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Top 10 Tips for Nervous Flyers

Scared of flying? Our travel columnist, Laura, talks about her fear of flying and how she’s learned to cope with it over her many years of travel! Read on for her top tips for nervous flyers.

Top Tips for Nervous Flyers

If you, like me, are a nervous flyer, I am here to help (or at least try). As someone who loves travelling, I know the feeling when you are aching to get away but you can’t get excited about your trip because you are terrified of the travel on either side.

A few years ago, I asked my doctor for some advice for flying. Her response was ‘If you don’t like flying, why do you do it?’ I remember being flabbergasted by this comment! Not travel?! Are you crazy?

Although I know that some people’s fears may inhibit them from being able to do certain things, for me, my desire to travel far outweighs the fear, so I still try to travel as much as possible – there is a big old world out there, and I want to see it!

I also told her that I knew that it was an irrational fear but that I was scared that the plane might just fall from the sky. She ‘kindly’ informed me that this wasn’t irrational and it could in fact happen… exactly what I needed to hear a few days before my flight.

However, that didn’t stop me from travelling. 

Although I will not claim to help you get over your fear, in this article, I will share a few tips that help to manage my fear and will hopefully help you too!

Before we get to that, here is a little bit of context to explain how I first realised I was scared of flying.

*Trigger warning! If you’re flying soon, you might want to skip the story and head straight to my Tips for Nervous Flyers!

My First Trip Abroad

Growing up, my family holiday was a day trip to Butlins or going to Glasgow on the train to visit my nan, so as a child I had never been on an aeroplane. 

It wasn’t until my second year of uni that I was presented with the idea of going abroad with my housemates – a full week on the party island of Zante. 

I agreed to go and we booked everything online. I was so excited – sun, sea, beaches, partying (my main motivations at 19). It wasn’t until later that it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have a passport, and the holiday was weeks away.

Queen of last minute, I didn’t panic. I knew exactly how to handle this situation… ignore it and leave it until as late as humanly possible (cue me having to drive to Blackpool to pick up my passport a few days before we flew). 

Anyway, passport in hand, suitcase was packed and I was ready to go.

two women with rucksacks planning their budget holiday

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The Flight

‘What does flying feel like?’ I asked my friends. My friends assured me that it was fine and that take off felt a bit like a rollercoaster (which WOULD be fine if you like rollercoasters). 

10 minutes into the flight, my friend couldn’t feel her hand because I had squeezed it so tight, and she was crying because her ears were popping – the trip had started well. 

Our flight took off at around 3 a.m. so we were hoping to sleep on the plane, but it wasn’t long before I realised there was one thing that I would not be doing much of… and that was sleeping. 

There I sat, bolt upright, holding onto the seat in front of me for dear life while the lights dimmed and everyone around me started to fall asleep. 

An hour or so later, I started to wonder if everything was OK. People around me started to wake up, including my friends sitting next to me. 

‘Is this normal?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘just a bit of turbulence’. 

I tried to avoid looking out of the window but from the corner of my eye, I could see the flashes of light that you can see from a plane when you look up at night time. 

I sat clock watching, counting down the minutes until the flight was due to land, but when it was around 30 minutes late, I knew something was wrong. 

Then, the pilot began to speak over the radio. He announced that there was a thunderstorm in Zante and that it was not safe to land, so we would be landing in Athens instead. It turns out that the lights outside were not from the plane after all. 

Finally, after 2 hours waiting in Athens, we were given the green light to fly to Zante.

What Did I Learn?

Despite the traumatising flight that I had just endured and the unpredictable weather, I had a great trip and thus began my love of travel and adventure. 

The trip was an 18-30s holiday and required more drinking and sleeping than actual sightseeing. That being said, seeing some of the island (through beer goggles) and trying Greek food for the first time made me want to go back and actually experience the culture. 

A few takeaways from this holiday were:  

  • Travelling requires some level of organisation (a skill which I do not possess). 
  • How to ‘salmon’ into a pool. 
  • Not to swim in the sea during a thunderstorm. 
  • I hate vine leaves. 
  • I don’t like flying.
A small family sitting on the beach on holiday, looking out to sea

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My Experience Flying

Each and every time I fly, I tell myself ‘never again’ and normally spend the first few hours of my trip evaluating if there is a way of getting home by boat and not having to get back on a plane… 

But then, within a few months, the travel bug slowly starts creeping in and I book another flight. 

My first flight scared me and I carry that fear with me until this day but what I should have recognised is that, despite being in a thunderstorm, the pilot was still able to land the plane safely without anyone being hurt and they still felt that it was safe to take off and land again a few hours later. 

I have now travelled to over 20 different countries, including both long haul and short haul flights, and I have even managed long haul flights alone.

Check out some of my stories from roadtripping in Montenegro, teaching abroad in South Korea, and hiking in Madeira!

This isn’t me bragging – this is just proving a point that if I can do it, so can you!

Tips for Nervous Flyers

So what works? Everyone is different, and may have a different fear of flying. For me, I’m scared of the plane crashing, whereas I know others don’t like flying because they get claustrophobic and don’t like confined spaces, so these might not work for everyone but here are some tips that work for me: 

1. Arrive at the airport early so that there is no extra stress

I know that one of the reasons that I don’t like flying is because I am an anxious person, so arriving at the airport late only adds to my anxiety. Try to keep calm by giving yourself plenty of time and no extra stress. 

2. Avoid coffee or caffeine on the day of your fight

This tends to make me more anxious. I know that some people like to have a drink to relax. Personally, this makes me feel more out of control so I don’t like to drink alcohol. I find that drinking water helps to keep me the most relaxed. 

3. After take off, take off your shoes and try to relax

I know this is easier said than done but I find that if you take your shoes off and try to relax and pretend that you are at home on your sofa, it helps to take away some of the anxiety for me. 

4. If you are on a long haul flight, try to watch a film or have a nap between meals to break the time into manageable chunks

The idea of a 12-hour flight sounds horrendous but if you break it down into chunks, it helps to pass the time and avoid you clock watching.  

5. Listen to music to drown out sounds during take off and landing (those sounds that convince you that the plane is going to break)

I am the worst person for hearing a noise on the plane and assuming the worst but the truth is, planes make noises! That doesn’t mean something is wrong. But if you, like me, get nervous when you hear them, try to distract yourself during take off and landing by listening to some music. 

6. Once the seatbelt sign has been turned off, try to stand up and go for a walk/to the toilet

I personally don’t like standing up on a plane, but after I do, I realise that regardless of what my anxious brain is telling me, moving is not going to make the plane fall from the sky. 

7. Breathe!

This one sounds obvious but when you get nervous, your breathing can become short or erratic and this only makes you feel more anxious. Concentrate on taking slow deep breaths. 

8. Talk to flight attendant

I personally have a habit of watching the flight attendant to gauge their reactions. If they look calm, it convinces me that everything must be fine. Once I got really nervous on a flight, the air hostess noticed and came to ask me if I was OK and brought me some water. They convinced me that everything was fine and helped me to calm down. 

9. Try to rationalise

I know that it is hard to be rational when you are scared, but just as everyone always tells you, statistically, flying is much safer than most other forms of travel. When you feel that bit of turbulence, it is completely normal! I used to be scared looking out of the window but I have found now that sitting next to the window actually helps me to know what to expect. For example, if we are about to fly through some thick clouds, I know that a little bit of turbulence is to be expected, or if I see the plane tilting to one side, I know why it is suddenly making a slightly different sound. 

10. Visit your GP

Although I did not have much luck the first time I visited my doctor, I did finally get some medication for flying. I don’t always take the medication – it depends on how anxious I am feeling and if I am able to manage the anxiety without it. However, there is no shame in taking it. Remember that anxiety is a mental health condition – not everyone feels anxious flying so you shouldn’t feel bad if you need that extra little bit of help – after all, if you had another medical condition, you would take medication! 

I hope that these tips work for you and convince you to get on that flight and live your best life! Try to remember that fear is temporary but your regret will last a lifetime!

The Holiday

I dug these out of the archives to share with you – way before the days of instagram or decent phone cameras!

What made you scared of flying? Have you found anything that works well for you? Please share in the comments below!

Follow Laura on instagram @lauzexplores

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