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Why I Still Travel Despite My Flying Fear

Travel Despite My Flying Fear

For me, flying is not easy.

I decided the “travel blog world” needed a bit more honesty about flying fears and how they affect potential/current travelers.

As an avid reader of these blogs since 2012, one thing I noticed was most writers wrote about upcoming trips with excitement, passion, and pure confidence. Of course they were eager to add more stamps to their passports. I feel the same way they do, trust me, and don’t begrudge anyone’s enthusiasm. Heck, both my Iceland and Spain posts were rainbows and sunshine.

But for me, a dark and quiet fear mixes into my eagerness, and makes booking a trip a bit of a bittersweet experience. See, I’m terrified of plane crashes and of death.

As a result, I’m a bit of an advocate for fearful and anxious flyers, pushing them to change their perspectives and seek adventures. I want to keep adding my small voice to the chaotic internet, so maybe one person squishes his/her fear and books a ticket to dream land.

still travel despite my flying fear

Too high. Back to solid ground, please.

What’s sad about my own flight anxiety is that I wasn’t always like this. Times change, don’t they?

When I was a child growing up, in the middle of the “golden years” we millennials call the 90s, I never feared airplanes or potential crashes. I didn’t even know what a terrorist attack was, not until 9/11. My mom actually likes to tell me stories about how turbulence made me laugh as a child, because I thought the plane was a fun amusement park ride rather than a necessary mode of transportation. Even after 9/11, I wasn’t afraid. The fear struck in my early twenties.

Now, at the airport, while I stand in security lanes and then sit alone in the terminal, gazing at my ominous gate, I feel jealous of “child me,” since she didn’t worry about much of anything. Not turbulence. Not sudden in-flight sickness. Not air masks falling from the ceiling. Not anxiety.

A lot of people admire me for traveling alone. They think they can never do it, which somehow turns me into The Bravest Girl in all of New Jersey. What a title.

However, despite all the “you’re soooo brave” compliments, my close friends and family know just how much flying scares me. Before leaving for Portugal last April, my facial expressions were apparently so twisted and distraught that my mom worried about my dad seeing me because if he did, he’d beg for me to cancel my trip. He’s overprotective like that. (Sorry parents but it’s true).

Anyway I’m sure my parents, brother, friends, and probably a few of my readers wonder why I still travel despite my fear of flying. Why mentally torture myself when I could lounge on a beach at the Jersey Shore and read a book for a small percent of the price?

Why I Still Travel Despite My Fear of Flying

Taking the “easy road,” avoiding my fears, and simply not flying isn’t a choice for me. I have to do it.

Flying fears are so common especially in the age of instant news and social media. We immediately hear about plane crashes through Twitter and Facebook. Then we receive subsequent updates about debris floating in the ocean and relatives wailing in the airport, as journalists crush a path into the grievers’ personal space. These images, tearful and angry, fuel anxiety worse than chocolate fuels my ravenous appetite after a hard teaching day.

What’s the result? Our defense mechanisms kick in. We believe plane crashes are far more common than they really are. And then people become scared.

Lots of people fear airplanes and flying itself for many different reasons. As I’ve said in my “advice for fearful flyers” post, you need to find out the cause of your fear and address it, guns blazing.

Travel is breathtaking and life-changing. I’ve met so many people and learned so many lessons, and as a result I’m a more compassionate and better American, all thanks to my solo trips.

But most destinations require a flight to reach them. And since I love travel so much? I have no choice. Book me a ticket. I’ll deal. It just means I’ll kiss the ground once the plane’s wheels touch the runway.

still travel despite my flying fear

As I’ve said, travel has changed me in so many ways. Empowered me. If I had given into my fears, I’d be even more of a “confused twentysomething” mess.

Here’s an example. My mind races a lot at night. Usually I dream about my future, a happy future, but on occasion, the horrible “what if” slips through my crystal clear images of money and gorgeous potential husbands:

Where would I be now if I’d never faced my flying fear and stayed home? Stayed where it’s ‘safe?’ Never left New Jersey?

I don’t even want to think about it.

Emotionally, my self-esteem was about as low as it could sink prior to taking the trip to Scotland that changed my life.

For about two years in a row, I was basically told through failed interviews and a busted economy that my master’s degree was as valuable as cheap toilet paper, that I was stupid for pursuing English rather than business or engineering, and I deserved to make babysitter pay (read: $18 an hour before taxes. in NJ) because who really cares about educating children when there’s a budget at stake?

Travel rebuilt my shattered bits and pieces into a somewhat confident woman again.

Without travel, I would be a lot unhappier in my current life. A shell of who I am today. Hopefully I never meet her.

still travel despite my flying fear

I’ve made a decision – no matter what lies my anxiety wants to tell me about how I’m going to board the next Air France 447 or United Airlines 93 – to still renew that passport, book that accommodation, and travel the world.

Right now I’m on medication to help me cope with my intense and adverse reactions to planes.

A cope out? I don’t think so. I have nothing against filling my prescription, despite the stigma against pills, because it truly helps me. On my last flight home from Iceland, we had to circle Newark Airport for over forty-five minutes, and I didn’t blink an eyelash. Without pills, I’d be a quivering annoying blond lump whose teary eyes and frightened questions would’ve driven the flight attendants bonkers.

However my goal is to eventually fly without taking anything. No wine. No medication. Heck, I even want to travel to Australia and New Zealand soon, which would require facing at least 20 hours of flying (yes, I’m nuts). Now that’s courage.

still travel despite my flying fear

Here is some advice if your palms sweat at the thought of walking down the long, long, long gate to your plane’s entrance. I’ve already touched on some of these suggestions on this blog but it bears repeating, I suppose:

  1. Talk to someone. Please. You’re not stupid for being afraid to fly even if the phobia itself is irrational. There are a lot of travel bloggers who are nervous boarding a plane, believe me. I Am Aileen, for example, wrote an an outstanding post about her own fear of flying. Hell, you can even tweet or email me if you need someone to listen to your fears.
  2. Don’t stop traveling. Does travel fill you with joy? Do you live for experiencing new places and people? Then don’t stop going. I’m serious. Your stupid brain will make you sit inside and knowing your luck, you’ll probably fall down the stairs and break your hip rather than die on an international flight.
  3. Write about it. One of the reasons I created this blog was to have an outlet for defeating my flying fear. Turns out, many travel bloggers and readers feel the same way I do about planes, and they still chase their dreams. It makes me feel like my next flight will be a cakewalk.
  4. Go on medication but only if it’s the right choice for you. Sometimes medication is needed to help you board a plane. This doesn’t make you weak, but just be sure to have an honest talk with your doctor to determine if it’s the right decision.
still travel despite flying fear

Keep smiling. Keep going.

How do you travel despite your fear of flying? Do you have any advice for nervous flyers? How do you handle super longhaul flights? Leave your ideas and responses in the comments.

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12 Responses to Why I Still Travel Despite My Flying Fear

  1. Rashaad February 17, 2016 at 10:33 pm #

    I actually read about someone who supposedly visited every country in the world w/o flying. I don’t know what his name is and if he kept a blog.

    If your fear of flying ever returns, you could content yourself with just traveling around the U.S. Actually, Aretha Franklin hasn’t been on a plane in the last…. I don’t know how many years… but she’s obviously seen a lot of the country.

    • Rachel Elizabeth February 18, 2016 at 9:21 am #

      Ohhhhh, I’ve seen videos about him!! What an amazing feat!

      Right now I’m sucking up and dealing with the flying fears. Here’s looking to you, transatlantic flight to Spain! Ahhhh!

  2. Paulo@Travel Bugs February 19, 2016 at 11:08 pm #

    Overcome this fear by remembering that your chance of dying in a car crash is higher than in a plane crash 🙂

    • Rachel Elizabeth February 20, 2016 at 8:05 am #

      I definitely keep this thought in the back of my head! It’s so true that the NJ Turnpike is more dangerous than a transatlantic flight! At least pilots aren’t texting. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

  3. Kara March 2, 2016 at 4:08 pm #

    HI Rachel, Great post! I can relate a little bit to being anxious on planes. I don’t like take off or landing too much. And I get anxious when there’s too much turbulence. But yeah its been proven that your that airline travel is safer than driving a car. Yet I’m rarely anxious when driving. Maybe we fear what we don’t know. Good for you for finding a way to cope. When the turbulence hits I’m usually saying a little prayer to God. Or I listen to podcasts and calming music. I think the biggest things for me is getting restless especially on long flights! I did the Australia one years ago. I wish you the best and a good book on anxiety and fear is a book called “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.’ by Susan Jeffers

    • Rachel Elizabeth March 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

      Kara —

      I try to tell myself that flying is so much safer than driving! You don’t have drunk and/or text-addicted pilots, after all. They’re highly trained and qualified individuals. My fear is irrational.

      Thanks for the book recommendation! I’ll have to check it out and read it before I ever take a flight to Australia! One day! Thanks for visiting. 🙂

  4. Gavin Fisher March 3, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    Hi Rachel – great post, and inspiring! As Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

    Here are a couple of other visualization tricks that can help with coping with turbulence in particular:

    1. Visualize the air as being “thick”, because it really is. You can test this for yourself by sticking you hand out the window of your car the next time you go for a drive.

    When you are going slow, you can hardly feel the air, but when you are going fast, the air pushes on your hand and you can hardly keep it on one place. Now if the air feels that thick at 40 or 50 miles per hour, just think how thick it must feel at 10 times that speed, which is how fast planes fly.

    This “thick” air supports the plane, so it can’t possibly just fall to the ground. When you visualize a plane flying through the air think of it like a submarine in the ocean (rather than say how you’d think of a toy plane being held up by a string).

    Running into some churned up air in your plane is just the same as a submarine going into some choppy water. Sailors inside may get bumped around a little but the submarines not going to drop to the ocean floor, because it is held up by the water around it. Same thing for a plane. Passengers get jostled but the plane itself is held up by the thick air all around it.

    2. A lot of people think that the plane will drop “hundreds of feet” when you hit an air pocket. That’s not correct. It may feel like a big drop, but in most turbulence you’re dropping 1 or 2 feet – in really rough turbulence, maybe 20 feet.

    To visualize how minor this is, take a drive with someone with a plastic cup and water bottle. Find a bumpy road and fill the cup with water. Notice if the water spills out of the cup (it probably will). Then next time you are flying and you hit some turbulence, notice whether your drink spills (it probably won’t). Which just shows you that most turbulence is no worse than driving over a bumpy road.

    • Rachel Elizabeth March 4, 2016 at 5:53 pm #

      Gavin,

      That Nelson Mandela quote is one of my favorites!

      I love your tip about visualizing the air’s thickness. I know the plane doesn’t drop too much in turbulence (even if it feels like a million feet!), but I never thought about how heavy the air actually is. This mental image makes turbulence seem more “normal.” I appreciate your insights a lot. I really hope to nip this turbulence anxiety in the bud. 🙂 I’m gonna keep traveling and keeping pushing.

      Again, thank you so much for visiting!

  5. Leigh | Campfires & Concierges March 4, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    My fear of flying developed in my mid-30’s – it was quite extreme at first, and I even missed a business trip once because of it. I would spend half of my trip looking up Amtrak tables or rental car prices for how to get back home, very unpleasant stomach issues, clammy hands, you name it. I’m happy to say over the last few years, this has gotten much better – to a point where I didn’t even take any Xanax on my last flight. I’m still not likely to sleep soundly, but I’d like to think I’ve made my way to the other side of this irrational fear. (Now, check back with me in 3 weeks as I board a 14 hour flight to Hong Kong, LOL!)

    • Rachel Elizabeth March 4, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

      Leigh,

      I’m so happy to read your comment! It gives me hope that my own flying fear will eventually diminish. I haven’t gotten so bad that I’ve avoided flying, but sometimes I’ll spend the entire day before my flight regretting my decision to travel.

      Good luck on your Hong Kong flight! Let me know how it goes. Thanks for visiting!

  6. Molly March 8, 2016 at 9:48 am #

    I love this!! Thank you so much for writing it!!

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