head games

Play “head games” on the road. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Heady Ways to Entertain Yourself While Traveling

While downtime is (almost) always welcome during a workday, travel downtime can, at times, be frustrating. And if you forget to bring a book with you or you’ve (temporarily) run out of stories to tell your traveling companions? There’s no reason to go down the digital rabbit hole of smartphone games or zone out on social media.

In fact, social media research is showing that more and more people are opting to keep sharp by turning toward intelligent entertainment — think crossword puzzles, indie games and podcasts — both at home and on the road.

So, why not put this trend toward “head games”— the kind that stretch your brain — to work for you during your travel downtime?

Here’s a stack of ways to keep your brain happy and engaged no matter how much downtime you have. Best of all, they’re waiting for you — a short download away — on your smartphone.

If You Have 5 to 15 Minutes

head games
(Photo: Getty Images)

Grabbing a coffee or waiting to buy a train ticket? Even if your downtime is short, it can be productive. Perhaps use it to expand your vocabulary by, say, one word. Yes, a single word. The Daily Dictionary can help you with that. The app serves up one word a day with a definition, usage and synonyms.

Or simply give yourself time to think about nothing — but in a productive way. Stop, Breathe & Think is a mediation and activity app that calls up the perfect to-do based on your emotion of the moment. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to mastering the art of just being (and you’ll have some fun along the way).

If You Have 20 to 30 Minutes

En route to dinner via subway or waiting for a show to start? Puzzles aplenty await inside the immersive game The Room and its sequels. You’ll find yourself diving deep into the mind-bending world of puzzles and mysteries within the game thanks to the developers’ top-notch graphics and audio.

While you can play in shorter stints, this is a hard one to put down. Telling you more than that will spoil the surprise. Open the door and head in. The Room is waiting.

Get your eyeballs or your ears ready because you’re about to inhale some of the best journalism around. The New Yorker app (subscription required for full access) offers up years and years of the magazine’s archives, as well as online-only content. Best of all? If you want to keep your eyes trained on the departure gate, many of the pieces are available in audio form.

If You Have One Hour

head games
(Photo: Getty Images)

Say you’ve arrived at the airport early and have an hour to kill. Why not start planning your next trip? And there’s no time like the present to learn the language of your future favorite country.

And thanks to Duolingo, you can learn enough Spanish or French or Japanese or Turkish or Greek, and on and on and on, to get by (or at least to get dinner). The basic courses are free and short enough that, really, you can pack some serious learning into every hour.

Feeling creatively blocked? Or think you’re not the creative type? The Writing Challenge app wants to kick your creative brain into high gear. The app offers writing prompt after writing prompt that will force stories to tumble out of your fingers.

And if you’re traveling with a few friends, the story challenge will get you all working together (and, if you click on the timer, competing against one another) by writing a tale together. One person starts, the next continues, and so on. Add in a cocktail or two and, seriously, you’ve got the makings of an excellent evening out.

If You Have Two Hours

Have some solo time at dinner or while grabbing a cocktail? Before your memories of the day fade away, capture them with the Travel Diaries app. Add words, photos and maps of your route. Whether you keep it to yourself or share your travels with the world is up to you. Best of all? You can even order a hard copy of your diary to put on your coffee table back home.

The New York Times crosswords are famous — and have seen a 42 percent increase across social posts — for a reason: They’re so challenging, and they get more challenging as the week goes on. (Side note: anybody who does the Sunday puzzle in ink deserves respect.) And the wow, wow, wow of the paper puzzle skyrockets on the app because you won’t have to search for a pen to get going.

Get your brain ready for a daily dose of challenge. Subscribe and you’ll have a near endless supply of wordy, challenging fun. Bonus: There’s no better way to find out if you want to be friends with the person sitting next to you at a coffee shop than to turn and say, “Do you know a nine-letter word that means ‘an anchor at its end?’”

If You Have Four Hours (or Much More)

head games
(Photo: Getty Images)

Road tripping with your crew? Have a long-haul flight? Whether you’re traveling solo and want a good listen to keep you company or you’re traveling with friends and want a shared experience when you’re taking a break from chatter, immerse yourself in a new-to-you podcast. Chatter about podcasts has increased 95 percent across social media, and there’s no shortage of shows to download.

Dive deep into a good listen, whether fiction, reportage, something a bit quirky or, like Historium Unearthia, tales from history that will give you a very different look at the place you’re traveling in now — or inspire the next 32 spots you should add to your list.

Two other worthy podcasts to try: Wild Thing, about one veteran reporter’s journey into the world of Bigfoot, and Adventures in New America, which has been described as a “sci-fi, political satire, Afrofuturistic buddy comedy.”