12 Fun Things I Do to Pass the Time on Long Plane Flights

Like many people, I get restless sitting still on long haul flights for 10 hours, and I have trouble sleeping on planes. If I don’t plan things to do in advance on the flight, then it will feel like an uncomfortable eternity. Fortunately there are a lot of fun activities I’ve found to make the time pass more quickly.

Tablet Loaded with Movies and TV

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

Before you go, download some movies or TV series that you’ve been wanting to watch for a long time. Addictive TV series work well for long haul flights because unlike at home, you actually have the luxury to sit there and marathon a whole season of a TV series, all 12-24 episodes of thrilling cliffhangers.

It’s worth investing in some comfortable, noise cancelling headphones so you can really lose yourself in the entertainment instead of struggling to hear punchlines over the roaring jet engine in the background.

Organize Your Photos or Files on Laptop

Macbook Air

I have files and photos saved everywhere – in Dropbox, on my laptop, on an external hard drive – that I need to sit down and take a few hours to organize. A long haul flight is the perfect time to do this. It’s actually enjoyable to look through old photos, and while it’s time-consuming to organize them, you can take your time doing it when there is nothing else to do for the next 10 hours. You’ll feel both productive and relieved having checked this huge task off your to-do list.

One-Way Magazines

National Geographic

I call them one-way magazines because I take them on my long flights and they don’t come back with me. There’s a pile of magazines at home that I haven’t gotten around to reading but I’m saving for my next long flight. My rule is that nothing in the pile is allowed back in the house. So I end up reading magazines and leaving them wherever I finish them. I leave them on the plane on the way there, in the hotel, in the recycling bins I walk by, and on the plane on the way home. You actually feel pressure to read them on the plane because the sooner you read them, the less you have to carry off the plane. It’s a great feeling when your bag gets lighter and lighter until the final magazine is gone.

Vacation Planning

Rick Steves

The long haul flight to your destination is a great time to do a little reading about your destination and figure out what activities you want to do when you get there. Trip planning takes a lot of time because you are reading reviews of landmarks and attractions, calculating distances and driving times, looking up wait times and ticket prices, making reservations, etc. Pick up a travel book before you go (or pay for the in flight wifi) and get excited about your trip on your way there.

Walk Laps or Stand in Line

Inflatable Footrest

On an overseas flight, the plane is usually pretty large. Combat the negative effects of sitting still for too long by getting up and walking around the cabin. Pause where there is a little room and stretch down to touch your toes. Reach your arms over your head a few times. Stand in line for the bathroom just to stand up and get your circulation going for a few minutes. Even if you’ve been sucked into a marathon of that new Netflix drama that just won an Emmy, take a break once in a while and take a lap around.

Answer a Prompted Journal

1 Page at a Time

Are you one of those people who wish you journaled but never get around to it? There’s no better time to catch up than on a boring long haul flight. Make it easy for yourself by using a journal that prompts you with questions that you just have to think about and answer. Staring at a blank page is too difficult.

For a list of my favorite travel essentials, check out the lightweight gear I bring on every single trip, where I discuss the Cabeau, my favorite neck pillow, and my favorite Anker portable charger.

Organize or Back Up Photos and Videos on Your Phone


People often complain about running out of memory on their phones. I have the same problem, so I spent about 3 hours on my last long haul flight backing up photos onto my computer and sorting them into folders so I could delete them from my phone and clear out the memory. It’s a task that I never get around to doing but that I know is inevitable. It feels great to get it done on the plane so you don’t have to spend any more time doing it when you get home.

Design a Custom Photo Book


As anyone who has created a custom photo book on Shutterfly or Mixbook or any other website knows, it takes hours to organize the photos in the order and layout that you want. If you’ve been meaning to take some time to create an album of family photos or a photo book book of you last vacation, you finally have a few free hours to sit down and do it.

Self Reflection


I’ve found that long haul flights are a good time to read books on optimizing your goals and re-evaluating the priorities in your life. If you are frustrated in some aspect of your life, whether it’s a career that’s stalling or a lack of balance in your home life, it’s a good idea to pause and reflect on how to rebalance your life for the better. Some books I recommend: Decisive (Chip & Dan Heath), Essentialism (Greg McKeown), Thinking Fast & Slow (Daniel Kahneman), and 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership (Dethmer and Chapman).

After reading these, you’ll want to take more time and jot down lists of what’s going well and what’s not going well in your life, as well as action steps to resolve things.

Listen to Audiobooks or Podcasts

Audible Audio Books

The one caveat I have with this one is that unless it is a very entertaining audiobook or podcast, you will fall asleep. If your goal is to fall asleep on that long haul flight, great! If you want to be able to spend a few hours or so engaged in a story, wearing comfortable, noise-cancelling headphones make a big difference here.

Make an iMovie


The iMovie app is a standard app on the iPhone that makes it incredibly easy to make movies on your phone with video clips you’ve taken. One of my favorite ways to make time fly on my flight home from vacation is to make a movie of my trip. During the trip, I take a lot of 6-10 second video clips. On the plane, I drop all of them into iMovie, rearrange the sequence of clips, trim or fast forward certain clips, and add a soundtrack to the background. It’s fun making movies, and it actually takes a surprising amount of time once you get started editing (similar to editing photo books).

Stitch Up the Hole in Your Sweater

Travel Sewing Kit

I have 3 sweaters with minor holes in them that I’ve been meaning to stitch up, but I’ve been too lazy to sit down, get out the needle and thread, and just take care of it.

So on my last long haul flight, I brought two of the sweaters and finally did the sewing I’ve been putting off for months. If I had had more time, I would have altered two pairs of pants that I have been meaning to hem up.

Looking for the best travel technology and clothing for your upcoming trip? Check out Top 20 Lightweight Gear I Bring on Every Trip.