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I have a confession and it's a strange one for a travel writer to admit.
I am terrified of flying on airplanes.
As a parent, I don't want to pass my aviophobia on to my kids, and I certainly don't want to stay at home for the rest of my life. While road trips can get me to nearby places, there are many stunning destinations I can only visit by plane. So how do I do family vacations with air travel, even though I have a fear of flying? I've found a few solutions that have taken me across the country and across the world.
Whether you are a nervous flyer in general or are scared of takeoff, landing, or turbulence, here are a few tips for flying that will help you push through your anxiety and travel the world with your family.
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When flying with children, try to enlist the help of friends or family traveling with you. My husband knows that I struggle when it comes to air travel, so he takes full charge of the kids for the trip. He helps them with meals, points out cool things to see outside the window (shudder), and organizes in-flight movie watch parties. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles are another great resource if you're traveling with extended family; they'll probably be up for the countless games of tic-tac-toe that your kids will want throughout the plane ride. Even the flight attendants are eager to help nervous travelers, so feel free to ask for help when you need it.
Keep busy with books, music, and movies (or crocheting, for that matter -- whatever does the trick). Ensuring my mind stays occupied means I don't think as much about the bumps of turbulence or that funny noise I might hear from the engines. With another family member watching the kids, I'm able to do whatever it takes to keep myself distracted during the flight. I pick an absorbing novel, guilty pleasure music, or a movie I've been wanting to see and zone out as much as possible. I recommend preparing before the trip by loading movies or books onto your phone so you aren't dependent on the in-flight entertainment (guess how I ended up watching a cartoon about the Queen's corgis).
Focus on the Kids
Of course, help isn't always available. If you find yourself traveling alone with children, the opposite tactic also works. Focus on the kids and their needs. Do they have a drink or gum to prevent earaches during air pressure changes? Do they have the snacks they need? This worked especially well when my kids were tiny; making sure a baby or toddler stayed happy kept me busy until we landed. Those early family trips are some of the least anxious flights I can remember (although let's be honest here -- that might be due to lack of sleep in that era).
Nervous flyer? Traveling with kids? These tips can help you push through your flight anxiety and travel the world with your family.
Create a Ritual
Having a ritual around flying can help create calm feelings. Touching the plane respectfully before boarding, meeting the flight crew whenever possible, and meditating during takeoff and landing are all options for finding peace when plane travel is required. I pray before the flight and whenever I start to feel particularly anxious (hello, fasten seatbelt sign!). Of course, rituals don't all need to be serious and somber -- one of my favorite traditions is to grab a magazine and some chocolate in the airport before I board the plane. I even find myself looking forward to the trip as I think about what I'll buy. I especially love this tip when traveling in a different country; it's a great way to learn more about the culture and food!
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Focus on the Good
Thoughts are powerful. Rather than focusing on fear, concentrate on the good things about your plane trip. This might mean picturing where you're going if you're headed to a fun vacation spot. Or you can think about your dream destination (mmm, the coast of Italy) and how this flight gets you one step closer to it. Also try to focus on the good in the moment, right there on the plane. For instance, I am absolutely fascinated by airplane food and can't wait to see what is served (yep, my family thinks I am totally weird for that one). Plus, who can wait to see what odd finds are in the Skymall catalog?
Professional Help - Fear of Flying Courses
Talk to a doctor or a therapist. That's a great place to start for anxious travelers planning a trip. These professionals are NOT going to laugh or think you are crazy -- fear of flying is common, and healthcare providers will be glad to help you find a solution that is a good fit. Medication helps some people, while for others a few talk therapy sessions or homeopathic remedies provide immense relief. There are lots of courses that help people overcome their fear of flying. A therapist specifically helped our family with knowing how to talk about my fear with our kids. When we were debating whether or not to tell the kids, the therapist reminded me: "They already know. Kids always know these things."
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My number one flight anxiety tip is to keep going. Keep planning those trips. Keep getting on that plane. Exposure therapy is a proven way to help with anxiety and phobias; every time you get on a plane with your family, you are helping yourself overcome your fear and be a little less afraid. So keep pushing through, and you'll find that your fears don't have to limit your travel dreams.
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