My first rule of travel: never leave home without a backup for my Kindle or my computer, so I tuck in a paperback book or two, some magazines, a legal pad, pencils and pens (I wrote my first manuscript long hand on legal pads) into my backpack. A deck of cards comes in handy for a game of solitaire and a book of crossword, Sudoku and other puzzles can be a refreshing change from Candy Crush Saga.
Six hours of this can be a bit much, but believe it or not, before the advent of all these electronic devices, there was something known as conversation, as in people talking to one another. In an episode of Dr. Who, this very scenario takes place. Traveling to see some spectacular site on a planet in a vehicle of some sort, Dr. Who (then played by David Tennant) cannot abide a long period of time without interaction with people. (Anyone who has seen David Tennant in action knows he can say more words in a minute than many people say in a day). Surrounded by people lost in their electronic media, he secretly uses his trusty sonic screwdriver to disable their devices and when the passengers begin to moan about all this time without a movie or music to listen to, Dr. Who suggests conversation. They look at him as if he is from another planet (which, of course he is), but the next scene shows them exchanging stories, laughing and having a great time.
I find most people open to conversation. If not, it’s pretty clear right away. They either don’t respond, get up and move to another seat or simply tell you to bug off. Nothing lost, nothing gained. But if you do engage someone in conversation you may be surprised at what you learn.
On a recent flight from Toronto to England, I noticed the young man next to me reading a textbook on oceanography. When he pulled his ear buds out of his ears for a moment, I asked him if he was pursuing a career in this field. He said yes, and that he was heading to South Africa to study sharks by going down in one of those cages. He said his professor thought it would be a good experience for him. I asked him if his professor liked him or not. He laughed, then added that this was the first time he had traveled outside of Toronto. Wow, I thought, to be young and headed for adventure. We landed at Heathrow and I wished him well, with the sharks and all. I thought of him once in a while during our cruise on the ocean, we floating above it in our luxury hotel, and he venturing below it in the company of sharks. At this stage of life I’ll stick with the ship, but some of his enthusiasm for adventure helped me to see the world through the eyes of a young person just starting out, a whole new world to discover and this has helped me as I plan adventures for the characters in my books. As a writer, every experience I have adds to my knowledge and inspiration for stories. Conversation can be a conduit for great inspiration.
People watching is another fun activity. Just watching people and trying to decide if they are arriving or leaving, and which family in the crowd they might belong to. Are they on a business trip, or to Florida for rest and relaxation? We boarded a plane in NC once, to return home to NJ and almost everyone on it was wearing tropical shirts. We thought we were on the wrong plane until we found out the plane was heading to Florida via NJ. I never would have guessed that one.
Meditation can also fill the time and calm those who are nervous about air travel, and there is always the option to take a nap. I’m not that trusting though, so I’ll usually pass on that one. But above all airport terminals are filled with kiosks and restaurants offering a variety of food and drink. At the end of the day, you can always eat.
A 6 hour layover without a smart phone, i-Phone, Kindle or computer needn’t be a horrible experience. Some good food, a little reading or a game of solitaire, some friendly conversation and a calming meditation and you have an airport terminal mini vacation!