Beating boredom: how to pass time on the road

Not sure if you've noticed, but travel's pretty boring.

Not the actual destinations – they're great. It's all the waiting around to get to those destinations that's the real problem, and unless you're on some sort of transfers-and-accommodation package to Hamilton Island, there's going to be a hell of a lot of it.

You wait in airports. You wait in train stations. You wait at bus terminals. You wait at taxi ranks. And all for the pleasure of then spending endless mind-numbing hours on the planes, trains, buses and taxis you've just been waiting for.

So what do you do? You make your own fun. You make the time pass.

A reader, Katrina, emailed me about this the other day: "I'm about to set off for three weeks to South America with a friend," she wrote. "We have quite a bit of time to kill while travelling and have been trying to think of games we could play that just involve two people. I was wondering if you or your readers have any suggestions. Games that involve a pack of cards or no props are ideal!"

OK, I'm no expert at games, but after years and years of travel, I do know a bit about making time pass. Some of these might sound contradictory, but, you know, everything in moderation.

Sorry about the language, but that's the name of the card game: S---head. S---head has two major selling points: most travellers already seem to know how to play it; and if they don't, it's dead easy to teach them. Everyone has their own little variations on the rules (Using jokers? Pfft!), but the general gist remains the same the world over.

Travel Scrabble
There are two types of people inhabiting this earth: those who love Scrabble, and those who hate it. I fall into the former category; unfortunately, pretty much everyone I've travelled with has fallen into the latter, which is why my Travel Scrabble set has only been used once (I won, just quietly). My advice: make sure you've got someone to play against before bringing it along. (Oh, and ai is a real word.)

Look out the window
It sounds obvious, but it's really worth thinking about. You're in a foreign land, travelling, most probably, through bits of it you'll never see again. Rather than go to sleep, or read a book, make a point of staring out the window for a while and taking it all in. You'll see things you'll be telling people about for months.


Learn a language
All this spare time of yours could actually be put to good use. Whether it's flicking through a phrasebook, listening to lessons on your iPod, or even studying a textbook, travel time is the perfect opportunity to brush up on the local lingo. It might just get you out of a sticky situation down the track.

Don't want to sound like a flag-draped knuckle-dragger here, but boozing it up really does pass the time incredibly well. Trust me, if you're stuck somewhere that has a bar, walk over, grab yourself a beer, strike up a conversation with someone, and your flight/train/bus will be called in no time. All you'll have to worry about then will be the constant need to pee.

Gadgets are your friend
In this age of technological wonderment, it's never been easier to lull your brain into a state of numbed bliss. Whether it's reading books on your Kindle, watching movies or TV shows on your iPad, listening to music on your MP3 player... It's not very social, but it works.

Edit your photos
I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time flicking through the photos on my camera and marvelling at my photographic genius (OK fine, I'm a rank amateur). Anyway, if you have a digital camera there's every chance you take about 500 per cent more photos than you really need – take some time out to delete a few.

Talk to someone
A stranger, preferably. Go on, just a little chat. It'll change your journey.

How do you pass the time when you're on the road? Have you got any good games for Katrina?

Hope you're enjoying the Backpacker blog – there will be a new one published every Tuesday and Wednesday on the Fairfax Media websites. To contact me with any topic suggestions or personal abuse, visit my website, follow me on Twitter, or email me at