An Op-Ed from The Backpacker Intern

I have witnessed our planet from hundreds of airplane windows. I’ve crossed the seven continents, seen the most epic sunsets and spent hours and hours in the sky. All of that ‘air-time’ has given me some insight into how to make the most of long flights.

I love long flights. Why? Because it’s one of the few opportunities where you have something that you normally don’t have: time. Time to think, to work, to talk, to listen. At 30,000 feet time is not your enemy, it’s your friend. Here’s how to make the most of that time and enjoy your flight…

Dress like it’s Sunday

No, I’m not talking about your “Sunday Best”. Before you leave to the airport, look in the mirror. Are you wearing jeans? Better change.  Just think about your lazy Sunday outfit and wear that.

The outfit that might not look good, but does feel like a second skin. Wear that. Put on a hoodie, sweatpants or whatever makes you comfortable. If you’re on a business trip, put your formal clothes in your hand luggage and change into them just before arriving. Make yourself at home in the air. You paid for it. Better make it comfy.

Feed your imagination

Most flights have no WiFi and there is no phone connection (yet) so you’re finally off the grid. That means you can really focus on what you’re doing. Facebook, Whatsapp and other notifications won’t distract you. I suggest you use this freedom to feed your grey matter.

Millennial Magazine - Long-Flights

Read an interesting book. Watch something provocative. Not the blockbusters. Those are better to watch on the big screen anyway. Watch documentaries or crazy TV shows you normally wouldn’t watch. This feeds your imagination and will give you inspiration for new ideas. I saw ‘Generation Like’ on my last flight, a documentary showing how self-esteem amongst teens is now tied into the approval of peers and brands on social media. A true eye-opener on a red-eye flight.

“The bad news is times flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” – Michael Altshuler

Learn how to listen

Listening is one of the most underestimated skills we have. It might sound easy but truly listening is something you have to focus on. Truly listening means you’re giving a person your full attention.

Sitting next to someone on a plane for 12 hours is a great way to hone your skills. You have nowhere else to go, and most of the time you’ll never see the person again. So basically, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Start with this on your next flight. Keep asking questions and let your neighbor do the talking. You’ll learn about their lives, perspectives and hopefully a funny joke or two. They will truly appreciate you for it. In the end they will thank you for being such an amazing conversation partner. And who knows where that will lead? It’s a small world remember.

Jot down your thoughts during long flights

Our minds are working harder than ever. With new technologies connecting us with everyone and everything 24/7 it’s hard to digest all that information. That’s why mankind invented long flights. It’s the perfect opportunity to grab a notebook and jot down your thoughts.

Millennial Magazine - Long flights

I usually describe the situation I’m in, what I still need to do, what I want to do and then make a realistic plan for the next weeks or months. Other things you can do are doodling, sketching; creating business ideas and writing drafts for articles. It’s like offline therapy and really brightens up the mind.

Drink – but stay away from alcohol

Did you know that the cabin of an airplane is actually dryer than the Sahara? Just imagine how much water your body needs to cope with that. That’s why you might get some headaches when flying for more than 10 hours.

Although it’s very tempting to order a beer or glass of Cabernet Sauvignon when you’re in the air, I recommend you wait until you arrive. Boring? Maybe. But you’ll feel better and ready for whatever awaits you at your destination – plus steering clear of the alcohol can help combat jet lag.

The only exception is if you fly business class. Then you should order a glass of champagne and give it to a random stranger sitting in economy class.

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Mark van der Heijden


Amsterdam, Netherlands

After working for the ad industry for 7 years, Mark tossed his life into a backpack and traveled to 27 countries on 7 continents working for 32 companies in exchange for room and board. Now, as the CEO of Wanderbrief, he is sharing that passion with thousands around the world looking for the same work/life experience.

All posts by Mark van der Heijden

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