What Traveling 4,000 Miles Alone Taught Me About Fear

Alternatively titled: “That time I ugly cried in the cockpit of a plane”

Image for post
Image for post

he moments leading up to boarding my first ever solo flight, I found myself oddly calm. I had been preparing mentally for this trip for weeks, if not months. I had skimmed through my dog-eared and highlighted pages of “SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying” by Captain Tom Bunn; been approved to board early, and had my letter in-hand to request a meeting with the Captain piloting the plane. All of my preparation, however, had not prepared me for the involuntary, almost knee-jerk onset of tears that occurred as I said my (what-felt-like-) final goodbyes via phone to my parents. I sat in the departure lounge surrounded by strangers, trying to shrink and hide my face, feeling helpless and full of dread.

Shakily, I boarded the plane, handed my letter to to one of the flight attendants, and waited for them to give it to the Captain. Within minutes, I was ushered in to the cockpit and greeted by a lovely Scandinavian woman and her French co-pilot. Unfortunately for the both of them, I burst out crying immediately; I felt so embarrassed, but their kindness never wavered. The Captain motioned me to sit and calmly went over the flight route we’d be taking. She spoke in a soft and warm manner, and through her calmness, I was able to find calm myself. I knew I was in good hands — these shadowy figures who hold our lives in their hands now demystified — and thanked the both of them as I made my way back to my seat.

Though I wasn’t able to sleep much, I experienced no more spells of involuntary crying, and arrived in Copenhagen without a hitch. I made my way to city center, found my airbnb, and checked in for my weekend stay. During one of my day-long bouts of meandering about the city, I found a tiny sandwich board advertising a recently opened coffee shop tucked away in a brick-and-foliage-lined courtyard. As the wind picked up, it rattled the greenery and carried the sound of Novo Amor playing in the background with it. In this moment, it was as if everything had fallen in to place. I was overcome by the realization that all of the anxiety, all of the ugly crying — everything — had led me to this place. I was thousands of miles from home, alone, and surreally at peace.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
&Tradition Courtyard — Courtesy of http://www.septemberedit.com

In this moment, I realized that all of the anxiety, all of the ugly crying — everything — had led me to this place. I was thousands of miles from home, alone, and surreally at peace.

I wasn’t able to locate the shop again before I left, and though this was likely a result of it just being closed, part of me enjoyed entertaining the idea that I had found the Copenhagen equivalent of The Room of Requirement. It was almost as if it had revealed itself to me so that I could experience this transformative moment and to visit again would have only cheapened the memory.

Image for post
Image for post
Nyhavn, Kobenhavn

I had one last bike throughout the city, caught the changing of the guard at Amalienborg, scooped up some souvenirs, and headed to the airport. The next leg of my trip was to take a short plane over to Sweden — the true purpose of this trip — to head to a conference for work. The flight was incredibly turbulent, the landing rough, and it was a feat in itself that I managed not to ask the woman next to me (whose ear I had already been chewing off to distract myself) to hold my hand. But I survived. Again.

I made it to the hotel, reunited with my coworkers, and enjoyed the week in Stockholm. It was full of great speeches, infectious laughter, and bonding. We took in the sights of the Old Town, explored the streets of Södermalm, and danced around the maypole as we celebrated Midsummer at Skansen. Though I was having a blast, I was ready for the creature comforts of home and routine, and before I knew it, it was time to go home.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Celebrating Midsummer at Skansen

I followed the same routine as I did on the flight here, this time without the crying. I boarded the plane, got to meet and joke around with the pilots, and found my seat. The flight home was as calm as the first, though I was nowhere near cured of my fear of flying. My anxiety manifested itself in a lack of appetite and a dull, constant feeling of dread for a large portion of the flight. It wasn’t until I had begrudgingly gotten out of my seat to use the restroom, that I made a promise to myself to try to enjoy the remainder of the flight. Existing in a state of anxiety for 8 hours is beyond draining and, though counterintuitive (as brains usually are), it took a lot of mental strength to actively choose to not to succumb to it. Instead of trying (read: failing) to sleep, I put on a movie and managed to actually finish it. We landed a few hours after — the act of which was incredibly turbulent — and that was it. This trip I had been preparing for months was over. I had done it.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Gamla Stan (Old Town), Stockholm

For many, this account of my experience will not land. Having a phobia — which, by nature, is irrational — is incredibly hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it first-hand. It’s even harder to convey just how transformative and terrifying it was to do this. But what many can relate to is how vital it is to continuously push ourselves to grow and expand our comfort zones. This trip would not have been possible for me a few years ago because fear controlled my life — and if I’d let it, it still would. I’m incredibly tempted to never get on a plane again, and that’s exactly why I have five flights booked in the next three months. Succumbing to fear is easy, but it rewards no one.

Humans are creatures of comfort; we love the predictable and known. But if we don’t keep pushing our comfort zones, we become stagnant, and before we know it, we’ve fallen into a lull of avoidance and monotony. We make excuses to not do the things we really want to. We stop taking risks and settle for the certain instead of pursuing what excites us — and at that point, what even is the point? What’s the point of life if we aren’t chasing what we really want? If we aren’t growing?

So with that, I leave you with my own personal motto: if it scares you, do it.

Software engineer. Cold brew aficionado. Human. Living in spite of fear.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store