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