When I was younger, upon arriving in another province when visiting extended family members, the response to the inevitable question “How was the flight?” always resulted in my parents announcing “It was a (insert number here) bag trip!” – referring to the number of sick bags I’d used. Cue mortification.
I’m not quite sure when or why it started. My parents took me on airplanes when I was quite young, but the first flight I really remember was one to Toronto for my uncle’s wedding when I was in elementary school. I got nauseous, I got sick, and it was awful. Ever since then, flying gets me worked up, which turns into anxiety, which turns into physical illness.
The problem with experiencing travel anxiety is that I love to travel! I love adventuring, wanderlusting, and immersing myself into the culture and experiences of new places. It’s the physical act of travelling that I have a problem with. Over the last few years, I’ve been slowly trying to overcome my travel anxiety. I’m not sure if it will ever fully go away, but I’ve found a few things that seem to help me work through it.
This may work for some people and not for others, but I have a prescription for anti-anxiety medication that I will take the night before travelling if I feel a panic attack coming on, or about an hour before the flight. It eases the knot in my stomach, and makes me a bit drowsy which is perfect for overnight flights.
About 30 – 45 minutes before boarding the flight, I find a quiet corner near the departure gate and meditate for 15 minutes. This involves breathing evenly, acknowledging my thoughts and releasing them, and repeating a personal mantra. I’ve only tried this for the past few flights that I’ve been on, but I find it immensely helpful for releasing stress from my nervous system and calming my mind.
A recent addition to this routine is the action of rubbing a smooth stone in my fingers repeatedly while I’m on the plane. The repetition of turning the stone over in my hands gives my mind something else to focus on.
The location of my seat on the plane is pretty important. I feel most comfortable sitting in a window seat, where I can curl up against the side of the plane. The closer I am to the front of the plane, the faster I can get on and off of it. If there’s an option to pay more to sit at the front of the plane and have a bit more leg room, I’ll do it every time.
Having an iPod stocked full of music that can drown out the surrounding airplane noise is important. I can’t read on airplanes, and I don’t really watch movies or TV. Instead, I count down the hours left on the plane ride by comparing it to the number of music albums I need to listen to. For overnight flights I prefer soothing and calming music like Sufjan Stevens, Feist, Ingrid Michaelson, Jose Gonzales and The Lumineers. For daytime flights I like a mix of indie electronica like Phantogram, Sylvan Esso, Made in Heights and Alt-J. It’s a good way of focusing my attention on something other than my surroundings.
I’m not one to travel in skinny jeans and stilettos. I wear loose-fitting tops and pants with stretch, and I always bring extra layers like a jacket, a light sweater, a scarf, and a little pair of socks tucked in my purse for when my feet inevitably start freezing. The jacket and scarf also work as a pillow when I get sleepy. Clothing that feels comfortable gives me one less thing to be anxious about. There’s nothing worse than wearing an uncomfortable outfit in an uncomfortable situation.
I’ve been trying to travel more often and build up to longer flight times with the hopes that I’ll be able to stomach a flight over to Europe next year. I started with 1-2 hour flights to British Columbia, then 3-4 hour flights to Ontario, Arizona and California, then 5-6 hour flights to Mexico. I figure if I can get through a 6 hour flight home from Mexico, then a 6 hour flight over to Iceland and a short flight from there to Europe will feel like a breeze. So far so good!
Confession time: I’ve never flown solo before. I’ve always been with my husband Nathan, a family member, a school mate, or a friend. Sitting beside someone who I know when I’m flying is a big deal. It makes me feel calm, and it gives me a hand to squeeze during turbulence!
I actually just booked my first solo flight ever, and I’m excited and terrified all at once. I’ll be travelling from Edmonton to Vancouver to attend BlogPodium 2015 in September, with a group of friends flying into Vancouver from different cities. It’s a girls trip, so I’m leaving my husband at home. I feel like this will be a big step in building travel confidence.