Travel Tips For the Nervous Flyer (From A Nervous Flyer)

I'm a pretty anxious person. I'm not a thrill-seeker. I'm a little afraid of heights and hate the feeling of falling. I don't ride roller coasters, I'd never go sky diving or bungee jumping, etc., so it's probably not a surprise that being trapped in a metal box at 30,000 feet above ground freaks me the eff out. I flew a couple times as a kid without any major issues but that changed when I was 11. 

My grandpa was an Air Force pilot before he retired, and I think because of that influence, my uncle became interested in becoming a pilot as well. He got his pilot's license as a teenager and even though he wasn't a pilot by profession (actually, he was a civil engineer, which is what I'm studying to be), flying was his passion. He owned his own 4-seater plane, which I flew in a few times, and shared his love of flying with his son, my cousin, who was 2 years my junior. In April of 1999 they flew from their home in North Carolina to an air show in Florida. On the way back, something went terribly wrong and their plane went down. The last communication he ever had with air control was to report severe turbulence, but beyond that the ATSB has never been able to identity he exact cause of the crash. My uncle and 9-year-old cousin were both killed on impact.

I've flown maybe 10-15 times since The Accident, but I haven't been able to fly without extreme stress. I know that flying a commercial airline is completely different and that the likelihood of something going wrong is very, very slim, but I haven't been able to get over my fear of flying. I flew a few times after The Accident and any turbulence would leave me hyperventilating and/or crying. I had my worst on-flight panic attack en route from Atlanta to Houston in 2011. It was such a scary experience that I almost talked Ben into renting a car and driving 15 hours from Texas back to Virginia instead of flying. I managed to make it on the flight home but the whole thing scarred me so bad I've avoided flying at all costs since then. I've stuck with road trips and trains for subsequent trips. I finally got the nerve to try again when we went to Boston earlier this year. The flight wasn't even an hour long, so I figured that would be a gold starting point to get me comfortable with flying again. Luckily, the flight was pretty easy and uneventful. We've been talking about going to Chicago for a while now but knowing I'd have to fly there made me nervous. We finally decided to go this past weekend and I'm happy to report that I made it through my longest panic attack-free flight in 3 years. Major feat right there, so I thought I'd share some things that helped me through!


  • Flying in the morning. I had one other on-flight panic attack several year before the Houston one, and they both happened when I was flying at night. Something about not being able to see anything other than darkness out of the (already tiny) windows on the plane makes me really uncomfortable, so I definitely avoid flying at night and prefer to fly as early in the morning as possible. Not only do I feel better when I can discern land below, but I'm generally tired on early morning flights which means I'm less alert and less likely to have enough mental energy to freak out. 
  • Listening to something relaxing. I've tried listening to music on flights but it's never really helped. I have an app on my phone that plays Oriental melodies (so, basically, what you might hear at a spa) that I sometimes listen to during yoga or a hot bath. I fired up the app on my most recent flight and I found it extremely calming and soothing. I've never been able to fall asleep on a flight but I actually managed to sleep for 10-15 minutes at a time for about an hour total!
  • Paying more attention to what road travel feels like. I know, in my logical brain, that the chances of my car crashing are astronomical compared to the plane crashing, but despite that fact I still feel much safer in a car than on a plane. Because my uncle's plane went down due to turbulence (crazy, freak, perfect-storm level turbulence, but turbulence nonetheless), I feel every. single. bump. on an airplane and it makes my stomach drop every time. Even though driving a car on a road is sometimes just as bumpy as being on a plane, those bumps don't phase me at all. That's why I've started forcing myself to become more cognizant of them so that when I'm in the air, I can relate the bumpy experience to what it feels like to drive in a car, and realize that the bumps are normal and okay. It's helped me realize that that turbulence, even bad turbulence, doesn't automatically mean the plane is going down.  
  • Taking a Xanax. I've tried alcohol before flying but that hasn't helped, and might have actually made it worse. I now take Xanax about half an hour before my flight, and I've found that it helps to keep my anxiety at bay. I don't take any medication regularly, not even birth control, and I really don't like to take medication for anything unless I really have to, but for me, flying qualifies as a "have to." Maybe one day that won't be the case, but for now, it's a reality. (Of course, you should consult your doctor before taking any medication). 
With that said, I hope all of you traveling this week have very safe trips and get to spend lots of quality time with your loved ones! Where is everyone spending this holiday? Anybody have any other travel tips I should know about? Send 'em my way!

But before we get the holidays started, don't forget that tomorrow (yes, tomorrow!) is your chance to link up with Alyssa and me to tell us alllll about how how training is going! No matter where you are in your training cycle, whether you've just finished a training cycle (like us), or you're gearing up for yor next one (also like us ;)), no matter what you did, are, or will train for, we wanna know! Whether things are going well, badly, or somewhere in between, we firmly believe that training is better with friends. So link up and let us know what's going on!

18 comments :

  1. I am not a nervous flyer perse, but I do not enjoy the takeoffs or landings. This may be difficult to do if you are light sleeper or the nervous energy turns into adrenaline, but I try to fall asleep before the flight takes off (as people board). Luckily I am a quicker sleeper!

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    1. You are so lucky to be able to fall asleep before takeoff! I don't mind takeoff or landing, and actually prefer that part to being in the air (which again, I know is totally illogical considering the beginning and end are much more dangerous compared to being in the air).

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  2. I'm not really a nervous flyer, but I really appreciate your struggle to overcome your fear.
    As a trained Meteorologist, I have a tip for you. Think of the sky as a river. You are kind of floating along the river. There will occasionally be bumpy spots, but you are just floating on that air not falling through it.

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    1. That's a good one! My husband has told me that before too. I grew up boating and have no problem being on water, so it does help to realize it's just another fluid.

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  3. I'm not a nervous flyer, but my BFF is. I know it's a struggle! Good for you for sharing your tips.

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  4. Im not a nervous flyer at all. I might be too calm. Ive taken too many 10-14 hour flights in my life to be nervous but my dad is and I think these are spot on :)

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  5. oh man I am zero ready for tomorrow. I need to draft something up fo shiz.
    I am so sorry to hear about your uncle and cousin, no wonder you are a nervous flyer.
    I never used to be a nervous flyer, turbulence makes me cry but I'm normally ok when it's over. The last couple of flights I have taken were worse, even the slightest bump would make me cry. And when I cry and get nervous, I laugh, so my friends were like wtf is wrong with you we don't know if you're scared or not. We are flying to NYC in December, I am hoping the weather will be perfect with zero snow or bad weather because I have never flown in the snow and I think I am scaring myself now so I'm going to stop.
    That being said, my favourite, best, most wonderful tip? a hand to hold. Sounds pathetic I know, but I have flown way more by myself than with someone else, so whether its my mum or my husband, i need a hand to hold.

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  6. Oh girl, totally understandable that you would be a nervous flyer!! I'm so sorry to hear about your uncle and cousin. Glad you had a successful flight to Chicago and hope you had fun in the city!! :)

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  7. Thanks for sharing all this- I'm such a nervous flyer and I get a lot of anxiety days leading up to a flight. I've actually read some websites on fear of flying and they have helped my mindset a little bit. They talk about the different noises you'll hear, things you'll feel like bumps and such and explain what's really going on when you hear it. I definitely agree about early morning flights- the earlier the better for me.

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  8. Wow, I'm so sorry to hear about your uncle and cousin. I can't blame you one bit for your fear of flying, and I think it's pretty amazing that you can even bear to get on a plane at all. I hate flying, but not because of fear — although if I think about it too much, considering that I don't understand how it works, I'll freak myself out a little bit — but because I hate airports. Airports actually give me a bit of a scare and I hate packing for flights. Silly, yes, but either way, give me a road trip over a plane trip any day!

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  9. I'm so sorry to hear about your family. I can see why you are a nervous flier! I try to start reading a book before the plane takes off and it keeps me distracted.

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  10. I'm so sorry to hear about your uncle and cousin! I can totally understand your fear of flying from that. I used to fly between Virginia and Georgia every summer to visit my dad and I still don't enjoy it. It's convenient but I absolutely hate turbulence ! I usually try to go to sleep, read a book or just listen to music. I'd rather have someone with me too but the last few flights I've been on I've been alone. I know if I ever go to Europe I'll have to take something to knock me out because the thought of going across the ocean for a couple hours….just no!

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  11. I'm so sorry to hear about your uncle and cousin... so tragic. :/ I'm not too nervous of a flier as long as I can sit by a window... why that "helps" I have no real idea.

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  12. I don't mind flying. I just get major motion sickness. But if you had family crash and did? Yeah, I would be freaked out of flying too. I have been sky diving, actually! It was... An experience for sure. Something to cross off the bucket list :)

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  13. I'm so sorry to hear about the accident with your uncle and cousin! I'm so glad you've found a few things that help you relax a little bit when you have to fly-- finding the best ways to cope can make the biggest difference-- and so glad you had a good flight to Chicago last week!

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  14. Wow, I can definitely see why flying would be so stressful for you!! I'm glad you've found what works for you in those scary times, tho. My sister is terrified of flying and I might have to pass this on to her for your tips!!

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  15. I'm sure of which traveling by air some sort of business oriented air carrier is utterly unique and this the possibilities of anything intending inappropriate can be quite, incredibly sleek, although When i haven't much gotten for getting in excess of the fear of traveling by air.

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