Right now I’m in the airport of Addis Ababa waiting for the Ethiopian Airline rep to come back from wherever she went with my passport. I just finished a USA Today crossword puzzle and now I’m writing this. These are the things that keep me sane when bad things happen during travel.
You see, I’m supposed to be leaving for the Seychelles in an hour—one of the most exotic destinations in the world. The problem? I don’t have a piece of paper that proves I’ve had a yellow fever vaccination and guess what? Seychelles requires a piece of paper that proves I’ve had a yellow fever vaccination. I could freak out. I could yell. But I’m not. And I won't. I’m doing my crossword puzzle and hoping for good news. I had a yellow fever shot four years ago. Unfortunately it was in Colombia and I can’t prove it.
This article is not about vaccinations, although I will tell you from experience that you should staple any proof you have of such things into your passport. This is about waiting in airports for late flights, sitting on crowded buses, being delayed by weather and any other Acts of God that most likely have nothing to do with God at all.
If you’re in a place that has wi-fi or your phone has internet, you’ll be fine. I don’t need to tell you what to do. There’s always plenty of email to check and Facebook can keep you entertained for hours. If you’re not—let’s say you’re in a wi-fi-less Ethiopian airport, for example, waiting for hours—you’re going to need some things to keep you busy. Here are my top recommendations.
USA Today Crossword App
I use this app and download all the puzzles I haven’t done whenever I’m preparing for a trip. I don’t need a data connection and it keeps me busy when I’m standing in a long line, sitting on a plane or waiting for my luggage. It really is a great time-waster and helps keep my brain sharp.
If you’re in another country, why not use your down time to learn the local language—or at least a few words of it? Unfortunately most of these apps do not include the curse words you’ll want when you’re frustrated, but you can learn a few greetings that might grease the wheels when there’s a problem. Some apps will even provide audio of the words for you, so that you can annoy the people sitting nearby. If you’re traveling to a country that uses a different alphabet, like Greece or Russia, you can download a flash card app that will having you sounding out words in no time.
I was in a crowded minivan yesterday with 20 people. There was a baby crying, a boy listening to music on a cracked phone from the '90s, and a woman covered head-to-toe in black gouging me with her elbow. You’re ahead of me aren’t you? What a great time to edit and crop those photos of the wonderful places you’ve been. I did exactly that. I went into my own little world of contrast, lighting and resizing, blissfully tuning out those around me.
I use my phone’s notepad to write blog posts, take notes and set reminders. It comes in handy for anything I’d normally need pen and paper for, with the added advantage of being able to cut and paste to Facebook, my blog, a text or an email. You’re also far less likely to lose your phone than a scrap of paper you had in one of your pockets.
If you have the forethought to download the country’s map while you have wi-fi, maps.me works as a GPS even when there's not Internet available. Use it to figure out distances and educate yourself about the layouts of the various cities you might be visiting. You can even use it to find other places to go if you’re at the airport and being denied boarding for the Seychelles, for example.
I’m not much a gamer, but I’ve traveled with many others who have found solace or enlightenment with everything from basic card games to Angry Birds. There are a ton of games that you can download and play offline to distract yourself when time seems to be standing still.
iBooks is the name of the app in IOS, but it’s basically a program that stores entire books on your phone and allows you to “turn the pages” like a book. Right now I’m reading the travels of Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad. I realize that things were much more difficult 120 years ago then they are now (which gives me a little comfort) and the book was a free download. The app keeps your place so you can start where you left off.
The Ethiopian rep just came back and the news is not good. It might be time for some Angry Birds.