Friday, July 4, 2008

How to waste time in an airport

The journey towards our ultimate destinations can be very tedious, especially when it involves long hours wasted in airports. I certainly understand the frustration and boredom of lengthy airport waits — I was once forced to spend 10 hours in the airport in Accra, Ghana, with nothing more than my Lonely Planet West Africa guidebook (which I had just spent the previous two months working as part of a team to update!) to keep me company, and over the years I've spent more hours hanging out in Singapore's Changi International airport than I care to remember. So here are my best tips on how to entertain yourself and pass the time while waiting for your next flight.

Take a city tour
If you have more than a four-hour stopover in an airport, try to arrange a short city excursion. Naturally, this will depend on visa regulations, but these days, most international airports offer a variety of city tours for transiting passengers that range from half-day to full-day excursions that take in the city's major sights. I recently had an unexpected 12 hour stopover in Cairo and to my surprise I was able to arrange a tour to see the Pyramids of Giza — the stopover actually became the highlight of my whole trip as I was finally able to cross off one of my "must sees" from my travel wish list.

Shop 'til you drop
Most international airports have at least one duty free store. In some cases, such as at London's Heathrow, you'll find virtual shopping malls, so the long airport transit provides you with the perfect opportunity to pick up all those last-minute presents for family and friends back home. Even if you aren't interested in buying anything, window shopping is a great way to fill in time — start making your Christmas list or imagine what you'd buy if money wasn't an issue.

Read a book
Long airport waits are perfect for catching on your reading. I normally have at least one or two books on the go as part of my research. Though, reading for work can be tedious in itself. So I'll often pick up a quick pulp-fiction novel that I can easily immerse myself in for few hours, or I'll buy a magazine or local paper at one of the airport kiosks.

Talk with people
Deliberately choose a seat in the waiting room, bar or restaurant where you can maximise your chances of striking up a conversation with other travellers. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and what's important to them, and if they, too, have a long wait until their next flight, they'll probably be just as happy for the diversion as you are.

People watch
If you're like me and not the most gregarious of travellers, sitting back and observing the comings and goings of the people around you can be quite entertaining. I usually focus on one particular thing, such as comparing everyone's shoes or hairstyles. Otherwise, I'll try to imagine where the person is from and where they are going. I am sure the scenarios I come up with are far more romantic and adventurous than is really the case!

How do you waste time when stuck waiting at an airport? If you have any tips to add let me know.

An edited version of this article is on MSN NZ Travel
Image sourced from

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