When Travel Diversion Did Not Require Headphones

7953202532_85954dfb46_zI inherited a travel-sized cribbage board from my parents, and it still evokes memories from the ’60s of early evenings at motels during childhood vacations. My brothers and I would cannonball into the hotel pool, as my parents “supervised” (a term used only loosely then) while engaged in a friendly game of cribbage. Usually next to the cribbage board sat the travel flask, which appeared precisely at five o’clock, and two hotel glasses with doses of Scotch over rocks. (With four kids on a road trip, who could blame them?)

Travel requires–or perhaps invites–hours of diversion, and today that diversion is mostly digital consumption. We stream movies, we play games, we shop online, we read books on tablets. It’s even packaged for us in our seat backs or we preload it on our devices before a long flight. Now, power management is an essential skill set for travelers.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I bemoan this. When we’re playing old-fashioned games, sans headphones, there’s room for conversation and shared experience. That cannot happen when we’re plugged into our own little worlds.

I’m certainly no analog saint. I binge-watch movies on international flights as often as the person in the next seat. And I have said literal prayers of thanks for digital entertainment when my kids were little and could be occupied for hours on a transcon flight with movies on a laptop. Today, the iPad has transformed the travel experience for parents, never mind their kids.

Maybe I get too much digital entertainment at home, but even for business trips these days I like to unplug. I like having the time to read an actual book. I can’t remember the last time I turned on a TV in a hotel room. And, honestly, my favorite flight activity is looking out the window. This all feels a little shameful to admit. So very unproductive.

Yet, travel is the perfect time to go analog, at least for a little while. What’s in your carry-on? There’s a simple beauty in pulling out a deck of cards. Or a pencil and paper (Hangman, anyone?). Or a magnetic chess board. When all else fails, word games can be pulled from thin air. Or daydreaming, the ultimate diversion. (If you’re stumped, check out The Simple Dollar, which has lots of suggestions for non-digital games and pleasant ways to pass time the old-fashioned way.)

My husband and I have been playing a lot of cribbage this holiday season with my kids. We play on my inherited cribbage board, with all my ghosts and memories. And it’s just perfect that our favored deck of cards sports a photo of the Dreamliner aircraft. In my mind, travel and cribbage–they’re inexorably linked.

What do you like to do without headphones to unwind when you travel?

Photo: Flickr/Bruce Guetner



  1. Do hotel rooms have TVs? I’m with you on this! As an aircrew member more often than not I’m solo, so no cribbage with kids for me… But I’m definitely the guy who hits the ground running (when layover scheduling allows).

    Lately I’ve been working trips between LAX and SYD. My first “go to” was the hike from the Spit Bridge to Manley. At least 3 hours of exotic plants and animals along the east coast of Australia. My last couple of trips have seen me take the bus down to Coogee Beach, hike over to Bondi Beach, then bus myself back to the hotel for crew rest. Incredible views of volcanic cliffs with their eroded nooks and crannies as well as several small beaches for cooling off should one get a bit warm from the hike.

    I must confess to being less than completely unplugged on these hikes. My music enhances the vistas in the same way that a great soundtrack increases the impact of a big-screen movie. That said, the older I get, the more I appreciate face-to-face human interaction. It’s begrudgingly that I acknowledge the reality that my Gen-X and Millennial kids interact differently with their “wired” worlds, apparently with comfort and ease. Begrudgingly, certainly, but bully for them. It’s their world that they’re living in, after all.

    Still… I remember those cribbage boards from my childhood. And playing cards with my dad after dinner while he smoked his evening pipe. Those memories never fail to bring a smile.

    • Nancy Branka says:

      Hiking is such a great way to spend travel time. (And no headphone apologies required–I totally agree with adding music to the scenery.) On business trips I don’t have a ton of free time, but I am pretty religious about spending at least an hour each morning outside for a run or walk, a superb way to start the day in a new city. Thanks for your thoughts.

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