I don't normally bother offering tips or advice unless it benefits me in some way, like if I'm trying to work out what I think about an issue or just letting off steam about taxi drivers. Seriously, what a load of knobs.
Still, coming up with the following list and then needlessly alphabetising it helped to fill some of the dead time when being driven across Thailand in a cramped minibus, trying to ignore the stranger's head intermittently perching on my rigid shoulder and the topless man in the row in front complaining about the country to his local girlfriend to an excessive degree that made my own rants look like tourist board propaganda by comparison ('Why do they need so many f-ing drains?' 'Because of flooding.' 'But a hundred on one f-ing street?' 'Yes, there are typhoons and flooding.' 'Well, still.')
If you think you would be perfectly content passing the time talking to the people you like, playing with your phone or just sleeping, this list isn't for you. This is just for freaks.
You will need:
- Books - at least one you are eager to finish because you aren't enjoying it that much but don't want to just abandon like some kind of failure.
- MP3 player - preferably an inferior branded product several years old and damaged with missing buttons and a single earphone remaining since the other one stopped working ages ago and was mercifully amputated.
- Notepad and pen
- Water bottle - unfortunately not empty enough to justify throwing away or replacing with a nice cold one.
Reassure yourself of your excellent time management skills by preparing spoken word MP3s that perfectly fit the time span of your journey. You may choose to complete an entire five-hour Kurt Vonnegut novel read by Eric Michael Summerer or to mix some H.P. Lovecraft shorts between several 30-minute radio comedy episodes. Feel free to be annoyed when random lunch stops and boat connections don't coincide with the end of a chapter.
Dedicate yourself to finishing the hefty physical book that's been weighing you down in three countries already, so you'll be ready to swap it when you arrive at your destination with a different book that's lighter but still not really the sort of thing you're into, because for some reason you don't want to buy an eBook reader and have access to all the amazing books ever published.
Do you and your travel partner share at least some basic knowledge of an obscure foreign language that isn't likely to be understood by your fellow passengers? If so, have fun making offensive remarks about some of those passengers in a friendly-sounding tone and laugh at your cowardly, weasely wit. If you don't share an obscure language, make one up, like the one my dad taught me where you insert 'arag' before every vowel sound ('hello' is 'haragellarago' &c.) Time will pass, it always does.
Delusions of grandeur
Enjoy feeling superior as you pull one of several books from your bag, none of which looks particularly appealing, along with your knackered, obsolete MP3 player, imagining the look of envy and admiration on the faces of your fellow passengers who you imagine are cursing their own lack of preparation for the journey but are in reality preoccupied with their much more interesting, internet-enabled phones or just sleeping.
Test your racism by trying to identify the nationalities of other passengers without hearing their giveaway accents. You may decide that the diminutive, tanned woman languidly browsing through photos of herself on her phone is Filipina or that the slightly oranger man next to you who keeps leaning forwards to look out of the window further away from him and working through three bags of crisps in a row is Israeli. You might not know why you think these things, and you'll probably never know if you were right.
Realise you're smiling at something funny David Mitchell's said in your ear or something typically hilarious you've thought about writing in your blog when you get online again and then cease doing that immediately, because you're worried your fellow passengers will see your smile and assume you are mad, however right they may be.
Have another crack at the novel
Dig out the notepad to remind yourself where you left this abomination the last time you were bored and didn't have an internet connection, and get temporarily excited and disappointed all over again. Yes, there are some great ideas and it would be the best thing you'd ever done in your life, but you're not going to actually bother writing it are you?
Inept detective work
Futilely try to work out how far you are along your journey by misinterpreting signals, such as assuming the foreign language sign you just passed was for your destination because it began with the same symbol you think you learned was that letter in a different context (it wasn't), or assuming the roundabout you just passed is the same roundabout mentioned in your hotel's travel directions (that's still two hours away, there will be several roundabouts). Whatever you do, don't relax.
Take advantage of large potholes and other sudden jumps to readjust your sitting position and ease the strain on your arse muscles and coccyx without having to stand up for dedicated readjustment like some sort of hilarious old man. If you're listening to a particularly good song and the best part coincides with one of these jumps, make it a good one.
You can tell the guy sitting directly in front of you is the sort of person who'll bend his chair selfishly far back at the earliest opportunity. Determine the maximum level of reclining you are willing to tolerate from this individual and set your knees in place, then endure the knocks and pressure as he frustratedly tries to push his chair beyond this limit, hiding the pain in your face as you concentrate on reading the same line over and over in your book until he surrenders and opts for a slightly shallower angle. Enjoy your success, but don't get complacent - your knees need to be on call at the slightest hint that the forgetful neanderthal will try again.
Lazy, literal playlist
Amuse yourself for approximately 20 minutes by making a playlist of the most literal travel songs you can find on your MP3 player and creating the most hackneyed possible soundtrack to your journey. The best songs are those with titles that can be taken at one-dimensional face value, ignoring any subtext or what the lyrics might actually be about, e.g. 'The Passenger,' 'Driving in My Car' (ONLY if you're driving), 'Homeward Bound' (for return journeys ONLY), 'Holiday in Cambodia' (you get the picture).
Provide a confident, educated guess when someone sitting near you asks about any aspect of the journey you are embarking on, such as time of arrival, break stops and transfers. (Was that an Israeli accent? You can't remember what that would sound like). When things don't go quite as expected, and you're still circling around the same island in a minibus two hours later without having upgraded to a more comfortable coach or hitting the highway to make any major headway to your destination, avoid making eye contact with the person you let down with your shitty information and hang your head in shame, Mr. I've Been to This Country So Many Times and Presume to Know How It Works.
Notes towards a worthless blog
Remember when you used to take your travel blog too seriously and were convinced that if you didn't schedule an original post every three days the world would end or something? Try to rekindle the madness by pulling potential topics out of your arse, such as this one you're writing now, noting down stream-of-consciousness observations from your journey and then abandoning it for several weeks until you're extremely bored at the computer one afternoon and can be bothered to finish the mess you've made.
Take a nostalgia trip into your own damaged mental history by remembering the weird things you used to imagine when watching street lights and other objects go past on childhood road journeys, and once again visualise that man swinging between every single post at an ever-so-slightly-slower speed than your vehicle is travelling so that he inevitably falls onto the road and you have to concentrate hard to will him back alongside you to pick things up before making him fall off again a minute or so later. It's not as much fun as it used to be, but at least it's easier to switch off and come to your senses these days. A little easier.
Pretend you're in a space shuttle departing the Earth's atmosphere to rendezvous with your ship in orbit and that the bumpy ride over potholes is turbulence in the ionosphere
This one isn't that much fun when you're 28, admittedly. You won't get more than a couple of minutes out of it.
Quicken the pace
Don't be sad if your audiobook schedule doesn't make time to fit in an entire novel - simply increase the speed of playback incrementally until you get used to the narrator's breathless pace and you can finish a novel in half the time, as well as making a dull story seem artificially more exciting. For a while I was listening to most things at 1.5x normal speed, even 2x if the narrator was particularly slow in their delivery. I'm not making any of these things up, I really am an oddball.
Scrutinise every dark, lumpy mass on the road as you pass by to determine what poor animal it used to be, even though it's always just branches on closer inspection.
Solo rock party
Recklessly abandon your pretensions of an enlightening audiobook schedule to just listen to a lot of songs you like instead, most of which you already know well so there's no educational benefit to your journey at all and no folder to triumphantly delete later on, you just have a good time like a normal person. The best bit is when 'Stargazer' by Rainbow comes on.
Test your telepathic skills
Even though you don't believe in telepathy, you give it a try and greet your girlfriend or a fellow passenger you haven't met before through the power of your mind, telling them not to be alarmed but simply to twitch their right foot or make some other visual signal so you can both conclusively prove in a bus what couldn't be achieved in centuries of rigorous scientific experiments.
Play pen-and-paper Battleships against your girlfriend who's never played it before and win immediately by correctly guessing she put it in the top Js.
Vegetate with the masses
If your bus has a TV, your self-prescribed entertainment will almost always trump the banal, populist stuff someone else has lazily decided you'd want to watch, so it's your duty to avert your eyes and try not to hear a single line of dialogue. However, once every few years they may show a film that you're not especially interested in but on balance is probably more entertaining than your book, like in October 2011 when you sat back and watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes in its entirety and your trip across one of the boringer parts of Borneo passed swiftly.
Hold your water bottle between your feet for the entire journey so that it doesn't fall over and roll away. It isn't enjoyable, it's a bit annoying really, but compared to not having the option of hydration every 30 minutes it's a sacrifice worth making.
What, you were expecting my best thought-out tips to come under X, Y and Z? This one passed the time on a school trip back from an art gallery or something. A group of us sat along the back row of the bus, pretending to gaze into the distance as we let rip with satisfying yawns while really inspecting our success as the blameless woman driving behind picked up the infection and became much more likely to die in a collision as a result. Yes, we were proud of ourselves.
Debate whether it's worth opening your bag and potentially disturbing the person sleeping next to you so you can retrieve a different book, or if you should persevere with your current one for the sake of their peace and quiet, then go with the first option.
Enjoy your bus journeys. Or don't, I don't care do I?