We’re coming up on that time of year—the winter holidays—when too many people spend too much time stuck in airports. So I asked a selection of travel experts and imaginative frequent travelers to share unusual—and unusually rewarding—ways they kill time in the terminal. Here are some ideas you may not have thought of:
- Learn a new skill.
A delay for me means time to learn a “new skill.” I’ll pick up a food magazine (I don’t cook) or the latest Fast Company magazine to see what entrepreneurs are doing in different fields to stay innovative. It’s a way of using lost time to do something I never have time for.
- Work in a workout.
I use the escalators and moving sidewalks backwards—so that they’re like a treadmill. It passes the time and gets me exercising.
- Catch up with friends.
I catch up on all the phone conversations I never seem to have time for at home—some with family, some with friends.
—Michelle Royer Kleist
- Buy drugs you can’t get at home.
If the airport has a drugstore, I love to peruse it to see what’s local and unusual that I can’t get at home…and that can work in a carry-on. I loaded up on small tins of authentic Tiger Balm in the Bangkok airport; it’s great for heat rash in the tropics.
—Allie Almario of Myths and Mountains
- Have a family scavenger hunt.
We have invented a scavenger hunt game we play when stuck for more than a few hours: Each child gets $10 and has to find very random things on the “shopping” list.
—Kim-Marie Evans of Luxury Travel Mom
- Get your hair done.
When I lived in and traveled from Madrid, I used to go early to the airport and go to the hair dresser there; it would save me time later at my destination. Earlier this year I had a delay in Cape Town; I used it to get fab hair, of course. I must confess I wasn’t expecting to find a kerastase salon in the terminal.
—Ana Silva O’Reilly of Mrs. O Around The World
I randomly love to daydream. I play the game “What would this person look like if I were in love with them?” And then make up a backstory … although when I get caught staring at someone I probably seem pretty creepy.
- Find an airport day spa.
Pamper yourself. Get a pedicure or a massage. I’m always so busy during the work week; I tell myself I don’t have time for those little luxuries. So when I do have time on my hands, I make the most of it!
- Splurge on duty-free designer goods.
I readily admit I have way too many designer sunglasses purchased at airport duty-free shops during travel delays. You never know when you might get diverted to the Caribbean! Then I check into an airport club because it’s a great spot to unwind, grab a drink, and use the free Wi-Fi to catch up on work and check in with my friends on social sites. It’s also great people watching.
—Tiffany Dowd of Luxe Tiffany
- Study the ecosystem.
I have flown to my job for most of the last 11 years, so my airports are sort of like my community. I like to understand how they operate—shifts, responsibilities, rules, procedures, power centers, new developments. So, to the extent possible given that airports are also “workplaces” for many, I have struck up conversations with off-duty pilots, idle gate agents, restaurant workers, and taxi line monitors. I’ve asked more random questions than I can remember. Clearly, I missed my calling as a producer of that wonderful old BBC series “Airport” (chronicling Heathrow’s ecosystem) and the American counterpart “Airline” (Southwest).
—Kristin Goss, public policy professor at Duke University
- Play fashion police.
We do a lot of people watching. In the winter, we count how many UGGly boots we see.
- Organize your photos and clean up email.
Find an electrical outlet and get some work done, organize photos, and return emails. Get caught up before you get home and are tired.
—Dr. Cacinda Maloney of Points and Travel
- Start a conversation.
Look for the most interesting-looking person in the waiting area, find a seat near him/her, and start a conversation. Misery loves company.
—Patti Holliday Jordan
- Lose yourself in a book.
When I learn a flight is delayed, I always have a couple of books on my iPad, and I’m delighted to find a comfortable place to sit and enjoy uninterrupted reading. Airport terminal madness can swirl around you, but if you’re engaged in a book or long magazine article, you’re in your own world.
—Rudy Maxa of Rudy Maxa’s World, the radio show & public TV series
- Look for a museum, pool, golf course, or legendary restaurant.
The most popular U.S. hubs have ‘em! Here’s which airport has what.
—Wendy Perrin, TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate
You’ll find more need-to-know travel tips at WendyPerrin.com.