Whether you’re waiting to board a flight, train, or bus, chances are you’ll have some downtime. Rather than aimlessly scrolling through social media or stressing out about what you did and didn’t pack, relax by playing a video game. Whether it’s a simple puzzler or an intense shooter, gaming is a great option for passing the time and focusing on something less stressful, since traveling can be traumatic enough. That said, you should plan ahead to ensure the best gaming experience. Playing in an airport terminal or 30,000 feet in the sky requires more forethought than playing on the comfort of your own couch. If you’re planning a trip and want to bring your games along, keep these tips in mind.
Bring the right device for the job
First, let’s discuss the types of devices that are primed for gaming on the go. The smartphone glued to your hip is the obvious choice, but you might also want to consider a dedicated gaming device. That could be a portable console, such as the Nintendo Switch or Nintendo 3DS, or it could be a gaming laptop, which offers more utility, though is more expensive and will add some heft to your carry-on. If you do opt for a laptop, for solid performance and portability, you can’t go wrong with the Razor Blade. If you want something that plays games well but isn’t technically a gaming laptop, check out the Dell XPS 15 (it’s also significantly cheaper).
Don’t forget your charger
Obvious? Yes, but the absolute first thing you should bring alongside your gaming device is a charger. Nothing is more annoying than having to purchase an overpriced USB charger at the airport.
And, we recommend plugging your devices into an outlet whenever you can. It’s the fastest way to charge your devices, and you never know how long you’ll have to push your battery between now and the next charge. Thankfully, more and more planes are equipped with in-seat power outlets, but that’s not always a given or reliable.
But you should also invest in a portable battery pack
While a charger is your most important gaming accessory, a portable battery pack is a close second while traveling. Gaming on a smartphone can drain your battery quickly. The Nintendo Switch can only provide about three hours of playtime before it shuts down. Luckily, both types of devices support USB battery packs.
Power outlets are never out of reach at an airport, but finding a place to sit and hang while charging is generally a crapshoot. And, again, in-seat power outlets are nice to have, but not 100-percent reliable. With a high-capacity portable battery pack, you can charge your devices several times over and never have to worry about your game session ending abruptly.
We’ve compiled lists of solid external battery packs for Nintendo Switch and mobile devices. Finding a solid pack that works with a laptop is a little more challenging, given power needs, and those that do support laptop charging tend to be large and heavy. Nintendo uses a proprietary charging port for 3DS, so make sure to grab a compatible USB charging cable, like this one.
If you’re the carry-on type, check out the new Incase ProConnected 4 Wheel Hubless Roller we recently reviewed, which has a 20,100mAh battery and accessible USB ports. It acts like a power station for when there aren’t outlets available.
Note: Never bag-check a portable battery. It should always be in a carry-on.
Bringing headphones or earbuds is a recommendation both for you and your fellow travelers. You probably want to hear the game audio while playing, but it’s pretty rude to turn the volume up when sitting closely to other passengers. On top of that, gaming with headphones is almost always a better experience to begin with. Your smartphone and gaming laptop can support both wired and wireless headphones, but the Switch and 3DS only support wired options (check out the AirFly, which adds wireless support to wired-only devices or a plane’s in-flight entertainment system).
The headphone and earbud market is full of great options. If you want top of the line sound quality, check out our list of best headphones. When traveling, though, you may want to bring along a cheaper, yet still solid option, in case anything happens to them. Our list of headphones and earbuds under $50 features a myriad of solid choices. For earbuds, you absolutely can’t go wrong with the Shure SE112. For over-the-ear options, the Marshall Major II is a fantastic wireless choice, while the Audio Technica ATH-M20X, as a wired set, will work with all of your devices.
Not all games are made for travel
This one mostly applies to smartphone and gaming laptop travelers. Ahead of your trip, make sure you can play the games you want to play sans internet. Although many airports and numerous flights have Wi-Fi nowadays, it’s often unreliable, costly, and not ideal for intensive tasks like gaming. Games that don’t require a network connection are safe bets.
Bring some great “travel” games
Beyond games that don’t require the internet, you also might want to think about the types of games you’ll play. Just like how some people buy a magazine at the newsstand, even when they brought a book from home, there are games that feel extra satisfying when you’re on the road, and it’s always good to keep a few queued up just in case.
Ideally, you want something quick and easy to just pick up and play any time. Story-intensive games with lots of dialogue and cutscenes are probably not ideal candidates, since traveling often requires moving around and being frequently interrupted. On smartphones, you shouldn’t have a problem since those types of games reign supreme.
If you’re looking for something to download on your PC or console before your flight, we have a few ideas:
Look for games that don’t emphasize precise mouse controls.
- Into the Breach: A masterful turn-based strategy game that can be played in abbreviated sessions.
- Stardew Valley: A charming, relaxing town simulator.
- The End is Nigh: A tough-as-nails platformer in which each level takes only a matter of seconds to complete.
- Puyo Puyo Tetris: Tetris and Puyo Puyo rolled into one excellent puzzle game.
- Super Mario Odyssey/The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild: A pair of excellent adventure games that aren’t story heavy and work well on the go.
- Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Zany, turn-based strategy game that excels in handheld mode.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds: Probably the best game on Nintendo 3DS.
- Metroid: Samus Returns: Old-school sidescroller, great for quick bursts.
- Super Mario 3D Land: Each level can be completed in a matter of minutes.
If you’re traveling with a dedicated gaming device like the Switch or 3DS, you should absolutely have a carrying case. Not only will a case keep your device safe, it can store extra games. Both the Switch and 3DS have a myriad case options, the brunt of which contain cartridge slots for additional games. Check out our picks for the best Switch cases here. The Orzly case offers the best combination of price, durability, and size. For the 3DS this Brendo carrying case fits every 3DS model besides the original 2DS, has slots for cards, and a pouch for your charger.
For gaming laptop users, you’ll want to bring a dedicated laptop bag or sleeve. A backpack with a slot for a laptop would do (check out the new Timbuk2 Collective Pack), or you can go with a messenger bag designed for travel like the Command TSA-Friendly Messenger, also from Timbuk2. You may have to take it out while going through airport security, but keeping your expensive piece of hardware safe and snug while moving about the airport and on the plane is important.
Also, make sure not to overfill the backpack or suitcase you put your devices in. Even if you have a dedicated carrying device, you could wind up unknowingly damaging your gaming device. Give your expensive toys some breathing room.
Smudges, fingerprints, random debris — there’s no telling the types of screen blemishes you’ll discover while traveling. Bringing a microfiber cleaning cloth with you can help you remove obscuring screen marks without the worry of damaging your screen. We know it’s tempting to clean screens with your shirt, but you really shouldn’t do this, as you could permanently scratch your display.