11 Things You Can Learn Before Your Airplane Lands

istock / istock

Whether you’re only sitting on an airplane for a few hours or you’re spending an entire day flying over an ocean, don’t let precious down time go to waste re-watching that on-demand summer blockbuster. Instead, try to expand your mind. Here are a few things you can learn between takeoff and landing (hopefully with the help of in-flight WiFi). Try to master these skills before your next layover:

1. Knitting

Grab some needles (the wooden ones are easier to travel with) and some yarn and print out some basic instructions for knitting and purling before you head to the airport. By the end of the flight, you could have a scarf to wear off the plane!

2. Drawing

Being able to draw isn’t necessarily an artistic sense you’re born with. With careful study and practice, anyone can become a proficient sketcher. Try using step-by-step video lessons, or download an app specifically targeted at helping beginning artists. You’ll have plenty of time to practice while traveling. Just be sure to carry a notebook.

3. Tying knots

Whether you’re sailing, rock climbing, horseback riding, or just trying to secure something in the back of a pickup, knowing a few different varieties of knots can come in handy. If you skipped that lesson as a young scout, bring a short length of rope or yarn and check out some of the many animated tutorials available online (or a knot-making book!) to help you master fun and useful ties like the slip knot, the figure eight, the double fisherman’s, or the monkey’s fist.

4. Coding

Pick a programming language and complete a crash course lesson from the air. You won’t walk off the plane ready to take a job coding for a hot startup, but you can learn the rudimentary structure behind creating apps and websites in just a few hours.

5. Counting cards

Landing in Vegas? Learn how to bet smarter at the blackjack table. There are several systems of card counting, all of which help you keep track of the probability that certain cards will come up in the deck. Just don’t get too good: Most casinos try to ban card counting, since it gives players a slight edge over the house.

6. Historic tales you didn’t learn in school

Buff up on your knowledge of the world with a few history podcasts. What was the Battle of the Bulge again? When did the first pyramids appear? Download a rollicking historical tale that you can regale your friends with when you land.

7. Speaking a new language

Even if you can’t achieve fluency in a few hours, you can master a few phrases. Bring some index cards and learn some new vocabulary, or download an app for beginners. You can at least commit a few survival phrases to memory before you hit customs.

8. Applying makeup properly

Deft hands with a cosmetic brush can work wonders, but applying expert shades of makeup is definitely a learned skill. There’s an entire online world of makeup masters who share their abilities with the public via their video blogs. Now is the right time to figure out how exactly eye shadow works—just be sure watch out for that turbulence! And hey, even if you don’t need blush every day, your new skills can always come in handy on Halloween.

9. Calligraphy and handwriting

As computers take over communication both at work and at home, handwriting can feel like an archaic skill. Learn how to write legibly, and possibly even beautifully, with a few calligraphy lessons. Bring along a calligraphy pen and get to work copying ornate characters.

10. The names of all the bones in the body

There’s never a better time for a little anatomy lesson than when you’re stuck crammed into a plane seat unable to get up for hours. There are 206 bones in the body—26 in the foot alone!—and most of us don’t know their names beyond the basics like the femur and the clavicle. Become more familiar with the human frame using an anatomy textbook.

11. The vocabulary of a wine connoisseur

Study up on your drinking habits (with glass in hand, if possible). Grab a stack of magazines for wine enthusiasts, and start throwing around words like “tannins” and “terroir” with wild abandon.