Travel anxiety is real, y’all. I’ve written about it before; about my struggles and my achievements, but that really only ever came from experiences on land—both train and bus. Flying solo was not something I could check off my bucket list, and the idea loomed over me like a dark, stormy cloud any time someone would suggest the option.
I knew that this topic would need to be discussed, because if I experience it, it is super likely that others od, too. If I hadn’t packed light, (squeezing several days’ worth of things into two carry-on bags is rough!), I would have typed out my experience in real time, but my recollection and shitty phone notes will have to suffice.
I’ve always been somewhat of a nervous flyer. The way your belly dips during takeoff, as the plane starts to gain momentum and altitude. It’s like the plane goes in one direction, and if you weren’t buckled in, your body would be going in the opposite direction. (To those of you who have never flown at all, it really isn’t as bad as I’m making it sound—it’s namely the anxiety talking!) I’ve done it a hundred times and it never ceases to freak me out.
And so my journey from LaGuardia to Piedmont Triad International began. My dad shuttled me off, and I asked several airport workers where I was going because my nerves weren’t really letting me see with purpose. I have no problem asking for help, but that little bug of anxiety hopped on my shoulder and told me I was stupid. Real talk, you’re not stupid for needing help in unknown situations.
I then lost my ID when I went through security. That was a fun time, let me tell you. TSA loves interacting with idiots whose IDs go through the conveyor belt and don’t come out the other end. Just when I thought I could do this scratch-free, I became that asshole. Typical Abby.
I also have the world’s most sensitive ears. I had tubes put in when I was four because I had so many ear infections, I wasn’t able to get scuba certified because I couldn’t pop my ears in time upon ascension, and every time I fly I struggle with popping my ears. Now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder why they haven’t created some sort of anti-ear-popping device. I guarantee there is a market for it.
Naturally, my first time flying alone was with a head cold, which meant that these problems were magnified from the get-go. No matter how many yawns, pieces of gum, or decongestants, I knew I was doomed. (Update: on the way there, I had no problems with my ears! Shout-out to my step mom for giving me Loratodine to clear my sinuses.)
Pandora and Spotify were out of the question, because there was no WiFi on my hour long flight, and I stupidly never downloaded music on my phone. I was on a dinky plane with below-average overhead space, and below-average aisle room. But at least I had the window seat and a travel companion (the girl who sat next to me and unwillingly became my travel companion by default) who seemed to be an experienced solo traveler. This made it somewhat better, but I didn’t pack nearly enough snacks.
I liked looking down at the world below me, spread out like the Game of Thrones map in the opening sequence of the HBO show. I like guessing what each shape and carving may be. And what are those cool bodies of water? Flying back in to New York at night meant seeing the way the lights sparkle below you like little yellow pieces of glitter.
As anticipated, the trip back went much smoother. I had been telling myself that after I did it once, I could do it again, and I wasn’t wrong. The hardest part was over. I’m not saying that my travel anxiety has been cured through this one act, but I have an easier time telling myself that I can do this, simply because I’ve already done it, (just like Harry Potter when he conjures his first Patronus!).
I have a drive to conquer the world, but I have a long way to go. Little experiences like these, where I am able to overcome my fears and anxieties and prove to myself that I can do what I set my mind to, remind me that I am more than the worries that sometimes possess me.
All of this being said, I wanted to leave you off with a few tips that help with travel anxiety:
- Make yourself a playlist ahead of time of songs that either soothe you or make you feel good.
- Chew gum or eat a mint.
- Look up pictures or maps of the airports that you’re traveling through. Having a basic idea of where you need to go will ease your mind before.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Find someone who doesn’t look incredibly busy and ask your questions.
- Get flight apps and notifications, so you will know if you have a gate change, even if you are unable to hear over the speakers.
- Work on positive affirmations for you to tell yourself if you experience anything that spikes your anxiety.
- Bring a book or a journal to distract yourself. If reading isn’t your thing, writing down how you are feeling in real time is very therapeutic.
- Talk to those who make you happy before you board. Whether you text, Snapchat, call, or video chat, talking to them right before will help so much!