Gaming through your holiday travels: a guide

What games to play while traveling for the holidays

Buckle in, folks

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of an anxious flyer. There’s something about being on a plane that makes it impossible for me to get comfortable. I think it might have to do with being in such close proximity to strangers, especially right now. That can make it a bit difficult to get through the five-hour flight I’ve had to take to get home the past few years since I moved to the West Coast. Thankfully, gaming has been the one thing that seems to help during my holiday travels.

Of all the things I’ve tried to bring onto a plane to keep me busy, games seem to be the only thing I can have with me that helps me relax a little. I think it’s because games are such an active activity, I usually get so involved with what I’m playing that I completely forget I’m on a plane at all.

So, in an attempt to help any other travelers who get a bit nervous during their journey, here’s my guide to the types of games to play when you’re traveling. Oh, and I travel with my Nintendo Switch, so you’re going to need one of those if you want to follow along.

Simulators

Sim gaming like Animal Crossing: New Horizons can relax you during holiday travels

Alright so you’re gonna wanna go ahead and start with your favorite simulator game. I find these are great for the ride to the airport, waiting in line for TSA, waiting at the gate, and waiting for takeoff once you’ve boarded. They’re obviously some of the most relaxing games you can play, which is going to help you deal with all the stress of getting through the airport. 

Animal Crossing is a great one as you can use this time to get all your daily chores done, but Stardew Valley is also a solid go-to for me here because it divides up time into nice, digestible chunks. You need to wait an hour? Nah, that’s only four days in Stardew time. Plus, the slow-paced nature of this game means that you can easily look up from your console as needed without risk of dying or loss of progress.

Other good simulator games to try are My Time at Portia, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, Spiritfarer, and Farming Simulator.

Turn-based

Ace Attorney can be a good change of pace during holiday travel, especially on a plane

If you’re someone who needs a little more action in your life, turn-based games are a great way to go. Like simulators, they’re easy to have going when you’re multitasking, because they kind of pause themselves every few seconds while waiting for you to do your button input, whether it’s making your turn or simply pressing A to progress the dialogue. These are great for any of the lead up to your trip, plus the first half of your flight when you’re waiting to be interrupted by the drink cart. 

My favorite turn-based or otherwise visual-novel-esque games to travel with are Ace Attorney and Slay the Spire. Ace Attorney has the benefit of its episode structures, because I can make it through one during the five-hour flight it takes to get back to the East Coast. Slay the Spire is such a fun game and it’s honestly slept on — it’s a deck-builder roguelike that’s perfect to play in short bursts.

Other great turn-based or visual-novel-style games to try are Pokemon (duh), Octopath Traveler, Fire Emblem, Paper Mario: The Origami King, and pretty much any of the famous JRPGs.

Immersive

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can distract your from travel woes

Okay, this one will come in clutch for any of my other anxious flyers out there — download an open-world game you know you love. You’re gonna start playing, and soon you’re going to be so consumed with what you’re doing that you totally forget about your holiday travels. Anything with real-time action will be your best friend, because it forces you to focus more on what you’re doing.

My personal go-to is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, because no matter where I jump into a save file, I can immediately have fun with it. It’s become something of a comfort game on planes for me, honestly. I’ve also considered trying out shooters that I know I enjoy like the BioShock series, because the storytelling and gameplay are so involved, I think it would have the same effect. More than genre, what’s key here is to find a game that you feel sucked into.

Other immersive games to play while traveling are Minecraft, The Witcher 3, Monster Hunter, Assassin’s Creed, and Xenoblade Chronicles.

Twitchy

Hades might be the perfect game to play while traveling

If all else fails, that’s alright, we just need to bring out the big guns. If I’m really having a hard time on the plane, I put on whatever game has the twitchiest controls I can find. I want fast-paced, real-time gameplay that requires dodging, strategy, timed jumps, and so on. These types of mechanics not only require all of my attention, but my active brainpower, so I really have no other choice than to focus on the game over my anxiety.

The one catch with this one is that you usually need to bring a Switch Pro Controller along, set up the screen on the tray table, and play that way. It actually works pretty well, if you don’t mind the extra bit of hassle. Hades is hands down my go-to for this, and has gotten me through those last few exhausting hours of the flight pretty nicely.

Other twitchy games to try are Hollow Knight, Celeste, Cuphead, Super Smash Bros., and really any other fighting game that you might enjoy.


Man, typing this all out really makes me feel crazy, but this is really the process I go through playing games during my travels. If nothing else, I hope that this could help someone else as they navigate one of the most stressful times of the year. And of course, feel free to give these a try if you’re just at home needing an escape from your family this Christmas. I have a feeling I’m going to this year. Good luck out there, gamers.

Noelle Warner