I have been wanting to write about this for quite some time but for various reasons I always end up posting something else. You might have seen my posts about my travel. With the exception of my last travel to Italy, in which I had the company of a friend for some days, all my traveling is solo. I am starting a series of three posts about flying solo, and in this first one I am opening up my heart to you, hoping to help someone that has gone, or is going through the same as I was.
Why do I travel solo?
Well if I did not travel solo I would not travel, period. I am single, my son is an adult with his own life and plans, and all my friends are married with families and do not have the time or willingness to travel unless if it is with their families.
Since when do I travel solo?
Since 1998. But then it was mostly to South Africa, which is close to where I live, or to my homeland, Portugal. I consider my solo traveling to have started for real in 2009.
Why not before?
Before 1985, I was literally nuts. My best flights would be the difficult ones, the ones with storms, turbulence, difficult landings. I would be fascinated, my eyes shinning, glued to the small windows of the plane trying to see everything. The landing was my favourite part, specially in difficult weather. It was always a rush of adrenalin, an excitement, something I looked for in anticipation each flight.
But then….in 1985 everything changed. I won a FAO award for best student and our group was prized with a visit to Malawi and Zambia. To get there, we had to fly to Zimbabwe – Harare. Boom, two very bad experiences during those flights and my nightmare began. Flying started to be a sacrifice, something to run from like the plague, it scared the shit out of me. From 1985 to 2000 I limited my travel, and only did set foot on a plane if there was no other option, and only when I could not avoid traveling. Traveling by car? No problem, I could travel 2000km’s with no problems whatsoever.
As you can imagine that was extremely limiting, because I would only be basically able to travel to surrounding countries.
What did you feel when flying?
When getting into a plane I would cry and shake in fear, every time the sound of the plane engine changed, every time a bit of turbulence started, every time I thought the crew was acting strange, every time my mind saw something that in fact didn’t exist, but that triggered my deepest fears, every time I decided the plane was going to fall, and that every time was every minute, every hour, every flight.
It was literally a phobia. It was excruciating, limiting, painful, I would cry days before the flight, my holidays would be a nightmare because I could not stop thinking about the return flight, that the plane was going to crash, that I would die. My flights were limited to Portugal, very occasionally. Days before the flight I would not sleep. I would be terrified, wanting to cancel the flight and stay home safe.
So, what changed?
Well, in all my life, I never did let anything control me. My fears, my dogmas, my addictions (I used to smoke and also be addicted to sweets), my mood, anything. I have to be in control of myself and everything that happens to me. And my fear of flying was in fact controlling me, limiting me, being in charge of myself. And that is something that I could not let happen. It did last for a long time, until I decided it was enough and I would never again be limited by it. It was time to be in command of me and my emotions again.
What did you do?
One day I looked at myself in the mirror (literally) and asked: Dalila, where are you? Where is that brave, adventurous woman you used to be? The woman that survived a civil war in spite of traveling on roads that were attacked everyday? The woman that faced discrimination for being a woman, blonde, in a work environment where men ruled (I was a vet on a state dairy farm run by an ex-soldier, that looked at me on my first day of work and asked: what is a white, blonde, woman be able to do here?)? Where was that brave woman that survived the difficult times after independence when there was no food? That had to walk sometimes 10km to faculty because there was no public transport? That spend nights and nights on food cues, and in the morning with only 1 or 2 hours of sleep would go straight to faculty? ENOUGH Dalila.
I decided I would travel again, I would fly again. So, I talked with a friend that was a doctor, and started to use a strategy. I would take a mild relaxing pill before embarking, and (as my flights are usually around 11 hours) I would take a sleeping pill soon after dinner. This way I would sleep most of the time and be able to bear the flight. It worked. Slowly I started enjoying flying again, slowly I started seeing how free I was, slowly everything changed. And my solo traveling started.
Two things that are for me essential to help is to BE COMFY and especially on long flights, SLEEP. Long flights can be a nightmare to the ones that are afraid to fly. Long hours with nothing to do, hearing every single noise, feeling every bit of turbulence, stressing over and over again. Being able to sleep for most of the flight was key in my struggle to overcome my fear of flying. To help being comfy and to sleep, this is what I usually do:
- Check-in online, go early to the airport, dispatch my luggage, and relax before the flight. Lately I also add fast track to my flight, so I can avoid being on long cues and have enough time to sit, and relax
- I always travel on the window seat so I do not need to spend the night standing up and sitting again, to let my neighbor go to the toilet (and oh boy, how many times some people go, ouch). Even when the window seats are “fully booked” if you let the crew know you are afraid of flying, and they see its real, they always try to get you a window seat if you want it
- I wear compression socks, they help a lot with feet swelling and comfort
- I use a good traveling pillow,
- I wear a sleeping mask
- I put on wax earplugs
- I wear comfortable clothes and a good pair of socks that keep my feet warm (over the compression ones)
- I limit my liquid intake so I will not wake up many times to go to the toilet (but still keep hydrated)
- I take melatonin, 1 hour before sleeping
- I meditate for 5 to 10 minutes before sleeping or do just some deep breath exercises, and remind myself that turbulence is just like a bumpy road, the car shakes and jumps but nothing bad happens
- I never drink alcohol during my flights
I now travel once or twice a year to distant countries, and several times, by car, to South Africa and Swaziland.
I hope this somehow helped one of you, and please leave a comment if you have questions, or just a testimony of what you do to overcome your fear.
Alla proxima, buona serata (yeah, I am learning Italian)