausted before jet-lag even comes into the picture. It's not a pleasurable experience.

So how can you keep yourself occupied for multiple hours in economy class? These are a few ways I've found to fill the time whilst flying long-haul, some serious, some just plain silly.

1. Take advantage of the free bar trolley

I remember my first long-haul flight. London to Melbourne with a two and a half hour stop in Hong Kong to refuel. The whole thing took twenty-four hours and I knew I was going to struggle to fill the time. Within thirty minutes of take off, a nice young man came around with a trolley of drinks.

Would we like anything?

A couple of diet cokes please. How much is that?

It's all complimentary.

I'll have two miniature bottles of Jack Daniels and a couple of bags of peanuts as well then please.

The look he gave me (bear in mind it was only about 10am)! But I didn't care, I was getting free booze and lets be real, half the other passengers are having a complimentary tipple too.

Don't drink too much- they can and will refuse to serve you if you get drunk- but the trolley comes around specifically to fill the time up so fill your boots.

2. Plan your holiday

You might be thinking it is a bit late for that now you're on the plane, but I mean working out the finer details. Obviously, if you've booked the holiday you'll have a fair idea of what you want to do and where you'll visit, but the flight is a really good time for reading a guidebook to find out opening days/times for the big tourist sites, learn about a few places that are off the beaten track, and find listings for restaurants, bars and other nightlife you might want to visit.

3. Make friends and influence people

There's nothing funnier to me than seeing a fellow passengers face sink when they realize they haven't got the row to themselves and they are going to have to share their meager space with you. They don't want you there and it's obvious from the tutting and the fuss they make when they move their bags from underneath the seat in front of yours. These are the people that put their bags on the seat next to them on a bus or train, the people that are too good to sit next to strangers, but don't have the cash for any other option.

You're off to a bad start, you already feel uncomfortable, despite the fact that you have paid, just like they have, to use the plane. The truth is, you don't really want to sit next to them either but there's no other spaces available and you're going to have to make do. You could be very nice and show them that it's not so bad sitting with you or you could live up to their every expectation. There's a lot of fun in the latter.

4. Do some reading and writing

If you've got an ereader, now is the time to use it. You've got hours of time during which you don't have to worry about work, family, chores.. how often does that happen? Take with you that book you've not made time to read, or maybe an old favorite that you know you won't put down once you've started it.

Instead of starting to read a novel, why not have a go at writing one? You've got hours to think of a plot and draft it out, or maybe you've got a great opening line in your head that you've been meaning to get down on paper. Write it down and then see where it takes you.

Alternately, work on something you'll be able to finish within the time. An article or two(maybe even for hubpages), perhaps a poem or a short story. You could even start a holiday journal and fill it with material to turn into full pieces later on.

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5. Sample the delights of airline food

If you're flying long-haul then chances are there will be at least two meals. On the aforementioned flight I was subjected to six of them and they weren't all that bad. They weren't good, but they filled a hole. If all else fails there's bread and butter and many long haul flights will provide you with a bag of snacks right at the beginning.

If the food is particularly unpleasant, you could write your own complaint letter about, like this chap famously did.

6. Go for a stroll

There's not many places you can go on a plane. The bathroom and back is the usual jaunt and there's certainly no scenic route. It is important that you get up and move around, if only to avoid deep vein thrombosis.

Going for a wander might also help you find a nicer seat. Long haul flights are often less crammed than your standard short haul or domestic, though this depends heavily on the route and the time of year. You might well find a space to call your own, away from the strange person the airline has sat you next to-who may even be a relative!

7. Play guess the spillage on the inflight magazine

If anything has ever contributed to a global epidemic, it is the inflight magazine. They're always well thumbed, which is fair enough, but they often come with pages stuck together and crumbs in the spine. There's the brown turbulence stains as well, the left over coffee, tea or coca-cola that's sloshed out of the cup and onto the magazine whilst the passengers were on a particularly bumpy ride. I dread to think what else it might be.

8. Stay fresh and beautiful

On an overnight flight you'll often get a little bag with clean socks, some wet wipes and a toothbrush and toothpaste. Use them! You will feel much better when you get off the end if you have wiped the sweat off your body and have brushed your teeth.

Even on a short flight it's handy to carry some beauty essentials. Air travel dries the skin out so if you take a small tube of moisturizer and some baby wipes with you you'll feel fresher when you come of the plane.

9. Sleep

It seems like a near impossible task when you're sat up straight, draped in a thin airline-issue blanket, with your neighbor's TV screen flashing in your eye and their elbow nudging your ribs. You could take sleeping pills but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone that wasn't being prescribed them by a doctor.

If you failed to find yourself another, more comfortable space to get your head down, then you've got to make the best of what you've got. Put your seat back- I think it's polite to ask the person behind you before doing so but nobody has ever had the manners to ask me in return so do what you will- use the sleep mask if you've got one and just lay back and think of nothing. You're never going to get a decent nights sleep but even if you just doze that's something. This might be the time to try out the inflight entertainment as well and find yourself a soothing music channel to listen to.

10. Laugh at those lucky few people who have managed to sleep because they're snoring or drooling

I always do this, not to be mean, just because I think other people are funny when they sleep. It also doesn't put me off trying to fall asleep because I know I snore sometimes and I'm sure I look hilarious.

First photo credit goes to Stuart Miles. Second photo credit goes to Federico Stevanin


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