What to Read on the Plane: Books for Long Flights

There is nothing like a page-turner to pass the time during look flights. Travelers give their best recommendations and reasons by they read on the plane.

What to Read on the Plane: Books for Long Flights

This great topic was suggested by Raluca from UpsideDownTravels.com

"So you've boarded the plane, and you're instantly starting to dream of your big break in (insert country here). Most of us don't take long before we start fumbling with the entertainment system - nothing else better to do, is there? - and end up watching random movies, after movies, after movies... you know, so time flies.
What a complete waste of time, I say! Why not books? I say."

To the charges of flirting with the entertainment system and waisting my time, I plead guilty...

Well, I do enjoy watching a movie on the plane - but spending the whole trip binge-watching always had the same effect: I arrive completely groggy at my destination, with a bad headache. Not to mention the shameful feeling that I wasted a great opportunity.

Because that's what long flights are: a great opportunity!

I asked several like-minded travel bloggers who shared why and what they like reading on the plane. And they gave me some great reasons why reading on the plane is a great idea, with they personal book recommendations.

You will find exactly what you need to get ready for your next long-haul flight!

Why Read on the Plane
How to Read on the Plane
What to Read on the Plane

Why Read on the Plane?

You've got time on your hands, don't you?

You're probably working full-time, and even if you're not, you have tons of stuff to do. Raluca's days are split between work, travel, and blogging. Although the major in linguistics and literature is a "natural book lover", she realized she had less and less reading time.

"... Until I realized: what about all that in the air downtime?"

That's how her "readathons" were born.

When you read in the transportation, the "fear of missing out" is low

It's a matter of arbitrage: is your time better spent reading, or doing something else?

That's why reading during a long flight is perfect: when you're in the plane, there aren't many other things to do anyway.

Michael and Maggie of The World Was Here First don't travel a lot by planes: as advocates of slow travel, they like taking the bus and train instead. But just like flights, long bus and train rides offer little distraction:

"When you’re travelling between destinations, it’s one of the few times that you’re able to truly unwind and disconnect without feeling like you’re missing out and it means it’s a great opportunity to read for an extended period of time."

You read more when you're on the plane

If you're anything like me, you make little to no time to read during your daily life. Even if you're not on a tight schedule, there is always something else to do.

And when you do make some time for reading, you still get easily distracted: whether you're at the beach, in a park, or even at home, temptations to do something else are all around you.

"We find that when we’re travelling we’re able to read a lot more than regularly because of the time spent in transit", Michael argues.

If you're living in a large city, the only time when you read may be when you're commuting. But even if you live far from your workplace, you don't have as much time to read as you do on a long flight.

You need to disconnect from the digital world. Really.

How much time do you spend with your eyes stuck on a computer or smartphone screen every day?

If you're anything like me, it's matter of several hours, not just a few minutes.

As Raluca puts it, reading on the plane "provides a much-needed disconnect from the digital world. It works especially well if you have trouble finding time to read with no interruptions".

With all the emails, Facebook messages, and other push notifications we constantly receive, it hard to keep your eyes on a book more than a few minutes in a row. By cutting your internet access, the plane provides the perfect setting to read in peace.

You get to anticipate the thrill of the destination

This is one of Raluca's top reasons why she loves reading on the plane. By reading about the country she's flying to, she's building up the anticipation.

Basically, it's like telling your brain: "get ready, buddy, we're gonna have some fun!"

But before you pack the Lonely Planet next to you: travel guides don't count. Nothing beats a story, fiction or not, told by someone coming from the country that you're about to visit.

Time flies when you read

If you manage to get your hands on a page-turner, your flight won't seem as long as it is. Haven't noticed how time passes quickly when you're having fun?

I'm anticipating the last section of this post here, but Raluca has a great reading recommendation on the topic: Timekeepers.

Keep in mind that if you're stressed about taking the plane, reading a book is a perfect distraction. By the time you're done with your book, you'll be at destination!

How to Read on the Plane

Can I read on my Kindle on the plane?

Absolutely. Airline policies allow you to bring a Kindle (or any other e-reader, for that matter) on the plane. You just need to download your ebooks before the flight.

Michael always includes an e-reader in his packing list when backpacking around Europe. He points out 3 advantages of using on an e-reader:

Because they allow you to download several books, they are much more convenient than physical books: e-readers save space and minimize the weight of your backpack. Also, when you travel to remote areas, "having an e-reader allows you to have access to books in your native language which might not otherwise be available".

In addition, e-readers provide a great comfort of lecture. Their "E Ink screens" are also called "electronic paper", because contrary to an LCD screen, they are very similar to paper.

The main inconvenient of e-readers is that, although they are perfect to read outside, just like a book, they require extern light for people to be able to read. It means that because the screen isn't luminous, you can't use them to read in the dark.

Also, while they usually have a great battery life of about 15 hours, you still need to remember to charge them before your flight.

Use your phone, tablet, or laptop

I'm not a big fan of this solution mainly because the light of the screen is harmful for your eyes. Not only does the blue light damages your eyes, it also prevents you from sleeping. If you still want to read on your phone, tablet, or laptop, download an app like f.lux, at least. It reduces the blue light coming from your screen.

Keep also in mind that reading on an LCD screen isn't as comfortable as reading on actual paper. By comparison, an e-reader's screen is much better to read. Not to mention that the light from the screen use a lot of battery. I hope you packed an external charger in your carry-on.

What I do like about reading on my phone is that I can do so even in the dark, thanks to the backlit screen. That's why I still have the Kindle app, as a last resort, in addition to my e-reader.

Plus, I guess that you travel with your phone anyway, maybe even with you're laptop if you're working while traveling. So you're not taking space in your luggage "just for reading".

Bring a book (duh...)

Let's finish with the obvious: to read on the plane, you can simply pack a book in your carry-on.

While they take more space and are heavier than an e-reader, I can't argue with the pleasure of turning a page, actually holding the book in my hands, and seeing at a glance how close to the end I am.

"Reading a paper book, whether on a plane or at home, will have much less strain on your eyes than reading an ebook. It’s also a great way to escape your devices and engage in more… exotic, prehistoric (pre-tablet) activities."

What to Read on the Plane

Books about your destination

An obvious choice is to read about your destination. It gives you a first glimpse at the culture, the names of the people, and places. But most of all, I found that it contributes a great deal to building the excitement about your trip.

"We love reading books about the destination that we’re travelling in, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction", Michael says.

One of Michael's all-time favorites and recommendation if you're traveling to India: "Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts.


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As mentioned above, Raluca is just as big on reading books written by authors from her destination. That's the core of her "in-flight readathons". "I call them that because a long flight allows me to finish a book in one sitting", she explains.

"Choosing local, off the beaten authors is a way to expand my cultural horizons. It provides destination immersion and it equips me to better understand the intricacies of the country's cultural - or political background. Bonus points: it may even help avoid awkward cultural mistakes while being there! Or who knows, maybe even strike a great conversation with a local."

If you're heading to South Africa, she's got you covered! Her flight was long enough for her to read two very different fiction books: Tales of the Metric System" by Imraan Coovadia and "Born A Crime" by Trevor Noah. "That gave me a lot of glimpses into the recent history of the country". Hopefully, it will for you too!


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If you're rather heading to Asia, Kristin of Be My Travel Muse has a whole set of recommended books to read.

Books for your personal growth

Raluca recommends "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F_ck" by Mark Manson. In this very popular must-read, he "manages to speak about life in an insightful, hilarious and profound way at the same time".


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In addition to Manson's best-seller, Kristin of Be My Travel Muse recommends Tim Ferriss' "Tools of Titans". In this other best-seller from the man behind the now extremely popular "The 4-Hour Workweek", Tim Ferriss reveals the habits, tactics, routines, and other secrets of some of the world's top performers and billionaires. Nothing short of a book that will change your life, for Kristin.


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Inspirational travel books

The excitement of your trip might be tainted with stress. Especially if you are traveling alone. By reading the stories of people who have done it before you, "you will gain some confidence, will be entertained by the travel stories, and will learn some invaluable tips from the world’s expert on the matter" Geri from When Woman Travels says.

The travel blogger, used to traveling alone as a woman, knows how scary and challenging it can be. If you're in the same situation, she recommends "Go Your Own Way: Women Travel the World Solo". It's made of 23 essays from solo women travelers on the thrills of their advantures.


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On a different style, Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt recently recommended "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner who set out on a mission to "find the world's happiest places". It's also a great read to learn about places you probably don't know much about, according to Matt.


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For for travel books that will inspire you to set out on a journey of your own, what has 13 other timeless recommendations.

Books to Keep your Children Busy on a Long Flight

Having kids, even a baby, doesn't prevent you from traveling. Far from it. It does require some extra preparation, but many parents do it. One of the keys to a peaceful flight is to know how to keep your children entertained - especially if you're embarking on a long and exhausting flight.

If they're old enough to read a book, Rebecca from R We There Yet Mom has a few recommendations, especially when you're traveling during the holidays.

For Christmas, among several others, she recommends the Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. For reading it myself as a kid, I couldn't agree more: your kids will embark on a journey to the North Pole that is sure to keep them entertained during the flight.


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If you're traveling around Thanksgiving instead, Rebecca has just what you need in this post.

Books on geopolitics

Final recommendation from Raluca on this topic: Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics, by journalist Tim Marshall. She assures that this very well-written and well-documented books is perfect to learn about the role of natural and man-made borders shaping our world.


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Good ol' thriller classics

I think that there is nothing like a well-written thriller to make you pass the time. That's not what I usually read on the plane, but for a long flight, they might be just the distraction that you were looking for.

Some of my all-time favorites include the Dan Brown series. You may have already watched the movies they made out of the "Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons". The books are wonderfully-written pieces. It's simple: the suspense is such that you won't be able to stop reading until you've reached the end. It better be a long flight.

If you have seen or read these two already, try the next ones: "The Last Symbol", "Inferno", and "Origin".


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"The Talented Mr. Ripley" by Patricia Highsmith is a great choice as well, especially if you are traveling to Italy, as you will get a first glimpse of the country through the book. You may also have seen have the movie, but I hope not: the book is much better (as often...).


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What do YOU Read on a Long Flight?

Now that you're full of inspiration for your next flight, let me turn it over to you:

What do you usually read on the plane? And if you didn't read before, which book are you going to read next?

And don't forget that you can get up to 600€ in compensation from the airline when your flight was delayed, canceled, or overbooked.