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Overcoming Fears and Flying High

Overcoming Fears and Flying High

Hawai'i, USA

Confession time guys: I’m afraid of flying.

The irony of this is not lost on me-I fly all the time. In total, I’ve been on 20 flights this year alone. And we still have a month left!

But my fear is bad. The morning of a day of flying, I wake up physically ill because I’m so nervous. I tell myself the statistics. I have less than one in a million chance of anything going wrong. And one in a million is a very small chance, as this Wait But Why post illustrates.

Kauai helicopter tours

Somehow, I still end up in a state of panic. On me and Josie’s flight from San Francisco to Hawai’i, I got five hours in before I started crying I wanted out so badly. This is a flight with my friend to Hawai’i for Christ’s sake. My anxiety didn’t go away until I was off the plane, standing on solid ground breathing in the fresh air. A few splashes of water on my face in the bathroom and I was brand new.

I hate that flying has this effect on me. What normal person breaks down on a seven-hour flight?

Kauai helicopter tours

To make matters worse, it hasn’t always been this way.

Up until about two years ago I was fine with flying. When I lived in Australia I actively wanted to go skydiving. Having the desire to jump out of a plane is practically the antithesis of fear of flying!

So, what happened to me?

In 2015, I had a terrible flight experience.

I was flying from Seoul to Dallas. Long twelve+ hour flights are never comfortable in the first place. But they’re an unfortunate reality of global travel so we manage. I slept on and off on this flight and watched movies to keep myself occupied. Everything was fine until the last hour or so.

Dallas was the problem. We were flying into the middle of a gigantic storm. Dallas in the spring is tornado time and we were flying through tough winds. Our plane was tossed around in the air like the Gods themselves were playing ball with us. What was a little piece of metal to the mighty powers of Mother Earth herself?

I remember clutching my armrest reminding myself to breathe while trying not to puke. (Which half of the plane, by the way, was already doing.)

When we finally landed safely, the whole plane started cheering and clapping. I had never in my life been so sure of death as I had been trapped in that metal flying machine. I overheard a flight attendant telling another passenger we had been lucky-we were one of two flights that landed. Everyone else was rerouted.

I’ve flown many times since that flight and they’ve been fine. However, the tiniest bumps of turbulence or direction change and all my anxieties flood back. Planes themselves make me claustrophobic as I gulp for air. The longer I’m on a plane, the worse it gets.

Kauai helicopter tours

However, I didn’t want fear to rule me. One of the top priorities on my list was taking a helicopter ride in Kauai and I was determined to not just do it, but actively enjoy it.

On the flight to Kauai from Kona, I wanted to reduce my plane anxiety. I hardly slept the night before, tossing and turning. And by 4:30am I gave up and decided to just stay awake. Awake and physically ill from nerves, I decided to meditate doing a session specifically on fear of flying.

This guided meditation was wonderful. Instead of trying to talk my way out of my fears, I rooted myself in physical sensations. The contact my feet had with the floor became a safe spot, a place of good feelings to go to in order to interrupt the cycle of anxiety.

And it worked!

My usual nerves started up when we got on the plane, but every time I felt a bump in the air I would close my eyes, take a breath, and concentrate on the contact I had with ground beneath my feet. I stayed calm and had a normal flight.

Kauai helicopter tours

I was ecstatic. However, the flight was only an hour so I tried not to put too much weight onto my success.

Apprehensively, I booked a helicopter flight for me and Josie my last day in Kauai.

Unfortunately, a week in Kauai went by way too quickly. Before I knew it, helicopter day had come.

My stomach churned the morning of but my nerves weren’t as bad. As we did our safety video before and got on the helicopter, I had butterflies in my stomach but I didn’t feel physically ill.

We strapped into the helicopter. I was so nervous about flying up in these small little contraptions that could be tossed around easier than planes. But I closed my eyes and mandated to myself that not only would I survive this helicopter ride, I was going to love it.

And I did.

Our headsets went on and soothing Hawai’ian music hummed in our ears. We were off and I wasn’t afraid at all. Instead, I pressed my face against the window admiring the gorgeous scenery below.

Kauai helicopter tours

We dipped in and out of canyons, waterfalls, and the coastal cliffs. Most magical of all, a rainbow circle appeared to my right. I remember making happy screams that I’m glad no one else could hear as I nudged Josie and pointed to it. I didn’t even know rainbows made full circles!

After an hour spent circling the island, we landed back on ground. And I had already resolved to do more helicopter rides in the future. What an awesome way to explore a new place!

Most of all, I was so happy that my anxieties didn’t dictate what activities I could do and enjoy. I’d faced a huge fear and was so proud of myself.

The next two days consisted of full days of flying. I woke up, well rested after a full night’s sleep. Coming home, I had three perfectly boring flights. I loved every minute of it.

Anyone else here afraid of flying? How do you manage? And do you have a story about overcoming a fear to do something special? Spill!

About the author

I got my first taste of long-term travel when I took a gap year before beginning college. I lived and worked in Australia in one of the most transformative years of my life. Like many others, I caught the wanderlust bug and now I'm always busy adding to my bucketlist. Besides traveling, I'm into hiking and photography. I'm currently finishing up my senior year in college and planning my next big adventure!