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In 2016, I went to China 8 times. Some of those trips were on a moments notice. I would find out on a Thursday I needed to be there one Monday. One time I was at home visiting family and had to fly across the country and the fly across the world due to a work emergency. That trip was 20 hours of flying followed by a 15 hour work day. In addition to all the work travel, I got to fly across the country and world for fun. I have spent time on these flights thinking of ways to maximize my time while also getting the right amount of sleep. Following some simple guidelines, every time I get off the plane now, I feel more prepared for what is ahead and I can take a deep breath before getting on with my day or night.

In college, I had a professor who always mentioned how much he loved being on a plane. It was distraction-free time where he was able to catch up on emails, reading, writing and research without anyone coming into his office to distract him or any other external distractions. At the time, I was a freshman in college and was like ‘What do you mean you don’t have free time to be alone and do things?’ Ha. I quickly learned.

Below are some quick tips and tricks I have developed over the past 6 months while on long international flights. These can be applied to any flight regardless of length, but I tend to do all these on international flights as there is the time to do so.

1. Sleep:

Sleep is important even if it is only for a few hours. Depending on when you take off is when you should time your sleep. Since I take red eyes to and from China, I always sleep at the beginning of the flight. I can never sleep on planes, but I am so exhausted at 1AM that I pass out for a little while. This will help your mind recover and be able to think and be creative.

2. Eat:

I always bring snacks with me on the plane because they are more accessible than the ones the airline offers and they are what I actually want. Life Hack: Pre-select your meal when you check-in (i.e. Vegetarian) and you will get served first so you can get back to sleep or work more quickly. Oh and don’t fall asleep before they serve you… I missed out on my dinner last trip and didn’t have food for 14 hours. Death.


3. Watch TV / Movies:

Do this in moderation. It is hard to keep a working state of mind for a long flight so make sure you watch the movie you have been meaning to see or catch up on the TV show you have been meaning to watch. It is very easy to keep watching episodes of TV or movies because they are easily accessible, but think of all the lost time. You could have used that time to set your to-do list for the week, recap or prepare for your trip, write a blog, come up with ideas and more.

4. Read:

This is more productive and better than watching the TV screen for hours on end. I have seen people on international flights read a book for 8 hours straight which is very impressive to me. It’s a great time to read a book to learn a new skill, improve upon one or just learn something new about the world. I always read before bed but that is for 20–30 minutes. Remember, airplane flights are the one time you have an excuse to be secluded from everyone else and not worry about anything else.

5. Prepare / Recap:

If this is a business trip, take a few hours to prepare and recap. There are multiple ways to prepare depending on your profession. This way when you land and get to the hotel, you can take that time to relax, shower and watch a show before bed and you get a good night sleep because you know you’ve prepared. This is significantly better than scrambling at night preparing not as well as you could have and getting a bad night’s rest because you’re worried. On your way back, recap the trip (what went well, what didn’t) and prepare your to-do list of everything you need to follow up on. Now you can take the weekend to relax and hit the ground running on Monday.

6. Reflect:

Again, this is the one time you have to yourself without anyone distracting you. Just think. Turn the screens off, put on some music and just think. How are you doing? Are you happy? What do you want to stop doing and start doing? After my first China trip of TV shows and movies, I wanted to start becoming better prepared for the next week so I can have the weekend to relax. It’s for the best.

7. Listen to Podcasts:

This is similar to reading. Podcasts are great because they tell great stories and help you learn. Personally, I listen to a podcast on the way to or from work. On the plane while you work or relax, listening to podcasts is great. They’re a way to be productive without having to use much energy. I am currently listening to Question of the Day. It’s funny hearing 2 people argue about everyday questions (i.e. what do you remember from college?)


Don’t work the entire trip as this is your time to ‘sit back, relax and enjoy the flight’ but don’t throw this valuable time away by just watching TV shows and movies. Sleep a little, listen to a podcast, prepare / recap on your trip, write a blog or learn something new! The possibilities are endless when you literally can’t go anywhere and you are out of touch from co-workers, your significant other, and friends.

If you know someone who is flying soon, make sure you share this blog post with them so they can maximize their time on the plane!

Written by Shawn, Co-Founder of Vista List. Originally posted on Medium.