How to kill time at a boring airport

Johannesburg airport, 2pm. Boredom has set in.

Many an unkind word has been written about Johannesburg itself but rarely do you read about O.R. Tambo airport. That's probably because there's not much to report.

Southern Africa's main air hub doesn't have a lot going for it: there are few interesting shops, no fast food outlets at which to drown your waiting time in delicious calories (at least, not if you've passed immigration), no free Wi-Fi, and the usual lack of anywhere comfortable to sit.

But it's 2pm and our flight doesn't take off until 5pm, so we have three hours to kill in here, three hours to find something with which to amuse ourselves. Four travellers with three hours in Jo'burg airport - what do you do?

We've already wandered the souvenir shops, looking at the improbably large wooden carvings. We've browsed the not-really-cheap-at-all duty-free booze. We've checked out the stand selling biltong, the South African dried meat, and decided we'll end up on an episode of Border Patrol if we attempt to sneak any back home.

And now we've succumbed to the inevitable and are drinking at a restaurant. This is a fun group of travellers but we're running out of options.

Suddenly Jeff, one of our little band, looks up. "OK, I've got it," he says, clunking his beer down. "It's a competition. Has everyone got at least 150 rand left?"

We all check our wallets and nod. Jeff continues: "Then here's the challenge. You've got an hour and 150 rand to spend. We're going to see who can find the tackiest souvenir. I'm talking cheap and nasty. The dumbest thing you can buy. Aaaaaand go!"

Three of us are left staring at each other as Jeff drains his beer, grins, and then dashes off in the direction of Jo'burg airport's few souvenir shops. There's a comedic pause before we all scramble to follow suit.


Now, surely this place will be chock full of tacky souvenirs.

I'm talking cheesy keyrings, Nelson Mandela T-shirts, lions' teeth, and maybe even a vuvuzela, the world's most annoying "musical" instrument.

Our impending flight matters little now: this is a competition.

I'm heading straight for the store with the big bongo drums out the front and the wooden carvings of willowy tribespeople that are actually bigger than the tribespeople themselves. ("Do you have any hand luggage?""Oh, just this eight-foot-high Zulu tribesman. Do you mind popping it in the overhead?")

This 150 rand is about $16, so I don't have a lot to spend. I'm thinking something of the keyring variety, an item that is suitably tacky but still easy to transport.

This store has keyrings, but they're quite nice, the sort of thing you might actually want to hang your keys on. That's disappointing.

Instead I'm drawn towards the back of the store where there's a wall full of odds and sods, a kind of burial ground for unsold tack, where bad souvenirs clearly go to die. This is where I'll find my winning entry.

Behind me I can hear Kelly, another of our group of fierce competitors, giggling to herself. She's clearly found her entry.

Over my shoulder I can see Jeff jog past our shop and then wheel in at the last minute, spying the wall of cheese that I'm currently staring down.

He's actually panting as he pulls up next to me and, both at the same time, we spot the mug, a tin job emblazoned with South African sayings like "Howzit!" and "lekker". I make a dive for it. One hundred rand! Done.

Jeff is forced to look elsewhere. Kelly is still giggling at her prize.

All of this, of course, is a silly diversion, a way to get rid of some excess rand while passing time.

It also goes to prove my theory that with the right fellow travellers, you can enjoy yourself absolutely anywhere - even Jo'burg airport.

Travel: it's not the journey and it's not the destination. It's the people you share it with.

Our little competition has run overtime and is now drawing to a close. We've reassembled at the bar and we're comparing our bounty.

Jeff, in a fit of panic, has gone for a vuvuzela covered in the South African flag. Kelly has managed to get her hands on a thimble with some tribal decorations. Nice choice. I've got my "howzit" mug, while Anthony, the fourth in our group, has come up with a South African flag bandanna.

Each is a worthy entry; all are fantastically cheap and tacky. But before we can make a call on the winner we check our watches and realise we've got a problem.

Johannesburg airport, 4.30pm. We've got a flight to catch.

How do you kill time at an airport? What are your favourite things to do while waiting for a flight? Post your comments and tips below.