In a single month of 2017, I spent upwards of 90 hours in the air, and probably just as long sitting in airport lounges and standing in queues — I travel a fair bit for work. I always have a laptop and a couple of phones with me, but juggling them all is a pain. I find it much more relaxing to switch everything off and put it away, except for one phone I have filled to the brim with movies, books, music and podcasts.
While a bunch of airlines flying out of Australia have some pretty excellent in-flight entertainment options these days, it’s not a guaranteed thing: what if you’ve already seen all the good movies and TV shows on offer?
Rolling your own is a surefire way to make sure you’ve got something to do to pass the time. If you don’t already have these apps or subscribe to these services, think of it as a tiny extra cost on top of your plane ticket for a few of the luxuries of home.
Pair these up with a good set of noise cancelling headphones and you’re good to go.
Netflix’s offline mode has been a godsend for me. It’s pretty straightforward: just navigate into the menu and look for the list of shows available for download. Much of the catalogue — although not all of it — is.
Then, when your phone is offline, you’ll be able see the list of everything you’ve downloaded. I find a mix of funny TV shows and longer movies breaks up the monotony; your mileage may vary but I find it difficult to concentrate on anything too serious while I’m flying.
Apple Music / Spotify
Whichever music streaming service is your particular poison of choice, make sure you stock up on a bunch of music. You can fall asleep to it, or have it playing in the background while you’re reading or suffering through your inflight meal.
My advice is to download music by the album or playlist rather than individual songs — not only is it a heck of a lot quicker to load up a bunch of music, it’s also nice to listen to an album in its entirety; that’s something I only have rare opportunities these days.
If you’ve got plenty of space on your phone and a good pair of headphones, set Spotify to download in Extreme quality — and you’ll notice the difference. For most of us, though, storage space is more important, because it means more videos to stock up on too.
Want a suggestion for your next take-off? Flight Facilities’ Down To Earth is the album for frequent flyers that former Giz editor Luke put me onto a few years ago, and now I listen to it at the start of every single international flight I take.
Google Play Books / Kindle
I really like reading on planes. It’s relaxing, I can stretch out and dig into a good book — whether it’s one I’m reading for the first time or something that I’ve dipped into a dozen times before. I have my book library split across Amazon’s Kindle app (which has the best prices) and Google Play Book (which also lets you upload PDFs and books you might have bought elsewhere).
Any good book app, though, will let you control your phone’s brightness specifically while you’re reading and will also feature a blue-light-destroying night mode filter that won’t keep you awake. Read until you’re tired, fall asleep, nap, rinse and repeat.
By the way — on any phone that has Android 7.0, you can split-screen Google Play Books and YouTube, if you want to read with something interesting playing in the background. I do that with a mindless gameplay video every now and then, especially if I’m travelling alone and want some virtual company.
Pocket Casts / Audible
Podcasts and audiobooks are a fantastic way to tune out over a longer period. If you subscribe to Audible for $14.99 a month, you’ll get one audiobook — which tend to be in the 15- to 20-hour range — per month. If you’re travelling over a longer period, that’s a great go-to.
Need a new podcast? I put out the call for suggestions here and got some great ones. I like weird podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead and Blurry Photos rather than more in-depth history or political ones, but there are SO many great podcasts out there.
And there’s no better podcast app than Pocket Casts. It organises thing well, you can set up syncing and auto-downloading across all the different devices you have, and playback is straightforward. If you want to, you can stock up with dozens at a time, or you can get just enough for one flight and let the app automatically get you more in the future.
…And Any Game You Can Think Of
When I’m sitting on a plane, I want a game that is simple, but not so simple that I get bored of it. I want something I can waste an hour on, put away for a couple hours more, then go back to.
One caveat: any game that checks whether you’re online — and that includes ad-supported games that give you bonuses for watching videos — might act unpredictably when you’re in airplane mode. Give it a go beforehand, and also don’t get too annoyed if you lose your high score; this exact thing happened to me on my flight the other day.
Want a suggestion? Hulabear is addictive. I’m not even going to bother explaining it. Read the title. If you have an iPhone, get Hulabear. If you don’t have an iPhone, get one, and get Hulabear, and get addicted. (Disclaimer: I’m friends with the team that made Hulabear, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s just good fun.)
On Android, my current mobile gaming crack is Egg, Inc. It’s easy to build yourself a massive chicken empire in a couple of hours of play, and the replayability is phenomenal. The levelling and research system is an absolute masterpiece of freemium gameplay. And, y’know, chooks.
How To Make It All Work
Your goal is to fill your phone to the brim with a variety of media to enjoy — I find the absolute worst thing is being stuck on a flight with a dozen hours left to go. If your phone has a microSD card slot, now’s the time to put it to work.
If you’re already struggling for space, use iCloud or Google Photos to upload all the old photos you have sitting around, then delete them to free up as much storage on your phone as you want.
It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that the flash memory in phones is also used as a swap file during its operation — so your phone might get a bit slower as you get closer to max capacity. Put yours to the test and find out a happy compromise.
Then, when you get to your destination, simply delete the videos you’ve already watched — they’ll take up the most space and simultaneously have the least replay value. Keep the books and music, or at least a cross section of them, to enjoy while you’re on holiday or away for work.
This article was originally published 13/3/17, and has been updated since its original publication.